Scott Pilgrim vs. Keeping Toronto Anonymous!

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and really want to be surprised, bookmark this article and read it later.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a 2010 film based on the 6-part Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Canadian Graphic Novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley of London, Ontario. Directed Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead""), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World stars the City of Toronto and tells the story of a rock band bassist and habitually bad boyfriend, Canadian actor Michael Cera (Arrested Development) of Brampton, who meets the girl of his dreams – literally. In order to pursue a relationship with his American dream-girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott Pilgrim must fight and defeat in a videogame-esque, martial-arts battle, an alliance of Ramona’s 7 Evil X’s led by the fiendish Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

The film sets the scene with screen copy that reads: “Not so long ago…In the mysterious land…of Toronto, Canada…Scott Pilgrim was dating a high schooler.”

After calling his sister at work at a Second Cup, and telling her that he is dating a 17 year-old, his sister complains that he is falling into his typical routine of bad relationships and that he should call it off. Thus begins the adventure of Scott Pilgrim in the City of Toronto. While building the storyline with bits of acting like Scott picking up his teenaged girlfriend Knives Chau (Scarborough actress Ellen Wong) at school and again at a video game arcade, things get quite interesting with a shot of Bathurst Street and Bloor Street West. The viewer gets the opportunity to see the pomp and pageantry of the 23,000 light-bulb encrusted Vegas-esque marquee of Honest Ed’s on the south-west corner with Central Technical School back in the distance. Sadly, the scene is in the daytime and the millions of lights are dark.

Honest Ed’s is a landmark department store in Toronto opened in 1948 by the larger-than-life Toronto personality “Honest” Ed Mirvish. With World War II behind Canada and the future looking bright, Ed created a bargain basement department store filled with close-out, bankruptcy and fire-sale merchandise. The no-frills style business model was an immediate success and Honest Ed’s began to expand. Eventually Honest Ed’s would consume almost an entire city block and would bill itself as the “world’s biggest discount department store”. In the late 1950’s began buying houses on Markham Street south of Bloor with the intention of razing the lot and for an expanded store and parking lot. When the City rejected Ed’s application to tear down the Victorian houses on Markham, Ed rented them to out to local artists at low rates and the street became a community of shops and galleries known today as Mirvish Village.

Perhaps because of the red of Honest Ed’s sign, Scott dreams that night of Ramona, a red-haired beauty and while at the library with Knives the next day, he sees her in the flesh. His obsession builds. After t rehearsal, when Scott introduces the star-struck Knives to his band Sex Bomb Omb, including girl-drummer Kim Pine played by Toronto actress Alison Pill, they head out into one of the more exciting scenes in the film.

Sex Bomb Omb walking up Manning St. at Queen St. W.

Suddenly, and out of nowhere Toronto again steals the scene when the band is seen walking up Manning Street! From just north of Queen Street West in the extremely cool neighbourhood of Trinity-Bellwoods, you see 793-797 Queen Street West in the background. Filmed before the fire that on May 24, 2010 would leave 791-797 in ruins, the cameraman mistakenly excluded 791 Queen Street West, the eventual home for Canadian Culture Thing and Valhalla Cards and Gifts. Perhaps it was because he felt psychically that without CCT and Valhalla in the shot there was no point to widen his shot.

Looking north up Manning at Queen 1900.

The four-alarm fire that started accidentally on the apartment deck above 793, would take 18 fire trucks and 65 firefighters an hour and a half to put out. The damage would exceed $600,000 and would leave several people and a poodles named Rocco homeless and three business closed. The resulting shuffle would have Australian Boot Company formerly at 791 and Sydney’s at 795 moving across the street into new spaces while Flight Centre would go on with business as usual after a three-day closure. In December of 2010 cool baby fashion shop Minimioche, a children’s clothing boutique would move into 795 and Deluxe who had temporarily closed awaiting renovations would wait to move back in June of 2011.

Sex Bomb Omb walking up Manning St. at Queen St. W.
The fire of May 24, 2010 that left 791-795 Queen St.W. a charred ruin.

While some took the disaster in stride as one tenant commented, “Like anything bad that happens in life, something good will come from this; I just don’t know what it is yet…It’s just stuff.” Others would take a more realistic view, “I had $50,000 worth of uninsured vinyl in there…so that’s f#@*ing gone.” The something good that would come would be in February 2011, when Canadian Culture Thing and Valhalla Cards and Gifts, after being further west on Queen Street for 12 and a half years, would upgrade their space and move into the newly renovated and structurally sound 791 Queen Street West…but I’ve gratuitously digressed.

Looking south to Queen West down Manning 1900.
Queen and Manning 2011 – Valhalla standing out in lime green.

After having walked up Manning Street in a show-stopping scene of (almost) cinematic brilliance the group goes to a party where Scott meets his dream-girl Ramona in the flesh for the first time. With his thoughts of Manning Street distracting him, Scott’s indifference is overwhelmed by his band-mates excitement at an upcoming gig at the Toronto International Battle of the Bands, the TIBB. The TIBB will offer Sex Bomb Omb an opportunity to win a record contract.

Dreaming again of Ramona, Scott wakes to find that the dream has turned to reality and she is at his door. Scott Pilgrim convinces her to go out on a date with him and they have an amazing time. Scott is hooked but little does he know that Ramona is carrying a terrible secret.

Pressured by his room-mate (Kieran Culkin), his band and his conscience, Scott knows he must break things off with Knives but just can’t find the right time. Even at his next gig, he forgets entirely about Knives and is confronted with having two girlfriends present. Fortunately, Knives’ naivete keeps her clueless and her excitement in seeing Sex Bomb Omb play at the Club Rockit on Church Street keeps her unconscious. Having fainted, she misses Scott’s fight for the love of Ramona.

The first battle takes place at Club Rockit on Church Street south of Richmond against Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha) in which Scott is triumphant defeating the first Evil X. With Knives having gone home, Scott and Ramona ride home on a TTC bus heading east on Carlton towards Parliament St. (although that is actually a streetcar route…oh, those crazy magical movin’ pictures!) in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto.

The next day as Scott prepares to leave, with plans to finally break it off with Knives, his roommate mentions that Lucas Lee an OK skateboarder turned OK actor “is filming a Winnipeg Healey movie in Toronto right now.” To which Scott Pilgrim responds, “They make movies in Toronto?” As he leaves, the Spike channel is on TV airing a Lucas Lee movie. In the clip, the Toronto skyline is shown with Lucas Lee charging towards a phone-booth near Cherry Street in the foreground.

Scott calls Knives from a phone booth at Bloor and Bathurst showing Insomnia and the Green Beanery in the background. As the camera circles around the phone-booth (which is not actually there) in almost 360 degrees it shows the  intersection of Bathurst and Bloor in all of it’s grandeur. Then he and Knives go to Sonic Boom on Bloor Street West (moving to Mirvish Village) where he finally breaks it off.

That night, Scott and Ramona walk up the beautiful, snow-covered Baldwin Steps leading up to Casa Loma from the top of Spadina Rd. The Baldwin Steps, named after Robert Baldwin a member of the Parliament of Upper Canada among a dozen other titles and a landowner from the area, were first constructed in the Eighteenth Century. Built over the shorecliff of the ancient Lake Iriquois, the steps were installed to connect two sections of Spadina Road as the escarpment’s incline was too great to build a road. In order to allow people a right-of-way between the Town of York and upper Spadina Road where some of the most affluent citizens lived in their lavish homes, a set of wooden steps were built. These steps would remain until 1913 when stone steps would replace them.

Scott and Ramona walk up the Baldwin Steps.

In 1960, the Spadina Expressway, a 6-lane highway that was to run north up Spadina (really!?) from Lake Ontario to the 401 was eventually cancelled in 1971 by the Ontario Government due to public outcry and the steps (and everything else in the area) managed to dodge a 6-lane bullet. The only remaining section of the expressway is now called Allen Road. Through this project the land had become the property of the Government of Ontario and in 1984 it was leased to the City of Toronto for 99 years. In 1987 the City rebuilt the steps with concrete, their current look and style with new railings and expanded landings. At that time the steps were officially named the Baldwin Steps to commemorate Robert Baldwin whose family had originally owned the property where they were located.

“It’s a totally awesome castle.”

When they reach the top of the Baldwin Steps, Ramona asks, “What is this place?” To which Scott replies, “It’s a totally awesome castle.”

Casa Loma (Spanish for House on the Hill) was designed by Canadian super-architect E.J. Lennox and built at the edge of the escarpment overlooking the city between 1911-1914. Built as the residence of Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Lady Mary, Casa Loma ran Sir Henry’s lavish tastes and desire for foreign materials ran him into money trouble. Perhaps because of his desire to have Scottish maple for the library, an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley in the basement, Italian marble for the main staircase, an Otis elevator, the central vacuum system or the 99 telephones in a city with no one to call but Sir Henry Pellatt began bleeding money. With the start of World War I, work on Casa Loma halted and during the Depression the City of Toronto raised his taxes from $600 to $1,000, Sir Henry began auctioning off $1.5 million in art and furniture for a mere $250,000. Much of the house was never completed due to lack of finances and Sir Henry and Lady Mary left Casa Loma in 1923.

CanadianCulturething postcard
Casa Loma c1930 taken from Austin Terrace (no longer connecting to Kendal Avenue).

Casa Loma would become a luxury hotel for a short time and in the late 1920’s a popular nightspot where the Orange Blossoms played for eight months in 1927-1928. During their time at Casa Loma, the Orange Blossoms would rename themselves Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra. After the name change and their run at Casa Loma, saxophonist Glen Gray would lead his Casa Loma Orchestra on a major North American tour and they would become one of the top North American swing bands, touring until 1950 when Glen Gray’s health would limit him to studio recordings.

In 1933 the City of Toronto would seize Casa Loma for unpaid back taxes in the amount of $27, 303 and with motions being made for demolition 1937, the Kiwanis Club struck a deal to purchase the castle for $1. Kiwanis Club turned it into a tourist attraction except during World War II when Casa Loma was secretly used for research on sonar, and for the construction of sonar"" devices (known as ASDIC) used in U-Boat detection.

Also at Casa Loma, Scott Pilgrim battles the second Evil X in the form of leather-clad OK skateboarder turned OK actor Lucas Lee played by Chris Evans, the new Captain America. After Scott is thrown into Casa Loma’s southeast turret, he returns to fight Lucas Lee and his gang of stunt-doubles. The battle ends when Scott challenges Lucas Lee to skateboard down the rails of the Baldwin Steps. Reaching speeds of 309 km/h he eventually explodes in a ball of fire around Dupont and Spadina. Scott Pilgrim wins his second battle defeating another Evil X and Captain America"" to boot.

Lucas Lee (Chris “Captain America” Evans) throws Scott Pilgrim into one of Casa Loma’s turrets.

Sex Bomb Omb is opening for Scott Pilgrim’s ex-girlfriend Natalie “Envy” Adams’ group at Lee’s Palace, one of Toronto’s best live venues since 1985. Opening as the Bloor Theatre by the Allen’s Theatre chain in the 1920’s, the original Bloor was a popular movie theatre through the 50’s but became a restaurant during the 1960’s and 70’s. The theatre opened as Lee’s Palace on September 5, 1985 with Toronto Rockabilly Punk and King of Queen West Handsome Ned. With bands like the Tragically Hip and the Barenaked Ladies to the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing at Lee’s Palace over the years, Lee’s is the premiere rock club of Toronto. With it’s facade covered with the mural of multi-coloured mayhem by Toronto artist Runt (Alex Currie) in 1987, Lee’s Palace is as much a visual landmark and it is cultural.

Handsome Ned, the King of Queen Street West (1957-1987)

After the show, both bands are in the dressing room. After being an insulting ass, Todd Ingram (the bass player for Natalie’s band) punches Knives, knocking her out completely. Todd Ingram is played by Brandon Routh the new Superman, the Kryptonian-Canadian Super-Hero. Julie, the reoccurring character who works at Sonic Boom and at the Second Cup with Scott’s sister asks Todd and Natalie, “Ahhh, you guys doin’ anything fun while you’re on town?” To which Todd replies, “Fun? In Toronto?” With this final insult being too much to handle the battle begins between Scott and Todd who is now revealed to be another of Ramona’s Evil X’s. Todd is a vegan and therefore being better than everyone else has mystical super-powers, duh. Scott is beaten severely. At one point, Stephen from Sex Bomb Omb cowardly says that they are leaving to go to Pizza Pizza for a slice. Scott eventually defeats Übermensch-Todd by tricking him into drinking a coffee with half and half in it, a vegan’s kryptonite.

Scott recuperates at Pizza Pizza with Ramona and his band-mates , the flashing lights of Honest Ed’s in across the street the background.

Everyone passes the twinkling lights of the trees on King Street west of Spadina as they go into a club where Scott fights Ramona’s lesbian Evil X. But before Scott gets his chance, Ramona and Roxy Richter resolve their anger with a fight of their own. Roxy says to Ramona, “Back off Hasbian! If Gideon can’t have you, no one can. The League hath spoken.” Ramona sneers, “Then Gideon best get his pretentious ass up here because I’m about to kick yours out of the Great White North""!” All but beaten, Scott then defeats her.

Scott is dejected having defeated Ramona’s Twin Techno-Asian (Kyle & Ken Katayanagi) Evil X’s, when he discovers that Ramona has gone back with Gideon. To make matters worse, Gideon tempts Sex Bomb Omb with a record contract and they all jump at the chance, abandoning the protesting Scott Pilgrim.

When Scott decides he will complete the list by defeating Gideon regardless of whether he can win Ramona back, he goes to the Gideon’s club the Chaos Theatre to fight. When the battle begins and Gideon knocks Scott down a flight of stairs, Scott sneers, “Your club sucks, by the way!” Gideon sarcastically replies, “Well, if my cathedral of cutting edge taste holds no interest for your tragically Canadian sensibilities then I shall be forced to grant you a swift exit from the premises…and a fast entrance into hell!” With a secondary attack from Knives, Gideon is eventually defeated. Once the trial is over Ramona and Scott exit the film into a magical doorway in the middle of the street with the Toronto skyline in background shot from the vicinity of the Distillery District.

The skyline of Toronto from vicinity of the Distillery District.

…And the Oscar goes to…Toronto.

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11 years ago

[…] the foreground is Sir Henry Pellatt’s Casa Loma […]