Vintage Toronto Ads Goes to War

Plucky Boys Need Their Smokes

Originally published on Torontoist on June 16, 2009.

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The News, May 6, 1915.

Given the attitudes, health concerns, and advertising restrictions regarding tobacco products, Toronto newspaper readers won’t be seeing appeals to send smokes to Canada’s overseas forces in their morning read anytime soon—a general appeal for morale boosting/easy to barter items would be more likely.

The soldier depicted in this ad was created by cartoonist Bert Thomas for a similar campaign across the Atlantic for the Weekly Dispatch newspaper in November 1914. The image of a Cockney “Tommy” telling Kaiser Wilhelm II that he needs a smoke break helped raise approximately ₤250,000 in donations from the British public. “Arf a mo’ Kaiser!” became a catchphrase whose use appears to have lasted in the U.K. through World War II, when it underwent a slight alteration to reflect that conflict’s German leadership.

Cows Have War Jobs Too

Originally published on Torontoist on September 15, 2009.

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Acme Farmers Dairy billboard, circa 1942-44. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Item 6611.

During World War II many Torontonians worked towards victory and, as this billboard testifies, cows were not excluded from doing their part to tackle Hitler and Tojo. The regional bovine population contributed to the war effort by providing food-solid goodness for the home front. Officials of local dairies soon discovered that the helmets they issued refused to stay on any cow’s head (straps were at a premium), so they were utilized as feed buckets or souvenirs for children touring their facilities.

Located on Walmer Road south of Casa Loma, the Acme Farmers Dairy site is currently occupied by the Castle Hill townhomes.

Wartime Target for Tonight

Originally published on Torontoist on November 10, 2009.

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Mayfair, March 1944.

A dazzling view of the Toronto skyline welcomed visiting flyers like this Royal Canadian Air Force pilot throughout World War II. The glimmer of city lights, the Royal York Hotel, and other pre-war skyscrapers as he approached Port George VI Airfield (as the island airport was officially named upon opening in 1939) was a far more welcoming sight than enemy fire.

A year after opening for service, the island airport was pressed into wartime use as a training facility. Pilots from Norway used the site from fall 1940 through winter 1943, which led to the establishment of “Little Norway” across the channel. After the Norwegians departed for expanded facilities in Muskoka, the RCAF used the airport for the duration of hostilities.

Around the time today’s ad appeared on the newsstand, one flyer leaving the airport almost made Sunnyside their target. On February 13, 1944, RCAF Flying Officer John R. Talkington required a rescue after he was forced to land one hundred yards from shore inside the seawall near Windermere Avenue. Talkington was piloting a training plane destined for Selfridge Field near Detroit when trouble struck. The Toronto Star picks up the story:

“The engine quit,” said Flying Officer Talkington, describing his experience afterward, “So I just let her down in the water.” The young pilot, a native of California, sat on the cockpit hood, his feet dangling in the water, until [he was] taken off. The rescue was made within twenty-two minutes of the time the mishap occurred…Talkington resumed his flight an hour later in another plane. Life-savers rushed to Humber station in a car, obtained a punt and paddled out to make the rescue.

Once the peace O’Keefe hoped for arrived, the airport was restored to civilian use and likely employed some of the clear-eyed men destined to work in the post-war aviation industry.

Additional material from the February 14, 1944 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Booted by a Billboard

Originally published on Torontoist on October 7, 2008.

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Election billboard for Liberal candidates Lionel Conacher and John A. MacVicar, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089,

Most of the election signs currently lining the streets of the city stick to identifying local candidates and their party colours. Commentary on the other candidates is rarely seen on lawn signs, while billboards tend to be the domain of lobbyists. This was not the case during the Ontario provincial race in 1948, when passers-by got an eyeful of what the opposition thought of the government.

The Rich Uncle Pennybags character getting the boot was Premier George Drew, whose victory over the Liberals in 1943 launched the Progressive Conservatives’ 42-year run in office. Attempting to give George the boot was one of the Grits’ star candidates, Lionel “Big Train” Conacher. “Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century” entered politics after his hockey and football careers wound down, starting with a stint as MPP for the long-gone Toronto riding of Bracondale from 1937 until his defeat in 1943 by Ontario’s second female MPP, Rae Luckock of the CCF (forerunner of the NDP).

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Election billboard for Progressive Conservative candidates George Drew and Dana Porter, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089, item 2863.

The Tories countered with billboards using a sober portrait of Drew. Note the hint of a heavenly aura.

After the ballots were counted on June 7, the Progressive Conservatives won 53 of 90 seats, a drop of 13. Drew lost his own riding, High Park, to the CCF’s William Temple, a temperance crusader largely responsible for protecting The Junction’s dry status. Temple felt his victory was “a personal rebuke to the arrogant and dictatorial handling of public affairs by Mr. Drew. It is proof that his labelling as a ‘Communist’ everyone who disagrees with him no longer frightens the people of High Park.” Drew proved Temple’s accusation in a speech given after the opposition parties conceded, warning that the rise in the CCF vote (the party went from 8 to 21 seats) marked the “insidious, vile, poisonous encroachment of Communism,” and that Ontario voters should not be surprised if events similar to the recent Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia occurred. You be the judge whether Drew reflected period Red Scare fears or expressed sour grapes over his loss and the CCF’s new status as the official opposition.

With his personal defeat, Drew stepped down as premier and entered federal politics. By the end of 1948 he was leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa, losing twice to Louis St. Laurent before his retirement in 1956. His career wound down with a six-year stint as the first Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

The Liberals’ 14 seats did not include Conacher or John A. MacVicar, as both were defeated by the Tories. Like Drew, Conacher tossed his hat in the federal ring and was elected as an MP the following year. Conacher served Trinity as an MP until his death from a heart attack during a parliamentary softball game in 1954.

Additional material from the June 8, 1948 editions of The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.

Scenes of Toronto: Winter 2008

Part One: After the Nativity Has Gone

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2008.

Nativity in Ruin

The post-holiday cleanup slowly continues across the city. Tree collection winds down this week, decorated lightposts grow patchier, and leftover sugar cookies are available for deep discounts alongside remaining Halloween candy.

Religious displays are not immune from the slow pace of cleaning, though we suspect that this nativity scene at St. Francis of Assisi Church at Grace and Mansfield also depicts an event that the Bible overlooked. Religious scholars debate if burlap, hemp, or Glad bags were the preferred choice of turn-of-the-era stable boys.

Part Two: Long Live Mediocrity!

Originally published on Torontist on January 31, 2008.

Long Live Mediocrity!

Drivers passing through the south end of Leaside on Millwood Road may have noticed commentary added to a Baxter’s Soup billboard. An anonymous critic with a penchant for exclamation marks has unleashed their critique of the petit bourgeoisie of the neighbourhood, chastising them for falling for the flattery of an instant meal that appeals to their yuppie pretensions and expensive jeans.

It might also be the work of a disgruntled diner who thought that the can of butternut squash and red pepper soup they bought on sale last week only rated two-and-a-half stars out of five.