elizabeth taylor toronto

The history of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's controversial visit to Toronto

Toronto's history may not seem intriguing to some, but the truth is there are lots of tantalizing tales from the city's past that tug at the old heartstrings.

Adam Bunch has been writing about the history of Toronto for the past decade. He's written two books on the subject, the latest being, The Toronto Book of Love

"I've heard from lots and lots of people who say that growing up they learned history as dry lists of dates and names and events," Bunch says, "but that's not what our history is. Those people weren't just dry, boring people. They had many of the same types of feelings that we have today."

These people, including the city's first mayor Sir William Lyon Mackenzie, the man responsible for standard time zones, Sir Sandford Fleming, and even Pierre and Margaret Trudeau were passionate.

They had crushes, and secret love affairs. They sent letters. They were romantic. They took chances. They got jealous. They dealt with heartache, and loss. 

One such story in the city's history involved a high-profile celebrity couple. Elizabeth Taylor had just filmed Cleopatra with Richard Burton, and they had fallen in love on set.

However, there was one problem, or perhaps two. At the time, Taylor and Burton were married to other people. Plus, the year was 1963, and the idea of divorce in Canada was still a relatively new, and controversial one.

The couple famously holed up in Toronto together, as Burton was filming Hamlet at the O'Keefe Centre (now Meridian Hall).

They got a five-room suite at the King Edward Hotel. Protestors waited outside with signs condemning them for their extramarital affair, and respective quickie divorces.

Burton then rented out the King Eddy ballroom, proposed to Liz, and they were off to Montreal to tie the knot. "Dickenliz," as they were referred to, enjoyed about ten years of marital bliss before calling it quits.

A decade might not seem like a very long time in the grand scheme of things, but as far as celebrity marriages go, especially Taylor's, her coupling with Burton was her longest relationship.

Listen to Season 2, Episode 12 of the blogTO podcast

Adam Bunch is the host of the Canadiana web series, and the author of both the Toronto Book of the Dead, and the forthcoming Toronto Book of Love (out January 19th, 2021). 

In this episode, we explore a few different stories of love, jealousy, divorce, scandal, and dedication, like that time Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got engaged at the King Edward hotel, or when Sandford Fleming broke up with his girlfriend over a sunset.

Guide to this podcast
  • 2:00 The idea that Toronto's history is boring
  • 2:40 Horny Torontonians of yore
  • 3:28 Better understanding the city through a lens of love
  • 4:44 A companion to Toronto Book of the Dead
  • 5:23 Robert Baldwin fought for responsible democracy in the 1800s
  • 6:30 Baldwin was depressed over the death of his wife
  • 7:00 Weird requests from Baldwin after his death
  • 9:00 A love triangle and unrequited love
  • 10:00 The Cheever Letters
  • 10:52 Divorces were historically very hard to get
  • 12:10 Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Toronto love story
  • 13:30 "Dick and Liz" got engaged at the Royal Edward Hotel
  • 13:50 Margaret Trudeau spotted with the Rolling Stones at El Mocambo after hotel raids
  • 15:00 Pierre Trudeau making changes to marriage and divorce in the 70s
  • 16:40 What era of Toronto's past would you want to go back to? 
  • 17:37 William Lyon Mackenzie led an army down Yonge Street to try and overthrow the colonial government
  • 18:20 Mackenzie's wife stood by him after the rebellion was crushed
  • 20:27 Isabel Mackenzie is Toronto's most famous ghost
  • 21:13 The most romantic place in Toronto
  • 23:10 Sanford Fleming was not a great boyfriend
  • 24:00 Ending a relationship over a sunset
  • 25:15 Watch out for stumps
  • 26:00 A happy ending
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