Vintage Toronto Ads: Byrds and Falcons

Originally published on Torontoist on February 12, 2013.


Left: Toronto Star, May 28, 1966. Right: The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

Joe Peters, president of the Toronto Italia Falcons soccer club, had a brilliant idea to raise the profile of the nascent professional sport among the city’s youth in the spring of 1966: marry a match to a rock concert. “We are introducing young people to soccer under conditions they understand,” he told the Telegram. To lure teens into Varsity Stadium for “Rock ‘n Soccer” on June 22, 1966, he booked one of the most controversial bands of the moment to headline.

It had been a rocky year for the Byrds. Singer Gene Clark departed the group in February 1966, because of a mixture of stress, fear of flying, and dissent within the band. Their next single, “Eight Miles High,” was banned by radio stations across North America because of suspected drug content. In Toronto, 1050 CHUM played the song for a week before station manager Allan Slaight pulled it “the minute we heard what it was supposed to refer to.”

The Star’s Robert Fulford interviewed students at Wilson Heights Junior High for their perspective on the lyrical content of “Eight Miles High” and similarly controversial songs. Fulford wasn’t convinced the Byrds depicted a drug trip, noting that “only in the vagueness, the sense of dislocation, can you find any real hint of such an experience.” One student thought it was about the serenity of being up in the sky, while another thought it described how the singer felt while being with his girlfriend. When informed the song was banned, one girl asked “what do they think they’re trying to hide from us?”

(Among the students interviewed was future Fashion Television host Jeanne Beker. While she didn’t comment about the Byrds, she guessed that the title of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” evoked the concepts of “woman is the world and the rain is just the hate falling on the world.”)

ts 66-06-18 byrds banner

Toronto Star, June 18, 1966, using an outdated publicity shot (Gene Clark, departed since February 1966, is on the right).

The mixture of rock and soccer didn’t go smoothly at what the Globe and Mail’s John Macfarlane dubbed “Toronto’s first op-pop-soc-hop.” Around 3,000 teens showed up, less than half the audience organizers required to break even. The evening began with a trio of local acts, followed by a match pitting the Falcons against the Hamilton Primos. Overheard in the stands: “What are those squares doing out there kicking a rubber ball around?” Kids bored by the game may have perked up during the halftime go-go dancing spectacular.

After the Falcons earned a 3–0 victory, the audience anxiously awaited the arrival of the Byrds. CHUM DJ Bob McAdorey urged the crowd to “spread out and sit on the natural seat God gave you” before the band performed. While 30 police officers threatened to send excited girls “back to Yorkville” if they didn’t move away from the stage, the band played a half-hour set. “No one will ever know whether they were good, bad, or indifferent,” Macfarlane observed. “At times it was difficult to tell what they were playing above the screams of the crowd.” Star reviewer Douglas Hughes felt “the affair had all the most depressing characteristics of a mass outdoor funeral,” and structured his report in such a manner.

On his way out of the money-losing concert, Hughes overheard a girl suggest to a boy that they head to Yorkville to see “some groups up there that really swing.” He dismissed the idea. Hughes didn’t blame him, as there was “no point in risking another funeral.”

Additional material from the June 23, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 18, 1966 and June 23, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star, and the June 2, 1966 edition of the Telegram.


tely 66-06-02 byrds preview The Telegram, June 2, 1966.

ts 66-06-18 do they sing of dope

Toronto Star, June 18, 1966.

gm 66-06-23 byrds review

Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

gm 66-06-23 byrds soccer game

The view from the sports page. Globe and Mail, June 23, 1966.

ts 66-06-23 byrds soccer review 1

Another sports-page take. Toronto Star, June 23, 1966.

ts 66-06-18 gzowski on supremes

This profile of the Supremes by Peter Gzowski was on the same page of the Star as Fulford’s piece. 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Slaughtering the Price of Glasses

Originally published on Torontoist on February 5, 2013.


The Telegram, November 26, 1915.

While stores employ colourful, action-packaged language to highlight price reductions during sales, there’s a fine line between promoting bargains and promoting violence. While terms like “blowout sale” and “explosive deals” hint at gruesome circumstances, rarely do stores offer “slaughter prices.” Who wants images of corpses or animals headed to a packing plant dancing through their head while shopping?

Perhaps it was the times. When this ad appeared, readers were saturated with daily updates on the carnage on European battlefields. The slaughter associated with the First World War would have troubled anyone’s eyes and caused headaches for anyone with family on the front.

Luckily, any customers traumatized by in-store signs promoting “slaughter prices” were gently assured by a skilled specialist that no harm would occur during the free eye test.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Scared Stiff by Scotch

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2013.


The News, January 31, 1913.

How to sell Scotch a century ago: hire a pitchman with Cheshire Cat grin to hide in a dark room. (The disembodied head and mutton chops flying out like long whiskers only add to the feline effect.)

While it’s conceivable that this man might have charmed Scotch drinkers into investing in a bottle of Black & White in 1913, nowadays this ad might suggest a psycho killer preparing to pounce on his victim. Sinister smile lit by candlelight, bottle clenched in hand, no other parts of the body visible, possible Lewis Carroll obsession accompanied by purring voice: the stuff cinematic nightmares are made of.

Perhaps the ad agency should have stuck with the drink’s traditional black and white terrier mascots. Launched as Buchanan’s Blend by James Buchanan in 1879, corporate legend has it that the brand earned its name when customers in dimly-lit drinking establishments asked for “that black and white whisky,” based on its dark bottle and light label. An animal lover, Buchanan added the terriers to the label a few years later. “Some people believe it was these lovable Scotties that made the whisky so famous,” a 1968 ad noted. “But those who have tasted this classic Scotch know it’s really the other way around.” Either way, grinning disembodied heads didn’t factor in.

Additional material from the July 19, 1968 edition of Life.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Mail “Want” Columns Get Results

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2013.


Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

Based on the first situation depicted in today’s ad, it’s clear that, in 1886, serving real butter and eggs instead of that weird oleomargarine stuff was guaranteed to attract as many applicants for a boarding house room as, today, an attractively illustrated apartment listing on Craiglist draws renters. The medium may have changed, but the power of a well-placed classified ad remains the same.

Though small ads had been commonplace for years, recognizable classified sections only started appearing in Toronto papers during the 1870s. In his survey of the 19th century Canadian Press, A Victorian Authority (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), Paul Rutherford summed up the want-ad’s initial impact:

Normally, each item was very short, rarely fancy, mostly abbreviated, since the client was charged according to the number of words used. Here could be found something for everyone, whether of high or low station—business cards, real estate listings, articles for sale (including machinery), personals, board and lodging, above all jobs available and jobs wanted.

For years, the market leader in Toronto was the Telegram, which distinguished itself from other papers by devoting its front pages to classifieds, a practice it stuck with through the mid-1920s. By the end of the 1880s, the Mail carried an average of half-a-page of classifieds daily, and up to two pages in its Saturday edition. Their classified rates ranged from free (accommodations, jobs wanted, lost items) to two cents per word (commercial listings).


Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

In 19th-century Toronto classifieds, the buzzword seems to have been “first-class,” which may explain our city’s eternal obsession with securing first-class/world-class events and projects. Among the highlights of the January 23, 1888 classified section:

  • A barber was needed in Tilsonburg, but only if he was white and “first-class.”
  • Morrison & Co. of 48 Yonge Street was looking for sales agents for an entirely new line of products: “ornamental adhesive hooks used in houses, stores, banks, offices, etc., instead of nails and tacks.” The ad promised large profits.
  • A baker and his wife “without encumbrances” placed a “situations wanted” ad. He was “first-class on bread, cakes, and pastry,” while she was “competent to serve in store or assist in house.” Both offered “first-class references.”
  • A “large, handsomely furnished room” was available for boarding at the Stormont Lodge at the corner of Adelaide and John. The room was heated with hot air and dinner was served late. “None but first-class need apply.”
  • A “respectable middle-aged woman and her son, aged 12” sought a home for a few months. Both were “willing to make themselves generally useful.” They didn’t provide any first-class credentials.

Living the Towne & Countrye Square Life

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on January 19, 2013.

20130119enterprisebanner  Following the opening of Lawrence Plaza in 1953, North York went shopping plaza mad. As the once-rural township transformed into postwar suburbia, farms gave way to large retail structures and their accompanying parking lots. From small neighbourhood strip malls to major shopping centres like Don Mills and Yorkdale, North York residents could do most of their shopping near home. Among the participants in this boom was the oddly spelled Towne & Countrye Square. When it opened at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Steeles Avenue in June 1966, it touted itself as “Sophisticated ‘Downtown’ Shopping in a Country Club Atmosphere.” Although one would be hard-pressed to find any resemblance between a genteel golf course and the shopping centre’s present-day incarnation as Centerpoint Mall, credit the opening day ad writers for their imagination. As was typical of the era, the mall was greeted with several advertorial pages in the community newspaper, the Enterprise.


Globe and Mail, November 16, 1961.

The oldest component of Towne & Countrye Square was Sayvette, which opened in November 1961. It was the second location for the discount department store chain, which had launched five months earlier in Thorncliffe Park. Management’s dreams of quickly building a Canada-wide chain crashed after the chain sustained a $1.5 million loss in 1962. By the time Towne & Countrye Square was built, Sayvette was supported by a mysterious saviour who eventually turned out to be Loblaws.


The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Mall developer Marvin Kratter was one of Sayvette’s initial investors before withdrawing his shares within a year of the chain’s launch. The New York City-based real estate investor briefly owned Ebbets Field in Brooklyn then built the apartment complex which replaced the legendary baseball stadium after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. When Towne & Countrye opened, Kratter owned the Boston Celtics basketball team, who had just won their eighth consecutive NBA title. His New York Times obituary noted that Kratter viewed the team as a vehicle to promote one of his other investments: Knickerbocker Beer.


The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

The mall’s unusual name was the result of a “Name the Centre” contest which drew 18,000 entries. The winner was Harry Wong, described by the Enterprise as “a semi-retired chemical engineer, of 62 Elm St., Toronto.” Wong received $1,000 and a return trip for two to Bermuda via Air Canada. There was no explanation why Wong added an extra “e” to “town” and “country”—we suspect it was to lend an antiquated, rustic air to the enterprise, a la “ye olde.”


The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Anchors Sayvette and Super City were not directly attached to the main mall. Instead, they were linked by covered patios. A giant fountain was installed in the centre court. According to the Enterprise, “this huge floor-to-ceiling fountain ‘drops’ curtains of rain in three big circles within the fountain, while sprays add to the attraction around the base, and coloured lights enhance the effect.”


Toronto Star, May 25, 1966.

Ads for Towne & Countrye Square began appearing in local newspapers a week before the official opening on June 1, 1966.


Toronto Star, May 30, 1966.

Management tried to draw every demographic to the new shopping centre, including toddlers mutated into giants by atomic radiation.

The Telegram, May 31, 1966.

Among the amenities not mentioned in this ad: an auditorium, banquet space for up to 400, and a Tuesday night jazz concert series.

Indoor suburban shopping centres were still a novelty in 1966. “A completely enclosed shopping mall,” the Enterprise advertorial noted, “is like a building turned inside out. The entrances are on the inside and the outside is actually the backs of stores.” Designers used touches like quarry tile flooring, light filtered through skylights, plants, park benches, and street lights to create an illusion of being outside.

The Enterprise noted that Towne and Countrye’s stores preferred hiring local employees. “We are a part of the community and want to contribute more than just real estate and merchandise,” a mall spokesman noted. “By hiring our employees from the area, we are augmenting the basic income potential of the people who live there—our neighbours. This policy will be a sound addition to the economy of the area and play a major part in the future growth of the Towne & Countrye Square complex.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Reitman’s PR department was eager to tout the clothing retailer’s 209th store. An accompanying article noted that like its other locations, the Towne & Countrye store emphasized service and comfort: “Wide aisles, air-conditioning and restful lighting are installed with careful consideration for customers.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

It may seem odd that Bata didn’t bring in a Maple Leaf to open their Towne & Countrye location, but Detroit Red Wings goalie Roger Crozier was a good choice to draw in hockey fans. Despite suffering a bout of pancreatitis at the start of the 1965-66 season, Crozier led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup finals. Though the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the cup, Crozier was rewarded for his efforts with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Bata also tried to exploit Batmania, though it was a year ahead of the Adam West TV series when the shoe store unveiled its version of “Batman’s Girl.” While a short-lived “Bat-Girl” served as a romantic interest for Robin in early 1960s comic books, this female caped crusader could almost be a prototype of the better-known Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Super City Discount Foods was Loblaws’ lower-price banner during the 1960s, though management refused to publicly confirm or deny the grocery giant’s involvement. In the annual corporate report, Loblaws listed sales derived from Super City among other unidentified subsidiaries like National Grocers and Pickering Farms. By the time the connection was acknowledged in the late 1960s, Super City was merged with another Loblaws-owned budget chain, Busy-B.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

In its Enterprise advertorial, Super City promised customers “an exceptionally fast check out system, with extremely courteous cashiers.”  The piece also boasted about attractively displayed produce that was so fresh “it’s almost like picking them yourself.”

Toronto Star, June 3, 1966.

If this customer made up for missing opening day by becoming a regular patron of Towne & Countrye Square, she would have witnessed many changes in the years to come. Later additions included a movie theatre and a Bay department store, while Sayvette was replaced first by Woolco, then a succession of Loblaws-owned banners.

Toronto Star, November 29, 1990.

During the 1990 Christmas shopping season, newspaper ads announced a new identity for Towne & Countrye Square: Centerpoint Mall. The new name bothered Willowdale resident Gordon Allen, who complained about the American-style spelling to the Star:

“Strange! Did the shopping ‘centre’ people hire Americans to do this material and rename their ‘centre?’ Or are we really becoming so much Americanized that even these subtle Canadian differences are to disappear completely? I know that publications have for years left out the “u” in words like labour and favour in order to save space. But, frankly, it still sends shivers through me to see theatre spelled theater, labour and favour as labor and favor, and NOW THIS! Just curious.”

Additional material from the June 1, 1966 edition of the Enterprise, the October 19, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the December 9, 1999 edition of the New York Times, and the March 28, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

Queen Street on Saturday Night

sw 1926-11-13 queen street on saturday night

Toronto Star Weekly, November 13, 1926. Click on image for larger version.

There might not be as many “apples and quinces and amethyst grapes” on Queen Street today as there were in 1926 (unless you’re dining out), and are more young drunks stumbling out of bars (which were closed during the dying days of the Ontario Temperance Act), but one can argue that given the right sort of Saturday night,  the street is still “a highway of mirth and romance.”


In case you were wondering, this is brand-new material, the kind I want to start posting as the reprints begin to thin out. At this point, I’ve got four more years of my Torontoist run to sift through, plus a few other articles that may end up here. The new posts may be as short as this one, or, time-permitting, full-length articles.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Doin’ the Brading’s Do-Si-Do

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2013.


Globe and Mail, June 29, 1951.

Bow to your partner. Bow to your corner. Take a little swig. Do a little jig. Do-si-do, but don’t heave-ho.

We suspect these calls weren’t in Brading’s guide to square dancing, but they might have been a useful warning to anyone planning to down one too many Brading’s beers before engaging in another “Canadian Way to Good Health.”

During the postwar era, square dancing rose in popularity across North America as both a social activity and as a component of school physical education programs. Even Bugs Bunny called a dance or two. Thumbing through Toronto newspapers from the month today’s ad was published, we found a classified ad offering weekly sessions at a Lake Rosseau resort, a weekly half-hour showcase Saturday nights on CBC radio (Let’s Square Dance), and, lighting up the screen at the Mount Pleasant Theatre, comedienne Vera Vague, in Square Dance Katy.

Tracing its origins back to 1865, Ottawa-based Brading Breweries was business magnate E.P. Taylor’s gateway to the beer business during the late 1920s. Via acquisitions of regional brewers like Carling and O’Keefe, Taylor’s Canadian Breweries controlled half the Canadian beer market by the mid-1950s. The Brading’s brand gradually do-si-doed into the sunset.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Save Money at the Sheffield Lunch

Originally published on Torontoist on January 8, 2013. Additional ads have been included.


Mail and Empire, August 27, 1921.

How many downtown office workers followed the Sheffield chef’s advice and saved the advertisement? Perhaps they kept a copy in a safe corner of their desk, or stuck it in a visible location. How could a devoted clerk or number cruncher not appreciate the efficiency of a dining establishment devoted to maximizing its customer turnover?

globe 19-10-16 sheffield ladies

The Globe, October 16, 1919.

Opened at the southeast corner of Yonge and Adelaide Streets in 1915, many of Sheffield Lunch’s ads promised Torontonians “good food well cooked and quickly served.” The busy eatery kept its costs low by having customers pick their dishes themselves, instead of being waited on. A 1919 ad assured women that self-service enabled them “to select numerous dainty things on display” and eliminated “the tipping nuisance.” Male customers were enticed by a large basement room which provided “a suitable place for the men who like a smoke after their meals,” but who didn’t want to annoy non-smokers on the main floor.


Toronto Star, March 11, 1918.

Any spending the owners did, according to Sheffield’s ads, was only to prevent the restaurant from falling into a rut. Take the purchase of new kitchen equipment and a 20-foot-long steam table in early 1918. “This was done for two reasons,” the restaurant claimed, “namely to be able to serve quicker and to serve the orders hotter, as we realized that is the fault with most eating places.” If true, this doesn’t say much for the state of Toronto dining during World War I.


The Globe, June 21, 1922.

Management must have had grand visions, as the company made a stock offering in March 1920 with the goal of opening additional locations. Sheffield’s second restaurant, located on King Street across from the King Edward Hotel, had grand ambitions when it opened in 1922. Besides the lunch room, the three-floor complex offered a grill room, a “high class” tea room, and a full-service restaurant.


Toronto Star, July 13, 1921.

However, Sheffield’s boast that “no restaurant ever opened under more favourable auspices and with greater surety of success” rang hollow. Having blown nearly all its money on décor and fixtures for the King Street location, the company asked for an extension from its creditors in November 1922. Two months later, a trustee closed the restaurants. Any ads lingering around office desks were tossed away.

Additional material from the October 16, 1919, March 3, 1920, June 21, 1922, and January 13, 1923 editions of the Globe, and the March 11, 1918 and June 5, 1918 editions of the Toronto Star.


A selection of Sheffield Lunch ads that were left on the cutting room floor:


Toronto Star, August 16, 1916.


Toronto Star, June 5, 1918.


Toronto Star, April 18, 1918.

ts 21-03-17 sheffield eggs

Toronto Star, March 17, 1921.

Diversifying Toronto’s History

Originally published on Torontoist on December 21, 2012.

An oral history of Italy’s 1982 World Cup victory, and its effect on Toronto’s Italian community. The video was made as part of Heritage Diversity Stories.

“Cultural diversity has become a defining feature of this city and a fundamental part of its identity,” begins the introduction to Heritage Toronto’s new initiative, Heritage Diversity Stories. The project aims to shed light on the stories of communities that have helped transform Toronto from a very British locale (and one that frequently discriminated against newcomers) to a diverse, multicultural metropolis.

Supported by a grant from the provincial Ministry of Tourism and Culture and corporate assistance from RBC, the first wave of Heritage Diversity Stories consists of 26 written pieces spotlighting nine of the major non-English language groups in the city. Some are contextual essays written by project coordinator Tyson Brown, while others are oral histories prepared by students. The stories, which are presented on the revamped Heritage Toronto website in English and the relevant language, aim to show how immigrants brought their cultures to Toronto and adapted them to a new setting. Besides text, the entries incorporate archival photos and video interviews.

Oral histories are key to preserving records of these communities. That’s because coverage in the mainstream press used to be—especially prior to the Second World War—non-existent, or dripping in stereotypes. A flip through any of the major daily papers prior to the 1960s can be a cringe-inducing experience. Acknowledging the change in the cultural makeup of the city was a slow, awkward process that sometimes resulted in well-intentioned but patronizing work.

“Heritage Toronto has wanted for some time to make sure that the stories we tell about this city reflect the full diversity of the city,” notes project director and Heritage Toronto Chief Historian Gary Miedema.

The project has served as a mutual bridge-building exercise. Heritage Toronto wanted links to groups it had previously had little connection with, while community cultural groups sought ways to assemble their organizational histories—an especially tricky process in groups with longer histories in Toronto, whose first-generation leadership is aging. “All of us were in the right place at the right time to realize that this is something we can all work together on,” says Miedema.

The initial batch of stories covers topics ranging from Filipino caregivers, to the evolution of Lahore Tikka House. One tale that stood out for Miedema was one about the celebrations surrounding Italy’s victory in the 1982 World Cup. Beyond providing a model for other communities around the city to celebrate future wins in the soccer tournament, the victory provided local Italians a chance to demonstrate their self-confidence. “I hadn’t realized fully how important that moment was to Toronto’s Italian community as a moment when they could really feel like this city was theirs as much as anyone else’s, and that they felt immense pride at being Italians and Torontonians,” Miedema says. (A video of an oral history of the soccer victory, assembled as part of the project, is embedded above.)

Those behind Heritage Diversity Stories hope that the launch material is just the beginning. As strong relationships build, more unheralded pieces of Toronto’s history will, if all goes as planned, be uncovered for a wider audience.

That Time Salman Rushdie Surprised Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on December 7, 2012.


Toronto Star, December 8, 1992.

The PEN Canada benefit that happened twenty years ago today at the Winter Garden Theatre was an unusual evening. Amid serious readings supporting free expression, there were lighter moments, like when the Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, and Paul Quarrington appeared on stage in cowboy garb to sing country tunes written by Atwood.

It wasn’t long before talk turned to Salman Rushdie. Starting with John Irving, a succession of authors addressed the death threats Rushdie faced after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on him in February 1989 for blaspheming Islam in The Satanic Verses.

After reading a passage from Midnight’s Children, Atwood introduced the next writer. There was a collective gasp from the crowd of 1,200. Clad in a black PEN t-shirt, Salman Rushdie walked onto the stage.

Rushdie’s appearance had to do with his desire to emerge from hiding. After three years of seclusion, the author decided to be—as he notes in his recent autobiography, Joseph Anton—“a loud and visible man.” Starting with an appearance at a Danish PEN event, Rushdie became an unannounced guest at writing benefits around the world. He was invited to Toronto by his Canadian publisher, PEN Canada president Louise Dennys. Organizing the event required two months of cloak-and-dagger work. Rushdie’s name was never mentioned during phone calls and no information was leaked to the public—especially where he would stay (the home of Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding). The coded phrase when his appearance was confirmed was, according to Star columnist Michele Landsberg, “We have a turkey for lunch.” The event had the type of security usually reserved for a royal visit.

He arrived on December 5 on a private plane with a Ralph Lauren-designed interior, which he later said was the most comfortable transatlantic flight he had ever experienced. Two days later, PEN organized a top-secret lunch for the city’s top media executives. Rushdie urged the group to pressure the federal government to use its influence in international organizations to defend him at the United Nations. He believed that “the issue is simple: you don’t kill people for writing books.”

At the Winter Garden that night, authors were summoned backstage by Saturday Night magazine editor John Fraser during intermission. “The security people didn’t like it,” Fraser told the Globe and Mail. “We had to convince them it was okay to let so many people backstage.” The writers were handed papers listing events during Rushdie’s seclusion. One writer joked to Rushdie, “This is a helluva bar mitzvah you’re getting,” to which Rushdie responded, “Yes, but it’s a beautiful one.”

After the thunderous applause he received upon taking the stage, Rushdie discussed witch hunts and the power of comedy. He urged the audience to lobby politicians to impose sanctions on Iran and encouraged them to read The Satanic Verses. Rushdie then read a story of his, “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship.” Afterward, Dennys read a message from Minister of External Affairs Barbara McDougall, offering Rushdie the federal government’s support.

Rushdie was joined onstage by Ontario Premier Bob Rae, the first sitting leader in the Western world to publicly meet with the author since the fatwa. “Rae was youthful, friendly, blond, wore sneakers, and said he had agreed to come on stage at the benefit even though his wife was afraid he would be killed,” Rushdie later recalled. Noting that other political leaders seemed to be “terrified by an obscene edict from a fanatic sect in Iran,” Rae told Rushdie that “You are always welcome among us here in Ontario and Canada.”

Two days later, there were editorials in the Globe and Mail and the Star pushing the federal government to act. Both papers criticized Ottawa for seemingly being more interested in building trade with Iran than with censuring it for anti-democratic behaviour. The Globe suggested that cancelling the fatwa should be a condition of furthering the economic relationship. Star columnist Richard Gwyn felt the PEN event showcased the Bob Rae people had voted for: a classy, intelligent leader instead of a politician leading a gaffe-prone government. Pierre Berton used his Star column to urge a massive boycott of Iran, as otherwise “it means nothing that an evil old man can reach out beyond his country’s borders to invoke the death penalty against a citizen of a free country.”

Not everyone was impressed with Rushdie’s visit. McDougall received and promptly dismissed a letter from a Thornhill mosque which viewed the framing of Rushdie’s situation as a free speech issue hypocritical, given the alleged blasphemy against Islam and the recent deportation of holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. A letter from a University of Toronto student published in the Globe and Mail accusing Rushdie of religious intolerance and portraying his supporters as people who “lend legitimacy and credibility to his mockery of the belief system” sparked weeks of debate in the editorial pages.

In a letter published in the Star a year after his appearance, Rushdie wrote that the evening was “one of the most special moments of my life. When I walked on to the stage and felt that great wave of sympathy and support, it helped wash away the year of murderous hatred and the pain of the witch hunt.” He added that he was relieved that he had not experienced a single threat while in Canada, and he also praised Rae and McDougall for their support, as well as the House of Commons for unanimously passing a resolution condemning Iran.

“I send you my thanks,” he wrote, “and I send you my love.”

Additional material from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 11, 1992, and December 30, 1992 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 12, 1992, and December 16, 1993 editions of the Toronto Star. This story was suggested by Torontoist reader Patricia McCowan.