Vintage Toronto Ads: An Automotive Knighthood

Originally published on Torontoist on May 25, 2010.

20100525willys

Financial Post, March 13, 1930.

Not noted in the fine print for the Great Six coupe shown in today’s ad: whether the $2,675 price tag (which, according to the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, would be around $33,250 in current currency) includes a replica suit of armour so your chauffeur can drive you through Toronto with that extra degree of regal bearing and social distinction.

Toledo, Ohio-based Willys-Overland began its Toronto manufacturing operations (which, depending on the source, were based on Weston Road, Yonge Street, or both) when it purchased the Russell Motor Car Company in 1916. The driver who wanted to enjoy the prestige of purchasing a new Willys-Knight had few opportunities after today’s ad appeared, as the deepening depression reduced the pool of buyers who could afford to travel like European royalty. Willys-Overland slid towards bankruptcy and, as part of its reorganization, chopped the Willys-Knight, several other lines, and its Canadian manufacturing arm by the end of 1933. Within a decade, the company developed the vehicle that became its enduring legacy: the Jeep.

Advertisements

Vintage Toronto Ads: Self-Denial or Lighting for Tourists?

Originally published on Torontoist on February 23, 2010.

20100223star1930

Toronto Star, May 2, 1930.

Picture yourself as a downtown shopkeeper heading home after a busy May afternoon eighty years ago. After locking up, you stop by the corner newsstand to pick up the evening edition of the Daily Star. Looks like it’s your lucky night: there’s an empty seat on the streetcar. Making yourself comfortable, you flip through to see if there’s any word on how last night’s Board of Education vote on the confirmation of a director at your son’s high school went…ah, there it is, wedged onto page thirty-three between accounts of a car wrapped around a telegraph pole at Bloor and Parliament and a woman who suffered a fatal “illegal operation.” Before you dive into the article, two ads on opposite sides of the page catch your eye.

On the left side of the page, there’s the Sally Ann urging you to deny yourself some small pleasure in life so that their enlistees can rescue a shifty man reduced to liberating boxes wrapped in plain brown paper. On the opposite side, there’s the Toronto Hydro Electric System urging shopkeepers like you to invest in fancy window-display lighting to draw eager tourists ready to spend money into shops like yours. You ponder both of these pitches for a moment—despite the worsening economic climate, your business is doing well enough to have extra money to toss around. In the battle between your commercial and humanitarian instincts, which will win?

The answer is neither. You read about the school vote, then flip to the sports section and decide which horse races to consult on with your bookie.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here are the other stories this post alluded to, all taken from page 33 of the May 2, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.

star 1930-05-02 page 33 illegal op

During this era, “illegal operation” tended to be code for an abortion.

star 1930-05-02 page 33 brown

Northern Vocational School welcomed its first students later that year. It evolved into today’s Northern Secondary School. One of the trustees mentioned in the article, Adelaide Plumptre, had a distinguished public service career. Her milestones included serving as superintendent of supplies for the Canadian Red Cross during the First World War, a city councillor, and the first female chair of the Toronto Board of Education.

star 1930-05-02 page 33 ironized yeast

I’m kind of dubious about the true benefits of ironized yeast.

star 1930-05-02 page 33 must pay

Finally, this piece of advice/words of wisdom/space filler appeared in the middle of the page, below the illegal operation story.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Poise That Lysol Gives

Originally published on Torontoist on February 16, 2010.

20100216lysol35

National Home Monthly, May 1935.

While it may seem laughable now, for much of the twentieth century Lysol was marketed as a solution for feminine problems as often as for its all-purpose cleaning properties. Genteel women had no patience for normal feminine odours, vaginal infections, and other bodily functions not discussed in polite society. Through carefully coded language, Lysol offered itself as a solution that preserved one’s grace and dignity, using chemicals a body shouldn’t come in contact with internally. The reference to “organic matter” in ad number one is likely code for contraception, as openly advertising birth-control methods was a no-no.

20100216lysol48

New Liberty, October 1948.

Ad number two was directed at married women who worried that their non-dainty attributes caused their husbands to sleep on the couch. One dose of Lysol and her “romance appeal” and “married happiness” would return in a jiffy! Besides, how could she not trust the recommendation of a distinguished-looking medical professional? Answer: she shouldn’t, as an investigation by the American Medical Association revealed that the “European” doctors often quoted in Lysol ads were fakes.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 3

Listerine Kills Germs and Body Odour

Originally published on Torontoist on July 21, 2009.

20090721listerine

Maclean’s, July 15, 1923.

If Listerine can freshen your breath and kill bacteria in the mouth, why can’t it do the same to the rest of your body? It’s safe!

Deodorants and antiperspirants were still in their early stages of evolution when Listerine made today’s pitch—the first commercial underarm deodorant, Mum, had arrived on the market in 1888, with the first antiperspirant, Everdry, following fifteen years later. After you read descriptions of the composition and application of early antiperspirants, Listerine’s claims begin to make sense. Early products were wet, clammy, aqueous alcoholic solutions of aluminum chloride that were poured onto a cotton ball before being dabbed on the body, a technique that Listerine’s model appears well acquainted with. Drying was a slow, sticky process that, once you got past the skin irritations and damaged clothing, reduced one’s stink.

Is That Landmark Sealed with Polysulfide?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2009.

20090804polysulfide

Canadian Architect, January 1985.

These three local towers were…

While searching for information regarding Morton Thiokol and polysulfides that didn’t involve deep scientific analysis of the chemical composition of the sealant used in these Toronto landmarks, we ran into an interesting tidbit from the current manufacturer: the sealant should have a “twenty-year service life under normal conditions.”

Makes you want to watch your head while passing by any of these structures, doesn’t it?

Why You Shouldn’t Steal a White Glove Girl

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2009.

20090901manpower

Time, February 10, 1967.

Translation: the “temporary” relationship clause in a White Glove Girl’s contract refers to the amount of time she has remaining on this mortal plane. Until then, we’re happy to shuffle temps around from employer to employer, keeping our White Glove Girls under lock and key until the next call comes in. Sometimes we’ll let them out of the dunge…asset pool for a few minutes to take care of their “happy homemaker” duties. Anyone thinking of stealing one of our assets should be aware that we’ve spent years working on glove-tracing technology—we’ll know when you’ve stolen our assets!

A Toast to Good Hydro Services

Originally published on Torontoist on December 8, 2009.

20091208hydro

(Left) The Globe, November 1, 1929, (right) Toronto Star, November 19, 1936.

We’re not sure which of the images conjured up by today’s ads is more disturbing. Is it the trio of factory workers depicted in a manner usually reserved for nursery rhyme characters or World War I casualties? Or is it the deified toaster (whose cost, if translated into modern money, would start at around $228) trained to act with the utmost style and refinement for a classy late-dinner gathering?

Both ads are fine examples of the large quantity of newspaper advertising the Toronto Hydro Electric System bought during the 1920s and 1930s. Besides trained toasters, the utility’s retail arm offered customers technological marvels for the home such as electric ranges.

Days of Carltons Past

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2009.

When the house lights come up for the last time at the Carlton Cinemas on December 6, it won’t the first time Toronto moviegoers will witness the closing of a theatre by that name. One version was a neighbourhood venue, the other a grand palace. Guess which one of those two is still standing?

tspa_0048344f_frantics

“The gang’s all here. The Frantics comedy show on CBC radio enjoys a cult following of nutty fans and 375 of them showed up for the taping of the one hundreth show at CBC studios on Parliament St. last night. Funny costumes were de rigueur; of course. Particularly on Grey Cup day.” Photo by Dick Darrell, 1984. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0048344f.

The first theatre to bear the Carlton name welcomed audiences to 509 Parliament Street in Cabbagetown between 1930 and 1954. After the projectionists were sent packing, the building was used as a CBC production facility, primarily for radio. Since the Mother Corp’s departure to Front Street, the building has served as a dance space and currently houses 509 Dance and the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.

While the first Carlton was geared to its neighbourhood, the second theatre to bear the name was designed as a showcase for British cinema giant Odeon’s post-war entry into the Canadian market. The chain spent two years and two-and-a-half million dollars constructing the Odeon Toronto (as it was originally known) at 20 Carlton Street, with the resulting product outlined by John Lindsay in his book Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres:

In the auditorium, hundreds of hidden lights constantly changed colours on the smooth plastered walls. This frequently changing light and colour was accomplished through a patented lighting panel called a “Thyratron, painting with life.” The enormous two and a half ton contour (sculpted) curtain rose slowly, it various motors lifting each swag to a predetermined height. The curtain also changed colour to match the changing colour of the walls of the big auditorium. The smooth line of the balcony swept around in a great gentle curve flaring out at the side walls to accommodate large aisles. The auditorium held 2,300 richly upholstered seats, although it was spacious enough for 3,000 or more, and every inch of the floor was broadloomed. The woodwork was light blonde and the mural on the grand staircase was in pastel tones depicting the theme of picture making. The trim was stainless steel with huge areas of mirror and other glass. The Odeon Toronto’s marquee with its huge vertical sign was the biggest Toronto had ever seen before or since.

20091125odeon1949

Globe and Mail, January 7, 1949.

“Toronto had a North American movie premiere last night fit to make the most premiere-hardened citizen of glamorous Hollywood lift his eyebrows,” gushed the Globe and Mail when the Odeon opened on September 9, 1948. “It was what they call a ‘brilliant premiere,’ noted the Star. “That is to say, a lot of people gathered in the lobby to exchange small talk.” British actors Trevor Howard and Patricia Roc provided the star power, with the latter joking that the theatre was “really too good for Canada. We have nothing as grand in London, and if you don’t want it—well, we’ll just take it home with us.” Howard played upon his mother’s Canadian roots, noting that when Odeon offered to invite his local relatives to the opening, sixty-two responded. After a few words from assorted dignitaries on stage, the curtain drew back and the audience saw the Canadian premiere of David Lean’s version of Oliver Twist.

As the Odeon chain spread throughout Toronto, it ceased making sense to refer to this theatre simply as the Odeon, so its name was officially changed to the Odeon Carlton in 1956. Business continued to be brisk for the next decade—several accounts from around the time it closed referred to a successful run of Thunderball during the winter of 1966 that saw a steady stream of sold-out crowds during the seven daily opportunities to see 007 in action. The theatre also proved to be the last movie house in Toronto to regularly entertain the audience with live organ music from the “magnificent console” its ads touted.

20091125odeon1972

Odeon Carlton, summer 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 158.

By the early 1970s, the theatre’s size worked against it. Average weeknight crowds of two hundred and fifty patrons were not enough to pay the bills, so the site was sold to a developer. Burt Reynolds was the last star to grace the Carlton’s screen when White Lightning entertained the closing night crowd on September 27, 1973. When organist Colin Corbett played a farewell number, audience members rushed to the stage to ask for more. The credit roll was aborted and Corbett resumed playing tunes like “Auld Lang Syne.”

The imminent threat of demolition provoked a last minute rush of ideas on preserving the theatre. Alderman Art Eggleton spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt by city council to apply a heritage designation to stave off the wrecking ball, while the Canadian Opera Company proposed to convert the Carlton into an opera house/ballet venue. While opera officials had starry-eyed visions of the possibilities that the site offered (mostly because it wasn’t the O’Keefe Centre), National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director Celia Franca had a clearheaded view of the situation. She felt the rush to look at the Carlton was an emotional one based on the circumstances and that nobody had investigated the site too deeply. Despite a few protests and notions among city councillors to expropriate the property, demolition began in late November. The seats were passed around to other Odeon cinemas and a theatre chain in Vancouver, while the organ was shipped to Queens University and installed at Jock Harty Arena.

Cinemaphiles would have to wait until 1981 for films to show again at 20 Carlton, although the address was now applied to a new building slightly east of the original.

Additional material from Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres by John Lindsay (Toronto: Lynx Images, 1999) and the following newspapers: the September 10, 1948, October 6, 1973, and November 24, 1973 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the September 10, 1948, and November 23, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The Carlton’s closure was shortlived, as it reopened under new management in June 2010. As of November 2017, it’s still in business. The Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre currently occupies 509 Parliament.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If you compare this version of the post to the original, you may notice some changes. Some are subtle, like moving around images. One isn’t: replacing the original lead image, which was a contemporary shot of 509 Parliament with an archival photo. By this time, I was starting to use Torontoist’s great pool of photographers for images where appropriate. There may be some cases in upcoming posts where I’ll reach out to the photographers to ask permission to use their shots, otherwise you should expect substitutions of images I took or relevant archival material.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sleepless, Stubborn, and Sterling

Originally published on Torontoist on November 17, 2009.

20091117postum

Mail and Empire, November 9, 1931 (left); The Telegram, November 4, 1931 (right).

Pity the person made agitated and restless by drinking an over-stimulating beverage. Because of their tragic decisions, the owl woman fell asleep at her office desk, while the mule man walked up to his boss, a report firmly clenched in his hand, and allowed his overactive nerves to tell the boss what he really thought of the company’s management. By the end of the day, both found themselves facing the harsh realities of the Great Depression. If only they had sent away for a free sample of Postum…

Postum was developed in 1895 by C.W. Post as a caffeine-free alternative. As these ads demonstrate, Postum’s mixture of bran, wheat, molasses, and corn byproducts was targeted to drinkers who wanted to stay cool, calm, and collected. The beverage enjoyed great popularity among religious groups like the Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists, who found its non-stimulating properties did not lead the faithful astray.

Postum’s most infamous advertising icon was the nefarious Mister Coffee Nerves, who was introduced during the 1930s. A ghostly symbol of the evils of mocha-induced jitters, Mister Coffee Nerves found his attempts to wreck careers and romances were inevitably thwarted by Postum. When Kraft discontinued Postum in 2007 due to dwindling sales, devotees scoured the continent for the remaining jars.

s0841_fl0076_it0012-sterling-tower-small

Sterling Tower, corner of Bay St. and Richmond St., looking south-west, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 76, Item 12.

General Foods, in an earlier guise as the Postum Company, was one of the earliest tenants of the Sterling Tower. The sixty-five-metre-tall complex at 372 Bay Street briefly held the title of tallest building in Toronto when it opened in 1928, but that glorious honour was wrested away when the Royal York Hotel opened the following year. Other early tenants included the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency and the Sterling Bank. A 1929 ad in the Globe claimed that “the environment enjoyed in Sterling Tower goes a long way towards making the business day successful. Businessmen recognize the value of good surroundings…and profit by them” (perhaps particles of Postum were wafted through the heating system to induce calm feelings). Restorations made to the building a decade ago earned architect Dermot Sweeny a merit award from Heritage Toronto in 2001.

Additional material from the February 8, 1929, edition of the Globe and the November 16, 2001, edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The League of Rations

Originally published on Torontoist on November 3, 2009.

20091103heinz

Toronto Star, November 19, 1936.

Isn’t it wonderful when four stereotypical figures can come together in perfect harmony thanks to a humble can of spaghetti? We never suspected that the finest spices from Asia lurked within our sloppy Saturday childhood lunch.

Paying homage to the League of Nations might not have been the smartest marketing move in 1936. The weaknesses of the forerunner to the United Nations were all too apparent that year as it failed to make sanctions against Italy stick after Benito Mussolini’s forces invaded Ethiopia and did little to intervene when civil war broke out in Spain.

As for the teaser at the bottom of today’s ad, CFRB was one of the Canadian outlets for the new Heinz Magazine of the Air program, which aired three times a week on CBS. An ad in Life magazine promised homemakers that they would enjoy “a fun half-hour of sparkling music, famous guest stars, romance, drama, homemaking, child problems.” We suspect that a tin of spaghetti was the recommended method of restoring harmony between battling brats.

Additional material from the November 23, 1936 issue of Life.