1907: Red Ryan is a folk hero to some and just a plain criminal to others. Twelve year old, Norman "Red" Ryan begins his criminal career by pinching bicycles in 1907. A year later he's sent to reform school for stealing chickens. By 1914 he's serving a 2nd term at Kingston, when he gets released to become a soldier. Red spends a good part of the war in army lock-up for robbing stores. By 1923 he's serving 25 years for a string of bank robberies in Hamilton. In an attempted escape, he impales the Chief Keeper with a pitchfork. A young writer for the Toronto Star writes up the story. His name is Ernest Hemingway.
"As the chief keeper ...reached the ladder, Red reached for a pitchfork. Red swung with all his might... Walsh went down and Red... went over the wall."
Twelve days later, 3 armed men hold up a Bank of Nova Scotia, bagging $3000. Ryan and his cohorts race into The States. Letters home are intercepted and he's caught, returning to a life sentence in Kingston. Before long, Red, the consummate charmer, is winning back the hearts of Torontonians.
Red reforms under the watchful eye of a Catholic prison chaplain, inventing a pick-proof lock for post office mail bags. Newspaper stories about his rehabilitation arouse public sympathy, including reports that Ryan is using his stash of stolen money to help his sister dying of tuberculosis. In 1929, "Famous Bandit proves tender Nurse in Prison" makes headlines. He's working in the prison hospital, sweeping floors, feeding prisoners, taking temperatures and acting as an occasional scrub nurse. The prison chaplain begins working actively for Ryan's release, who is now his altar boy in prison.
Publicity finally gets the attention of Prime Minister RB Bennett. In 1934 he visits Ryan in prison, writing: "I was greatly impressed by what he said to me...I can only say that his demeanour, his clothes, his sleeping cot and surroundings were calculated to stimulate him to renewed efforts for usefulness. The minister charged with responsibility in such matters is at the moment absent. When he returns I will speak to him about this matter." Bennett eventually orders his release, and Red rides the wave of penal reform. He is going to be the test case for Canada's new emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation.
Offers of jobs and celebrity appearances abound. Ryan is hired by the Toronto Star to write stories about being the author of his own misfortune. He's feted by press and society and when taking time out to visit a religious shrine, the story "Dazed by Liberty, Red Ryan prays in little Church" appears. Ryan settles down with his younger brother, working two jobs and enjoys his celebrity.
While Ryan is living the life of Reilly, other crimes are taking place in Toronto. One night early in 1935 a man and his son are shot dead trying to stop a robbery. A few days later 2 masked men enter a crowded liquor store in Sarnia and a passerby calls police. When a constable arrives he's murdered at point blank range, by the taller robber. In a blaze of police bullets the 2 thieves are killed. The smaller one is a petty crook named Harry Checkley. The taller one, though his hair is dyed brown, is Red Ryan. For months, Ryan had been leading a double life as celebrity by day and murderer by night.
1912: Charles Hastings, Toronto's first Medical Officer of Health is truly a hero because of his tireless efforts to lower the city's soaring rate of death and disease. By addressing the social and environmental conditions he believes causes sickness, Hastings is revolutionary for his time - linking poverty, overcrowding and poor nutrition with the city's epidemics.
In 1912 he found: "...eight thousand unsanitary houses, 4,500 houses overcrowded as tenements surrounded by dirty, foul smelling un-drained stables, manure heaps and evil smelling privies. By 1918 he has 15,000 privies demolished."
Hastings loses his own daughter to typhoid because of infected milk, and swears to spare other parent the same agony. He crusades against impure milk, and eventually Toronto becomes first city in Canada to pasteurize milk. He begins health inspections for homes and restaurants, introduces childhood immunizations, public health clinics and appoints hundreds of public health inspectors and nurses to carry out the necessary work. By 1922, Toronto has the lowest death rate of any large city in North America and becomes a showcase for international medical professionals and the League of Nations.