The halls and meeting rooms were crowded

“I remember having to sit quite far back in a lot of those events, meaning they were packed. We were 40 or 50 rows back often.” — Robert J. Sawyer

The newspaper accounts and the memories of attendees suggest the Royal York was crowded. The best estimates put the attendance at between 5,000 and 8,000. The 1973 Worldcon in Toronto had about 2,900 attendees and Toronto Trek III in 1989 topped out at about 1,000. 

Photographer Frank Goodman, for example, points to his own photos as evidence of the well-populated halls and meeting rooms. “I have photos of people filling the rooms.”

Convention Treasurer David Warren said, “It certainly seemed busier than I would have thought. Friday was quiet, and we were scared, but then a lot of people came on the Saturday morning.”

Robert J. Sawyer also remembers lots of people. “There was a main ballroom and it was filled with row after row of chairs. I remember having to sit quite far back in a lot of those events, meaning they were packed. We were 40 or 50 rows back often. So, absolutely, it was crowded.”

That’s not to say the organizers didn’t wish more people were walking in the doors, especially as the weekend progressed and the financial balance sheet came into focus.

“Saturday was the busiest day, but you never had trouble getting a chair (in the talks). We always got a seat,” said Linda MacDonald. “But by Sunday, they were panicked, they were really panicked. They asked us multiple times, ‘Can you call a friend? Can you call a friend?’ They weren’t mean or anything, they just needed help. I tried to get my cousin to come. I called her, but she didn’t.”

Blame it on the lack of rain 

Joan Winston suggested in her book The Making of the Trek Conventions that the numbers were right for the market, that Toronto had maybe 4,000 Star Trek fans. 

Debra Pearse Hartery blamed a lack of advertising. “There weren’t enough people, and I think the problem was the advertising. People just didn’t know about it.” Sawyer disagrees, telling me “There was a lot of publicity for it in advance. You could not have even a peripheral connection to science fiction then and not have heard of this.”

Charlie McKee sent me an image from the television spots which ran in the Toronto area. MacDonald, who lived about 90 minutes outside of the city by car, believes she learned of the con from a commercial. 

An image of the text-based TV commercials that ran on local TV. This screen provided two mail-order ticket addresses, plus the statement that tickets were also for sale at Bakka.

Maybe, instead of advertising, the problem was the sunshine. “I went to bed late Thursday night and woke up Friday morning and looked out the window and it was a beautiful sunny and warm day, and I realized we were in trouble,” said convention volunteer Michael Wallis. “This was the first nice weekend Toronto had had in more than two months, so a lot of people who would have come to the convention instead did stuff outside.” 

And Wallis might be right. The Globe and Mail said Torontonians could expect a few showers and a high of 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) on that Friday.


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