Censoring TIFF

Originally published on Torontoist on September 9, 2013.

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Once upon a time, there was a film festival that strove for international recognition. Its organizers hustled to bring a wide range of films and a touch of glamour to their fair city. As with any ongoing event, it experienced growing pains, and while the festival did ultimately succeed in cultivating a cosmopolitan image, there were occasional embarrassing moments along the way.

For the first decade of the Festival of Festivals (as the Toronto International Film Festival was known until 1994), programmers fought the guardians of public morality. Provincial censors—known at different times as the Ontario Board of Censors and the Ontario Film Review Board—wielded their power whenever they felt the festival was getting too naughty. Battles over the content of films at times threatened to derail gala openings. While the negative publicity fuelled public curiosity, it occasionally raised questions about Toronto’s suitability as a film-fest desination. Even after the festival earned an exemption from the censors in 1987, some of the films shown were still banned from general release.

Below are several examples of TIFF films that earned the wrath of the censors. Some of the clips included are NSFW.

Je, tu, il, elle (1977)
Director: Chantal Akerman
Starring: Chantal Akerman, Claire Wauthion

This film, selected as part of a programme assembled by French director Agnès Varda, ran afoul of Ontario’s morality enforcers because of its final 13 minutes. Provincial censors ordered 1,000 feet of celluloid cut in order to expunge footage of two women making out on a bed. Watching the film two decades later, critic Brian Johnson observed that “you can’t ‘see’ much, just two look-alike bodies all mixed up, a tangle of limbs and hair.” He suspected that the censors were “confounded by the idea of two women making love for an eternity.”

The festival pulled the film.

Five years later, when censors refused to permit the screening of Pierre Rissient’s Cinq et la peau, programmers didn’t substitute another film. A sign was placed outside the theatre during the scheduled time explaining why the screen was dark.

In Praise of Older Women (1978)
Director: George Kaczender
Starring: Tom Berenger, Karen Black, Marilyn Lightstone, Helen Shaver, Susan Strasberg

Can a film be censored “artistically”? That’s what censor Donald Sims promised would happen when, a week before In Praise of Older Women opened the 1978 festival, the board wanted to excise two minutes. Co-producer Robert Lantos vowed the film would be run uncut, despite the fact that doing so would put the licenses of the theatre and its projectionist at risk. Both sides compromised on cutting a 38-second scene involving Berenger and Lightstone making out behind a couch.

It was a publicity goldmine. Papers across the country commented on the furor, increasing demand for tickets from people eager to see a dirty movie. The festival sold 2000 tickets for a screening at the 1600-seat Elgin Theatre, assuming there would be no-shows. Problems arose when somebody noticed that each printed pass admitted two. The result was a mob scene, where those denied entry hissed “fraud!” as they stood in the rain outside the theatre. Those without seats were urged to go to a slightly later screening at the New Yorker Theatre.

Those inside the Elgin applauded federal secretary of state John Roberts’s opening speech. He told the audience that “because of the actions of the Ontario censor it is time for an active affirmation that censors shouldn’t tell people what they should or should not see.” Though an on-hand censor was shown proof that the edited version would be screened, careful camouflaging during the cycling of reels between the Elgin and the New Yorker ensured the audience saw the film in all its uncut glory.

Not a Love Story: A Film About Pornography (1981)
Director: Bonnie Sherr Klein
Featuring: Margaret Atwood, Kate Millett

The censor board approved one uncut screening of this National Film Board documentary about the porn industry. An overflow crowd inspired festival officials to request permission for another screening. The board refused, prompting the Star to wonder, “Was the censor board perhaps fearful that one showing of a film will not corrupt an audience, but a second might?” After the festival, screenings of the film were restricted to private venues, and for adults only.

The attention paid to Not a Love Story typified the festival’s relations with censor-board chair Mary Brown, whose tenure from 1980 to 1986 was characterized by controversy. Her objections often raised the profiles of the films she insisted on cutting. According to former festival director Helga Stephenson, “Silly old Mary Brown filled some theatres with some pretty tame stuff. The ranting and raving was a very good way to get the festival into the minds of the public, but internationally it was hugely embarrassing. And it filled the theatre with the wrong people, because they came looking for nothing but blow jobs, and they found themselves in the middle of a long, hard, boring film waiting for a few seconds of a grainy image showing something that looked vaguely like a male sex organ.”

The Brood (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle

One of the highlights of the 1983 festival was a retrospective of David Cronenberg’s work, the first time a Toronto-reared director was honoured. The censors spoiled the fun by insisting that the commercial cut of The Brood, which it approved in 1979, be used. That version hacked out a 50-second sequence depicting Samantha Eggar birthing a broodling and snacking on the placenta. “While ideally we believe the festival should only run full-length versions and without cuts of any kind,” observed festival director Wayne Clarkson, “saying we wouldn’t run a print that has played in Ontario many times over the years seemed unreasonable. It’s very difficult to say anything else when the director and the distributor have agreed to cuts.”

We suspect an uncut print will be part of TIFF’s upcoming salute to Cronenberg.

Fat Girl (2001)
Director: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, Arsinée Khanjian

Though the festival earned a blanket exemption from the censors, the films it screened weren’t guaranteed to escape problems after the festivities. The board refused to approve a general release for Fat Girl following the 2001 edition of TIFF, because of scenes of sexual content involving underage girls. The film was approved in other provinces and in other jurisdictions known for stringent classification systems, like Great Britain. Newspaper ads in British Columbia screamed “Banned in Ontario.”

Additional material from Brave Films, Wild Nights by Brian D. Johnson (Toronto: Random House, 2000), the September 8, 1978, September 15, 1978, and November 22, 2001 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 20, 1981 and September 14, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, September 9, 1978.

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Globe and Mail, September 15, 1978.

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Toronto Sun, September 15, 1978.

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Cover to the 1981 festival program.

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Editorial, Toronto Star, September 20, 1981.

Bonus Features: Peace Day, 1919 (Post #500!)

Before diving into this post, read my article for TVO about the celebrations and controversies surrounding Peace Day in July 1919. This also marks the 500th post on Tales of Toronto (though this entry isn’t strictly a Toronto story…).

The Treaty of Versailles

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Souvenir, signing of peace, Versailles, 1919. Canada. Dept. of Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment. Toronto Public Library.

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Hamilton Herald, June 28, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Eaton’s ad inspired by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Toronto Times, June 28, 1919.

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 The Globe, June 30, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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The Globe, June 30, 1919.

To Celebrate Peace Day or Not?

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Front page editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 17, 1919.

In several communities across the province, the question was whether to devote their full efforts towards peace celebrations planned for the August civic holiday weekend, or quickly come up with festivities to placate veterans groups and die-hard imperialists.

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Editorial, Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

In Peterborough, the front page of the July 18, 1919 Evening Examiner was filled with notices from retailers who would close. The decision to honour the holiday didn’t come until a meeting of local merchants wrapped up late that afternoon. “The only exception,” the paper reported, “will be the butchers who will close at noon owing to the hot weather and the necessity of supplying the public with a fresh supply of meat.” Peterborough’s factories also agreed to close on Peace Day.

As merchant Dickson Hall put it, “it is a scandal to remain open, contrary to the wishes of the King and the people.”

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Peterborough Evening Examiner, July 18, 1919.

Peace Day preparations were a mess in Windsor and the surrounding “Border Cities” (which included Ford City, Riverside, Sandwich, and Walkerville). “The attitude adopted by the Great War Veterans to have a parade and celebration has somewhat upset the calculations of those who expected to see the day pass quietly and unobserved,” the Border Cities Star reported on July 18. “The fact that organized labour also has decided to ‘take a holiday’ has added to the general confusion.” The Star believed that talk of punishing merchants who stayed open would “simmer out.” Merchants decided to take a half-holiday, shutting their doors at 1 p.m.

In the end, Windsorites preferred a quiet day. Many relaxed along the Detroit River or headed to Bob-Lo Island amusement park. Anyone who wanted to party could have travelled to large celebrations in Leamington and Tilbury. A veterans parade fizzled out, prompting at least one GWVA member to warn that Windsor’s lukewarm embrace of the GWVA’s vision of Peace Day would cause the Border Cities to lose out on future veteran conventions.

Meanwhile, In Hamilton…

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Hamilton Herald, July 17, 1919.

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A rebuttal to the Herald‘s claims from the front page of the July 18, 1919 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

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Hamilton Spectator, July 18, 1919.

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Hamilton Herald, July 21, 1919.

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If the festivities planned for Hamilton weren’t enticing, one could have taken advantage of Toronto’s celebrations, as shown in this July 17, 1919 ad from the Spectator.

Peace Day along The Danforth

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

In Toronto’s east end, the main Peace Day celebrations took place along Danforth Avenue. A parade was held between Broadview Avenue and Withrow Park, where around 70,000 people enjoyed the festivities.

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Toronto Star, July 21, 1919.

Members of the Todmorden lodge of the Sons of England volunteered to provide refreshments in the park. Numbers published in the Toronto World indicated that the lodge sold over 7,200 soft drinks and 250 gallons of ice cream, bringing in over $1,000.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Peace Day in Earlscourt

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919. Click on image for larger version.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

For more on events in Earlscourt, check out this post on McRoberts Avenue.

Peace Day in Queen’s Park

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

During the singalong, Mayor Church announced that there would be no speeches. “The reports in the Toronto papers of Toronto’s peace celebration all agree that it was an unqualified success,” observed the editorial page of the July 21 edition of the Hamilton Herald, “but anything where there are no speeches is a reporter’s idea of an unqualified success.”

Not-So-Peaceful Actions

Piecing together the accounts of the rowdyism and violence which occurred in Toronto was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, with each paper having its own set of details. Here are the full stories.

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The Globe, July 21, 1919.

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Mail and Empire, July 21, 1919.

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Evening Telegram, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto Times, July 21, 1919.

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Toronto World, July 21, 1919.

Bonus Features: Ontario’s hockey-star MP

Before diving into this post, check out my TVO article about Red Kelly’s political career.

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From the Toronto Star Archives at the Toronto Public Library comes this picture by Frank Grant of the Kellys entering Parliament in 1962. The description: “There’s overtime in this league. Parliamentary rookie Red Kelly, flanked by a pair of Mounties, discusses House opening with wife, the former skating star Andra McLaughlin, before entering Parliament. Leaf hockey star is M.P. for York West.”

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Toronto Star, May 19, 1962.

The roster of Liberal candidates in Metropolitan Toronto during the 1962 election campaign. Among those depicted here are three future finance ministers (Gordon, Macdonald, and Sharp), two defence ministers (Hellyer and Macdonald) and a minister of state for multiculturalism (Haidasz).

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Globe and Mail, May 5, 1962.

The Globe and Mail‘s editorial on Kelly’s candidacy. While the paper’s editorial page would continue to criticize Kelly for continuing his hockey career, its sports pages cheered him on. “Why all this criticism of a professional athlete working at his job?” sports editor Jim Vipond wrote in his January 9, 1963 column. “Is this to insinuate that the lawyers, doctors, insurance agents, brokers, farmers, teachers and representatives of a baker’s dozen other professions and businesses in the House of Commons completely submerge their private interests in the public welfare? It’s a lovely thought but outside the cabinet not a realistic one. A bit of an Alice in Wonderland touch.”

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Maclean’s, June 2, 1962

When a reporter told Pearson on election night that Kelly had won York West, the Liberal leader replied, “Yes, wait till I see [Maclean’s editor] Blair Fraser.”

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1962.

Here’s Kelly’s response to the Maclean’s piece.

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Sports Illustrated, December 3, 1962.

Sports Illustrated published a three-page profile of Kelly as he settled into his parliamentary duties. Writer Arlie W. Schardt asked Maple Leafs coach/general manager Punch Imlach if he questioned Kelly’s decision to balance hockey and politics. “Sure, I had my doubts,” Imlach replied. “My theory is that a man can’t serve two masters. Red’s getting old. I felt he needed every possible day of rest and training. Instead, he missed part of training camp, where all kinds of rookies were making a beeline for him, anyway. They figured they’d take his spot because an old man would injure easier. No respect for our MPs, you see.”

Lester B. Pearson playing baseball with Red Kelly at Coronation Park in Oakville

Lester B. Pearson playing baseball with Red Kelly at Coronation Park in Oakville, May 9, 1962. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 563, File 31, Item 1.

In his memoirs, Lester Pearson reflected on campaigning with Kelly during the 1963 election campaign:

While motoring from one meeting to another, we noticed some youngsters playing ball in a vacant lot. We both thought it would be fun, and might interest our press entourage, if we stopped for a few minutes to watch. We also stopped the game because Red was soon recognized, and was surrounded by excited youngsters clamoring for his autograph.

He was somewhat embarrassed that no one took any notice of me, and asked one small boy, happily contemplating Red’s signature: “Don’t you want Mr. Pearson’s too?” The reply put me in my place: “Mr. Pearson? Who’s he?”

Even as prime minister, I had to accept that in the autograph market it would take five “L.B. Pearsons” to get one “Red Kelly.” My sporting experience helped me to accept this evaluation.

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Toronto Star, April 9, 1963.

Throughout the 1962 and 1963 election campaigns, NDP candidate David Middleton constantly attacked Kelly for riding on his fame, being inexperienced, and not putting 100% of himself into his political duties. Middleton’s reaction to his second consecutive third place finish seems a little melodramatic. His 2010 obituary outlines an active life.

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Toronto Star, October 18, 1967.

During the 1963 federal election campaign, Alan Eagleson attacked Kelly for being an absentee MP. Later that year, he became an MPP for the provincial riding of Lakeshore. Based on this article, it seems Eagleson may have had his own attendance issues during the period in which he became the first director on the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

Based on Kelly’s account, Eagleson was not a gracious competitor during the 1963 race for York West. “I heard years later that Eagleson purposely sought the Conservative nomination in York West just to beat me!,” he recalled in The Red Kelly Story. “I never heard a peep from Eagleson that night, not a word. He never called, conceded, said congratulations, nothing.”

Bonus Features: And you’re gonna love it: How Ontario became ‘Yours to Discover’

Before diving into this post, you should read about “Yours to Discover” on TVO’s website.

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Toronto Star, May 1, 1980.

One of the first campaign advertisements, outlining its theme and accompanying tourist materials.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1980.

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Toronto Star, June 14, 1980.

The introduction to the first 40-page insert placed in newspapers, followed by the four-page Toronto section.

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Was curling ever a major tourist draw for Toronto? The Terrace was the last incarnation of the Mutual Street Arena/Arena Gardens, the early home of the Maple Leafs.

This section is close to what was published about Toronto in the era’s editions of the Traveller’s Encyclopedia, which I’ll cover in a future post.

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Toronto Star, May 2, 1981.

While intercity bus service has grown patchier across the province over the past 40 years, you can still enjoy a ride to Stratford’s Festival Theatre from several spots in the GTA.

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Toronto Star, June 22, 1981.

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Toronto Star, June 25 1981.

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Toronto Star, July 7, 1981.

Examples of ads touting the Yours to Discover kiosks found at half-a-dozen Eaton’s stores, including a listing of the province’s scenic driving routes, which are barely marked today, depending on if signs survived provincial downloading of sections of those routes during the Harris era or municipalities decided to post their own signs (such as the signs for the Talbot Trail in Elgin County).

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Globe and Mail, July 18, 1981.

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Toronto Star, August 15, 1981.

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Toronto Star, May 1, 1982.

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This article appeared above the “Go Wild” ad, which seems like smart product placement in the Star‘s travel section. You can easily recreate most of these trips today, though there’s nothing on the interwebs about a “Museum of Time” near Cookstown (guessing that it was somebody’s personal collection?).

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Toronto Star, May 3, 1982.

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Toronto Star, May 14, 1983.

From the spring 1983 Yours to Discover newspaper insert, info about the province’s new Teleguide system, which used Telidon technology.

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Toronto Star, June 29, 1983.

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Globe and Mail, June 14, 1986.

Note that the “Yours to Discover” logo was still prominent in this ad from the “Ontario Incredible!” campaign.


Here’s an early 1980s spot for one of the inspirations for “Yours to Discover,” the long-running “I Love NY” campaign.

 

Another early 1980s tourism campaign, this time from Michigan. “Say Yes to Michigan” was used from 1970 until it gave way to “Pure Michigan” in the 21st century.

“This The Day When the Ground Hog Comes Out”

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1912.

Posted above is the earliest front page story regarding Groundhog Day published by either the Globe or the Star.

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On that day’s editorial page, the Star published a piece about the occasion by syndicated poet Walt Mason (1862-1939).

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Toronto Star, February 7, 1908.

Here’s the earliest story from the Star about Groundhog Day, though it’s less about the day, more about farmers from southwest Ontario petitioning the provincial legislature for the right to shoot the critters.

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a lengthier look at the day’s origins, and its history in Canada.

Secrets of the Maya

Originally published on Torontoist on November 17, 2011.

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Part of the press preview festivities.

As we approached the seating area for a press conference about the Royal Ontario Museum’s next major exhibit yesterday, we were greeted by a man in blue body paint and a tall headdress wielding a weapon. While he was there to pose for the media (and is pictured above), we couldn’t resist letting our imagination run free to speculate that he was on hand as a ghost of a past civilization warning us of future calamity.

Along with the ROM’s recently reduced admission prices, it probably won’t hurt the museum’s attendance figures that the Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World exhibit that opens to the public this Saturday ties into the hype surrounding the Mayan long-form calendar prophecies—ones that some believe spell either glory or doom for the world next December.

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Funerary mask made of jade, shell, and obsidian, circa 250-600 CE. Royal Ontario Museum.

The exhibition is a collaborative effort between the ROM, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (where it will run later in 2012), and Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (Spanish website). Over 250 artifacts ranging from giant incense burners to rings for ball games have been gathered from the ROM’s collection, various museums in the Yucatan, and institutions from overseas (British Museum) and across the street (Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art). Many items, especially those recently excavated from the ruins of the city of Palenque, are being presented in public for the first time.

Installed in the basement Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, the exhibit is divided into seven sections covering various aspects of Mayan culture: The Maya World, The City, Cosmology and Ritual, Writing and Timekeeping, The Palace, Death, and Collapse and Survival. We were particularly drawn to the Writing and Timekeeping section, especially the exhibits on the efforts to decipher the glyphs that are the written legacy of the Mayans. Videos and touch-screen panels explain how researchers have determined that the symbols often represent syllables instead of individual letters or whole words. Like the rest of the exhibit, this section includes recreations of objects on display so that the visually impaired or those who enjoy a tactile component as part of their museum experience can touch the items without damaging the originals. This section also addresses the stories around 2012 and the Mayan calendar, including a projected clock on the wall. The ROM is also offering numerous tie-ins to the show, including a lecture series, graphic novels, and a Maya-themed sleepover for kids.

As part of the press conference, we were served samples of Mayan-themed dishes that will appear on the menus of both C5 and the Food Studio Cafe during the exhibit’s run, including some rich hot chocolate. No toasts to the upcoming apocalypse, though.

Bonus Features: Loblaws, Cinesphere, and OSAP, Oh My!

It’s been a busy week-and-a-half for me on the writing front: a trio of stories set (mostly) in Toronto for TVO. Because after a holiday break, you need a good kickstart to get back in a regular writing groove.

Not everything I find over the course of my research for these kinds of stories can or should make the final cut. So, where appropriate and time permitting, I’ll share with you the scraps from the cutting room floor or the side material that’s too good not to post.

Loblaws

Read the TVO article, published on January 15, 2019.

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Toronto Star, October 7, 1920.

The earliest Loblaws ad I found, when the chain opened its third store, which shares the current address of St. Lawrence Hall.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1926. Click on image for a larger version.

Within a few years the ads grew larger, and the spotlight was shone on house brands. This ad also shows how the company pitched the benefits of self-service, as competitors slowly began switching over to the format.

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The Globe, June 13, 1930.

The introduction of one of Loblaws’ oldest house brands. It may be bagged now, but the look of Pride of Arabia coffee has changed little over the past 90 years.

globe 1926-11-19 page 14 front page of special loblaws sectionThe Globe, November 19, 1926. Click on image for larger version.

In 1926 The Globe published a special supplement about Loblaws and related food stories. Among the article titles:

“Interesting Story of Orange Growing Goes Back to 1865”
“Salmon Induced Never to Travel Into U.S. Waters”
“Fine Frozen Foods May Be Appetizing Even on Cold Days”
“Analysis Can Show That Canned Fish is Good, Safe Food”
“Fattening Foods Described For Folks Who Are Thin”
“French Government Made Note of Early Use of Ice Cream”

And, my favourite, “Buying of Products Sold in Groceterias is Full of Romance.” The “romance” derived from items sourced from exotic lands like Asia Minor, Burmah, Mesopotamia, Siam, and Sicily. “Few people actually realize,” the article notes, “the romance existing in the conduct of a modern groceteria establishment, or the great extent of the operations necessary to place at the disposal of the buying public the many and varied lines demanded today.”

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

Photos took readers into the various departments which supplied each groceteria. Some of those spotlighted aren’t a big surprise…

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

…while others just seem funny now. Maybe a Loblaws exec who stumbles upon this post might be inspired to launch a new, 100th anniversary artisanal, handcrafted mayonnaise division.

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The Globe, October 2, 1931.

Some chest-thumping as the company opened its 100th location. A condo was recently built on this site.

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The trade obit for T.P. Loblaw.

Cinesphere

Read the TVO article, published on January 21, 2019.

You may also want to read an earlier piece I wrote for Torontoist about the opening of the Cinesphere.

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Published circa 1972, this magazine offered readers highlights of the park along with articles spotlighting different regions of the province. “We are an interesting and exciting province,” observes Premier William Davis in his introduction. “One of our greatest assets, our size, is one of our problems. We are so vast it is almost impossible for a person to travel over the whole of the province and get to know it all.”

After a few paragraphs about the economy, Davis concludes that he believes “the province will remain as accommodating as it has been in the past, exerting steady and calm influence on Canada and the rest of the world. I believe we will continue to keep our voices down and let ourselves be judged on the quality of our lives, the clarity of our ideas and the full measure and value of our accomplishments.”

His present-day successors in government would be wise to generally revisit that conclusion.

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The section on the Cinesphere from the magazine, highlighting its second season offerings. The ETROGS (named after Sorel Etrog, who sculpted the award winners received) soon became the Genie Awards, which lasted until they were merged with the Geminis to form the Canadian Screen Awards in 2013.

OSAP

Read the TVO article, originally published on January 24, 2019.

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The Varsity, October 6, 1965.

I suspect that when this ad for the Canada Student Loans Plan was published, newspapers were supposed to insert the nearest locations at the bottom. The Varsity decided to let applicants find that out on their own.

Confession: trying to sort the financial details of what students could and couldn’t apply for in terms of bursaries, loans, and scholarships under CSLP and POSAP between 1964 and 1967 was confusing, especially as conditions constantly changed. Congratulations to those who figured it out without suffering a nervous breakdown.

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Front page, The Varsity, September 30, 1966.

The Varsity‘s turnout figure for the 1966 POSAP protest in Queen’s Park was at the high end of the estimate scale, while the Globe and Mail claimed as few as 1,200 (I used the Star‘s figure of 2,000, which seemed like a nice, median number). Inside this issue, the Varsity‘s editorial felt the gathering was a success. “It means student leaders do not need to think and work in a vacuum–with efficient and patient preparation they can obtain the co-operation and support of their fellow students and of the faculty and administration.”

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Globe and Mail, September 29, 1966.

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Queen’s Journal, September 29, 1966.

Following the changes to POSAP in early 1967, the Globe and Mail reported that a rumour spreading around student councils and media “that agitators will be given special preference by the Government in their applications for loans.”

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Globe and Mail, August 17, 1967.