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Arthur Whitaker: 1946-2010

Remembering a Toronto bathhouse business pioneer

Arthur Whitaker died on December 25. He was 64.

Arthur Whitaker was remarkable: fiercely intelligent, completely self-educated, bitingly funny, he was a force in this community.

I met Arthur in 1970 when he was working as a cashier at the Library Health Club. He moved from there to take up the manager position with the new Club Toronto, which was being built by his friend Peter Maloney. He joined Peter in building The Barracks, in which he also had shares. Together Arthur and I built the Richmond Street Health Emporium in 1975.

In 1988, when it was necessary for us to sue the City of Toronto to get a building permit for the Spa on Maitland, Arthur used his considerable intellect to dig out everything he could find about gay bathhouses in Toronto throughout history. His deposition proved, to the satisfaction of the judge, that gay bathhouses had existed for at least a century in Toronto.

Arthur was always ready to help when we had our community troubles with the police. After the first Bijou raid in 2000, it was necessary to ensure that the cashier there would be unafraid in the event of a follow-up raid. Knowing he risked arrest, Arthur became a celebrity cashier, along with the likes of George Hislop and Joseph Couture. When the police did arrive for a follow-up raid, Arthur turned on the lights, was arrested and charged with obstructing justice. He spared dozens of people the misery of an arrest.

Arthur lost much of his energy in the last few years as early-onset Alzheimer’s began to take hold. In order to move some of the junk he bought in garage sales, and to have something to do, he operated Zart’s Toy Store on the third floor of Spa Excess. He ran it on weekends for several years, counselling the staff and many customers on their love lives and sharing our history with his loyal followers. He retired from that operation on New Year’s Eve, 2009, because it had become increasingly difficult for him to focus on the small tasks.

I will always remember Arthur for his fierce wit. He set a bathhouse standard when a customer at Richmond St asked if Arthur would cash a cheque. Arthur replied, “Well, we have this deal with the bank. They don’t suck cocks; we don’t cash cheques.” That became our official policy.

Arthur Whitaker died on December 25. He was 64 years old. He was much loved and will be missed by all who knew him.