Halloween in Toronto, 1978

star 1978-10-31 gzowski on halloween

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.

star 1978-10-28 starship page

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.

star 1978-11-01 eggleton dressed as pickle

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.”

star 1978-10-26 fashions from hadassah bazaar

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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Jack of Hearts’ Flying Circus

Originally published on Torontoist on September 20, 2011.

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Toronto Sun, February 28, 1974, depicting Gilda Radner and Victor Garber.

In brief: Jack was a musical extravaganza based on the four Jacks in a deck of cards, and it featured Victor Garber embodying hearts. Another Jack, Star TV critic Jack Miller, praised it as fun, melodic, and unpredictable, “a musical experience that flies in several directions without ever losing either itself or its pace.” We’d back up Miller’s recommendation, but we haven’t seen it.

And now for something completely different…

The first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on CBC as part of the network’s fall 1970 lineup. After 19 episodes, the show lost its place on the schedule in January 1971 to The World We Live In, an American science program whose title could have been a Python skit. Throughout the week after CBC yanked Monty Python, more than 700 people called in to complain, while 150 students staged a demonstration outside the network’s Montreal studios. CBC officials promised to air the remaining seven episodes as soon as they could find a slot—the show eventually returned, becoming a fixture on the network during the first half of the 1970s. In Toronto, the troupe’s popularity solidified during a long run of their film And Now For Something Completely Different at the Roxy on Danforth Avenue and sold-out live performances at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1973.

One person left unimpressed by the series was a Mr. John Cameron, who wrote to the Sun in February 1974 regarding the show’s prejudicial attitude toward the Scots. As you read Mr. Cameron’s complaint, with proper Python-ese diction and a “Dear Sir” at the start, try to imagine which skit ticked him off so much that he wished to inflict the Spanish Inquisition on the national broadcaster:

How long is the CBC going to be allowed to bring into this country such racist garbage as the English BBC Monty Python show that we are forced to watch every Thursday night, if we want to watch CBC. I would advise everyone to switch channels. The English government is responsible for this anti-Scottish poison and it is their deliberate policy to try to destroy the Scottish character by ridicule, portraying Scots as mean and miserly so that we will be ashamed of our racial origin, and more easily assimilated into the English Empire…The CBC is a government of Canada body, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada and this proves that our Canadian government is nothing more than a stooge for the English government and this country takes its orders from England and is a partner in these criminal activities against the Scottish people.

Mr. Cameron went on to bellyache about the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s hypocrisy in not pursuing action against this slight to the Scots, before concluding that Monty Python was “the most sick, racist show on television, and it proves just how degenerate our Canadian and English government’s policies are. Imperialism still lives.” The Sun’s one-line response? “We think Monty Python is very subversive—as CBC brass thinks too.”

We’re surprised they didn’t say “you’re a looney.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1971, and February 28, 1974, editions of the Toronto Star, and the February 22, 1974, edition of the Toronto Sun.