Vintage Toronto Ads: Cadillac Snowbird

Originally published on Torontoist on February 19, 2008

2008_02_19addison.jpg

Toronto Life, February 1967.

Imagine what the Caddy would think of this month’s snowfall. The car wouldn’t bother waiting for a driver to take in the greyhounds before the next storm strikes.

Cars were sold at the northwest corner of Bay and Grenville for over 80 years, starting in 1925 with a dealership owned by General Motors of Canada president Sam McLaughlin. Addison took over in 1955 and remained until the lot closed last March. The heritage-designated building will be integrated into the Burano condominium project.

As for who this vehicle would find down south, Woody Woodbury was a Florida-based comedian whose booze-centric routines were preserved on a series of adult “party records” in the 1960s. Considered too raunchy for radio airplay, his albums contained enough mild innuendo to add a naughty touch to any respectable Cadillac owner’s cocktail party.

Advertisements

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Victorian Home Entertainment System

Originally published on Torontoist on February 8, 2008.

2008_02_05piano

Source: Truth, March 17, 1894.

There was a time in this fair city when home theatres did not run
When the grand majestic steeples stood alone against the sun
Long before the iPod and long before the radio
When the brown dark piano entertained homes in Toronto
(with apologies to Gordon Lightfoot)

Founded in 1888, Whaley, Royce & Co. quickly billed itself as “Canada’s Greatest Music House.” Initially manufacturing a wide range of instruments, the company focused on brass and drums from the 1920s onwards under the Imperial, Sterling and Ideal brands. The company maintained a publishing arm until a fire in 1969 destroyed its stock.

A variety of addresses served as downtown “warerooms” for the company through the mid-1970s. Their 1894 address would have been at the corner of Yonge Street and Richmond Street West, where musical instruments are still sold at The Bay.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Royal Canadian: March /

Arthur Wellesley Hughes. Toronto ; Winnipeg : Whaley, Royce & Co. Library and Archives Canada, csm4104-1c .

Whaley, Royce & Co. was among the businesses profiled in the book Toronto Illustrated 1893 (Toronto: Consolidated Illustrating Co., 1893). Among the tidbits included:

  • It had taken over the premises of another piano retailer, P.W. Graham, which had only been in business for a year.
  • Their site at 158 Yonge was described as “a commodious five-storey brick building” which had been “recently remodelled throughout and is now the most complete of any house in the Dominion, the basement being used for lithographing and printing music, the ground floor the retail department, sheet music and music books, and offices; the first flat, stock and sample room; second flat, Imperial band instrument manufactory, music engraving, electroplating in all its branches, together with flats of adjoining building (156 Yonge Street); the Duplex drum factory; thrird flat, musical merchandise, trimmings, and store rooms for surplus stock of sheet music, music books, etc.; the fourth flat being used for shipping, packing, and the stock of large instruments.”
  • Up to 27 mechanics and two travelling salesmen were employed to handle electroplating band instruments.
  • Recently (July 1893), they had bought Reimers Pianos at 48 Temperance Street, adding 25 workers specializing in upright pianos.
  • Of the owners, Whaley was a Toronto native, while Royce was from Acton. “Both are enterprising and energetic young businessmen, who give close personal attention to every detail of their business, and are highly respected in trade circles for their honorable and upright business dealings.”

Vintage Toronto Ads: Honest Ed’s Smells Out Bargains For You!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 17, 2007.

2007_07_17honested.jpg

“Honest Ed” Mirvish was many things—successful merchant, theatrical impressario, civic booster. For almost as long as his store at Bloor and Bathurst has operated, he also brought smiles to the faces of advertising bean counters at local newspapers.

Large-scale discount stores gained popularity in the 1950s, as post-war shoppers looked for economical ways to support their families and new lifestyles. First came the local store, often an outgrowth of a pre-existing department store, dry goods seller or grocer. 1962 was the turning point, as K-Mart, Kohl’s, Meijer, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco all opened their first large-scale locations, pitching items from popcorn to parakeets. In Ontario, Steinberg’s (later Miracle Mart), Towers and Zellers gained a foothold in malls and plazas, while K-Mart and Woolco quickly ventured across the border.
The competition for newspaper space among discounters was fierce, as copies of the Star and Telegram from this period also feature large ads for Steinberg’s, Towers and Rite-Way. Honest Ed’s ads were blockier than the competition, with more featured products and no line-drawn/clip art fashion models.

2007_07_17edbanner.jpg

Since the main ad doesn’t feature any of the store’s trademark jokes (though the logo vaguely resembles the early human-filled masthead used by Mad magazine), here are banners from their other ads that week. These included deals on Geritol ($1.67/bottle), pellet guns ($3.55 each; 59 cents for ammo), herring (three tins for 31 cents) and wading pools ($7.99).

Sources: Toronto Telegram, July 13, 1967 (main ad), Toronto Telegram, July 15, 1967, and Toronto Daily Star, July 20, 1967 (banners).

Past Pieces of Toronto: Towers Department Stores

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally published on June 3, 2012.

towers image

Toronto Star, November 16, 1960.

As the 1960s dawned, the discount department store heralded a new era of shopping. While Toronto had been home to stores such as Honest Ed’s for some time, the new breed of bargain emporiums were large, suburban sites which promised low prices, self-service and plenty of parking. Two years before future industry giants K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco opened their first stores in the United States, Towers brought Metro Toronto consumers a taste of the future of retail.

Launched as the Canadian division of U.S.-based Towers Marts International, the chain’s plan was to erect stores, sell them to recover the capital costs, then lease them back. Concessionaires rented space inside each store to operate individual departments—one merchant ran men’s clothing, for example, while another ran the pharmacy. The initial 14 concessionaires, including familiar names like Coles books, signed a one-year deal, with the cost of the lease afterwards determined by their sales volume. By coming together under one roof, everyone saved money by using common cashiers, bags and fixtures.

star 1960-11-15 towers

Toronto Star, November 15, 1960.

After six weeks of construction, the first Towers store opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Midland Avenue in Scarborough on November 17, 1960. An ad printed in the Star two days earlier depicted a child clad only in a rain barrel declaring “I’m not buying another thing” until the doors opened. The ad promised shoppers “bargains in sufficient quantities to fill your needs,” “forty-eight self-service, pressure-free departments on one floor to fill every need for all the family,” and “acres of free parking.” The festivities included the crowning of Mrs. Canada, who represented “the nation’s happiest housewife,” or at least the happiest homemaker to shop at Towers.

More gimmicky touches were used when Towers opened its third store on Dundas Street West between Bloor and Roncesvalles in June 1962. The first 1,000 customers could spend money to get more money—in this case, silver dollars for 80 cents. Seven sets of triplets, ranging in age from 3 to 34, were on hand to perform duties that including modelling the chain’s latest fashions and burying a time capsule intended to be left untouched until 2062.

Whether Towers would survive one more year, let alone 100, was a reasonable question. Messy relationships with its concessionaires, an inability to sell properties as fast as they were built, and a split with its American parent led to Towers falling into receivership in March 1963. During a creditors meeting at the King Edward Hotel that month, the receiver noted that untangling Towers’ affairs was “the most complicated matter I’ve ever been connected with” thanks to numerous unfavourable agreements it had made. Sales weren’t helped whenever customers unhappy with one concessionaire’s products said to heck with the rest of them and never set foot in Towers again.

ts-80-09-11-towers-history
Toronto Star, September 11, 1980.

The ultimate solution to the company’s problems was a gradual acquisition by grocer Oshawa Wholesale (later known as Oshawa Group) between 1965 and 1967. The chain’s numbers were boosted when Oshawa converted its Rite-Way discount stores to the Towers banner. The concessionaire model was phased as leases expired. Many stores built thereafter were paired with a Food City supermarket. Apart from some bumpiness in the mid-1970s, the chain became profitable and opened stores around Toronto in spots like the Galleria on Dupont Street.

Despite appearances in shows like Degrassi Junior High, Towers’ modest store count made it an attractive proposition for a sell-off as the 1990s loomed and Oshawa Group concentrated on its food and drug businesses. A bidding war erupted between the Hudson’s Bay Company and Woolworths for the 51-store chain, with HBC emerging the victor in October 1990. Over the next year, most of the stores were converted into Zellers locations. Figuring out where Towers locations were in Toronto without a store list isn’t too difficult: the tell-tale signs are malls and plazas where Zellers was/is located in close proximity to a FreshCo/Price Chopper/Sobeys grocery store.

Additional material from the September 9, 1960, November 15, 1960, November 16, 1960, June 14, 1962, April 1, 1963, and September 11, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The first time I wrote about Towers was the following installment of “Vintage Toronto Ads” originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2007:

Vintage Ad #370: The Devil's Polyester (or Satan's Slacks)

Toronto Star, October 2, 1972.

With Halloween almost upon us, the mind turns to the dark side. Though today’s ad seems innocent enough on the surface, its evil intentions are evident from its most prominently displayed sale price. While humans usually sell their soul to demons for wealth, power or self-sacrifice, all your eternal fate will earn you at Towers is a pair of cheap polyester pants.

Halloween items were likely among the products on sale when Towers opened their Galleria location in the fall of 1972. The mall site was previously home to the Dominion Radiator Company. An essay on the industrial life of Dupont Streetreferred to the heating manufacturer’s replacement as “soulless,” so perhaps devilish dealings were afoot beyond these pants.

Towers was one of Canada’s earliest discount department store chains. After being purchased by Oshawa Group in 1967, several locations included or were built next to their grocery (Food City) and drug (Kent) stores. The chain had 51 stores across Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec (as Bonimart) by the time it was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1990. Within a few months most locations, including the Galleria, were converted to Zellers stores.

Other than the price, the main eye-catching element is the artwork. The legs are so spindly that the “B” model snapped in two after attempting to stand straight.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Western Days in Don Mills

Originally published on Torontoist on March 9, 2007.

Vintage Ad #191 - The West Moves East

Source: Toronto Life, August 1968.

“Hey kids, let’s dig out that cowboy gear we bought for Halloween last year and hum the theme to Bonanza on the way to the Western Days hoe-down in Don Mills! Don’t forget the toy gun, pardner!”

Suburban shopping centres used plenty of gimmicks in the early days to get consumers to hop in the car and drive out to stores where they didn’t have to worry about paying for parking or carrying their goods home on the TTC. Modern indoor sidewalk sales have nothing on their ancestors — when was the last time you received free grilled meat from a server in a Stetson at Bayview Village or Yorkdale?

Note the description of the aboriginal element of the event. Based on everything else in the ad, it’s easy to imagine a depiction of Native culture as sensitive as a 1940s B-western.

Much of the advertising for the Don Mills Centre from this period plays on Wild West terminology, appropriate for a pioneer in Toronto retailing. One of the region’s first large-scale suburban shopping centres, it was designed to be the heart of the Don Mills development. The centre opened in 1955 as an open-air plaza which included long-term tenants like Dominion, Brewers Retail and Koffler Drugs (which evolved into the Shoppers Drug Mart empire). Eaton’s built their first suburban store at the centre in 1961, to be joined by Zellers in 1965. A roof came with a 1978 expansion.

The closure of Eaton’s when the chain was sold to Sears in 1999 began the stampede towards the centre’s demolition last year, to make way for an outdoor “lifestyle” shopping area. The current blank space is large enough to hold a decent-size carnival and rodeo, if anyone is interested…

Forget Expo 67, It’s the ’67 Ex!

Part One: Advertising the ’67 Ex

Originally published on Torontoist as “Vintage Toronto Ads: Ex 67” on August 31, 2010.

20100831greenefaithex

Globe and Mail, August 8, 1967.

The 1967 edition of the Canadian National Exhibition was not going to be an easy one to market to the public. How could it compete with the once-in-a-lifetime hoopla surrounding the year’s main celebration of Canada’s centennial, Expo 67? Would a trio of entertainers with Canadian roots help?

While the CNE rolled on with its traditional attractions in 1967, City officials who visited Montreal realized changes needed to be made for future editions of the CNE to make it feel less dowdy. Controller Fred Beavis proposed that beer and liquor sales should be allowed, while Mayor William Dennison pondered loosening restrictions that prevented the fair from opening on Sundays. In an editorial, the Star noted that these would be minor changes compared to what it felt the Ex really needed: a major freshening up and the creation of a greater sense of awe and wonder like that experienced at Expo 67 to bring it into the modern age.

It has settled into a rut, with no substantial change for generations. The visitor who goes through the gates each year knows in advance pretty much what he will see. There will be the same dull, unchanging buildings; the same masses of goods for sale—making some pavilions look like second-rate department stores; the same miles of booths with junky merchandise and dubious gambling games; the same bellowing pitchmen. There are, of course, better things than this at the “Ex” every year—but they are smothered in a sea of shoddy carnival gimmicks. This sort of thing may have been good enough 60 years ago, and indeed the CNE has a certain nostalgic charm for many people because it is so old-fashioned. But the CNE has no future as a big city country fair. That is not the way to attract younger people—especially when so many of them have seen “Expo” and know what a fair can be.

The paper recommended that older buildings be gradually replaced by modern structures that could be easily modified for different purposes, that the fair promote national artistic competitions, and do away with the “junk booths and ‘gyp’ shows” (conversely, a Globe and Mail editorial stated that, in a year where Charles DeGaulle gave fuel to separatist sentiments during his visit to Expo, “we should be thankful, in this shattering season, for something familiar and temperate”).

20100831largeexad

Globe and Mail, August 14, 1967.

For the 1967 Grandstand spectacular, fair officials brought in three expats as headliners: Bonanza patriarch Lorne Greene, daytime variety show host Art Linkletter, and easy listening music maestro Percy Faith. This did not sit well with Globe and Mail columnist Dennis Braithwaite, who hoped any future reforms to the fair would eliminate “spurious Canadianism” as represented by importing talent that was more popular at the time south of the border. Braithwaite didn’t blame Grandstand programmer Jack Arthur, who had brought many popular performers from elsewhere in previous years despite being urged to use homegrown talent.

An invitation from Lorne Greene to visit the CNE in 1967. CNE Archives.

Greene, the one-time “voice of doom” for CBC, was recruited to help pitch the fair in a spot that is among the films placed onto YouTube by the CNE Archives.

Globe and Mail reviewer Blaik Kirby found Greene one of the highlights of a disjointed evening at the Grandstand. Despite one too many jokes about Bonanza, Greene proved to be “a first-class singer and an adept, relaxed comedian” who electrified the audience when he arrived onstage atop a white charger. As for the other headliners, Kirby felt Faith was engaging in his understated conducting of the CNE orchestra (even if the material was overly schmaltzy), while Linkletter was criticized for spewing “the worst of daytime audience participation TV fare onto the CNE stage.” To Kirby, the biggest mistake of the show was allowing the RCMP Musical Ride to be its finale, as the horses were kept too far away from the audience and showcased at too late an hour (after 11 p.m.).

Despite a sluggish start, attendance increased by 31,000 over 1966 to help break the three million visit mark for only the third time in the fair’s history.

Additional material from the July 31, 1967, August 14, 1967, August 21, 1967, September 5, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the August 2, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

Part Two: Moving, Grooving, and Redesigning the CNE

Originally published on Torontoist on August 19, 2011.

20110819cowancover

Architect Harvey Cowan takes the CNE for a stroll. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

Amid the lines starting today for doughnut cheeseburgers and deep-fried cola at this year’s Canadian National Exhibition, you might hear an eternal argument: is the CNE a charming anachronism that has provided generations of Torontonians a final taste of summer fun, or an outdated relic that has little reason to continue?

Back in 1967, compared to the stylish, imaginative concepts on display at Montreal’s Expo 67, the CNE seemed so old-fashioned that it prompted one local media outlet to survey Toronto-based architects, designers, and filmmakers involved with Expo: how would they revitalize the old fair two weeks before it opened?

Flipping through the articles about the CNE in the August 5, 1967, edition of the Telegram, it’s clear both writers and interviewees weren’t impressed with the current state of the fair. Nearly all felt the CNE was a tatty, lowbrow, Victorian-era embarrassment lacking a compelling vision for the future. As architect Robert Fairfield (who designed the Festival Theatre in Stratford) noted, the CNE “failed to enter the 20th century, by clinging to the idea that it’s an institution. Like a beloved friend, it has been allowed to grow old, sentimental, eccentric, and untidy.” One major problem was finding solid financing to allow for innovative and interactive exhibits, especially from large industrial sponsors. Another issue was how to better utilize the grounds during the other 50 weeks of the year, with ideas ranging from a longer summer schedule of concerts and events to year-long exhibits. Restaurant designer Chet Borst proposed turning the grounds into a year-round restaurant district with eateries at all price ranges offering menus that represented all regions of Canada and themed after different Ontario cities or time periods (a rough-and-tumble bar from Windsor, a stately government house from Ottawa, a futuristic cocktail lounge, etc.).

20110819princesgates

Had several of those interviewed by the Telegram had their way, the Princes’ Gates would not be greeting visitors this year. Car 305, leaving CNE grounds via Princes’ Gates, at start of CNE’s first marathon car rally, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5802.

For designer/Marshall McLuhan associate Dr. Daniel Cappon, the CNE should have moved forward as a national fair like Expo, not a northern version of Coney Island. “Use the psychedelic stuff of Expo, the participating stuff, and not just be passive and visual,” noted Cappon. “Involve the public in half an hour of playing soccer. Involve them with sculpture, with music. Install IBM machines, ask the people a lot of questions, get them involved in the answers. Let them know we’re interested in how they react.” Other suggestions from the interviewees ranged from tearing down the viewed-as-a-boring-gateway Princes’ Gates (which we think is one of the site’s highlights) to building internal transportation systems like monorails. One of the few people to admit liking the CNE was industrial designer Morley Markson, who enjoyed the energy of the midway and its pitchmen and wished the displays captured that excitement.

The Telegram also asked architect Harvey Cowan to write a two-page spread on what was wrong with the CNE (which he compared to an old lady on its deathbed) and how he would fix it. High among the liabilities: dismal streetcar stops that should have been sold to the nearby Canada Packers plant. “It should be inherent to the design of an arrival station that the space says ‘Welcome,’” Cowan noted. “The CNE stations say ‘Go home, who needs it.’” Cowan also found the existing buildings an aesthetic mishmash, the displays dull, the central location of the midway a bottleneck, the entrances mundane, and the formal restaurants displaying “all the gaiety and excitement of open house at the City Morgue.”

20110819cowanmap

Map of architect Harvey Cowan’s vision for improving the CNE. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

So how would have Cowan improved it? Via various methods that, had they come anywhere near reality, would have dramatically altered the western waterfront and made a few people unhappy. Cowan’s vision saw the demolition of all buildings at Exhibition Place except for the Grandstand. Their replacements would have included terraced, well-landscaped parking garages, a domed stadium, and a sports centre. Down by the water, an aquarium and Olympic pool would rise. Fort York would have been moved to the shore by the Western Gap, with a public marina beside it. Existing yacht clubs would have been relocated further west along the shoreline. Over on the Toronto Islands, Cowan envisioned the airport moved, with the help of infill, to what would have no longer been Algonquin and Ward’s Islands (at the time, Metro Toronto was determined to remove the remaining residents). The airport’s former location would become the main exhibition area, covered in a plastic, tent-like structure similar to the Ontario pavilion at Expo 67. The midway would have found a new home on Muggs Island. To handle visitors, the Yonge subway line would have extended along the railway lines to the new mainland sports facilities, with a stop at the foot of Bathurst that connected to a monorail service to the islands.

20110819exhibition

A design proposal for the main exhibition space on the Toronto Islands. The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

Some suggestions in the Telegram articles may have lingered in the minds of CNE officials. A master plan approved in 1971 called for the demolition of 12 major buildings to make way for new facilities for trade shows and conventions, though only a few, like the Shell Tower, were torn down. While the same year saw Ontario Premier William Davis announce provincial funding for a monorail or other public transit link between Union Station and the CNE, a permanent link didn’t exist until the Harbourfront streetcar line reached the grounds in 2000. Design ideas from Expo 67 were utilized for an exhibition and entertainment space close to the CNE grounds but not part of it: Ontario Place.

Despite the criticisms aimed at the CNE during 1967, the fair broke the three million visit mark for only the third time in its history. Though attendance has dropped to an average of around 1.3 million visitors per year over the past decade, and the fair now relies on gimmicks like novelty caloric nightmares to draw customers, something wouldn’t be right if the CNE wasn’t around as a nostalgic link to Toronto’s past or to argue about the quality of over time.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

tely 67-08-05 cne 5

The Telegram, August 5, 1967.

After presenting its articles speculating on the CNE’s future, the Telegram presented a traditional preview of that year’s fair.

tely 67-08-15 tely at cne activities

The Telegram, August 15, 1967.

The Telegram also offered its own attractions at the fair, including tie-ins to its popular “Action Line” service and “After Four” teen section.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Balancing Act

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2008.

Vintage Ad #470: Watch Your Balance!

Maclean’s, April 16, 1955.

How will this space-age family’s future lose its balance?

  • Junior scares Father by having Teddy simulate a bear attack.
  • Rover, happy to see his master after a long session at the vet, jumps onto the ladder.
  • Mother relays the cost of the family’s latest insurance bill.
  • Father, overcome by a sudden burst of inspiration after reading an article about Jackson Pollock, tries to reach the yellow and blue paint cans.

The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company issued its first policy in 1887. The company’s first president was Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, though it is uncertain whether any policies were issued to cover his fondness for fermented beverages (though Macdonald was succeeded by distiller George Gooderham). After a spell in the King/Yonge area, its Toronto headquarters settled on Bloor Street East in the mid-1920s. The Manulife brand was adopted in 1971, a year before ground broke on the tower that bears its name at Bay and Bloor.