A gritty suburban stripclub was the last iteration of an establishment originally operated as the Knob Hill Hotel, located at 2787 Eglinton Avenue East. However, in the fifties and sixties, it represented the middle-class prosperity and optimism associated with the suburban growth that transformed the quiet and charming rural Township of Scarborough. As a first-class “motor hotel,” accessible mostly by car, the building was a symbol of upward social mobility associated with the ascendency of the automobile ownership in the fifties.
The aim of this project is to recount the early history of mid-century structures in Toronto’s suburbia. As a result, this article will not analyze the history of the hotel as a live music venue and dive bar in the seventies and eighties (as many online resources already do it well).
Historically, the hotel was located within the boundaries of the village of Scarborough Junction.
A Businessman Opens a Hotel
The earliest mention about the hotel appeared in The Globe and Mail on May 7th, 1954. A Toronto resident named John Collinson Cragg (1903–1996) intended to open a two-storey, twenty-five room establishment with a dining room and a bar, at the southeast corner of Eglinton Avenue East and Danforth Road, in the Township of Scarborough. Cragg (given address was 18 Boulton Drive) intended to secure three liquor licenses for the hotel.
During this decade, Eglinton Avenue East developed as one of the major commercial centres in Scarborough, with strip malls (such as the Knob Hill Plaza, still standing but deteriorating and fallen on hard times) occupied both sides of the street, which was flanked by new subdivisions to the north and south. The hotel took its name from a housing subdivision named Knob Hill, constructed north of Eglinton and east of Brimley Road in about 1953. Several other landmarks in the area bear this name, including a park and a church.
Cragg was a local businessman and real estate developer. He owned several ventures, including Cragg Motors Limited, Cragg Investments Limited, Walsh Investments Limited, Fortune Builders, Cliffside Subdivisions Limited, and Progressive Subdivisions Limited. When the hotel opened in 1956, he resided across the road at 2824 Eglinton Avenue East with his mother, Fanny Cragg.
In a semi-rural township filled with modest, one-storey starter homes, Cragg’s wealth attracted attention. Him and his mother were victims of a violent home invasion on November 10th, 1956. Cragg and his mother were both bound with neckties. Cragg was beaten by the criminals (who stole nine fur coats, jewellery, watches and $300 worth of cash), but Fanny was able to untangle herself and run for help to the hotel. The next day, Cragg (who needed fifty-six stitches to close up the wound on his head) recounted this ordeal in the following manner:
“‘I was watching television with my mother,’ Mr. Cragg said yesterday, ‘I opened the door and the men pounced on me. I wrestled them and heard mother screaming. The men kept saying, ‘We want your money, you’re another E.P. Taylor, you’re a multimillionare.”
The robbers were referring to Edward Plunket Taylor (1901–1989), a Toronto business tycoon and the developer of Don Mills, Canada’s first model suburban town. While Cragg’s fortune wasn’t equal to Taylor’s business empire, he certainly held a high public profile in Scarborough, since the criminals knew who he was and where he lived.
Good Times at the Knobby
In Memories of Scarborough: A Bicentennial Celebration, Linda Carscadden (whose family relocated from Toronto to reside on Haileybury Drive in 1955), recalled the hotel as it appeared after its opening:
“Scarborough General Hospital opened in 1956 and shortly after the prestigious Knob Hill Hotel was built where the bus turn used to be.
There were gorgeous dining rooms and buffet lunches and live entertainment and beautiful rooms to rent. A wide winding staircase descended to the main floor. In 1960 I had my wedding reception there.”
A promotional postcard published by the hotel in the 1960s advertised it as “a deluxe Motor Hotel and Dining Room… [f]eaturing complete facilities for banquets and sales meetings” with a television set, phone, and air conditioning in every room, in addition to the plentiful parking.
The hotel was quite swanky in the 1950s and ’60s and was a place of many social gatherings, conferences, competitions, and wedding receptions. The hotel also hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, billing itself as “Scarborough’s finest.” It was a place where respectable Scarborough people came to celebrate. In the society pages of the Toronto Daily Star in 1957, an announcement celebrated the recent nuptials of June Aldeane Taylor and Kenneth Charles Press, which took place on June 13th with a reception held at the hotel:
“Given in marriage by her father, the bride chose a nylon gown with appliqued flowers. Her pearl headdress held her fingertip veil and she carried gardenias with stephanotis.”
In the 1967, the bright bar on the main floor (with the capacity for three hundred patrons), began to feature live music under the manager named George Takach. This attracted new clientele and allowed the management to charge higher prices for draught beer and increase the profits of the hotel. Cragg most likely sold it sometime near the end of the decade.
The hotel retained its original name until 1986 when it was bought by a man named Louis Koutsaris and turned into the legendary Caddy’s (complete with a vintage Cadillac affixed over the main entrance). Unfortunately, by the early 1980s, the establishment was “reputed to be a hangout for bikers and prostitutes” and described as “a thorn in the sides of the area residents and the police for many years.” Nearby homeowners cited traffic, noise, and public drunkenness, leading one to wonder what Cragg would have thought about his legacy in southern Scarborough.
Archival photographs of the hotel and its vicinity can be accessed from the City of Toronto Archives and the Toronto Public Library. Historical articles about the hotel are available from Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive and Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive (both resources can be accessed with your library card).
Colourful reminiscences about the bygone days of the adult entertainment and live music venue, in addition to photographs of the hotel over the years, can be accessed on a Facebook group devoted to the history of the Knobby, “I Partied at the Knob Hill Hotel.”
While awaiting demolition, the abandoned former hotel was visited by a number of urban explorers. These videos reveal that some original architectual details of the interior remained despite the changes to the function of the establishment over the years.
Abbate, Gay. “Scarboro Hotel’s Past Still Haunts New Owner in Patio Bid, Panel Told.” The Globe and Mail, 13 May 1986, p. A21.
Carscadden, Linda. “My Memories of Scarborough.” Memories of Scarborough: A Bicenntenial Celebration, Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997, pp. 11–15.
“June A. Taylor Wed to Kenneth Press.” Toronto Daily Star, 14 June 1957, p. 35.
Kirby, Blaik. “Nightlife: Sophistication in the Suburbs is Paying Off.” The Globe and Mail, 19 Feb. 1968, p. 15.
“Notice of Application: The Liquor Licence Act, 1946, Licensing District no. 6.” The Globe and Mail, 7 May 1954, p. 27.
“Scarboro Man Beaten with Revolver Butt; Jewels, Cash Taken.” The Globe and Mail, 12 Nov. 1956, p. 5.
“Scarboro’s Schedule 10,000 Homes in 1953.” The Globe and Mail, 24 Jan. 1953, p. 5.
“Thanksgiving Dinner at the Knob Hill Hotel.” The Globe and Mail, 12 Oct. 1964, p. 26.