Vintage Toronto Ads: Got the Aluminum Munchies?

Originally published on Torontoist on November 22, 2011.


Saturday Night, November 21, 1959.

There are many things we could write about today’s ad beyond the cheery optimism about aluminum that permeated the era’s industrial advertising. Why is the man opening the refrigerator grabbing a milk bottle instead of an alcoholic beverage? What is the man in front contemplating besides the eggs in his aluminum electric frying pan? Are these men co-workers, friends, or a couple?

But we suspect some readers will zero in on the fine aluminum product the chef holds in his hand: a Hostess potato chip bag. Years before the snack food maker dispatched the Munchies to lure in consumers, an aluminum foil bag promising fresh, flavourful chips was enough to seduce a hungry fellow. Whether he bought the chips at the supermarket or received it as a sample in the mail, their crispy, greasy goodness was enough to keep him satisfied for a few minutes.



Remembering Hazel on the Humber

Originally published on Torontoist on October 18, 2011.


The Telegram, October 16, 1954.

To those living along the Humber River, the heavy rainfall predicted for October 15, 1954, wasn’t cause for alarm. It had been a rainy month, so what difference would another storm make? But Hurricane Hazel‘s impact was anything but normal. As the storm dumped more than seven inches of rain on Metropolitan Toronto, the Humber rose until it crested at a height of 21 feet. The strong currents of the swollen river, combined with driving rain and heavy wind, destroyed homes that were foolishly built near its banks. When the debris was cleared, the toll was high: $100 million in damage, streets permanently washed away, and 81 people dead.

As journalist Betty Kennedy once observed, “Hazel was not one story. It was a thousand stories to be told in the mosaic of hundreds of events and incidents over a broad Ontario landscape.” Some of those stories came to light on a guided walk along a section of the Humber on Sunday organized by urban forest advocacy group LEAF. Approximately 30 people observed the lingering impact of the storm on its 57th anniversary with the guidance of LEAF’s Amanda Gomm, Gaspar Horvath of the Black Creek Conservation Project of Toronto, and Madeleine McDowell of the Humber Heritage Committee.


Part of the retaining wall built along the Humber River below Baby Point.

The walk began below the Old Mill Bridge, which survived the storm, though its approaches were washed away. The river was dotted with fishermen hoping to catch an Atlantic salmon or two. Among the groups that reintroduced that species to the Humber earlier this year is the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), an organization that is one of the storm’s greatest legacies. The death and destruction caused when homes recently built along the banks of the Humber were swept away during the hurricane caused local officials to rethink any development along the region’s ravines and waterways. The result was the protection of areas we now enjoy as parks and trails and the consolidation of several small conservation bodies into the TRCA.

Trees that survived Hurricane Hazel later ran into other catastrophes. Horvath brought the group to an open mound where a 200-year-old elm tree, which McDowell demonstrated three people could hug the base of, once stood. Though the tree withstood the force of the hurricane, it fell victim to the Dutch Elm disease that attacked the region during the 1960s. Several stops along the route showed the reforestation efforts of the past half-century, including Manitoba Maples that can sprout anywhere and a skinny Northern Red Oak that has persevered in regenerating its trunk each year despite being buried under ice and snow in winter.


The Old Mill Bridge.

McDowell stopped near the site where five Etobicoke firemen lost their lives during the storm to point out how high the water rose. After a day filled with calls about flooded basements that were referred to the local works department, a truck was dispatched to assist a car stalled by the river. The eight-man crew was followed by another fireman, whose car was smashed into the fire truck by the rising water. As the road washed out and the water continued to rise, three of the firemen clung to the truck and tried to throw ropes out to their colleagues in a failed attempt to rescue them. The truck was found days later downstream by the Old Mill Bridge—though its radio was still functional, the ladders had torn off and the engine hood was crushed in. A quarter of a century later, a fossil hunt uncovered one of the firemen’s axes. Later on in the walk, McDowell pointed out a stone retaining wall built under Baby Point to help control the flow of the river in case of future Hazel-like storms.


Gaspar Horvath of the Black Creek Conservation Project shows the walkers narrow tree rings that may be a legacy of Hurricane Hazel.

As the journey neared its end, the group entered the woods near the entrance of Magwood Park to look at the remnant of a recently cut oak tree whose rings were visible. Horvath had examined the rings and noticed those that grew within a few years of the hurricane were narrower than normal. Though he couldn’t conclusively prove the tree’s growth struggles during that period were due to the effects of the storm, the timing is too close to rule out the possibility.

Seeing the long-range effects of a catastrophic storm on the landscape during the walk made us ponder what might happen if a storm on the scale of Hurricane Hazel struck modern Toronto. While efforts to curb development along sensitive areas and control the flow of waterways would prevent a repeat of some of the damage wrought in 1954, we suspect we’d see local media dominated by images of sinking roads, collapsed bridges, and cars washing off the Don Valley Parkway.

Additional material from Hurricane Hazel by Betty Kennedy (Toronto: Macmillan, 1979).

Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 1, 2011.


A photo montage showing what a monorail might have looked like at Bay and Bloor. The Telegram, April 29, 1958.

You’ve heard all the jokes and Simpsons references related to Doug Ford’s vision of a Toronto monorail, his grandiose derailment of Waterfront Toronto’s development plans. But Ford is not the first Etobicoke-based politician to be mesmerized by the possibilities of single-rail travel. From the 1950s onwards, civic officials from the former township have participated in schemes ranging from a monorail system within Etobicoke General Hospital to an above-ground link between Union Station and the airport. One flirtation with single-rail technology that Etobicoke civic officials helped promote with their suburban peers, though, had it ever become reality, would have resulted in a monorail being installed along Bloor Street, instead of a subway line.


Vernon Singer, Reeve of North York 1957–1958. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 251, Item 1.

For an idea that ultimately stunk to City of Toronto officials, it’s appropriate that the inspiration came at a sewer convention. North York Reeve Vernon Singer was attending a sewage conference in Dallas in early 1958 when he wandered off to the local fairgrounds. He was mesmerized by the short monorail line that had attracted visitors to the site for the past two years. Back at the convention, Singer told fellow Metro Toronto councillors Chris Tonks (the reeve of York Township) and Charles R. Bush (an Etobicoke representative) about his discovery. The politicians met a publicist for the system’s manufacturer, Monorail Inc., who dazzled them as Lyle Lanley wowed the citizens of Springfield. Especially impressive was the construction cost: $1 million per mile. Given the trio’s reservations about the estimated $200 million cost for an east-west subway along Bloor Street, a monorail that could be built for peanuts was highly appealing.

gm 58-04-29 photos

Globe and Mail, April 29, 1958.

Once they returned to Canada, Singer and Tonks demanded that Metro Toronto council conduct a full investigation into the benefits of monorail before giving final approval for a Bloor subway. While Tonks believed it would be “deplorable” if his demand wasn’t met, TTC Chairman Allan Lamport wasn’t so sure. “Lampy” told the Star that he thought “a couple of high-priced salesmen have been advising some amateurs.” He believed any monorail on Bloor would be “an ugly roller coaster,” that it didn’t make sense for Toronto to build an elevated rail line when cities like Chicago and New York were tearing portions of theirs down, and that estimates that 60,000 passengers would be transported each hour were only possible if multiple lines were built. Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner shared Lamport’s reservations, as transit consultants advised him to stay away from monorails—cars swayed in the wind, switching cars off line was time consuming, and promises of high speeds had never been realised. It also became clear that the $1 million per mile estimate only applied to building the tracks, not to costs like securing rights-of-way, demolitions, and building supporting structures like pillars.

tely 58-05-01 editorial

Editorial, the Telegram, May 1, 1958.

Singer and Tonks pushed ahead. They arranged to meet with Monorail Inc. president Murel Goodell at Singer’s downtown law office on May 3, 1958. This move outraged Gardiner and other councillors who felt the reeves lacked the authority to hold a meeting that seemed designed to stall the subway. As Singer and Tonks had “got us into a mess,” Gardiner insisted that the meeting be opened to other local bureaucrats. Tonks consulted his “respect for taxpayers” playbook and told the press that if Lamport didn’t show up, “it will be a slight on the endeavours of those trying to save the taxpayers from a huge expenditure.”

Around noon on May 2, Singer talked to Goodell on the phone and warned the Texas businessman to be ready for a fight. Goodell claimed he was a fighter. Four hours later, a telegram arrived from Goodell indicating that he wasn’t coming to Toronto. “We agreed to meet you in a small, informal session,” the wire read. “We are not ready for any official meeting without first a thorough investigation plus conferences with our experts and your local authorities on what Monorail can do in Toronto.”

So much for being a fighter.


The Telegram, May 3, 1958.

Gardiner was furious. He called the cancelled meeting “the biggest municipal flop in years.” All of the daily newspapers had editorialized against monorails, with the severest attacks appearing in the Star. The paper believed Goodell chickened out when he was “unprepared to face a stiff quizzing by men who know their business” and regretted not seeing Gardiner and TTC officials tear into him.

The fiasco didn’t deter Singer, Tonks, and Etobicoke reeve H.O. Waffle from introducing a motion at the next Metro council meeting to “make immediate arrangements” for a study. As the Telegram put it, they seemed to have “one-track minds” which “refused to be thrown off the track.” To the reeves’ amazement, Metro council voted 9 to 8 on May 6, 1958 in favour of further study. Over the next month, pro- and anti-monorail supporters gathered their evidence for a June 17 meeting.

But the pro-monorail forces underestimated Frederick Gardiner. Unbeknownst to the rest of Metro council, Gardiner commissioned A.V. Roe’s Avro Aircraft division to study the use of monorails within Metro Toronto. Like the TTC, Avro felt monorails had no place in heavily built-up areas. Where they might work was in the suburbs, especially along CN’s rail line from Union Station to Malton Airport. Besides offering speedy service to passengers heading between the landmarks, such a line could also have provided commuter service between downtown, Weston, and Rexdale, and hooked into the subway system at Union and the proposed Dundas West stations. That such a line would also service Avro’s aircraft and engine plants in Malton could have only been coincidental. The report estimated construction would cost $76 million.

wtg 58-05-08 monorails work

Weston Times and Guide, May 8, 1958.

Several councillors were outraged, as Gardiner refused to let them see Avro’s report in the name of confidentiality. Despite censure for his actions, Gardiner emerged victorious when a motion for further study into monorail as public transit, which would have delayed a final subway approval vote by 60 days, was defeated 15 to 8. The Avro report was eventually released to council and the Bloor subway line got its go-ahead. While consideration was given to a Union-Malton monorail for a couple of months, the plan was rejected by the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board that September. A direct rail link from downtown to the airport would remain at the dream stage for years to come. Monorails were envisioned for sites like Exhibition Place and the Toronto Islands, but the line that operated at the Toronto Zoo from 1976 to 1994 was the only one that made it off the drawing board.

Will Doug Ford’s dream of a waterfront monorail come true? The city’s history says don’t bet on it.

Additional material from the Avro Aircraft Limited Report on Monorail (Toronto: A.V. Roe, 1958) and the following newspapers: the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 3, 1958, May 6, 1958, and June 18, 1958 editions of the Globe and Mail; the April 29, 1958, April 30, 1958, May 1, 1958, and May 3, 1958 editions of the Toronto Star; and the May 3, 1958 edition of the Telegram.


Like other hare-brained ideas which emerged from either Ford brother, no waterfront monorail is on the horizon as of early 2018. Re-reading this piece, it’s interesting the note how Avro’s vision of a monorail service between Union Station and Malton sounds a little like the UP Express train (though they’re still working on a proper connection with Dundas West subway station).

Vintage Toronto Ads: It’s New Nescafé Week!

Originally published on Torontoist on August 16, 2011.


The Telegram, May 13, 1957.

Yes, it was great news for Toronto coffee drinkers that week in 1957 when New Nescafé arrived in town. Few were more excited than Mrs. Dorothy Smith of Don Mills, who was quickly hooked by the instant java’s “flavour bonus.” She quickly canvassed her neighbours to see who would turn over their unwanted coupons and samples to feed her rapidly growing addiction. Her children watched bemusedly as she grew more wide-eyed and jittery and babbled each morning about needing more “rich, mellow flavour.” As the week wore on, it was clear that the 18 jars she carefully lined across her kitchen shelf and posed in front of for Mr. Smith’s camera weren’t going to last long.


The Telegram, May 15, 1957.

The cashier at Mrs. Smith’s preferred Dominion store grew increasingly alarmed as the homemaker’s smile widened each time she checked out, until it developed a frightening permanence like that crazy Joker fellow in Batman comics. By the end of New Nescafé Week, Mrs. Smith parked herself at the front door, begging incoming customers turn over their coupons to her. The store manager took Mrs. Smith aside and told her she was no longer permitted to buy New Nescafé on his premises. Showing concern for her plight, he offered her a free case of Postum coffee substitute to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Thanks to her friendly grocer, Mrs. Smith soon recovered her wits and ability to frown, and spent most of the following week in bed catching up on lost sleep.

Whatever Happened to Peggy Atwood?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2011.


Margaret Atwood’s high school yearbook; Clan Call, 1956–1957 edition.

As people continue to joke about Margaret Atwood running for mayor, we feel it is our duty as a responsible media outlet to scope out the potential candidate’s early influences. And so we bring you the above, from her high school yearbook. (We’d love to hear what “Peggy”’s “Reindeer Romp” jingle sounded like.)

It turns out that by the time she departed the halls of Leaside High, Atwood had decided that writing was in her future:

Up to 1956, I’d thought I was going to be a botanist, or, at the very least, a Home Economist…There was nothing at Leaside High School to indicate to me that writing was even a possibility for a young person in Canada in the twentieth century. We did study authors, it’s true, but they were neither Canadian nor alive…I contemplated journalism school; but women, I was told, were not allowed to write anything but obituaries and the ladies’ page; and although some of my critics seem to be under the impression that this is what I ended up writing, I felt that something broader was in order. University, in short, where I might at least learn to spell.


Clan Call, 1957–1958 edition.

Atwood learned more than spelling via her scholarships. By the time she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961, she had published her first collection of poetry, Double Persephone. With the release of her first novel, The Edible Woman, in 1969, Atwood was pursing her teenage quest to write “THE Canadian novel” in earnest. Library patrons can judge whether she achieved that goal.

Additional material from The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood edited by Coral Ann Howells (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).



How did I get my hands on these yearbooks?

I inherited them from my father, who was in grade 9 during Atwood’s final year. I’m guessing they had zero interaction.

While the grads received full-on profiles, younger students weren’t left out of the fun. In class photos, each kid got a one-liner. My dad’s was “Spends his English periods counting footprints on the ceiling.” Which is funny given (a) I recall him saying he despised one of his English teachers, (b) the massive library he would assemble, and (c) he wound up teaching English decades later.

Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2011.


Cover of The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2004), which includes the first strips seen in Toronto newspapers. Cover design by Seth.

“DYNAMITE NEW SPAN 6-LANES NEVER USED,” screamed the headline atop the November 15, 1954 edition of the Telegram. While extensive water damage from Hurricane Hazel to an unopened Highway 401 bridge over the Humber River required TNT to tear down the buckled structure, the story at the bottom of the front page introduced readers to a new feature in the paper that proved equally dynamite: a comic strip that exploded into the hearts of readers in Toronto and around the world.

Among the new features—introduced under the headline “To Make Your Reading Easier The Telegram Presents A New Look”—were two comic strips making their local debut. Though the paper promised Marmaduke would “keep you in chuckles,” it has long been debated whether Brad Anderson’s chronicles of a giant dog was ever comical. The second strip tickled more funny bones: “On the first page of the second section appears a new comic series Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. Mr. Schulz has created a weird and wacky world inhabited by small children and an improbable dog that makes a very different type of comic strip.”


The Telegram, November 15, 1954.

A fuller profile of Peanuts and its creator appeared inside the paper. The strip’s name “refers, not to baseball’s favourite accompaniment, but to children—the funny (peculiar and humorous) children who populate this strip, already popular in other countries.” The article neglects to mention that Schulz hated the title Peanuts, which was devised by his syndicate after the name of an earlier strip he drew, Li’l Folks, was subjected to a copyright claim by the creator of a defunct 1930s strip. As Schulz once noted, “Whenever I am asked about the origin of the name ‘Peanuts,’ I always manage to slip in a little dig that it is the worst name ever thought of for a comic strip…It was undignified, inappropriate and confusing.”

tely 54-11-15 peanuts marmaduke ad

The Telegram, November 15, 1954. 

Readers were told that they would meet a “band of children whose reactions to everyday occurrences are half-childish, half-adult, part-philosophical and wholly amusing.” The cast was still evolving when Telegram readers first met the gang: Linus had ceased to be a toddler, Pig-Pen had debuted earlier that summer, the short-lived Charlotte Braun yelled a lot, and characters like Peppermint Patty, Sally, and Woodstock were years away from appearing.

The first regular strip, which ran underneath stories about the Queen Mother’s visit to Ottawa and Prince Charles’ sixth birthday, saw Lucy counting the number of suns in the sky. When Charlie Brown explains that it’s the same sun that occasionally hides behind clouds, she tears into him (“and I suppose that same sun stays lit ALL day long?”) before declaring he “must be getting more stupid every day.” Good ol’ Charlie Brown moans about his stomach in response.

Readers didn’t retch though: Peanuts remained a key element of the Telegram until the paper’s demise in 1971. Rights were picked up by the Star, where reruns continued after Schulz’s death in 2000.

Additional material from You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! by Charles M. Schulz (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Re-Discover Old Dutch Cleanser!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 17, 2011.


Maclean’s, February 15, 1952.

Mrs. Bishop found so many uses for Old Dutch cleanser that she spent a little too much time inhaling the fragrant cleaning product. That the Old Dutch girl is running off the can is not a touch of artistic whimsy; it’s the first symptom of the hallucinations Mrs. Bishop experienced three hours into her cleaning chores. We hope that the cleanser’s mascot didn’t slip on the freshly scrubbed floor in her haste to hug Mrs. Bishop.

We also suspect that Mrs. Bishop and her lovely home were invented by the ad writer. We flipped through our bedside copy of MapArt’s Toronto & Area street atlas and couldn’t find any road in the GTA named “The Oaks.” Google Maps points us to Four Oaks Gate, a residential street near Don Mills Road and O’Connor. The closest current address we could find is an apartment in the Bain Co-op complex (known as Riverdale Courts when this ad was published). If this ad was reaching out to one of Canada’s earliest social housing complexes, we applaud Old Dutch, but we suspect Mrs. Bishop was living in a tonier neighbourhood.

As for the address to which Mrs. Bishop would have sent her Old Dutch labels to purchase the beautiful hostess set, it is now a vacant lot north of the footbridge that links Dundas Street West to the upper end of the Junction Triangle.