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Gamblers Arrested at Jolly Miller

Dozens of gamblers arrested in 1935 police raid at North York’s Jolly Miller Tavern

‘Illicit gambling dens flourished in Toronto the Good,’ writes Susan Goldenberg

  • MAY 28, 2022

At 1 a.m., May 23, 1935, police smashed their way into North York’s historic Jolly Miller Tavern on Yonge Street near York Mills in what was, the Toronto Star reported at the time, the biggest raid on illegal “organized gambling” in North York and Toronto history to that date.

The pub, built circa 1856 after an 1836 one burned down, had been converted into a gambling den by then owner, Louis James, as previous owner Bill Cox’s attempt to turn it into an upscale nightclub failed during the Great Depression.

Illicit gambling dens flourished in “Toronto the Good” particularly beyond the city limits and the reach of Toronto police. Local politicians averted their eyes. The dens bribed rogue police to tip them off about planned police raids.

Located just on the city’s outskirts, the Jolly Miller was popular with people from a wide area, many of whom publicly portrayed themselves as pillars of propriety.

North York, at the time, was in York County, and York County Chief of Police John Faulds decided it was up to him to act. He handpicked 23 police officers he knew weren’t on the take to descend on the den. They blocked off Yonge Street to the north and south, surrounded the parking lot and building to prevent escapes, quietly approached, then pounced.

Using sledgehammers, officers smashed in the front door so powerfully that it was knocked off its hinges, then bashed through the locked and guarded gaming room door where patrons were playing poker, blackjack and craps.

“Desperate attempts were made by the patrons and staff to camouflage the gambling paraphernalia,” the Toronto Star reported in their front-page story later that day.

More than 100 people were arrested, fined $50 ($980 today). A trap door under a sofa was opened and gear thrown down.

“Why is gambling at the Miller illegal when betting is allowed at Woodbine Racetrack?” one gambler complained.

Louis James paid $1,000 ($20,000 today) bail.

Illegal gambling continued unabated. In November 1940, 300 gamblers were arrested at the Combine Club on The Queensway in what newspapers called the biggest gaming haul in Canadian police history. It didn’t put an end to illicit gambling dens.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage. For further information, visit www.nyhs.ca.