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Left to decay, the Toronto Coach Terminal offers a fading glimmer of the glory days of travel

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Toronto has never been kind to its architecture. This is a city, don’t forget, that has happily allowed countless heritage buildings to be demolished or reduced to empty facades that hide the modern mediocrities that replace them. Such is progress in this busy conurbation.

No surprise then that a town that once contemplated tearing down two of its most important landmarks — Old City Hall and Union Station — would stand by while the Toronto Coach Terminal at 610 Bay St. slowly falls apart. The stylish Art Deco facility, which opened in December 1931, could have done double duty as a nightclub. It was the kind of place where one imagines elegant women in long gowns making their entrance on a grand stairwell.

The Toronto Coach Terminal was designed by architect Charles Dolphin, who also designed Toronto’s General Postal Delivery Building, which survives as the façade of the Air Canada Centre.
The Toronto Coach Terminal was designed by architect Charles Dolphin, who also designed Toronto’s General Postal Delivery Building, which survives as the façade of the Air Canada Centre.  (Lucas Oleniuk / The Toronto Star)

The stairwell is still there, but today it serves no purpose. The second floor and the restaurant that was once there are closed. Designed by architect Charles Dolphin, who also gave Toronto the General Postal Delivery Building, which survives as the façade of the Air Canada Centre, and the Consumer’s Gas Showroom on 2532 Yonge St. north of Eglinton Ave., the terminal is a remnant of a more optimistic age.

Though Canada was in the midst of the Great Depression, which devastated the country — at one point the unemployment rate was fully 33 per cent — Toronto somehow managed to build a bus terminal that had limestone cladding, stained glass windows, hand-painted faux stone walls and an interior illuminated by a cluster of crystalline chandeliers. Clearly, these were different times — attitudes to public architecture, let alone public transport, weren’t what they are today. Mobility was something to be celebrated, even glamourized. Men wouldn’t have thought of entering the terminal without a jacket and tie. Women wore hats and gloves.

Toronto's motor coach terminal at Bay and Edward Sts., North Mezzanine, looking west, on Dec, 19, 1931.
Toronto’s motor coach terminal at Bay and Edward Sts., North Mezzanine, looking west, on Dec, 19, 1931.  (Alfred J. Pearson)

Ninety-odd years later, people definitely do not dress up for travel. Whether by bus, boat, train or plane, getting around is something to be endured not enjoyed. Travellers today are better off dressing for comfort. Buses aren’t as uncomfortable and unhealthy as airplanes, but at a time when the car rules, they are considered the lowest form of public transportation, abandoned to those who can’t afford anything better. Even on the TTC, they rate well below subways and streetcars. Maybe that’s why the commission cares so little for those unfortunates consigned to ride the bus.

The GO bus terminal at Union Station confirms the lowly status of the vehicles it serves. Little more than a series of bays, it offers benches and a simple glass enclosure to shelter passengers. It’s so basic it seems more a structure than a building, engineered rather than designed. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course. As long as it’s not raining, snowing or freezing cold, it’s as comfortable as one would expect a loading dock to be.

If it represents anything, it is the triumph of austerity. We applaud the new terminal because it was constructed cheaply. The materials — steel, glass and concrete — are industrial. No limestone here. And don’t expect chandeliers. That would have been not just excessive, a waste of money and an affront to hard-working taxpayers, it would have been laughably — wildly — inappropriate.

The grandeur of Union Station across the road feels anachronistic, even ironic. With its massive stone columns, enormous arched windows and vaulted ceiling, its Great Hall was designed to impress those arriving in the Big City. Hearts raced and mouths gaped at the sheer scale, the spectacle and opulence of the space. The experience of Union Station was not quickly forgotten. But by the 1970s, trains and buses were in decline; people preferred to drive. Travellers gave way to commuters, and with the ongoing transformation of Union Station into a shopping mall, commuters are now being turned into consumers. Airports have met a similar fate.

Passengers arrive at the Toronto Coach Terminal through the Bay St. entrance.
Passengers arrive at the Toronto Coach Terminal through the Bay St. entrance.  (Lucas Oleniuk)

Meanwhile, the Toronto Coach Terminal, that relic of a lost world, has never felt so lonely and isolated. Through all the changes, however, the remakes and neglect, the building retains a glimmer of its former glory. The attentive user will be rewarded with the odd glimpse of a city that could afford to be optimistic even during the worst of times. By comparison, contemporary optimism feels forced, even false. It is merely rhetorical.

Overwhelmed by demand, drowning in expectations, poorly run and bullied by its provincial masters, modern-day Toronto simply can’t cope. It does what it can but it’s never enough. The past isn’t just a foreign country; it’s also a foreign city.

Christopher Hume is a former Star reporter who is a current freelance columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @HumeChristopher

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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