The Builders, the Mob and the Men
Toronto was Boomtown in the 1960s. The city was growing quickly, gobbling up farmland for suburbs, pushing through expressways, knocking down neighbourhoods to make way for high-rise apartments.
With the rapidly growing population, there was huge demand for new housing. Toronto needed apartments, lots of them. It was a perfect market for a new kind of housing high-rise apartments, replacing older low-density houses and sitting alongside the expressways in the suburbs.
Housing was a great business for making lots of money, quickly. Young entrepreneurs, many of them Jewish, seized the opportunities. But when they went looking for financing, their projects didnt fit the rules and regulations of the banks and the insurance companies. So they turned to other sources of funds. Like John Pullman, who came to Toronto with money to lend that belonged to mob genius Meyer Lansky and his associates. Source of the cash: the mobs profitable gambling operations in the U.S and the Caribbean.
Building high-rise apartments takes lots of construction workers. Toronto attracted thousands of immigrants, many from Italy, ready and willing to work. Unscrupulous subcontractors found it easy to exploit labourers who spoke little English. The men were ripe for unions, and union leaders saw the opportunity. But residential construction unions in Toronto had close Mob ties. Corrupt officials could extract money from the developers as well as their members.
Extortionists, hit men, mysterious fires, accidents, wildcat strikes it was a wild scene. Writer Catherine Wismer follows all these threads in her fascinating account of this colourful and little-known episode in Torontos colourful history.
CATHERINE WISMER has worked for Toronto Life and Maclean's. She has published two previous books, Come See My Garden and Faces of the Old North.