Vintage Toronto Ads: 2007’s Christmas Sampler

A batch of holiday-themed Vintage Toronto Ads columns from 2007.

Part One: Leaping into the Holiday Espirit

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2007.

Vintage Ad #412: The Esprit of Simpsons

Toronto Life, December 1984. Click on image for larger version.

The holiday shopping season has descended upon the city, along with an early blast of winter. This combination may lead shoppers to unconsciously purchase items to cure their winter blues, even if the calendar shows that fall has a few more weeks to go.

Today’s ad offers a prescription from Simpsons and Esprit to keep free-spirited souls in an ecstatic mood come February. A trip down to the historic Queen Street department store promised relief, with a checkout line standing in for a waiting room.

This cure for the midwinter blahs appears to have worked for our models, who discovered that the colourful zig-zag sweater patterns unlocked a yearning for childhood games. They called up the rest of the gang, found an empty studio, and played leapfrog, jump rope and dodgeball for several hours.

Part Two: Saturdays with Santa at Woolco

Originally published on Torontoist on December 11, 2007.

Vintage Ad #431: Breakfast with Santa at Woolco

Toronto Star, December 8, 1977.

A longtime staple of the holiday season is a special visit from jolly old St. Nick to the nearest shopping mall or department store. Kids relish the opportunity to tell Santa that they want the latest hot toy, peace on Earth or an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model air rifle, while retailers hope these gift lists translate into sales. If the establishment has hired their Santa carefully, kids will not need to purchase Santi-Wrap before sitting on the big elf’s lap.

The F.W. Woolworth Company entered the discount department store battlefield in 1962, the same year rival five-and-dimer S.S. Kresge launched K-Mart. As Woolworth’s had long operated traditional outlets in Canada, it wasn’t long before the new format was launched in Toronto. Known for promotions such as “$1.44 Days,” Woolco proved to have a longer life here than stateside, where all locations were shuttered by 1983. The chain had 160 locations by the time it was sold to Wal-Mart in 1994.

The Red Grille was Woolworth’s cafeteria concept, found in Woolco and larger Woolworth’s stores on both sides of the border. Torontoist remembers that many had wobbly, flip-down red seats kids loved to play with, usually while sipping a drink in a red-striped cup. The smell was distinct, fried food mixed with an undefined element. We’re not sure how Santa or store management would have handled children who were bad all year––maybe they weren’t allowed to grab a package of Peak Freen cookies at the cashier.

These cafeterias were the descendants of the lunch counters that occupied Woolworth’s and many of its competitors. Toronto’s last surviving example of a five-and-dime counter, located in a former Kresge at Coxwell and Gerrard, closed earlier this year.

Of the locations listed in today’s ad, four continue to operate as Wal-Mart stores (Agincourt Mall, Dufferin Mall, North Park Plaza and Square One), while the others have been converted to other retailers or demolished.

As for Woolworth’s, the last of its North American five-and-dime stores closed in 1997 when the company decided to concentrate on its mall-based specialty chains. Several name changes later, the company continues to operate under the corporate name of its largest subsidiary, Foot Locker.
Part Three: Give the Gift of Baseball

Originally published on Torontoist on December 18, 2007.

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1977.

‘Tis the season for gift certificates. Whether you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what to give to an impossible recipient or selecting your loved one’s favourite store or service, the selection of certificates, cards and vouchers seems unlimited. More than a few local sports woke up on Christmas morning three decades ago to find one of today’s passes for the Blue Jays’ second campaign as a stocking stuffer.

The Jays finished their debut season in a familiar spot for expansion teams, last place in the American League East. Despite a record of 54 wins and 107 losses, over 1.7 million fans cheered for the team at Exhibition Stadium. Orioles castoff Bob Bailor led hitters with a .310 average, while Dave Lemanczyk led the pitching staff with 13 victories. Of the players who took the field that year, only pitcher Jim Clancy and catcher Ernie Whitt were still in Toronto uniforms when the Jays made their first trip to the playoffs in 1985.

That the team had a store in Commerce Court wasn’t a great surprise, as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was one of the original owners of the franchise, along with Labatt’s Breweries and Imperial Trust. The bank retained an ownership share until it sold its last interests when Rogers Communications bought the team in 2000.

Part Four: Seasons Greetings from CBC Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on December 25, 2007.

Vintage Ad #116  - Merry Christmas from CBC

Toronto Life, December 1975.

A short but sweet season’s greeting for you from some of CBC Toronto’s mid-1970s personalities. Dig those frames on young Hana Gartner! The passage of time has made it hard to determine if the “oh yeah” was part of the original ad or a sarcastic comment by a previous reader.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Original Blue Jays Advertisers

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on March 25, 2015.

“One of the most pleasant tasks for me as we are entering the 1977 baseball season,” wrote commissioner Bowie Kuhn in his introductory letter to Blue Jays fans, “ is to welcome all of you to the Major League Baseball family. Major League Baseball is exceedingly proud to include Toronto, one of the great cities of the world, within its ranks.”

Great way to stroke the egos of Torontonians aching to be seen as residents of a world-class city, eh?

Accompanying Kuhn’s letter in the inaugural Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazinewas one from American League President Lee MacPhail:

Now the youthful Blue Jays are off and flying on their own and it will be an exciting experience watching the development of this team. Your outstanding ownership and management will be working constantly toward building the contending baseball team that all Blue Jay fans will be proud of. Enjoy this first season of Major League Baseball at CNE Stadium. It will be fun. And the years ahead will be increasingly enjoyable.

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CBC sent 26 people to cover the Blue Jays’ inaugural spring training in Dunedin, Florida. The network’s plans included an hour-long special to introduce the team, along with feature segments on The National and 90 Minutes Live. To mark its 25th anniversary that fall CBLT rebranded itself as “CBC Toronto,” a move which the Globe and Mail declared was “an admission of defeat in a campaign that’s gone on for years, to give CBLT an identity as a Toronto local station, not just a network outlet.”

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Around 100 members of the Toronto media attended spring training, including CFRB’s trio of sports reporters. Blue Jays manager Roy Hartsfield didn’t mind the distraction. “I’d much rather have it this way,” he told the Globe and Mail, “then the other way with no reporters at all.”

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CKFH, whose primary format in 1977 was country music, served as the Blue Jays’ original flagship radio station. Sixteen other stations, including one in Buffalo, signed on to carry games. Calling the games was a Hall of Fame duo: Tom Cheek on play-by-play and Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn on colour. Before joining the Jays, Cheek spent three seasons as an alternate radio announcer for the Montreal Expos. Wynn lasted through 1980, and was replaced the following year by Jerry Howarth. Apart from a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when CHUM held the rights, CFKH and its successor CJCL (Fan 590) has remained the team’s radio home.

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Pizza Pizza’s signature phone number still wasn’t in place a decade after its original location at Parliament and Wellesley opened in 1967. Before becoming ubiquitous, Pizza Pizza earned praise for its pies. In a taste test of eight pizzerias conducted by the Star in June 1971, Pizza Pizza came in second: “Pizza Pizza raises its standing with style. The pie arrives in a box that’s zippered into an insulated black bag. The deliveryman uncased it with words like ‘Here is your delicious Pizza Pizza. Enjoy it in good health.’ Their motto, ‘When you think of pizza, think of pizza twice,’ is also catchy. It is expensive with “the works”—a dollar more than any of the others. It was also the largest by several inches and easily the best-looking entrant.”

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George’s Spaghetti House was a fixture of the Toronto jazz scene for decades. Founded by Doug Cole in 1956, its booker was multi-instrumentalist Moe Koffman. Bourbon Street was a sister club which operated during the 1970s and 1980s. Playing at George’s this week in 1977 was trumpeter Sam Noto. Worn out from playing assembly line style gigs in Las Vegas during the first half of the 1970s, Noto relocated his family to Toronto. “Not only does he rank it as the jazz centre of North America,” Frank Rasky wrote in the Star, “but it’s the city that has enabled him to double his income, so that he now earns $44,000 a year. So it’s little wonder that his jazz creations sound so jubilant.”

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With its proximity to Exhibition Stadium, Ontario Place may have seemed like an excellent spot for families to prepare for the game ahead or unwind after the final out.

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Foster Pontiac Buick was among the local car dealers who advertised in the debut scorebook. One of the earliest dealerships to establish itself in postwar Scarborough, Foster switched its affiliation from General Motors to Kia around 2009. After over 60 years at Sheppard and Warden, the dealership moved to Markham Road in 2015.

We’d also like to note the recent passing of outfielder Gary Woods, who was part of the Blue Jays’ opening day lineup on April 7, 1977. Woods talked to the Star about the first season several years later:

I remember the snow on the field and I remember Doug Ault [who hit the franchise’s first home run just before Woods stepped up to the plate] and I remember the excitement in the city. I was a young ballplayer very excited to be part of a building experience. It was a really neat feeling. But of course we played like an expansion team and I played like a guy who wasn’t quite ready for the major leagues.

All images taken from Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine Volume 1, Number 17 (1977). Additional material from the March 21, 1977 and September 15, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 5, 1971, April 2, 1977, and October 8, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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A full ad for Ontario Place, which notes there were 10 restaurants to choose from. No mention of little Grozki.

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The “internationally famous” seafood platter from Fishermans Wharf was a staple of Toronto tourism magazines for decades. What visitor couldn’t resist a massive plate of overpriced crustaceans and other delights from the deep garnished with a lemon wedge?

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Globe and Mail, December 23, 1972.

When Fishermans Wharf opened in late 1972, it was featured in Mary Walpole’s advertorial dining column in the Globe and Mail. I’m curious to find out (whenever time’s available) to see if Walpole’s claim is true that the restaurant hired the city’s first female maitre d’.

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Globe and Mail, February 24, 1973.

Walpole regularly featured Fishermans Wharf in her column during its early years. Over the course of its early months, she updated readers on the construction of the restaurant’s oyster bar and touted its luxury liner qualities.

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Globe and Mail, December 17, 1977.

The only newspaper ad I found for Fishermans Wharf from 1977, spotlighting its New Years celebration. There’s that platter again!

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Globe and Mail, January 7, 1978.

At this time, Walpole continued to tout its ship-like qualities, but fails to mention the maitre d’ or chef Niki – perhaps both had set sail by this point.

A callout on social media didn’t produce any recollections from anyone who might have eaten there. The restaurant survived into the 21st century, ending its days on the south end of Church Street.

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Star Week, June 5, 1971.

The Star‘s random pizza test that placed Pizza Pizza in second place. Its current incarnation is one of the last things that I would enjoy in good health. Besides Pizza Pizza, Vesusvio’s is still turning out pies in The Junction.

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Globe and Mail, March 21, 1977.

A note on CBLT’s coverage of the Jays’ first training camp.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Alex Trebek

Originally published on Torontoist on July 15, 2015.

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Toronto Life, July 1972.

A sunny day on a Toronto rooftop, 1972. CBC Radio’s roster of local announcers gathers for a summery, stylish photoshoot. Sitting in a deck chair front and centre is CBL’s morning man, a dashing host who, though barely into his 30s, has a decade of experience with the broadcaster. Looking far more casual than anyone else in the picture (with the exception of the guy in the green shirt in the back), Alex Trebek possesses the aura of a person ready to go places.

Trebek assumed morning duties at CBL-AM in October 1971, after 23-year veteran Bruce Smith moved to the afternoon drive shift. The new host was described by the Globe and Mail as “a dashing bilingual bachelor, who can be expected to show more bounce than Bruce favoured, and thus to be more like his competitors on commercial stations.” Trebek’s show, I’m Here Till 9 (so titled because the show ran from 5 to 9 a.m.), was part of the “Information Radio” revamp of CBC which included new programs like Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning.

Globe and Mail critic Blaik Kirby felt Trebek’s show didn’t live up to its promise of providing information, especially during its final two hours. “The most important part of the show has consisted almost entirely of alternating records and commercials, with a few pleasant words from Trebek to separate them,” Kirby observed. Producer Fred Augerman’s solution was to rely less on clips syndicated to all CBC stations in favour of local contributors specializing in entertainment beats.

The attempt to echo commercial radio didn’t work, as CBL’s ratings in the time slot slipped from the Smith era. Yet thanks to the growing popularity of Gzowski’s show, which followed Trebek, the station snuck into third place behind CFRB and CHUM.

After a year on the air, the axe fell on Trebek. In October 1972, the network announced it would convert all of its local early morning shows to a harder news format. “We’ve got new marching orders,” an unnamed CBC official told the Star. “We’ve changed the rules on Trebek, but he’s not to blame.” Another labelled the directive as a sign the network was “going back to the eighteenth century, in search of an audience that isn’t there any more.” Trebek would remain on the air through the end of the year.

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 Globe and Mail, October 27, 1971.

The decision irritated Trebek. “I was a little cheesed off,” he told the Globe and Maila month after the announcement. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’ve decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing.”

At the time, Trebek lived alone in a three-storey home on George Street, close to the CBC studios. Asked about his romantic life, he noted he was too busy pursuing his career “to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He joked that whenever he mentioned on air where he’d been the night before, women he dated speculated who he’d been with: “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”

Trebek intended to take it easy following his final broadcast on December 29, 1972, planning to ski and work on a chalet he was building near Collingwood. He still had his hosting duties on the teen quiz show Reach for the Top, and had four pending offers for television shows. One he accepted was an American game show called The Wizard of Odds. Though it only lasted a year, that series launched Trebek’s long association with the genre stateside, culminating in his 30-plus-year run emceeing Jeopardy!

As for the radio slot Trebek left behind, George Rich served as interim host until the new format was ready. Launched with veteran newsman Bruce Rogers as host on April 2, 1973, the new show was initially known as Tomorrow is Here. Within a year, it settled upon the name it currently goes by: Metro Morning.

Additional material from the October 4, 1971, October 25, 1971, October 7, 1972, and November 25, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the February 18, 1972, October 6, 1972, and January 4, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Election Central ’68

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2012.


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American presidential candidates, 1968. Left to right: George Wallace (American Independent), Richard Nixon (Republican), Hubert Humphrey (Democratic). Toronto Star, November 5, 1968.

It’s election day south of the border, which means many Torontonians will spend tonight glued to televisions or to social media, awaiting the results of an endless campaign. Among tonight’s options for analysis is CBC, which provided plenty of coverage during a three-way presidential race 44 years ago—even if most of it came from another broadcaster.

Viewers settling in for the evening on November 5, 1968 witnessed the final chapter of a tense race. Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s campaign hadn’t made anyone forget the battles between police and antiwar protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Republican Richard Nixon had vowed to the media that they didn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore” after his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial contest. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose pro-segregation platform emphasized law and order, had mounted a strong third-party challenge. When the ballots were counted, Nixon carried 32 states, Humphrey 13, Wallace 5.

In Toronto, CBC television carried NBC’s election feed. To fill the peacock’s commercial breaks, the public broadcaster offered analysis from Washington correspondents Knowlton Nash and Gordon Donaldson. While the Globe and Mailpraised Nash’s solid commentary, the paper felt that NBC anchors David Brinkley and Chet Huntley lacked the “person to person strength” of CBS’s Walter Cronkite.

Star TV critic Patrick Scott preferred ABC’s coverage, citing the concise analysis of anchor Howard K. Smith and the reunion of the “incomparable comedy team” of guest commentators William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal following their combative performance during the Republican National Convention. “If you are going to go with NBC anyway,” Scott observed, “you might as well go with it all the way and spare yourself the tortures of the CBC’s guest commentator, a sort of pauper’s combination of Buckley and Vidal called Tony Howard, whom I can only assume Knowlton Nash found on his doorstep on Hallowe’en.”

Additional material from the November 6, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 68-11-06 election coverage

Globe and Mail, November 6, 1968.

ts 68-11-06 analysis of cbc coverage

Toronto Star, November 6, 1968.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Jack of Hearts’ Flying Circus

Originally published on Torontoist on September 20, 2011.

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Toronto Sun, February 28, 1974, depicting Gilda Radner and Victor Garber.

In brief: Jack was a musical extravaganza based on the four Jacks in a deck of cards, and it featured Victor Garber embodying hearts. Another Jack, Star TV critic Jack Miller, praised it as fun, melodic, and unpredictable, “a musical experience that flies in several directions without ever losing either itself or its pace.” We’d back up Miller’s recommendation, but we haven’t seen it.

And now for something completely different…

The first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on CBC as part of the network’s fall 1970 lineup. After 19 episodes, the show lost its place on the schedule in January 1971 to The World We Live In, an American science program whose title could have been a Python skit. Throughout the week after CBC yanked Monty Python, more than 700 people called in to complain, while 150 students staged a demonstration outside the network’s Montreal studios. CBC officials promised to air the remaining seven episodes as soon as they could find a slot—the show eventually returned, becoming a fixture on the network during the first half of the 1970s. In Toronto, the troupe’s popularity solidified during a long run of their film And Now For Something Completely Different at the Roxy on Danforth Avenue and sold-out live performances at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1973.

One person left unimpressed by the series was a Mr. John Cameron, who wrote to the Sun in February 1974 regarding the show’s prejudicial attitude toward the Scots. As you read Mr. Cameron’s complaint, with proper Python-ese diction and a “Dear Sir” at the start, try to imagine which skit ticked him off so much that he wished to inflict the Spanish Inquisition on the national broadcaster:

How long is the CBC going to be allowed to bring into this country such racist garbage as the English BBC Monty Python show that we are forced to watch every Thursday night, if we want to watch CBC. I would advise everyone to switch channels. The English government is responsible for this anti-Scottish poison and it is their deliberate policy to try to destroy the Scottish character by ridicule, portraying Scots as mean and miserly so that we will be ashamed of our racial origin, and more easily assimilated into the English Empire…The CBC is a government of Canada body, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada and this proves that our Canadian government is nothing more than a stooge for the English government and this country takes its orders from England and is a partner in these criminal activities against the Scottish people.

Mr. Cameron went on to bellyache about the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s hypocrisy in not pursuing action against this slight to the Scots, before concluding that Monty Python was “the most sick, racist show on television, and it proves just how degenerate our Canadian and English government’s policies are. Imperialism still lives.” The Sun’s one-line response? “We think Monty Python is very subversive—as CBC brass thinks too.”

We’re surprised they didn’t say “you’re a looney.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1971, and February 28, 1974, editions of the Toronto Star, and the February 22, 1974, edition of the Toronto Sun.

The Roar of Greasepaint, The Smell of Gunfire

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2011.

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“Hundreds of onlookers thought they were witnessing an actual bank holdup and police-desperado gun battle at Yonge and Grosvenor today as these phoney [sic] officers raced onto the scene as part of the filming of a TV drams.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Wednesday morning, downtown Toronto. As a bank robbery unfolds a desperate man, hiding his identity underneath clown makeup, threatens to blow up the financial institution and anyone within it if his demands are not met. Outside the police prepare to swoop in—their every step monitored by a television camera crew filming the scene for an upcoming police drama.

While such a scene wouldn’t faze citizens used to seeing crime shows like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue filmed on Toronto’s streets, the reaction from passers-by was far different during the first decade of local television production. When a CBC crew filmed Power to Destroy at the Bank of Montreal branch at Yonge and Grosvenor Streets (now an A&W) on September 10, 1958, some of those who gawked believed they were witnessing an actual crime scene. As the Telegram reported in that evening’s edition, “for a hectic hour today the corner was the scene of what will probably go down in history as the most confused bank robbery staged in downtown Toronto.”

Based on an incident that happened in Montreal, Power to Destroy was chosen to lead off a new season of CBC’s Sunday night drama showcase General Motors Theatre. The cast included Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey) as the clown-faced robber, John Drainie (veteran radio actor and an original co-host of This Hour Has Seven Days), and, as a cop, James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek). The bank robbery sequence shot on the morning of September 10 was to be mixed in with live studio performances when the program aired 11 days later.

Given how the shoot went, it’s a good thing the robbery wasn’t transmitted live.

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“Despite the generous co-operation of real Metro officers, some of whom are seen here, director Paul Almond had to shoot the scene several times before he was satisfied. Traffic piled up and there was one collision as unknowing onlookers gaped.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Despite having genuine Metropolitan Toronto police direct traffic around the intersection of Yonge and Grosvenor, so that actor cops could rush into the bank, the outside world had a habit of interfering. One motorist who stopped to inspect the hubbub outside the bank blocked the way for a fake cop car, causing the actors inside the obstructed vehicle to stop 100 yards from the shoot.

Filming resumed as an ever-increasing crowd of onlookers tried to figure out what was going on. The Telegram reported that “the shooting of the bank robbery scene had such authenticity that a crowd of more than 200 gathered open-mouthed on the street, waiting for the worst to happen.”

The “worst” turned out to be outside drivers and other bystanders:

A woman driver tried to turn the corner and watch the officers in action. Her car ran into the rear of a car driven by another woman. As both argued, a middle-aged woman suddenly screamed at her husband. “I told you not to stand there. He’s inside the bank armed. Get back, Henry, get back.” A drunk wobbled onto the scene and warned all who would listen: “I know the guy that’s in there and he means business. They won’t get him without some shooting.” An elderly man turned to his wife and said “I don’t think he can get out of there with all these officers around. But we’d better move on anyways.”

By this time, bystanders who clued in to what was going on teased anyone walking by who was unaware of the situation—when one woman asked what was up and was told a bank robber had been shot, she replied “heavens, oh heavens.” As the morning wore on, the Telegram noted that the actors playing police officers “were shot over and over again, but their only wounds were sore feet from continuous running outside the Bank of Montreal.” Their fatigue wasn’t helped by incidents like a re-shoot caused by a traffic jam on Yonge Street. When the final scene was shot at noon, “a confused little man, hobbling on a cane, got in the way of the cameras. Befuddled by shouts to move on he tried to move in all directions at once and almost fell in front of two ‘policemen’ sneaking up on a bank window.”

The finished product was reviewed by the Star’s Gordon Sinclair, who felt Power to Destroy “was no world beater but it had some merit.” He praised the way the filmed sequences were spliced into the live drama, but criticized the high volume of background noise in scenes set in the bank and police station.

Additional material from the September 10, 1958 edition of the Telegram and the September 22, 1958 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Greatest Canadian of All Times Wants Your Vote

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2010.

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The North Toronto Herald, June 3, 1955.

During the current municipal election campaign, some candidates have unveiled promotional materials that demonstrate just how ballsy they are about their ability to govern the city. But for sheer belief in one’s abilities, few can match perennial 1950s fringe candidate George Rolland. The self-styled “greatest Canadian of all times” (we thought that title belonged to Tommy Douglas) tried to gain access to City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill and failed each time. Today’s ad, and its listing of his diverse talents, made Rolland an irresistible choice to 317 voters in the riding of Eglinton during the provincial election of 1955.

The great man had two major liabilities. Number one was a massive ego which led to all kinds of narcissistic fantasies. Whenever he showed up at candidate meetings during his run for Toronto’s Board of Control in 1954, he brought along a display board covered in medals he won in athletic competitions, which he felt entitled him to be a controller. It was reported that he sat in the window of a store he once owned and had a spotlight directed upon himself. He wrote an endless stream of letters to City Hall and local newspapers to prove his genius. As for his belief in his musical genius, Star columnist Ron Haggart noted in a 1960 profile that “he said there had been no composers worthy of mention in the past 500 years (except himself) and he had redesigned the musical scale.”

Liability number two was not so easily dismissed: the man was a raving racist. In his 1954 platform, Rolland promised to introduce “racial segregation laws” that would “correct the inter-racial mixing menace that sweeps over the world today, and destroys the true meaning of Christianity and destroys the self-respect of all persons alike.” If enacted, Rolland’s laws would have applied to schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, residences, and so on. His dream of bringing a touch of South Africa to Toronto was greeted with boos during candidate gatherings. His racist leanings became more pronounced as time wore on, climaxing in a fiery appearance on the CBC TV show Live a Borrowed Life in September 1959. Instead of limiting himself to talking about his supposed expertise on Abraham Lincoln, Rolland told the panel that blacks should move to Africa to establish their own culture instead of battling discrimination.

Rolland filed nomination papers to run yet again for the Board of Control in November 1960. His campaign would have likely included a battle against the design of the new City Hall, as its curving towers were “alien” in concept and would, he claimed, cause a vortex that would transform light breezes into hurricane-strength winds. But Rolland never got to make any more stump speeches. On November 23, the deadline day for candidates to qualify or drop out of the race, Rolland died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six. His death almost sparked a crisis, as due to the rules of the day, a new nomination meeting had to be held no less than seven days before the election, on December 5. Such a meeting required six days notice in a newspaper. Time was tight and the spectre of holding a separate election for the Board of Control loomed. This scenario was avoided when the Star indicated it could slip the official notice into that evening’s paper. As Haggart noted a week later, “at City Hall, where they laughed cruelly at George Rolland, they had to take him seriously at last.”

Additional material from the November 25, 1954, December 4, 1954, September 10, 1959, November 23, 1960, and November 28, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, December 5, 1955. One suspects the paper wouldn’t run such an ad today.

Checking my files, it appears I only used the Star‘s archive when I wrote this piece. So, when prepping this reprint, I browsed the Globe and Mail to see what they had to say about this great Canadian. I’m happy to report that they didn’t pull any punches in calling him out for what he was, especially near the end of his life.

Here’s a description of his appearance at a candidate’s meeting during his run for the Board of Control in 1954:

Candidate George Rolland had a number of reasons last night why he should be elected to the Board of Control.

Winding up a rapid-fire election speech before a large audience at Brown Public School, candidate Rolland went to a satchel and pulled out a bright blue vest weighted with medals.

“Just look at those,” he exclaimed to the crowd.

“Running medals, walking medals, wrestling medals, boxing medals and singing medals.”

He looked at the crowd for a moment.

“Folks, all that skill and all that co-ordination of action is yours if you vote for me December 6.”

Among some of Rolland’s other beliefs:

  • Viljo Revell’s design for City Hall wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand a snowstorm. “It may topple over before it is completed,” he wrote in a letter to City Council in 1958. “The building will be very dangerous and unsafe.”
  • Pedestrian crosswalks were “a guessing game” and should be abolished.

His appearance on Live a Borrowed Life provoked editorials in both the Globe and the Star. “Mr. Rolland’s record as a racial agitator is too well known for the CBC to plead ignorance of his offensive views,” the Globe and Mail observed. “It should have realized he would grasp the rare opportunity of a national network audience to present them.” The Star chalked the appearance up to “a producer’s boner,” and that the discussion of heavy issues like racism should occur in a weightier setting than a light entertainment panel show.

Also not impressed with Rolland’s CBC appearance was script assistant Janet Hosking, who watched at home while sick with pleurisy. “I sat and slowly died,” she recalled a few months later.

ts 60-11-24 death tipoff

Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.

gm-1960-11-24-rolland-obit

The headline of Rolland’s Globe and Mail obit pretty much sums up his character. One wonders how he’d thrive in today’s political climate. I’d hate to see his website…

Additional material from the November 26, 1954, October 2, 1958, November 18, 1958, September 11, 1959,  January 7, 1960, and November 24, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 11, 1959 edition of the Toronto Star.