Vintage Toronto Ads: Union-Friendly Garments

Originally published on Torontoist on January 31, 2012.


Citizen and Country, May 4, 1900.

Given the whiff of union-bashing in the air as municipal labour strife looms, it’s hard to imagine a headline such as the one employed here by clothier Philip Jamieson being created by a similar business these days. While today’s vintage ad appeared in a publication dedicated to covering the union movement, it does suggest that not all employers at the time abhorred their unionized workers.

Philip Jamieson established his clothing business soon after arriving from Scotland in 1873. By the time the above ad was published, the firm was located in a curved building at 2 Queen Street West designed by architects Samuel Curry and Francis S. Baker. Over the years, the building’s tenants have included Woolworth’s, Tower Records, GoodLife Fitness, Coast Mountain Sports, and Atmosphere.

Next time you wander in 2 Queen West for sports apparel, ask the cashier if you’ll receive a discount for flashing the United Garment Workers of America logo or a label from the union it later merged into, the United Food and Commercial Workers.


“There Are Opium Dens in Toronto”

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2011.


The Empire, June 30, 1892.

When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) mused in Monday’s  Sun about the possibility of opium dens lurking within some Toronto massage parlours, we couldn’t help but conjure up pulpy images of seedy locales dripping with racist Yellow Peril stereotypes. Which got us thinking: did Toronto have a problem with opium dens back when Asians were always quoted in pidgin English and readers devoured tales of drug lords like Dr. Fu Manchu?

As a late-19th century newspaper expose succinctly put it: “There are opium dens in Toronto.”

Over the course of three days in the early summer of 1892, the Empire titillated readers with the account of a fearless reporter’s journey into the underworld of Toronto’s opium dens. Guided by a reformed “opium fiend” from Chicago, the uncredited journalist promised to astound the public “with a surprise approaching incredulity.” In the neighbourhoods where dens were located, police and residents claimed ignorance of their existence: “Some went as far as to pooh-pooh the very idea that they could exist in moral Toronto without the fact becoming known to the morality department at least.” While partaking of opium was once so socially accepted that raw materials were advertised in the Globe, by the 1890s it was seen as a shameful activity presided over by Chinese immigrants.

The media often laid the blame for the dens solely on their operators and usually glossed over the culpability of their white patrons.

In order to access the dens, the reporter had his guide bring a letter of reference written in Chinese from a den owner in Chicago. They were denied entry to dens located at 18 Queen Street East and 42 Jarvis Street (which the duo blamed on their healthy appearances), but they succeeded when they reached the premises of Sam Lee at 321 Parliament Street:

The exterior of the shop is very unpretentious indeed, and its interior is no better. The front window is closed up with shutters, and the place has the appearance of being kept by a man whose interest in life is gone. As the ex-smoker entered the shop the old man at the ironing board sighed, and again bent down to his work on the bosom of a shirt. The letter was shoved over to him, and he stopped ironing long enough to read it. After perusing its long columns he folded it up, raised a face wasted by 40 years of opium smoking. Wearily he shook his head.

“Me no smokee,” was his answer, in a husky voice.

The guide and the old man questioned each other for several minutes before access was granted to a narrow, musty stall in the corner of the store. The partitioned-off area contained a bed, pillows, and all of the equipment required to enjoy opium. A lengthy description of how to smoke the drug followed. Among the other users they encountered, at least one was deathly afraid that their Sunday school teacher would find them patronizing a den.

As the pair visited other dens, word spread around the proprietors and they were soon denied access. The reporter concluded that despite the suspicion he encountered, and their own occasional opium-taking, the Chinese community in Toronto were “a much superior class to those who are found in American cities. But for their extreme suspiciousness they would probably be a hospitable lot of men, quite as anxious to do a suffering ‘fiend’ a kindness as to take the few cents charged for the favour.” His final thought was that “no good would follow the extension of the horrible fetish of whose dominion only a glimpse has been given.”

News of the exposé spread as far as Saint John, New Brunswick, where the front page of the Daily Sun proclaimed that “now that the dens have been pointed out, it is quite likely a police crusade will be in order.” It wasn’t just yet; as a police officer admitted to the Empire, there weren’t any laws prohibiting the use of opium or den keeping, which left the force powerless.


A squalid scene next door to an opium den. Slum interior, 152 York Street, January 20, 1911. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 1.

The legal situation changed in 1908, when federal Minister of Labour William Lyon Mackenzie King drafted the Opium Act, which criminalized trafficking and possession for sale. The law seemed squarely aimed at the Chinese community, especially in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, as other provisions of the act allowed respectable pharmacists to continue selling opiates with no problem. The first charges in Toronto under the new act were laid in July 1909, when Lee Chung Lung of 154 York Street and Tie You of 169 Richmond Street West were fined $100 each for operating opium dens on their premises. Police Magistrate Rupert Kingsford warned that the two men were being let off lightly, as future offenders would be jailed. Ten found-ins were also brought to court, but their charges were dropped as “the keeper is most to blame, getting those poor wretches into his place to smoke that stuff.”

Over the next two decades, the Chinese community complained of receiving harsh treatment from the police whenever people were found in opium or gambling dens. Charges were often reduced or dropped by judicial officials with paternalistic streaks toward the Chinese. Stories about opium gradually faded from the news, and seem so far in the past now that even if Councillor Mammoliti’s current claims are true, the nature of the issue makes his concerns fit neatly with his penchant for bizarre actions in the name of the public good—can we expect to see him park outside a suspicious parlour with video camera in hand?

Additional material from Discrimination and Denial: Systemic Racism in Ontario’ Legal and Criminal Justice Systems, 1892-1961 by Clayton James Mosher (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), and the following newspapers: the June 30, 1892, and July 2, 1892, editions of the Empire; the July 1, 1892, edition of the St. John Daily Sun; and the July 28, 1909, edition of the Toronto Star.


The complete Empire series on opium dens. Because of the size of the files, you’ll find them via these links:

June 30, 1892 front page.

June 30, 1892 page two.

July 1, 1892 front page.

July 1, 1892 page two.

July 2, 1892 conclusion of series.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Up in the Ozone

Originally published on Torontoist on September 27, 2011.


Toronto World, May 21, 1902.

“Facts are not too good for anybody,” eh? Alright then, here are the facts: it’s doubtful that the wonders attributed to Powley’s Liquified Ozone were due to the product in question. It’s likely that liquefied ozone would kill any germs affecting you, but only your mortician or whoever picked up the shattered frozen parts of your body that were exposed to it would know for sure. Any substance that turns into liquid when its temperature drops to -112 degrees Celsius would induce a bone-chilling effect. Based on a chemical analysis prepared for investigative journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams in 1905 the wonder product was 99 per cent water with trace amounts of sulphuric and sulphurous acids—the ad doesn’t mention if Mrs. Mason felt a burning sensation while the miraculous healing powers of Powley’s attacked her “female trouble.”


Toronto World, May 14, 1902.

By the time Adams uncovered “The Great American Fraud” of patent medicines in a series of articles for Collier’s Weekly, Toronto-based Powley’s Liquified Ozone had been bought by an American named Douglas Smith, who moved its operations to Chicago and renamed the product Liquozone. Under its new label, the product’s claims grew more exaggerated, its testimonials more suspect. J.B. Banks and Reverand C.A. Coakwell may well have written testimonials, but they also might have included complaints that were crossed out with a blue pencil. Respected institutions like Chicago’s Hull House denied providing the glowing recommendations that accompanied ads. A creative copywriter invented the tale of the remedy’s supposed inventor, a German named “Dr. Pauli” who endured 20 years of poverty and ridicule while perfecting a method of liquefying oxygen to revitalize sick souls. By the time Adams’s series reached print, Liquozone was banned in jurisdictions ranging from Kentucky to San Francisco. We suspect its fortunes in Toronto were also affected by the bad publicity, as advertising of Liquozone in local papers ceased by spring of 1906.


The Black Bull of Yore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 23, 2011. Additional images have been included.


Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894).

Patio denizens and motorcycle enthusiasts may be relieved to hear news reports that fire damage at the venerable Black Bull was largely confined to the upper apartments and that the bar will reopen today. Had the three-alarm fire spread, Toronto would have lost what is debatably its oldest watering hole: drinks and hospitality were first served at the Black Bull in, depending on the source, 1833 (a year before York became Toronto) or 1838 (a year after William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion).

Based on a portrait of the bar in Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, even in its early days the Black Bull attracted a parking lot full of hogs…of the animal variety.

York was a hospitable place in the old days, for the places of entertainment in every section of town were very much more numerous, when compared to the population, than they are now. Up to a recent period, when it was succeeded by a brick building, bearing the same name, however there stood at the north-east corner of Queen and Soho streets the antique-looking inn, shown in the illustration, with a swinging sign and wooden water trough and pump in front. This was the Black Bull Hotel, a favourite stopping place for farmers on their way to town from the west and north-west.


The Globe, July 14, 1858.

The property was originally purchased by Peter Russell, for whom nearby Peter Street was named, in 1798 and was initially used for farming. Other illustrious families whose names remain on downtown streets (Baldwin, Willcocks) were owners of the property at Soho and Queen West over the first half of the 19th century. According to Robertson, the first landlord of the Black Bull Hotel was a Mr. Mosson. Between 1886 and 1889, the building was bricked and expanded.

Being a bar, it’s inevitable the Black Bull would eventually land in the police blotter. In a court case reported in the December 7, 1895 edition of the Globe, proprietor Richard Allcock and bartender Charles Bates were sued by carriage builder William Potter for $200. The plaintiff went to the Black Bull for a drink with a friend that September, but “while there a number of others congregated and had a drink at his expense.” When Bates demanded payment, Potter refused and a fight ensued. As Bates threw Potter out of the bar, the bartender struck Potter with such force that he lay unconscious for a week and was bedridden for a further five. The defendants denied the charges.

According to a 1903 classified ad, the Black Bull offered anyone looking for a place to stay a “large comfortable room, en suite or otherwise, for rent, with or without board.” That the ad didn’t use “quiet” as an adjective may have been due to incidents such as one that occurred on March 10, 1904. Four rowdy young men caused a ruckus in their room that night, during which they ignored the bartender’s attempt to quiet them down. When proprietor William Seager went up to the room, the men pounced and broke his leg. Two months later, when the incident went to court, Seager hobbled his way to the stand on crutches. His attackers received sentences ranging from 60 days to six months.

Corner of Soho St. and Queen St., looking north-east

Clifton House, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 48, Item 26.

For much of the 20th century, the premises operated as the Clifton House, a name it shared with an east end home for boys where beer was the only drink available in its beverage room. Articles published after the name reverted back to the Black Bull in 1977 indicated that it was “pretty rough” during its Clifton days. All we were able to ascertain about the Clifton was that it was among the 68 venues licensed to sell beer in Toronto in 1934. By the early 1980s, when the bar was owned by retired football players Bobby Taylor and Jimmy Hughes, the Star reported that “the only reminder of its past are the colourful residents who patronize the pub, along with Ontario College of Art students and a full range of athletic types.”

Additional material from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto by John Ross Robertson (first series) (Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894); the December 7, 1895 edition of theGlobe; and the December 23, 1903, May 26, 1904, November 1, 1934, and November 18, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.


Historical Holiday Hints: O Christmas Tree

Originally published on Torontoist on December 21, 2011.


“Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your branches green entice us!

The centrepiece of many homes at this time of year is a decorated tree. Whether it’s fir, pine, or plastic, a well-chosen tree establishes a cozy atmosphere. While there are occupational hazards such as falling needles or ornaments that pets treat as toys, a healthy, smart-looking tree will be a point of pride during holiday celebrations.

We don’t view Christmas trees as fruit-bearing plants, but an anonymous poem published in the Star in 1905 extolled the sweet goodness they produce:

The strawberries may shrivel and the apple crop may rot;
The peas may have the weevil, the potatoes go to pot;
But it is a consolation, as most anyone can see.
That no pest can kill the fruit crop of the dear old Christmas tree.

Sure it thrives in every climate and it grows in every soil.
And no simoon hot can blast it, nor no arctic zephyrs spoil;
It is always richly laden, and we view its fruit with glee;
There are never barren seasons with the dear old Christmas tree.

Ask the boys and girls about it; show them peach and plum and pear;
Ask ’em which of all they fancy, which they most prefer to share.
See their smile, alike expectant, hear them every one agree,
That there is no fruit equal what grows on the Christmas tree.


“Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911.

In the early 20th century, locally grown trees prompted those smiles. Most sold in Toronto were raised within a 140-kilometre radius of the city. According to St. Lawrence Market vendor James Bamford, these trees were grown on land that was too poor to produce wood suitable for lumber. “The farmers,” Bamford noted in a 1924 interview with the Star, “are glad to get rid of them in many cases.”

By the late 1970s, twice as many Toronto homes had artificial trees as had the real thing, due to the lack of maintenance they required. A market remained for the live trees, either on a street corner lot or out in a rural bush, but selling them required creativity. If a grower’s stock turned yellow, they could spray the trees with Greenzit, which was promoted as “a non-toxic, economical, natural colorant spray that won’t wash off.” Visitors to farms run by Murray Dryden in Caledon and York Region could cut their own tree and then, with a charitable donation, hire a Newfoundland or St. Bernard dog to haul it back to their vehicle. There was no indication if the St. Bernards also carried a small barrel of brandy to revive weary tree cutters.

Growers recommended that those heading out to the country to cut their trees should bring the proper equipment. The first piece of advice, offered to the Star in 1978: wear warm clothes and sturdy boots equipped to handle rough, snow-covered terrain (“the bush is no place for city shoes”). Buyers were also advised to bring their own saws for cutting and twine for tying, in case the grower had none to spare.


Left: the punchline to “Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911. Right: advertisement, the Toronto Star, December 23, 1910.

True rugged types don’t go to tree farms. They roam the land in search of the perfect tree. Care must be taken, though, to avoid chopping down a tree on protected land. You will earn both a fine and public embarrassment via the press. Don’t be like Robert Blythe, whose quest for a pine in Vaughan was rewarded with a $63 penalty and a blurb on the front page of the Globe and Mail in December 1957.

This season, chop your tree wisely.

Additional material from the December 17, 1957, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the December 9, 1905, December 6, 1924, November 26, 1977, December 11, 1977, and December 7, 1978, editions of the Toronto Star.



Toronto Star, December 6, 1924.


Toronto Star, December 7, 1978.


Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1971.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Food for the Flesh

Originally published on Torontoist on September 7, 2010.


Left: the Globe, April 23. 1904. Right: the Telegram, May 11, 1904.

For a product designed to enhance the beauty of early twentieth-century women, Dr. Charles might have chosen a name that better delivered his aim of enhancing one’s attractiveness (without drawing the ire of prudes) than one which now sounds more appropriate for a horror yarn (“What was the terrifying secret of Dr. Charles’ Flesh Food?”).

In the free guide to massage offered with a sample of Flesh Food, users were told that “the woman of 30 may remain as she is for 20 years, and her sister of 50 even can go back over life’s pathway and pick up the threads of youth and weave them anew.” Detailed, illustrated instructions on how to apply the Flesh Food and where were included so that customers would soon discover that “there will arise from the sunken chest a bosom of which a woman may be proud.”

Simpson’s prominently featured the beauty aid in several of its daily newspaper ads with assurances that the Flesh Food “received unqualified praise from all who have used it.” While the department store claimed that “it is made of the purest materials from the prescription of a celebrated physician and is thoroughly endorsed by the medical profession,” the American Medical Association begged to differ. A report on the product noted that “whatever Dr. Charles’ Flesh Food may lack in therapeutic efficiency, it makes up in colo[u]r and odo[u]r. The preparation is a highly perfumed, pink ointment.” For those wishing to recreate Flesh Food in your home laboratory, you’ll need starch, Vaseline, a dab of zinc oxide, and a few drops of “impure stearic acid,” along with your choice of perfumes and colouring agents for prettifying or horrifying effects.

Additional information from An Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine and Health Reform Volume III, compiled by Christopher Hoolihan (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2008), and the July 16, 1904 edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: What Is a Bride’s Happiest Thought?

Originally published on Torontoist on July 14, 2009.


Mail and Empire, June 30, 1900.

Based on the illustration, is it really the bride’s happiness that’s at stake or is it the cook in the background’s satisfaction with the proper food preparation equipment? Or is the artist depicting the bride having a vision of her happy homemaking, which shows her as someone who remains cool and relaxed after her Happy Thought got her through the third meal of the day (and the rolling pin maintained discipline in the house)? Could we be looking at two neighbours exchanging knowing glances at each other, possibly because they bought Happy Thoughts before everyone else on the block?

Richard Bigley went into the stove business in 1875, a year before the building on Queen Street East that still bears his name was completed. He built his reputation as the local distributor of the Happy Thought stove and gradually expanded his business into distributing furnaces across the province. He retired in the mid-1920s due to ill health and spent his remaining years living in Parkdale. When he died in 1933, the headline on his obituary identified him as a “noted stove man.” Declared a heritage property in 1973, the Richard Bigley Building was converted to lofts as the twentieth century drew to a close.

Additional material from the June 2, 1933 edition of the Toronto Star.