Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 10

Pour Me a Psycho-Physical Driving Test

Originally published on Torontoist on March 30, 2010.


New Liberty, March 1948.

For at least a year, Labatt’s ran a series of public service announcements in New Liberty magazine that touted their touring psycho-physical driving test units, whose stops included the Canadian National Exhibition. While the ads showed how drivers learned how to better gauge appropriate spaces to pass and find out if their night vision was up to snuff, nowhere is it mentioned that one should indulge in a few rounds of Labatt’s main business interest before hitting the road.

By the late 1940s, professionals were beginning to realize that getting behind the wheel while drunk was dangerous. Nearly a year before today’s ad appeared, the Telegram ran an editorial after St. Andrew MPP J.B. Salsberg criticized the suspension of a truck driver’s licence due to an impaired driving charge as a hardship for the driver’s family (the government indicated it had no intention of making any exception to the existing licence suspension laws):

In view of the serious menace to public safety which the drunken driver presents there can be little support for any proposal to loosen the operation of the law in this respect. Nor is it desirable, whatever the hardship involved, that variations in the application of the law should be permitted. Leniency in one case would open the door to pressure for leniency in other cases. It is in the public interest that all drivers should realize what such infractions of the law entail and that they should understand that if they offend in this way there is no escape from the penalty provided.

Locomotive engineers, it is understood, are not permitted to drink while on duty. It is quite as imperative that truck and automobile drivers, who do not travel on a private right of way, should avoid intoxicants before or during driving. It cannot be repeated too often that alcohol and gasoline is a bad mixture.

Additional material from the April 7, 1947 edition of the Telegram.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2012.


Maclean’s, September 9, 1961.

These scenes from a stereotypical early-1960s middle-class home look serene, but dangers worthy of a television drama are in full view. Unlike the family in that famous Upstairs, Downstairs TV series, this household doesn’t have to worry about relationships between hired help and the gentility. Instead, they should fear for the potential disasters that could befall the children.

Upstairs, while baby can’t crawl up the wall to tear at the beautiful new thermostat and discover if mercury pleases his palate, his parents could be watching what he does with his teddy bear, instead of discussing the contents of their favourite evening paper. Nobody wants to witness an accidental choking. Downstairs, while Junior is in little danger from the blasts of his shiny cap guns, he could accidentally bang his head into the heater’s manifold valve or oil burner if he gets too carried away with his game of cowboys and Indians.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Which Vehicle Has the Right of Way?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 6, 2011.


Toronto Sun, September 27, 1981.

The courtesy suggested in today’s ad only went so far. After two more decades of drivers pinning in public transit vehicles, legislation forcing vehicles to yield to buses became provincial law on January 2, 2004. We suspect there were drivers who took fiendish glee in purposely cutting off buses one last time on New Year’s Day before the risk of receiving a $90 fine kicked in.

Thanks to lobbying efforts from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Ontario followed British Columbia and Quebec in enacting a yield-to-bus law. TTC officials felt the law would result in speedier service, with some routes expected to see travel times decrease by five minutes. Signs on the backs of buses employed more forceful language: “please” was dropped from the yield warning sign. The change of wording outraged Toronto Star reader Harold Nelson, who complained to the paper that the TTC was “not as polite as it once was.” His remarks prompted Barbara Gilbert of Newmarket to respond. “When was the last time you saw a sign that said ‘please stop?’” Gilbert wrote. “Maybe the reader should familiarize himself with the rules of the road before he heads out in his vehicle.”

Additional material from the April 24, 2004 and April 30, 2004 editions of the Toronto Star.

Reckless Driving, Nineteenth Century–Style

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2010.


Is the cop on the right watching for speeders? King Street at Yonge Street, looking east. Toronto, c. 1875. Wikimedia Commons.

Cabbies who execute U-turns with no warning. Drivers who refuse wait two seconds at a pedestrian crossing. Hotshots who think nothing of showing off their ultra-cool set of wheels by shifting into warp drive without any care about anyone else sharing the road. Car owners who ignore the existence of turn signals. Cyclists riding on the sidewalk who hurl obscenities at pedestrians minding their own business.

It can be a jungle on Toronto’s roads thanks to reckless drivers of all stripes, but this isn’t news to anyone who’s lived here for a while. The types of vehicles some of our citizens probably shouldn’t be operating matters little, as crazy drivers in Toronto were a problem even before the automobile arrived. We recently unearthed an editorial from the nineteenth century which proves that there has always been a risk of being mowed down by anyone in a hurry, even at eight miles an hour.

Under the title “Reckless Driving,” the lead editorial in the May 5, 1881 edition of the Toronto Evening News traces the history of crazy drivers back to Greek mythology:

That son of the immortals who was cast out of Olympus through his reckless management of the celestial chariot was served quite right. The pity is that he did not alight upon some other planet than ours, which seems to have been selected by the aristocracy of mythology as a fit receptacle for all the rubbish they had to dispose of. The bad example set by him has only been too closely followed, and the result is that the old, the infirm, and unwary are liable to be knocked down and run over in our street upon any time/day which woos the furious driver to his pleasant pastime.

The editorial writer then presents scenarios that make one wonder if pedestrian accident/fatality statistics were as high as those seen in the city earlier this year:

The little girl on her way to school is not an imposing personage, but she has, or ought to have, a right to go to school without being frightened out of her wits at every street crossing. When THE EVENING NEWS takes its walks abroad these bright May mornings having, like Gilpin’s wife, “a frugal mind although on pleasure bent,” it often observes that the little ones on their way to school are perplexed and bewildered by the furious manner in which various vehicles are driven down upon them. School going children are not the only victims. Old men and women, the halt, the lame and the blind, are sometimes knocked down and run over as though they were mere bundles of old rags. By what right does a coachman, or cabman, or a butcher’s boy do this sort of thing? If THE EVENING NEWS is not misinformed there is a city ordinance against furious driving, but furious drivers seem not to care for the city ordinance. It is, we understand, the duty of the police to see that the limit of eight miles per hour is not exceeded by any vehicle with a horse at one end of the rains [sic] and a fool at the other end. The limit is not limited enough, and ought to be circumscribed, but is exceeded every day in the week without fear and without penalty.

Unfortunately for the police, the radar gun had yet to be invented. We imagine that unless a constable was already mounted, chasing after the speeders would have been next to impossible. The solution? Drop the speed limit.

The police have failed to perform their whole duty in this respect. It is true that it is difficult for a constable to tell whether a horse is being driven at the rate of more than eight miles an hour or not, but there are flagrant cases which not even a constable can mistake. Eight miles an hour is altogether too fast for our more crowded thoroughfares. If our constables cannot tell when that pace is being exceeded, and when people are being placed in danger of their lives, perhaps a reporter of THE EVENING NEWS, stop-watch in hand, can. Anyhow, this reckless driving must be checked.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 2

Be Free As a Bird For a Fiver

Originally published on Torontoist on March 3, 2009.


Toronto Life, July 1968.

Last week, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority announced that it would end a $1.5 million subsidy to Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport. This move has prompted Toronto Airways, who has operated the airport since the early 1960s, to consider reducing hours or closing the site entirely after more than forty years of offering Torontonians a chance to fly.

Labelling the airport’s location as along the Don Valley Parkway was premature, as the freeway ended at Sheppard Avenue when this ad appeared. The first full segment of what is now Highway 404 (Sheppard to Steeles) would not be completed until 1977 and would not reach Buttonville for several more years.

Phoning It In from Lake Shore Boulevard

Originally published on Torontoist on March 17, 2009.


Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 4, Number 11, 1980.

Because modern technology should never allow anyone the opportunity to be totally removed from the office…will a disastrous business transaction cause our phone-wielding businessman too much anxiety to enjoy a ball game?

Laugh at the exclusive features if you want, but elements like easy-to-read LED displays were bonuses to adapters of this early form of mobile phone. At least this user hasn’t caused an accident during the eastbound crawl on Lake Shore Boulevard…yet.
Preferring not to place his call on the Gardiner Expressway, this user’s drive takes him past landmarks that are still around (the footbridge from Exhibition Place to Ontario Place) and those lone gone (Exhibition Stadium).

Beat the Spring Rush to the Bicycle Shop

Originally published on Torontoist on March 24, 2009.


Toronto World, February 17, 1900.

Now that spring is officially upon us, thousands of bicycles are emerging from winter storage and returning to our pothole-riddled streets. It’s a busy time for repair shops around the city, as riders bring their bicycles in for a tune-up. Cyclists in 1900 appear to have faced the same backlog in waiting to get their vehicles back as riders do during current peak tune-up periods. We’re not sure how many customers took advantage of E.C. Hill’s early-bird special, but we hope that their skill at installing a fresh pair of tires was better than their skill at spelling.

Fiat Freeways

Originally published on Torontoist on April 28, 2009.


Sports Illustrated, June 20, 1960.

Fiat has been in the news headlines regularly lately, thanks to its proposed alliance with ailing automaker Chrysler. Half a century ago, the Italian auto giant tried to woo buyers in North America with compact cars like the Fiat 1100 in an age when bigger was better for domestic manufacturers and consumers.

The expressways that fill out Fiat’s name could have easily been the flurry of highways and speedy road extensions built around Metro Toronto during the preceding decade. The company’s Canadian office at Bloor and Jarvis streets, the site of which now houses Rogers, might have had a good view of the Mount Pleasant Road extension that opened in 1950. Major portions of what are now the Gardiner Expressway, and Highways 400401, and 427 were opened to traffic between 1952 and 1958, while construction of the first segment of the Don Valley Parkway was well underway by the time this ad appeared.