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Toronto Messengers –A Brief History


By Joe Hendry

Part 2 – 1970 - 2005

Toronto Messenger History – “Modern” Era

The New Beginning:

The modern era of bike messengers is considered to begin sometime around 1970. Messengers prior to 1970 were mainly telegraph messengers and delivery persons for retail. After WWII the use of telegraph bicycle messengers declined until they virtually disappeared in the 1960’s. After child labour advocates succeeded in preventing messenger companies from exploiting children these companies were forced to turn to adults who more often than not preferred cars as their delivery vehicle.

In the early 1970’s all-bicycle courier companies existed in San Francisco (Sparkie’s) and New York (Can Carriers) but Toronto would not see a modern bike messenger until 1979. In May of that year Hilda Tiessen  started Sunwheel Bicycle Couriers to demonstrate the use of bicycles as a solution to traffic congestion.

At that time cars and taxis performed most of the sameday package delivery in the city’s core. In fact the number of courier cars illegally parked downtown led the city to establish tow away zones and clamp down on illegal parking.

Sunwheel started with 3 students and a Young Canada Works grant. Within a year their numbers rose to 12 couriers. By 1988 Sunwheel had 55 messengers on bikes and foot and annual sales of $1.9 million. The success of Sunwheel led other courier companies to add bikes to their motorized fleets in an effort to improve their efficiency downtown. In the late eighties there were over 200 courier companies in Toronto.

The summer of 1985 brought the world’s first “Alley Cat” race, although the first race to use the “Alley Cat” name would not happen 1987. According to legendary Toronto messenger ‘zine Hideouswhitenoise, the Alley Cat race was  “the style of racing originated in 1985 by Ronny Munroe and Marshall Sukoluk, two Toronto couriers. The was race was based out of Marshall’s backyard and was “full out rush hour traffic racing.” Only six couriers competed in that original race with Gary Rothenberg winning it.

By 1987 Toronto messengers set up two major annual races, the Halloween Alley Cat Scramble and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Under Construction/More to come soon:

More alleycats, World Championships, North American Championships, Human Powered Rollercoaster, Breadspreads/Standby Café, Licensing attempts, The Association of Professional Urban Cyclists(APUC), Messenger Appreciation Day, The Toronto Hoof and Cycle Courier Coalition (THC3), Food as Fuel, Choking us to death, Toronto Green Award, Toronto messenger bike shops, bag makers, famous ex-messengers etc, etc.


Toronto Early History

Copyright Mess Media 2004


Toronto
Bike messengering since 1880
  Messenger racing since 1895
  Alleycat racing since 1985
  Messenger advocacy since 1937


 


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