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Home --> Movies --> Other --> Toronto's Clean Streets

Toronto's Clean Streets

Claim:   An American film crew coming back from break found their intentionally garbage-strewn street had been cleaned by Toronto sanitation workers during the few minutes they'd been away.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   Through Garbage numerous mangled retellings, this anecdote has become the ultimate "Canada is so clean!" tale. If the incident ever played out in real life, all indicators point to it happening during a shoot for television's Night Heat, and not to any of the various film companies shooting in Toronto which have since claimed it.

Whether or not to believe the legend remains an open question. Two unrelated people who worked on Night Heat have shared assurances that the story is true. On the other hand, even allowing for an unusually bone-headed City of Toronto sanitation crew that couldn't tell the difference between a dressed set and how the street typically looks, one has to wonder what happened to the show's security people during the lunch break when the area was supposedly swept clean. Hot sets aren't just left sitting there, not even for a moment, because the chance is too great someone passing by will help himself to a souvenir. Even if everything of value is locked up (cameras and other assorted equipment), the loss of even a small item off the set can cause untold continuity problems for the shoot. (A chair can't be in one shot but be missing in the next, in other words.)

For this story to be true, the set would have had to have been left completely deserted, a condition that would be unheard of.

The earliest reporting of the legend comes from a 1985 newspaper article:
Urban garbage seems to be everywhere, except when you really need It.

Director Sonny Grosso, in town to film episodes of CBS' Night Heat, ordered a massive pile of garbage to make Toronto look more like New York.

But when the film crew came back from a coffee break, they found the trash had been cleaned up. Filming had to be halted while Grosso ordered more garbage.

The incident was reported in the American magazine This World, and a delighted city works commissioner Ray Bremner proudly showed off copies to aldermen at a recent meeting.
People connected to the show have explained this happened over the lunch break (not the much shorter coffee break).

Another sighting from later that year:
That it [Toronto] is clean was evident earlier this year when Sonny Grosso, the director of a movie being filmed here, ordered up a pile of garbage to make a street scene look more like New York. When the film crew came back from a coffee break, they found city workers had cleaned up the trash. Mr. Grosso had to order more.
Notice that this second newspaper appears to be the vector by which this story mutated from "it happened during the filming of the TV show Night Heat" to "it happened during the filming of some unnamed movie." Within a scant three years of the real incident, we see the movie variation being told as a "favorite Hollywood North" tale in yet another major paper:
The often large task for movie production designers attempting to tranform Toronto's calm, squeaky clean streets into a convincing semblance of the bustling, grungy inner core of modern-day American cities is to find ways to simulate the grime, graffiti and garbage so that they have that authentic, rundown look of years of neglect and decay. The favorite "Hollywood North" story told here is about the film crew that carefully strewed litter and garbage bags along the sidewalks to give the appearance of Manhattan, broke for lunch, and returned to the set an hour later to discover that the ever-vigilant city public works crews had whisked the debris away, not realizing a movie was being filmed.
Ain't it fun watching one of these things grow?

Barbara "smoking a homegrown UL" Mikkelson

Last updated:   18 August 2007

Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2014 by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson.
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
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  Sources Sources:
    Boone, Michael.   "Look Southward, Angel."
    The [Montreal] Gazette.   29 October 1991   (p. D8).

    Brown, Barry.   "Tidy Toronto Yields Gritty 'Night Heat'."
    Chicago Tribune.   1 August 1987   (p. C3).

    Denton, Herbert.   "Hollywood North; the Multifaceted Toronto."
    The Washington Post.   24 April 1988   (p. F1).

    Martin, Douglas.   "Special to the New York Times."
    The New York Times.   12 October 1985   (p. A1).

    Los Angeles Times.   "Toronto Resists N.Y. Look."
    2 February 1985   (p. E2).