A Guide to Online Toronto Historical Newspaper Resources

Let’s say you’re a historical writer/researcher. You have some Toronto-related projects on the go, or are taking your enforced stay at home as an opportunity to work on those ideas you’ve had on the backburner. You determine you’re going to need to do some newspaper research for your project.

In many cases, this isn’t a problem.

For some time, I’ve thought about creating a series of guides for Toronto-centric historical resources. The current situation surrounding COVID-19 feels like an appropriate time to show where you can find old Toronto papers online for free—which titles are available, and which aren’t. If there’s anything I miss in the following list, send a message and I’ll add it.

Toronto Public Library

star 1919-02-17 front page

If you have a TPL account, you have full access to the following newspaper archives:

Globe and Mail
Covers the Globe (1844-1936) and the Globe and Mail (1936-2015).

Toronto Star
Covers the paper from 1894 to 2016. Note that the early issues (1892-1893) are missing.

To access these, go to “A to Z List of Databases” page.

Tip: If you’re in either of these databases and want results from both of them at the same time, click on “ProQuest” in the top left corner, then conduct your search. This will also provide one-stop-shop access to the rest of the ProQuest databases the TPL offers, which opens up stories from the National Post, some Metroland community papers (from the late 1990s on), post-2015 G&M and Star stories, magazines, academic journals, and so on.

The TPL also has digitized copies of the British Colonist between 1838 and 1846. Using the normal library search function, type in “British Colonist,” the month and the year you are looking for (H/T to Jane MacNamara).

Google News

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A short-lived project to digitize papers. There’s useful material here, but it’s a pain to work with. You can’t download pages (I use screen captures to preserve material for later use), the papers are poorly organized and full of gaps, and the search function is useless. Toronto-based papers available on here include:

British Colonist (1843-1854)
WARNING: from 1848 on issues are mixed in with a Halifax paper of the same name.

Colonial Advocate (1824-1834)

Financial Post (1907-1986)
Scattered missing issues. If you are a paid subscriber to Newspapers.com, save your brain cells and search for FP (and its successor, the National Post) there.

Mail and Empire (1895-1900)
Listed under “Daily Mail and Empire.” Large gaps within this time period.

Mackenzie’s Weekly Message (1852-1853)

Toronto Daily Mail (1881-1885, 1887-1895)
Large gaps within these two time periods.

Toronto World (1885-1886, 1890, 1911-1921)
Large gaps. Some of the missing weekday issues between 1911 and 1915 are filed under the Toronto Sunday World. The uploaders were not paying close attention.

Ontario Community Newspapers Portal

weston sample page

Hosted by OurDigitalWorld, lots of material covering the GTA. While some communities on the portal only have indexes, the following have pages you can view and download:

Barrie
Clarington (including Bowmanville and Orono)
Halton Hills (including Acton and Georgetown)
Milton
Newmarket
Richmond Hill
Weston
Whitby
Whitchurch-Stouffville

Simon Fraser University

cjn example

SFU has digitized numerous ethnic papers across the country, including the following Toronto-based titles:

Canadian India Times
Canadian Jewish News
Canadian Jewish Review
Courrier Sud
Crescent
El Popular
Hung Chung She Po
Messenger
Minchung Sinmun
Modern Times Weekly
Shing Wah Daily News
Tairiku Jiho
Vestnik
Zhyttia I Slovo

Internet Archive

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The main draw here is The Varsity, covering all issues from 1880 to 2010. Other U of T papers uploaded include an assortment of Erindale campus papers and some issues of Toike Oike.

Now

NOW Magazine

The entire back issue archive. Registration required.

Who’s Missing?

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While these resources will cover many of your needs, there are plenty of papers that haven’t been digitized yet. Here are several key publications that are missing in action:

The Telegram (1876-1971)
While portions of the paper’s photo archive have been digitized by York University, no issues are currently available (I was once told by somebody at York the cost to do so would be prohibitive, given it was published for nearly a century). Given the paper’s strong influence, for better or worse, on City Hall politics, its long circulation and philosophical war with the Star, and overall excellence during the late 1960s (the After Four section is fantastic for tracking the city’s youth culture), its lack of availability is unfortunate.

The Mail/Mail and Empire (1872-1936)
One of the city’s first papers to make use of columnists, including pioneering female journalist Kit Coleman. There were periods where it was an exciting paper to read, other times the dullest waste of newsprint imaginable. Also interesting to see its evolution during the 1880s from a near-official Conservative party organ into a paper with an independent mind, before returning to the Tory fold.

The World (1880-1921)
The haphazard selection on Google News gives a good hint of the perennially underfunded World, whose “Sunday” edition (actually published late Saturday night) is a great early 20th century weekend paper.

The News (1881-1919)
The News had several personality shifts over its existence, and, thanks to a labour action, spawned the Star. When it was good, it was really good, especially under E.E. Sheppard in the 1880s and John Willison in the early 1900s.

The Sun (1971-)
For all its self-mythologizing, the Sun has not been kind to its online archives, nor has any digitization appear to have taken place. Some people might count this as a blessing, but it is a valuable record of editorial opinion.

Eye/The Grid (1991-2014)
Stories are available here and there, but the removal of its archive was a lousy move on Torstar’s part, making plenty of valuable coverage of Toronto’s cultural and political scene vanish.

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 8: Wrapping up the Cooking School

For previous entries in this drawn-out series, follow this link.

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

More front page coverage to wrap up the cooking school, plus a list of winners.

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

Beyond the lead story, an apology was printed for those who were turned away.

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

Readers were reminded of products that were demonstrated at the show, so that they’d remember to buy those fine products on their next shopping trip.

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

Ann Adam was full of exclamation marks in her summary, because exclamation marks are good! They are indeed wonderful! Wonderful for expression! Wonderful for the enthusiasm of advertisers and suppliers! Wonderful for the recipes you will make!

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

And then it was time to return to regularly-scheduled content, such as these ideas for using spinach.

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Mail and Empire, April 8, 1933.

Let’s finish off with this installment of “Woman’s Point of View,” which tackles gardening and unemployment, money and unemployment, and Russia.

(More on the member of the Ignatieff family mentioned here)

The Telegram Cares When It Comes to Helping You Vote

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The Telegram, June 7, 1957.

During election campaigns, newspapers usually focus on partisan battles and the drama surrounding the fortunes of political leaders and local candidates. But, as the Telegram did in 1957, they have also provided public service with full information on where to vote, how the voting process works, and even offer assistance to those who need help getting to their polling station.

tely 57-06-07 where to vote i'm going to vote article

The Telegram, June 7, 1957.

Getting 63 car dealers across Metropolitan Toronto to help on voting day feels like an impressive feat. Rides were traditionally offered by individual or party campaigns.

tely 57-06-07 where to vote i'm going to vote map

A map of Metro’s ridings in 1957. Below were a list of local campaign offices (“committee rooms”)  for the four main parties who ran that year: CCF, Liberal, Progressive Conservative, and Social Credit. Many candidates had more than one office in a riding–in York-Scarborough, 12 sites were listed for Liberal Frank Enfield.

The next day, the paper ran photos depicting situations where you could call the Tely for voting assistance…

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The Telegram, June 8, 1957.

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The Telegram, June 9, 1957.

Mind you, the Tely had its own ideas on who to vote for in ’57, as seen in this editorial from the short-lived Sunday edition of the paper.

Election Results, 1930 Style

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2011.

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Newsstand at the northeast corner of King and Bay, November 9, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1289.

How will you discover the latest election results? Watch them on television? Head to the neighbourhood bar? Follow your favourite website’s coverage? Take the matter into your own hands and tweet the early returns to the entire world? OK, maybe you should be careful with that last option—if a tattletale rats you out, an Elections Canada official may reward you with a hefty fine, since social media is off-limits while the west coast is still voting.

Back in 1930, early reporting wasn’t a problem. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, Canada didn’t have a national broadcasting network, any telegraph and telephone operators who sent early results to the west wouldn’t have faced any harsh legal penalties, as section 329 of the Canada Elections Act wasn’t enacted for another eight years.

How did Torontonians satisfy their election night curiosity at the dawn of the Great Depression? Thanks to the city’s four daily newspapers, voters who cast their ballots on July 28, 1930, had two options: listen to special radio broadcasts in the comfort of their homes, or join the crowds gathered outside the cluster of press buildings around King and Bay to find out if Conservative leader R.B. Bennett would topple the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

For those in a partying mood, the liveliest festivities were found at the Star’s new headquarters at 80 King Street West (now the site of First Canadian Place). Four screens were set up: one for typed bulletins with the latest results, one utilizing a telautograph (an ancestor of the fax machine) “by which the actual writing of the operator at the telegraph wire is made visible to the crowd,” and two movie screens. To soothe those who were anxious and to entertain those who were bored waiting for the results, a 22-piece orchestra was on hand. For readers who couldn’t make it downtown, the Star set up two screens at Fairmount Park at Bowmore Road and Gerrard Street East (one featuring the latest bulletins, the other comedies), which were accompanied by diversions ranging from a military band to a ladies’ softball game. Coverage on the Star’s radio station, CFCA, was anchored by hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt.

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Mail and Empire building, northwest corner of Bay and King streets, December 30, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2037.

A few doors east of the Star at the northwest corner of King and Bay, the Mail and Empire didn’t add any frilly touches to its offerings, apart from a loudspeaker that played music and a platform for candidates to address the crowd. Results were screened across the street on the side of Cawthra House. The paper promised that during its four hours on air over radio station CKNC, there wouldn’t be any breaks from its election coverage for regular programming—“lulls, if any, between results will be filled in with music.”

The opposite was true of the Telegram’s radio plan. Listeners of CKGW were promised that there would be little disruption to the programs they normally enjoyed on a Monday night, as updates from the Tely intruded for three brief election bulletins. Meanwhile, down at the Tely’s office at Bay and Melinda (now occupied by Commerce Court), results were flashed on the side of the building. Breaks were filled by movies, projected drawings sketched on the spot by the paper’s cartoonists, and live music courtesy of the 48th Highlanders. (We wonder if any of the pro-Bennett blurbs the paper used as space fillers during the campaign—such as “British Bankers Back Bennett…So Should You” and “Vote Bennett and a Boom/Oust W.L.M. King and Gloom”—were projected on “the old lady of Melinda Street.”)

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Advertisements, the Globe, July 26, 1930 (left); the Globe, July 28, 1930 (right).

The Globe, then located at 64 Yonge Street, projected returns for the public via a stereopticon (or magic lantern) onto a canvas hanging on the Melinda Street side of the Dominion Bank Building (now One King West). Seven phone lines were set up to provide returns for eager callers. The paper promised that for its radio coverage on CFRB, “Special preparations have been made to make the radio newscast as rapid and accurate as human ingenuity and the super-powered equipment of CFRB will permit.” Regardless of which way the vote went, readers were promised that Prime Minister King would provide a short radio message once the results were in.

That speech turned out to be a concession address, as Bennett emerged the victor. While the result may have disappointed ardent followers mulling outside the Liberal-leaning Globe, we suspect the crowd was jubilant outside the staunchly Tory Telegram. Despite each paper’s fierce partisanship, no fights between neighbouring left-leaning Star readers and right-leaning Mail and Empire fans were reported. If there were any bitter feelings, voters bottled them up until the internet comments section was invented.

Additional material from the July 28, 1930, edition of the Globe; the July 26, 1930, edition of the Mail and Empire; the July 26, 1930, and July 28, 1930, editions of the Telegram; and the July 28, 1930, edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 30-07-26 westinghouse ad

The Globe, July 26, 1930.

If you’re going to listen to the election results via radio, you want to make sure your set is working. There were no reports as to whether this ad prompted a run on tubes throughout Toronto.

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The Globe, July 29, 1930.

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Mail and Empire, July 28, 1930.

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Toronto Star, July 28, 1930.

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Toronto Star, July 29, 1930. Click on image for larger version.

I love how the spotlights emanating from the Star‘s building have been drawn in for dramatic effect. There also appear to have been plenty of disembodied limbs in the crowd.

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Toronto Star, July 29, 1930. Click on image for larger version.  

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Evening Telegram, July 29, 1930.

While the Tely had reporters stationed in Conservative campaign offices around the city, it is not mentioned if they sent anyone to hang out with the Liberals. One Grit candidate they might have spent the evening with was Samuel Factor in the short-lived riding of Toronto West Centre, who knocked off former Toronto mayor and veteran Conservative MP Tommy Church (a politician the Tely treated with the reverance usually reserved for religious deities).

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Home University Fit For an Empire

Originally published on Torontoist on March 2, 2010, though the image was long-missing there.

empire 95-01-26 home university

The Empire, January 26, 1895.

Ah, nothing like using the bait of personal enlightenment to lure people hoping to expand their knowledge base into buying newspaper subscriptions and a set of encyclopaedias. The only cost to unlocking the “sum of all knowledge” and avoid being forever disparaged for having only attended a little red school house was to read the news of the day filtered through the official viewpoint of the governing political party in Ottawa. It may have mattered little which of the five great classes of humanity an Empire reader belonged to, as long as they ultimately used the knowledge gained to cast their ballots for the Conservatives (or, to go with the party name that was fading from official use, Liberal-Conservatives).

Based on these ads, the heart of the Empire’s library was the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Also known as the “scholar’s edition,” this incarnation of the popular series was published in twenty-four volumes between 1875 and 1889. Perhaps special note was made of this version being the “Edinburgh Edition” to distinguish it from the cheap forgeries that floated around the United States.

mail 87-12-17 ad for empire small

Toronto Daily Mail, December 17, 1887.

As for the newspaper offering the means of expanding one’s knowledge, the Empire was launched when the Conservatives found they could no longer trust the Mail (which the party had backed since the paper’s founding in 1872) to always push party policies. The editorial direction of the Empire was clear when the first edition hit the streets of Toronto on December 27, 1887:

It is proposed to strengthen by all legitimate means the hands of the Party and the Government that have controlled the politics of the Dominion (with the exception of a term of five years) ever since the foundations of Confederation were laid. Believing that the public affairs of Canada have been, on the whole, wisely and ably administrated under the premiership of Sir John A. Macdonald, and holding that the remarkable progress of our country has been due in large measure to his far-sighted and patriotic administration, The Empire will extend to the Leader and his Government its fullest confidence and heartiest support.

In short, if you liked new Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier, the Empire wasn’t going to be high on your daily reading list. Based on random flips through its pages, we recommend the Empire to those readers who have deep interests in the National Policy, coverage of the death of Sir John A. in 1891, and gatherings of late nineteenth-century cheese producers.

Faithful readers who dithered about buying a set of encyclopaedias had little time to ponder a purchase. Two days after the last of today’s ads appeared, the Empire published its final edition and merged with the Mail to form the Mail and Empire (which merged with the Globe in 1936). The newspapers on the left were mixed in their reactions to the Empire’s demise—the Star noted it was a “sorry good-bye” but that Empire staff “know how the chicken felt” on this “cold day” before the Star editorial writer criticized the Tories, while the Globe gave a front-page thank you to Empire staff for temporarily housing their paper after a fire in January 1895 destroyed the Globe’s office.

Additional material from the December 27, 1887, edition of the Empire and the February 6, 1895, edition of the Toronto Star.

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 7: See the New Cookery Methods and Latest Fashions

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

And so (after a long hiatus for this series), we roll into day 3 of the Mail and Empire‘s cooking school and fashion revue.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

A sampling of the prizes used to entice readers to attend the cooking demonstrations.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of the styles displayed during the fashion revue.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

Beyond the reminders to attend the cooking school, regular content carried on. In this case, recipes for crepes suzettes and mayo.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933. Click on image for larger version.

A full page of recipes, alongside ads for the cooking school’s suppliers. The Acme Farmers Dairy plant was located on Walmer Road south of Casa Loma. After a succession of ownership changes, the plant closed in 1986 and was replaced with housing. Pickering Farms was acquired by Loblaws in 1954.

Mrs. Shockley was rolling in endorsements during her stay in Toronto. On April 6 alone, besides these two ads, she also pitched Mazola Corn Oil and Parker’s Cleaners.

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Anchora of Delta Gamma, January 1932.

Sidebar: a contemporary biography of Katherine Caldwell Bayley (1889-1976), aka Ann Adam. Beyond what’s mentioned here, she also wrote several cookbooks as Ann Adam or whatever house names her clients used. Based in Toronto, she ran Ann Adam Homecrafters, a consulting agency which operated through the 1960s. Among her assistants was Helen Gagen, who later became food editor of the Telegram.

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The Globe, February 21, 1935.

An ad for one of Bayley’s regular radio gigs. CKGW, which was owned by Gooderham and Worts distillery, was leased by the forerunner of the CBC around 1933 and changed its call letters to CRCT. On Christmas Eve 1937 it became CBL.

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Bayley’s first “Today’s Food” column for the Globe and Mail, September 24, 1942.

When the Mail and Empire merged with the Globe in November 1936, Bayley’s columns were not carried over. Six years passed before she joined the Globe and Mail as a daily food columnist on “The Homemaker Page.”

Her reintroduction stressed the realities of wartime home economics. “This daily column is designed to help you with the sometimes rather complicated problem of adjusting your cooking and meal-planning to the regulations necessary in a country at war,” the page editor wrote in the September 25, 1942 edition. “Some foods are rationed; some are no longer obtainable, and of others we are asked voluntarily to reduce our consumption. All this, and the effort, in spite of it, to increase, rather than decrease our physical efficiency to enable us to fill wartime jobs, involves more careful catering for our families and a skillful use of substitutes.”

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Globe and Mail, February 27, 1963.

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Globe and Mail, December 31, 1964.

Bayley’s final G&M column received no fanfare elsewhere in the paper, but went out in a partying mood.

Back to the cooking school…

 

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By April 7, the cooking school was front page advertorial copy…um…news.

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Mail and Empire, April 7, 1933.

Next: the cooking school wrap-up.

The Dawning of the Age of the Ugly Girl (in North Toronto)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 14, 2011.

When a community paper like the North Toronto Herald (and its identical twin the North Toronto Free Press) featured fashion suggestions back in the early 1970s, they were aimed at homemakers or ladies-who-lunch and not those who viewed themselves as hip and groovy. Anything radical or, worse, “unflattering” to the feminine physique was deemed worthy of an editorial by an anonymous writer whose visual sensibilities were offended by the dawning of the “age of Aquarius”—or by an eye-opening trip to the local supermarket.

No hint of any fashion crimes is evident to readers grazing the front page of the November 5, 1971 edition of the Herald. What you will find are two columns devoted to community social notices (the top item was a simple acknowledgment that Mrs. Chester Jordan of Fairlawn Avenue “entertained a number of her neighbours”), a thinly-veiled advertorial for the local business association “from the retailer’s viewpoint” (merchant unnamed), coverage for the second week in a row of a new pizza pub, a preview of an amateur production of You Can’t Take It With You in East York, and one of many urgings dotted throughout the paper to “shop at your local retail stores.” We assume the latter included the paper’s publisher, North Toronto Herald Printers, whose own ad takes up a good chunk of page two.

The editorial page also looks innocuous upon first glance. Longtime conservation columnist “Hec” reports on his recent trip to the National Sea Products plant in Lunenberg and focuses less on preserving ocean perch than discovering the secret of their excellent flavour—all that’s missing is an interview with Captain High Liner. Another story informs readers that singer Paul Anka and impressionist Rich Little will make special appearances at an upcoming fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease at the Inn on the Park. While you might glance at these stories, we suspect your eyes will quickly divert to an unsigned opinion piece in the top right corner with its subject screaming out in full caps: “THE AGE OF THE UGLY GIRL.”

Curious, you read on and quickly discover the neighbourhood’s ingrained conservatism. This is not going to be the paper’s typical plea for better understanding among all creeds and colours (other editorials that month pushed for increased funding for the United Nations and less money for missiles). From the opening sentences, it’s clear that this editorial is launching an attack on the younger, foolhardy generation who probably aren’t upstanding members of the North Toronto Business Association.

They tell us this has been the Age of Aquarius. But it’s really been the Age of the Ugly Girl. Of course there are a lot of lovely ones—they stand out almost incandescently, so fresh, so natural, their hair shining, their faces clean and unmade-up. Yet they too are a trifle over-exposed and in their extreme minis and long hair, resembling nothing so much as a bevy of lovely mermaids.

Nonetheless, these attractive ones only serve to emphasize the generally unkempt, unpressed, almost unwashed look of the majority of girls who stroll our streets. For them, mini-skirts and “hot pants” only serve to emphasize their legs, lean, knock-kneed and scrawny or ugly flat. As girls, they seem deliberately to choose the styles that emphasize the bad points.

Where this passion for ugliness will end, no one knows. Are these supposedly “hip” youngsters governed by the same herd instinct which causes women to conform to fashions which flatter no one. Fashions for women for the past three years have resembled something out of a horror movie. Are the current styles just a snide joke of the fashion creators, a put-on, like the one in the Tale of the Emperor’s Clothes, which proved that most people will agree on almost anything in order not to differ from the majority opinion? Only a child had the good sense to say—“but the emperor has nothing on.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

The full story about ocean perch. “Hec” appeared for years in the North Toronto Herald and the North Toronto Free Press.

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North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

The paper also highlighted the left-handed nature of the designer of the pizza chain it was promoting at the time. Sadly, there was no article the following week heralding Pizza Patio as a cure for the “Age of the Ugly Girl.”

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Toronto Star, October 23, 1971.

While we’re talking about Pizza Patio, here are a few words from the Star‘s “Dining with Liz” advertorial column, which was its latest attempt to compete with the Globe and Mail’s Mary Walpole. The chain, which was later purchased by Pizza Delight, existed in Toronto through the mid-1980s.

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North Toronto Herald, November 5, 1971.

A few words about the newest competitor among Toronto’s dailies. I’m not sure even the Sun itself would describe itself these days as “a morning newspaper of information and wisdom which is hard to fault.”

Want to read more North Toronto Herald? Bound volumes from the early 1950s onward are available in the local history section of the Toronto Public Library’s Northern District branch.