Vintage Toronto Ads: Clean, Rich Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Originally published on Torontoist on January 3, 2012.

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Mail and Empire, November 2, 1911.

While we doubt that Toronto’s cultural elite emptied bottles of PBR at their private clubs a century ago, we sense the local importer had a good feel for who this brew could be marketed to: germaphobes and health purists. The claims of cleanliness also make us wonder how lax local brewers were toward sanitizing their facilities, or if there was a subtle implication that Lake Michigan water was purer than Lake Ontario.

Despite advertisements such as this one, Pabst, along with fellow American brewers like Anheuser-Busch, failed to gain a toehold in the Toronto market during the early 20th century. Few drinkers appear to have switched over from local producers like Dominion or O’Keefe’s.

An odd fact we discovered while researching this piece: during Prohibition in the United States, Pabst survived by manufacturing cheese. Their most popular product was Pabst-ett, a processed product that was too similar to Velveeta for Kraft’s liking. Result: Kraft sued and won, which led the cheese giant to produce Pabst-ett under license for a while and then, once Prohibition was over, to acquire the product outright. Which leads us to wonder: what if the marketing gurus at PBR bought back the rights to the name and marketed Pabst-ett as a hipster snack (playing on the humour of its low dairy content) to be enjoyed while tossing back a can or pitcher?

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Comes a Time When Rust Never Sleeps

Originally published on Torontoist on December 13, 2011

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Rolling Stone, October 5, 1978.

Though the visuals in today’s ad refer to Neil Young’s album Comes a Time, the set list during his performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on October 1, 1978, barely touched on that record—only three of the 20 songs that night appeared on the country-flavoured collection. Instead, as the Star’s Peter Goddard put it, Young’s performance was “firmly fixed in the present” as fans experienced a preview of one of the artist’s most influential albums, Rust Never Sleeps.

The Globe and Mail’s Katherine Gilday described Young’s performance as highly theatrical, “right from the symbolic props that were propelled from various directions onto the stage, down to a stage crew reminiscent of those strange berobed creatures from Star Wars who took an ongoing role in all the proceedings.” She felt that it was “less the theatrical gimmickry than the recreation of powerful past emotions through an imaginatively structured program that provided the true drama of the evening.”

The evening’s set list:
Sugar Mountain
I Am a Child
Comes a Time
Already One
After The Gold Rush
Thrasher
My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)
When You Dance I Can Really Love
The Loner
Welfare Mothers
Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown
The Needle And The Damage Done
Lotta Love
Sedan Delivery
Powderfinger
Cortez The Killer
Cinnamon Girl
Like A Hurricane
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
Tonight’s The Night

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dial-a-Thermos!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 6, 2011.

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The Telegram, June 2, 1911.

Got an old rotary phone you’ve hung onto for years and can’t bring yourself to toss out? Why not let your friendly neighbourhood Thermos representative convert it to Dial-a-Thermos! Yes, Dial-a-Thermos has provided consumers with instant access to a fine range of insulated Thermos products since 1907. Every month, you will receive an updated list of useful items that are only one dial away! Never worry about what you’ll carry your beverages or lunches in ever again!

What if you got rid of that old-fashioned phone years ago or don’t even know what a rotary phone is? Relax—the Dial-a-Thermos tech team is working on one of those newfangled phone apps!

For readers who don’t feel like squinting while trying to read the text in the centre of this dial-styled ad, here’s what’s written to the left of the antique vacuum flask:

As a sick-room comfort, to keep ice-water in guest rooms, for children, for children’s school lunch it is indispensable. Filled, cleaned, emptied same as any ordinary bottle. Glass inside metal case. The original “keeps-hot-keeps-cold” bottle. See the genuine at first-class stores. For free booklet, write Thermos Bottle Co., Limited, Toronto.

On the right:

When travelling, motoring, boating, picnicking, camping, THERMOS enables you to have any kind of home-made refreshment, piping hot or ice-cold, anytime, anywhere. Don’t deny yourself its comforts any longer. Get one right away. See the name THERMOS stamped on the bottom of the genuine.

 

“There Are Opium Dens in Toronto”

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2011.

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The Empire, June 30, 1892.

When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) mused in Monday’s  Sun about the possibility of opium dens lurking within some Toronto massage parlours, we couldn’t help but conjure up pulpy images of seedy locales dripping with racist Yellow Peril stereotypes. Which got us thinking: did Toronto have a problem with opium dens back when Asians were always quoted in pidgin English and readers devoured tales of drug lords like Dr. Fu Manchu?

As a late-19th century newspaper expose succinctly put it: “There are opium dens in Toronto.”

Over the course of three days in the early summer of 1892, the Empire titillated readers with the account of a fearless reporter’s journey into the underworld of Toronto’s opium dens. Guided by a reformed “opium fiend” from Chicago, the uncredited journalist promised to astound the public “with a surprise approaching incredulity.” In the neighbourhoods where dens were located, police and residents claimed ignorance of their existence: “Some went as far as to pooh-pooh the very idea that they could exist in moral Toronto without the fact becoming known to the morality department at least.” While partaking of opium was once so socially accepted that raw materials were advertised in the Globe, by the 1890s it was seen as a shameful activity presided over by Chinese immigrants.

The media often laid the blame for the dens solely on their operators and usually glossed over the culpability of their white patrons.

In order to access the dens, the reporter had his guide bring a letter of reference written in Chinese from a den owner in Chicago. They were denied entry to dens located at 18 Queen Street East and 42 Jarvis Street (which the duo blamed on their healthy appearances), but they succeeded when they reached the premises of Sam Lee at 321 Parliament Street:

The exterior of the shop is very unpretentious indeed, and its interior is no better. The front window is closed up with shutters, and the place has the appearance of being kept by a man whose interest in life is gone. As the ex-smoker entered the shop the old man at the ironing board sighed, and again bent down to his work on the bosom of a shirt. The letter was shoved over to him, and he stopped ironing long enough to read it. After perusing its long columns he folded it up, raised a face wasted by 40 years of opium smoking. Wearily he shook his head.

“Me no smokee,” was his answer, in a husky voice.

The guide and the old man questioned each other for several minutes before access was granted to a narrow, musty stall in the corner of the store. The partitioned-off area contained a bed, pillows, and all of the equipment required to enjoy opium. A lengthy description of how to smoke the drug followed. Among the other users they encountered, at least one was deathly afraid that their Sunday school teacher would find them patronizing a den.

As the pair visited other dens, word spread around the proprietors and they were soon denied access. The reporter concluded that despite the suspicion he encountered, and their own occasional opium-taking, the Chinese community in Toronto were “a much superior class to those who are found in American cities. But for their extreme suspiciousness they would probably be a hospitable lot of men, quite as anxious to do a suffering ‘fiend’ a kindness as to take the few cents charged for the favour.” His final thought was that “no good would follow the extension of the horrible fetish of whose dominion only a glimpse has been given.”

News of the exposé spread as far as Saint John, New Brunswick, where the front page of the Daily Sun proclaimed that “now that the dens have been pointed out, it is quite likely a police crusade will be in order.” It wasn’t just yet; as a police officer admitted to the Empire, there weren’t any laws prohibiting the use of opium or den keeping, which left the force powerless.

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A squalid scene next door to an opium den. Slum interior, 152 York Street, January 20, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 1.

The legal situation changed in 1908, when federal Minister of Labour William Lyon Mackenzie King drafted the Opium Act, which criminalized trafficking and possession for sale. The law seemed squarely aimed at the Chinese community, especially in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, as other provisions of the act allowed respectable pharmacists to continue selling opiates with no problem. The first charges in Toronto under the new act were laid in July 1909, when Lee Chung Lung of 154 York Street and Tie You of 169 Richmond Street West were fined $100 each for operating opium dens on their premises. Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford warned that the two men were being let off lightly, as future offenders would be jailed. Ten found-ins were also brought to court, but their charges were dropped as “the keeper is most to blame, getting those poor wretches into his place to smoke that stuff.”

Over the next two decades, the Chinese community complained of receiving harsh treatment from the police whenever people were found in opium or gambling dens. Charges were often reduced or dropped by judicial officials with paternalistic streaks toward the Chinese. Stories about opium gradually faded from the news, and seem so far in the past now that even if Councillor Mammoliti’s current claims are true, the nature of the issue makes his concerns fit neatly with his penchant for bizarre actions in the name of the public good—can we expect to see him park outside a suspicious parlour with video camera in hand?

Additional material from Discrimination and Denial: Systemic Racism in Ontario’ Legal and Criminal Justice Systems, 1892-1961 by Clayton James Mosher (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), and the following newspapers: the June 30, 1892, and July 2, 1892, editions of the Empire; the July 1, 1892, edition of the St. John Daily Sun; and the July 28, 1909, edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The complete Empire series on opium dens. Because of the size of the files, you’ll find them via these links:

June 30, 1892 front page.

June 30, 1892 page two.

July 1, 1892 front page.

July 1, 1892 page two.

July 2, 1892 conclusion of series.

The Evolving Landscape of St. James Park

Originally published on Torontoist on November 24, 2011.

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A man enjoys two forms of sunshine in St. James Park during the late 1970s. The park was partly conceived to provide a spot for office workers to relax during their lunch hour. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 4.

With the eviction of Occupy Toronto, St. James Park will gradually return to its former, emptier condition. But the temporary landscaping changes the protesters created with their signs, tents, and yurts did not constitute the first physical redesign of the park. Over the course of the past 50 years, as this gallery shows, the site has gone from housing 19th-century commercial buildings to Victorian-inspired landscaping.

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Section of Toronto survey map, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives.

St. James Park began to take its modern shape when St. James Cathedral sold the land to its east to the City of Toronto around 1960, not long after this survey map was prepared. Both Commercial Street and the northern stretch of Market Street disappeared as the park developed.

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Exterior of St. James Cathedral, northeast corner of King and Church Streets, 1923. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 83.

Though a condition of the sale was that the property should become a park, the city toyed with using the site as part of a civic project that evolved into the St. Lawrence Centre over objections from the church. Instead, over the next decade, the city demolished the buildings on the former church property, along with purchasing those within the park’s present boundary, and replaced them with benches and basic landscaping. In this photo from 1923, you can see some of the buildings that were demolished.

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Looking west at St. James Park from Jarvis Street, circa 1978-1979, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 10.

St. James Park was seen as a final opportunity to create a large public green space downtown; in a 1970 interview with the Toronto Star, Toronto Parks Commissioner Ivan Forrest believed that due to the prohibitive cost of assembling land, any future parks in the core would depend on the generosity of developers.

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Looking south toward St. Lawrence Hall and CIBC branch, circa 1978-1979. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 302, Item 9.

By the mid-1970s, the park assumed the entire eastern end of the block except for a holdout on the northwest corner of King and Jarvis whose tenant wouldn’t shock the Occupy crowd: a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch.

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Sketch of the St. James Park Bandshell, circa 1977-1981. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 8.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, coinciding with renovations to St. James Cathedral, plans went ahead to make the park look less spartan. The new landscaping was inspired by surrounding Victorian-era buildings like the church and St. Lawrence Hall.

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Sketch of the proposed Victorian Garden, circa 1977-1981. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 7.

The Garden Club of Toronto spent two years researching a proper Victorian garden for the park, though their work was sabotaged by the theft of 22 antique rose bulbs from the site in November 1980. As garden convenor Nancy Colquhoun noted at the end of a letter to the Globe and Mail, “it is discouraging that such a generous gift to the city is treated so maliciously.”

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A model of a gateway to St. James Park. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 27, Item 10.

 

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Got the Aluminum Munchies?

Originally published on Torontoist on November 22, 2011.

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Saturday Night, November 21, 1959.

There are many things we could write about today’s ad beyond the cheery optimism about aluminum that permeated the era’s industrial advertising. Why is the man opening the refrigerator grabbing a milk bottle instead of an alcoholic beverage? What is the man in front contemplating besides the eggs in his aluminum electric frying pan? Are these men co-workers, friends, or a couple?

But we suspect some readers will zero in on the fine aluminum product the chef holds in his hand: a Hostess potato chip bag. Years before the snack food maker dispatched the Munchies to lure in consumers, an aluminum foil bag promising fresh, flavourful chips was enough to seduce a hungry fellow. Whether he bought the chips at the supermarket or received it as a sample in the mail, their crispy, greasy goodness was enough to keep him satisfied for a few minutes.

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Valentine’s Day ’60

Originally published on Torontoist on February 9, 2010.

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Globe and Mail, February 12, 1960.

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away—have you selected a special card, a heart-shaped trinket, or a generic box of chocolates yet? Stereotypical gifts to suit every degree of thoughtfulness, or lack of that, were much the same in 1960 as they are now, whether you shopped at tonier shops in Yorkville or the neighbourhood five-and-dime.

This ad for Yorkville businesses included in ultra-fine print a list of merchants where shoppers could discover the BEST gift. Among the businesses still in the neighbourhood, even if their Yorkville locations have changed or have shifted south along Yonge Street, are Bay Bloor Radio, Birks, Curry’s Art Supplies, Grand & Toy, Roberts Gallery, and Stollery’s.

If a gift didn’t work, the way to a valentine’s heart might have been through his or her stomach. The Star’s Margaret Carr suggested a traditional full-course meal. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Carr wrote, “but I’m all in favour of the hearts-and-flowers type of day…So, what better valentine than a dream of a dinner for two, with soft lights and soft music? Even without any flowery verses, he should get the idea!” On the menu: veal scallopini, buttered asparagus, hot rolls, celery curls, cherry gelatine salad on lettuce, ice cream in maraschino cherry pastry shells, and coffee. If this meal didn’t produce the desired results, the chef could use Carr’s ready-made reply: “Roses are red, the salad is too, if this food doesn’t send you, nuts to you!”

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Toronto Star, February 10, 1960.

While newspaper ads for Kresge’s and other retailers highlighted their selection of traditional boxed valentines, they didn’t mention whether they carried trendy “sick” cards. Seen as “contemporary” valentines for “sophisticated” people (or at least an excuse for the reporter to use air quotes), these cards ditched the traditional for quick insults. One example: a card with a lovely peacock on the front with the text “There’s something about you that reminds me of a bird…” The punchline inside? “…Your brain!” According to Toronto psychologist Dr. David A. Stewart, the cards were a cynical reaction by the “cool set” against use of traditional emotions like love in advertising campaigns. “It reveals a desire to get away from the traditional emotional expressions. It’s an affectation of coolness,” he told the Star. “Friendship is trite and corny, but we all appreciate it. We are living in a consumers’ goods society and we’re constantly exploited. It’s a little thing to sit down and write a note to a friend that would be more appreciated. But we’re in a hurry and use the printed cards.” Stewart predicted that the cards, which were popular in urban areas but not among the rural set, would soon die out in favour of traditional expressions of love.

Perhaps the popularity of “sick” cards inspired this piece of verse sent to the Star by Wilma M. Coutts of Durham, Ontario:

We’ve seen some classy valentines
Around here in our day,
Festooned with satin hearts and lace
And perfumed with sachet.
The valentines that we get now
Would make an artist wince,
Lop-sided hearts and wobbly darts—
Bedaubed with crayon prints.
These funny, funny valentines
Designed by someone small,
These are the ones we put away
And treasure most of all.

Additional material from the February 10, February 12, and February 13, 1960, editions of the Toronto Star.