Monday, September 24, 2012



I knew Sam Sniderman before he was Sam The Record Man. And then there was the other side beyond records and music -  his love of the downtown city and of old days along College St.
I don't know who told me 60 years ago but I heard that the place to buy really different records was Sniderman's Music Hall on College St.
So I made the long TTC trek from Weston Rd. near Lawrence to Sam's first music store on the stretch of College west of Bathurst,  familiar to such famous Torontonians as Ed Mirvish, Johnny Lombardi and Mel Lastman.
It was his brother's radio store but Sam, who already had lost his hair, sold me a Stan Kenton Innovations in Modern Music record. I had only change for money in those days, and no record player, but I still have that record.
I attended Ryerson Institute of Technology before Sam moved to Yonge and Gould in 1959. That stretch of our old main street was dominated then by A and A, which had a soda fountain at the back behind the stands filled with texts we needed at Ryerson. It was the first Ryerson book store.
There was rivalry but Sam became the dominant figure at the corner, and in records, because he was a showman, a great supporter of Canadian talent, and he could be crotchety as hell in arguments. He was larger in life than his huge neon signs.
I remember him calling me up at the old Toronto Telegram when I covered City Hall to complain about stupid city bureaucrats and not being able to be open on Boxing Day. And that was the start of many calls over the years dealing with everything from garbage collection in the lane behind his store to the plight of the homeless, one of whom froze to death near his back door and caused him to attack everyone in sight for the savage irony of someone freezing in the downtown of a bustling city.
Sam was one of my more difficult friends. He disagreed with everything I said and wrote and would start a call with "you know Downing, you really screwed up....." and you can fill in the rest because it seemed to Sam that I was wrong, and my papers were wrong, and my friends were wrong, on just about anything.
Sam had a great friend, Derwyn Shea, and he was a fixture at any party that the Anglican canon (and former councillor and MPP) had at his nice house on the western height above Grenadier Pond. And when you came in the door, or the Fileys or Garricks or other threads of the rich city tapestry showed up, Sam was sure to greet you with a quip, a beef and his latest scheme.
He was a great fan of the Canadian National Exhibition and of course would have fit right in at any booth on the Midway. We sat together on CNE boards and committees and argued over his great idea that the fair should be free and we would get the money back on sales. We would point out to him that the millions that we raised through selling tickets was useful in running the fair, but we could never convince him.
In the final days a decade ago, the record chain ran into the vinyl wall of modern competition, and all the music that people could steal instead of flipping through the bins at his creaky music Mecca.
He retreated to the Maritimes and a wine business. Ryerson got his huge neon sign and the Ex has a smaller sign which has yet to be hung on a wall of honour. Ryerson hasn't put its sign up either.
He may have been gone after nine decades from the city life and the calls became few indeed. But Sam really was an original, much more than a record huckster, a giant of his craft, and a mentor and supporter to many.
The legends like Gordon Lightfoot remember his support in their lean days. Lightfoot basically played for beer money at Steeles, a second floor tavern just over from Sam's. Ryerson students used to listen to Lightfoot and nurse their drinks. Around 1960, it would not have been a rare sight to see Lightfoot performing, and in the audience would be Neil Young and his father, Scott Young, the author and famous sports journalist, and Sam.
The old record business may be gone, just like Tin Pan Alley. As ancient history as the little booths that we used to  play a 78 in before we bought it.  But the thousands with pleasant memories of the great gabber, Sam The Record Man,  will remember him long after new technology will no longer play the records that he peddled with such enthusiasm.
He was an original. No greater tribute can be made

Sunday, September 2, 2012



Like a dead fish stinking up the dock, the idea floated out again in June about a special new tax on those rich SOBs who live along the 386 kilometres of the Trent Severn Waterway and enjoy themselves.
Of course the politicians are never really happy unless they are pickpocketing us.
Some MPs were said to be about to recommend around now to the federal government that waterside cottage owners be taxed extra - that is in addition to the extra taxes they already pay municipally because of their better locations on the water.
A few years ago I phoned a top waterway official and asking him about the persistent rumours that Trent-Severn docks were to be taxed. He said they had only looked at commercial docks and that had been shelved.
Then there was talk about licence fees for all boats kept on the Trent Severn.  And, for all I know, for the air that we breathe from the rivers and a foliage fee for the weeds.
I think any dumb MP who recommends this should be aware that I for one, and my neighbours around Burnt Point Bay south of Havelock, would expect something for more taxes.
 Like services.
I live at the end of a private road maintained by the cottagers. We run our own sewer and water infrastructure and many of us have no garbage collection, snow removal or anything else. There are general services such as policing, fire protection and hospitals, and of course we have the wonderful advantage of Big Brother bossing us on everything and generally charging us hefty permit fees.
Just try building anything bigger than a bird house and watch the bureaucrats descend.
Since my assessment is higher because I am on the water, a reasonable bureaucracy would leave well enough alone and take any necessary maintenance money for the waterway from the overcharging in municipal taxes. Have they not heard of user fees to cover the costs of the locks?
But, oh no, the Tories (I refuse to call them Conservatives because they are not conservative in their spending) are now sniffing around like a skunk at the outhouse for extra money.
Let's return to the benefits we would expect to get if we have to pay new cottage water taxes. And don't give me any crap about jurisdictions. I don't care whether it's a federal, provincial or municipal responsibility, I just want bureaucrats to ante up and improve the tiny bits of help we get now.
I would expect weed harvesters to be bought and operated along the great stretches  of the Trent-Severn that are now plagued with weeds. There would be no charge to cottagers because the growth of weeds is fed by the government failures in controlling the chemicals that are excreted into the water supply.
I would expect real patrols by the OPP who now flit through every two weeks and let the cottagers deal with all the speeding yachts who send waves of water over our docks and shores.
I would expect a return to fish hatcheries since the provincial government already collects more in fishing licence fees than it spends on fish management.
I would expect payment to be made to cottagers for the use of our rivers in the production of electricity. Or they could tell Ontario Hydro to lower cottage Hydro charges to reasonable sums if Hydro is going to continue to use public water
Governments have never reduced taxes, despite the promises, and are constantly searching for new and occasionally illegal taxes. (You want an example. Printed material, including religious books like the Bible and Koran, were free of taxes from before the invention of moveable type. Now they're taxed. It was considered improper and immoral for a government to levy a tax on a tax. It has become routine.)
Governments always pretend that new taxes and permit fees will be used for a stated purpose. For example, gasoline taxes were levied to pay for road construction and repair. Now they're just dumped into general revenue, and the taxes collected are more than the total spent on road construction and repair.
Fish and hunting permit fees were started to raise money for hatcheries, wardens and wildlife management. Now most of the money is dumped into general revenue and game wardens are as scarce as hatcheries. It is up to individuals and clubs to nurture the trophies that bring visitors and their dollars into the province so there are more people around to pay the taxes and fees.
Remember when it all began. Ottawa started a temporary income tax to pay for Canada's military costs in World War 1. But income tax has stayed along with every other tax that was started for a specific purpose and ended up generating revenue that the politicians could fritter away on their cockeyed schemes.
Let me warn Ottawa that if there is a new tax on the Trent Severn Waterway,  the MPs stupid enough to recommend it will be defeated and will have all the time in the world to cottage and fish and hunt and pay all of the hot new ideas in taxes and permit fees.
Any new monies would be wasted. Of that I am certain. The present situation is that the governments can't evenfigure out how to smooth out the fluctuations in water levels that can either have your dock flooded or your boat grounded. They can't even control any new menace that  comes along The latest is Water Soldier which can ruin a shoreline even as it cuts any kid that gets near it. And it's spreading like the flu in January.
Government are inept but cottagers aren't. We do more maintenance of the shores than they do. Why should we now be punished for their incompetence?
Many cottages started as mere shacks in the woods. Government ignored them until officials figured they could make some money even as they didn't bother to help them very much.
Today, many cottagers cost more than small houses in towns and cities, yet the small houses get the services that cottagers can only dream about.
And now there are politicians talking about going after one group of cottagers along a waterway, and if that works, Lake Simcoe will be next, and the Rideau, and Wasaga Beach etc.
There's an expression about letting sleeping dogs lie. Good advice. If the governments wish to poke this dog, it will turn out to be a wolf which will tear at them even as tax revolts and class action suits are considered. After all, why wouldn't we sue? Taxation without representation is undemocratic and improper. Surely it is also undemocratic and unfair to levy taxes and give nothing in exchange.
 The MPs are running a new version of a costly shell game where there are no services to be found under any of the shells.