Vintage Toronto Ads: Let’s Go to the (Pre- and Post-War) Ex

Part One: A Thousand Things to See for Everyone

Originally published on Torontoist on August 14, 2007.

2007_08_14cne30s.jpgSources: National Home Monthly, August 1937 (left), August 1939 (right).

The Canadian National Exhibition opens this week, bringing with it nearly 130 years of tradition, from its beginnings as an industrial showcase to its current role as a signal that summer is drawing to a close. Today’s pair of ads provide a glimpse of what the Ex was like on the cusp of World War II, before it was closed for wartime activities.

The “new amusement area” touted in 1937 proved significant, as it marked the beginning of the CNE’s long relationship with James “Patty” Conklin and the Conklin organization (now folded into the North American Midway Entertainment following several mergers in the carny world). The first year of the contract was not lucrative for Conklin or the CNE due to a polio epidemic that struck the city. Parents were urged to keep their children away from the fair to lower the risk of transmission. The effect was short-lived, as attendance bounced back by the turn of the decade.

That Toronto was still firmly tied to the British Empire is evident in both ads. George VI’s coronation in 1937 is duly noted, with that year’s nightly fireworks show dedicated to the onward march of Britannia. For 1939, note the placement of the pictures of the British exhibits and the promise of “two famous English bands.” No comment for the 48 groups from elsewhere.

The swing era was in full bloom by 1939, with a highly impressive slate of big bands that year. American saxophonist Glen Gray’s group earned its name, the Casa Loma Orchestra, after a residency at the Toronto landmark during its brief phase as a hotel in the late 1920s.

Several of these bands were signed to RCA Victor records, whose corporate parent showcased the future with its television display even though Toronto was 13 years away from its first station. Another RCA division, NBC, launched its TV broadcasting service in April at the continent’s largest exhibition of the year, the New York World’s Fair.

After the 1941 edition of the CNE, the grounds were turned over to the military for training purposes, with the fair put on hiatus until 1947.

Part Two: Welcome Back CNE

Originally published on Torontoist on August 21, 2007.

2007_08_21_cne47.jpg

Source: National Home Monthly, July 1947.

As mentioned in last week’s ad, the Canadian National Exhibition took a break during World War II. Once the war was over, the existing buildings were modernized to prepare for the Ex’s return. “From acting as a depot through which passed thousands of young Canadians to the theatres of war,” noted a Toronto Telegram editorial, “it now reverts to its role as the window through which the world may glimpse the peacetime strength and wealth of the country in all its amazing variety.”

The CNE was officially opened, after a concert by the United States Navy Band, by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on August 22. King emphasized that Canada’s postwar stability was linked to the recovery of Great Britain’s economy, which saw a series of austerity measures introduced the following week. As recounted that evening in the Telegram, King noted that “the Exhibition affords a vivid illustration of our Canadian way of life. More may be seen here in a day than might be learned from books in a month.” Over 103,000 people passed through the gates that day, the first a pair of children from Springhurst—the first adult, according to the Telegram—”was an annoyed CNE worker who had forgotten his pass.”

The next day saw 273,000 visitors, many on hand for “Warrior’s Day,” a salute to veterans.

The Globe and Mail pondered what would bring people to the fair in an editorial on opening day eve:

What actually drives the people to the Exhibition? Undoubtedly the advance notices on such things as rides, sideshows, marathon swims, speedboat races, baby contests, fireworks displays and so on are the primary eye-catchers. But we will wager that more people will want to see the new automobile with three front headlights than will rush over to the sword swallower’s tent. More will want to see in action the television set they would like for their own living room than the careening speedboat which they never will be able to afford.

One lasting memento of this edition was a short produced by the National Film BoardJohnny at the Fair. The film follows the adventures of “Johnny,” a four-year-old who wanders away from his parents and explores the grounds, meeting all of the celebrities on hand that year. Among those he encounters: Prime Minister King, boxing great Joe Louis, skater Barbara Ann Scott, and comedians Olsen and Johnson (best known for their anarchic revue Hellzapoppin’). “Johnny” was chosen from hundreds of children who auditioned. In a Globe and Mail interview, his mother believed that he won “because he was born with a pleasing personality…or maybe it’s because his father is a kibitzer—a prankster, I mean.”

Johnny at the Fair gained new life in the 1990s, when it was lovingly mocked by the crew of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. As for “Johnny,” he fared well in adulthood, growing up to be artist Charles Pachter. The film is being shown at this year’s CNE, along with a documentary reuniting Pachter and director Jack Olsen.

Additional material from the August 21, 1947 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the August 21, 1947 and August 22, 1947 editions of the Telegram.

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Toronto or Vancouver?

Part One: A Full Day of Fun in Vancou..Toronto!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 24, 2007.

2007_07_24ontario.jpgSource: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.

For years, Toronto tourism ads have gotten a bad rap. These attempts to bring visitors to our fair city have a knack of running off the rails—try finding the love for the Toronto Unlimited campaign.

Today’s ad proves this is not a recent trend, even when the provincial government is the culprit.

When you hear “Toronto,” are images of totem poles and children building castles on a sandy beach the first scenes that come to mind? One suspects these were not the prime attractions for 1950s travelers either (though the ROM would have been one of the few places in the region to publicly display aboriginal works at the time). Did the ad agency mix up the clip art intended for Toronto with that for Vancouver? Even the “Exhibition” could apply to both cities, since the drawing is so generic, the scene could be at the PNE as much as the CNE.

Our happy nuclear family may not have gotten to know Toronto in its 125th anniversary year. Father can only laugh at the travel bureau’s folly, especially when they failed to warn him that the city all but shut down on Sundays.

Part Two: The Wandering Welcome Wagon

Originally published on Torontoist on March 18, 2008.

2008_03_19welcomewagon.jpg
Source: Toronto Life, November 1969.

A family moves into one of Toronto’s more fashionable neighbourhoods. In the middle of deciding where Junior’s playpen will fit in the living room, there is a knock at the front door. Standing on the front step is the official neighbourhood greeter from Welcome Wagon.

The new residents are greeted with the finest publications our city has to offer: Toronto Life, the Vancouver Province, and an unidentified Vancouver Sunday paper (our city’s dailies respected Sunday day-of-rest traditions and didn’t launch a regular Sunday edition until the first Sunday Sun rolled off the press in 1973).

Junior is not impressed. Mother feigns interest. The greeter drops their gifts and moves on to the next set of new neighbours four doors down.

Originating in Memphis in 1928, Welcome Wagon doled out its first gifts to Canadians in Vancouver two years later. Perhaps our greeter had been with the organization since its early days and brought along leftovers to recycle when she moved to Toronto, or was confused by tourism ads placed by the Ontario government.

Just watch out if they hand you tickets for a Canucks home game.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the years, there were vintage ad columns with similar themes. In some cases, especially in these short early pieces, I’m going to group them together as a single post. These examples also illustrate how, especially if time was tight, I used my imagination to write scenarios for what was going on in each ad, a habit I’m tempted to revive when I start rolling out fresh material on this site.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

One historical note: there were earlier attempts to launch “Sunday” papers in Toronto, even if they weren’t necessarily published that day. To circumvent Toronto’s blue laws, the Toronto Sunday World was distributed late Saturday night beginning in 1891. A well-packaged paper, it outlasted the demise of the World in 1921, being published by the Mail and Empire until it was sold to Star Weekly in 1924 (good luck finding copies of those final three years, as major institutions don’t hold it on microfilm). The Telegram briefly experimented with a Sunday edition in the 1950s, but it didn’t last a year.