Judge Frank Denton
My grandfather Frank Denton was a judge in Toronto from 1936 to 1971. He was born in 1896, so he was on the bench from age 40 to 75, when he hit mandatory retirement. (The photo below was taken by the Toronto Star on his retirement, and the Toronto Public Library digitized it.)
He died in 1987: a good long life that his three children, including my uncle Frank Denton, are well set to match. (There were four Frank Dentons in a row, but my cousin Frank Denton stopped the trend by very sensibly naming his child Emily.)
Late last year I emailed the reference desk at the Osgoode Hall Law School Library to ask how I might look up information about his career and cases. I thought they might have some old books full of Ontario law with an index for “Denton, Frank.” They don’t, but they got right back to me with three links to great archival sources. Reference librarians are very helpful.
The first one I’ve looked at is the closest physically: the bench books of Judge Francis Denton at the Archives of Ontario, which is right on the campus of York University, where I work. I emailed them to say I wanted to have a look, but was told the material was under review for conservation so they couldn’t make it available right away.
A few weeks later, an archivist emailed to say the conservator had looked at the material and decided it was all right for use, and two boxes were waiting for me to view. Archivists are very helpful, but plan ahead when you want to use archival material.
I went over as soon as I could. I was already registered in their system but I didn’t have a researcher card, so I got one, then I put my coat and bag into a locker and entered the reading room with just a laptop, paper and pencil (and two fountain pens in my pocket that I didn’t mention). Archivists are strict about what you can have with you.
The volumes are all the same, with pages tabbed A–Z to start, then a couple of hundred lined pages. They’re about 8½ x 11 inches.
The covers are leather. Some are so dry around the edges that little flakes came off in my hands, but generally they’re all in good shape and the paper is doing very well. My grandfather used fountain pens to start, then in the 1950s began to use ballpoints. As time went on he more frequently used red pencil to mark sections or make notes to himself (for example for his summing up).
I flipped through about half of the volumes. They’re quite consistent: a date, the name of the case (“Rex vs Someone”, “Someone vs. A Company”), the names of the lawyers on each side, then notes on each person’s testimony, often written in the first person (“I was walking north on the sidewalk when I saw the accident”). The handwriting varies from small and tidy to large and scrawled, probably depending on where my grandfather was looking: at the paper or at the witness.
Judge Denton was in the County Court. I can’t begin to explain how the court system was set up back then (or now), so you’ll have to read these notes from the Archives of Ontario or the Superior Court of Justice explaining its history.
What matters is that he did all sorts of cases, both civil and criminal. I read a case about a lease on an office downtown; one where a woman had a bad back injury when she was hit by a TTC bus; one where a little girl seriously burned her hand on a radiator the landlord had been told about but never fixed; and several more. Later he also did work in the Surrogate Court handling cases about estates and trusts.
As I was looking through the volumes, an early case caught my eye because of a line at the very end: “I found both guilty.” It wasn’t dated, but I later determined the trial was on Friday 15 July 1938. I photographed all the notes, and here they are, with transcriptions. I got intrigued and did a bit of investigation into the scene of the crime, which follows. Note that “coppers” mean pennies, the one cent coins that no longer exist in Canada. Where I’m not sure of words I’ve used question marks.
Judge Denton’s notes
County Judges Criminal Court
Rex vs. Morris Silverstone and William Harvey
Mathews for Crown. Goldwin Martin for defense
Edward Guthrie (detective).
Took photo of scene of accid (?) [I think my grandfather was used to noting “scene of accident” and in his haste miswrote that here instead of “scene of crime”]. 629 Dundas E.
Ex 2. showing E side of drugstore 629 Dundas E. Step represents entrance to side door.
Ex 3. lane at rear of drugstore, lane runs west off Sumach St.
Drugstore at SW cor[ner] of Sumach and Dundas E. Safe was on ground in lane in recessed part of fence.
Cross Exam: I found no fingerprints
Leslie H. Brown
Own the drugstore. I closed up business night of May 23 at 11:30 pm. I locked up all doors (4 door ??? side door, front door, back door and cellar door). I had a safe in dispensary. There was about $140 in safe that night, including [page 2] stamps and ??? (stamps $40) and about 100 ???.
Officers phoned me morning of 24th about 3:00 to 3:30. As result I came right up to the store around about 4. Found place all locked up. Safe gone. Over $100 cigarettes and tobacco gone. 125 of 135 coppers in register were gone. Safe was in lane behind store. (Indicates about same location as Det. Guthrie.) I know Silverstone by name. I had seen him several times in neighbourhood of drug store. Safe in lane was mine. My name was on it. Found no evidence of how anybody got in. Doors all locked.
Cross Exam: The clerk has key besides myself.
Live 193 Sumach right across road from Brown drug store. My place is opposite the side door of drug store. [page 3] Early morning of 24 May I was in bed. I heard sound outside and looked out window about 3:30 or 3:45. Upstairs window. Saw 3 fellows: 1 standing at drugstore corner, 1 at Whitesides corner and 1 in side entrance doorway of drugstore. Side door of drug store opened and fellow from outside went inside and helped fellow already inside carry safe out. Can give no description of men who carried safe out. They carried safe off to lane. Police came, 3 cars of police. 1st car went up lane from Sumach St. Other 2 stayed on Sumach St. Didn’t recognize any of men.
Cross Exam: I guess they got up lane 15 or 25 [feet] when police came. Maybe more. I guess they ???.
P.C. Alfred Thompson
No. 4 police stat[ion] received call early AM May 24. P.C. Campbell and I proceeded to Brown’s Drugstore. We drove directly into lane at rear of drug store, about 15 yards in lane. [page 4] We saw safe in recess of fence as we drove and our headlights picked up 2 men running W in lane. 1 man was wearing blue windbreaker (cloth), other wearing blue suit. Neither had hats or caps. They ran W along lane to yard at rear of 1st house south of lane. Went through yard to the fence into a third lane that runs N from Whiteside Place (1st st. S of Dundas). I came out of lane running to Sumach St. and went on Sumach St. to Whitesides Place and ??? Officer Campbell had 2 men and was bringing them out to Sumach St. They are the two men in dock. Silverstone had a blue cloth windbreaker and Harvey a navy blue suit.
I went to meet PC Campbell and assist him bringing the 2 men out and PC Campbell, the 2 ??? and myself started walk N on Sumach to police car where we were in front of second house N of [page 5] Whitesides Place. Harvey put left hand in pocket and pulled out handful of coppers and scattered them on lawn. We took the 2 men and put them by car and left them ??? ??? of another officer. Went back searched lane and pulled up 97 coppers.
Took accused men to No 4. I came out and locked car and behind rear seat where Harvey had been sitting were 38 more coppers.
Coppers were brought to ??? and handed over to an officer there.
Exhibit 4. Coppers. (Not identified yet.)
By then ??? I recognized the men with Campbell as the 2 men I saw run away in lane.
Cross Exam: I didn’t mention clothing ??? police ???. I wasn’t asked.
Ex 5. Diagram.
Cross Exam resumed: Men didn’t wear hats. I saw men go over fence. I didn’t see faces of men until I saw them with Campbell.
P.C. John Campbell (No. 4 ???)
P.C. Thompson and I drove to drug store. Rec’d call 3:52 AM. Arrived there about 1½ minutes later. Went around to lane in rear of drugstore. (Ex. 3 produced.) It is lane in which we drove. Full headlights on our Plymouth car. Show for a distance of 75’. My ??? drove to where safe would be. ??? out of door of car. I saw 2 men vanish in a back yard off the lane on the left hand side. When I first saw men they were running from safe. There is a fence but backyard gate was open. I jumped out of car and ran [page 7] E on lane and north on Sumach to Whitesides Place. Saw 2 men running ??? lane which runs into Whitesides Place. At N of lane is a ??? fence. No fence ??? ??? ??? and Whitesides. They were running in my direction to Whitesides Place in middle of road. I was running on to meet them and I ran up and grabbed them one each hand. I took them out to Sumach and started N to car.
Silverstone had a blue windbreaker on, cloth, no hat. ??? Harvey had blue suit no hat.
Two men in box are two men I arrested. I couldn’t see face as they ran. One had blue windbreaker cloth. One had a blue suit. I saw them in lane.
Harvey took handful of coppers out of pocket and threw them out on the lawn. We gathered up 97 coppers [page 8] subsequently a few seconds after. Coppers were in same place I had seen them throw on lawn.
I searched Harvey and found some coppers, probably 30 or 40. I left them there. He had no gun. He said he never carried a gun.
The two men were placed in car. They hadn’t spoken up to this. Harvey asked what he was charged with. [Unreadable sentence.] In station we found several more coppers in Harvey’s pocket.
Afterwards we found 38 coppers in back of car where Harvey had been sitting.
Cross Exam: They were about 25 paces in Whitesides when I arrested them, about 11 paces from lane. [page 9] Searched lane. Found no cigarettes. No keys or implements of housebreaking on accused.
I saw them running towards me then hesitate and start to run back. I had no difficulty apprehending them.
Police Sergeant Hunter Robinson
No. 4. 3:25 AM May 24. I saw Silverstone come out drugstore.
I was behind Campbell as he took the accused to car. I saw Harvey take coppers out of pocket and throw on lawn.
I knew Silverstone before that time.
I saw him before but didn’t recognize him but when I saw him second time at time of address I recognized him as the man I had seen previously.
Cross Exam: [no notes]
Detective Sergeant Joseph ???
Ex. 4 produced. I received it from P.C. Thompson. Ex. 4 opened. It contains coppers.
Thompson evidence as to measurements correct.
Motion for ??? suit against Silverstone. Denied.
Known Harvey 10 years. He was with me night of 23rd May and morning of 24 May playing cards. Playing for pennies. Bud was winning.
Cross Exam: [no notes]
Saw Harvey Lynch’s house. Playing penny ante. Harvey was winning. [page 11]
I found both guilty.
Record of Harvey filed.
Record of Silverstone filed.
Thus end my grandfather’s notes. Seems like a short case and fairly straightforward. Two fellows steal a safe from a drug store, but evidently it has an alarm connected to the local police station, so the police get there very quickly. The thieves run away, abandon the safe, and one of them starts throwing away the pennies he dumped into his pocket. He doesn’t get rid of them all, and a few dozen fall out into the seat in the police car.
I looked up the case in the Toronto Star and found this from 16 July 1938, the next day:
I didn’t find any reports of the burglary right after it happened, or of the sentencing. I looked in the Toronto Telegram microfilm records (it hasn’t been digitized yet) but didn’t find any mention of the trial.
There was nothing about this case in The Globe and Mail either, but I did find some intriguing mentions of my grandfather around that time. Here is one from 03 December 1938. He was a police commissioner, providing civilian oversight of the Toronto police, on the body that is now called the Toronto Police Services Board.
The next year, on 03 June 1939, there’s a remarkable story about an investigation into evidence tampering in the manslaughter trial of a former coroner!
On the request of Allan A. Lamport, M.L.A. for St. David’s, a complete investigation into the police evidence given at the manslaughter trial of Dr. Warren Snyder, former Mimico coroner, will be held, Mayor Ralph Day said yesterday at a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Mayor Day said the matter had been brought before the board by a letter from Mr. Lamport and that definite action would be taken. However, as Judge Frank Denton was absent from the meeting due to illness, nothing would be done until the commissioners met again.
“Judge Denton has been investigating the evidence given by police officers at the trial,” said the mayor, “and asked particularly that nothing be done until he was present at a meeting.”
The request from Mr. Lamport grew out of the controversial evidence given by police officers as to the intoxication or otherwise of Dr. Snyder, who was acquitted of manslaughter arising out of the death of a bicyclist. Two weeks ago Attorney-General Conant dismissed Coroner Dr. J.P.F Williams, who took the blood test after Dr. Snyder was arrested.
This deserves some investigation on its own, but it’s too much for right now. I’ll just note that Allan Lamport went on to become mayor of Toronto in 1952. He was quite a character.
Something stands out in the testimony from Murray Hinton, who lived across the street. My grandfather noted what he said:
Early morning of 24 May I was in bed. I heard sound outside and looked out window about 3:30 or 3:45. Upstairs window. Saw 3 fellows: 1 standing at drugstore corner, 1 at Whitesides corner and 1 in side entrance doorway of drugstore. Side door of drug store opened and fellow from outside went inside and helped fellow already inside carry safe out. Can give no description of men who carried safe out. They carried safe off to lane.
That’s four men in total: one at Dundas and Sumach at the north side of the store, one south of the store, one at the store’s side entrance and one inside the store who helped bring out the safe.
Leslie Brown, the owner of the drug store, said that when he got to the store after the police called to tell about the theft:
Found no evidence of how anybody got in. Doors all locked.
No break and enter! The side door had been cleanly opened and then locked after the thieves left.
Was it an inside job? Was it Silverstone or Harvey who was inside the store? If so, how did he get in? What about the drug store clerk who has a key? Why wasn’t he questioned? Who were the two other men loitering near the store? What were they doing there at almost four in the morning?
We’ll never know.
I was curious about what the intersection of Dundas and Sumach looked like in 1938. It’s completely different now, as OpenStreetMap shows—notice there is no Whiteside Place—because of the Regent Park housing development that was built starting in the late 1940s. Nevertheless, it turns out the intersection as it was then will seem pretty familiar to Torontonians now. The types of houses that were there are still all over town elsewhere.
The Map and Data Library at the University of Toronto Libraries has digitized the Toronto fire insurance atlases. They were made by a private company (I don’t know exactly why) and are invaluable for understanding Toronto history. If you make it so that just 1923 is clicked on you can make your way to the right part of town and you can look at this very large image. Here is the area around Dundas and Sumach. Dundas is unlabelled in this section but it’s the second street from the top, between Oak and St. David.
Note that unusually shaped building at the bottom; it’ll be a useful landmark later. Here’s Dundas and Sumach close up:
In Toronto buildings have odd numbers on the south and east sides of streets, and even numbers on the north and west. The drug store is on the southwest corner of the intersection, on Dundas, and is labelled 629. You can see the building takes up about half the lot, and south of it is a lane that runs halfway through the block—this the lane people mentioned—and then further south is Whiteside Place.
The Toronto city directories from 1833 to 1969 have all been digitized and are online. This is an amazing resource for Toronto historical research. The directories seem now like a massive invasion of privacy. They have two listings: one by name, where they list heads of households and where they live; and one by address, where they go street by street listing the head of each household. Usually occupations are given too.
First let’s see what the 1938 city directory says about the drug store. This starts a little west of the intersection and goes east.
|623||Williams Cartage & Express|
|625||Totton Edmond gro|
|Clark Geo T|
|627||Groome John barber and tob|
|629||Brown Leslie H drugs|
|Sumach St crosses|
So going west, there’s the drugstore on the corner, and beside it is a barber and tobacconist, then there’s Edmond Totton’s grocery with George Clark living on the second floor, and then Edward Williams living above his own shipping and trucking business.
Here’s what’s across the street on the north side, heading east towards the intersection:
|630||Gardner Jennie Mrs.|
|Burlie John M.|
|632||1 Hopper Eliza Mrs.|
|2 Kring John W.|
|634||Dominion Stores Ltd. (br) groc|
Let’s see about Murray Hinton, who lived at 193 Sumach Street across from the drug store. In the city directory there is a Mrs. Mabel Hinton who lives there. The star beside her name indicates she owns the house. She’s probably Murray’s mother.
Here they are going north from below the Hinton residence:
|191||* Mankewich Mike|
|193||* Hinton Mabel Mrs|
|195||Kee Hong lndry|
|201||Webster Chas G H btchr|
|1 Anderson Chas F|
|2 Redshaw Annie Mrs|
|3 Haines Frank L|
|Dundas St E crosses|
If you look back up at the fire insurance map, you’ll see the Hintons don’t actually live straight across the street—they’re three buildings south—but it’s pretty close.
The City of Toronto Archives has some aerial photographs of the city up, but none from 1938. Aerial Photographs 1947 is the earliest. However, the south side of Dundas is still the same. Zooming in on section 18G, we see:
That odd-shaped building we saw in the fire insurance map helps us orient where the intersections are. Here is a closer view of Dundas E and Sumach. The light-coloured roof on the lower left corner of the intersection is the drug store.
It’s low quality and doesn’t add much information to what we know from the fire insurance map, but it does give a sense of how the houses on Sumach were set back from the street. You can see Whiteside Place and perhaps the lane behind the drug store. The northeast corner of the intersection shows part of the Regent Park development under construction.
The city archives have digitized many photographs, and I found two that give a picture of Dundas and Sumach the way it used to be. First, 632–634 Dundas Street, which is mislabelled “east corner” because this is actually the northwest corner of the intersection, across Dundas from the drugstore. This was taken on 19 August 1949. (Full image).)
Note the shifty-looking chap loitering on the corner, looking at the boy playing on the sidewalk.
We know from the 1938 city directory that it used to be a grocery store on the corner there. In 1949, the city directory says it is now Jones & Morris, photographers. Brown’s Drug Store is still there on the south side, though next door at 627 it’s “Tutnick Dorothy cigs & tob,” so the barber is gone, replaced by a tobacconist.
Rear of 622–628 Dundas Street (also mislabelled the east corner, when it’s the west) gives a view of the back yards of the houses a little bit west of Jones & Morris. It was taken on 27 July 1951, thirteen years after the theft. (Full image.)
The plaster is peeling off the outside walls, showing the laths underneath. Those were poor families. The houses were torn down when Regent Park was built.
There’s a mother in the upper window with a little child. That’s a baby boomer, as is the girl peeking through the fence. A decade before most of their fathers and uncles would have been in the military or working, directly or indirectly, on the war effort—unless the families were recent immigrants from post-war Europe.
IDA ad in the Star
The last thing I’ll show is an ad from the Toronto Star from 22 June 1938, between the theft and the trial, run by IDA, the Independent Druggists’ Alliance (which is still around—support your local independent pharmacist). Brown’s was in the IDA and is listed at the bottom of the ad, so this gives a sense of what was on sale at the time of the theft. (Larger image.)
Pepsodent, Bayer, Ex-Lax, Listerine, Alka-Seltzer and Planters (19¢ for a pound of chocolate-covered peanuts!) are familiar brand names today, but Ozogermo (“the air purifier with antiseptic strength much superior to carbolic acid”), Nujol (“the ideal intestinal lubricant; recommended by doctors throughout the world”) and Gastronox (“the Scientific Stomach Powder for indigestion and sour stomach”) are new to me.
I enjoyed digging into this case and finding out more about the drug store and what the neighbourhood was like. The case just took up part of one day for my grandfather early in his career, and was unremarkable among all the trials he judged, but for Morris Silverstone and William Harvey it was an important day: they were sent to jail. I wonder how they ended up.
Some day I’ll go back to the Ontario Archives and look more at the Judge Denton bench books. Before then I’ll look at his records at the City of Toronto Archives and the Law Society of Upper Canada, and if I find anything interesting I’ll write it up.