Vintage Toronto Ads: Come Be Pampered at Tanaka of Tokyo (plus The House of Fuji-Matsu)

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2008.

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Canadian Football League Illustrated, September 1972. Note proofreading fail.

In the days before sushi joints lined seemingly every block in the city, Japanese cuisine was treated as an exotic experience by Toronto diners. Many Japanese eateries that operated in the city before the 1980s specialized in teppanyaki-style table cooking, where the chef’s entertaining skills were as important (or more, depending on the venue) as the food and allowed businessmen to impress their clients. Venues like Tanaka of Tokyo provided a comforting atmosphere that allowed local palates to ease their way from familiar dishes like steak and sukiyaki into then-alien fare like maki rolls.

Toronto’s first Japanese restaurant was House of Fuji-Matsu, which began a three-year run at 17 Elm Street (now home to the Fraternal Order of Eagles) in December 1955. The Star covered opening night and enjoyed “12 Japanese hostesses who will teach customers how to handle chopsticks, will cook a traditional sukiyaki Japanese shrimp or beef-base dish right on the foot-high tables and will act as ‘baby-sitters’ while parents enjoy the cuisine.” Curious diners dropped by, but the hospitality and child-watching service was not enough to keep the restaurant afloat. Among the reasons owner Richard Tanaka later blamed for its demise were blocked attempts to secure a liquor license, possibly due to a YWCA located across the street. “One day I called my accountant,” he noted in a 1972 interview, “and asked if we were still losing money. When the answer was yes, I said only two words: ‘Close it.’”

Tanaka waited just over a decade before trying again. “Like a bulldog, I hate to quit—to admit becoming a loser.” Nine months of planning and nearly $450,000 went into Tanaka of Tokyo before it welcomed its first guests at 1180 Bay Street (slightly south of Bloor) in December 1971. Eight master chefs were brought in from Japan to cook at the teppanyaki tables and add entertainment value to the first class atmosphere Tanaka conveyed through the slogan “Come Be Pampered.”

The kindest reviews tended to be in advertorials—in their 1976 survey of the city restaurant scene Dining Out in Toronto, Jeremy Brown and Sid Adilman gave Tanaka of Tokyo half a star out of five:

Popular with tourists on expense accounts, Tanaka of Tokyo is a swanky affair, the most expensive Japanese restaurant in the city. Once that is said, the next question is, what about the food? Teppanyaki tables bring out the theatrical in chefs, and the quiet sushi bar has its virtues. But overall, Tanaka is for people who want Japanese food without too much of the original taste.

The restaurant provided steak rituals for another decade-and-a-half.

Additional material from the December 19, 1955 and January 29, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1955.

The headline above these photos read “ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN CANADA, FUJI-MATSU CATERS TO BEGINNER AND GOURMET OF FAR EAST FOOD.”

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Globe and Mail, January 26, 1956.

In December 1956, MGM used the House of Fuji-Matsu to promote The Teahouse of the August Moon (which featured Marlon Brando in yellowface as a Japanese interpreter). Globe and Mail entertainment columnist Alex Barris attended the presser, which featured four Japan Air Lines hostesses. He was most impressed by Seiko Fukasawa’s musical talents: “She plays the koto, an ancient Japanese stringed instrument which consists of a six-foot length of wood, on legs, with 13 strings drawn across its top,” Barris observed. “It sounds more like a harp than anything else, and sounds quite beautiful when Miss Fukasawa plays it.”

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Toronto Star, March 21, 1956.

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Toronto Star, November 28, 1957.

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1958.

Pierre Berton’s review of the House of Fuji-Matsu. Given Ontario’s repressive liquor laws of the era (cocktail lounges had only been legal for a decade), it’s not surprising the restaurant had trouble earning a license.

The Wimpy Awards

This installment of my “Retro T.O.” column for The Grid was originally published on March 27, 2012. The number of burger joints, especially those with gourmet aspirations, continues to grow. There’s even a website (Tasty Burgers) dedicated to review the GTA’s purveyors of ground round, or whatever they’re tossing in the burgers these days. Stick around to the end of this post for some of my (as of 2019) favourite burger spots.

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Illustration by Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.

It’s safe to say Toronto is currently hamburger crazy. Whether you prefer going to an old-school burger joint that retains its 1960s-era appearance, testing a highbrow patty made with gourmet ingredients, or joining the never-ending lineups at The Burger’s Priest, Toronto has rediscovered its love for a slab of ground meat loaded with every topping imaginable (though you still can’t get lettuce at Johnny’s in Scarborough).

Back in March of 1983, Toronto Star food writer Jim White felt the local burger scene needed recognition. Noting that there were so many awards for the arts, White jokingly told readers that to correct a “cultural imbalance,” the paper was launching a series of articles to hand out Oscar-style statuettes to worthy local eateries. To honour Toronto’s best burgers, White devised the Wimpy Awards, which honoured Popeye’s gluttonous pal.

White’s criteria for the Wimpys ruled out “anything pre-fab, served by clowns or named after someone like Harvey or Wendy.” Though he intended to focus on the burger alone, White discovered that “the décor, background music, and ambience of a burger joint can be just as important as the product.” As a control measure, a basic burger and fries were ordered at each restaurant in the competition, as “the quality of French fries colours one’s impression of the burger.”

Some winners from the Wimpy Awards, presented with little fanfare on March 16, 1983:

Best Burger for the Buck: the original location of Lick’s in the Beaches, then a narrow eatery with long lines, two tables, and six stools. For only $1.95, Lick’s served large burgers that White described as “superb and perfectly charbroiled.” He noted that “the only thing missing in this setting is John Belushi shouting ‘Cheezeburgah…cheezeburgah.’” No mention as to whether the chain’s singing schtick was already in place.

Most Expensive Burger in Toronto: For $10, patrons of the Courtyard Café at the Windsor Arms Hotel received a loosely packed patty served with a truffle-tinged artichoke, purposely-undercooked chips, and a bland tomato tart.

Best Staging for a Burger: At the Bloor Street Diner, diners enjoyed their meal amid a backdrop of “pink neon, high-gloss black lacquered trim and stainless steel table tops.” The burger itself had a quality most people would appreciate—it wasn’t “sinewy.”

Best Patty: The Hayloft at 37 Front St. E. offered a burger that was lean, juicy, flavourful, and extremely fresh. Unfortunately, White felt it was ruined by lousy condiments, mediocre bun, and fries that had been sitting around for a while. The server accidentally brought White a cheeseburger, which was topped with “a tasteless, carrot-coloured film to peel off as one peels dried rubber cement off the back of one’s hand.”

Best Burger in a Supporting Role: Both Mr. Greenjeans (Eaton Centre and 120 Adelaide St. E.) and Partners (836 Danforth Ave. and 765 Mount Pleasant Rd.) served their burgers in large wicker baskets filled with Buffalo chips and on what White considered the city’s best burger bun, a light egg roll prepared by Central Bakery.

Toronto’s Darkest Burger: The experience of eating at Toby’s Good Eats at 91 Bloor St. W. on even a sunny day was “like sitting in a cellar during a hydro black-out.” When the waitress told him to enjoy his lunch, White replied “we would if we could see it.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1977-07-13 best burgersToronto Star, July 13, 1977. Click on image for larger version.

An earlier roundup of the Metro Toronto’s burgers from the Star. Two of the spots mentioned remain: Johnny’s (notice they don’t mention the lack of lettuce as a topping option) and Apache.

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Toronto Star, March 16, 1983.

One of the articles which accompanied the Wimpy Awards. As of July 2019, none of the winners exist in their 1983 forms. Lick’s expanded into a chain then collapsed in the early 2010s. Only two locations appear to have survived. The Courtyard Cafe at the Windsor Arms has been used as a brunch buffet space in recent years.

That pricey $10 burger? The Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator puts it at $23.76 in 2019 funds, which wouldn’t be out of line at higher-end eateries. Don’t get me started about $100 stunt burgers that periodically provide fuel for clickbait.

Where do I enjoy digging into a burger in Toronto? It depends on my mood. Sometimes you want a high-quality patty with top-notch ingredients. Sometimes you want a char-grilled slab of beef from a place that’s been around forever.

In alphabetical order…

Burger Shack (Eglinton and Oriole Parkway)
Old school homeburgers. Excellent fries. Giant selection of canned sodas. Thick sauteed onions. Swinging seats that remind me of childhood meals at the Woolco cafeteria.

Burger Stomper (Danforth west of Chester)
Fresh-tasting meat, doesn’t go overboard with the portion of fries.

Five Guys (Leaside location, Laird north of Millwood)
Pricey, and a chain, but worth it taste-wise. Beware filling yourself up with free peanuts.

Golden Star (Yonge north of Steeles)
Another old-school homeburger joint, serving condiments out of giant metal bowls just like Harvey’s used to. Decor screams 1970s.

Great Burger Kitchen (Gerrard and Jones)
Only if you’re really, really, really hungry, or plan to share your sides.

Jumbo Burger (Runnymede and Dundas)
Yet another old-school hamburger joint, with delicious thickly-battered onion rings.

No Bull Burgers (Kingston west of Victoria Park)
Recent discovery. Fresh burgers in different sizes, delicious fries and rings, and (for vegetarians) an excellent quinoa-based patty.

Slab Burgers (Charles and Bay)
Handy for a research day at the Toronto Reference Library.

A Motherly Sign

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2008.

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Since it was built in 1887, the Alexandrina Block on College Street west of Spadina has seen numerous tenants come and go, including The Bagel music venue. Among its current elements is a 1970s-style sign promising over a dozen variety of submarine sandwiches. Those hoping for a retro experience will be disappointed as all that remains of the self-proclaimed “Rolls Royce of submarines” is the sign, fully intact and party covered by a tree.

The earliest media mention we can find for Mothers a dining guide in the June 3, 1972 edition of Star Week, which gave Mothers four stars out of four (tying it with the only survivor in the $5-$10 category, The Coffee Mill). “Mothers serves a Super-Sub sandwich for $1.35. It could use a little more oregano, but otherwise it’s the closest thing we’ve found in Toronto to the Philadelphia hoagie or New York hero. Hero-worshippers please take note.”

While Mothers may have been lacking in the oregano department, it did offer a unique delivery vehicle to back up its slogan: a Volkswagen Beetle modified to resemble a Rolls Royce. Such conversions were a fad during the period, with surviving examples including one owned by Liberace on display at his museum in Las Vegas. According to co-owner Howard Waxberg in a January 1974 interview with Toronto Life, “it cost us $450 to have the body work done, and then we had to get it painted—maybe $600 altogether.” The main problem with the car was finding suitable parts, especially after an accident damaged the first front grill. Waxberg felt that the vehicle “was the best advertising money we’ve spent. It’s fantastic to drive the thing. People look at you, laugh, point, stop you and ask questions, like ‘What is that?’”

A question now asked by pedestrians passing the sign.

UPDATE

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The Mothers sign gradually faded away. First one side was replaced by a sign for another business. As of July 2019, only the frame remains.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Mothers Sandwich Shoppes–note the fancier spelling–was revisited by Star Week circa November 1977. The following review, which gave it 2-1/2 stars (out of three I’m guessing, since all of the restaurants listed were given either 2-1/2 or 3 star ratings) ran for nearly a year-and-a-half:

Americans say Canadians have no idea what a submarine sandwich really is. That is with one exception–the owners of Mothers are reputed to make versions more than acceptable to even the sophisticated “sub” palate. Hot steak sandwiches and veal sandwiches are salso served.

At this point, there were also locations at 44 Eglinton Avenue West (at Duplex) and 826 Yonge Street (at Cumberland).

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Want some solitaire with your sub? Photo by Neil Graham, Globe and Mail, February 23, 1993.

By 1993, Mothers served up subs and computer parts. From the February 23, 1993 Globe and Mail:

Staff need a certain amount of versatility to work at Honson Computer Corp. and Mother’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Toronto. When the lunch hour hits, employees scramble back and forth between helping customers pick out computer systems and serving up tangy meatball sandwiches on thick, crusty rolls. The combination computer store and lunch counter is one of the more unusual manifestations of a trend in computer distribution and retailing: most people in the business of selling computers are looking for way to hedge their bets.

According to owner Peter Lee, the key to surviving in the computer business was finding a way to cover your overhead.

In Mr. Lee’s case that meant broadening into chicken soup, french fries, and corned beef on rye. Mr. Lee had operated Honson Computer near the University of Toronto’s downtown campus for six years when the recession hit. Looking for a way to cut costs he took over Mother’s Sandwich Shop next door and piled his computer boxes and demonstration models alongside the long, wooden booths and orange plastic tabletops. Mr. Lee said he makes less than $100 profit on a $2,000 computer system. A sandwich, on the other hand, yields about 100 percent profit.

222 Lansdowne Avenue

This installment of my Ghost City column for The Grid was originally published on November 13, 2012.

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Toronto Star, June 24, 1936.

Over 75 years after the first cash register rolled off the line at the National Cash Register (NCR) plant at Dundas Street West and Landsdowne Avenue, the bells are still ringing. The shell of classic industrial architecture seems appropriate for the warehouse-style grocers who have taken advantage of the building’s ample room for refrigeration, storage, and merchandising since the mid-1970s.

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The Globe, June 25, 1936.

Before NCR purchased the property during the mid-1930s, site occupants included the original home of St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Church (which moved a block east) and, during World War I, army barracks. On November 27, 1935, Canadian Manufacturers’ Association president W.S. Morden turned the sod for the $300,000 plant. Opened in June 1936, the 75,000 square-foot facility included a machine shop, assembly area, and stock department. It was intended to supply cash registers and other business machines to Canada and the rest of the British Empire. The yellow-bricked Art Moderne façade was designed by architect Thomas E. Muirhead, whose other works included the Kenson Apartments on Grosvenor Street. The Star noted that the plant offered employees “comfortable working conditions and lighting of the most modern kind.” NCR also provided a generous Christmas bonus—employees who had worked more than three months for the company by the end of 1936 received $25, with an extra buck per year of service. The company’s growth prompted two additions built between 1947 and 1950.

The site switched from building cash registers to utilizing them when Knob Hill Farms bought the building in the mid-1970s to serve as its first warehouse-style “food terminal” location within the City of Toronto. Customers could watch trucks unload fresh goods in the middle of the produce department and butchers practise the fine craft of meat-cutting. “I don’t like to do things behind closed doors,” noted chain proprietor Steve Stavro. “I want the customers to see everything and feel part of it. If you’re selling proper merchandise, you should have nothing to hide.” Among the perks the store offered were late shopping hours and a courtyard statue of Neptune Stavro imported from Italy. It wasn’t the prettiest store, but it offered affordable prices and a deeper selection of multicultural foods than other chains.

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1975.

Knob Hill Farms was packed from the moment it opened in September 1975. The 200-space parking lot barely coped with the 50,000 customers who filed through during the store’s first week. The store easily absorbed the $25 fines it received for violating the Lord’s Day Act by staying open on Sundays. Stavro felt it was the only day of the week many of his customers could grocery shop, a position still vindicated by the long lines seen at any supermarket on an average Sunday. The combination of weak financial penalties and traffic jams led Toronto city councillor Tony O’Donohue to call for tougher bylaws on Sunday openings if Queen’s Park didn’t enact promised legislation surrounding the issue. The province soon passed new Sunday opening laws that resulted in Knob Hill Farms, along with other non-convenience-store food purveyors, locking its doors during the official day of rest. Not until 1992 did the store open on Sunday without worrying about fines.

After a quarter-century run, the store closed along with the rest of the Knob Hill Farms chain in 2000. Near the end, customers complained about wide pools of water streaming from aging refrigerators. The store sat vacant for several years, during which it was designated as a heritage property, before reopening as a No Frills, which provided a modernized take on Knob Hill’s low-cost warehouse concept.

Additional material from the September 18, 1975 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the November 27, 1935, June 24, 1936, December 16, 1936, August 28, 1975, and October 1, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Party at the PoP Shoppe

Originally published on Torontoist on November 15, 2011.

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Toronto Star, October 21, 1976.

For a child growing up in the 1970s or early 1980s, a trip to a PoP Shoppe depot was an eagerly awaited adventure. Running around the stacks of red cases filled with a rainbow of soda flavours, you’d wonder which varieties your parents were going to let you pick: Black Cherry? Lime Rickey? Tall bottles or stubbies? Spokespeople like Captain Cola and former Maple Leaf Eddie Shack didn’t need to do much enticing to get kids to drink the stuff.

Launched in London, Ontario, in May 1969, the PoP Shoppe built its initial business model on selling cases directly to the public from its own factory/warehouse facilities, at prices that were half of what supermarkets charged. Customers were, however, charged a three dollars deposit per case to ensure the bottles would be reused. The company estimated that the fee, considered high at the time, was responsible for 99 per cent of bottles being returned. When this ad appeared, most of the bottles produced when the company launched were still in circulation, in fact. In an interview with the Toronto Star, president Bruce Westwood touted the PoP Shoppe system’s benefits to the environment: “Can you imagine the amount of energy that would go into the manufacture of 35 cases of canned pop and the cartons, and the extra energy needed to destroy them all?”

The company was in rapid expansion mode by the time the Dufferin and Lawrence location opened; sales rose from $1.2 million in 1973 to $17.1 million in 1976. Officials believed they could open 15 new plants a year, widen the franchisee base, expand into the United States, and enter joint ventures around the world. But the company was too ambitious in its goals: its debt-ridden foray south of the border proved the beginning of the end. Bottlers and franchisees complained of massive mark-ups designed to recoup corporate losses, and supermarket chains improved the quality and selection of their generic soda offerings. After the corporate parent went into receivership in late 1982, several bottlers attempted to keep the PoP Shoppe name alive, but it slowly faded from view until 2004, when the brand was revived as a nostalgic drink.

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Google Maps image of 944 Lawrence Avenue West, August 2011.

As for the location celebrated in today’s ad? The site was last used as a medical supply store. Hints of the building’s past lay in its architecture—compare the shape of the white section above the storefront to the PoP Shoppe logo in the ad.

Additional material from the May 25, 1977, edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

944 Lawrence West was later torn down. As of 2019, the site is occupied by Centura Tile.

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Windsor Star, June 15, 1976.

I grew up drinking plenty of PoP Shoppe sodas, thanks to a giant depot in south Windsor (the Ouellette Place location listed in the ad above). My memories are faint, but I recall buying it by the case load, and that black cherry and lime rickey were among my favourites.

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Toronto Star, July 17, 1975.

Alas, Captain Cola was never as popular as other caped crusaders.

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Toronto Star, June 23, 1977.

Al Biggs, who went to elementary school with Eddie Shack and was employed by PoP Shoppe during the 1970s, described Shack’s impact on the company in Ross Brewitt’s book Clear the Track: The Eddie Shack Story (Toronto: Stoddart, 1997):

Eddie was the Don Cherry of the 1970s. People, ordinary people, gravitated to him because he related to them so well. And though he might appear to be a buffoon, every time he went into a plant he’d touch all the right buttons instinctively. He stressed cleanliness, keeping the place looking shipshape, having pride in your job. He told the workers that he spoke from his own experience as a butcher, from the early days in Sudbury and as a hockey player. Everywhere he went his talks had a tremendous effect on the staff, their morale and productivity, stuff you could actually measure before and after he made an appearance.

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Toronto Sun, December 22, 1972.

PoP Shoppe had its share of competitors and imitators, such as this one. An upcoming post will look at one who had ties to the Loblaws grocery empire.

 

 

 

 

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 5: From Chowder to Pigeon

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Mail and Empire, March 18, 1933.

Missing from this list of chowders is the kind you might expect: clam. The first printed recipe using the term, published in Boston in 1751, reads like poetry.

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Mail and Empire, March 18, 1933.

One of the few pieces on celebrities to slip into the M&E’s women’s pages so far during our look at them. Norma Shearer did not appear in any films during 1933, returning to the screen in Riptide in March 1934. As for her two-year-old son, Irving Thalberg Jr. grew up to be a philosophy professor.

And now a word from our sponsor…

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Mail and Empire, March 18, 1933.

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Mail and Empire, March 20, 1933.

Bride Broder’s moaning about late winter weather in Toronto is not a recent development.

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Mail and Empire, March 20, 1933.

Let’s embrace spring and make some fresh lemonade syrup.

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Mail and Empire, March 21, 1933. 

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Mail and Empire, March 23, 1933

A double-dose of Ann and Katherine for you, heavy on desserts and sweet treats.

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Mail and Empire, March 23, 1933. 

A suggestion to create community gardens in poor areas of the city in the midst of the Great Depression. Note the nod to The Ward, a historical Toronto neighbourhood which has been the subject of much research and reexamination in recent years.

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Mail and Empire, March 24, 1933.

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Mail and Empire, March 24, 1933. 

These days, pigeon is not a meat you can easily walk into a supermarket to buy. And it’s not a dish that gets much publicity. But modern recipes can be found, such as this one from Jamie Oliver’s site.

A quick Googling also found that contraptions similar to today’s featured utensil exist, even though I’ve never seen one in action.

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 4: Suggestions for St. Patrick’s Day

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Mail and Empire, March 17, 1933.

I’m going to guess that, much as now, much of the “gay doings” Ann Adam expects around St. Patrick’s Day involved consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. This may partly explain why the Mail and Empire‘s morning competition, the Globe, barely mentioned the occasion at all. The Globe‘s owner, William Gladstone Jaffray, refused to run ads for alcohol even after prohibition ended in Ontario in the mid-1920s, and I can’t imagine him endorsing any articles remotely celebrating drinking.

Since this article encourages readers to tint their party pleasing foods green, I checked if green beer was a thing in 1933. According to Smithsonian magazine, the practice dates back to the early 20th century, but didn’t catch on widely until the 1950s.

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Mail and Empire, March 17, 1933.

And now a word from our sponsor…

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Mail and Empire, March 16, 1933.

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Mail and Empire, March 17, 1933.

In Search of Ireland (1930) was among the numerous travel books written by English journalist Henry Vollam Morton (1892-1979). Here’s how Kitty Hauser described one of Morton’s most popular works, In Search of England (1927), for the London Review of Books in 2005:

In Search of England came out of a series Morton wrote for the Daily Express in 1926. It is an account of a journey around England in a Bullnose Morris, written ‘without deliberation by the roadside, on farmyard walls, in cathedrals, in little churchyards, on the washstands of country inns’. Its tone is jaunty, as the narrator leaves London and reels at whim in his two-seater down country lanes and past historic sites in search of an essential and timeless England. It is a quest to find in reality the England that existed as myth for a war-ravaged generation; the village at dusk, smelling of woodsmoke, surrounded by green fields; the thatched cottages and rambling gardens; the time-worn historical monuments. This was the land ‘worth fighting for’ in the propaganda of both world wars. That Morton apparently found it, many times over, in the course of his travels (reaffirming it in every new edition), reassured readers that it really was out there, even if it might not be visible to those living in cities or their ever-expanding suburbs. What Morton demonstrated to his predominantly urban readers, with a deceptively casual air, was that this England – the ‘real’ England – was just a car journey away, down an inviting and empty country road.

Morton moved to South Africa in 1948, just as apartheid was being implemented in that country, a political direction that didn’t seem to bother him.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1933.

As for what the other Toronto papers had to offer for St. Patrick’s celebrations, the Star published recipes for Shamrock Cake and Mint Jelly.

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Toronto Star, March 17, 1933.

The Star also published a photo of an unidentified baby wearing a St. Patrick’s Day hat.

I couldn’t find any references to a St. Patrick’s Day parade happening in the city. More digging reveals that processions that day ended in 1877, and did not resume until 1988. Public processionals of Irish identity — or at least Irish Protestant anti-Catholic identity — were reserved for the Orange Parade on July 12. According to the July 13, 1933 edition of the Globe, 50,000 people marched across municipalities throughout Ontario to mark the 243rd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. Dignitaries and Orange Lodge officials addressing these gatherings declared their allegiance to the British Empire and denounced atheism, bilingualism, and Communism.  In Toronto, where 10,000 people marched, the parade went from Queen’s Park to a rally at Exhibition Park. In front of attendees such as Mayor William J. Stewart and Premier George Henry, participants denounced what they believed was an “organized effort to make Canada a bilingual country” by criticizing French language instruction in schools and radio programming.