Opening City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2015.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

When the new City Hall opened on September 13, 1965, that afternoon’s Toronto Star editorial echoed many initial thoughts about our new $31 million landmark:

Suddenly today every Torontonian is ten feet high. For the new City Hall is his. He is part of its greatness and shares its beauty. There in its mass and grace is his visible assurance that he is a citizen of no mean city. The building in Nathan Phillips Square is more than an impressive and proud architectural statement of civic status. It gives the metropolis a focus. It is the heart of Toronto’s future. It is the symbol of the new Toronto and we can rejoice in what it means.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Seven years after Viljo Revell’s design was chosen in an open competition, four years after ground had broken, the controversial structure buzzed with activity while preparing for its debut. Forty-two workmen moved furniture, including the mayor’s desk, across Bay Street via overnight dolly runs. Shelves were filled at the new library branch. Workmen scrambled to finish installing desks and rugs, catching up after an eight-week carpenters’ strike. Metro Toronto’s coat of arms for the council chamber arrived late. Officials decided that the first two floors of the podium, the council chamber, and the basement cafeteria were the only areas ready for public scrutiny.

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Cartoon by Sid Barron, Toronto Star, September 13, 1965.

A military band from Petawawa launched the festivities at 1:30 p.m., which drew a crowd of 15,000. The civic guard of honour escorted city councillors and suburban mayors and reeves from old City Hall to the platform in front of the new building. At 2:15, a 100-member honour guard drawn from five regiments marched into the square. Accompanied by the first of several RCAF flyovers, Governor-General Georges Vanier’s motorcade arrived on time. He was followed by the Finnish ambassador to Canada, Torstein Tikanvaara, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and Ontario Premier John Robarts.

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Toronto Star, September 14, 1965.

In his opening speech, Mayor Phil Givens observed that many were responsible for new City Hall, “from an architectural genius in far-off Finland, to the humblest labourer in Canada, and, above all, the support and patience of the citizens of this city.” To Givens, the building symbolized both Toronto’s transformation into a world-class city, and the audacity to build so unconventional a structure in a city steeped in tradition.

Pearson praised City Hall’s modernity, while lamenting the likely fate of its predecessor, which “must become a sacrifice to progress” (plans released later that week for an early version of the Eaton Centre would have demolished all but the clock tower of old City Hall). He was followed by Robarts, three religious leaders, and the presentation of a ceremonial gavel by Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps.

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The living former mayors on hand for the ceremony (Allan Lamport refused to come, while Hiram McCallum was out of town on business). The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

But the man of the hour was Nathan Phillips, whose championing of the new civic square led to his name being bestowed upon it. Givens and Vanier presented him with the Civic Award of Merit gold medallion. Phillips slipped comfortably back into his “mayor of all the people” mode all day, joking with fellow dignitaries. When he examined Givens’ new office, Phillips grinned and said “I didn’t know I was building this for you, Phil.” Noticing the press later on, he assumed a serious tone to state how this was one of the most important events in his life, and how grateful he was for the honour of having served as mayor. He smiled as he switched back to his normal speaking voice. “How was that, eh?”

While Phillips was visibly moved by the reception he received, one of his predecessors was a party pooper. Allan Lamport had backed more conventional designs during his mayoralty in the early 1950s, and believed taxpayer money was wasted on the project. Having campaigned to review the project during his failed 1960 mayoral bid, his bitterness was still evident. Lamport spent the day at his insurance office. “I have to work for a living and I haven’t got the time for parties these other fellows have,” he declared. He had no desire “to cheer something that is wrong and impractical for the taxpayers.”

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Globe and Mail, September 13, 1965.

After the presentation to Phillips, Givens paid tribute to Revell, who had died less than a year earlier. Revell’s widow Maire sat in the front row next to the Finnish ambassador. The Toronto Finnish Male Choir sang “Finlandia” to honour Revell, whose work was commemorated with a plaque by the front entrance. Mrs. Revell was given a gold pendant depicting her husband’s work. Despite her stern bearing during the ceremony, she later signed souvenir programs and indicated she had enjoyed the day even if it was difficult to express her feelings about the realization of her husband’s work. She admitted in a Globe and Mail interview that initially it wasn’t one of her favourite designs. “But when I first saw the drawings for it, I knew that it was going to be for the best,” she said. “I was really shocked at the design—shocked in the sense of liking it.” One of her laments was that Revell had visualized a sculpture by Henry Moore as part of the square, an element which appeared only after a battle royale among city politicians the following year.

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Mayor Phil Givens’s office. Canadian Architect, October 1965.

Among those sitting on the green benches reserved for dignitaries was 90-year-old Alfred Stagg. He had ventured downtown that day to buy a hearing aid battery for his wife. Noticing the crowd in the square, he asked a police officer what was going on. Stagg then shared stories about his childhood adventures on the site. “We used to play on the vacant lot there,” he told the Telegram. “And there used to be circus wagons there sometimes…and snake charmers and medicine men. I had a tooth pulled out by one of them.” The officer took Stagg by the arm and walked him past the VIP barricade. Asked his opinion of the new building, Stagg replied “I used to call it Phillips’ Folly. But now I like it.”

The ceremony ended with the official ribbon cutting. Watched by Givens and Metro Toronto Chairman William Allen, Vanier used a giant pair of scissors to cut the 132 foot long ribbon. Fireworks went off.

Confusion ensued when the dignitaries went on a post-ceremony tour. Robarts was accidentally barred from the mayor’s office. The building’s circular shape led confused guests into places they didn’t expect—trips to the cafeteria turned into expeditions through the chauffeurs’ garage. Limited elevator service created long waits for overcrowded cars to reach the council chamber. Pearson and others vainly searched for a staircase, only to discover that they were closed because they also led to the freshly asphalted front podium roof (workers were afraid high heels would leave holes). The PM joined everyone else in line.

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1965.

Press reaction was positive, steeped in civic pride and confidence in Toronto’s future. That feeling carried over into the Star’s man-on-the-street interviews, such as one with civic worker Jack Boustead:

You can have memories, but you can’t live in the past. The old City Hall, and I knew it for 54 years, served its purpose. The new City Hall is a symbol of Toronto’s progress and outlook on life. The City Hall should lead in new architecture.

Not everyone was pleased. Roofer John Fridz felt it lacked dignity, charm, and a clock tower. “This new thing is cold, grey, and not worth the cost,” he observed. “If it impressed any one—it won’t be from beauty.” At least one letter writer to the Star preferring that the hoopla be directed to building the Bloor-Danforth line into Etobicoke and Scarborough, proving you can work complaints about subway service in the east into any Toronto political development of the past half-century.

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Toronto Symphony Orchestra performing in Nathan Phillips Square. November 14, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2531.

Opening day ended with the first of a week-long entertainment series in Nathan Phillips Square, a salute to Canada’s military history. The next evening, around 30,000 watched a bill featuring the Canadian Opera Company, National Ballet of Canada, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The latter decided not to fire cannons during the 1812 Overture out of feat of shattering hard-to-replace glass—the replacement smudge pots proved a bust. “The entire event recalled something of a civilized ritual of a bygone era, the conversazione,” noted the Globe and Mail’s Ralph Hicklin. “There was music there—beautifully presented, well amplified—for those who wanted to hear it. There was room for the others, who had come to promenade, or to chat, or do a little courting. In Toronto, where we are reputed to take out pleasures sadly, it was wonderful to see so many people having a wonderful time, in surroundings as beautiful as any you could find in North America.”

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

Day two also saw the building open for public tours. Over 200,000 passed during the week, their enthusiasm keeping the tour guides perky. Some cranky visitors felt it was their right as taxpayers to visit private spaces. The most popular stops were the neighbouring offices of Allen and Givens.

Politicians testing the new facilities found flaws. The Board of Control found a committee room was too small to hold other officials and the press, while the Public Works committee met in the cafeteria. A policy to use the council chamber solely for full city and Metro council meetings was revisited. When Metro Council held its first full meeting on September 21, East York Reeve True Davidson, no fan of the building, insisted councillors didn’t need mics to be heard. She was later asked to remove her hand from her mic. After the session, she claimed she didn’t like how she sounded over the sound system.

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The Telegram, September 20, 1965.

The evening celebrations carried on, including events ranging from a multicultural night to square dancing. It climaxed on September 18 with “Toronto A Go Go,” a teen-centric concert featuring local rock acts and go-go dancers. Givens taped radio ads for the show, urging “all you cats and those who are young at heart” to come on down. The crowd of 60,000 whipped itself into a frenzy, causing officials to ask for calm several times. One of Givens’ requests turned into a duet featuring the mayor and Bobby Curtola singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Around 200 police officers were present in case the show went off the rails.

The climax came during the performance of the soul-influenced ensemble Jon and Lee and the Checkmates. During a cover of James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” singer Jon Finley’s gyrations “moved the girls in the front rows to new heights of endeavor,” reported the Globe and Mail, “as they screamed and tried to push through the police.” Givens and other officials had enough. According to Finley, the mayor tried to grab drummer Jeff Cutler’s cymbal, but was whacked across the knuckles as the band kept going. Finley was later helped off the stage, nearly unconscious—as another entertainer told the Star, “he doesn’t sing from his heart or that…he sings from his soul and it gets him emotionally.”

Givens ordered an early start to the evening’s fireworks.

Amid the mayhem, 19-year-old Brian Batt was stabbed, the result of an encounter with other youths described as wearing Beatles-style ensembles. The wound missed Batt’s coronary artery by a millimetre. Five men were later charged over the incident.

Despite the chaos, Givens was satisfied with how the go-go unfolded. “It was a great night and I’m glad we had it,” he told the Star. “There was a great spirit of enthusiasm, although I was worried a couple of times that someone might get hurt. But the police did a great job of controlling the crowds.”

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Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, September 13, 1965.

As politicians settled in and resumed their usual squabbling, the new City Hall remained a busy tourist attraction. To this day, the site retains its place as a symbol of our civic pride, and the heart of where we’d like Toronto’s future to unfold.

Additional material from Before the Gold Rush by Nicholas Jennings (Toronto: Penguin, 1997); the September 9, 1965, September 11, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 15, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 18, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 4, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, and September 20, 1965 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The final installment of  the second run of Vintage Toronto Ads, published on Torontoist on September 9, 2015, tied into this article.

When a major landmark opens, everyone (apart from skinflints complaining about cost) wants to join the party. It’s an opportunity to mark a major addition to your city, display optimism for the future, or find any means to hitch your wagon to the hoopla. Advertising in this vein ranges from simple congratulations to using the event as a springboard to brag about your latest milestone.

The opening of new City Hall in September 1965 was no different. The following ads mix historical perspectives, media coverage, building sketches, and corporations eager to embrace the future our new civic space symbolized.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 8, 1965.

Bosley Real Estate’s ad highlights how the process to build City Hall went back nearly two decades, and tips its hat to previous occupants of the site.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Shell Canada operated its head office at 505 University Avenue from 1958 until moving to Calgary in 1984. Design firm Mariani and Morris was among the contenders to build City Hall in the early 1950s.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

The Revell-inspired sand castles resemble those built by Nathan Phillips in an editorial cartoon five years earlier.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

John B. Parkin Associates’s Simpson Tower opened in 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1965.

Given the firm’s work on City Hall, employees of John B. Parkin Associates earned a well-deserved day off.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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The Telegram, September 10, 1965.

The Telegram’s supplement was the largest of the newspaper sections honouring City Hall.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Memory Lane

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2015, based on an article originally published by The Grid on March 12, 2013.

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Toronto Life, November 1969.

During the 1960s, the block of Markham Street south of Bloor transformed from a quiet residential road into a row of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. What started as a plan to build a parking lot for Honest Ed’s became Mirvish Village. While 594 Markham initially housed galleries after its residents departed, the building found its fame when “Captain” George Henderson opened his Memory Lane comic book and movie memorabilia store in 1967.

Born in Montreal, Henderson devoured comic books and movies during a childhood spent bouncing among foster homes. He also wrote poetry, a skill that wasn’t appreciated during his 12-year army stint. After his discharge, he wrote soft-core porn novels for $750 apiece. “I could rewrite the same book three times, one heterosexual, one homosexual, and one lesbian,” he later told the Globe and Mail.

Tiring of the porn trade, Henderson returned to his childhood loves when he opened the Viking Bookshop on Queen Street West near Simcoe Street in spring 1966. Dubbed “the campiest store in town” by the Star’s Robert Fulford, the Viking was the first in Canada to specialize in comic books. He claimed the largest stock of Golden Age comics (those published up to 1949) in Canada, with a weekly turnover of 5,000 comics from that era.

Henderson renamed the store Memory Lane when it moved to Markham Street because “it was the worst cliché you could think of.” The store became a place for comic fans, movie buffs, and nostalgic types to connect. Rising interest in comics spurred by the Adam West Batman TV show attracted plenty of media attention, even if it wasn’t always respectful—during one TV appearance, a laugh track played whenever he opened his mouth. He also dealt with occasional hecklers—once, when a passerby bellowed, “what a weird store!” Henderson replied, “Yes sir, and I think there’s a place in Toronto for a weird store like this.”

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Advertorial by Mary Walpole about Memory Lane, Globe and Mail, April 16, 1970.

The “weird store” was a focal point for one of Toronto’s first major conventions, the Triple Fan Fair. Centred around Markham Street during Canada Day weekend in 1968, the gathering included art displays, a Tarzan exhibit, a panel discussion featuring Stan Lee, a comic-book swap, and silent films presented by a young Reg Hartt. Anticipating future convention costume contests, the fair offered a masked ball filled with comic characters, silent movie stars, and monsters.

The store cultivated many fans via its mini publishing empire, known as the “Vast Whizzbang Organization.” Captain George’s Whizzbang was an attractive fanzine that purveyed, according to Star media critic Nathan Cohen, “affectionate, informed nostalgia.” Its content included capsule reviews of current books, columns on comics and radio, and essays on sci-fi illustrators and movies past and present. Henderson’s reprints of classic comic strips ran into trouble when he was fined $4,000 after King Features received an injunction over copyright violations.

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CBC news story on Memory Lane, May 29, 1970. CBC Archives.

Yet these reprints reflected Henderson’s interest in promoting comics as a valid art form. Following an exhibition of his most valuable comics at Hart House in November 1966, Henderson talked of establishing a permanent comic art museum. His vision was briefly realized in 1971, when the Whizzbang Gallery opened a few doors south of Memory Lane. “We’re not out to appeal to the man on the street,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We’re only interested in people who care about our popular culture.” During its opening, one guest confided to Henderson that “this is the first party I’ve ever been at where the other guests didn’t think I was some kind of nut for liking comic books.”

By the 1980s, Henderson wearied of the comic-book market. He noticed that, as the years passed, kids’ enthusiasm changed from the stories inside the comics to their financial worth. Most of his income came from movie memorabilia, especially posters and lobby cards. The sheer volume Henderson carried led the Globe and Mail to call Memory Lane “a branch of the Smithsonian that the Smithsonian doesn’t know about.” The store occasionally experienced runs on particular items, such as Ronald Reagan material during his 1980 presidential run.

Henderson passed away in 1992. Henderson’s legacy of treating comics seriously lingered on in Mirvish Village via The Beguiling.

Additional material from the June 15, 1966, November 28, 1966, February 17, 1968, October 2, 1971, and April 4, 1982 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the July 23, 1966, June 29, 1968, and April 28, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 66-07-23 viking books profile Toronto Star, July 23, 1966. Click on image for larger version.

Of the other stores mentioned in this article, Ryerson Press’s home at 299 Queen West would become home to the CHUM/CITY media empire. ts 68-06-29 triple fan fair

Toronto Star, June 29, 1968. Click on image for larger version.

Don’t fret about what’s happening to our heroes on the covers chosen for this profile of the Triple Fan Fair: Ben Grimm turned back into the Thing in the next issue of Fantastic Four, while Spidey found escape less than impossible.

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Toronto Star, April 28, 1969.

A few words about Captain George’s Whizzbang from legendary Toronto Star critic Nathan Cohen.

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Globe and Mail, October 2, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

An article on the launch of the Whizzbang Gallery, accompanied by Carmine Infantino’s rendition of the Flash.

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Globe and Mail, April 24, 1982. Click on image for larger version.

An early 1980s profile of Henderson.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Eaton’s ’68

Originally published on Torontoist on August 19, 2015.

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Globe and Mail, August 9, 1968.

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Globe and Mail, August 16, 1968.

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Globe and Mail, August 28, 1968. Located on the fourth floor of the Queen Street store, the Pierre Cardin shop bore an avocado green and gold theme.

As Eaton’s headed toward its 100th anniversary in 1969, the venerable department-store chain was working to keep up with the times. Earlier in the decade, there was a sense of stagnation; statistics compiled in 1962 revealed that the typical Eaton’s manager was a male in his mid-50s armed with a high school diploma and over a quarter-of-a-century of experience with the retailer. As costs rose and revenues flattened, a decision was made to emphasize what had been a dirty word at various times in the company’s history: profit.

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Globe and Mail, August 29, 1968.

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Globe and Mail, August 30, 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 5, 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 7, 1968.

Signs of the future were evident during the run-up to the anniversary celebrations. By late 1968, most small Eaton’s locations in Ontario were closed, while plans revealed for new stores such as Scarborough Town Centre pointed toward an emphasis on larger, urban branches. In-house factories were sold off as product was sourced from smaller firms and foreign manufacturers. The traditional drawing of curtains on window displays on Sundays (lest one be tempted on the Lord’s Day) was scrapped. A fresh coat of white paint was slapped on the chain’s flagship at Queen and Yonge. New boutiques for lines like Pierre Cardin opened within stores.

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The Telegram, September 10, 1968.

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The Telegram, September 11, 1968.

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The Telegram, September 12, 1968.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1968.

Eaton’s advertising in 1968 reflected the era’s artistic influences. Out went conservative department-store ad layouts, in came designs inspired by psychedelia and other trendy influences. This stylized approach earned Eaton’s many advertising awards during this period. Our gallery features a small sampling from this era, highlighting period fads like Nehru jackets for kids.

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Globe and Mail, August 31, 1968.

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The Telegram, September 9, 1968.

Several of these ads mention the “New Era of Elegance” fashion show held at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu) in September 1968. The main draw was superstar British model Jean Shrimpton, who to many was the face of Swinging London. Before the show, she told reporters that she hadn’t been on a runway before because she suspected she’d hate it. Eaton’s staff weren’t fazed by her admission—“they were awfully nice about it.” When she walked out in front of the audience, fright crossed her face. “She dashed onto the stage,” the Globe and Mail observed, “flinging that famous Ophelia hair out of her eyes, froze for an agonizing minute then sprinted around the runway and off again as if chased by a thousand devils.”

Shrimpton was slightly calmer during her subsequent strolls out. The audience, mesmerized by her appearance, didn’t mind. One observer felt Shrimpton’s nervousness gave the show a touch of humanity onlookers related to.

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Globe and Mail, September 26, 1968.

Additional material from The Store That Timothy Built by William Stephenson (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1969); and the September 11, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Telegram.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Columbia House

Originally published on Torontoist on August 12, 2015.

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Maclean’s, February 16, 1957.

The bait was hard to resist: up to a dozen albums for a penny. Sure, there was a “small” shipping and handling fee. And buy x-number of albums at full price over x-number of years. And mail back reply cards if the monthly featured selection didn’t appeal to you. And endure legal notices in case you didn’t pay up. And, if you cared to dig deeper, support the no or reduced royalties on those bargain albums paid to performers and publishers. And, if you wanted to dump the albums, discover used music stores that refused to accept them, citing inferior pressing quality.

But a dozen albums for a penny! Even with the additional costs factored in, Columbia House and its competitors were an affordable way to build a music collection, especially back-catalogue items you might not have rushed down to the local bricks-and-mortar store to buy. You could kill hours browsing microscopic print to make the right picks.

At their peak in the mid-1990s, record clubs across North America raked in $1.5 billion annually. At the end of the 1990s, Columbia House Canada held the second largest market share among Canadian music retailers, behind bricks-and-mortar retailer HMV. Their power over sales was such that many large chains boycotted the 1996 Juno Awards when Columbia House was named an official sponsor.

Then the Internet came along. The only surprise over this week’s announcement that the American remnants of Columbia House has filed for Chapter 11 is that any trace of the former giant still existed.

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Toronto Star, October 17, 1955.

Columbia House’s half-century presence in Toronto began when the Columbia Record Club launched on both sides of the border in 1955. It was promoted via ads through local retailers ranging from Eaton’s to Sniderman’s Music Hall (the College Street forerunner of Sam the Record Man). The original offer was a choice of one free record from a list of 12. After that, you had to buy four LPs at list price over the next year, with a free record tossed in for every two you bought. The offer was adjusted over time: by 1968, the deal was eight free records if you bought nine over the next year.

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Globe and Mail, October 15, 1955.

The company experienced pains after purchasing the rival Capitol Record Club of Canada in 1974. “Quite frankly,” Columbia House Canada VP/GM Richard Gurian told the Star, “we didn’t do such a great job in taking over” after discovering how many bad accounts were inherited. Moving its computer services from its Don Mills office to the headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana created customer invoice problems.

One result: for the rest of the 1970s, Columbia House provoked the highest number of complaints about a single firm received by the Star’s Star Probe consumer-help column. Most aggravating was the steady stream of increasingly threatening notices to pay up in cases where items didn’t arrive or requests to close properly paid accounts were ignored. As Star Probe columnist Rod Goodman put it, “It is a shame that the law allows firms to throw legal notices at customers without making even a token effort to determine the facts.” Readers frequently vowed never to deal with direct marketers ever again.

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Maclean’s, February 1968.

Goodman published an example of the form letters complainants received. This one was the first stage in prodding a delinquent customer, utilizing an obnoxious “friendly” approach:

Have you ever tried wishing away your troubles? They just don’t go away. The only way troubles will disappear is by doing something about them. In our case, I mean yours and mine, our troubles could disappear if you would only pay your bill. We would both be relieved of a big burden. Especially since the time is rapidly approaching when I must make a decision whether or not to turn your account over to a collection agency. Send your payment today and breathe a sigh of relief.

That letter may have been signed by “Douglas Mitchell,” the fake name Columbia House used for its friendliest reminder. Not as nice was “Frank Pearson,” who asked if you forgot the bill before demanding payment. If nothing was resolved, “Clark Weatherbee” threatened legal action or harassment from a collection agency. These names helped Columbia House staff determine account status whenever a frazzled customer called in. “Suppose everyone wrote to me and I wasn’t here,” Gladys Perry, Columbia House Canada’s manager of fulfillment, told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “Imagine all the frustration that would build up. And what if I were to leave the company?”

Sometimes the form letter went too far. One Weatherbee form used in the early 1980s advised clients that “we are now fully aware of your extremely poor credit risk status.” While Parry dismissed complaints about that wording, noting that those who supposedly owed Columbia House did “not necessarily have a poor credit rating in the whole community,” lawyers took the company to task. The wording was removed.

Perhaps employees were fatigued by legitimate deadbeats, who made up to 35 per cent of their customer base. Some went far to get their cheap albums: a North York couple was charged in February 2000 for defrauding Columbia House out of $20,000 over the previous year. Under different names (yet using the same address), the couple submitted 28 handwritten and over 1,000 online club applications, yielding a bounty of 900 CDs.

Columbia House soldiered on even when rival BMG Music Service launched with a Boxing Day advertising blitz in 1994. BMG’s promise of no further obligations past the promotional offer was an immediate hit, drawing 300,000 members in 10 months. Both services, and their offshoots, fought it out in mailers, ads, and online until BMG pulled the plug on its Mississauga facility in early 2000. As online shopping cut into its base, Columbia House was sold to a succession of new owners. The end for its Canadian operation came in December 2010, when Direct Brands closed its east Scarborough office.

Additional material from the August 16, 2008 edition of Billboard; the October 15, 1955, April 15, 1982, and August 26, 1998 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1968 edition of Maclean’s; and the October 12, 1976, March 24, 1977, April 10, 1979, and December 10, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Party Nomination Battles, 1926 Edition

Originally published on Torontoist on August 5, 2015.

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Mail and Empire, September 14, 1926.

The 1926 federal election campaign was going to be long and ugly. It was precipitated by a constitutional crisis, two brief minority governments, and a customs scandal involving bribery and booze. The two main party leaders—Conservative Arthur Meighen and Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King—were mortal enemies whose war began as student debaters at the University of Toronto. Lasting over two months, the campaign witnessed vicious accusations, excessive media partisanship, and all the wonderful sides of humanity elections bring out.

In Toronto, the ugliness manifested itself in several ridings where more than one Conservative candidate ran. The noisiest battle was in Toronto Northeast, which covered the old City of Toronto north of Bloor Street and east of Bathurst Street.

When the election was called at the beginning of July 1926, the Conservatives held every seat in Toronto and York County. Incumbents elected the previous year, such as rookie Toronto Northeast MP Richard Langton Baker, expected to be acclaimed at nomination meetings. The first sign of trouble for Baker’s coronation occurred during a July 27 Toronto Northeast Conservative Association (TNCA) meeting, when Lieutenant-Colonel Newton Manley Young’s name was suggested as a potential candidate during a motion to support Baker. Accusations flew between supporters of both men during the next few weeks over unfair tactics.

By the time the official nomination meeting was held at the Masonic Temple at Yonge and Davenport on August 17, a third candidate had emerged. Speaking last, Baker sensed something was amiss. He dropped a bombshell during the final sentence of his speech. Baker declared, “I will not submit my name to this convention, but I will submit my name again to those who voted for me last October, for I will be nominated and I will be elected again by the 20,877.”

Shouts ranging from “Atta boy” to “He’s a traitor” echoed through the hall. Young received the nomination, thanks to the support of local ward associations and women in the audience. Despite urging party unity and denying rumours he was really a Catholic with Liberal leanings, Young was booed off the stage. The same treatment greeted Young supporter John Currie after he criticized Baker.

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The Globe, August 18, 1926.

Baker immediately bought newspaper ad space stating his interpretation of what had transpired. He filed a protest with the Central Conservative Association of Toronto (CCAT), claiming that neither delegate who nominated Young lived in the riding. He officially launched his campaign a few days later in North Toronto at a TNCA meeting, where some members noted irregularities in the distribution of delegate cards and demanded the resignation of the TNCA’s president. Baker refused to “lie down and allow a steam roller to run backward and forward over him.” He also grumbled that while he had recently heard the concept of “British fair play” uttered 10 times in as many minutes, it wasn’t fair play to dump him for no reason.

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The Globe, August 24, 1926.

The CCAT ignored Baker’s complaints and reaffirmed Young’s candidacy. The ensuing advertising war (a melodrama played out in the gallery above) trumpeted each man’s Conservative qualifications and loyalties. Both insisted Prime Minister Meighen backed their candidacy, though it was claimed Baker only quoted the first half of a telegram from Meighen—the balance stressed party unity.

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The Globe, September 2, 1926.

Baker depicted the party establishment as downtown “bosses” akin to the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine which ran New York City for decades. He also ran splashy rallies, including one at St. Alban’s Square in the Annex that included bagpipers and a cornet player. Alternately, Baker was accused of having paid for 143 party memberships during the 1925 campaign, and of trying to convert the TNCA into his own political machine.

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The Telegram, September 11, 1926.

Newspaper editorials across the political spectrum frowned upon the antics in Toronto Northeast. On the Liberal side, the Globe felt the row was “wholly degrading, and must result in lowering the tone of politics.” The Star observed that the shaky Conservative nomination process “does something to explain the often extraordinary selection of candidates which the Conservatives make in a city that should be able to send half-a-dozen men of cabinet rank to Ottawa, but scarcely ever sends even one.” It suggested that the Ministry of Justice launch an inquiry. The Telegram backed Young for his military service and promises to support veterans’ issues. They went overboard denouncing Baker, painting him as a mere civilian who opposed the public ownership of hydro and provided the Liberals with a wedge to split the Conservative vote. The Telegram saw a vote for Baker as a vote for Mackenzie King, who was frequently depicted as a traitor preparing to sell Canada out to the Americans (while Meighen was the saviour of the British Empire).

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The Globe, September 13, 1926.

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The Globe, September 14, 1926.

As the ballots were counted on September 14, numbers from North Toronto gave Baker a comfortable lead. Around 9 p.m., the faces at Young’s headquarters brightened when they were notified 1,000 votes had been miscounted. The votes from the south end reversed the results, and Young defeated Baker by over 1,100 votes. The Liberals failed to benefit from the split, as the combined Baker-Young total outpaced the Grits by over 12,000 votes.

“My idea of things is to win without boasting, and lose with a smile,” Young told the Globe. When a Telegram reporter visited Baker’s headquarters around 11 p.m. to check if the losing candidate was around, a worker replied “no, but there are a lot of undertakers around here just now.” Baker’s later response lacked grace: “Apparently the people do not want cleaner politics,” he muttered. Reflecting upon the Conservatives’ national loss to the Liberals, Baker observed that “[i]f the same effort had been made by the machine to defeat the forces of Mackenzie King in the other Ontario risings as was expended in Toronto Northeast the Conservative majorities would have brought more honour to the party.”

Baker spent the next few years mending fences with the party establishment. In 1930, he wrested the nomination from Young, and won the riding as part of R.B. Bennett’s national sweep. Moving to the new riding of Eglinton in 1935, he remained an MP until 1940.

Additional material from the July 28, 1926, August 18, 1926, August 19, 1926, August 23, 1926, September 10, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Globe; the September 15, 1926 edition of the Mail and Empire; the August 20, 1926, August 21, 1926, September 9, 1926, September 10, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 9, 1926, September 11, 1926, September 13, 1926, and September 15, 1926 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Mail and Empire, September 7, 1926.

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Mail and Empire, September 8, 1926.

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Mail and Empire, September 11, 1926.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A&P

Originally published on Torontoist on July 22, 2015.

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The Globe, February 10, 1932.

At its peak, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the largest retailer on the planet. By the end of the 1920s, the grocer boasted up to 16,000 stores across the United States, Ontario, and Quebec. As late as the early 1960s, A&P could boast about its dominant size. But over half a century of decline may have culminated this week when the 156-year-old grocer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years, leaving 296 stores up for grabs.

Contemplate those numbers the next time you ponder the size of today’s retail giants.

A&P arrived in Toronto in April 1928, a year after opening its first Canadian stores in Montreal. Within two years, 100 small locations dotted the city. Profiling the new stores in September 1928, Canadian Grocer was impressed with A&P’s efforts:

These stores are a combination of groceries and meats, and are pretty well standardized although they are not always exactly the same. They are attractively laid out with meats down one side, groceries opposite, and usually a big display refrigerator at the rear. One of the fundamental principles of the company is to display as many goods as possible in each of their stores. They also make a point of price-ticketing everything so that the customer does not have to ask the price of any line on view. Dotted here and there along the floor and in front of counters are several wire display stands each containing one particular line of goods and usually at a special price. The meat display counter is refrigerated by pipes that are cooled by machinery in the basement. The counter is glass-topped. While the meats on display cannot be touched from the outside, the salesman back of the counter has ready access to them and can easily pick out any cut desired.

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Toronto Star, March 13, 1930.

Many locations were placed near existing Dominion stores. Several press accounts noted how Dominion’s owners had previously worked for A&P, a factor which may have heightened the grocers’ rivalry.

The company invested $175,000 to build a combination bakery/head office/warehouse complex at the northeast corner of Laughton Avenue and Connolly Street in the city’s west end. Opened in December 1929, the facility’s perks included banana-ripening rooms and a laundry for store uniforms. “One is at once impressed with the spaciousness, wide and sunny offices, and the ordered cleanliness of the storage rooms,” the Globe observed.

The following decade saw a few hiccups that caused executives to down more than a few cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee. In 1933, city councillor Sam McBride charged A&P with providing inferior goods to customers using relief vouchers issued during the depths of the Great Depression. While denying McBride’s charges, an A&P official admitted they wash imported carrots. Alongside competitors like Loblaws and Simpsons, A&P was charged in 1935 with short-weighing goods.

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Globe and Mail, July 29, 1966.

By the mid-1960s, A&P’s American operations were declining. An aging board of directors failed to adjust to a changing marketplace, especially the emergence of suburbia. Small, crummy stores reeked of fatigue and wilting produce. Instead of re-investing its profits, management heeded calls to increase already generous dividends. Yet the picture in Canada appeared rosier: its program of store modernization was a model for the rest of the chain. In 1966, 20 acres of land on Dundas Street east of Highway 27 (now Highway 427) in Etobicoke were purchased for a new head office/warehouse/store complex, a facility still used by Metro today. To build local customer loyalty, A&P undertook promotions such as distributing flyers in English and Italian to west-end neighbourhoods.

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The Telegram, August 7, 1952. The Dundas/Browns Line location mentioned in this ad was A&P’s largest Canadian store to date. Perks included a 300-space parking lot, and aisles wide enough to accommodate 500 shoppers in the store at a time.

While American operations contracted following A&P’s purchase by Germany’s Tengelmann Group in 1979, the Canadian division benefitted from the demise of two major rivals. When Conrad Black’s Argus Corporation broke up Dominion in 1985, A&P picked up its Ontario stores, retaining the brand for its GTA locations. Five years later, Miracle Food Mart was acquired from the remnants of Steinberg’s, though that banner was phased out following a lengthy strike in the mid-1990s.

As the 1990s ended, A&P Canada was the company’s only profitable division. This provoked rumours of a sell-off to infuse funds into the flailing American operations. Suitor speculations ranged from Sobeys to Walmart. Quebec-based Metro won out in July 2005, and within five years rebranded all remaining banners apart from Food Basics.

Additional material from The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011); the September 28, 1928 and July-August 1998 editions of Canadian Grocer; the December 10, 1929, May 24, 1933, and March 27, 1935 editions of the Globe; and the July 17, 1952 and August 17, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, May 7, 1928.

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Toronto Star, January 16, 1930.

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The Globe, May 7, 1931.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Alex Trebek

Originally published on Torontoist on July 15, 2015.

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Toronto Life, July 1972.

A sunny day on a Toronto rooftop, 1972. CBC Radio’s roster of local announcers gathers for a summery, stylish photoshoot. Sitting in a deck chair front and centre is CBL’s morning man, a dashing host who, though barely into his 30s, has a decade of experience with the broadcaster. Looking far more casual than anyone else in the picture (with the exception of the guy in the green shirt in the back), Alex Trebek possesses the aura of a person ready to go places.

Trebek assumed morning duties at CBL-AM in October 1971, after 23-year veteran Bruce Smith moved to the afternoon drive shift. The new host was described by the Globe and Mail as “a dashing bilingual bachelor, who can be expected to show more bounce than Bruce favoured, and thus to be more like his competitors on commercial stations.” Trebek’s show, I’m Here Till 9 (so titled because the show ran from 5 to 9 a.m.), was part of the “Information Radio” revamp of CBC which included new programs like Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning.

Globe and Mail critic Blaik Kirby felt Trebek’s show didn’t live up to its promise of providing information, especially during its final two hours. “The most important part of the show has consisted almost entirely of alternating records and commercials, with a few pleasant words from Trebek to separate them,” Kirby observed. Producer Fred Augerman’s solution was to rely less on clips syndicated to all CBC stations in favour of local contributors specializing in entertainment beats.

The attempt to echo commercial radio didn’t work, as CBL’s ratings in the time slot slipped from the Smith era. Yet thanks to the growing popularity of Gzowski’s show, which followed Trebek, the station snuck into third place behind CFRB and CHUM.

After a year on the air, the axe fell on Trebek. In October 1972, the network announced it would convert all of its local early morning shows to a harder news format. “We’ve got new marching orders,” an unnamed CBC official told the Star. “We’ve changed the rules on Trebek, but he’s not to blame.” Another labelled the directive as a sign the network was “going back to the eighteenth century, in search of an audience that isn’t there any more.” Trebek would remain on the air through the end of the year.

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 Globe and Mail, October 27, 1971.

The decision irritated Trebek. “I was a little cheesed off,” he told the Globe and Maila month after the announcement. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’ve decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing.”

At the time, Trebek lived alone in a three-storey home on George Street, close to the CBC studios. Asked about his romantic life, he noted he was too busy pursuing his career “to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He joked that whenever he mentioned on air where he’d been the night before, women he dated speculated who he’d been with: “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”

Trebek intended to take it easy following his final broadcast on December 29, 1972, planning to ski and work on a chalet he was building near Collingwood. He still had his hosting duties on the teen quiz show Reach for the Top, and had four pending offers for television shows. One he accepted was an American game show called The Wizard of Odds. Though it only lasted a year, that series launched Trebek’s long association with the genre stateside, culminating in his 30-plus-year run emceeing Jeopardy!

As for the radio slot Trebek left behind, George Rich served as interim host until the new format was ready. Launched with veteran newsman Bruce Rogers as host on April 2, 1973, the new show was initially known as Tomorrow is Here. Within a year, it settled upon the name it currently goes by: Metro Morning.

Additional material from the October 4, 1971, October 25, 1971, October 7, 1972, and November 25, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the February 18, 1972, October 6, 1972, and January 4, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.