March “was a lousy month to exist on the South Side of Chicago… March was the final fart of winter.”
So declared the late John Powers in his novel The Last Catholic in America.
John grew up around the block from me on the South Side of Chicago, and the Last Catholic is a book about our neighbourhood.
March is known for wind — the kind needed for kite-flying, as well as the meteorological flatulence Powers described — which is why I chose this terra cotta relief from a building in central Toronto to illustrate it. (More about the building later.)
Powers continued his description of this transitional month: March “would rain on us one day, freeze us the second day, and on the third day blow us off our feet. By the end of the month, we were globs of wind-wracked ice… In March, we would go to school … dressed in fur-lined raincoats, cleated shoes guaranteed not to slide on ice-glazed sidewalks, and bricks in our lunch boxes so we wouldn’t blow away.”
These terra cotta pieces, and others like them, appear on a building that started life in 1893 as an office building known as Dingman’s Hall. Located at the corner of Broadview and Queen Street East, it was built by Archibald Dingman, who had a varied business career — but not as varied as the uses to which this building has been put.
Dingman’s Hall was a meeting place, with rooms rented out to visiting Shriners, Masons and others. Later, the building was known as the Broadview Hotel. It is currently a boarding house — the New Broadview Hotel — but is generally referred to as Jilly’s, the name of the strip club on the first floor.
When Archie Dingman owned the building, he was a partner in the Comfort Soap Company. He was also associated with the Scarboro Electric Railway and a firm that built coaster brakes for bicycles, before moving west to Alberta and getting into the oil industry, according to his obit. He died in 1936, two weeks shy of his 86th birthday.
Most of what I’ve read about Dingman overlooks an unexpected accomplishment: In 1899 (or thereabouts), he somehow crossed paths and teamed up with composer Davenport Kerrison and wrote the lyrics of “The Flag That Bears the Maple Leaf.” Although the song predates by more than 60 years the introduction of the new Canadian flag bearing the maple leaf, it probably referred to the maple leaf insignia worn by Canadian soldiers during the Boer War:
The flag that bears the maple leaf,
Entwined about thy brow shall be,
An emblem that beneath its folds,
No slave shall cry for liberty;
Hurrah, boys, Hurrah!
For Canada, Hurrah!
No harm to her can e’er befall,
No danger great shall us appall,
While our prairies grand and Egypt’s sand,
Tell how our heroes fall…
Tell how our heroes fall.
The Saxon force, the Celtic fire,
Grand heritage that thou dost own,
Make bold the Lion’s brood and strong,
To front and brave the world alone,
On many field of carnage red,
Stern duty’s call thou hast obeyed,
And while they daughters sad-eyed wept,
Thy sturdy sons have hist’ry made,
Should foes again our land assail,
Or traitor’s foot her soil profane,
In serried ranks with iron front
We’ll steadfast stand and not in vain,