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Development

I read in the Etobicoke Guardian that the Casa Mendoza is being demolished to make way for condos. It was among the last of a strip of Motels along the Lakeshore west of the Humber River. The Beach and the Shore Breeze are still standing but I’m sure they too will soon disappear.

When I was in university in the early 80s I worked at one of the motels on the strip, the Universal. For those Torontonians who remember, it was the one with the globe on top of the sign and the two large fiberglass horses in the front, the last one east on the strip, next to what was then John Duck’s Tavern.

I found the following postcard of the Universal on CHUCKMAN’S PHOTOS ON WORDPRESS: TORONTO NOSTALGIA

This drawing is c.1950. I remember it a little bit differently from the 80s. On each side of the sign, there was a large life-sized white horse. None of the trees were there and neither was the patch of grass in the centre of the courtyard. Behind the motel, it was a greater distance to the water, and there was an outdoor pool in the back. The beach was not sandy like it is in the picture. I recall rough long grasses and perhaps it was a bit marshy by the water. I remember in the summer there were many garter snakes in the long grasses.

The Universal was a family-owned business. Even then, developers were starting to buy the land and the motels, one by one were beginning to come down. At that time, most of the people who stayed at the motel were American tourists visiting Toronto from various cities.

My job was afternoon-evening manager. After 5:00 or 6:00, I was the only  one there, working the desk and everywhere else. My job was to fill the place every night if possible, and not let in any party animals – if possible. Our general rule was to avoid renting rooms to anyone who had a Toronto plate or who had no car. Our experience was that people who lived in the city and rented motel rooms were the people most likely to trash the place. There were exceptions to the rule, of course, and the whole business was a matter of judgement. Fortunately, at the time there were still plenty of tourists looking for motel rooms in the city and most evenings, I had the place filled by dark. I recall that I had some flexibility on price if I still had a couple rooms to rent and it was getting late.

The place was old but clean. In the office there was a 50’s style sofa, plastic covered gold-fleck. It was gorgeous. And at the desk we had a phone system, a switchboard from another era. If you wanted to make a call from the room, it would ring in the office. I would have to put one plug in for the room number and another to an active line and then dial out for the guest. Often guests would just say, get me a pizza place, and I always gave the business to one place that made great pizza and sometimes dropped one off for me free when they delivered.

Today, there are condos on the former site of the Universal and John Duck’s tavern and more condos along the strip. Back then, the Casa Mendoza was known not just as a hotel but as a good Latin steakhouse. Later, the restaurant was featured on the television show Restaurant Makeover. On the lake side of the condos, there are some nice walking and bike paths now and some lovely landscaping, so the public can enjoy the waterfront in this area, but gone is an historic part of Toronto.

I liked working at the motel. Each evening was an adventure. You never knew who was going to come in, where they were going to be from, what stories they had to tell. Those days are gone.

2 Comments

  1. I found almost every evening, somebody would come into the office just to tell me his or her life story, ask about the city and tell me about other cities. I was happy to talk to anyone as long as I wasn’t busy. If customers were coming in and I had to show them rooms, I’d have to lock the office.

  2. I think I may have seen that episode of Restaurant Makeover.

    You have certainly had some interesting jobs in your earlier life! During university, I travelled a lot in the summers, putting out field plots from Manitoba to Alberta, and I have stayed in a lot of small family run motels. They are fascinating places.

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