Vintage Toronto Ads: D-Day

As the reprints of older Vintage Toronto Ads columns wind down, this is the first in a new, occasional series. 

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Front page, Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

As Canadians participated in the D-Day invasion, newspaper advertisers expressed their feelings, hopes, and prayers about its outcome. Here is a sampling of some of those ads, as published in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Simpson’s department store suspended its normal sale ads for several days, starting on D-Day with a full-page prayer taken from Francis Drake’s attack against the Spanish at Cadiz in spring 1587.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Near Simpson’s Queen Street flagship, the public gathered for a prayer meeting outside (Old) City Hall. Elsewhere in the city, schools held special assemblies, and all Anglican churches prepared for special services at 8 p.m. that evening. St. Michael’s Cathedral reported people streaming into the church as early as 7 a.m., many of whom were wives and children of soldiers serving in Europe. Special services were also scheduled at several war productions plants, including Massey Harris and, out in Malton, Victory Aircraft.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Simpson’s followed up the prayer ad with two spotlighting leaders of the invasion. There was also an invasion-tinged full page spot marking King George VI’s official birthday celebration, even though his actual 49th birthday wasn’t until December.

By contrast, rival Eaton’s continued with their normal advertising, only adding an invitation published on June 6 from Mayor Frederick Conboy to attend a civic prayer service in front of City Hall two days later.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

For regular updates on the invasion, moviegoers could catch the latest at the Uptown and Loew’s (now the Elgin) theatres on Yonge Street.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

Radio listeners could follow CBC’s invasion coverage. CJBC, the flagship station of the CBC’s recently formed Dominion Network, swapped frequencies with CFRB in 1948 and moved to 860 AM.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Two examples of ads from the business community.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

A listing of some of the Ontario residents who took part in the invasion.

Finally, a pair of editorials: one from the city, one from an outlying area.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944

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Orono Weekly Times, June 8, 1944.

Happy Anniversaries, Globe and Mail!

Besides reading this piece, check out my article for Canadaland on some of the rougher moments of the Globe and Mail’s history, and the related podcast.

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Reprint of the front page of the first edition of the Globe from March 5, 1844, published in the March 5, 1994 edition of the Globe and Mail. It should be noted that ProQuest and many microfilm runs begin with the May 8, 1844 edition.

The Globe and Mail turns 175 today. Like any institution around for that length of time, it has celebrated many milestone anniversaries, in ways that reflect the views of the times those celebrations were written.

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The largest ad on the 50th anniversary editorial page. The Globe, March 5, 1894.

For the Globe’s 50th anniversary in 1894, a lengthy retrospective editorial was published. It began by celebrating George Brown’s role in Confederation and the development of Canada, then discussed the political evolution of Great Britain over the previous half-century. Those hoping for any insight into the development paper itself will be disappointed—instead, there’s a whole paragraph devoted to how British colonization spread civilization around the world:

Though in the extension of her colonial empire grave faults can be ascribed to Britain, it must be conceded that her aim has been higher than conquest and plunder. The aim of her statesmen has been to plant colonies, to extend civilization and to establish free institutions. Under this policy Canada has grown into complete self-government, and so have the Australian colonies, whose growth since the discovery of gold has been phenomenal. A far more difficult problem for statesmanship is India, with its teeming population diverse as to race, religion, caste, education and intellectual power, jealous of each other and of the dominant race, and as yet far from being prepared for self-government. The progress of exploration and discovery in Africa has been marvelous and has involved Great Britain in new and weighty responsibilities.

After discussing European history, the editorial ends with scientific and social changes. This section has a distinctive whiff of “Toronto the Good” about it, such as the observation that “the temperance movement has brought about an immense improvement in the drinking habits of the people.” It concluded by noted that “scientific theory and theological dogma have sometimes clashed; but the mightiest achievements of the age are due to the happy union of practical science with practical Christianity, and what has been done is only an earnest of what may yet be done by the combination of these forces.”

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Illustrations by C.W. Jefferys, the Globe, March 5, 1919.

The paper was in a far more celebratory mood when it marked its 75th anniversary in 1919. A special section kicked off with a series of C.W. Jefferys illustrations marking changes in agriculture, commerce, industry, and transportation. Globe president William Gladstone Jaffray wrote a statement. A pair of excerpts:

It costs over $2,400 per day to produce The Globe. This amount has to be found, and something more for interest on capital. It is obvious, therefore, that a paper must earn money, and a goodly amount thereof, to meet its daily expenses. If to make ends meet, and something more, is necessary to every successful enterprise, it is particularly necessary in the newspaper business, because the daily paper is entrusted with the guarding of public interest as well as the influencing of public opinion. Such great responsibility can be successfully undertaken only by that newspaper which rests upon a firm foundation. If handicapped by deficits and debts, sooner or later it is in danger of falling into the hands of or becoming the prey of those who will use it more or less against the public welfare.

We have seen many times over the ensuing decades the mischief resulting from media which fell into those who use their publications to harm public welfare.

In this second excerpt, Jaffray describes how he tried to keep the Globe financially independent and less susceptible to outside influence:

It is my conviction as publisher of The Globe that I should hold aloof from any financial investments, the advancement of which possibly might conflict with the public interest. As chief owner of The Globe, it has been urged upon me to state, in the first place, that the control of the capital stock of The Globe is in the hands of myself as the largest shareholder, and that the remaining shares necessary to constitute the majority holding are held by other members of the family of the late Senator Robert Jaffray; in the second place, that my holding of stocks other than Globe stock is limited to a very few shares of small value in two or three privately owned companies, which shares have been and still are for sale at the first reasonable market. This statement should convince readers of The Globe that there are no financial relationships to influence its direction and its policies.

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Next, editor Stewart Lyon provided a retrospective, reflecting on the Brown era, followed by a vow that the paper, even though it supported the Union government during the 1917 federal election, “has not gone over to Toryism.” As Lyon put it:

That would be a betrayal of all for which this paper has stood during seventy-five years. Its association with Liberalism is not that of a mouthpiece, but of an ally in the promotion of all good causes, and of an honest critic when the leaders of Liberalism lag in the advance, or turn aside into what seem to be unprofitable by-paths.

Lyon also notes the social ills the paper would like to vanquish:

The Globe most sincerely believes that in this land of opportunity the door of hope should be flung wide open. No child should be permitted to go hungry or unlettered. No one in the vigor of life should be without useful occupation. No aged person having faithfully performed the duties of a good citizen should be neglected and forgotten when the shadows begin to fall. To the furtherance of these and all other good causes the Editor pledges his best endeavors.

There was a greeting from Brown’s son. Biographies of the paper’s directors. A tiny reprint of the first front page. More greetings from Canada’s three oldest newspapers (Quebec Chronicle, Montreal Gazette, and Halifax Recorder). Accounts of the life of farmers in Canada West in 1844.

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Excerpt of Mackenzie King’s contribution to the March 5, 1919 Globe.

Among the dignitaries asked to provide their memories of working for the Globe was William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was just months away from becoming federal Liberal leader. King joined the paper in fall 1895 as one of several reporters hired in preparation for the upcoming federal election. By the mid-1920s, King’s relationship with the paper was strained.

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The Globe, March 5, 1919.

Music and drama editor E.R. Parkhurst recalled an incident early in his career which happened at a rival paper (which later merged into the Globe) when a prank went horribly for the local food industry. Cat lovers may want to skip this one.

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The Globe, March 5, 1919.

One of several articles about families who had read the Globe since the paper began. The section also included a long list of “charter subscribers whose descendants are on the Globe’s lists to-day” or whose patronage of the paper stretched back at least 50 years.

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Globe and Mail, March 4, 1944.

The paper’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1944 began with a front page salute from publisher George McCullagh.

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There was an editorial cartoon…

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…the inevitable poem…

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…and a history of the paper’s physical locations. It would subsequently move to the Telegram’s former offices on Front Street west in 1974, and its current location on King Street East in 2016.

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Click on image for larger version.

C.W. Jefferys returned for an anniversary illustration, depicting the paper’s original home on King West. If you look carefully, you may notice a top-hatted George Brown emerging from the office with a paper under his arm. Below the drawing, veteran journalist Hector Charlesworth outlined the paper’s history. In the sports section, columnist Jim Coleman noted that the paper ignored sports during its first quarter-century, as “the only game in which George Brown…was interested was politics, and he confined his athletic activities to throwing curves at his political opponents.”

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Globe and Mail, March 4, 1944.

A few words from the “oldest Globe reader” Sir William Mulock, who passed away a few months later. At the time, the Mulock (who, depending on the source, was either 100 or 101) was still serving as chancellor of the University of Toronto.

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Advertisement highlighting the Globe and Mail’s staff and syndicated features, March 4, 1944. 

I’d share material related to the paper’s 125th anniversary in 1969, except that there isn’t any. A search for “George Brown” during the anniversary week that March only finds articles related to the college bearing his name. There was a lone article in November 1986 marking the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Globe and the Mail and Empire.

For the 150th anniversary in 1994, Cameron Smith wrote a three-page story outlining the paper’s biggest stories, followed by a masthead listing 800 employees.

Unfortunately, an anniversary magazine celebrating the occasion does not appear to have been preserved on ProQuest, leaving us with the editorial above, and a Margaret Wente column on women and the G&M. “The world can change fast,” she concluded. “Back when we were 16 years old, none of the women who write and edit the ROB ever dared imagine we would be here, doing this. I hope I’m still around 20 or 30 years from now when today’s 16-year-olds are running the paper, to see whose stories they’ll be telling then.”

Vintage Toronto Ads: Wally’s World

Originally published on Torontoist on August 5, 2008.

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Toronto Life, September 1974.

Cow herds and invalids were among the radio listeners that spent over 10,000 mornings waking up with Wally Crouter. His run as CFRB’s morning man from 1946 to 1996 saw his comforting style stay afloat in the ratings against competitors like top 40 radio and shock jocks.

Crouter (1923-2016) felt that one of the keys to his long run was creating a comfort zone for listeners to ease themselves into the new day, without bringing up divisive subjects like sex, politics, and religion. In an interview with The Globe and Mail upon his retirement in 1996, he noted that:

I always tried to put myself in the place of the listener…it’s the most personal time of the day. The radio is on while you’re doing your morning ablutions, getting dressed, having breakfast with the kids coming to the table…I’ve had a surgeon write me to tell me that, when he had three serious operations to do in a day, he started off by listening to my show so he could achieve the right relaxation and focus he needed.

Crouter’s sidekicks in 1974 included reporters Jack Dennett and Bob Hesketh, sportscaster Bill Stephenson, and Henry Shannon with traffic reports from “the CFRB Twin Comanche.”

Additional material from the November 1, 1996 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Given the length of Crouter’s career, you’d expect that there would be plenty of ads to track its evolution. You’d be right. Here’s a sampling of them…

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Globe and Mail, September 4, 1948.

CFRB swapped frequencies with CJBC (then an English language station belonging to CBC’s Dominion Network — it would switch to full-time French programming in 1964) on September 1, 1948. The move was prompted when CBC decided in 1946 that all class 1-A radio frequencies in Canada would be reserved for the public broadcaster, which meant booting CFRB and several other private stations from their spots on the dial. It wasn’t the first time CBC had forced CFRB to move; in 1941, CFRB vacated 690 to allow space for Montreal’s CBF.

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Globe and Mail, September 1, 1948. Click on image for larger version.

After settling on 1010 as its future home, CFRB successfully negotiated to make its new frequency a 50,000 W powerhouse. The move cost the station $500,000, including a new transmitter in Clarkson (now part of Mississauga). Because of two other stations located at 1010 (New York’s WINS and a CBC transmitter at Lacombe, Alberta), CFRB had to use a directional signal which made reception ultra-powerful in Toronto.

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Globe and Mail, November 16, 1970.

From a 1970 Globe and Mail profile of Toronto’s morning radio men:

Wally Crouter is the king of morning radio. An unlikely king, too. Wrinkled, dishevelled, as casual as a sandwich, he looks a bit like Tennessee Ernie Ford. Or is it Ernie Kovacs? He is the king because he makes the most money and has the most listeners, and the key to it all is that CFRB’s Crouter looks and sounds the way most of us feel at that time of day.

“I don’t push people. I carry on a conversation with the listener. You can’t talk down to them and you can’t talk up to them—you have to talk at a level with them. Some of the guys shout, ‘Well, c’mon, it’s time to get up.’ I figure the guy’s intelligent enough to get up by himself. Besides, his wife’s probably bitching at him anyway, so why should I cause further aggravation?”

At the time, Crouter’s show drew 156,000 listeners, Runner-up Jay Nelson (1050 CHUM) drew 74,000.

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Globe and Mail, July 27, 1971.

Based on the illustration, I picture Billy Van in a live action television commerical of this ad campaign.

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Globe and Mail, April 26, 1973.

Once upon a time, radio hosts conducted interviews with celebrities at downtown department stores.

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Maclean’s, June 13, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, September 22, 1979.

Besides Crouter, CFRB personality Earl Warren also operated a travel agency.

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Maclean’s, February 25, 1980.

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1982.

Like any good local celebrity, Crouter had recipes to share with newspaper readers.

An interview with Wally Crouter from 1987. As CFRB’s format moved away from the old full service model towards a modern news/talk operation, Crouter remained atop the morning ratings. Regarding the changes, “I think we’re anxious to dispel the idea that it’s an old station for people,” he told the Globe and Mail. “I’m right with them. I’ve always thought it was essential to be vitally involved in the community and kept up with the times, but somehow that reputation as an old person’s station haunts us. For years we’ve played Big Band music, and I still enjoy hearing Tommy Dorsey, but like anyone else, I can only take it for so long before I want to hear something new.”

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Maclean’s, December 14, 1992.

From a 1992 Toronto Star profile:

Radio legends are a dime a dozen. Most, I can attest, are legends in their own minds, super-characters that exist only in the ether, in sealed studio chambers, in electric currents and radio waves.

Crouter is different. At work in the studio between 5.30 a.m. and 9 every day, he’s relaxed, composed, even nonchalant. After 45 years in the same slot, of course, the rhythm and pace of the show are second nature to him. He wanders about CFRB’s halls, in the slices of time dedicated to news, traffic and sports reports, commercials, contests, promotions, and commentary, making coffee, chatting to coworkers, collecting mail and messages, answering phone calls, cornering station executives in their offices for a quick word or two . . . and ambles back to the microphone mere nano-seconds, it seems, before he’s due on air again.

“It surprises some people when I tell them I do no preparation, none at all,” he said. “This show’s about what’s happening, what’s unfolding. You can’t prepare for it. And it makes every day different. It’s never boring.”

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Toronto Star, October 11, 1996. Click on image for larger version.

Crouter ended his show on the 50th anniversary of his debut. His final on-air words were “Forget yesterday. Think about tomorrow, but live today. Thank you.”

Additional material from the February 7, 1970 and February 19, 1987 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 1, 1948, October 25, 1992, and November 2, 1996 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Merry Christmas to All of You From GM

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2008.

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Toronto Star, December 24, 1948.

Not quite the style of advertising emerging from General Motors this holiday season, is it?

Had GM been in deep financial doo-doo sixty years ago, they could have tapped the oratory skills of North Toronto dealer Denton Massey to make their case to the public. A member of one of the city’s most prominent families (grandson of Hart, cousin of Raymond and Vincent), Massey dabbled in business (selling cars and nuclear reactors) and politics (MP for Greenwood for most of the 1930s and 1940s) but ultimately found his calling in religion. The evangelical fervour of his York Bible Class, which packed Maple Leaf Gardens in the early 1930s, eventually gave way to the abandonment of his secular activities and his ordination as an Anglican priest in 1960.

A decade after today’s ad appeared, the Star dedicated their Christmas Eve editorial to “splashes of joy” throughout the city. Some samples:

To the stranger on Lawrence Ave. who stopped his car and got out to help a harried housewife get hers out of the slippery driveway last week.
To the postman who braves our neighbour’s dog every morning and though his (the postman’s) hair bristles, delivers the letters.

To the man who discovered the four-year-old child cold, frightened and crying four blocks from home, wiped her nose and eyes, found out where she lived and took her back to her mother’s bosom.
To the big boy who stopped a fight of younger lads on a rink and moreover didn’t swipe the puck.

And to many, many others in this great, sometimes unfriendly, sometimes alarming metropolis, who all through the year and not only at Christmas time do acts of kindness, of friendliness, of courtesy, that make Toronto an easier and even pleasant place. Perhaps because the times are oppressive and the city is growing even bigger, more people are showing that they are human, helping each other to brave the tumult and the shouting, the loneliness and frustrations.

Merry Christmas to these, and to all.

Additional material from the December 24, 1958 and January 26, 1984 editions of the Toronto Star.

Halloween Hijinks

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 31, 2009.

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The Telegram, October 29, 1949.

 

Halloween has long provided an excuse for Torontonians to relax and cut loose their stiffer qualities for at least one day. Whether it’s infants dressed as garden vegetables and insects or downtown revellers dressed in outfits that can’t be mentioned in family publications, Toronto has long loved assuming disguises and participating in all of the accompanying rituals that go along with today. A flip through old local newspapers shows that pranks played a large role in past Halloweens, from harmless showoffs to destructive blazes. For better or worse, tricks were as equally important as the treats.

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1929.

Halloween 1929 was marked by the usual sorts of hijinks city officials had come to expect from naughty revellers. As the Star noted, “As long as there is a Halloween to celebrate, boys will pull fire alarm boxes and set vacant houses on fire with an utter disregard of property.” This meant a long night for Fire Chief William Russell who, according to the Globe, was “sitting at home with one eye cocked on the recorders on which all box alarms are relayed to his house.” Russell “said he spent a large part of the evening, when he wasn’t out at real fires, winding up his gong-box on the wall as false alarms poured in one after another.” His box had a healthy workout, as around fifty calls came in.

One of the few legitimate alarms came from Boulton Drive and Poplar Plains Road, where a group of small children were blamed for setting a blaze that destroyed one and damaged two luxury homes that were nearing completion. Firefighter James Bell suffered severe injuries to his legs and ribs, falling eight feet to the concrete basement of 12 Boulton Drive after the main floor gave way. Damage from the night’s most “expensive bit of fun” was estimated at twelve thousand dollars (almost $150,000 in today’s currency).

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Excerpt from a Eaton’s advertisement. Mail and Empire, October 18, 1929.

While the fire department was busy that night, police felt that they dealt with fewer incidents than an average Halloween. Newspapers received plenty of false crime tips—the Mail and Empire reported that “two naïve jokesters” phoned in “with frantic word of desperate and bloody holdups in widely separated parts of the city.” The paper couldn’t resist bragging about their ability to smell a phony or taking a jab at competitors, noting “what success their playfulness met with among the other papers could not be learned, but Mail and Empire reporters were not, of course, taken in.”

On the lighter side of trickery, the Mail and Empire also reported that “there was a crowd in a downtown one-arm lunch, when a masked woman entered, followed closely by a man in a silk castor. Finally they embraced each other in the screen manner of the moment. It got so that some people began to look the other way. Others laughed or ridiculed. But when the woman removed her domino, ‘she’ was a man.” We imagine such an incident now would cause half the restaurant to continue eating without batting an eyelash.

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TTC employees at a party at head office, October 29, 1934, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 10678.

Four decades later, parents and community leaders were very concerned about some of the tricks children received in their pillowcases and plastic jack o’lanterns. The late 1960s saw a sharp increase in the number of apples and candies that had been tampered with. Metropolitan Toronto police received over 170 reports during the 1968 Halloween season from parents who found glass, razor blades, poisons, stick pins, and other hazardous items in their children’s treats. The following year saw an increase in neighbourhood patrols and a pitch to trick-or-treaters to approach any officer at the slightest hint of trouble. Parents came up with various methods of keeping their children safe and out of mischief. Among the oddest was one employed by Garr Hamilton of Blythehill Road, who placed an alarm clock in her children’s bags. “It’s set to the time I want them home,” she told the Telegram.

Despite the fears from kooks and other dangers, local columnists looked back fondly on past Halloweens, such as the Telegram’s Scott Young’s memories of how his son Neil handled his first Halloween in Omemee at the tender age of five:

He was full of enthusiasm until the instant he found himself outside. Then he refused to budge off the top step of the veranda as he listened to the cries in the night around him. In a minute or two, he abruptly bolted back in to safety, stating as an obvious afterthought “I have to go to the bathroom.” It was only when I found a crowd of children he knew, fellow perch-fishermen and turtle-hunters, and unmasked a few for his relieved inspection, that he went out again. Before long he was enjoying it as much as the others, and returned home an hour later with his pillowcase laden with the standard collection of peanuts, fudge, apples, Chiclets, cookies, dog hairs, dry leaves and gum drops, all cunningly stuck together with jellybeans.

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The Telegram, October 27, 1959.

Young struck an optimistic note at the end of that column that could easily be on the minds of parents taking their children out this Halloween:

That was Halloween, man, and there is a natural temptation to believe that it will never be the same again. But really, I know better. The little kids out tomorrow night will be just as scared, just as excited. And their parents, lurking watchfully in the background, will be storing up memories for the future, as all of us who went before have done.

Additional material from the November 1, 1929 editions of the Globe, the Mail and Empire, and the Toronto Star; and the October 30, 1969 and October 31, 1969 editions of the Telegram.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 10

Pour Me a Psycho-Physical Driving Test

Originally published on Torontoist on March 30, 2010.

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New Liberty, March 1948.

For at least a year, Labatt’s ran a series of public service announcements in New Liberty magazine that touted their touring psycho-physical driving test units, whose stops included the Canadian National Exhibition. While the ads showed how drivers learned how to better gauge appropriate spaces to pass and find out if their night vision was up to snuff, nowhere is it mentioned that one should indulge in a few rounds of Labatt’s main business interest before hitting the road.

By the late 1940s, professionals were beginning to realize that getting behind the wheel while drunk was dangerous. Nearly a year before today’s ad appeared, the Telegram ran an editorial after St. Andrew MPP J.B. Salsberg criticized the suspension of a truck driver’s licence due to an impaired driving charge as a hardship for the driver’s family (the government indicated it had no intention of making any exception to the existing licence suspension laws):

In view of the serious menace to public safety which the drunken driver presents there can be little support for any proposal to loosen the operation of the law in this respect. Nor is it desirable, whatever the hardship involved, that variations in the application of the law should be permitted. Leniency in one case would open the door to pressure for leniency in other cases. It is in the public interest that all drivers should realize what such infractions of the law entail and that they should understand that if they offend in this way there is no escape from the penalty provided.

Locomotive engineers, it is understood, are not permitted to drink while on duty. It is quite as imperative that truck and automobile drivers, who do not travel on a private right of way, should avoid intoxicants before or during driving. It cannot be repeated too often that alcohol and gasoline is a bad mixture.

Additional material from the April 7, 1947 edition of the Telegram.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2012.

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Maclean’s, September 9, 1961.

These scenes from a stereotypical early-1960s middle-class home look serene, but dangers worthy of a television drama are in full view. Unlike the family in that famous Upstairs, Downstairs TV series, this household doesn’t have to worry about relationships between hired help and the gentility. Instead, they should fear for the potential disasters that could befall the children.

Upstairs, while baby can’t crawl up the wall to tear at the beautiful new thermostat and discover if mercury pleases his palate, his parents could be watching what he does with his teddy bear, instead of discussing the contents of their favourite evening paper. Nobody wants to witness an accidental choking. Downstairs, while Junior is in little danger from the blasts of his shiny cap guns, he could accidentally bang his head into the heater’s manifold valve or oil burner if he gets too carried away with his game of cowboys and Indians.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Strength! Science! Slams!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 28, 2008.

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Toronto Star, October 28, 1948 (left) and November 4, 1948 (right).

While hockey has usually been portrayed as the main attraction for spectators at Maple Leaf Gardens, the building had an equally rich professional wrestling heritage. Starting with a Jim LondosGino Garibaldi card in November 1931, a parade of dignified heroes and costumed heels entertained packed houses at Church and Carlton. For half-a-century most of the matches were promoted by Frank Tunney, who, when asked if the sport was on the level, responded “The ring is level, isn’t it?”

The tag team matches in the spotlight today featured one of the city’s most popular mid-century sporting figures, Whipper Billy Watson. Born William Potts in East York in 1915, he moved to England to begin his professional career in 1936, where a promoter quickly determined he required a snappier moniker. Watson first hit the ring at the Gardens in 1940 and continued to wrestle until injuries sustained in a car accident ended his career in 1971. He spent much of his life supporting charitable organizations in the GTA, with his contributions ranging from championing Easter Seals skate-a-thons at the Gardens to campaigning for therapeutic pool services in York Region.

Heels Sky-Hi Lee (named, with spelling variations over the years, due to his 6’9″ stature) and the Masked Marvel (one of many to grace Toronto cards) triumphed over Watson and tag team partner Fred Atkins on October 28, 1948, prompting a rematch a week later. The villains did not emerge unscathed—Tunney told the press a few days later that Lee had suffered multiple leg wounds and “and a few more on his back that he claimed was wrought by a nail file in the hands of an infuriated fan. Also his ankle was swollen from the bending treatment it received when another fan leaped on the ramp and tackled him. Lee wanted the ramp built higher, the customers searched, the ushers provided with tear gas bombs.”

The Toronto Star was filled with outrage from the Watson-Atkins camp. The defeated wrestlers were “fully aroused over the foul treatment accorded them by the villainous pair in last week’s match.” Watson was offended by the officiating of Cliff Worthy, who “let the Mask and Lee get away with everything short of murder…and then he saw Hi Lee kick me off the ring apron. He should have disqualified the Mask and Lee. Instead he gave them the bout.” The day of the rematch, the Star pictured Watson in perfect health and ready to rumble. “He’s so much in the pink,” the caption writer noted, “that Dr. Myron Millar of the Ontario Athletic Commission turned over his stethoscope to the Whipper and said ‘You tune in on me.’”

Did good triumph? The scriptwriters were fuzzy about that—accounts depicted a mayhem-filled night, with much of the body-slamming, rope-choking action taking place on the ramp before referee Bunny Dunlop declared a tie, then called the match off due to the ensuing pandemonium. A crowd of 1,000 spectators mulled around Tunney’s office, jeering the promoter, Dunlop, and the heels. With a sly smile, the Star noted that the disgruntled fans “vowed they wouldn’t come back next week—because the Ice Capades will be in the Gardens.”

Additional material from the October 30, 1948, November 1, 1948, November 5, 1948 and May 10, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

f1257_s1057_it7520

Wrestling match, Dick Hutton vs. Whipper Billy Watson, Maple Leaf Gardens, July 5, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7520.

Looking for an action shot of Whipper Billy Watson on the city archives website, I came across this picture from a bout where Watson defended his National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship against Dick Hutton.

star 1956-07-04 wrestling advertorial

Toronto Star, July 4, 1956.

gm 1956-07-05 hutton watson ad

Globe and Mail, July 5, 1956. Fritz von Ulm soon changed his wrestling persona to Fritz von Goering.

I can’t match the colourful writing style used by sportswriters to describe vintage wrestling matches, so here’s the Star’s account.

star 1956-07-06 whip tries one slam too many

Toronto Star, July 6, 1956.