Vintage Toronto Ads: A Gentlemanly Day on a Budget

Originally published on Torontoist on April 15, 2007.


Source: Maclean’s, December 1972.

Is this how you or your parents spent a leisurely day around Toronto 35 years ago?
Except for the F.O.B. and possibly Sean, it would be easy to recreate this “gentlemanly” jaunt, though ferry fares to the Toronto Islands are cheap enough to make it worthwhile checking the schedule before leaving the house.

HBC remained in the booze business until the distillery division was sold to Seagram in 1987, though a licensed scotch is still available in the United States.


Compared to how the feature evolved, some of the early installments of Vintage Toronto Ads are ridiculously short, especially if the ad depicted had its own wordy storyline.

The source of this particular ad is a good time to bring up how the feature started. Collecting old ads began when I started going through my father’s boxes of Sports Illustrated a few years after he passed away. He had a subscription throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and had kept the back issues in our crawlspace (first house we lived in) or the backyard shed (second house we lived in). Rather than immediately put them out for recycling, I spent several visits home browsing through the collection. A tiny handful of issues I kept intact. For the rest, I clipped out catchy ads, or ones that left an impression on me as a kid.

I started posting these ads on my blog, which led to me seeking out cheap copies of other old magazines. One day on my walk home from work (which, at the time, was working in internal communications at Canadian Tire’s head office at Yonge and Eglinton), I noticed a box by the curb filled with issues of Maclean’s, The New Yorker, and Saturday Night from the 1970s.

Near the end of 2006, I saw a call for new contributors to Torontoist. I pitched a column based on the ads. Thanks to that curbside box, along with photocopies made from the first decade of Toronto Life I stumbled upon at the University of Guelph’s library, I had plenty of Toronto-centric material to use. The pitch worked and my writing career, which had been on hold since leaving the shenanigans surrounding working at Guelph’s student paper, was slowly revving up again.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Baseball Prescription

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2007.

Vintage Ad #58 - Tamblyn's Baseball Prescription

Source: Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Vol 1 No 17, 1977.

As a public service to fans planning to catch the Blue Jays’ home opener on Monday night, we offer a prescription for enjoying the game from the team’s debut season. Given the current weather, will the 30th anniversary opener be as snowy as the first?

You can debate whether Canada was still a child when Gordon Tamblyn purchased a drug store at Queen St. E. and Lee Ave in 1904. By the early 1930s, the chain had grown to nearly 60 stores, mostly in Toronto, where the companied relied on a fleet of bicycle couriers for deliveries. The company was later purchased by Loblaws, whose hand is evident in the design of the Tamblyn logo.

The company wouldn’t write prescriptions for much longer, as it was sold to British drug store giant Boots within two years of this ad. Several sales and name changes later, the stores evolved into the Rexall Pharma Plus chain.


Vintage Ad #194 - G. Tamblyn 1934

Source: Toronto’s 100 Years (published 1934).

I wrote more about the Tamblyn chain in an article for Historica Canada at the time Loblaws purchased Shoppers Drug Mart in 2013. The ad above provides some more historical context. You can still find traces of Tamblyn’s existence; for example, take a close look at the entrance to Sarah’s restaurant at the corner of Danforth and Monarch Park.

As for the Blue Jays’ 2007 home opener, they crushed the Kansas City Royals in a 9-1 victory in front of 50,125 fans. Pitcher A.J. Burnett earned the win. The Jays finished third in the American League East that season with an 83-79 record.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Try a Little Tenderness

Originally published on Torontoist on April 1, 2007.

Vintage Ad #60 - Winco's Steak N' Burger

Source: Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Vol 1 No 17, 1977.

The 1960s and 1970s saw family dining restaurant chains explode across North America. Chains such as Steak n’ Burger took staples of diners and greasy spoons and used cleanliness, low prices and conformity to draw in hungry families.

You have all the components of the old-school low-end steak dinner: a bowl of iceberg lettuce with no fresh-ground pepper or sun-dried tomato vinaigrette in sight, a baked potato with a huge pat of butter; a steak that has never known the words “Angus” or “certified aged”, a toasted supermarket roll that takes up a third of the plate, tomato juice (because a bloody piece of meat deserves a bloody accompaniment) and coffee in a cup a university student’s cupboard or Value Village store would love. Not sure how common strawberry shortcake was at this style of restaurant, but hopefully the sponge cake had some spring left in it.

When this ad appeared, Steak n’ Burger had just been acquired by Cara Operations, who added Harvey’s and Swiss Chalet to its portfolio within a year. The chain gradually faded away, as the market for franchised family dining moved towards bar & grill-style restaurants that didn’t include tomato juice as a side dish.

Can you still find tenderness after a rough rush hour commute at their locations along the subway? Check the current state of these addresses:

173 Bay St – building replaced by the main entrance off Bay to BCE Place. Not quite as historic as the 1885 Bank of Montreal building or other buildings incorporated into the complex.

77 King St E. – address no longer appears to exist. There is a vacant space at 75 which looks large enough to have housed a restaurant, while 79 is home to Uno Spanish Services. (Update 2017: 77 King East houses a beauty salon, while 79 has received heritage designation).

323 Yonge St – building demolished, address looks like it will be buried in the Metropolis development at Dundas St. (Update 2017: after a few name changes, the development is currently known as 10 Dundas East).

772 Yonge St – now the Yonge-Bloor branch of Le Chateau. Do leather jackets count as a connection to this location’s cow by-product past? (Update 2017: site currently under construction for The One tower).

1427 Yonge St – the only one of the subway-accessible locations still serving food, as the Jester Pub. (Update 2017: or, as it’s currently called, the Jester on Yonge).

2287 Yonge St – not a restaurant, but still in the food business as the Yonge-Eglinton branch of Kitchen Stuff Plus. (Update 2017: demolished for condo construction).

240 Bloor St W. – recently demolished to make way for the One Bedford condo tower.


In some ways, I’m lucky my work doesn’t draw too many comments from the interwebs. With rare exceptions, my articles tend not to stir up too much vitriol, even when dealing with controversial topics. When I do receive comments, they’re often enlightening, adding more details to the story based on readers’ personal experiences with the topic at hand.

Such as this post. Here are some comments left about it over the years.

From Jason Hurlbut, circa 2012:

My dad and his 2 partners founded the Steak n’ Burger and its great to see this old ad. Your facts are mostly correct although there wasn’t a better steak available than what you see in the picture. The beef was actually “aged” although that marketing of same wasn’t needed at the time. Interestingly, Vaunclair Meats which was also owned by Winco Steak n’ Burger was the first purveyor to bring “Certified Black Angus” beef to Canada. The first Steak n’ Burger restaurant (based on the Steak n’ Burger Room in the Brass Rail Tavern in London, Ontario – no not “that” Brass Rail) opened December 1958 and was lined up all the way up Yonge Street and around the corner onto Bloor on opening day. The reason the chain grew to over 50 restaurants was because of the attention to detail for fresh and top quality food while keeping prices low. The dishes you see still exist at our cottage today…. you can’t beat heavy duty functional stuff! Thanks for writing about this and sorry I didn’t see it until my brother found it 5 years later.

From Pat Skinner, circa 2012:

I was the bartender in the Colonel’s Lounge, a separate bar area in the Steak n Burger at 77 King St. E. for 2 years starting in 1975. Clientele consisted of around 20 or so regulars. Every lunch and after work until closing at 10 or 11 p.m. Wally, Karl, Tom, Rodney, Mike, George, Claire, the Whaley brothers, Tex, Carmen, Hugh, Art… would come in and make the place their own. When the door from the street opened all eyes would check out who was entering-strangers could expect stares and silence. This was their club. They were all characters. One of the Whaley brothers would stand at the bar and converse with me, and unbeknownst to me, all the while his pants were on the floor around his ankles. I worked the bar with Melanie and on our birthdays and Christmas we would be taken out for dinner and receive gifts from all the regulars. After closing a bunch of the restaurant staff, bar staff and regulars would head over to Brandy’s for a drink. One Christmas, staff and bar customers pitched in and rented a room at the King Eddy for a Xmas party. In the 2 years I worked there the only newcomer the regulars ever accepted was a guy in his late 20’s, I think his name was Donald. He gave his story as being an orphan and working as a bartender to put himself through school. He rented an apartment or room above the rug store that was next door to the Steak n Burger. He told everyone he was going into the hospital to have a deviated septum fixed. When we next saw him in the bar, he looked tired and had black circles under his eyes. We assumed it was from his nose operation. When we commented on his looks he said the operation had been cancelled as his surgeon was in a car accident. We were embarrassed as we had told him he looked like sh… I left for a 2 week vacation. Upon my return my manager Shelley met me at the door. Donald had been arrested for murder! Turns out he looked like sh.. ’cause that weekend he had picked up some guy in a park, took him home (next door to the Steak n Burger) and supposedly the guy came on to Donald and would not take no for an answer so Donald stabbed him numerous times and stuffed him in his closet. For the next several days people had seen him taking bags of ice up stairs to his room. Turns out Donald kept the guy on ice in his tub, then rented a car, dismembered the body and dumped it across the city in various places. According to Shelley, Donald had confessed to a waitress and one of our bar customers but they did not call police. An old boyfriend that Donald confessed to turned him in to police. Well, we never did cotton to another stranger again. I left to work at an upscale bar with younger clientele after 2 years and continued to bar tend for another 20 years. I NEVER dated a customer. I have shared this cautionary tale with many young restaurant staff that think they look prettier at closing time. I often wonder what happened to Nino, Shelley, Melanie, and all the regulars. It was a great place to work.

From dylanesq, circa 2013:

I was one of the shipper/receivers at the Vaunclair plant on Upjohn Rd in the mid 1970’s. I don’t recall any ‘aging’ going on in the plant but most of the top quality beef came in, probably pre-aged, from Iowa Beef (in the USA) by ‘reefer’ tractor trailer loads. They were packed in boxes with 2×7 bone ribs in each. A crew of mostly Greek Canadians (including one Macedonian refugee called ‘Jimmy’ who sang the most heart wrenching songs from his homeland as he worked around the plant) broke down into roasts for our Rib of Beef restaurants and steaks and burgers (from the trim) for Steak and Burger restaurants. A Newfy, Lindy, was the burger shop foreman and a German Canuck, Eric, ran the plant.

I learned how to throw together the best peasant style lunch from those Greeks. It comprised a can of sardines, several lemon wedges, a ripped off chunk of white bread ( to dunk in the sardine juices), a handful of olives, feta cheese and wedges of tomato !! dessert was always an orange trimmed and peeled with a small pocket knife.

The whole plant system ran like clockwork with deliveries made by our own van and truck. Compared to other drivers, when I went out on runs, I was so fast making deliveries I used to catch a couple of hours at home on Mount Pleasant before getting back.

The last job we did before the end of the day was to load all the boxes of meat into the deep freeze where the fan blown temperature was positively ‘arctic’ … and we had to dress appropriately, i.e. like proverbial Eskimos ! We were highly skilled at tossing 10lb boxes up 25 feet where they stopped in mid air and were taken and stacked on the top pallets. I’ve never been so fit !

Only problem was that, in the summer, when it was in the mid 80’s F, you’d exit the -45 F freezers and climb onto the steamy Don Mills bus and, due to that c 135 degree difference, fall fast asleep !!

Vintage Toronto Ads: No Dead Temps at Yonge and Eglinton

Originally published on Torontoist on March 23, 2007.


Source: Toronto Life, May 1968.

Could employees turned into corpses or members of the undead in secret government experiments conducted via unethical temp agencies in the late 1960s be the source of Toronto’s love affair with all things zombie?

It’s not just the presence of a coffin that’s askew in today’s ad. Based on the phone our dignified businessman is holding, you decide if:

  • Toronto was a test market for early compact portable phones (down south, the FCC cleared the way for frequencies that would be used for early cell phones the year this ad appeared).
  • The ad agency hired an overzealous paste-up artist to crop the original photo.
  • The model used his kid’s toy receiver.

As an address, 90 Eglinton East still exists as an office building.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Beautiful Music, Beautiful View

Originally published on Torontoist on March 2, 2007.

Vintage Ad #183 - Beautiful Music, Beautiful View

Source: Toronto Life, April 1972.

Ah, “beautiful music.” A term rarely attached to current radio formats, this middle-of-the-road mix was the mainstay of many powerhouse radio stations in the 1970s. Two versions of the format tended to exist:

  • Stations that played mainly light instrumentals, covers of popular tunes, Mantovani and Percy Faith, all to be used as inoffensive background music. In Toronto, CHFI was one of the best-known purveyors of this style.
  • Stations that mixed these tunes with Broadway selections, crooners, lighter pop acts and heavy servings of news, sports, weather and commentary—this type was also known as a “full service” station.

CKEY was among the stations that waded into the full service battlefield. With all the references to “cheery,” “smile,” and “warm,” don’t you want to flip on the radio to feel all fuzzy as you’re sitting in traffic on the Don Valley Parking Lot?

After attempts to compete with CHUM for Top 40 listeners in the late 1950s/early 1960s, CKEY switched formats in the mid-1960s, battling for an older audience with CFRB. Keith Rich was morning man for most of the station’s full service days, from 1965 through 1986. The station switched to oldies in 1984, then country (as CKYC, aka “Country 59”) in 1991. The station’s format and call letters were switched with all-sports CJCL 1430 in 1995, leading to today’s Fan 590.

Number One Yonge Street was a month away from its official opening when this ad appeared. Its prime (and current) tenant, the Toronto Star, had moved its operations over in December. Note the limited number of modern skyscrapers in the two skyline views—the boom was about to get underway (including the Star’s old site, soon to become First Canadian Place).


Vintage Ad #184 - People Look Up to CKEY News

Source: Toronto Life, April 1972.

The original post didn’t include the accompanying ad for CKEY which spotlighted former evangelist/provincial politician/Maclean’s editor Charles Templeton (you can click on either image to see larger versions of them). Templeton joined CKEY in 1970, for reasons outlined in the Globe and Mail:

Templeton will become the creator and presenter of CKEY’s 8 a.m. news. CKEY wanted him because it needed a big name–which he certainly is–to battle CFRB’s Jack Dennett, and it wanted someone who would give the news a personal twist rather than a straight factual presentation. Surveys say that’s what the public wants.

In the first ratings released following Templeton’s hiring, released in December 1970, CKEY only added 11,000 more listeners at 8 a.m., placing the station in third place at that hour (Dennett, who picked up 58,000 listeners from a year earlier, remained in first, while CHUM-AM’s Dick Smyth came in second). CKEY did double its 10:00 a.m. audience with a Templeton-Pierre Berton commentary spot which had previously aired on CFRB.

Templeton’s ratings gradually grew so that by the time he left his morning newscast in September 1976, his audience grew from 89,000 listener to 158,800. He told the Star that, as his passion for writing books grew, getting up at 5:45 every morning had lost its appeal.

gm 1977-10-03 rich ckey ad

Source: Globe and Mail, October 3, 1977.

In a 1972 interview with the Star, Rich compared his morning show to the city’s reigning morning man at the time, CFRB’s Wally Crouter.

At CKEY we try to be tighter, more concise than CFRB. We play more music, offer more services such as traffic reports. Our sound as a result isn’t as relaxed as Wally’s. Up here we are as regular as a bloody music clock.

gm 1981-09-22 rich ckey ad

Illustration by Andy Donato. Source: Globe and Mail, September 22, 1981

In March 1986, Rich was lured away by CJCL 1430, the ancestor of the station which currently occupies CKEY’s old frequency, Fan 590. Rich’s new home had been trying to woo him for awhile, until its financial offer was too good to resist. Rich told the Star his departure from CKEY was “entirely amicable” and that his new home would be “a nice way to wrap up my career.” Rich continued at CKEY until the end of May, and was replaced by longtime CHUM personality Jay Nelson.

star 1986-06-22 rich cjcl ad Source: Toronto Star, June 22, 1986.

During the three months between stations, Rich’s upcoming employment at CJCL couldn’t be mentioned in advertising. But the station came up with a workaround. A campaign which debuted in June 1986 depicted Rich dressed as a Blue Jay, chef, Hollywood executive, and other occupations, under the headline “D.J. AVAILABLE. WILL DO ALMOST ANYTHING.” Those who phoned the number included in the ads heard a recording of Rich: “You know that I’m looking for ideas to keep me busy until I join the CJCL morning team in September.” Callers were asked to suggest jobs, and promised they would receive a written reply from Rich.

star 1986-09-07 rich cjcl adSource: Toronto Star, September 7, 1986.

Rich stayed with CJCL until he announced his retirement in October 1990. His final show was broadcast from the lobby of the Royal York Hotel. He passed away in 2007.

Additional material from the September 7, 1970 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the December 19, 1970, June 3, 1972, September 8, 1976, March 12, 1986, and June 6, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star. 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Opulent Penthouse-Style Living

Originally published on Torontoist on February 23, 2007.


When searching for a new place to live, what is the first thing you look for? Location? Lifestyle compatibility? Enticements? A blank slate to shape in your unique style? Groovy wallpaper?
Judging from today’s ad, the latter may have been a key condition in North York back in 1970.

This was the era of “swingin’ singles” apartments, promoted in areas of the city like St. James Town. Think of this ad as the late 1960s equivalent of lifestyle ads pitched to upwardly-mobile condo buyers, without the benefits of ownership—replace “penthouse living” with “loft”, “condo” or “lifestyle community” and the text could be slotted into the next project to hit the weekend paper.

Depending on decorating taste, your eyes may be thankful for the decision to make this a black and white ad, given the loudness of the “luxury wallpapers” in this “opulent bathroom.” Is the tenant pointing into space, admiring her new surroundings or relieved that she found the mirror in the midst of everything? Conversely, the decor may provide cozy memories of homes you grew up in or your first snazzy pad.

Note the prominent placement of the toilet paper dispenser—was the photographer passing subliminal judgement?

While current enticements to potential tenants include free TVs and time-restricted reduced parking rates, this company capitalized on the recent opening of Fairview Mall (then anchored by Simpsons and The Bay) by offering a shuttle service. Today, residents further south in Don Mills have use of a shuttle to the mall in the wake of the demolition of the Don Mills Centre.

Source: Toronto Life, September 1970

Vintage Toronto Ads: Carpet with Civic Fibres

Originally published on Torontoist on February 16, 2007.

Next time you visit the library, take a look at the carpeting and furniture. Does it make you want to linger with a good book or run through the checkout as fast as possible?
2007_02_16MRLcarpet.jpgThe Toronto Reference Library, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in November, was breaking itself in when today’s ad appeared. Judging from the number of people seen sleeping there, the carpet colours may be too easy on some readers’ eyes. Architect Raymond Moriyama’s design, with carpeted walls, easy-to-browse open shelves and the 70s see-through elevator, lends a comforting, cozy feel, turning short trips into lengthy stays, especially in winter. Moriyama’s firm is still involved in the building, contributing to its renewal plan.
The Reference Library’s roots date back to 1830, with the establishment of the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute (originally named York, until the city changed its name in 1834). Modeled after similar groups formed in Great Britain during the 1820s, its aim, according to Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, was “the mutual improvement of mechanics and others who become members of the society in arts and sciences by the formation of a library of reference and circulation, by the delivery of lectures on scientific and mechanical subjects embraced by this constitution from which all discussion of political or religious matters is to be carefully excluded.”

Originally located on Colborne St, the Institute moved to the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide in the mid-1850s. By 1858, the library consisted of 4,000 books, available to 800 paying members. A city bylaw passed in 1883 established a free public library system, which the Mechanics’ Institute was folded into. When the library opened to full public access the following spring, the rush of people wishing to use it quickly led to increased staff and multiple copies of popular titles.

In 1903, the city received a Carnegie grant to build a new central library and several branches, including Yorkville, Queen/Lisgar (now used by the city’s Public Health department) and Riverdale. When the new Toronto Reference Library opened at St. George and College in 1909, it contained nearly 100,000 books. The Institute building remained a branch through the late 1920s, the was used as offices by the city’s public welfare department until it was demolished in the late 1940s.
In 1967, the Metropolitan Toronto Library Board was established to handle the reference library and special collections acquired over the years. Moriyama presented his design in 1970, with construction underway by 1975. The old library was sold to the University of Toronto and now serves as the Koffler Student Services Centre, which includes the main branch of the U of T Bookstore.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.