Halloween in Toronto, 1978

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Malabar’s, the costume people, have never been busier than they have during the past couple of weeks, and the reason may provide a dandy little summary of the times we’re in. These times, inarguably, are rotten. The dollar, the family, the nation, the Argos…everything’s falling apart. Hallowe’en, if we’ll let it, gives us a chance to get away from all that. To hide. Fantasize. Escape from reality. Turn into someone—or something—else. – Peter Gzowski, Toronto Star, October 31, 1978.

Talking to staff at Malabar, Gzowski discovered one of 1978’s most popular costumes was one that would be frowned upon for numerous reasons 40 years on: an Arab. “They want to rich,” noted Malabar’s Michael Schilders. “They could just put on a tea-towel, a rope and a tablecloth, but if they come to us they can have gold and silver cords and really looks as if they owned oil wells.”

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1978.

Also popular that year: masks of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, anything Vatican related (the year had gone through three popes) and nun’s habits, especially among pregnant customers. Store staff noted that interest in costumes went up when the economy tumbled (the Great Depression had been especially good for rentals).

Best costume suggestion in the column: “the Blob Who Ate Etobicoke.”

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Toronto Star, October 25, 1978.

Over in the Globe and Mail, columnist Bruce West felt Halloween was going downhill, partly because nobody had the chance to tip over outhouses:

It is my personal theory that Hallowe’en started its downhill trend not long after the advent of inside plumbing brought about the demise of the outdoor privy. There was a time, I’ll have you know, when—particularly in the more rural areas—the humble outhouse was almost as import a symbol of Hallowe’en as the ghastly smile of a flickering pumpkin or even a witch flying by on a broom.

No one was really considered to have really won his spurs as a graduate Hallowe’en prankster until he had at least assisted in the overturning of one outhouse. The owners of these conveniences usually took this annual ordeal in fairly good humour—with the notable exception of one deceitful rascal in my home town who gained the undying hostility of a group of privy-tippers by craftily shifting back his outhouse a few feet, in the early hours of Hallowe’en, in such away that the raiding party, while later approaching their target in the deep darkness, suddenly encountered some mighty poor footing.

The scariest element of modern-day Halloween, according to West, came “when you are confronted by the horrible giant prices of a dwarf bag of hand-out chocolate bars or trick-or-treat apples.”

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Globe and Mail, November 1, 1978.

One candy kids wouldn’t get their hands on was Clikkers tobacco-flavoured gum. The Consumers Association of Canada (CAC) successfully lobbied Zellers to remove the product, which was offered as a seasonal special at some locations. Though it didn’t actually contain tobacco or nicotine, the CAC wondered what the chances were that “children who acquire a taste for tobacco-flavoured gum will be encouraged to try tobacco itself?” An official from Zellers’ head office in Montreal admitted that “based on the calls we’ve had, it just isn’t worth it.” Aspiring smokers had to settle for Popeye candy cigs.

Two Toronto-based animators, John Leach (later known as Jonathan Rogers) and Jean Rankin, created one of the season’s hottest new animated specials. Here’s how The Canadian magazine introduced Witch’s Night Out:

Winnifred, bless her black lace bloomers, is not your average witch. A grande dame with the Seventies style of a stand-up comic, a funky fairy godmother temporarily fallen on hard times, she worries because work isn’t coming in the way it used to; nobody seems to believe in magic anymore. But she still has class, wears expensive underwear, and puts on her makeup every morning. And she can make wishes come true.

Winnifred was named after Leach’s mother, who remarked “Fame at last!” The character was partly inspired by Gilda Radner, who provided her voice (other voices included Catherine O’Hara and Fiona Reid). The cartoon was originally intended for CBC, who sat on it for nearly a year before finally rejecting it. It ended up on NBC, where Radner was starring on Saturday Night Live.

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If you were running dry on costume ideas, you could always check the Star’s “Starship” page for inspiration via its ongoing “Costumes of the World” series. Who knows how many little fishermen from Flanders ran around the streets of Toronto! October 28, 1978.

Halloween night the Toronto tradition of egging drag performers attending balls on Yonge Street continued, which resulted in 90 arrests. “Most of the arrests,” the Star reported, “were for causing a disturbance, drunkenness and breach of the peace.” It was also noted that “one marijuana charge was laid.” Two years later, a crackdown by police and the community began winding down the hate-tinged mayhem.

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Art Eggleton would top the polls in Ward 4, which covered Trinity-Bellwoods and Little Italy. Two years later, he was mayor. Toronto Star, November 1, 1978.

Halloween 1978 also coincided with the municipal election campaign, resulting in some election sign pranks. A Globe and Mail editorial observed that householders were placed “in the position of being promised goodies as they hand goodies over. The trick is to tell the real hobgoblins from those in disguise and to beware of brochures with pins in them.”

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Toronto Star, October 26, 1978.

Fashion then, costumes now: the image above offers a sampling of the outfits one could put together from goods available at the 1978 edition of a long-running Toronto tradition, the Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar, which was promoted throughout the week of Halloween. Held on November 1 at the CNE’s Automotive Building, it was expected to draw 60,000 people looking to buy everything from high fashion to cantaloupe preserves.

Additional material from the October 28, 1978 edition of the Canadian; the October 27, 1978, October 30, 1978, October 31, 1978, and November 1, 1978 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the October 31, 1978 and November 1, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

Celebrating Carnival at the ROM

Originally published on Torontoist on July 27, 2012.

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Carnival mas band costumes designed by Brian Mac Farlane. Left to right: Time (2011), Mad Cow (2010), Dragon (2010).

Tucked in a corner beside a giant photo of a dinosaur, it would be easy for Royal Ontario Museum visitors to pass by the small exhibit near the main entrance. But a glance in the right direction reveals a quartet of eye-catching costumes crafted by Trinidadian Carnival outfit designer Brian Mac Farlane. From a traditional “mad cow,” to a stark depiction of departed souls, the costumes reflect the historical and social commentary which infuses Mac Farlane’s work and forms the core of the museum’s latest tie-in exhibit with the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival.

Carnival is a pre-lent festive season that is celebrated around the world, but especially in Trinidad and Tobago and on other Caribbean isles, where the event culminates in giant parades the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, participants in those parades wear elaborate, colourful costumes, like Mac Farlane’s.

Opening to the public on Saturday, “Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration” features a gallery of sketches of Mac Farlane’s thematic designs over the past three years. Since beginning his career as a teenager in the early 1970s, Mac Farlane has won numerous awards for his Carnival work in Trinidad and Tobago and has been tapped to provide presentations for international events like this year’s Olympics. Looking at the sketches, one can see why his work has earned such prestige. His designs are attention-grabbing, and layered with symbolism.

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Sketch by Brian Mac Farlane for Aphotic costumes, 2012. According to the interpretive notes, these outfits project “a sense of hopelessness and despair” that people feel when they are “rendered powerless by the negativity that surrounds them.”

Take the “Sanctification…In Search Of” series of outfits Mac Farlane produced this year. According to his website, the designs came about as a result of his pain “at the inhumane way in which we treat each other.” Headline after headline regarding crime, the worsening economy, and the fraying of the social fabric led Mac Farlane to create a series of costumes employing the colours of Trinidad and Tobago’s flag: “Red represents our blood; Black represents the darkness, in which we currently find ourselves; and White represents cohesiveness and unity that form part of the solution.” The result is outfits that range from demonic figures draped in blood and darkness, to lighter figures embodying patriotism—which seems appropriate given this year’s celebration of the golden anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Great Britain.

Besides Mac Farlane’s work, the gallery also features images from the past 45 years of Toronto’s Carnival celebrations (though don’t go looking for any reference to the festival’s former name, which the organizers are now legally prohibited from using). Video clips include thoughts from the likes of Toronto Raptor Jamaal Magloire on the meaning of the celebration. One drawback to the exhibit is how it’s split up. It’s unfortunate that Mac Farlane’s costumes are one floor away from the sketches they grew from. Rather than being almost hidden away in a corner, the full-size outfits could have formed a focal point in the centre of the exhibit’s main second-floor gallery.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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It appears there were at least two other pictures I took that were considered for the final piece. Unfortunately, I do not have descriptions on hand, so you’ll just have to gaze at the artistry of these works.