222 Lansdowne Avenue

This installment of my Ghost City column for The Grid was originally published on November 13, 2012.

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Toronto Star, June 24, 1936.

Over 75 years after the first cash register rolled off the line at the National Cash Register (NCR) plant at Dundas Street West and Landsdowne Avenue, the bells are still ringing. The shell of classic industrial architecture seems appropriate for the warehouse-style grocers who have taken advantage of the building’s ample room for refrigeration, storage, and merchandising since the mid-1970s.

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The Globe, June 25, 1936.

Before NCR purchased the property during the mid-1930s, site occupants included the original home of St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Church (which moved a block east) and, during World War I, army barracks. On November 27, 1935, Canadian Manufacturers’ Association president W.S. Morden turned the sod for the $300,000 plant. Opened in June 1936, the 75,000 square-foot facility included a machine shop, assembly area, and stock department. It was intended to supply cash registers and other business machines to Canada and the rest of the British Empire. The yellow-bricked Art Moderne façade was designed by architect Thomas E. Muirhead, whose other works included the Kenson Apartments on Grosvenor Street. The Star noted that the plant offered employees “comfortable working conditions and lighting of the most modern kind.” NCR also provided a generous Christmas bonus—employees who had worked more than three months for the company by the end of 1936 received $25, with an extra buck per year of service. The company’s growth prompted two additions built between 1947 and 1950.

The site switched from building cash registers to utilizing them when Knob Hill Farms bought the building in the mid-1970s to serve as its first warehouse-style “food terminal” location within the City of Toronto. Customers could watch trucks unload fresh goods in the middle of the produce department and butchers practise the fine craft of meat-cutting. “I don’t like to do things behind closed doors,” noted chain proprietor Steve Stavro. “I want the customers to see everything and feel part of it. If you’re selling proper merchandise, you should have nothing to hide.” Among the perks the store offered were late shopping hours and a courtyard statue of Neptune Stavro imported from Italy. It wasn’t the prettiest store, but it offered affordable prices and a deeper selection of multicultural foods than other chains.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1975.

Knob Hill Farms was packed from the moment it opened in September 1975. The 200-space parking lot barely coped with the 50,000 customers who filed through during the store’s first week. The store easily absorbed the $25 fines it received for violating the Lord’s Day Act by staying open on Sundays. Stavro felt it was the only day of the week many of his customers could grocery shop, a position still vindicated by the long lines seen at any supermarket on an average Sunday. The combination of weak financial penalties and traffic jams led Toronto city councillor Tony O’Donohue to call for tougher bylaws on Sunday openings if Queen’s Park didn’t enact promised legislation surrounding the issue. The province soon passed new Sunday opening laws that resulted in Knob Hill Farms, along with other non-convenience-store food purveyors, locking its doors during the official day of rest. Not until 1992 did the store open on Sunday without worrying about fines.

After a quarter-century run, the store closed along with the rest of the Knob Hill Farms chain in 2000. Near the end, customers complained about wide pools of water streaming from aging refrigerators. The store sat vacant for several years, during which it was designated as a heritage property, before reopening as a No Frills, which provided a modernized take on Knob Hill’s low-cost warehouse concept.

Additional material from the September 18, 1975 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the November 27, 1935, June 24, 1936, December 16, 1936, August 28, 1975, and October 1, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.

Family Living, Downtown Style

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on July 17, 2012.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday mused that the city’s core “is not the ideal place” to raise a family. His sentiments about children playing in traffic on busy arteries aren’t anything that hasn’t been heard before, however wrong they are: families who have chosen to live deep downtown have long heard arguments about the suitability of such an environment for their children, especially from committed suburbanites like Holyday.

During a meeting of the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Toronto in May 1985, planners, developers, and investment advisors reviewed the city’s plans to redevelop the railway lands north of the Gardiner Expressway. They concluded that the city’s vision of having families eventually living there ran counter to the ways in which downtowns ought to be saved. Sounding not unlike Holyday, ULI president Claude Ballard said that children should be raised outside the core, in neighbourhoods where they could walk to school or rescue balls that rolled out into the street with minimal fear of being run over. Downtown living of the future, the argument went, was for empty-nesters who required less space once their offspring left home. In a rebuttal printed in the Globe and Mail, Toronto-based planner Ken Greenberg rejected Ballard’s vision, noting that “it is Toronto’s unwillingness in the past to follow conventional North American wisdom” on issues like encouraging families to live downtown that “goes a long way toward explaining why we have the much admired vitality, safety, and cleanliness on our streets.” Greenberg was likely referring to recently developed neighbourhoods like St. Lawrence, where mixed incomes and a large number of co-ops let its residents foster a community where children could enjoy a less homogenous upbringing than their parents had.

Eighteen years later, the Star profiled several families who had moved into condos and lofts in the core. Parents interviewed in the May 2003 article praised, as one parent put it, the “complete and full spectrum of life in the city” that their kids enjoyed steps away from home. Shorter commutes to downtown jobs provided more time for families to spend together during the work week. All enjoyed the ability to walk everywhere, which was a big draw for former Brampton resident Lisa Voutt. Despite friends and relatives in the burbs thinking she was “kind of nuts” for moving her family into a loft near St. Lawrence Market, Voutt enjoyed being freed from a car-centric lifestyle and noted the confidence with which her preteen daughters got themselves around the core by foot or TTC, and the large number of nearby activities they participated in.

Also interviewed for the article was Adam Vaughan, who had recently moved with his daughter into a condo not far from his job at the time as a CityTV reporter. “I wanted a place that was close to the culture of the city, the galleries, the music, and close to the politics of the city,” he told the Star. “All the things that were important to me. I wanted my daughter to understand how her father related to the city and have her relate to the city.” After he was elected to city council three years later, Vaughan advocated a 10 per cent requirement for three-bedroom units in developments to aid families experiencing problems with finding enough space to live in. Developers shot back that they had trouble competing with suburban projects on price, which meant the larger units were often among the last to sell.

Doug Holyday’s long-held views on where families should live, and his belief in the supremacy of market forces on determining housing stock, shouldn’t make his most recent comments a surprise. As an Etobicoke alderman in the mid-1980s, he opposed that city’s proposals to limit the number of apartment buildings that were designated for adult occupancy only. In a period where vacancy rates were low, families looking for apartments in Etobicoke—especially those with lower incomes—sometimes settled for sub-par dwellings as one landlord after another rejected their applications. Holyday blamed provincial rent controls, and housing activists who he felt exaggerated the problems that tenants faced.

His views didn’t win the day, as the provincial government banned adult-only apartment buildings (apart from seniors’ complexes and structures with four units or less) in December 1986. Holyday’s hate-on for rent controls didn’t fade—when Toronto city council voted in April 1999 to establish a task force to make the restoration of controls scrapped by Premier Mike Harris’s government an issue during the next provincial election, Holyday was the lone councillor to oppose the motion.

Additional material from the March 5, 1985, May 6, 1985, and May 14, 1985 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the May 11, 2003 and June 26, 2008 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Editorial comment: It’s easy to notice my contempt towards Doug Holyday in this piece. His political persona represented much of what I hate in a certain strain of suburban conservative politicians, especially in the knows-the-cost-of-everything-and-the-value-of-nothing department. His son Stephen carries on his proud tradition of Etobicoke troglodytism (that should be a word) as a current Toronto city councillor.

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Toronto Star, February 21, 1985.

Ardwold and Ardwold Gate

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 19, 2013.

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Ardwold, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3087.

Things were going well for John Craig Eaton as the first decade of the 20th century ended. He inherited ownership of the family department store following the death of his father, Timothy, in 1907. His wife, Flora, was developing a reputation as a cross-Atlantic socialite. With his elevated social status and growing family, Eaton decided to build a grand mansion.

In January 1909, he purchased an 11-acre estate on Spadina Road north of Davenport Road that possessed a great view of the city and lake. Wanting to keep the purchase price discreet, he delivered a valise filled with $100,000 worth of bills to the bank to close the deal. His new home joined a collection of neighbouring fine residences, including Rathnelly, Spadina, and the under-construction Casa Loma. Eaton hired A.F. Wickson to design a 50-room home inspired by English and Irish country homes of the early Stuart era. The residence was dubbed Ardwold, which was gaelic for “high green hill.”

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Entrance to Ardwold, Eaton family residence, Spadina Road, September 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2072.

Built between 1909 and 1911, Ardwold included 14 bathrooms, an elevator, Italian-inspired gardens, and an indoor swimming pool connected by a basement tunnel. The centrepiece was a two-storey great hall outfitted with a pipe organ that Eaton frequently played. When Eaton introduced the family to the completed home upon their return from a long European tour, his two-year-old son John David moped at the bottom of the grand staircase. “I don’t like this hotel,” he cried. “I want to go home.” Perhaps the boy reacted to what architectural historian William Dendy described as the home’s “air of empty pretentiousness.”

When the family fell ill, they used the on-site hospital room, which could be converted to an operating room during emergencies. Unfortunately, Eaton spent much of the last two months of his life there before dying from pneumonia in March 1922. His wife, by now Lady Eaton, spent little time at Ardwold afterwards, preferring to reside in Europe, Muskoka, or in Eaton Hall near King City.

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Wedding fashion parade at Ardwold, circa 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1855.

By 1936, Lady Eaton thought it was “wasteful” to maintain the property. Telling the Star that it was “too large for the needs my family,” she demolished the house. Eaton family biographer Rod McQueen believed that “such a destructive approach can only be described as desecration, or at best, wildly eccentric.” Dynamite was required to bring down the thick walls. While some furnishings were moved to Eaton Hall, the rest were auctioned off. Only elements like a stone-and-wrought-iron fence survived.

After considering an apartment building, real-estate agent A.E. LePage subdivided the property along a new road, Ardwold Gate. “We plan to develop the whole 11-acre area with homes of Georgian design to harmonize, as is done in many of the finer residential sections of England,” LePage told the Star in 1938. The average cost of the new homes was $30,000, or just under $500,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.

ts 38-05-20 plan for homes at ardwold gate

ts 38-05-20 plan for homes at ardwold gate article

Toronto Star, May 20, 1938.

The community became an exclusive residential enclave for well-heeled businessmen. Among them was George Beattie, an Eaton relative whose career with the department store ended over an expletive-filled argument. Nursing a grudge, Beattie watched gleefully when Ardwold was demolished. Soon after buying a home on Ardwold Gate in 1947, he peed on one of the remaining cornerstones of the old house.

Residents engaged in several battles to maintain their peace during the 1970s. After initially approving the nearby placement of the Spadina Expressway, they joined the opposition against the freeway. As construction began on the Spadina subway line in 1973, they feared their homes would be damaged by vibrations similar to those that inconvenienced home owners along the recent extension of the Yonge line north of Eglinton Avenue. (The problem was reputed to be thin tunnel shields.) In April 1977, residents pressured City Council to reject a proposal to build non-profit housing units for 14 families along Ardwold Gate on land that had been reserved for the freeway; those who feared that the project would ruin the neighbourhood jumped into full reactionary mode. One complaint the City received observed that such housing “contributes to the general weakening of our democratic system.” The proposal was defeated and, as a Globe and Mail editorial observed, residents could sleep easily without worrying about sharing the neighbourhood “with people who didn’t own even one Mercedes.”

The street remains a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Among its notable homes is the Brutalist concrete residence designed for Harvey’s founder Richard Mauran at 95 Ardwold Gate. The home was the final project of architect Taivo Kapsi, who was killed in an encounter with trespassers on a friend’s property near Lake Wilcox during the summer of 1967. Finished the following year, the heritage-designated site includes impressions left in the concrete by construction boards.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the April 14, 1977 and April 18, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 2, 2012 edition of the National Post, the February 26, 1936, July 3, 1936, May 20, 1938, May 4, 1970, and February 10, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star, and the March 1999 edition of Toronto Life.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Ardwold Estate. - [ca. 1920]

Ardwold, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3016.

Lady Eaton’s description of the area which surrounded Ardwold, from her book Memory’s Wall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956):

We had agreeable neighbours around us at Ardwold, and several of them became our good friends. Probably we came to know each other better because of the rather isolated community we formed. St. Clair Avenue was not paved, of course, and often vehicles sank down to their axles in the mud. A very rickety old bridge crossed the ravine on Spadina Road, which was the street giving main access to Ardwold, and the few other big houses on “the hill.”

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Toronto Star, April 14, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, April 18, 1977.

Two editorials on the failed subsidized housing proposal – an issue still playing out in neighbourhoods across the city.

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 6: The News You Have Been Waiting For!

me 1933-03-27 cooking show fashion revue ad

Mail and Empire, March 27, 1933.

As part of their efforts to develop loyal relationships with their readers, newspapers have frequently sponsored public contests and exhibitions. Early in the spring of 1933, the Mail and Empire’s women’s pages announced that, along with Simpson’s department store, it was sponsoring a four-day exhibition of cooking exhibitions and seasonal fashions.

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Mail and Empire, March 29, 1933.

Readers were teased with a promotional display highlighting the goodies they might take home if they attended the exhibition.

I suspect most of the attendees would have fit the Mail and Empire’s conservative middle class profile. Would this event have drawn in city housewives struggling with the effects of the Great Depression? I’d be curious if, say, the Star or Telegram presented a similar exhibition for their working class audiences.

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Mail and Empire, March 30, 1933.

Information online about Mrs. J. Watson Shockley is scarce, as at least one other person looking into her story discovered. It appears she was active on the cooking presentation circuit between 1928 and 1936, primarily in the eastern United States. Searches through the online archives of the Globe/Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star turned up nothing, so presumably she didn’t participate in any women’s exhibitions presented by either of those papers.

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Bradford [Pennsylvania] Era, March 7, 1928. Outside of a book listed on Amazon claiming to be from 1926, one of the earliest references I found for the mysterious Mrs. Shockley.

One of the most frustrating elements in the search for Mrs. Shockley that is not uncommon for this era: nowhere is her first name mentioned. It is possible that “J” was her first initial, but it’s equally possible it was her husband’s.

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Mail and Empire, March 30, 1933.

An invitation from Ann Adam to all of her “Table Talkers.”

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Mail and Empire, March 31, 1933.

As the exhibition neared, the teasers increased. More photos of Mrs. Shockley were published, but her biographical info only rehashed what had already been included in earlier ads.

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Mail and Empire, April 5, 1933.

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Mail and Empire, April 5, 1933.

A sampling of Mrs. Shockley’s cooking ideas from day one of the cooking school. I love asparagus, but I’m not sure how I feel about combining it with a sweet shortcake.

Also note the plug inserted at the bottom of the Crisco ad. Hopefully Mrs. Shockley’s french fries did not “raise the old Harry.”

me 1933-04-05 tea-bisk cooking school ads

Mail and Empire, April 5, 1933.

Maybe Mrs. Shockley used Tea-Bisk as a shortcut onstage for her asparagus shortcake?

Next: more ads, recipes, and pictures from the exhibition.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Party at the PoP Shoppe

Originally published on Torontoist on November 15, 2011.

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Toronto Star, October 21, 1976.

For a child growing up in the 1970s or early 1980s, a trip to a PoP Shoppe depot was an eagerly awaited adventure. Running around the stacks of red cases filled with a rainbow of soda flavours, you’d wonder which varieties your parents were going to let you pick: Black Cherry? Lime Rickey? Tall bottles or stubbies? Spokespeople like Captain Cola and former Maple Leaf Eddie Shack didn’t need to do much enticing to get kids to drink the stuff.

Launched in London, Ontario, in May 1969, the PoP Shoppe built its initial business model on selling cases directly to the public from its own factory/warehouse facilities, at prices that were half of what supermarkets charged. Customers were, however, charged a three dollars deposit per case to ensure the bottles would be reused. The company estimated that the fee, considered high at the time, was responsible for 99 per cent of bottles being returned. When this ad appeared, most of the bottles produced when the company launched were still in circulation, in fact. In an interview with the Toronto Star, president Bruce Westwood touted the PoP Shoppe system’s benefits to the environment: “Can you imagine the amount of energy that would go into the manufacture of 35 cases of canned pop and the cartons, and the extra energy needed to destroy them all?”

The company was in rapid expansion mode by the time the Dufferin and Lawrence location opened; sales rose from $1.2 million in 1973 to $17.1 million in 1976. Officials believed they could open 15 new plants a year, widen the franchisee base, expand into the United States, and enter joint ventures around the world. But the company was too ambitious in its goals: its debt-ridden foray south of the border proved the beginning of the end. Bottlers and franchisees complained of massive mark-ups designed to recoup corporate losses, and supermarket chains improved the quality and selection of their generic soda offerings. After the corporate parent went into receivership in late 1982, several bottlers attempted to keep the PoP Shoppe name alive, but it slowly faded from view until 2004, when the brand was revived as a nostalgic drink.

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Google Maps image of 944 Lawrence Avenue West, August 2011.

As for the location celebrated in today’s ad? The site was last used as a medical supply store. Hints of the building’s past lay in its architecture—compare the shape of the white section above the storefront to the PoP Shoppe logo in the ad.

Additional material from the May 25, 1977, edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

944 Lawrence West was later torn down. As of 2019, the site is occupied by Centura Tile.

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Windsor Star, June 15, 1976.

I grew up drinking plenty of PoP Shoppe sodas, thanks to a giant depot in south Windsor (the Ouellette Place location listed in the ad above). My memories are faint, but I recall buying it by the case load, and that black cherry and lime rickey were among my favourites.

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Toronto Star, July 17, 1975.

Alas, Captain Cola was never as popular as other caped crusaders.

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Toronto Star, June 23, 1977.

Al Biggs, who went to elementary school with Eddie Shack and was employed by PoP Shoppe during the 1970s, described Shack’s impact on the company in Ross Brewitt’s book Clear the Track: The Eddie Shack Story (Toronto: Stoddart, 1997):

Eddie was the Don Cherry of the 1970s. People, ordinary people, gravitated to him because he related to them so well. And though he might appear to be a buffoon, every time he went into a plant he’d touch all the right buttons instinctively. He stressed cleanliness, keeping the place looking shipshape, having pride in your job. He told the workers that he spoke from his own experience as a butcher, from the early days in Sudbury and as a hockey player. Everywhere he went his talks had a tremendous effect on the staff, their morale and productivity, stuff you could actually measure before and after he made an appearance.

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Toronto Sun, December 22, 1972.

PoP Shoppe had its share of competitors and imitators, such as this one. An upcoming post will look at one who had ties to the Loblaws grocery empire.

 

 

 

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: D-Day

As the reprints of older Vintage Toronto Ads columns wind down, this is the first in a new, occasional series. 

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Front page, Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

As Canadians participated in the D-Day invasion, newspaper advertisers expressed their feelings, hopes, and prayers about its outcome. Here is a sampling of some of those ads, as published in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Simpson’s department store suspended its normal sale ads for several days, starting on D-Day with a full-page prayer taken from Francis Drake’s attack against the Spanish at Cadiz in spring 1587.

star 1944-06-06 page 2 prayers at old city hall

Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Near Simpson’s Queen Street flagship, the public gathered for a prayer meeting outside (Old) City Hall. Elsewhere in the city, schools held special assemblies, and all Anglican churches prepared for special services at 8 p.m. that evening. St. Michael’s Cathedral reported people streaming into the church as early as 7 a.m., many of whom were wives and children of soldiers serving in Europe. Special services were also scheduled at several war productions plants, including Massey Harris and, out in Malton, Victory Aircraft.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Simpson’s followed up the prayer ad with two spotlighting leaders of the invasion. There was also an invasion-tinged full page spot marking King George VI’s official birthday celebration, even though his actual 49th birthday wasn’t until December.

By contrast, rival Eaton’s continued with their normal advertising, only adding an invitation published on June 6 from Mayor Frederick Conboy to attend a civic prayer service in front of City Hall two days later.

star 1944-06-06 page 19 invasion news at movie theatres

Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

For regular updates on the invasion, moviegoers could catch the latest at the Uptown and Loew’s (now the Elgin) theatres on Yonge Street.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

Radio listeners could follow CBC’s invasion coverage. CJBC, the flagship station of the CBC’s recently formed Dominion Network, swapped frequencies with CFRB in 1948 and moved to 860 AM.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Two examples of ads from the business community.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

A listing of some of the Ontario residents who took part in the invasion.

Finally, a pair of editorials: one from the city, one from an outlying area.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944

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Orono Weekly Times, June 8, 1944.