Halloween in Toronto, 1978

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Malabar’s, the costume people, have never been busier than they have during the past couple of weeks, and the reason may provide a dandy little summary of the times we’re in. These times, inarguably, are rotten. The dollar, the family, the nation, the Argos…everything’s falling apart. Hallowe’en, if we’ll let it, gives us a chance to get away from all that. To hide. Fantasize. Escape from reality. Turn into someone—or something—else. – Peter Gzowski, Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Talking to staff at Malabar, Gzowski discovered one of 1978’s most popular costumes was one that would be frowned upon for numerous reasons 40 years on: an Arab. “They want to rich,” noted Malabar’s Michael Schilders. “They could just put on a tea-towel, a rope and a tablecloth, but if they come to us they can have gold and silver cords and really looks as if they owned oil wells.”

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1978.

Also popular that year: masks of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, anything Vatican related (the year had gone through three popes) and nun’s habits, especially among pregnant customers. Store staff noted that interest in costumes went up when the economy tumbled (the Great Depression had been especially good for rentals).

Best costume suggestion in the column: “the Blob Who Ate Etobicoke.”

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Toronto Star, October 25, 1978.

Over in the Globe and Mail, columnist Bruce West felt Halloween was going downhill, partly because nobody had the chance to tip over outhouses:

It is my personal theory that Hallowe’en started its downhill trend not long after the advent of inside plumbing brought about the demise of the outdoor privy. There was a time, I’ll have you know, when—particularly in the more rural areas—the humble outhouse was almost as import a symbol of Hallowe’en as the ghastly smile of a flickering pumpkin or even a witch flying by on a broom.

No one was really considered to have really won his spurs as a graduate Hallowe’en prankster until he had at least assisted in the overturning of one outhouse. The owners of these conveniences usually took this annual ordeal in fairly good humour—with the notable exception of one deceitful rascal in my home town who gained the undying hostility of a group of privy-tippers by craftily shifting back his outhouse a few feet, in the early hours of Hallowe’en, in such away that the raiding party, while later approaching their target in the deep darkness, suddenly encountered some mighty poor footing.

The scariest element of modern-day Halloween, according to West, came “when you are confronted by the horrible giant prices of a dwarf bag of hand-out chocolate bars or trick-or-treat apples.”

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Globe and Mail, November 1, 1978.

One candy kids wouldn’t get their hands on was Clikkers tobacco-flavoured gum. The Consumers Association of Canada (CAC) successfully lobbied Zellers to remove the product, which was offered as a seasonal special at some locations. Though it didn’t actually contain tobacco or nicotine, the CAC wondered what the chances were that “children who acquire a taste for tobacco-flavoured gum will be encouraged to try tobacco itself?” An official from Zellers’ head office in Montreal admitted that “based on the calls we’ve had, it just isn’t worth it.” Aspiring smokers had to settle for Popeye candy cigs.

Two Toronto-based animators, John Leach (later known as Jonathan Rogers) and Jean Rankin, created one of the season’s hottest new animated specials. Here’s how The Canadian magazine introduced Witch’s Night Out:

Winnifred, bless her black lace bloomers, is not your average witch. A grande dame with the Seventies style of a stand-up comic, a funky fairy godmother temporarily fallen on hard times, she worries because work isn’t coming in the way it used to; nobody seems to believe in magic anymore. But she still has class, wears expensive underwear, and puts on her makeup every morning. And she can make wishes come true.

Winnifred was named after Leach’s mother, who remarked “Fame at last!” The character was partly inspired by Gilda Radner, who provided her voice (other voices included Catherine O’Hara and Fiona Reid). The cartoon was originally intended for CBC, who sat on it for nearly a year before finally rejecting it. It ended up on NBC, where Radner was starring on Saturday Night Live.

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If you were running dry on costume ideas, you could always check the Star’s “Starship” page for inspiration via its ongoing “Costumes of the World” series. Who knows how many little fishermen from Flanders ran around the streets of Toronto! October 28, 1978.

Halloween night the Toronto tradition of egging drag performers attending balls on Yonge Street continued, which resulted in 90 arrests. “Most of the arrests,” the Star reported, “were for causing a disturbance, drunkenness and breach of the peace.” It was also noted that “one marijuana charge was laid.” Two years later, a crackdown by police and the community began winding down the hate-tinged mayhem.

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Art Eggleton would top the polls in Ward 4, which covered Trinity-Bellwoods and Little Italy. Two years later, he was mayor. Toronto Star, November 1, 1978.

Halloween 1978 also coincided with the municipal election campaign, resulting in some election sign pranks. A Globe and Mail editorial observed that householders were placed “in the position of being promised goodies as they hand goodies over. The trick is to tell the real hobgoblins from those in disguise and to beware of brochures with pins in them.”

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Toronto Star, October 26, 1978.

Fashion then, costumes now: the image above offers a sampling of the outfits one could put together from goods available at the 1978 edition of a long-running Toronto tradition, the Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar, which was promoted throughout the week of Halloween. Held on November 1 at the CNE’s Automotive Building, it was expected to draw 60,000 people looking to buy everything from high fashion to cantaloupe preserves.

Additional material from the October 28, 1978 edition of the Canadian; the October 27, 1978, October 30, 1978, October 31, 1978, and November 1, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the October 31, 1978 and November 1, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

Halloween in Toronto, 1918

Halloween was a low-key affair in Toronto in 1918. Between the Spanish Flu pandemic which struck the city that month and the winding down of the First World War, it’s not surprising that there were reduced celebrations that year. The public was asked to direct any extra money to the Victory Loan bond drive. Real life horrors may have squelched any desire to indulge in imaginary ones.

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The Globe, October 24, 1918.

The major department stores barely acknowledged Halloween in their ads—this sampling of décor items from Eaton’s was one of the few I found.

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The Globe, October 30, 1918.

The Globe offered sugarless snack suggestions, as sugar was considered a high demand item not to be wasted on frivolous treats.

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The Globe, November 1, 1918.

This account of Halloween night notes that some people were still in a mischievous, gender-bending mood. It also reflects fears about Bolshevism rising in the wake of the Russian Revolution and homegrown socialism, and the fire department’s eternal annoyance at Halloween false alarms.

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Toronto Star, November 1, 1918.

It was a tragic evening on the Danforth, due to a pedestrian fatality.

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Toronto World, October 31, 1918.

For several nights that week, as part of the Victory Loan drive, films were shown outside the Allen Theatre at Richmond and Victoria. Later known as the Tivoli, it operated until 1964. Many of the stars listed, especially Pickford and Fairbanks, had undertaken personal appearance tours for wartime bond drives in the United States.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Three)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. Click here for the full series.

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The Telegram, July 30, 1923.

Four years before this series was published, the Telegram printed an article where swimming expert George Hebden Corsan explained why women were so well-adapted to the water.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1919.

Corsan believed men required more intensive instruction in learning how to swim due to their heavier muscle mass.

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The Globe, October 7, 1926.

There’s a lot more to say about Corsan, a pioneering swim instructor who dabbled in farming and vegetarianism, in upcoming posts.

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The Telegram, July 31, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

A sampling of post-First World War bathing suits, which the copywriter regards as “utilitarian.”

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The Telegram, August 1, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

Apparently Chicago’s beachwear was considered far more chic that Toronto’s.

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The Telegram, August 2, 1923.

A few words on the early evolution of swimwear during the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Lisa Bier’s book Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870-1926 (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011):

Women’s bathing costumes ranged from the rented plain suits to very fancy silk ones, but what they had in common was coverage. These suits provided more skin coverage than today’s dresses, with skirts that reached at least the knee, corsets, sleeves, bloomers, stockings, and bathing shoes. They were dark in colour for modesty’s sake, and often quite heavy when wet. Pressures from society concerning modesty conflicted with issues of safety and function. For women interested in venturing away from the ropes and actually swimming, not just wading, the suits were a hinderance and a danger.

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The Telegram, August 3, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1923.

Next time: The Telegram makes a big announcement for aspiring water nymphs.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Two)

During the summer of 1923, the Evening Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming lessons for women. Due to time constraints, and wanting to post the rest of these tips while its swimming season, here is week two of the series sans commentary. More context in future posts!

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The Telegram, July 23, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 25, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 26, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 27, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 28, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).

Exhibiting the Human Edge

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2013.

As soon as you enter The AstraZeneca Human Edge at the Ontario Science Centre, you can predict which exhibit kids will run to: the climbing wall on the immediate left. A stand-in for mountaineering, the wall represents the limits of human endurance—the theme of many of the displays, which make their public debut on December 7.

The first new permanent exhibition hall to open at the Science Centre in seven years, The AstraZeneca Human Edge features 80 exhibits that explore the boundaries of our bodies as they develop from conception to death. The exhibits are grouped into five thematic areas, each of which focuses on a different kind of human limitation, such as aging or physical injury.

One of the first stops is a tall cone containing a free-diving simulation. Featuring narration from world-record-holder Mandy-Rae Cruickshank Krack, the chamber combines sound and watery lighting evocative of a deep dive. The effect is stunning—by the time Krack reaches the dark reaches of her 88-metre descent, the pressure of the depths gnaws at your head.

That pressure is relieved by a nearby case filled with oddities and artifacts from the weight-loss industry. You can test the effectiveness of rollers designed to glide away the pounds, listen to exercise records (with full orchestral accompaniment!) from the 1920s, gaze upon boxes of tragically named appetite-suppressant candies, and browse advertisements for slenderizing products parodied by Monty Python.

On a more serious historical note, the corner devoted to diabetes treatment includes a refurbished version of Frederick Banting and Charles Best’s University of Toronto lab. A series of phones offers users historical diagnoses of the disease from the Victorian era to the near future. Sadly, none are narrated by Wilford Brimley. If you were recently informed that you have diabetes, please don’t dial up Sir William Osler for a second opinion.

We tested the “aging machine,” which snaps your photo and projects your future appearance for every decade until you hit 70. The results are alternately amusing and terrifying, depending on how deeply lined your face becomes. You can then share the image of your aged visage on nearby screens, or type in a code that will allow you to download the photos at home.

Elsewhere in the hall, you’ll find the usual assortment of buttons, cross-sections, and dials intended to inform and amuse patrons. It’s likely staff will hear every sperm joke invented if they hang around long enough by the interactive display illustrating how many little swimmers will reach the final conception heats.

During her opening remarks at today’s media preview, Ontario Science Centre CEO Lesley Lewis warned that “it’s not quite finished.” If you’re planning a holiday visit, be warned that several major interactive displays won’t be ready for prime time until late January. Currently marked by tape outlines on the floor, the “Personal Limits” area will include a dance floor that converts your moves into electricity, rowing machines, and a running track that will videotape your gait for all to see. Until that section is functional, the hall can’t help but feel like a work in progress.

Celebrating Carnival at the ROM

Originally published on Torontoist on July 27, 2012.

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Carnival mas band costumes designed by Brian Mac Farlane. Left to right: Time (2011), Mad Cow (2010), Dragon (2010).

Tucked in a corner beside a giant photo of a dinosaur, it would be easy for Royal Ontario Museum visitors to pass by the small exhibit near the main entrance. But a glance in the right direction reveals a quartet of eye-catching costumes crafted by Trinidadian Carnival outfit designer Brian Mac Farlane. From a traditional “mad cow,” to a stark depiction of departed souls, the costumes reflect the historical and social commentary which infuses Mac Farlane’s work and forms the core of the museum’s latest tie-in exhibit with the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.

Carnival is a pre-lent festive season that is celebrated around the world, but especially in Trinidad and Tobago and on other Caribbean isles, where the event culminates in giant parades the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, participants in those parades wear elaborate, colourful costumes, like Mac Farlane’s.

Opening to the public on Saturday, “Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration” features a gallery of sketches of Mac Farlane’s thematic designs over the past three years. Since beginning his career as a teenager in the early 1970s, Mac Farlane has won numerous awards for his Carnival work in Trinidad and Tobago and has been tapped to provide presentations for international events like this year’s Olympics. Looking at the sketches, one can see why his work has earned such prestige. His designs are attention-grabbing, and layered with symbolism.

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Sketch by Brian Mac Farlane for Aphotic costumes, 2012. According to the interpretive notes, these outfits project “a sense of hopelessness and despair” that people feel when they are “rendered powerless by the negativity that surrounds them.”

Take the “Sanctification…In Search Of” series of outfits Mac Farlane produced this year. According to his website, the designs came about as a result of his pain “at the inhumane way in which we treat each other.” Headline after headline regarding crime, the worsening economy, and the fraying of the social fabric led Mac Farlane to create a series of costumes employing the colours of Trinidad and Tobago’s flag: “Red represents our blood; Black represents the darkness, in which we currently find ourselves; and White represents cohesiveness and unity that form part of the solution.” The result is outfits that range from demonic figures draped in blood and darkness, to lighter figures embodying patriotism—which seems appropriate given this year’s celebration of the golden anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Great Britain.

Besides Mac Farlane’s work, the gallery also features images from the past 45 years of Toronto’s Carnival celebrations (though don’t go looking for any reference to the festival’s former name, which the organizers are now legally prohibited from using). Video clips include thoughts from the likes of Toronto Raptor Jamaal Magloire on the meaning of the celebration. One drawback to the exhibit is how it’s split up. It’s unfortunate that Mac Farlane’s costumes are one floor away from the sketches they grew from. Rather than being almost hidden away in a corner, the full-size outfits could have formed a focal point in the centre of the exhibit’s main second-floor gallery.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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It appears there were at least two other pictures I took that were considered for the final piece. Unfortunately, I do not have descriptions on hand, so you’ll just have to gaze at the artistry of these works.