1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 1: Chop Suey and Cookies

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During a research dive into the pages of the Mail and Empire while preparing this article, I wound up collecting two months worth of women’s pages, which I figured might make an interesting ongoing series for this website. The paper had a rich history of covering women’s domestic affairs and social issues stretching back to Kit Coleman’s pioneering work during the 1890s.

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Caricature of Izaak Walton Killam, Maclean’s, April 1, 1933.

In 1933, the Conservative-leaning Mail and Empire was Toronto’s largest morning paper, ahead of the Liberal-leaning Globe (the Star and Telegram, both of which had larger circulations, battled it out for evening readers). It was owned by Izaak Walton Killam, one of Canada’s richest businessmen. In keeping with his shy, modest persona, Killam tended to keep out of the editorial staff’s way.

Some excerpts from a profile of Killam written by Charles Vining that was published by Maclean’s that year:

Mr. Killam lives in Montreal and is a perfect example of what once was known as the financial magnate, a species rendered almost extinct by the glacial action of frozen assets.

He has a power company in Calgary, a chocolate concern in Halifax, a newsprint enterprise at Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and a good deal of trouble with all of them.

He also owns a newspaper in Toronto called the Mail and Empire, and has hoped some day to own the Globe as well.

A great many people has wondered why in the world he bought the Mail and Empire, and are even more puzzled as to what a man would do with two newspapers, especially two Toronto newspapers. [Note: the two papers were united as the Globe and Mail by George McCullagh and William Wright in 1936].

He does not speak at all unless he has to.

He is nearly always tired.

He is nearly fifty, wears blue suits, carries a yellow stick, and has romantic brown eyes and a complexion that makes him look slightly in need of a shave.

He made a strict rule some years ago not to be interviewed or photographed by the press, and has had little difficulty about this during the last couple of years.

In spite of the inconvenience which frequently results, he is disposed by nature to be friendly with people.

For more on Killam, check out an episode of CBC Radio’s Ideas series which covers his life, and the philanthropic legacy he left, including scholarships and a lot of money for the Canada Council.

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Mail and Empire, March 1, 1933.

Future posts will discuss the identity of “Ann Adam,” so for now let’s dive right into the table talk about food. The main feature was a series of “ethnic” meat recipes. Understanding of non-European dishes was slowly evolving, as was the bastardization of meals inspired by exotic locales. In 2019, little screams “Mexican” about that meat loaf other than tomatoes.

Next was a lecture from a series sponsored by Consumer’s Gas, which spends today stressing the importance of meal accessories. The lectures were held at the Consumer’s Gas Showroom, an art deco-influenced architectural gem built two years earlier.

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Mail and Empire, March 1, 1933.

Some cookie recipes to get you through your late winter malaise.

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Mail and Empire, March 1, 1933.

A brief word from our sponsors. Underweight children will become a recurring advertising theme.

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Mail and Empire, March 1, 1933.

A mixture of features here, including a spinach recipe, a cutesy cartoon, and an update on a social service organization.

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Mail and Empire, March 1, 1933.

Finally, a syndicated cartoon which ran across North American throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2011.

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

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

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

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954.

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

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954. 

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

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

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

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

Historical Holiday Hints: O Christmas Tree

Originally published on Torontoist on December 21, 2011.

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“Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your branches green entice us!

The centrepiece of many homes at this time of year is a decorated tree. Whether it’s fir, pine, or plastic, a well-chosen tree establishes a cozy atmosphere. While there are occupational hazards such as falling needles or ornaments that pets treat as toys, a healthy, smart-looking tree will be a point of pride during holiday celebrations.

We don’t view Christmas trees as fruit-bearing plants, but an anonymous poem published in the Star in 1905 extolled the sweet goodness they produce:

The strawberries may shrivel and the apple crop may rot;
The peas may have the weevil, the potatoes go to pot;
But it is a consolation, as most anyone can see.
That no pest can kill the fruit crop of the dear old Christmas tree.

Sure it thrives in every climate and it grows in every soil.
And no simoon hot can blast it, nor no arctic zephyrs spoil;
It is always richly laden, and we view its fruit with glee;
There are never barren seasons with the dear old Christmas tree.

Ask the boys and girls about it; show them peach and plum and pear;
Ask ’em which of all they fancy, which they most prefer to share.
See their smile, alike expectant, hear them every one agree,
That there is no fruit equal what grows on the Christmas tree.

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“Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911.

In the early 20th century, locally grown trees prompted those smiles. Most sold in Toronto were raised within a 140-kilometre radius of the city. According to St. Lawrence Market vendor James Bamford, these trees were grown on land that was too poor to produce wood suitable for lumber. “The farmers,” Bamford noted in a 1924 interview with the Star, “are glad to get rid of them in many cases.”

By the late 1970s, twice as many Toronto homes had artificial trees as had the real thing, due to the lack of maintenance they required. A market remained for the live trees, either on a street corner lot or out in a rural bush, but selling them required creativity. If a grower’s stock turned yellow, they could spray the trees with Greenzit, which was promoted as “a non-toxic, economical, natural colorant spray that won’t wash off.” Visitors to farms run by Murray Dryden in Caledon and York Region could cut their own tree and then, with a charitable donation, hire a Newfoundland or St. Bernard dog to haul it back to their vehicle. There was no indication if the St. Bernards also carried a small barrel of brandy to revive weary tree cutters.

Growers recommended that those heading out to the country to cut their trees should bring the proper equipment. The first piece of advice, offered to the Star in 1978: wear warm clothes and sturdy boots equipped to handle rough, snow-covered terrain (“the bush is no place for city shoes”). Buyers were also advised to bring their own saws for cutting and twine for tying, in case the grower had none to spare.

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Left: the punchline to “Excuse Me” by M. Myer, the News, December 23, 1911. Right: advertisement, the Toronto Star, December 23, 1910.

True rugged types don’t go to tree farms. They roam the land in search of the perfect tree. Care must be taken, though, to avoid chopping down a tree on protected land. You will earn both a fine and public embarrassment via the press. Don’t be like Robert Blythe, whose quest for a pine in Vaughan was rewarded with a $63 penalty and a blurb on the front page of the Globe and Mail in December 1957.

This season, chop your tree wisely.

Additional material from the December 17, 1957, edition of the Globe and Mail, and the December 9, 1905, December 6, 1924, November 26, 1977, December 11, 1977, and December 7, 1978, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 6, 1924.

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Toronto Star, December 7, 1978.

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Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1971.