A Motherly Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2008.

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Since it was built in 1887, the Alexandrina Block on College Street west of Spadina has seen numerous tenants come and go, including The Bagel music venue. Among its current elements is a 1970s-style sign promising over a dozen variety of submarine sandwiches. Those hoping for a retro experience will be disappointed as all that remains of the self-proclaimed “Rolls Royce of submarines” is the sign, fully intact and party covered by a tree.

The earliest media mention we can find for Mothers a dining guide in the June 3, 1972 edition of Star Week, which gave Mothers four stars out of four (tying it with the only survivor in the $5-$10 category, The Coffee Mill). “Mothers serves a Super-Sub sandwich for $1.35. It could use a little more oregano, but otherwise it’s the closest thing we’ve found in Toronto to the Philadelphia hoagie or New York hero. Hero-worshippers please take note.”

While Mothers may have been lacking in the oregano department, it did offer a unique delivery vehicle to back up its slogan: a Volkswagen Beetle modified to resemble a Rolls Royce. Such conversions were a fad during the period, with surviving examples including one owned by Liberace on display at his museum in Las Vegas. According to co-owner Howard Waxberg in a January 1974 interview with Toronto Life, “it cost us $450 to have the body work done, and then we had to get it painted—maybe $600 altogether.” The main problem with the car was finding suitable parts, especially after an accident damaged the first front grill. Waxberg felt that the vehicle “was the best advertising money we’ve spent. It’s fantastic to drive the thing. People look at you, laugh, point, stop you and ask questions, like ‘What is that?’”

A question now asked by pedestrians passing the sign.

UPDATE

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The Mothers sign gradually faded away. First one side was replaced by a sign for another business. As of July 2019, only the frame remains.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Mothers Sandwich Shoppes–note the fancier spelling–was revisited by Star Week circa November 1977. The following review, which gave it 2-1/2 stars (out of three I’m guessing, since all of the restaurants listed were given either 2-1/2 or 3 star ratings) ran for nearly a year-and-a-half:

Americans say Canadians have no idea what a submarine sandwich really is. That is with one exception–the owners of Mothers are reputed to make versions more than acceptable to even the sophisticated “sub” palate. Hot steak sandwiches and veal sandwiches are salso served.

At this point, there were also locations at 44 Eglinton Avenue West (at Duplex) and 826 Yonge Street (at Cumberland).

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Want some solitaire with your sub? Photo by Neil Graham, Globe and Mail, February 23, 1993.

By 1993, Mothers served up subs and computer parts. From the February 23, 1993 Globe and Mail:

Staff need a certain amount of versatility to work at Honson Computer Corp. and Mother’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Toronto. When the lunch hour hits, employees scramble back and forth between helping customers pick out computer systems and serving up tangy meatball sandwiches on thick, crusty rolls. The combination computer store and lunch counter is one of the more unusual manifestations of a trend in computer distribution and retailing: most people in the business of selling computers are looking for way to hedge their bets.

According to owner Peter Lee, the key to surviving in the computer business was finding a way to cover your overhead.

In Mr. Lee’s case that meant broadening into chicken soup, french fries, and corned beef on rye. Mr. Lee had operated Honson Computer near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus for six years when the recession hit. Looking for a way to cut costs he took over Mother’s Sandwich Shop next door and piled his computer boxes and demonstration models alongside the long, wooden booths and orange plastic tabletops. Mr. Lee said he makes less than $100 profit on a $2,000 computer system. A sandwich, on the other hand, yields about 100 percent profit.

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.

Toronto Sun Columnists on the Wrong Side of History Through the Ages

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2017.

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Toronto Sun, November 9, 1980.

In a response to a reader question on Twitter earlier this week provoked by Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah’s comments on the Quebec City mosque shooting, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale described the Sun as publishing, beyond a decent sports section and solid tabloid-style news coverage, “the country’s worst opinion writers.” While readers can debate Dale’s use of “worst,” the current crop of Sun columnists continues a long tradition of deliberately provocative writing that has shaped the paper since its inception in 1971.

It’s a tradition that hasn’t always landed on the right side of history. To be fair, flipping through the back pages of any newspaper exhumes opinions which would be questionable today. Skeletons among the Toronto press range from George Brown’s attacks on Irish immigrants during the early days of the Globe to unflattering descriptions of minorities in the Star which matched the prejudices of the day.

But the Sun has always stood out for its unapologetic view of the world, which grew from cockiness as the new kid on the block and its ability to connect with its conservative readership. It played upon fears of outsiders, and earned its stripes as a dedicated Cold Warrior by labeling opponents as evil Communists/Marxists/socialists/bleeding hearts/etc.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Sun’s biases regarding anyone who wasn’t white provoked consternation among minority groups, which nearly caused the City to pull its advertising from the paper. An extensive report by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations published in 1987 pulled few punches in its analysis of the paper’s stances: “The sheer volume of racial stereotypes, racism, scapegoating, and the presence of statements that may elicit fear and hatred against racial minorities can leave little doubt that there is considerable prejudice and racism directed toward non-whites and ethnic minorities within the pages of the paper.”

Reading back issues of the Sun, and certain columnists in particular, can be a depressing experience. Beyond the posturing and vitriol, it’s eye-opening to witness the level of contempt writers express for their fellow human beings.

Here are some historic topics where the Sun’s views didn’t stand the test of time, or remain offensive.

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A more enlightened view of Desmond Tutu than some Sun columnists had. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, June 1, 1986.

South Africa

As the fight against the apartheid regime grew stronger during the 1980s, the Sun was lukewarm on the idea of handing power to the Black majority before they were “ready” to assume control. Given the African National Congress’s ties to Communist organizations, and the track record of post-colonial Africa, Sun editorials conveyed fears that South Africa would become another Marxist hellhole. In the Sun‘s view, all that stood in the way of total chaos were the white Afrikaners. “The hundreds of blacks dying in South Africa are victims of racism, but not by the dominating whites,” a July 1985 editorial observed. “It’s the racism that is the by-product of the class warfare demanded by Marxists and liberals blinded by Marxism.

Barbara Amiel went further, suggesting that progressives couldn’t wait to see a long, bloody war unfold. “The struggle closest to them,” she wrote in August 1985, “actually seems to be their own effort to restrain an unseemly relief that, at last, South Africa might be in for a really good spell of what the rest of the unfortunate people on the African continent have known and are suffering: murder, mayhem and economic disaster.”

Columnist McKenzie Porter all too frequently defended the apartheid regime, seeing it as both the last hope against the Commies and as a benevolent, paternalistic means of looking after the backward Blacks, who “still consult witch doctors and rely on donkey power.” Porter criticized condemnation from the West as springing from “the illusion that all men are equal.”

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Toronto Sun, December 22, 1977.

In his July 24, 1985 column, Porter predicted that “if South Africa gave the vote to every black today it would bring about the destruction of the agriculture, industry, and commerce that are essential to the eventual emancipation of the supposedly oppressed majority.” He also thought that South African Blacks were dumber than their North American counterparts, who’d had the benefit of being in white educational systems for generations. “For reasons palpable to every reader of history,” he observed, “the average South African black, clad though he may be in a collar and tie, still embodies some vestiges of a recent Stone Age past.” Finally, he stated that Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu was “not very bright.”

That particular column was the final straw for Mayor Art Eggleton and his committee on community and race relations, which had noticed the Sun’s less than admirable stands on race in general. The committee threatened to pull city advertising from the paper, which provoked a heated response from Sun publisher Paul Godfrey. He defended the Sun’s writers on the grounds of freedom of the press, and taunted both the mayor and the committee in print. He also noted Porter had visited South Africa, though it was unclear if the trip had been paid for by the regime. Both sides soon cooled the conversation, with Eggleton suddenly declaring the Sun wasn’t so racist after all (a shift Godfrey, a former Metro Chairman, praised as a sign of the mayor’s conciliatory nature).

When Nelson Mandela toured North America in 1990, the Sun was not wowed by the praise showered upon the recently released icon. There was still suspicion of Communist links, along with the behaviour of Winnie Mandela and her bodyguards while he was imprisoned. As David Frum put it, “myth-making has transformed a man who might otherwise be just another African opposition leader into an international celebrity.”

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Comment on John Sewell’s support of Toronto’s gay community during the 1980 municipal election. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 28, 1980.

Homophobia

Let’s be blunt: the Sun was intolerant toward homosexuals during the 1970s and 1980s. From cartoonist Andy Donato’s frequent limp-wristed depictions of gays to editor Peter Worthington’s threat following the 1981 Bathhouse Raids to expose names of anyone rounded up in subsequent police scoops, there was no sympathy to anyone who wasn’t heterosexual.

Perhaps the most homophobic of the lot was Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy. In piece after piece, Hoy depicted homosexuals as sad, pathetic creatures. He was convinced that there was an agenda by homosexuals to gain access to classrooms to convert innocent children to their perverted lifestyle. “It is not true that homosexuals want simply to be left alone to do whatever it is they do to each other,” he wrote in January 1978. When a “Gaydays” celebration was held later that year, he wondered why “more Torontonians don’t let them know they’re not welcome here” and when people would “wake up and realize the danger of keeping silent in the face of this creeping, crawling sickness in our society?”

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Typical Claire Hoy column headline. Toronto Sun, October 30, 1979.

Hoy used his QP perch to step into the 1980 municipal election, a campaign the Sunhad no shortage of homophobic commentary on in the wake of mayor John Sewell’s support of the community and George Hislop’s council run. Following the Toronto Board of Education’s decision to allow a homosexual liaison committee to talk with students struggling with their own sexual identity, he listed all of the trustees who “voted to give homosexuals a beachhead.” He urged readers to register their indignation at the ballot box lest the radicals (who he referred to as “dingles”) win.

Hoy went on to serve as the paper’s Ottawa columnist and was forced out after writing one too many columns attacking Brian Mulroney for Godfrey’s taste. A subsequent stint at the Ottawa Citizen ended after he continued to attack the queer community.

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McKenzie Porter on the crapper, a reference to one of his most infamous columns. Globe and Mail, November 2, 1986.

Eugenics

One of the darkest corners of the Sun’s back pages is McKenzie Porter’s ongoing support of eugenics as a solution to society’s ills. While peers commented that his snobbish persona may have been a put-on, his repeated references to sterilization make one wonder how serious he was about other outrageously written columns.

The following excerpt from Porter’s October 25, 1982 column is as chilling an opinion piece as you’ll ever find in a Toronto newspaper. It’s absurd and frightening at the same time.

The only way to rid ourselves of poverty and its related diseases of insanity and crime is by embracing the science of eugenics. This science was held back 100 years because Hitler distorted and pursued its principles in a hideously cruel way. We must remember that Hitler was crazy. We must believe that eugenics may be practiced in a sane and civilized way.

It should not be difficult to persuade genetically unsound indigents to submit them to sterilization if it is pointed out to them that their new condition will permit them unlimited sexual pleasure without bringing upon them the burden of handicapped children. A properly mounted government publicity campaign would result in the submission of the vast majority of unfit people to voluntary sterilization. Some element of compulsion will have to be accepted once the practice of eugenics is adopted. Boards of control manned by doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, clergymen and others should be empowered to order certain people be sterilized.

Porter further suggests that anyone sent to prison for the second time be sterilized, and that all patients admitted to hospital “should be examined for severe hereditary handicaps.”

He continued to write for the Sun until 1990, by which time a column suggesting that no Canadian citizen born outside of the country should be allowed to vote because of a tendency to indulge in ethnic partisanship prompted city council to pull its ads from the paper.

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This Andy Donato cartoon, about the situation in southeast Asia, typifies the paper’s view of Communism, and ran next to a pro-Pinochet editorial. Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

Augusto Pinochet

The Sun’s hatred of any government with the faintest left-wing tinge had few bounds. The paper’s mad hate-on for Pierre Trudeau became something of a joke. Columnists like Lubor Zink forever warned about the dangers of Communism. While Zink exposed true atrocities committed by such regimes, his zealous fervour also became a joke.

One fight against the left the Sun really misfired on was its support of Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile. In a 1978 editorial, Chile’s status as a “whipping boy” nation alongside nations like Rhodesia and South Africa was criticized. “Chile’s great sin is to have violently ousted a Marxist government—a rare occurrence,” the paper noted. The piece went on to note how poor Chile was trying to earn a spot among respectable nations while it undid damage blamed on former president Salvador Allende, and how it was ironic China helped them when Canada didn’t. “It is an obscenity to concentrate on the sins of a minor offender while ignoring sins of a major offender.” To which we say it’s also ultimately a sin to brush aside the thousands who disappeared or were tortured during Pinochet’s regime.

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Toronto Sun, September 4, 1977.

After spending years sifting through these opinions, it’s disturbing how there’s been a steady market for this strain of journalism. What really grates, as a study done of depictions of immigration and racism in the Toronto press of the 1970s showed, was that unlike its competitors, the Sun often presented a single worldview, lacking diversity or nuances. Instead of promoting healthy debate around the above issues, or ongoing problems such as community-police relations and where immigrants fit into Canadian society, the Sun frequently promotes divisiveness at the expense of better understanding between people. It’s the easier, more sensational way to go, but it ignores the human cost of such thinking.

Ultimately, future historians will judge whether today’s Sun columnists and editorial writers reflect the beliefs of their readership, have a sense of where the world is heading, or live up to Dale’s criticism of their worth.

Additional material from Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve by Effie Ginzberg (Toronto: Urban Alliance on Race Relations, 1987); The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993); the October 31, 1985 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the February 4, 1977, January 6, 1978, January 8, 1978, August 25, 1978, September 3, 1980, September 25, 1981, October 25, 1982, July 24, 1985, August 4, 1985, and June 22, 1990 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1985.

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gm 1985-12-13 Toronto Sun columns consistently racist, new study concludes 2

Globe and Mail, December 13, 1985.

The report referred to, Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve, is worth seeking out. Be prepared to be nauseated by some of the excerpted columns (unless your views align with those of the late 1970s/early 1980s Sun).

Godfrey spent the next two months listening to deputations, then wrote a conciliatory letter to the Urban Alliance. In March 1986, the Ontario Press Council dismissed complaints about Porter’s take on South Africa. “Those meetings went on for four, five, sometimes six hours,” Godfrey later recalled. “But I valued them. I always remember that wars are started by a failure to communicate. So I’d take them into the boardroom, give them muffins and coffee and invite them to tell me why they were unhappy with the Sun.”

I suspect present-day Sun management would throw the muffins and coffee at complainants.

sun 89-02-06 on italians

Toronto Sun, February 6, 1989.

While this story didn’t make the final cut, it’s worth bringing it up within the context of the other issues discussed in my piece. This column proved the final straw when it came to McKenzie Porter writing provocatively outrageous things: suggesting that anyone born outside of Canada should be prevented from voting or running for office.

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Toronto Star, February 26, 1989. Note that the wrong date was provided for the offending column.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1989.

The city’s ad ban lasted two months, before reconsidering after being accused of censorship. Porter was criticized in the Ontario Legislature for the column, and retired from the Sun the following year.

sun 77-11-13 hoy anti-gay column

Toronto Sun, November 13, 1977.

For contextual purposes, here is a typical example of a Claire Hoy column dripping with homophobia. The vitriol in his pieces, which ostensibly were supposed to cover goings-on at Queen’s Park but often degenerated into rants against people Hoy hated, is thick. The language is dehumanizing, referring to his opponents not as people but “creatures.” And yet it is not difficult to imagine these words being used in 2018 in discussions over Ontario’s sex education curriculum.

sun 1978-01-08 pro-chile editorial

Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

The pro-Pinochet editorial I referred to. Not unusual during the Cold War era but, given what we now know about the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup in 1973, an editorial that has not aged well.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This was my last non-Historicist piece published by Torontoist, though it could have easily fit within that column. It was a parting gift to outgoing EIC David Hains, who had suggested for some time that I write a piece on the past transgression of the “Little Paper that Grew.” Two more Historicist columns, and a look back at my time writing that particular column, would mark the end of my decade-long run at Torontoist.

I was first exposed to the Sun when my father picked up copies of the paper during m childhood trips to Toronto. It was the first tabloid-sized paper I was exposed to, and I loved the comic book format of the weekend funnies. Those papers made it into my father’s giant clipping collection–I recall photocopies of Douglas Fisher columns explaining the mechanics of parliament being passed around in the grade 9 history class Dad taught.

In university during the mid-1990s, I occasionally bought the Sunday Sun, partly as a joke, partly as a chance to see what the right side of the spectrum was saying, and partly for the Sunday funnies to hang on my dorm room. Two things brought this to an end: the incessant attacks against teachers and other public professionals, and a landlord who cheered on the paper’s taunts. While I have flipped through copies of the paper lying around, I have not paid for one since the end of the 20th century.

Its current incarnation is little more than a vehicle for populist outrage, reconfirming the biases of its readers instead of trying to broaden them, stoking divisions that aren’t necessary and do more harm than good. I ignore it and its writers as much as possible, since I can probably predict from a headline whatever the copy will read.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Columbia House

Originally published on Torontoist on August 12, 2015.

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Maclean’s, February 16, 1957.

The bait was hard to resist: up to a dozen albums for a penny. Sure, there was a “small” shipping and handling fee. And buy x-number of albums at full price over x-number of years. And mail back reply cards if the monthly featured selection didn’t appeal to you. And endure legal notices in case you didn’t pay up. And, if you cared to dig deeper, support the no or reduced royalties on those bargain albums paid to performers and publishers. And, if you wanted to dump the albums, discover used music stores that refused to accept them, citing inferior pressing quality.

But a dozen albums for a penny! Even with the additional costs factored in, Columbia House and its competitors were an affordable way to build a music collection, especially back-catalogue items you might not have rushed down to the local bricks-and-mortar store to buy. You could kill hours browsing microscopic print to make the right picks.

At their peak in the mid-1990s, record clubs across North America raked in $1.5 billion annually. At the end of the 1990s, Columbia House Canada held the second largest market share among Canadian music retailers, behind bricks-and-mortar retailer HMV. Their power over sales was such that many large chains boycotted the 1996 Juno Awards when Columbia House was named an official sponsor.

Then the Internet came along. The only surprise over this week’s announcement that the American remnants of Columbia House has filed for Chapter 11 is that any trace of the former giant still existed.

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Toronto Star, October 17, 1955.

Columbia House’s half-century presence in Toronto began when the Columbia Record Club launched on both sides of the border in 1955. It was promoted via ads through local retailers ranging from Eaton’s to Sniderman’s Music Hall (the College Street forerunner of Sam the Record Man). The original offer was a choice of one free record from a list of 12. After that, you had to buy four LPs at list price over the next year, with a free record tossed in for every two you bought. The offer was adjusted over time: by 1968, the deal was eight free records if you bought nine over the next year.

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Globe and Mail, October 15, 1955.

The company experienced pains after purchasing the rival Capitol Record Club of Canada in 1974. “Quite frankly,” Columbia House Canada VP/GM Richard Gurian told the Star, “we didn’t do such a great job in taking over” after discovering how many bad accounts were inherited. Moving its computer services from its Don Mills office to the headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana created customer invoice problems.

One result: for the rest of the 1970s, Columbia House provoked the highest number of complaints about a single firm received by the Star’s Star Probe consumer-help column. Most aggravating was the steady stream of increasingly threatening notices to pay up in cases where items didn’t arrive or requests to close properly paid accounts were ignored. As Star Probe columnist Rod Goodman put it, “It is a shame that the law allows firms to throw legal notices at customers without making even a token effort to determine the facts.” Readers frequently vowed never to deal with direct marketers ever again.

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Maclean’s, February 1968.

Goodman published an example of the form letters complainants received. This one was the first stage in prodding a delinquent customer, utilizing an obnoxious “friendly” approach:

Have you ever tried wishing away your troubles? They just don’t go away. The only way troubles will disappear is by doing something about them. In our case, I mean yours and mine, our troubles could disappear if you would only pay your bill. We would both be relieved of a big burden. Especially since the time is rapidly approaching when I must make a decision whether or not to turn your account over to a collection agency. Send your payment today and breathe a sigh of relief.

That letter may have been signed by “Douglas Mitchell,” the fake name Columbia House used for its friendliest reminder. Not as nice was “Frank Pearson,” who asked if you forgot the bill before demanding payment. If nothing was resolved, “Clark Weatherbee” threatened legal action or harassment from a collection agency. These names helped Columbia House staff determine account status whenever a frazzled customer called in. “Suppose everyone wrote to me and I wasn’t here,” Gladys Perry, Columbia House Canada’s manager of fulfillment, told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “Imagine all the frustration that would build up. And what if I were to leave the company?”

Sometimes the form letter went too far. One Weatherbee form used in the early 1980s advised clients that “we are now fully aware of your extremely poor credit risk status.” While Parry dismissed complaints about that wording, noting that those who supposedly owed Columbia House did “not necessarily have a poor credit rating in the whole community,” lawyers took the company to task. The wording was removed.

Perhaps employees were fatigued by legitimate deadbeats, who made up to 35 per cent of their customer base. Some went far to get their cheap albums: a North York couple was charged in February 2000 for defrauding Columbia House out of $20,000 over the previous year. Under different names (yet using the same address), the couple submitted 28 handwritten and over 1,000 online club applications, yielding a bounty of 900 CDs.

Columbia House soldiered on even when rival BMG Music Service launched with a Boxing Day advertising blitz in 1994. BMG’s promise of no further obligations past the promotional offer was an immediate hit, drawing 300,000 members in 10 months. Both services, and their offshoots, fought it out in mailers, ads, and online until BMG pulled the plug on its Mississauga facility in early 2000. As online shopping cut into its base, Columbia House was sold to a succession of new owners. The end for its Canadian operation came in December 2010, when Direct Brands closed its east Scarborough office.

Additional material from the August 16, 2008 edition of Billboard; the October 15, 1955, April 15, 1982, and August 26, 1998 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 1968 edition of Maclean’s; and the October 12, 1976, March 24, 1977, April 10, 1979, and December 10, 2010 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival

Originally published on Torontoist on June 30, 2015.

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eye, June 17, 1999.

Three months before the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival opened, new artistic director Chuck McEwen received an unpleasant surprise: a call from the owner of the building where the festival’s offices were located indicating the summer event had to find a new home. “That was an unexpected and high-pressure situation,” McEwen told the Star. “We had such a small amount of time to actually find a space and then move. And it’s difficult finding office space in the Annex area that fits our current budget. So it was tense.”

Quarters were found at Bloor and Spadina, and the festival rolled on. Over 11 days, 93 shows were presented. The best known, The Drowsy Chaperone, was promoted as coming from “the co-creators of Honest Ed! The Bargain Musical.” Having evolved from a stag party, the show earned kudos during its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” noted Now reviewer Glenn Sumi. “Well, OK, you won’t cry. But you won’t want to leave either.” The Star’s Robert Crew accurately predicted that, with a little reworking, “the potential is enormous and it will be back.” The show eventually won five Tonys for its Broadway run in 2006-2007.

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

At least one other show had an extended afterlife. Chris Earle’s one-man show Radio: 30, about an ad voice-over artist, received universal praise. “Radio: 30 questions our gullibility and willingness to believe what we hear,” eye’s Kamal al-Solaylee wrote, “or at least what we want to hear. It constructs parallels between acting and advertising…with humour and brutal honesty.” The show returned for the festival’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

As with any Fringe fest, some titles were more interesting than others. We’ll let your imagination figure out the plots of Haroon’s Dinner Theatre of Cruelty Presents Ethyl X in “London Bridge” (A Story of Sex)The Tale of Baldrick the Sausage & Other StoriesThe Fabulous Smokey Topaz Multimedia Extravaganza, and Wanda’s Visit and Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room.

There were also those unfortunate productions which caused critics to hold their noses. For example, Now gave its lowest rating—one N—to three shows: Afterwards You Smoke (“you’ll want them to stand up, shut their mouths and quickly leave”); Broken (“a bathetic, broken record”); and The Dead Monkey (“an overextended, unfunny sketch that veers sharply into unbelievable melodrama”).

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1999 Toronto Fringe Festival program.

Keeners may count how many of the eateries listed in the ad above still feed Fringe attendees. It’s interesting to note the last gasp of Bloor’s days as an outpost for Hungarian food—within a few years, Country Style was the only survivor.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Tale of Two Prides

Originally published on Torontoist on June 25, 2015.

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Xtra, June 21, 1991.

An indication of how much Toronto’s Pride celebrations grew during the 1990s: crowd estimates for the 1991 parade ranged from 25,000 (police, mainstream media) to 60,000 (Lesbian and Gay Pride Day Committee). By 1999, that figure rose to over 750,000.

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Globe and Mail, June 28, 1991.

The 1991 parade was the first to be officially proclaimed by the city. Over the ongoing objections of Mayor Art Eggleton, city council voted the previous fall to recognize the growing event. Its approval aligned with a growing sense that the LGBT movement was going mainstream. In a pre-parade profile of activists across the country, the Globe and Mail noted a joke making the rounds that provided a new definition for S&M: “Scarborough and Mississauga.”

Shortly before the parade, the Metro Toronto Police Services Board announced that it would recognize gays and lesbians as a community entitled to policing that was sensitive to its needs, a turnaround from treating such people as sources of drug abuse, sex work, and perversion. “It’s an important step,” declared board chair Susan Eng. “We have come of age and are starting to do what we should have been doing for a long time.”

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Xtra, June 21, 1991.

Eng was among the civic officials and politicians on hand when the proclamation was read prior to the start of the parade on June 30, 1991. Since Eggleton refused to read the document, the duty was performed by councillor Jack Layton. The parade was nearly derailed when it was discovered the permit indicated a 1 p.m. launch instead of 3 p.m. as scheduled. Police reportedly insisted on moving the time to 2 p.m. as a compromise, or else the event would be shut down. While the procession was only supposed to shut down the northbound lanes of Yonge Street, the crowd spilled onto the southbound lanes, effectively closing the entire road. Elsewhere, gay-centric businesses offered entertainment and free meals, and Ryerson’s CKLN debuted live radio coverage of events.

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eye, June 3, 1999.

Flash forward to 1999. Having exploded in size, the parade was now front page news. The Star depicted Mayor Mel Lastman, who’d expressed reservations about attending the year before, gleefully joining councillor Pam McConnell in super-soaking council colleague Kyle Rae. Even the Sun covered the festivities with a limited degree of respect, calling no-show Fred Phelps (who had threatened to disrupt Pride) “a hate-filled nutbar.” As eye put it, the party atmosphere surrounding Pride led to attendees “tripping on a two-day, non-stop, feel-good sensory overload” regardless of their sexual orientation. “If you’re not doing drugs, your face hurts on Monday from the perma-grin.”

Eye also published a suburbanite’s guide to the celebrations, offering advice such as “Woody’s is not a Cheers-themed bar owned by Woody Harrelson.” Some of those coming in from outside the core may have been teenagers drawn by the debut of youth-centric events, such as Fruit Loopz held at Buddies in Bad Times. Seeing teens march along didn’t impress some standing along the sidelines—the Star reported a 50-year-old parent from Peterborough who, when she saw 16-year-old Tina Mollison wander by, told the paper “Just look at that innocent child. What does she know about love and sex, about lesbianism? The parade glamourizes it.” The paper caught up with Mollison. “Parents should give us respect,” she noted. “We know what we want and we know how to go out and get it.”

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eye, June 17, 1999.

Not everything was rosy. A few weeks before Pride, police twice raided the Bijou “porn bar” at Gerrard and Church, leading to charges against 12 patrons. The arrests, along with undercover checks of bar operations, were a reminder that the attitudes which had fostered the bathhouse raids of 1981 were not dead. There were also complaints by some veteran activists that Pride had gone too corporate, diluting its political messages in the name of vendors and corporate sponsorships that offered mainstream respectability.

Additional material from the June 17, 1999 and June 24, 1999 editions of eye; the June 29, 1991 and July 1, 1991 editions of the Globe and Mail; the June 29, 1991 and June 28, 1999 editions of the Toronto Star; the June 27, 1999 edition of the Toronto Sun; and the July 12, 1991 and June 25, 1999 editions of Xtra.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

eye 1999-06-24 suburbanite's guide to pride

eye, June 24, 1999. Click on image for larger version.

sun 1999-06-27 editorial

Toronto Sun, June 27, 1999. On one hand, it called Fred Phelps a nutbar. On the other, it defended Mike Harris’s decision not to attend the Pride Parade. I’d expect something even shriller if the incoming premier decides not to attend the 2018 edition.