Introduction: the convention fandom forgot

Thousands of fans gathered in Toronto’s Royal York Hotel in 1976 for a three-day Star Trek celebration, drawn by an extraordinary line-up of stars, production staff and sci-fi luminaries plus dealers’ rooms, a bridge set, and an extensive film program. And when that weekend wound down, the whole enterprise disappeared from fandom’s memory. Until recently, the only information you could find was one page on the Fanlore site and a brief account in Joan Winston’s book The Making of the Trek Conventions

In the spring of 2019, more than four decades after the convention, I wanted to write a quick blog post for my main site, Collecting Trek. I found a Toronto Star Trek ’76 convention program in a storage box. I had picked it up sometime in the 1980s because it’s a cool old collectible and was signed by Walter Koenig.

The cover of my copy of the Toronto Star Trek '76 convention, signed by Walter Koenig -- the collectible that started it all.

I fired up Google to research the convention — and found basically nothing. That one Fanlore page is a gossipy account that contradicts itself, telling readers the “actual attendance [was] 1,500” and in another place that “Seven thousand attended, and many more were turned away after that number had been reached.”

(The truth is in the middle, as the attendance was far more than 1,500 and no one was turned away.)

Attendees gather at the registration desk of Toronto Star Trek 76.
The registration desk, with Lauren Pearse (standing on the left). Photo by Frank Goodman
Mike Makkreel in the dealers’ room. Photo from Makkreel.
A two shot of Bjo and John Trimble, with her sitting in the captain's chair and John standing beside.
Bjo and John Trimble. Photo by Frank Goodman

I was shocked there was nothing else online because, in addition to being the first Canadian Trek con of any size, it also sported a lineup that would be impressive by modern standards: the 21 guests included James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, DC Fontana, Harlan Ellison, and Bjo and John Trimble. And its legacy was that one web page? That I could not allow, so I decided to find someone who knew about the con and write one or two pieces on it. 

Three years later

Instead, I wrote 21 articles based on lengthy interviews with 22 people, including the main organizers and volunteers, their friends who were asked to run errands and run film projectors, dealers, and fans who barely slept over that long weekend so they didn’t miss anything. 

I also managed to find the convention photographer, Frank Goodman, who was hiding in plain sight in Toronto. His photos from 1976 appear here for the first time anywhere.

Over those three years, I also:

  • found about 15 articles in newspaper archives 
  • studied the hotel’s floor plans to get a picture of the goings on
  • found a Toronto Transit Commission Ride Guide from 1976 (more on that later)
  • constructed a timeline for the building and near destruction of the bridge set
  • contacted people through Facebook who shot a college film on a bridge set
  • and learned that the weather that weekend was quite pleasant.

I also chased down some leads that went nowhere, including:

  • trying to find three kids who, in grade school, wrote and filmed a Super 8 Star Trek episode on that bridge set
  • contacting the Marketing and Communications Manager of the Fairmont Royal York hoping to see records from 1976 
  • and repeatedly emailing the Lorne Scots Regiment, whose members piped James Doohan into the main hall. No one there ever got back to me. 

These articles are built on the generosity of people who, with two exceptions, did not know me before I contacted them. I will call out two people here. The first is Peter McGarvey, one of the convention’s main players and the rainmaker who introduced me to eight other attendees or organizers. He even invited me to a party at his home attended by some of the people you will meet here.

Early on, he told me “If anyone should be the number one person credited, it has to be Elizabeth Pearse.” Pearse conceived of and stage managed Toronto Star Trek ’76 and she accepted the financial responsibility when the closing numbers were less than she hoped.

Her daughter, Debra Pearse Hartery, is the other person I will thank here. Debra was one of the convention’s driving forces and she and I spent hours on the phone, talking about her mother and that weekend. 

I am very thankful to everyone who talked with me, sent photos, and pointed me to other people. 

These articles are a tribute to the volunteers who created this convention and to the Trekkies and Trekkers who paid $10 or $20 for a ticket to this amazing event. This is also a thank-you to the fans of the 1970s, without whom we would have had no more Star Trek after 1969.

A convention attendee is dressed as a Mugato from A Private Little War and is reflected in a door mirror.
Photo by Frank Goodman

Note: All photos are credited and used with permission of the photographers.


2 thoughts on “Introduction: the convention fandom forgot

  1. I remember seeing the blooper reel for the first time. They set up 16mm projector as people were laughing like crazy. I pulled my cassette tape recorder on and recorded the responses of the crowed.. all have to look for that. I did get to shake the hand of Jim Doohan as he walked by and also met Grace Lee & George Takei. I was 16 yrs old, now I’m 61 and still collecting. Most 16mm film, 35mm film — clips , CLAPPER BOARDS & reel trailers. My biggest joy is helping Marc Cushman with images in his books, and building ST MODELS… check out my trek on YouTube.. wrongway346

    Like

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