Vintage Toronto Ads: Why Take a Risk With Your Teeth?

Originally published on Torontoist on May 12, 2009.


Toronto World, April 26, 1899.

Would you trust a doctor whose name carries an element of danger with your next bridge work? Especially when they advertise a half-price offer? At least Dr. Risk tried to make his patients as comfortable as possible by focusing on small details and a comforting environment. In an ad that ran in The Toronto Star throughout most of 1899, the good doctor claims that:

From the day on which the Mentha Dental Parlors were opened it has been our aim to do everything well. It’s the little things that count in dentistry as in any other business. The smallest detail of every operation is done with the utmost care. We do our very best to make every patient satisfied. The reward for such care comes in the way of increased patronage, and it is doing things well that makes the Mentha Dental Offices the busiest and most popular Dental offices in the city.

From what we can determine, the Mentha Dental Office began advertising in local newspapers during the fall of 1897. Dr. Risk operated the business until January 1900 when, with no explanation, ads listed Dr. A. Rose as his successor, followed by news of an office makeover. The practice moved to 230 Yonge Street in April 1901, an event marked by ads boasting of well-lit windows in the operating rooms with an excellent view of Shuter Street, which places the office near the current entrance to the Eaton Centre parking lot. Staff may not have had long to enjoy their new surroundings, as ads vanished from local papers after November 1901.

Additional material from the May 20, 1899 and April 20, 1900 editions of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Ad #811: Doing Things Well

Toronto Star, May 20, 1899. This ad ran in the Star throughout most of that year.

Vintage Ad #813: New Boss for the Annual Offer

Toronto Star, January 20, 1900. We’re still not sure what happened to Dr. Risk.

Vintage Ad #814: The Mentha Dental Lady Still Smiles

Toronto Star, November 16, 1901. The latest ad I could find for Mentha Dental Offices.

Tales from the Tivoli Theatre

Vintage Toronto Ads: An All-Talking Night at the Movies

Originally published on Torontoist on April 21, 2009.


Toronto Star, September 21, 1929 (left) and August 31, 1929 (right).

For Toronto moviegoers, 1929 saw major changes at many of the city’s theatres, which were busy wiring up competing sound systems as silent films gave way to the talkies. The first all-talkie film to debut in Toronto made its appearance on December 28, 1928, when a crowd gathered at the Tivoli at Richmond and Victoria streets to see a midnight screening of The Terror, a thriller presented with the sound-on-disc Vitaphone system.

By the end of summer silents were quickly on the way out, as the major studios built soundstages and converted films already in progress to talkies. The movies in today’s ads were among the early wave of sound films to hit the city. Madame X was a venerable weepie that has been filmed at least ten times since 1910. This ad captures the anguish displayed in this version by star Ruth Chatterton, who was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress. She lost, as did director Lionel Barrymore.

For lighter fare, one could have headed to the Uptown to catch the Marx Brothers in a musical based on one of their Broadway hits, The Cocoanuts. The plot found Groucho managing a Florida hotel during the height of the 1920s land boom, with intermittent production numbers. His character’s name, Mr. Hammer, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Rufus T. Firefly.

Terror at the Tivoli

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on May 16, 2009.


Toronto Star, December 28, 1928 (left), January 5, 1929 (right).

Dateline: Toronto, December 28, 1928, the corner of Richmond and Victoria streets. Over a thousand people gathered at the Tivoli theatre to attend a midnight screening of the first all-talking feature to play in TorontoThe Terror. The crowd was treated to a tale of an organ-tinkling homicidal maniac preying upon guests at an English hotel, with sound provided via the Vitaphone system of giant record-like discs synchronized with the film.

The “What Press Agents Say About Coming Events” section of the following day’s Toronto Star gushed about the film:

In this sensational production not one single title appears on the screen, but every character in the play speaks every word of his and her part. This weird and wonderful picture is the most astonishing mystery play ever produced…you will be absolutely thrilled to the depths by this stirring and amazing story. But The Terror is not without comedy and one is forced to laugh between every gasp at the humorous and comical incidents.

Critics, especially those across the Atlantic, weren’t as enthusiastic. The New York Times noted that reviewers in London felt the film was “so bad that it is almost suicidal. They claim that it is monotonous, slow, dragging, fatiguing and boring.” Other reviewers felt that star May McAvoy’s voice was so squeaky that it could be classified as a sound effect.

The novelty of sound drew crowds to The Terror until it wrapped up its run at the Tivoli on January 18, 1929. The next film promoted on the theatre’s marquee was another May McAvoy flick that made movie history two years earlier: The Jazz Singer. While one can watch Al Jolson sing “Toot Toot Tootsie” on DVD, little apart from the sound disc is known to exist of The Terror.


Tivoli Theatre, possibly mid-1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124. ID 0148.

Originally called the Allen, the theatre served as the premiere venue for its namesake chain in the city, whose other venues included what is now the Music Hall on Danforth Avenue. The theatre was purchased by Famous Players in 1923 and officially reopened as the Tivoli that November. The stadium-style theatre boasted a wide, bright screen and an orchestra led by Luigi Romanelli. Prestige pictures were the favoured fare, for which audiences had to book their seats in advance. Its wide stage allowed it to run 70mm Todd-AO films in the 1950s. The curtains were drawn for the last time in late 1964—as demolition neared the following summer, the marquee displayed one final, grammatically dubious message: “Teperman’s Tearers Strikes Again.”

Additional material from the July 28, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail, the November 18, 1928 edition of the New York Times, and the December 29, 1928 edition of the Toronto Star.


This is a strong contender for being one of the shortest Historicists ever, suggesting that I was scrambling for content that week. Don’t expect this one to ever appear in any future print compilation. This piece demonstrates how the column was still evolving a few months into its run – frankly, it’s indistinguishable from later Vintage Toronto Ads columns.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Aren’t You Glad You Remembered Hutch?

Originally published on Torontoist on April 14, 2009.


Toronto World, February 19, 1900.

A flip through the pages of any Toronto newspaper published around 1900 reveals numerous pitches for castor oils, kidney pills, liver pills, trusses, nerve tonics, Asian catarrh treatments, and assorted cures for ailments that might not be believed when taking a sick day at the office (“I can’t come to work today due to tired blood!”). The advertising for Hutch, a remedy for indigestion, was among the most graphic of the time, as today’s samples testify. This poor fellow’s hallucinatory images while in the depths of his agony are the stuff of literary masters of horror.


Mail and Empire, November 4, 1899.

Hutch’s ad writers were less reserved about describing the reasons one might need to use their product than their modern counterparts, though the man on the left may illustrate their true feelings. Colourful language and archaic terms provide much of the entertainment value of discovering these old ads—try dropping “eructated” into a conversation on your next walk past the site of Hutch’s manufacturer on Colborne Street.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Safe at Home with Rico Carty

Originally published on Torontoist on April 7, 2009.


1979 Blue Jays Scorebook Volume 3 Number 16.

“Belt it” was a concept the Ontario government and Blue Jays slugger Rico Carty were well acquainted with as the 1979 baseball season dawned. Too bad the rest of the Blue Jays played like careless drivers during that season’s opening game in Kansas City. Where the 2009 squad steamrolled over the Detroit Tigers last night, the 1979 team was like a deer caught in the headlights.

Fans in Toronto were likely relieved that they didn’t have to witness in person an 11–2 shelling by the Royals on April 5. The Globe and Mail declared that outfielder Rick Bosetti was “the smartest of Toronto’s players” for being thrown out of the game on a disputed call with a scab umpire (the men in blue were on strike as the season started). Bosetti missed out on a horrible second inning where the Royals scored nine runs off of starting pitcher Tom Underwood. Six of those runs were unearned, thanks to errors galore from the fielders. Most of the local papers showed right fielder Bob Bailor bending in an uncomfortable position after being hit by a pitch.

Carty acquitted himself well on opening day, reaching base four times. The “Beeg Mon” returned to the team in the off-season after a brief stint with the Oakland A’s towards the end of 1978. Carty’s fifteen-year career in the majors swung wildly from highs (a .366 batting average while with the Atlanta Braves in 1970) to lows (entire seasons missed at his peak due to injuries and tuberculosis). Carty hit .256 and twelve home runs for the Blue Jays in 1979, which proved to be his swan song. In the long run, Carty paved the way for future Blue Jays stars from the Dominican Republic, especially from his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris.

As for seat belts, the Ontario legislature mandated their usage in 1976, making it the first province to do so.

Additional material from the April 6, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail.

A Watch for Mr. Gould

Originally published on Torontoist on March 26, 2009.


Pianist Glenn Gould receives watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips in the Council Chambers, Old City Hall, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3071.

Pianist Glenn Gould’s career was riding high in early 1956. His recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was released in January and soon became the top-selling classical album in Columbia Records’ catalogue. A sold-out recital at Massey Hall on April 16 was a triumph, with critics and the audience applauding loudly. As the Telegram’s George Kidd noted in his review of the performance the following day, “It would seem that no longer is Mr. Gould a pianist with considerable promise. He is a mature genius in interpretation, technique, and musical excitement.”

As a salute to his talent, the city decided to present Gould with an engraved watch to honour the achievements of the twenty-three-year-old musician. Gould received his watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips during a Board of Control meeting two days after his performance.

f1257_s1057_it3069 glenn gould

Pianist Glenn Gould receives watch from Mayor Nathan Phillips in the Council Chambers, Old City Hall, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3069.

The Toronto Star, who took responsibility for inspiring city officials to honour Gould through an article in its Star Weekly magazine, paid tribute to the recipient’s eccentricities in an April 20 editorial:

Is man, the individual, on the way out? If you think he is and that his place is being taken by a dull automaton named “mass man” who is conditioned to absolute conformity, consider for a moment Glenn Gould, the 23-year-old Toronto pianist whom critics call a genius.

Even on the hottest day in the summer this young man may be seen wearing an overcoat, galoshes, a wool beret and two pairs of gloves. He swallows handfuls of vitamin tablets and other pills and bathes his hands in warm water before playing. At the piano he slumps over until his hair tangles with the keys. He sings and hums while playing the most intricate Bach and Beethoven compositions, or stamps his feet in time to the music.

In an age where even artists are supposed to be “normal” and as ordinary as the man on the street, Glenn Gould triumphantly affirms that man’s spirit remains free. Long may he flourish and may he never conform!

Conform he never did. The city later made a lasting tribute to Gould by naming a park at Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue after him.


Here’s half-an-hour of Glenn Gould discussing J.S. Bach.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Who’s Got King Clancy’s Eno?

Originally published on Torontoist on March 31, 2009.


Toronto Star, March 31, 1936.

When travelling by train between key games during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the last thing a hardened hockey player wants to suffer is indigestion. If King Clancy and his teammates actually did pop a few tablets to rid themselves of “the poisonous wastes that slow a man down,” they helped the Maple Leafs defeat the New York Americans two games to one during the 1936 semi-finals.

Francis Michael “King” Clancy arrived in Toronto through a trade with the Ottawa Senators on the eve of the 1930–31 season. After his retirement early in the 1936–37 season and a brief coaching stint with the Montreal Maroons, Clancy spent a decade as a referee. He returned to the Maple Leafs as a coach in the early 1950s and held various positions in the organization until his death in 1986. He was one of the rare individuals who, thanks to his charming personality, stayed on friendly terms with Harold Ballard during the latter’s stormy reign as the team’s owner.

Toronto fans would have been familiar with Harold “Baldy” Cotton, who had played just over six seasons with the Maple Leafs before being traded to the Americans before the season began. After retiring in 1937, Cotton would be heard by a generation of hockey fans as one of the experts of the “Hot Stove League” segment of radio broadcasts and on Hockey Night in Canada.

Unfortunately, a dose of Eno didn’t provide the Maple Leafs with enough pep during the final round of the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings, who had endured the longest playoff game in NHL history during the semi-finals (six overtime periods were needed to defeat the Maroons), won the Stanley Cup in four games.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Celebrating 150 Years of Vision and Dairy Products

Originally published on Torontoist on March 10, 2009.


Source: Lake Ontario Tall Ships Rendezvous ’84.

“A Celebration of Friends” was the theme for Toronto’s 150th anniversary festivities in 1984. Where better to meet your neighbourhood friends than the corner milk store, as the fine folks in today’s ad are doing? One could have offered a toast to the city with a glass of milk from a freshly opened jug or debated the finer points of city politics over a carton of orange-flavoured Jungle Joose.

Becker’s Milk opened its first five stores in Metropolitan Toronto in May 1957. The following decade saw rapid expansion, partly propelled by the opening of its main milk processing plant on Warden Avenue near St. Clair in mid-1963. When the plant opened there were fifty-three stores scattered across Metro—by the end of the decade there were more than 200. The chain was purchased by Silcorp (operator of the Mac’s convenience store chain) in 1996, which was subsequently purchased by Alimentation Couche-Tard three years later. Though the brand has been phased out, a few stores bearing the flowery logo still dot the landscape.


After all but disappearing from the landscape, the old red and green Becker’s signs are making a comeback across the GTA as of 2017. Whether this revival will prompt customers to hum this 1980s jingle remains to be seen. Just don’t expect any Jungle Joose.