In August 1917, 15-year-old Arnold chatted up Thomas C outside of the Star Burlesque on Temperance Street, near the corner of Adelaide and Yonge, in downtown Toronto. Thomas was a single 26-year-old — a “sausage-casing expert,” hilariously enough. Arnold remarked on the nice weather; Thomas asked if the adolescent would come to His Majesty’s Theatre, a nearby establishment. “I went with him,” Arnold said, documented in historian Steven Maynard’s essay “‘Horrible Temptations’: Sex, Men, and Working-Class Male Youth in Urban Ontario.”
“He got two seats at the wall,” Arnold said. “I was sitting next to him. He drew his hand up my leg.” After His Majesty’s, the two continued on together to Bowles Lunch, a cheap, all-night diner chain popular with Toronto’s homeless children and newsboys. After Bowles, they attended another show at the Hippodrome — where Toronto’s old City Hall now sits — before Arnold said he headed home.
Arnold said he sought out Thomas the next day, and the day after that. At Thomas’s home at Gerrard and Jarvis, Thomas pulled the boy’s pants down and they masturbated each other to “discharge,” as Arnold described it. This repeated eight times before the end of the month, after which they traveled out of town to Western Canada for September. After returning, their relationship continued until the end of the year.
In modern day Toronto, Bay Street is synonymous with business, and Yonge Street with shopping and entertainment — a tradition that facilitated the relationship between Arnold and Thomas. At the turn of the 20th century, Toronto’s street boys knew there were quite a few ways to make a bit of pocket money.
Rick Bébout describes the trajectory of the relatively young commerce town in his essay “Mad For ‘The Show’: Working Girls, Street Boys, & Moral Salvation in Toronto the Good.” The urban centre’s population was 96,000 in 1881, with almost a thousand manufacturing establishments. “By 1911, half as many factories generated more than three times the goods . . .” he writes. “That year, the City of Toronto was home to 376,538 souls — nearly four [times] more (if, by annexations, on twice as much land) than it had housed just 30 years before.”
Smack dab in the middle of this, “social purity” writer and journalist CS Clark published Of Toronto the Good in 1898, outlining his personal explorations of the various social ills that plagued the city — street walkers and brothels, drunks and the poor, pickpockets, pawnbrokers, gamblers, etc. One section focused on “street boys.”
While there was a movement against child labour, it was still prevalent throughout the Western world well into the 20th century. Hawking newspapers was an easy way for young boys and adolescents to make a little money to go see a cheap theatre show, or buy some food or candy. Boys in the downtown core could mostly be found selling bundles of the evening dailies at busy intersections. “The great stand for the boys is on the corner of Yonge and King Streets, and at the railway stations, where in the mornings you hear the cry ‘Globe, Mail & Empire, World,’” Clark writes, “while in the evening, ‘Globe, Mail & Empire, News, Telegram and Star’ is rattled off as their tongues can utter them.”