Monday, September 16, 2013



I have a great place for Ryerson and its president Sheldon Levy to shove Sam's sign.
No, I don't mean there, although it's tempting because the university is cheating on a deal.
Levy says he had many discussions with Sam about the sign and Sam never mentioned preserving it.
Bullroar! His family and friends know how much he loved that sign that shouted his name to Toronto like a carny in a brazen bellow.
I spoke with Sam by the hour for decades. On everything from Sunday Shopping and street people freezing in the lane behind the store to dumb aldermen who didn't know the streets.. He was proud of that sign. And Sam, a showman turned music icon, loved to flaunt the neon sizzle around his famous business that nurtured so many future stars whom he helped when they were unknown and penniless..
There is a connection between Sam Sniderman and Ryerson that is being missed. Everyone knows just how close he was to countless Ryerson students after he moved in 1961 to just a block away from St. James Square. Not only did he receive an honourary degree from Ryerson, his close friend Janet had been a dean at Ryerson.
So when they came to Canon Derwyn Shea's home on that lovely stretch above Grenadier Pond, and after he delivered a barrage of friendly insults about what I was doing wrong, the talk over dinner was full of Ryerson and the CNE.
Shea and I had been CNE presidents and Sam, who had been a member of the two boards at the Ex - the one that is the landlord and the one that runs the fair - disagreed with much of what was going on at the Ex. For starters, he thought there should be no admission and we could make our money off food and the Midway.
Sam, bless him, was never bashful about giving his opinion. "You know, Downing," he would say, "you guys just don't know how to run things." And we all would laugh,
So there is my justification for a new home for the two great LPs in 800 neon lights that spun in all their glory above the Sam names at his mecca for anyone who cared about records in the Greater Toronto Area. Mount it at the Ex. Certainly not as busy as Yonge St., the main street of T.O.,  and for that matter, the country, but when you start with the 1.4 million who attend Canada's largest fair, and add the people who go to the Winter Fair, Boat, Sportsmen's and various trade shows, you have a lot of  traffic through  Heritage Court, that huge lovely yellow room south of the Coliseum in the west end of the Direct Energy Centre.
The university bought Sam's building in 2008 after his business fell on evil times due to electronic change and the shifting pattern in stealing rather than buying music.
The idea was that the rowdy colouful sign/front would be kept and hung again on what the university built there. Ryerson says it spent $150,000 dismantling the signs but then everything fell into a limbo not lit by ideas or honouring a contract.
So I propose that the university's former chancellor, David Crombie, use all his expertise as a former mayor, lover of city history, friend of Sam's and lover of the Ex, to hammer out a deal between Ryerson and Exhibition Place where the university restores the sign and pays to have it mounted on the south wall of Heritage Court.
In fact, about a dozen years ago, we had a plan to mount there the neon sign from the Flyer, the famous demolished wooden CNE roller-coaster.. We even had a Flyer car that could have been part of the display. The letters are 84" high, 48" wide and 10" deep. So it wasn't as if it would have filled the wall, but Arlene Campbell, the official directly in charge of the Centre, didn't like the idea.
There is an interesting relationship between the two signs because Sniderman was key in saving the Flyer sign. After all, he cared deeply about Toronto's past and was willing to put his money where his mouth was, something that many, especially councillors, would never do.
If the Ex is ruled out as a home, there are plenty of empty walls at the Metro Convention Centre. I am sure the chairman of that board, Walter Oster, who displayed his love for the past in the wonderful marine items he accumulated in his waterfront seafood restaurants before it closed, would be a sympathetic audience.
Ryerson is talking about sinking plaques in the sidewalk at that corner to remember the store and the man. Levy says the Student Learning Centre being built there doesn't have a suitable facade to which the sign could be attached.. But then that's to be expected from the Ryerson of today that isn't that proud of its history back when Sam arrived  on its scene.
H.H. Kerr, the first principal (he preferred the Scottish title to president) had a dream of the Ryerson campus extending from Yonge to Jarvis. Having a building right on main streets was one of his expansion goals. Dr. Kerr would be so proud of what his baby was accomplishing in new facilities.
I remember him talking about it at length when I interviewed him by the day at his Rosedale apartment for the official history of Ryerson. The university commissioned it from me, accepted the manuscript and paid me, but then never published it because it was perceived as reminding the university community that Ryerson had started so humbly, it constantly was called just a trade school.
I am rewriting and updating the manuscript and just finished the chapter where Sam The Record Man arrived to crush the business at the A and A store just to the north that was the unofficial Ryerson book store.
Of course Sam was famous for his records even before he came to Yonge. The family had a store on a curve of College called Sniderman's Music Hall. Sixty years ago I heard about an LP from Stan Kenton and his Innovations in Modern Music and after school took a trolley coach and two streetcars from Weston to buy the record from Sam who was already ebullient in his trade.
This city is filled with people who remember their first trek to Sam with fondness, flipping through the bins of 78s and 45s and 33s where it was obvious you came for the music, not the decor.
Hanging Sam's sign at the Ex where he was such a fixture for decades would be an honourable compromise for the university. They should pay every cent for refurbishing and mounting, and while we're at it, let them pay for fixing the Flyer sign and mounting it too.
Then there actually would be heritage in Heritage Court. In honour of Sam. A solution that would be welcomed by tens of thousands.

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