That Time Christie Blatchford Ate Only Bananas for a Week—for Journalism

Originally published on Torontoist on April 20, 2016.

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Toronto Star, July 25, 1978.

While most reporters aspire to focus on hard-hitting stories that strike a deep nerve with their readers, sometimes, especially early in their careers, they wind up with the fluffy stuff. Some days, you cover crime and corruption, and some days, as National Post employees found yesterday, you discover how many processed cheese slices will slide down your esophagus.

And sometimes, as veteran columnist Christie Blatchford discovered in the late 1970s, you’ll have a lengthy assignment which drives you bananas with bananas.

Blatchford began her career as a part-time copy editor at the Globe and Mail while attending Ryerson. After winning the Joe Perlove Scholarship for leading her class in 1973, the paper hired her as a full-time sports reporter. “When I worked at the Globe,” she recalled in her collection Spectator Sports, “I was perfect for it—young, earnest, and horrifically self-important.” Within a few years she gained national attention for being a female sports columnist.

Then she jumped ship.

“After three years, I went into a snit when a copy editor dared to mess with my pearls of wisdom, and quit in a huff,” she observed. “I was also, I think now, a little lonely; being one of a handful of women writers was interesting, but after a few years it was also isolating and unnerving.”

Moving over to the Star in October 1977, she became one of the paper’s busiest reporters. “For the next four years I was the Princess of Death, everywhere people were dying in numbers greater than three, there I was, ghoul with a pen.”

But sometimes a reporter needs a change of pace. In mid-July 1978, Star fitness columnist Allan Scott discussed a diet employed by French women’s gymnastics and ski teams. Three weeks prior to a major competition, the athletes undertook a week-long dietary regimen composed primarily of bananas, with low consumption of fluids. Over seven days, they lost between seven and 15 pounds each. Scott ran a test group of 16 people divided evenly between males and females. Similar results prevailed. Having undertaken the diet several times, Scott recommended a week-long regimen for those already in good health, accompanied by nightly half-hour strolls.

We imagine that, in an era of fad diets ranging from gorging on grapefruits to restricting calories, somebody at 1 Yonge decided to have a reporter try the banana method.

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The earliest visual we could find of Christie Blatchford in a Toronto newspaper, posing for an article on travel planning. Globe and Mail, July 22, 1972.

On the front page of the July 25, 1978 family section, a puffy-cheeked Blatchford posed with two bananas. She had quit smoking three weeks earlier, replacing cigarettes with a weight-gaining toffee habit. For the next week, Blatchford provided daily progress reports.

Day One: Blatchford devised several recipes to break the monotony of eating so many bananas, such as microwaving them with a dash of paprika. She suggested that, psychologically, they were the ideal fruit to diet with because they were as slender as fashion models.

There’s only one problem with the Banana Diet. Banana breath. I’ve been on the diet for a mere day, have eaten just six of the 24 yellow devils I’ll consume this week, and already I reek of banana. The inside of my mouth is dry, chalk-like, and, well, banana-y. Even friends who don’t know about the diet recoil when I get too close to them. They leave, urging me to start smoking again so at least they’ll be able to identify the source of the foulness.

Day Two: While shopping at a Bloor Street fruit market, Blatchford was nearly overcome by temptation.

Immediately, I sought out the day’s supply of bananas. I found them, right beside some of the wettest green grapes I have ever seen…I felt an overwhelming urge to seize the grapes and run—or at least mash them so no one else could taste them. Later, in the privacy of my own home, I cried. I also drank both tears.

Two important tips regarding the evening walk: do it in the country (to avoid the temptations of bakeries and pubs); and don’t do it in the rain (“The urge to lie down on the sidewalk with your mouth wide open to catch the drops as they fall is irresistible”).

Day Three: At her first weigh-in, Blatchford discovered she had lost seven and a half pounds. She lamented how the diet wrecked her social life, from skipping parties to receiving glares for chomping an apple at a movie theatre.

Worst of all was her sense of self-pity.

I felt so sorry for myself, so deprived, that I took up the weed again. I also sneaked two extra glasses of water into my parched body. I felt so guilty about all that I went on a punishing two-hour walk in my highest-heeled shoes. I was so weary I felt even sorrier for myself. You cannot win. You will, it’s true, be able to fit into dresses you could not do up last week. You will, however, have nowhere to wear it. No one will invite you anywhere.

Day Four: The series prompted more than 100 calls a day to the Star’s switchboard. One reader wrote a song about the Banana Diet, while others offered more facts about the fruit than anyone in the pre-internet age cared to know. “In four short days of writing about the Banana Diet,” she observed, “I have learned one thing—no Banana-face is an island unto herself. There are hundreds of you out there, Banana-faces all.”

Grocers across the city reported a spike in banana sales.

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Left: a summary of the Banana Diet, Toronto Star, July 20, 1978. Right: the photo which accompanied day five’s account. Toronto Star, July 29, 1978.

Day Five: “I cannot look another banana in the face.”

While she was supposed to down six bananas that day, Blatchford ate only three. The rest lurked in her fridge. “Bananas do not make graceful or magnanimous winners. In truth, bananas gloat.” As much as she wanted to quit, she had to respect the promise made to readers. While grocery shopping with her husband, the cashier recognized her and, looking at the pile of non-diet items, snarled, “None of that’s for you, I hope.”

Due to this and other public admonishing, she warned readers, “if you embark on the Banana Diet, keep it to yourself.”

Day Six: The headline read, “At last, I have a waist.” This proved the major revelation of the diet for Blatchford, who claimed she had “no personal experience with waistlines.” She spent most of the day posing in front of the full-length mirror in her front hallway. She vowed to buy more mirrors to perpetually glimpse her new figure, embracing her new self-appreciation. “I suspect that by tomorrow, when the Banana Diet ends, and I weigh myself for the final time, I will be completely unbearable,” she noted. “Smug. Vain. Self-righteous. And gloriously gaunt.”

Day Seven: Through the diet, Blatchford shed a total of nine and a half pounds. She hoped this would reduce her natural clumsiness. “Now, at a svelte 149.5 pounds, if I trip while crossing the street I am no longer in serious danger of rolling into traffic.” Despite the banana breath, she was pleased with the results and vowed to continue staying in better shape by following the advice of a nutritionist on how to maintain her new shape.

She imagined her new wardrobe, ditching black in favour of bright colours and tasteless patterns: “I fully expect I will be a horrible dresser. I will wear all the wrong colours all the wrong ways. I may even dig out my old white go-go boots and wear them, the better to show off my lean calves.”

And so ended the Banana Diet saga, which combined her talents of catchy writing and revealing personal vulnerabilities. If Blatchford ever writes a final column or reflection on her career, perhaps she’ll be prodded to discuss any long-term impact that week had on her, via health or personal vanity.

Additional material from Spectator Sports by Christie Blatchford (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1986); the April 23, 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the July 19, 1978 and July 25, 1978 through July 31, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

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Shaping Toronto: Chinatowns

Originally published on Torontoist on February 4, 2016.

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Marking the end of the Second World War in Chinatown, August 12, 1945 (two days before the official declaration was signed). City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98337.

A glance at the listing for Adelaide Street East in the 1878 city directory shows a mix of Anglo-sounding businessmen whose trades range from contracting to insurance. The name at number 9 stands out: Sam Ching & Co, Chinese laundry. Mr. Ching’s presence was a cultural milestone, as he was the first recorded Chinese resident of Toronto.

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Page from the 1878 city directory listing Sam Ching’s business at 9 Adelaide Street East.

Since Ching’s era, Toronto has included several Chinatowns, a term which has evolved from its original negative connotation. As Library and Archives Canada observes, “’Chinatown’ was coined in the 19th century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full of vice, and peopled by an inferior race.” That proper Torontonians of the early 20th century viewed the city’s small Chinese population—just over 1,000 in 1910—as lesser beings puts it mildly.

Both the respectable and gutter press hyped up the “yellow peril,” editorializing on how the eastern mindset was alien to western concepts of democracy and good citizenship, and how the Chinese would corrupt morals via gambling and opium. Efforts to curb their presence in the laundry and restaurant trades ranged from licensing fees to unsuccessful attempts by City Council to deny business licenses. Paranoia led to provincial legislation preventing Chinese-owned businesses from hiring white women, lest they be sold into white slavery. The Rosedale Ratepayers Association wanted to keep Chinese laundries out of their neighbourhood, adding them to the long list of things people don’t want in Rosedale.

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100-110 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 178.

While there had been small clusters of Chinese along Queen Street (one at George, another at York), by the end of the First World War a stable community established itself in The Ward, the neighbourhood west of Old City Hall which, despite its great poverty, had welcomed numerous immigrant communities. Elizabeth Street between Queen and Dundas served as this Chinatown’s spine, lined with businesses, restaurants, and societies. It mostly served single men, thanks to a series of harsh immigration measures preventing families from joining them. These laws escalated from head taxes to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which all but banned entry to Canada for two decades.

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56-48 Elizabeth Street, April 8, 1937. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 33, Item 171.

Over that time, the “almond-eyed Celestials,” as the Globe dubbed Chinese residents during the early 1920s, endured frequent police raids on gambling houses, a riot, and periodic rumours of imminent tong wars. If anything, the gambling dens offered lonely people social space, work, and shelter during hard times. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, the Chinese found Chinatown a refuge they felt accepted in.

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Globe and Mail, October 14, 1948.

Major changes came after the Second World War. The end of the Chinese Immigration Act led to a slow reunion of families. Provincial liquor law reforms allowing cocktail bars provoked a restaurant boom in Chinatown. Locals and tourists dined at Kwong ChowLichee GardenNanking TavernSai Woo, and other eateries which benefitted from both the new booze rules and increasing interest in Chinese-Canadian cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, June 17, 1969.

There were also new threats. The City acquired properties at the southern end of Chinatown to build the current City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By 1967, the city’s development commissioner recommended that the remaining buildings be replaced by municipal structures. Lead by the likes of Kwong Chow owner and community activist Jean Lumb, the Save Chinatown committee fought to preserve what was left. Lumb presented her arguments to the Star:

One reason why we feel there should always be a Chinatown in a city the size of Toronto is simply that there has been one, and to have it lost would be strongly felt. Its existence has its effects on people, especially as long as there are new Chinese immigrants coming every year. We should have a spot for them to start from, a place where they can be among their own people, hear their own language spoken. The Chinese people are quiet and reserved; it takes them longer than many other immigrants to make friends, to get used to new ways.

Some people say a Chinatown encourages ghettos and this is a reason why it shouldn’t be, but that’s not so. It just gives the people a sense of belonging. It’s a nice environment for them until they’re ready to go on their way more and fit into the Canadian community.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971.

After a series of deputations in 1969, City Council decided to keep what was now known as Old Chinatown. Efforts to keep the neighbourhood alive during the 1970s included Dragon Mall (a pedestrianized Elizabeth Street, à la the Yonge Street Mall) and earning recognition as a tourist destination. Over time, large scale development projects crept in and the remaining Chinese businesses closed. By the 21st century little remained beyond historical plaques marking where the neighbourhood had been.

Meanwhile, the gradual loosening of immigration rules during the 1960s prompted an influx of arrivals, especially from Hong Kong. As the old Chinatown shrank, a new one grew to the west along Dundas and Spadina, replacing the Jewish community which was moving north. By the late 1970s this area was recognized as downtown’s primary Chinatown, marked with cultural motifs and Chinese-language street signs.

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Corner of Broadview Avenue and Gerrard Street East, sometime between 1975 and 1988. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 383, Item 1.

For those who found Spadina too pricey or touristy, there was Chinatown East, which emerged at Broadview and Gerrard. Starting with the opening of Charlie’s Meat in 1971, the neighbourhood’s affordability attracted businesses which served an increasing number of migrants from mainland China and Vietnam.

By the mid-1980s, new Chinatowns developed in the suburbs. The influx of new businesses and residents revealed that fears of the “yellow peril” were far from dead. Agincourt became a flashpoint in 1984, as a wave of immigrants from Hong Kong (on the move as the end of the British lease on the colony in 1997 loomed) arrived. Some longtime residents were alarmed by the new faces around them. “I don’t want to be biased or prejudiced but I don’t think they should be allowed to come into a neighbourhood and take over with such force,” 30-year resident Mildred Jackson told the Star. A heated community meeting ostensibly about parking issues related to the recently-opened Dragon Centre and two other plazas at Sheppard Avenue and Glen Watford Drive degenerated into jeers and racist remarks. The tone may have been set by the meeting’s chair, who referred to the “rape of our community” and that “we should not actively encourage any group to cling together as an enclave” (he later wrote the Star to protest that his remarks were taken out of context). Flyers distributed to homes asked for tougher immigration policies, alleging links between new arrivals and crimes across the Pacific.

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Dragon Centre, Agincourt, February 2016.

Backlash against emerging Chinese business and commercial areas continued over the next decade as new enclaves emerged in Markham and Richmond Hill. But Agincourt also pointed the way to the nature of later areas, from large restaurants to Asian-themed shopping centres like Pacific Mall.

In a book profiling Canadian Chinatowns, Paul Yee summarized how the role of these neighbourhoods changed from a necessary presence to ensure the community’s safety to being woven into the urban fabric.

Some Chinese saw old Chinatowns as living monuments to a turbulent history and to the fragility of equality. Others saw them as sites where Chinese culture was preserved and shared. Both these views supported the building of cultural facilities there. In a sense, old and new Chinatowns bridged the historical divide between Chinese Canadians, because more and more people appreciated Chinatowns’ different functions and freely visited them.

Additional material from The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011); Chinatown by Paul Yee (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2005); the July 6, 1922 edition of the Globe; and the March 8, 1969, May 14 1984, and May 29, 1984 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The Globe, October 11, 1907.

The fear of the “yellow peril” in action – one of the more jaw-dropping (from a modern perspective) editorials regarding the place of Chinese in Canadian society during the early 20th century.

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The Globe, July 6, 1922.

A profile of Chinatown, which tosses off a “gee, aren’t they cute?” vibe.

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Chinese victory celebrations, parade on Elizabeth Street, August 26, 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 98604.

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Toronto Star, March 8, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

The article from which Jean Lumb’s defense of maintaining a Chinatown was quoted from.

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Toronto Star, August 27, 1971. Click on image for larger version.

An early 1970s look at Old Chinatown, which discusses some of the remaining businesses, the Dragon Mall pedestrian zone, and several recipes inspired by local grocers.

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Globe and Mail, June 27, 1975.

One of the first major projects as Spadina became the heart of downtown’s Chinatown was China Court, which opened in August 1976. Within a decade, it was razed for the cold concrete of Chinatown Centre.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1976. Click on image for larger version.

The building at 346 Spadina Avenue has gone through numerous incarnations, from the Labor Lyceum, to a series of Asian restaurants beginning with Yen Pin Place.

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Toronto Star, May 29, 1984.

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Toronto Star, June 1, 1984.

The Star’s coverage of a testy meeting in Agincourt, and reaction from readers. The paper also published an editorial criticizing attendees for their remarks, observing that the parking issue was one Scarborough’s city council was attempting to fix.

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Toronto Star, June 16, 1984.

A few weeks later, meeting chairman Dr. Douglas Hood defended his actions, claiming that coverage was a smear job which took several remarks out of context. Having covered community meetings over the years where the yahoos came out in full force, and reading about similar meetings in the 905 belt a decade later, I’m tempted to lean toward the paper’s interpretation of events.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A&P

Originally published on Torontoist on July 22, 2015.

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The Globe, February 10, 1932.

At its peak, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company was the largest retailer on the planet. By the end of the 1920s, the grocer boasted up to 16,000 stores across the United States, Ontario, and Quebec. As late as the early 1960s, A&P could boast about its dominant size. But over half a century of decline may have culminated this week when the 156-year-old grocer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years, leaving 296 stores up for grabs.

Contemplate those numbers the next time you ponder the size of today’s retail giants.

A&P arrived in Toronto in April 1928, a year after opening its first Canadian stores in Montreal. Within two years, 100 small locations dotted the city. Profiling the new stores in September 1928, Canadian Grocer was impressed with A&P’s efforts:

These stores are a combination of groceries and meats, and are pretty well standardized although they are not always exactly the same. They are attractively laid out with meats down one side, groceries opposite, and usually a big display refrigerator at the rear. One of the fundamental principles of the company is to display as many goods as possible in each of their stores. They also make a point of price-ticketing everything so that the customer does not have to ask the price of any line on view. Dotted here and there along the floor and in front of counters are several wire display stands each containing one particular line of goods and usually at a special price. The meat display counter is refrigerated by pipes that are cooled by machinery in the basement. The counter is glass-topped. While the meats on display cannot be touched from the outside, the salesman back of the counter has ready access to them and can easily pick out any cut desired.

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Toronto Star, March 13, 1930.

Many locations were placed near existing Dominion stores. Several press accounts noted how Dominion’s owners had previously worked for A&P, a factor which may have heightened the grocers’ rivalry.

The company invested $175,000 to build a combination bakery/head office/warehouse complex at the northeast corner of Laughton Avenue and Connolly Street in the city’s west end. Opened in December 1929, the facility’s perks included banana-ripening rooms and a laundry for store uniforms. “One is at once impressed with the spaciousness, wide and sunny offices, and the ordered cleanliness of the storage rooms,” the Globe observed.

The following decade saw a few hiccups that caused executives to down more than a few cups of Eight O’Clock Coffee. In 1933, city councillor Sam McBride charged A&P with providing inferior goods to customers using relief vouchers issued during the depths of the Great Depression. While denying McBride’s charges, an A&P official admitted they wash imported carrots. Alongside competitors like Loblaws and Simpsons, A&P was charged in 1935 with short-weighing goods.

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Globe and Mail, July 29, 1966.

By the mid-1960s, A&P’s American operations were declining. An aging board of directors failed to adjust to a changing marketplace, especially the emergence of suburbia. Small, crummy stores reeked of fatigue and wilting produce. Instead of re-investing its profits, management heeded calls to increase already generous dividends. Yet the picture in Canada appeared rosier: its program of store modernization was a model for the rest of the chain. In 1966, 20 acres of land on Dundas Street east of Highway 27 (now Highway 427) in Etobicoke were purchased for a new head office/warehouse/store complex, a facility still used by Metro today. To build local customer loyalty, A&P undertook promotions such as distributing flyers in English and Italian to west-end neighbourhoods.

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The Telegram, August 7, 1952. The Dundas/Browns Line location mentioned in this ad was A&P’s largest Canadian store to date. Perks included a 300-space parking lot, and aisles wide enough to accommodate 500 shoppers in the store at a time.

While American operations contracted following A&P’s purchase by Germany’s Tengelmann Group in 1979, the Canadian division benefitted from the demise of two major rivals. When Conrad Black’s Argus Corporation broke up Dominion in 1985, A&P picked up its Ontario stores, retaining the brand for its GTA locations. Five years later, Miracle Food Mart was acquired from the remnants of Steinberg’s, though that banner was phased out following a lengthy strike in the mid-1990s.

As the 1990s ended, A&P Canada was the company’s only profitable division. This provoked rumours of a sell-off to infuse funds into the flailing American operations. Suitor speculations ranged from Sobeys to Walmart. Quebec-based Metro won out in July 2005, and within five years rebranded all remaining banners apart from Food Basics.

Additional material from The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011); the September 28, 1928 and July-August 1998 editions of Canadian Grocer; the December 10, 1929, May 24, 1933, and March 27, 1935 editions of the Globe; and the July 17, 1952 and August 17, 1965 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, May 7, 1928.

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Toronto Star, January 16, 1930.

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The Globe, May 7, 1931.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Town & Country

Originally published on Torontoist on May 20, 2015.

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Key to Toronto, September 1957.

Once upon a time, the all-you-can-eat buffet was marketed as an exotic experience with a touch of European class. Descended from the Swedish smorgasbord, the mid-20th-century buffet was marketed as a way to sample fancy dishes drawn from a United Nations of cuisines. The experience was often marketed as “French,” even if the majority of the items bore little resemblance to French cuisine.

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Globe and Mail, February 11, 1949.

Such was the case for one of Toronto’s longest-running gorge-fests, the Town & Country. Opened in 1949 at Gould and Mutual streets in the Westminster Hotel, it billed itself early on as “Canada’s most unusual eating place.” Mary Walpole, Globe and Mail advertorial writer, captured the early vibe of the joint:

This is the fabulous buffet that everyone talks about and you could do a lot of travelling before you would find anything equal to it. Even Chef Pierre, who is unusually modest, looks at that extravagant set up with a proud gleam. The cold buffet is all set forth on crushed ice, fresh salmon masked in mayonnaise, lobster, shrimp and chicken salads, wonderful appetizers so tempting you don’t know where to stop; chicken, tongue and the crispest of fresh greens. Then there is the hot buffet with the emphasis on roast beef and roast chicken. And you can go back again and again, just like a party. Luncheon $1.10, dinner $1.95. Definitely a must.

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Globe and Mail, September 17, 1951.

In preparation for a new lounge room in late 1967, the restaurant added live music to its feast. Blaik Kirby, the Globe and Mail‘s entertainment critic, was less than impressed with the preview offering, a trio led by guitarist Chris Sullivan. While the musicians were skilled, Kirby complained that their amps were too loud, and that numbers like “Unchained Melody” sounded “as if they’d been arranged with an ear to the record player.”

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Key to Toronto, May 1960.

Town & Country expanded to the suburbs in the mid-1970s, starting with a location in Scarborough; eventually, it operated buffets as far west as Mississauga. Back downtown, the flagship was refurbished with nostalgic decor such as antique posters and old photos of Toronto. It wasn’t long before the restaurant itself became a nostalgic memory—it closed in 1981 to make way for the demolition of the Westminster Hotel complex. The property is now occupied by Ryerson University.

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Key to Toronto, July 1976.

The chain lingered on elsewhere for years, though its “French” aspects were gradually phased out. A later downtown location at 190 Queens Quay East was built around old railway cars. A tourist-centric Star review from 2008 noted that “while Toronto is indeed a blend of dozens of global cultures, the food on offer at Town & Country Buffet is an accurate sampling of none of them.” That location closed the following year when the city didn’t renew its lease in order to make way for Waterfront Toronto’s revitalization of the area.

Additional material from the April 27, 1953, October 3, 1967, and March 5, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 28, 2008 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Stopless Topless

Originally published on Torontoist on May 6, 2015.

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Key to Toronto, December 1978.

By the late 1970s, Yonge Street was synonymous with sin and sleaze. Despite growing calls to clean up its adult cinemas, arcades, and rub-and-tugs, especially in the wake of the murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques in 1977, businesses dealing in titillation continued to launch along the strip.

Take the Pancake Bakery Group, which began as a purveyor of flapjacks at its Pancake Bakery Restaurant and Creperie near Yonge and Eglinton. Browsing the entertainment sections of Toronto’s dailies throughout 1978 and 1979 shows a business with aspirations. First came novelty pancakes—pizza pancake, anyone?—then circus-style entertainment. In Yorkville, they launched Daddy’s Money & Apron Strings, billed as “a unique food & beverage establishment where you never know who you’ll meet.”

Down at one of the Yonge strip’s legendary music venues, the Colonial Tavern, the group operated a series of increasingly naughtier concepts with names like Daddy’s Folly, O’Daddy’s Restaurant, the Pussycat Patio, and the Black Bottom Lounge. One ad suggested that the venues were being run by “an unbelievably true Sugar Daddy,” even if it was officially a reference to a free pizza-pancake giveaway. The Black Bottom promised acts like “Hot Tamale and her breathtaking Fire Dance accompanied by X-rated live shows.”

Daddy’s Folly offered topless servers, which—along with other venues across the city that provided similar service—upset provincial officials. In October 1978, consumer and commercial relations minister Frank Drea warned lounge owners to cover up their staff or else be hauled before liquor authorities for a license review. While some bars, such as the House of Lancaster, resisted Drea’s call, Daddy’s Folly complied. Walking by the Colonial after Drea’s request, Star columnist Peter Gzowski observed several Daddy’s Folly staffers picketing, holdings signs which read “WE’RE NOT PRISONERS” and “WE ABIDE BY THE LAW.” Gzowski heard one of the sign-holders yell, “Where’s CityPulse News?”

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Toronto Star, June 15, 1978.

Daddy’s Folly and its siblings advertised “stopless topless” servers until February 1979, when Metro Toronto council banned the practice. Management was not happy about the move, claiming staff cringingly dubbed “Daddy’s Girls,” would earn less covered up. As a manager told the Globe and Mail, “[T]he public will be unhappy because this is the kind of entertainment they want.” Not everyone bought that line—a patron interviewed, while the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” played in the background, felt that partial covering was sexier (“It leaves more to the imagination”).

By spring 1979, ads for all of the Pancake Bakery Group’s enterprises vanished from the papers. A Star classified the following year listed their Yorkville location as a distressed property. The Colonial Tavern lingered on for a few more years before it was demolished in 1987 for a parkette.

Additional material from the December 18, 1978 and February 12, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 3, 1978, October 24, 1978, October 25, 1978, and May 29, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Wexford Restaurant

Originally published on Torontoist on April 22, 2015.

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Don Mills Mirror, May 20, 1964.

When the Kiriakou family took over the Wexford Restaurant in May 1958, they likely had little idea that nearly 60 years later a sign in their parking would proudly boast about the billions of eggs cracked and oranges juiced. Under three generations of family ownership, the restaurant has fed plenty of hungry Scarberians and, in the process, became a local institution.

Kiriakos “Jerry” Kiriakou emigrated to Canada from Vevi, Greece around 1950. Over the course of the next few years he gradually brought over the rest of his family. Saving money earned through dishwashing, Jerry bought a fish-and-chip shop on the south side of Lawrence, but felt that Wexford Heights Plaza on the north side presented a better opportunity. When the 50-seat Wexford Restaurant was put up for sale, the family purchased it, with Jerry’s sons Tom and Anthony in charge. Two decades later, having built up substantial real estate holdings elsewhere in Metro Toronto, the family bought the plaza.

Through three generations of Kiriakou ownership, the restaurant has expanded to 300 seats. Among the additions was a dining lounge opened in 1983 that was named in honour of Jerry (who is also memorialized with a plaque). The family name was also bestowed on a residential street near Lawrence Avenue and Kennedy Road, located just off Mike Myers Drive.

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Toronto Star, July 19, 1983.

While surveying diners across the city in 2000, Star writer Jon Filson gave a sense of the hubbub during a busy weekend at the Wexford.

Breakfast at the Wexford Restaurant in Scarborough is the best time anyone can have anywhere. At noon on Sunday the background buzz is louder and at least as entertaining as a patrol car’s squawk box on a Saturday night. Calm, firm waitress voices take charge: “Ordering over easy, with sausage and brown,” but occasionally a more urgent shriek comes through: “Johnny, I said ham with that, Johnny! Ham, Johnny, ham! Johnn-eeey…” Most of the voices come in bits and pieces, garbled by the sizzle from a massive grill manned by four heroic cooks wearing peaked white caps. Giddy customers are filling stools and packing into booths, and the whole bustling place seems totally out of control, without ever being out of control in the slightest.

Customers and staff have long shot the breeze over the topics of the day, which has made the Wexford a popular spot for campaigning politicians. When mayor Mel Lastman visited in November 2000 to boost the re-election hopes of Lorenzo Berardinetti in Ward 37 (husband of current Ward 35 councillor Michelle Berardinetti), the incumbent councillor observed that “he’s not here to make speeches or unveil a moose, he’s just having some eggs and meeting people doing the same thing.” A picture taken of Rob Ford holding up a paper coffee cup during the 2010 election campaign found a place of honour on a pillar near the cash register. During the 2014 mayoral race, the Ford brothers ran their local headquarters in the plaza a few doors down from the restaurant.

As the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrower put it during anniversary celebrations in 2008, the Wexford is “a centre of Scarborough power and Scarborough pride.”

Additional material from the June 15, 2006, May 6, 2008, and November 23, 2013 editions of the National Post; and the December 26, 1977, November 21, 1996, November 5, 2000, and November 29, 2000 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: “The Romance of Mexican Food”

Originally published on Torontoist on March 11, 2015.

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Globe and Mail, January 2, 1974.

Writing from Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1938, Winston Norman enlightened Globe and Mail readers with descriptions of a cuisine that Torontonians could only experience via travel. Take his description of tacos and enchiladas:

The first is a sort of mysterious salad rolled up in a tortilla. The second is a kind of meat or chicken hash, also rolled up in a tortilla, and covered with mole sauce. Mole sauce (pronounced mo-lay, with accent on the first syllable) is a mean-looking black sauce made of I don’t know what, but it burns and it’s good.

Norman probably enjoyed a shot or two of tequila with his meals, a spirit he described as “a sort of cross between gin and schnapps, 300 proof, with a flavour which suggests that a mule’s hoof has been soaked in it.”

Flash forward to the 1960s, as Mexican cuisine made inroads into the Toronto culinary scene. A 1961 ad for the Park Plaza hotel claimed it was the only place in Canada to offer stuffed jalapenos, as long as they were ordered way in advance. “Jalapenos are tiny red Mexican peppers with quite a bite to them,” the ad claimed. “One wag compared it to chewing on a blast furnace!”

Later in the decade, the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Street offered a Mexican-themed week at its outdoor café, complete with strolling guitarist, replicas of Aztec art, and dishes with fancy names like Pescado Relle no Con Camaron to tickle the taste buds of the after-work set.

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Left: Toronto Star, February 4, 1969. Right: Toronto Star, April 25, 1969.

Toronto’s first Mexican-themed restaurant chain was Pancho Taco, which promoted “the romance of Mexican food.” While it carried staple items like burritos and tacos, the chain tried to satisfy timid customers via dishes like the “Pancho Burger.” The special taco sauce, reputedly blended from 22 ingredients, was, according to the Star, “poured over practically everything the restaurants sold.”

Expansion plans were ambitious. Seven locations, stretching from Burlington to Wexford, opened in early 1969. Ads promised future outlets across the province, including resort areas like Grand Bend. Gimmicks included a fleet of five painted Volkswagens.

But rapid growth quickly outpaced Pancho Taco’s finances. When manager Herbert Sharp filed the paperwork to declare the chain bankrupt in November 1969, he assumed he owned the company after its four shareholders sold him their shares three months earlier. Upon filing, Sharp discovered that his acquisition was never recorded as having been approved by the board of directors. As he was also a creditor, Sharp was allowed to proceed with petitioning for bankruptcy.

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Key to Toronto, February 1982.

Despite Pancho Taco’s brief existence, Mexican food gained popularity in Toronto during the 1970s. Venues like the Royal York offered theme weeks advertised with the stereotypical image of a mustachioed mariachi band. Among the restaurants that debuted was Viva Zapata, which was a North Toronto fixture for years.

The critics weren’t kind when it opened in 1977, faulting it for diluting the cuisine for Toronto taste buds. The Star’s Judylaine Fine found the food competent and filled with quality ingredients, but lacking in spiciness. “They don’t realize that good Mexican food is delicious partly because it leave you breathless,“ Fine observed. Over in the Globe and Mail, Joanne Kates found the menu timid. “Viva Zapata is a good restaurant for people who don’t think they’d like Mexican food,” she concluded. “The flavours are so watered down, Montezuma’s revenge will never enter your mind.”

Anyone preferring to kick up their Mexican food could prepare it at home. By the end of the 1970s, speciality stores in Kensington Market, including those still in business like the House of Spice and Perola’s, stocked the ingredients to make recipes drawn from newspaper food-section features. Readers may have discovered how to make mole sauce as satisfyingly spicy as that Winston Norman enjoyed 40 years earlier.

Additional material from the November 17, 1938, September 21, 1961, and March 3, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the July 16, 1968, February 4, 1969, November 22, 1969, September 10, 1977, and April 12, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1938-11-17 winston norman explains tacos title

gm 1938-11-17 winston norman explains tacos 1

gm 1938-11-17 winston norman explains tacos 2

gm 1938-11-17 winston norman explains tacos 3

Winston Norman’s description of Mexican food, Globe and Mail, November 17, 1938.

gm 1968-11-14 winter snacks mexican style

A selection of recipes from the Globe and Mail, November 14, 1968. Click on image for larger version.

star 1977-09-10 viva zapata review

Toronto Star, September 10, 1977.

gm 1981-08-22 jay scott on state of mexican food in TO

Ouch. Globe and Mail, August 22, 1981.