Free Top Soil on Jarvis and Rat Stories

Free Top Soil, 73 Jarvis Street renovation, 1969

Free Top Soil on Jarvis Street.

This is not a sign one would have expected to see on the sidewalk in front of a storefront at Jarvis and Adelaide, even in the late 60’s when the now plush St. Lawrence Market District was not in the foreseeable future.

However the signage seemed pretty obvious to us.  We had just shovelled out large amounts of earth not to mention, ingots, old glass bottles and sundry pieces of metal, large and small, thankful to have not come across any large bones, from the unfinished basement of 73 Jarvis Street, the second location of Aggregation Gallery.  We intended to lower the floor and lay a new concrete surface to provide additional space for our framing service and larger storage for the art inventory.

It was a laborious process shovelling the earth on to a conveyor belt that was angled through the window well out to the sidewalk from where we shovelled the earth on to a pick-up truck.  The truck when full was driven by our landlord to the Leslie Street Spit (just beginning in those days) and, once again shovelled off by hand.  We could not afford a tilt truck.

In between truckloads the piles of very rich black earth remained on the sidewalk.  It wasn’t a far stretch of the imagination to consider a sign – Free Top Soil.  As far as I can remember no one took us up on the offer. But it was a sight for eyes of the old and the new inhabitants of the area.

Basement of 73 Jarvis Street -during excavation and relocation of stairs, 1969

Rat Stories.

Before the landlord laid the new concrete there was a large thick wooden door at the bottom of the stairs to the basement.  It was closed most of the time.  A coffee house, Grumbles, had moved into our first space at 71 Jarvis.  One time, Grumbles asked us to accept an evening bread delivery to keep overnight in our space for them to collect in the morning.  The next day we opened the gallery to pick up the large kraft paper bag sitting on our desk.  It was empty but still upright.  This seemed very odd and suspicious.  Perhaps Grumbles immediate thought was we had had a hearty dinner the night before.

However, after some investigation we found a hole in the bottom of the bag and some crumbs trailing off the desk to the floor in the direction of the stairs to the basement.  We followed the crumbs down to the solid wooden door.  The door now had a small hole gnawed out of the bottom of it and an indent in the earth floor below.  We cautiously opened the door but found no bread and no rodents in sight –still a bit of a mystery.

Not for long however.  For some time after that we had regular visits of large city rats, the culprits we assumed.  Rat traps were placed around the premises.

One evening I came down late in the evening to do some gallery work.  As I entered the street from our upstairs apartment and headed to the front door of the gallery I heard a rustle behind me.  It was dark, I was spooked and hurriedly unlocked the front door and entered.  Much to my dismay there was also rustling of a different kind in the gallery and it didn’t help that the light switch was across the room.  I had a choice –back out and face the rustle on the street or risk whatever was inside the gallery.  I nervously chose the inside route.  I suspected a rat.

Once I had light to see I grabbed the phone and called David to come down and rescue me as I didn’t want to venture alone outside again.

We discovered the rat, much more attractive than rats are often depicted, in a trap, but just, and trying to get free.  After some attempts by us to dislodge the rat, it made its escape and disappeared into the basement.  We didn’t see any rats inside or out after that, thank goodness.