Vintage Toronto Ads: Clean, Rich Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer

Originally published on Torontoist on January 3, 2012.


Mail and Empire, November 2, 1911.

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

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

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


Vintage Toronto Ads: Comes a Time When Rust Never Sleeps

Originally published on Torontoist on December 13, 2011


Rolling Stone, October 5, 1978.

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

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

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: Dial-a-Thermos!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 6, 2011.


The Telegram, June 2, 1911.

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

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

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

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

On the right:

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


Vintage Toronto Ads: Got the Aluminum Munchies?

Originally published on Torontoist on November 22, 2011.


Saturday Night, November 21, 1959.

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

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


Vintage Toronto Ads: Valentine’s Day ’60

Originally published on Torontoist on February 9, 2010.


Globe and Mail, February 12, 1960.

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

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

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


Toronto Star, February 10, 1960.

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

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

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

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: Auntie Nuke Needs You

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2011.


Harrowsmith, April 1980.

Dear old Auntie Nuke would have been busy in 1980. Public concern about the nuclear industry was heightened by the accident at Three Mile Island a year earlier. This, we suspect, would in turn have increased support for Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear groups campaigning against Ontario Hydro’s plan to build four reactors near Bowmanville. As the protest date approached, Auntie Nuke spent several hours a day carefully reading the large volume of mail she received, and responded to each letter regardless of whether the writer supported her position or not.

So what happened if you showed up at Darlington to help Auntie Nuke?

For the more than 100 people who attended the demonstration, the reward was a $13 fine for petty trespass.

Initially, the protest was as peaceful as promised. Around 800 people showed up that afternoon, half as many as were at a similar demonstration a year earlier. Depending on the source, the crowd was either mostly in their late teens and early twenties (Star) or late twenties and early thirties (Globe and Mail). Amid T-shirts and placards bearing slogans like “Hell No I Won’t Glow” and “Cycle Power,” the Star observed that “the happy crowd danced and clapped to bluegrass music or sprawled on the grass listening to speakers denounce Ontario Hydro and call for a halt to construction of what they called a ‘white elephant.’” To make the protestors comfortable, Ontario Hydro cut the foot-high grass surrounding the site and provided garbage bins and portable toilets.

Halfway through the demonstration, a group of protestors tossed blankets and rugs over the barbed wire atop the eight-foot fence surrounding the construction site. Ladders cobbled together from rope and wood allowed people to scale the fence. Around 60 people headed to the edge of the excavation area and attempted to set up an Occupy-style tent city, complete with tree and vegetable planting. And then Ontario Hydro employees whipped out their cameras and waited for the Durham Regional Police to show up.

The occupation lasted half an hour before the campers and the dozen media that followed them were dragged away. Among those arrested were members of a Greenpeace flotilla, who breached the site via Lake Ontario. Auntie Nuke failed to provide them with sturdy ships, as their inflatable rubber boats developed tears or were equipped with defective motors. As she sat in the paddy wagon, Auntie Nuke scribbled a note to herself to find a better supplier for the next protest.

Additional material from the June 9, 1980, edition of the Globe and Mail and the June 8, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Fothergill’s Follies

Originally published on Torontoist on November 1, 2011.


Colonial Advocate, February 16, 1826.

It’s rare to see an advertisement accompanied by a large image in an early-19th-century newspaper. Ads of the era were usually a narrow column of text that occasionally featured a small illustration—pages from this period resemble a modern classified section more than a collection of eye-grabbing enticements to buy merchandise, return lost horses, or read government bulletins. But the person whose home was up for grabs in today’s ad was embroiled in a controversy at the time that merited an unusual notice.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography’s entry on Charles Fothergill is blunt about his professional shortcomings:

Fothergill’s career was an unbroken sequence of failures that were largely of his own making. He was well read in both general and scholarly literature but vitiated his promise by espousing projects far beyond his financial, if not his intellectual, means. He bemoaned his lack of patronage in Britain, and in Upper Canada he found it galling to be denied preferment by a clique of officials whom he thought beneath him in both breeding and education. In neither country, though, did he adopt any rational plan to achieve by his own efforts the wealth and leisure he needed for his scholarly projects, and in Upper Canada he squandered his one bite at the cherry of public patronage. His self-destructive risk-taking is probably traceable to an obsessional neurosis akin to that of the compulsive gambler.

Born in England in 1782, Fothergill gained an early reputation as a naturalist and might have led a more successful life had he devoted himself entirely to ornithology. Instead, he immigrated to Upper Canada in 1817 and soon piled up debts via businesses he operated in Peterborough and Port Hope. Fothergill moved to Toronto (then called York) to assume the job of King’s printer in January 1822.

Elected to the colonial assembly to represent Durham County in 1824, Fothergill caused endless grief to Lieutenant-Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland in both his elected and his patronage positions. Originally a loyal Tory supporter of the government, he gradually fell into a leading opposition role and voted with the Reformers in the assembly. By January 1826, Maitland had had enough of both Fothergill’s attacks on government policy and his inefficient, debt-piling operation of the official print. Though fellow Reformer William Lyon Mackenzie was not a personal fan of Fothergill’s, he defended his colleague’s work in improving the quality of the official newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette. A week after Fothergill got the boot, Mackenzie wrote in the Colonial Advocate that he lost his position due to “his open, candid and independent conduct in the assembly.” Mackenzie saw the dismissal as a warning to other assembly members that “if they exercise the faculty of thinking and speaking, they must succumb to the opinions of the powers that be, or lose their bread.”

At a public meeting on January 24, 1826, prominent Reformers voted to raise funds to financially support Fothergill during this rocky period. We suspect they also decided to help Fothergill sell his home—note Mackenzie’s role in the ad. Fothergill returned to Port Hope, where he once again demonstrated his lack of business acumen. He also gradually alienated his Reformer colleagues in the assembly as his conservative impulses reawakened. He launched an anti-government newspaper, the Palladium, two weeks after the rebellion of 1837, but, as Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867 notes, “The paper died a natural death from its publisher’s lack of business sense in 1839.” The final insult came a month after he died penniless in 1840: personal papers and materials he long planned to incorporate into a “Lyceum of Natural History and Fine Arts” went up in flames.

Additional material from the January 12, 1826, and January 26, 1826 editions of the Colonial Advocate.