Zellers: Where the Lowest Price Was the Law

A merger of two Torontoist posts, one written when Target bought a pile of Zellers leases (published January 13, 2011) and one when Target Canada called it quits (published January 23, 2015), along with a few extras tossed in.

Let’s begin with the expectations some people had when Target announced it was coming to Canada…

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

For several years, local lovers of Target (or, as some preferred, Tar-zhay) drooled at periodic rumours that the American discount retailer would set up shop north of the border. Time and time again they were let down by failed courtship attempts between Target and Zellers — until today’s revelation that Target has agreed to take over the leases of most Zellers locations. To those infatuated with the new arrival’s offerings, this may be equivalent to an early Valentine’s Day gift. While it might not be heartbreaking to some when the eighty-year-old Canadian discounter disappears from the local landscape in 2013, we’ll take a moment to look at its hopeful beginnings.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1931.

Walter Zeller entered the retail business through the stock room of a Woolworth’s in his native Kitchener in 1912. Over the next two decades he rose steadily in the five-and-dime field on both sides of the border, working at store and corporate management levels for the likes of S.S. Kresge and Metropolitan Stores. In 1928 he launched his own small chain with locations in Fort William, London, and St. Catharines. By the end of that year, the original incarnation of Zellers was purchased by American retailer Schulte-United, who rebranded the stores under their banner. Dreams of opening two hundred stores were quashed by the economic crash, which resulted in Schulte-United’s bankruptcy in January 1931. The bankruptcy trustees called in Zeller, who decided after several months of examination to buy the dozen or so stores left in Canada.

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Toronto Star, November 11, 1931.

Zeller sounded optimistic about the chances for the new Zellers Ltd. when he announced its formation in November 1931. “In building our new company,” he told the press, “one important thought has been borne in mind—that the buying public to-day is more discriminating and thrifty than ever before. It knows and demands style merchandise of good quality. It insists on popular prices.” Among the first stores to carry the new banner was the chain’s sole Toronto location at Yonge and Albert streets (now occupied by the Eaton Centre). Prior to its grand opening on November 11, store manager F.C. Lee told the Star both he and the employees that had been retained were confident about the prospects for Zellers, due to the retail experience, managerial skills, and financial backing of the new corporate overlords. “While Zellers is extending a chain of stores throughout Canada,” Lee noted, “nevertheless the business is founded on the principle that the local success depends on catering to local conditions and preferences—and local managers are empowered to operate on this basis.”

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Globe and Mail, March 8, 1950.

Torontonians didn’t bite, as its first location closed within months. That first store was ignored in the PR for Zellers’ return to the city in March 1950. “Even if many Torontonians hear the news at first with indifference,” Globe and Mailbusiness columnist Wellington Jeffers wrote, “I am convinced that later on they will know it is something of an event that Zeller’s Ltd will this year open a Zeller store on Bloor Street.”

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1950.

The branch at 24 Bloor Street West (now the site of the Holt Renfrew Centre) was hailed by City officials as the beachhead for larger stores moving onto Bloor between Yonge and Bay.

Zellers quickly took advantage of the explosive growth in suburban shopping, placing stores in pioneering shopping centres like Golden Mile Plaza and Lawrence Plaza. The stores gradually evolved into modern discount department stores, though unlike its competition (Kresge’s Kmart and Woolworth’s Woolco chains), Zellers didn’t rebrand its larger locations.

Within two years of Walter Zeller’s death in 1957, a majority interest in the company was held by American discounter W.T. Grant. The Hudson’s Bay Company became sole owner in 1978. Later acquisitions included many Toronto locations of K-Mart and Towers.

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Toronto Star, October 15, 1986.

In August 1986 Zellers launched its Club Z customer loyalty program. Initial press reports depicted it as a computerized version of old “green stamp” schemes, complete with gift catalogue promising decent merchandise for a large number of points—a 28-inch colour TV could be yours for only 1.5 million Club Z points. Targeted consumers were women aged 25 to 55 who frequently shopped at Zellers for basic clothing and other staples for their families.

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Toronto Star, February 24, 1987.

The following year, Zeddy debuted. In his early days, Zeddy taught kids to be safe via colouring books, and lent his assistance in finding missing children. Zeddy later upheld the “law of Toyland,” joining the likes of Batman and Robin in crusading for lower prices on kids’ goods. After being dumped in the woods in a humorous ad campaign in 2012, Zeddy became a mascot for Camp Trillium.

The influence of Target hovered over the chain from the 1990s onward, via revamped presentation in some stores, stocking common brands like Cherokee and Massimo, and periodic rumours the American discounter was about to take over. Yet model stores, as Canadian Business discovered at an Ajax location in 1996, could not escape complaints about messiness customers grumbled about for years:

Pieces of children’s clothing are strewn about the floor. The cosmetics counter is in hopeless disarray. A snorkel and mask are lying in the stationery section. A bucket of dirty water sits next to a mountain of tinned ham. Empty cardboard boxes and abandoned shopping carts block the aisles.There are rows of empty shelves in almost every department of the store. Some of the goodies bins around the checkout area sit empty—a cardinal sin in the retailing world, where impulse buying accounts for a significant percentage of sales. A female clerk swears loudly as she sets up a display. Another gives a visitor a sour look when he asks for directions to the washroom. Needless to say, this is not the ultimate shopping environment. And yet Zellers is counting on “model” outlets such as this to save it from oblivion.

Facts of Interest to the People of Canada about Zellers

Maclean’s, June 1, 1944. 

To put it mildly, Target Canada didn’t live up to expectations. Its failure will probably be a case study in business textbooks for years to come. One side effect was a wave of nostalgia for Zellers, which left a void in the marketplace that is still being filled.

When Target announced its decision to pull the plug on its Canadian misadventure, it provoked a wave of nostalgia for the discount chain it supplanted. Memories and laments for Zellers made it a trending topic on social media, and the textbook case study of Target’s mistakes led people to forgive past complaints about the home of Club Z and Zeddy.

“Zellers, for most of its history, was quite simply the major discount store in the country,” retail expert Ed Strapagiel noted when Target purchased Zellers’ leases in Janaury 2011. ”It really was quite phenomenal—it didn’t necessarily offer the most fashionable items, but it had a reputation for good and sturdy clothes.”

Anyone with pangs of nostalgia, or wishing to have a last laugh on Target, can still shop at Zellers in Toronto, though the lone remaining store in the city at Kipling and Queensway is effectively a Hudson’s Bay outlet.

Sources: the September 1996 edition of Canadian Business; the October 21, 1939 edition of the Financial Post; the February 2, 1950 and January 14, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 7, 1931, November 10, 1931. March 9, 1950, and August 10, 1986 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

It appears that Zellers will disappear (again) by the beginning of 2020, as its last two locations will be closing. 

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Corner of Balmuto St. and Bloor St., looking north

Corner of Balmuto and Bloor, looking north, 1972. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 66, Item 21.

From a 1939 Financial Post profile of Walter Zeller:

On the business side of the balance sheet, Mr. Zeller knows as much about the variety store business as any man in the business. On the personal side, he is forthright, hard-hitting and, when asked his opinion, gives it without reserve. What he has accomplished in a relatively short space of time implies a businessman of the “dynamo” type. He is all of that. And to back up his boundless supply of energy, is a knowledge of his own business and capabilities that commands respect.

The profile ended with this odd tidbit: “He has only two hobbies: business and Kiwanis.”

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Globe and Mail, February 2, 1950.

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Canadian Champion, February 9, 1972.

“County Fair” malls and plazas anchored by Zellers dotted the Canadian landscape during the 1970s. I wonder if the one closest to where I grew up (Leamington, now anchored by FreshCo) ever held a “stagnite” like the Georgetown location.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 22, 1903. Click on image for larger version.

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Minneapolis Journal, May 23, 1903.

I considered including a brief history of Target in one of the original articles. These two ads show the birth of Minneapolis-based Dayton’s, out of which Target emerged as its discount division in 1962.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Come Be Pampered at Tanaka of Tokyo (plus The House of Fuji-Matsu)

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2008.

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Canadian Football League Illustrated, September 1972. Note proofreading fail.

In the days before sushi joints lined seemingly every block in the city, Japanese cuisine was treated as an exotic experience by Toronto diners. Many Japanese eateries that operated in the city before the 1980s specialized in teppanyaki-style table cooking, where the chef’s entertaining skills were as important (or more, depending on the venue) as the food and allowed businessmen to impress their clients. Venues like Tanaka of Tokyo provided a comforting atmosphere that allowed local palates to ease their way from familiar dishes like steak and sukiyaki into then-alien fare like maki rolls.

Toronto’s first Japanese restaurant was House of Fuji-Matsu, which began a three-year run at 17 Elm Street (now home to the Fraternal Order of Eagles) in December 1955. The Star covered opening night and enjoyed “12 Japanese hostesses who will teach customers how to handle chopsticks, will cook a traditional sukiyaki Japanese shrimp or beef-base dish right on the foot-high tables and will act as ‘baby-sitters’ while parents enjoy the cuisine.” Curious diners dropped by, but the hospitality and child-watching service was not enough to keep the restaurant afloat. Among the reasons owner Richard Tanaka later blamed for its demise were blocked attempts to secure a liquor license, possibly due to a YWCA located across the street. “One day I called my accountant,” he noted in a 1972 interview, “and asked if we were still losing money. When the answer was yes, I said only two words: ‘Close it.’”

Tanaka waited just over a decade before trying again. “Like a bulldog, I hate to quit—to admit becoming a loser.” Nine months of planning and nearly $450,000 went into Tanaka of Tokyo before it welcomed its first guests at 1180 Bay Street (slightly south of Bloor) in December 1971. Eight master chefs were brought in from Japan to cook at the teppanyaki tables and add entertainment value to the first class atmosphere Tanaka conveyed through the slogan “Come Be Pampered.”

The kindest reviews tended to be in advertorials—in their 1976 survey of the city restaurant scene Dining Out in Toronto, Jeremy Brown and Sid Adilman gave Tanaka of Tokyo half a star out of five:

Popular with tourists on expense accounts, Tanaka of Tokyo is a swanky affair, the most expensive Japanese restaurant in the city. Once that is said, the next question is, what about the food? Teppanyaki tables bring out the theatrical in chefs, and the quiet sushi bar has its virtues. But overall, Tanaka is for people who want Japanese food without too much of the original taste.

The restaurant provided steak rituals for another decade-and-a-half.

Additional material from the December 19, 1955 and January 29, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1955.

The headline above these photos read “ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN CANADA, FUJI-MATSU CATERS TO BEGINNER AND GOURMET OF FAR EAST FOOD.”

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Globe and Mail, January 26, 1956.

In December 1956, MGM used the House of Fuji-Matsu to promote The Teahouse of the August Moon (which featured Marlon Brando in yellowface as a Japanese interpreter). Globe and Mail entertainment columnist Alex Barris attended the presser, which featured four Japan Air Lines hostesses. He was most impressed by Seiko Fukasawa’s musical talents: “She plays the koto, an ancient Japanese stringed instrument which consists of a six-foot length of wood, on legs, with 13 strings drawn across its top,” Barris observed. “It sounds more like a harp than anything else, and sounds quite beautiful when Miss Fukasawa plays it.”

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Toronto Star, March 21, 1956.

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Toronto Star, November 28, 1957.

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1958.

Pierre Berton’s review of the House of Fuji-Matsu. Given Ontario’s repressive liquor laws of the era (cocktail lounges had only been legal for a decade), it’s not surprising the restaurant had trouble earning a license.

Lord Simcoe’s Folly

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on August 20, 2011.

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The Telegram, May 14, 1957.

When the Lord Simcoe Hotel permanently closed its doors in October 1979, a carpenter on the crew hired to dismantle the building reflected on why it had failed after operating for just 22 years: “No one thought ahead for the future when it was built.” While its original owners prided themselves on going from sod-turning to ribbon-cutting within 17 months, they might have thought more carefully about how the business would survive in the long term. Mistakes like overpricing its luxurious eateries and not including amenities expected of modern hotels like central air, combined with increasing competition and land worth more than the building atop it, shortened the life of a hotel that promised to provide its first guests modern accommodations with old-world charm.

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Globe and Mail, September 23, 1955.

 

The inspiration to build a hotel at 150 King Street West came to future Lord Simcoe Vice-President W. Harry Weale during Mayor Nathan Phillips’ inaugural address in January 1955, when the city’s new chief executive noted that Toronto lacked the hotel space required to become competitive on the global convention circuit. A consortium of investors led by National Management was assembled and by that December Ontario Premier Leslie Frost turned the sod. The new hotel was named in honour of John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was never elevated to a peerage but management decided to bestow one upon him so that the hotel’s name would match those of their other lordly properties (the Lord Elgin in Ottawa and the Lord Beaverbrook in Fredericton). Simcoe was also honoured in the decision to use the colours of the Queen’s York Rangers, the military unit he commanded, as the decorating scheme for the Sentry Box lounge.

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One chef in the kitchen, one surveying the menu. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-1 (left), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1653, Series 975, File 2439, Item 34565-2 (right).

 

The key entertainment space in the hotel was the Pump Room, which was inspired by both the 19th-century eatery in Bath, England, and the restaurant that the Lord Simcoe’s ownership group ran at the Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. An introductory ad boasted that “meals are prepared to meet the demanding taste of the gourmet: exotic meats, game and fish are served on flaming swords or by wagon.” Waiters were dressed in ostrich feather–topped turbans to “add to the old-world atmosphere” (other dining venues in the hotel forced staff to dress in naval costumes or other 18th century style clothing). As head porter Roy McIntosh later remembered, “All the posh weddings and bar mitzvahs were held there and I remember some weddings came down just to have their pictures taken, then leave. It was that kind of place, the best.”

20110820craneadGlobe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

When opening day arrived on May 15, 1957, half of the $10 million hotel’s 20 floors were ready for use. The press weren’t able to preview any of the Lord Simcoe’s 900 rooms, but as Telegram columnist Alex Barris noted, “It’s questionable whether any visitor is likely to get past the street floor, unless he’s just plain sleepy.” Had the media been able to check them out, they would have found rooms decorated in “three basic and interchangeable colours—gold, blue and sandalwood.” Among the in-room amenities were television sets and desks supplied by Eaton’s that included built-in radio controls. Management was upbeat about having booked every room in the hotel for the upcoming Grey Cup game in November.

But it wasn’t long before the hotel ran into financial trouble. The opening of the Westbury Hotel (now the Courtyard Marriott on Yonge Street) and a 400 room addition to the Royal York cut into business. As Star columnist Ron Haggart discovered in the spring of 1960, the Lord Simcoe had become Toronto’s most delinquent taxpayer. As of April 25 of that year, the hotel owed $424,000, which was 10 per cent of all overdue taxes the city awaited. What surprised Haggart was that unlike Toronto’s second-worst tax offender, commercial developer Principal Investments, a bailiff had not been sent after the hotel. The reason why soon became public: Mayor Phillips interceded on behalf of the Lord Simcoe’s investors to convince the city treasurer to defer the hotel’s tax bill until new financial arrangements were made. “They informed me they were arranging for new financing and merely asked the city not to embarrass them during a trying period. I did what I would do for any taxpayer,” Phillips told the Star. “I explained the situation to the city treasurer and, without loss to the city and any embarrassment to anyone, they made a satisfactory arrangement for the payment of arrears with interest.” On May 26, 1960, the city received a cheque for the entire amount owed.

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Toronto Star, January 28, 1963.

 

Once the tax troubles were cleared up, other business problems came to the fore. As losses mounted, there were many rumours about the building’s future. Conrad Hilton was said to be interested in the hotel, the site was to be converted into a hospital, and so on. Several founding members of the management team passed away. Dining and lounge facilities designed to cater to “Toronto’s palate in ultra-deluxe fashion” proved too expensive for local tastes. By the time Globe and Mail owner R. Howard Webster’s Imperial Trust gained primary control of the Lord Simcoe in 1963, three floors were available as office rentals. The swanky Pump Room became the less swanky Flaming Grill, which flamed out within two years.

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Parking lot, University Avenue, east side, at Adelaide Street West, with Lord Simcoe Hotel in the background, early 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5668.

 

By the end of the 1970s, the lack of both central air and a proper convention-sized meeting space made it difficult for the Lord Simcoe to compete with other downtown hotels. Webster and the other shareholders were ready to stop the never-ending losses and sold the property to National Trust in June 1979. The new owners immediately announced their intention to close the hotel, which saw its final guests (a group of Swedish tourists) check out on October 28, 1979. After their departure, the hotel’s assets were prepared for a liquidation sale that occurred in February 1980. Former head porter Roy McIntosh found himself back at the hotel working for demolition firm Teperman and Sons and felt sadness as the hotel disappeared one piece at a time. “I look at it now,” McIntosh told the Star, “and some guy’s ripping out something and I want to say, ‘Hey, don’t do that!’ But I’ve got to stop feeling personal about it.” Wrecker Marvin Teperman kept some mementos from the site—a red leather couch and chairs from the hotel’s lobby wound up in his office. Less sentimental was Star columnist Joey Slinger, who declared in his Leap Day column that the building was a grey architectural eyesore that couldn’t disappear fast enough. Slinger declared that “The Lord Simcoe was disposable… It was no more meant to endure than a used Styrofoam coffee cup.”

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The Lord Simcoe Hotel awaits demolition, circa 1980. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 74.

 

There was suspicion after the sale that National Trust stood in for another party, suspicion that was fuelled when the soil conditions were tested. It turned out a developer was assembling a valuable land parcel surrounding the Lord Simcoe for a new office tower that was ultimately filled by Sun Life. Teperman hoarding went up in 1980 and the northeast corner of King and University remained a construction site until the east tower of what is now the Sun Life Centre opened in 1984.
Additional material from the May 15, 1957, and October 29, 1979, editions of the Globe and Mail; the May 18, 1960, May 30, 1960, February 24, 1962, July 11, 1963, June 29, 1979, February 28, 1980, and February 29, 1980, editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 15, 1957, edition of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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King Street West, looking west. Construction of the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is visible at northwest corner of York St & King St. W., Toronto, Ont. Photo by Ted Chirnside, 1956. Toronto Public Library, 2001-2-366.

A shot of the Lord Simcoe under construction. Note the old Globe and Mail building on the right.

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Globe and Mail, May 14, 1957.

To mark the hotel’s opening, the Globe and Mail published six pages of advertorials on May 15, 1957 highlighting the construction process, the companies involved in construction, decoration, and financing, and the artists who produced the decor. Hotel officials declared that the Lord Simcoe was “as Canadian as maple syrup.”

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957.

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Globe and Mail, May 15, 1957

Among the statistics noted in the Globe and Mail‘s preview:

  • Housekeeping tallied 4,664 pillows, 10,200 single bed sheets, 1,500 double bed sheets, 7,200 pillow slips, 2,650 blankets, 10,000 bath towels, and 3,000 bath mats
  • 5,000 tablecloths with the hotel crest were produced for the dining areas, which were also supplied with over 20,000 pieces of flatware and over 60,000 pieces of china
  • Artist Maxwell Moffett designed over 300 snowflakes for the a series of seven decorative panels
  • 850 bibles were handed over by the Gideon Society “in a simple but dedicated ceremony”

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“Mr. Ambassador for Metro’s Welcome a Visitor Week, Eddie James Grogan, doorman at the Lord Simcoe Hotel, is congratulated by James Auld, Ontario minister of tourism and information, who pinned a silver medal on his chest for the style he uses in making visitors feel right at home.” Photo by Jeff Goode, originally appeared in the June 16, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0127985f.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1970.

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Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star, February 28, 1980.

What stands out in several of the post-mortems of the Lord Simcoe was its shoddy construction. “The trouble with the Lord Simcoe wasn’t that you could hear the people in the next room. It was that you could hear people five rooms away,” recalled Gordon Pimm, whose father-in-law was one of the hotel’s main financial backers. When demolition began in 1980, vibrations from the wrecking equipment caused chunks of stone to fall from the building. Special overhangs were erected to prevent stone from falling onto King Street.

Trash Talk

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 27, 2009.

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Island garbage collection hand trucks, September 16, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 70, Item 315.

As the current municipal strike nears the end of its first week, garbage remains the talk of the town. As Torontonians break through the plastic wrap placed around bins and protest sites chosen as temporary trash depots, letter pages and website comment sections fill with gripes and suggestions on how to handle those responsible for ensuring our garbage is taken care of. Since the first container of local refuse was carted away, city residents have publicly aired in the press their praise and scorn for those collecting our trash.

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Horse-drawn garbage wagon, April 23, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 70, Item 518.

A letter from “Consulting Sanitary Engineer” Edwin Newsome that appeared in the April 25, 1928 edition of the Star provided suggestions on how to improve garbage pickup for residents and workers. We suspect that Mr. Newsome would burst with pride if he saw how some of his ideas came to fruition:

Our collection of garbage is about as filthy a method as could be humanly conceived. The filthy fluids, rotten vegetable matter, dirty paper is seen along our streets after the garbage man has been round is simply disgusting, as well as being the very reverse to healthful. A householder puts out cans of garbage well wrapped up. Cans with covers on. Dogs come round, upset the cans, and the garbage man does the best he can to clean up. But he has too much ground to cover. The wagons or carts used are a joke. They are no more fit for the purpose than is a kiddy’s car with a perforated bottom in it…What we in Toronto need is first a new garbage collection system including incineration, reclamation and by-production plants. We need standard garbage cans, these to be made by the city and delivered in numbers necessary to each householder’s requirement, each householder being charged the cost of cans left in the first place…I consider [garbage men] nothing less than public benefactors. It makes me ill when I think of those fellows lifting all kinds of receptacles up over shoulder height and dumping the filthy garbage into carts. What about a few ratepayers getting busy and starting something, not always leaving everything to our city fathers.

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CNE garbage collection, c. 1951. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 563.

From the April 27, 1950 edition of the Star, praise for those hauling the loads away from the east end of the city:

Sir: After reading complaints about garbage men I would just like to give the men who pick up the garbage on Condor Ave. a well-merited word of praise. They are always pleasant and as I had occasion to put out the usual winter accumulation of cellar junk today I would just like to say I found all of it collected and my cans left neatly covered. I think perhaps if we take a little time to give credit when deserved the men might feel their efforts a little more worthwhile. HOUSEWIFE

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Garbage collection, 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1359.

Any bets as to how many angry comments, shows of support or unfinished rants due to a rage-fuelled heart attack would be spurred nowadays by this letter from the December 17, 1954 “Voice of the People” page of the Star?

Sir: I hope you can find space to print this complaint and I am sure all garbage men will agree with me. To the public we are only classed as garbage men. But if it weren’t for us, what condition would our municipality get into? What would it look like? How many men are there that will handle garbage and work outside in every kind of weather—snow, slush, mud, wind, rain and all that goes with it. And what thanks do we get for it? We have to climb stairs and fight our way into the middle of lawns through snowbanks to get the garbage cans. Yet who is forgotten at Christmas? The garbage man, of course, the man that walks all day. If people would only realize that the garbage man is very important, then they would make things easier for us to work with. GARBAGE MAN

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Garbage cans, circa 1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 72, Subseries 100, Item 705 (left), Item 704 (right).

“Garbage Man” provoked one response with a slight tinge of jealousy from a writer who also identified themself solely by their occupation, which was published on Christmas Eve:

Sir: I am answering the letter of Garbage Man, He complains of working in all kinds of weather and that his is a thankless job. Yet he works only 40 hours a week and is well paid for it. Just think of the poor gasoline service station attendant who works a lot more than 40 hours a week in mud, slush, rain and snow, and is not as well paid for it. His gratuities are less than those of garbage men. Well-to-do customers, and garbage men too, come in for $2 worth of gas and they want their oil, battery, radiator and tires checked free. On top of that they want their windshields wiped off. I don’t think the garbage man is so badly off. ATTENDANT

Further responses from the likes of short-order cooks, parking-lot cashiers, grocery baggers, and bowling-alley pin boys failed to materialize.

UPDATE

The strike ended on July 27. Leaving a deep well of resentment among the public, its impact would have made it difficult for David Miller to be re-elected had he not dropped out of the 2010 mayoral race. In 2011, garbage collection west of Yonge Street was contracted out to GFL. Talk of privatizing the remainder of the city’s pickups has been a recurring topic over the past decade.

Trash Panda Thursday: “City No Spot for Raccoons”

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Toronto Star, May 22, 1952.

The trio’s temporary home, Merton Street Gospel Mission, was a non-denominational church which stood at 399 Merton from 1899 to 1970. The site is currently commemorated with a parkette and historical plaque.

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Toronto Star, August 13, 1952.

Meanwhile, from the same year, news of raccoons in the hinterlands…

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Valentine’s Day Sampler

Valentine’s Day

Originally published on Torontoist on February 11, 2015.

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The Globe, February 8, 1928.

Valentine’s Day: a time to demonstrate one’s appreciation for others, to profess one’s love, and to write florid verse and purple prose in the name of Cupid. Celebrating love on February 14 (or surrounding days, if it fell on Sunday) has been a long, profitable tradition for Torontonians.

One of the earliest commentaries we found was a Globe editorial published in 1858. The elevated prose that publisher George Brown and his writers used forces modern readers to refer to a dictionary. For example, booksellers offering Valentine’s Day stationery were “bibliopoles,” a term we’re waiting for an enterprising young entrepreneur to use any day now. A sample of the Globe’s thoughts:

Our bibliopoles have right diligently done their part to secure the due celebration of the mysteries pertaining to this time-honoured festival. For weeks have the counters and windows of their marts have been profusely garnished with amatory missives, exhibiting all the canonical adornments peculiar to such documents. Dan Cupid there drives teems of harnessed doves, as he was wont to do when “our auld cloak was new,” and smirking couples wend their way “ankle deep in flowers” towards rural churches climaxed with tiny spires suggestive of toothpicks.

20150211flowersThe Globe, February 12, 1931.

By 1862, Toronto’s post office processed 3,500 valentines on February 14. Though rumours suggested sending greetings was passé, stationers reported strong sales, especially among high-end products. “Those of a comic character were sold in large quantities, but the great demand was for those with embossed edges, varying from a quarter to five dollars,” the Globe observed. “The post office was crowded with the fair sex all day; and the smiles on their faces, as they left, showed that their swains had generally done the proper thing.”

During the Victorian era, the degeneration of valentines into cards with grotesque, insensitive jokes was heavily criticized. Cheaper cards replaced sentiment with insults and, the Globe reported in 1889, “the effect upon the unfortunate receiver must be like that of a quart of dishwater thrown from some unseen window.” A valentine sent to a pharmacist might insinuate he was a quack, while a young woman might receive a card inferring she had loose morals. “It is not good even for children to be the carriers of insults the full meaning of which they do not understand.”

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The Globe, February 10, 1933.

Sentimentality was back in fashion when the Great Depression hit. As the economy tanked, caring thoughts and tender reassurances written in valentines provided solace. Around 150,000 valentines were distributed by Toronto mail carriers on Valentine’s Day 1930. The Globe glimpsed the feeling around the city that year:

Sweethearts are giving expressions to their affection in generous measure today and they are “saying it” with valentines. Perchance it is but a dainty card or folder, charmingly embellished with lace and cupids and intriguing bits of verse, and again the valentine may take the form of a basket of red roses or heart-shaped boxes of candies. Twilight last evening fell upon a city seething with excitement akin to that one finds on Christmas Eve, with book stores, candy shops, and florists crowded with young men with dreamy eyes, and thoughtful husbands.

Additional material from the February 13, 1858, February 15, 1862, February 14, 1889, and February 14, 1930 editions of the Globe.

Valentine’s Day ’54

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Toronto Star, February 12, 1954.

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, a day of happy lovers and happier chocolate purveyors. Back in 1954, two of the city’s larger candy chains filled the newspapers with ads showing off their sweet suggestions. Beyond wolfing down bonbons, what else could sweethearts do that year?

There was the option of more food. Culinary columnists provided their ideas for suitable meals and treats for lovebirds to make at home, which would have helpful in 1954 as Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday, a day when entertainment options outside the home were limited. The Telegram proposed a full buffet consisting of baked Virginia ham, sweet potato casserole, tossed salad, French bread, cranberry/celery salad, iced relishes, and Cherries Jubilee with ice cream. This spread may have been a plot to fill up diners so much that they wouldn’t be in the mood for any monkey business later on. Margaret Carr of the Toronto Star offered up a strawberry-almond mould loaded with gelatin, ladyfingers, and “frills of whipped cream” that may have stimulated a few lovers. The Globe and Mail determined that a one-bowl orange cake was appropriate, as long as one mixed the batter with six hundred spoon strokes—three hundred before the eggs were added, three hundred after. One stroke too many and both the cake and the romance would be ruined.

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The Telegram, February 11, 1954.

If you were unable to come up with a poem to deliver to your Valentine, editorial pages came to the rescue, especially if you were as negligent in delivering your wishes as the protagonist of the Star’s offering, Len G. Selle’s Valentine:

Oh, lovely girl who reads this verse
Think not I am unwise;
I know the softness of your hair
The languer in your eyes.
The laughter of your “rosebud mouth”
And “teeth like pearls”—I guess;
It just remains, my love, for you
To send me your address.

Ah, what a novel scheme this is
To win a Valentine,
To advertise my heart’s desire
At nothing flat a line?
But breathing on my shoulder
Is my last important date…
Alas, this little Valentine
Is twenty years too late!

At the University of Toronto, University College co-eds celebrated by re-enacting Valentine rituals from 1754. These included pinning bay leaves on pillows to ensure any sweethearts dreamed of would be yours within a year, a performance of a play that used creepy masks, and writing names of suitors on slips of paper, rolling them in clay, and dropping them in a jar of water, with the first to float indicating the lucky man.
Modern rituals were the focus of the Telegram’s “Teen Talk” column, where Cynthia Williams offered advice:

Are you trying to woo and win the lady of your choice? Are you trying to get rid of a dope who has been stalking your steps for the past six months? Now’s your chance! Ready-made! But here’s a pointer, boys, if you do want to be popular. The girl, or girls, in your life might not be expecting a card, but believe me, you’ll be number one boy if you remember to send one! And girls, I did get a few of the boys to admit that they were kind of flattered if they got cards, even unsigned ones, that piqued their curiosity!

No mention was made of what a small gift of chocolates could do.

Additional material from the February 11, 1954 and February 12, 1954 editions of the Globe and Mail, the February 13, 1954 edition of the Telegram, and the February 9, 1954 and February 13, 1954 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Two of the recipes mentioned in this story…

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Toronto Star, February 9, 1954.

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Globe and Mail, February 12, 1954.

More Power To Your East End Food Dollar

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on November 29, 2008.

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Power Supermarket, 1953. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 496.

November 12, 1953: shoppers descended on Danforth Avenue a few doors west of Woodbine to await the grand opening of the eighth store in the budget-conscious Power supermarket chain. Care to join the crowd and check out the offers in aisle three?

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Advertisement, Toronto Star, November 11, 1953.

The Power chain’s origins dated to 1904, when Samuel and Sarah Weinstein opened a grocery store named after themselves near present-day Bay and Dundas. The family’s first store under the low-cost Power banner opened at Coxwell and Danforth in 1933 with the slogan “Why Pay for Fixtures?” The same year that 2055 Danforth Avenue opened, Power was purchased by Loblaw Groceterias but maintained a distinct identity and independent marketing policies. Samuel and Sarah’s son Leon ran the company by this point and eventually served as president of Loblaws from 1968 to 1970.

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Power Supermarket, 1953. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 498.

The grand opening ad was posted by the front door. Staff and dignitaries were photographed as they pondered how to cut the ribbon before letting shoppers in. Scissors? Knife? A quick chop with the flower bouquet?

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Power Supermarket, 1953. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 499.

These bag boys were primed to start packing away purchases. Current city officials would be proud of the paper bags on display.

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Power Supermarket, 1953. City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1057, item 500.

The Power name faded away during reorganizations of Loblaws store banners in the 1970s. The company still operates at least two of the locations listed in the grand opening ad as No Frills stores (Parliament Street and Eglinton Avenue West), while the Sunnybrook Plaza store now operates as a Pharma Plus. As for 2055 Danforth…

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…it sits vacant, surrounded by a fence bearing “no trespassing” signs.

Additional material from the June 18, 1968 edition of the Globe and Mail.

UPDATE

The site was eventually filled in and, as of winter 2019, is occupied at street level by a Firkin pub.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1960-11-25 sam weinstein profile Toronto Star, November 25, 1960.

A profile of the Weinstein family. The date given for the launch of Loblaws is a little off – it was 1919, not 1921.

Beyond the grocery business, Leon Weinstein was urged to run for the Liberals as a Toronto mayoral candidate in 1969, as I recounted in this excerpt from a Historicist column on that campaign:

The Liberals were eager to enter the municipal ring, figuring that their dominance of the city’s federal seats could translate into votes at City Hall. The party’s efforts at securing a potential mayoral candidate were headed by Davey, who spent most of the year (unsuccessfully) on the prowl. Longstanding councillors with ties to the party resisted and vowed to remain independent candidates to earn as many votes as possible—as former controller and mayor Allan Lamport put it, “why should I put on a party label and alienate the other fellows?” Splits among federal and provincial party officials about the wisdom of entering municipal politics did not help the process. The process of choosing a mayoral candidate turned the party’s convention at St. Lawrence Hall on September 23 into a fiasco. Early in the evening, three people were nominated, including a thirty-one year-old political scientist named Stephen Clarkson. Among those in the crowd was Loblaws Groceterias president Leon Weinstein, who was whisked away into a separate room and urged to run. Through a series of misunderstandings, Weinstein agreed on the condition that he would be the only candidate to be nominated, which wasn’t the case. After much confusion, during which Weinstein’s was submitted for the ballot minutes before nominations closed and Davey attempted to convince Clarkson to drop out, Weinstein took the podium. He announced that he wasn’t interested in the job then left the room, reportedly in tears—Globe and Mail reporter Michael Enright summed up Weinstein’s night as “a walking study in political innocence.” Clarkson fell short of a majority by two votes on the first ballot, but his remaining challengers decided to throw in the towel and back him. Clarkson’s victory drew a tepid reaction and many of the attendees felt disillusioned with party brass.

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Globe and Mail, December 9, 1966, Click on image for larger version.

Can you find where Power fit in the giant flow chart of companies partly or fully by Loblaws and the Weston family in the mid-1960s?