John Goddard

Journalist and author

Spring Book Sale

My spring speaking tour is postponed but I see Dundurn Press is having a spring sale of 25 per cent off all titles is you use the code “spring25” on their website, It’s a good season for reading.


Happy New Year 2015

People from all over Toronto, no matter what their skill level, embrace the winter at the Harbourfront Centre Skating Rink, Canada’s largest outdoor artificial ice surface. It is a fitting place from which to send warm wishes for the new year in this 60-second video.


This could be interesting. I am to appear at Word on the Street on Sunday, September 21, as part of a panel called “Curating Art Books,” a subject I know nothing about. My co-panelists are two members of Toronto’s avant-guarde art scene, critic David Balzer and artist Margaux Williamson, 1 p.m., New Narratives Tent, Queen’s Park Circle.

Inside the Museums: Q&A

John Goddard speaks to Dundurn Press about his book Inside the Museums: Toronto’s Heritage Sites and Their Most Prized Objects.

Q: What got you started?

A: I wanted to know more about some of Ontario’s more obscure museums but I didn’t have a car. Then I thought, “I can get to the Toronto ones by subway.”

MackenziePortraitQ: Why a book?

A: The stories and characters proved incredibly rich. You couldn’t dream up a wilder personality than William Lyon Mackenzie — funny-looking, witty, physically courageous, and almost unbelievably irritating to the colonial elite. He pops up in every chapter.

FortYorkQ: The museums are spread out, right?

A: Yes, but their stories overlap, and paradoxically even the differences help unify the book. The sites include a rural inn, a townhouse, a stately mansion, a country estate, a post office, a city hall, a military garrison — most of the elements of a pre-Confederation village.


Q: Who is your favourite character?

A: I would call John George Howard my top personal discovery. He was an architect, one of the city’s top early builders, and one of its most generous early philanthropists — the creator of High Park. He also led a double life, with a long-time mistress with whom he had three children.

Q: What is your favourite story from the book?

A: I like how Eliza Gibson, of Gibson House, hides her baby in a snowbank as government troops close in to burn her house down, then she goes back and rescues the family clock, because it’s so valuable. That took guts.

RebellionBoxQ: Do you have a favourite “prized object?”

A: George Lamb’s Rebellion Box, at Mackenzie House. When the 1837 Rebels were thrown in jail, many of them passed the time making small, memento boxes as gifts to their wives and sweethearts. They made hundreds of them, all beautifully constructed with inlays, and poems, and specially constructed lids. Very few remain. The prisoners used cordwood meant for the fire, and their work was so precise that they must have used chisels, files, and coping saws, but how was that possible? It’s a mystery. Why would the guards allow prisoners to have sharp tools in jail during such a politically tense time? Or, if the guards didn’t allow it, how did the prisoners sneak the tools into the cells? Nobody knows.

Top 10 Useless Historical Facts from “Inside the Museums”

1. The Orange Order began as an Irish Protestant fraternity sometimes referred to as the Loyal Order of Lodgemen, or LOL.

017baldwin2. Robert Baldwin, of Spadina House, left instructions for a male version of a Caesarean section to be performed on his corpse in homage to his beloved wife, Eliza, who died at twenty-five in 1836 after such an operation.

Boulton3. To project a dignified image as Mayor of Toronto in 1846, William Boulton sat for his official portrait wearing black silk stockings, frilly sleeves, and white lace exploding out of his vest.

4. John George Howard’s Colbourne Lodge features Toronto’s oldest existing indoor toilet.

MackenzieSubday5. “The most cruel and intense sensation of pain” that Rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie says he ever endured came when, trying to escape, he walked naked up to his neck in an ice-filled stream carrying his clothes above his head.

6. A meeting to debate Toronto’s first municipal tax ended in horror in 1834 when the Market Hall balcony collapsed, hurling at least seven spectators onto the butchers’ hooks below and killing them.

3-2 GibsonLiza7. With government militia closing in, rebel wife Liza Gibson hid her baby in a snowbank and returned to her house to rescue the family clock, the most technologically advanced item anybody could own in 1837.

2-1 SirWilliam8. At the age of seventy-five, in 1834, Chief Justice William Campbell subsisted on a diet of snipes hunted in the marshy harbour, and died when the birds flew south that fall.

9. As a high-school project in 1934, sixteen-year-old Sheila Wherry built one of Fort York’s standout exhibits, a scale model showing York and its defences in 1812.

Henrietta10. Postal rates and paper cost so much in the early 1800s that, after writing one page, a person would turn the paper ninety degrees and write the second page over it at right angles.

Flight MH17

You never know when what you think is a bad thing turns out to be a good thing. My friend Eddin Khoo in Kuala Lumpur (KL) had to cancel his planned World Cup trip partly due to an oozing right eye. For his return flight via Amsterdam, he was booked on the plane that was shot down over Ukraine. Here is his FB post:

“I was due to experience the World Cup in Brazil with my dear friends Shannon Teoh & Eekmal Ahmad. But several administrative screw ups, poor health and this incessant problem with my right eye meant I had to forgo the trip.

“My due flight route was KL-Amsterdam-Rio; Rio-Amsterdam-KL. The flight I had been booked on to return was MH17, departing Amsterdam 17.07.2014. The itinerary and invoice for the flight is still with me.

“I have encountered many surreal experiences in my life, but this leaves me very numb. Thoughts, prayers, empathy to the families of all those lost on MH17. There is nothing that words can convey.”



“The Geek’s Choice”

Attending my book launch instead of dining with powerful people was “the geek’s choice” on the part of Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki, says today’s National Post. Soknacki expressed no regrets. “John Goddard gave us a thumbnail sketch of each of Toronto’s 10 museums and the importance of each,” he said.


Toronto mayoral candidate David Soknacki. Photo:Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Anwar Khurshid

Sitar player Anwar Khurshid performs at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre.

Sitar player Anwar Khurshid performs at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre on July 5, 2014. Copyright John Goddard

My favourite sitar player, Anwar Khurshid, wades gently into the opening phrases of a number yesterday at Harbourfront Centre’s South Asia Festival, with his fusion band Avani. Behind him sits bass guitarist Waleed Abdulhamid. 

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