Vintage Toronto Ads: A Home University Fit For an Empire

Originally published on Torontoist on March 2, 2010, though the image was long-missing there.

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The Empire, January 26, 1895.

Ah, nothing like using the bait of personal enlightenment to lure people hoping to expand their knowledge base into buying newspaper subscriptions and a set of encyclopaedias. The only cost to unlocking the “sum of all knowledge” and avoid being forever disparaged for having only attended a little red school house was to read the news of the day filtered through the official viewpoint of the governing political party in Ottawa. It may have mattered little which of the five great classes of humanity an Empire reader belonged to, as long as they ultimately used the knowledge gained to cast their ballots for the Conservatives (or, to go with the party name that was fading from official use, Liberal-Conservatives).

Based on these ads, the heart of the Empire’s library was the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Also known as the “scholar’s edition,” this incarnation of the popular series was published in twenty-four volumes between 1875 and 1889. Perhaps special note was made of this version being the “Edinburgh Edition” to distinguish it from the cheap forgeries that floated around the United States.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 17, 1887.

As for the newspaper offering the means of expanding one’s knowledge, the Empire was launched when the Conservatives found they could no longer trust the Mail (which the party had backed since the paper’s founding in 1872) to always push party policies. The editorial direction of the Empire was clear when the first edition hit the streets of Toronto on December 27, 1887:

It is proposed to strengthen by all legitimate means the hands of the Party and the Government that have controlled the politics of the Dominion (with the exception of a term of five years) ever since the foundations of Confederation were laid. Believing that the public affairs of Canada have been, on the whole, wisely and ably administrated under the premiership of Sir John A. Macdonald, and holding that the remarkable progress of our country has been due in large measure to his far-sighted and patriotic administration, The Empire will extend to the Leader and his Government its fullest confidence and heartiest support.

In short, if you liked new Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier, the Empire wasn’t going to be high on your daily reading list. Based on random flips through its pages, we recommend the Empire to those readers who have deep interests in the National Policy, coverage of the death of Sir John A. in 1891, and gatherings of late nineteenth-century cheese producers.

Faithful readers who dithered about buying a set of encyclopaedias had little time to ponder a purchase. Two days after the last of today’s ads appeared, the Empire published its final edition and merged with the Mail to form the Mail and Empire (which merged with the Globe in 1936). The newspapers on the left were mixed in their reactions to the Empire’s demise—the Star noted it was a “sorry good-bye” but that Empire staff “know how the chicken felt” on this “cold day” before the Star editorial writer criticized the Tories, while the Globe gave a front-page thank you to Empire staff for temporarily housing their paper after a fire in January 1895 destroyed the Globe’s office.

Additional material from the December 27, 1887, edition of the Empire and the February 6, 1895, edition of the Toronto Star.