East Lynn Pumpkin Parade, 2019

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November 1. Halloween is over, and the city is filled with leftover pumpkins galore. Before heading off to the afterpatch, they enjoy one last shot of glory at the numerous community pumpkin parades held across Toronto.

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East Lynn Park served as the display area in my neighbourhood.

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There were many variations on the classic jack o’ lantern design, including this one that could be a fall version of a snowman.

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A pair of his and hers pumpkins with retro flair.

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People passing this pumpkin couldn’t resist humming the Super Mario Brothers theme.

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Some classic Halloween icongraphy in this cluster.

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But the change in commercial seasons was already apparent in nearby stores. Stacks of fruitcake which may not be enjoyed for nearly two months greet shoppers heading into the Valumart next to Woodbine station…

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…while Dollarama is filled with Christmas supplies.

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So let’s enjoy a few final moments with the pumpkins of Halloween 2019.

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Halloween in Toronto, 1978

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Halloween in Toronto, 1918

Halloween was a low-key affair in Toronto in 1918. Between the Spanish Flu pandemic which struck the city that month and the winding down of the First World War, it’s not surprising that there were reduced celebrations that year. The public was asked to direct any extra money to the Victory Loan bond drive. Real life horrors may have squelched any desire to indulge in imaginary ones.

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The Globe, October 24, 1918.

The major department stores barely acknowledged Halloween in their ads—this sampling of décor items from Eaton’s was one of the few I found.

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The Globe, October 30, 1918.

The Globe offered sugarless snack suggestions, as sugar was considered a high demand item not to be wasted on frivolous treats.

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The Globe, November 1, 1918.

This account of Halloween night notes that some people were still in a mischievous, gender-bending mood. It also reflects fears about Bolshevism rising in the wake of the Russian Revolution and homegrown socialism, and the fire department’s eternal annoyance at Halloween false alarms.

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Toronto Star, November 1, 1918.

It was a tragic evening on the Danforth, due to a pedestrian fatality.

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Toronto World, October 31, 1918.

For several nights that week, as part of the Victory Loan drive, films were shown outside the Allen Theatre at Richmond and Victoria. Later known as the Tivoli, it operated until 1964. Many of the stars listed, especially Pickford and Fairbanks, had undertaken personal appearance tours for wartime bond drives in the United States.

Halloween Hijinks

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 31, 2009.

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The Telegram, October 29, 1949.

 

Halloween has long provided an excuse for Torontonians to relax and cut loose their stiffer qualities for at least one day. Whether it’s infants dressed as garden vegetables and insects or downtown revellers dressed in outfits that can’t be mentioned in family publications, Toronto has long loved assuming disguises and participating in all of the accompanying rituals that go along with today. A flip through old local newspapers shows that pranks played a large role in past Halloweens, from harmless showoffs to destructive blazes. For better or worse, tricks were as equally important as the treats.

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Toronto Star, October 31, 1929.

Halloween 1929 was marked by the usual sorts of hijinks city officials had come to expect from naughty revellers. As the Star noted, “As long as there is a Halloween to celebrate, boys will pull fire alarm boxes and set vacant houses on fire with an utter disregard of property.” This meant a long night for Fire Chief William Russell who, according to the Globe, was “sitting at home with one eye cocked on the recorders on which all box alarms are relayed to his house.” Russell “said he spent a large part of the evening, when he wasn’t out at real fires, winding up his gong-box on the wall as false alarms poured in one after another.” His box had a healthy workout, as around fifty calls came in.

One of the few legitimate alarms came from Boulton Drive and Poplar Plains Road, where a group of small children were blamed for setting a blaze that destroyed one and damaged two luxury homes that were nearing completion. Firefighter James Bell suffered severe injuries to his legs and ribs, falling eight feet to the concrete basement of 12 Boulton Drive after the main floor gave way. Damage from the night’s most “expensive bit of fun” was estimated at twelve thousand dollars (almost $150,000 in today’s currency).

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Excerpt from a Eaton’s advertisement. Mail and Empire, October 18, 1929.

While the fire department was busy that night, police felt that they dealt with fewer incidents than an average Halloween. Newspapers received plenty of false crime tips—the Mail and Empire reported that “two naïve jokesters” phoned in “with frantic word of desperate and bloody holdups in widely separated parts of the city.” The paper couldn’t resist bragging about their ability to smell a phony or taking a jab at competitors, noting “what success their playfulness met with among the other papers could not be learned, but Mail and Empire reporters were not, of course, taken in.”

On the lighter side of trickery, the Mail and Empire also reported that “there was a crowd in a downtown one-arm lunch, when a masked woman entered, followed closely by a man in a silk castor. Finally they embraced each other in the screen manner of the moment. It got so that some people began to look the other way. Others laughed or ridiculed. But when the woman removed her domino, ‘she’ was a man.” We imagine such an incident now would cause half the restaurant to continue eating without batting an eyelash.

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TTC employees at a party at head office, October 29, 1934, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 10678.

Four decades later, parents and community leaders were very concerned about some of the tricks children received in their pillowcases and plastic jack o’lanterns. The late 1960s saw a sharp increase in the number of apples and candies that had been tampered with. Metropolitan Toronto police received over 170 reports during the 1968 Halloween season from parents who found glass, razor blades, poisons, stick pins, and other hazardous items in their children’s treats. The following year saw an increase in neighbourhood patrols and a pitch to trick-or-treaters to approach any officer at the slightest hint of trouble. Parents came up with various methods of keeping their children safe and out of mischief. Among the oddest was one employed by Garr Hamilton of Blythehill Road, who placed an alarm clock in her children’s bags. “It’s set to the time I want them home,” she told the Telegram.

Despite the fears from kooks and other dangers, local columnists looked back fondly on past Halloweens, such as the Telegram’s Scott Young’s memories of how his son Neil handled his first Halloween in Omemee at the tender age of five:

He was full of enthusiasm until the instant he found himself outside. Then he refused to budge off the top step of the veranda as he listened to the cries in the night around him. In a minute or two, he abruptly bolted back in to safety, stating as an obvious afterthought “I have to go to the bathroom.” It was only when I found a crowd of children he knew, fellow perch-fishermen and turtle-hunters, and unmasked a few for his relieved inspection, that he went out again. Before long he was enjoying it as much as the others, and returned home an hour later with his pillowcase laden with the standard collection of peanuts, fudge, apples, Chiclets, cookies, dog hairs, dry leaves and gum drops, all cunningly stuck together with jellybeans.

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The Telegram, October 27, 1959.

Young struck an optimistic note at the end of that column that could easily be on the minds of parents taking their children out this Halloween:

That was Halloween, man, and there is a natural temptation to believe that it will never be the same again. But really, I know better. The little kids out tomorrow night will be just as scared, just as excited. And their parents, lurking watchfully in the background, will be storing up memories for the future, as all of us who went before have done.

Additional material from the November 1, 1929 editions of the Globe, the Mail and Empire, and the Toronto Star; and the October 30, 1969 and October 31, 1969 editions of the Telegram.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Trick or Treat or EXTERMINATE!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 21, 2012.

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The Telegram, September 22, 1971.

Hey, parents: are you looking for a last-minute costume for your toddler that doesn’t involve dressing him or her up as a member of the plant or animal kingdoms? If you have access to a time machine, set your coordinates for 1971 and the closest Towers discount department store. While thrifty shoppers of the day saw a “‘Baby Gir’ unimolded walker” as a cheap aid for speeding their child’s shift from four limbs to two legs, you will recognize its untapped potential as a kid-friendly Dalek costume.

Once you’ve zipped back to 2012, carefully peel off the nursery decals and spray-paint the walker grey. Paste on more circular objects if time permits. Glue a plunger on, or let your child your hold on to it like a rattle. The kid will love rolling around indoors or out, yelling “EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” in the cutest robotic voice ever.

It’s unlikely Torontonians would have conceived of a costume like this back in 1971, because Doctor Who hadn’t had much exposure in Canada then. CBC ran William Hartnell’s first five serials, including the Daleks’ debut, in early 1965. In September 1966, the first of two movies starring Peter Cushing as a human doctor (alongside multicoloured Daleks), hit local theatres. Not until TVOntario picked up the series in 1976 did Who air for an extended period of time in Toronto.

Vintage Toronto Ads: No Tricks—Just Treats

Originally published on Torontoist on October 25, 2011.

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Toronto Sun, October 26, 1980.

Ghouls definitely aren’t fools when it comes to style or a bargain. Never mind if the garments from a purveyor of affordable clothing for teenagers might not be top of the line—if you’re dressing as a zombie, tears to clothing resulting from their first visit to a laundry machine only add to the illusion.

As for how campy a cowboy hat could be, keep in mind that today’s ad appeared in the wake of the box office smash Urban Cowboy. It’s likely Stitches was appealing to John Travolta wannabes who planned to spend their Halloween riding a mechanical bull or engaging in other forms of western-themed horseplay.

We sympathize with the guy on the right, who spent months mastering the art of sticking his tongue out like Gene Simmons only to discover every Kiss costume in the city was sold out. He couldn’t even find a Kiss Your Face Makeup Kit that would provide proper instructions on how to look like his musical idols.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2007

Part One: Pumpkin Watch

Originally published on Torontoist on October 29, 2007.

Torontoist firmly believes in the old adage that one can never have too many photographs of pumpkins. Whether they are ornately carved, falling from a 32nd floor window or baked into a luscious pie, we are always on the prowl at this time of the year for interesting shots of glorious gourds.

Unfortunately, many of the city’s pumpkins come to a tragic end. Take the smashed specimen above, found sitting atop a phone at Duncan and Queen on Sunday afternoon.

Our guess is that Saturday-night revelers in Clubland found this innocent gourd and decided to have fun with it. Perhaps they drop-kicked the pumpkin, with a portion landing on the phone. Perhaps they were stricken with a sudden case of the munchies. Perhaps in its final minutes the pumpkin attempted to call 911 for help, until it realized that it had no opposable digits.

Part Two: A Crack in the Infrastructure

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2007.

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Spray-painted markings for infrastructure projects are a common sight in the urban landscape. A myriad of numbers and arrows painted on lawns and sidewalks form a special language for technical crews to follow, usually to locate buried pipes and wires.

Sometimes they point out the obvious.

Torontoist is relieved that we no will no longer trip over breaks in the pavement without warning whenever we walk through Rosedale. Mothers everywhere are grateful that fewer broken backs may stem from this crack.

We tip our hat to the utility crew (or prankster) responsible.

Marking discovered on Sherbourne Street near Elm Avenue. 

Part Three: The Coziest Coffee Shop in Town

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2007.

Coffee Shop Inside

Torontoist likes its java joints in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop lunch counter that has fired up the pots since Confederation, multinational chains, or the latest in fairly traded barista artistry, Toronto is home to a wide variety of places where one can find an honest cup of joe and a comfortable place to sit.

Our latest discovery may be the city’s coziest coffee counter. Located on College west of Bathurst, it is not recommended for the claustrophobic. Space inside may be at a premium, but the weathered sign indicates that sitting in a position reminiscent of an elementary school fire drill barely hinders one’s enjoyment of a freshly ground drink.

BEHIND THE SCENES

For a time, I wrote these little vignettes based on photos I took while strolling around the city. They were quick to prepare, and allowed me to be silly. I’ll group them by season as I come across them in the vaults.

One other thing you may notice if you click the link to the original sidewalk crack story: the story is credited to Kevin Plummer. Due to a glitch which occurred during one of Torontoist’s revamps, posts from November 2007 are not necessarily credited to the people who actually wrote them. There are at least three bearing my name which I didn’t write, covering ballet, a Slash biography, and holiday skating in Nathan Phillips Square. On the other hand, three installments of “Vintage Toronto Ads” wound up under Kevin’s name. Here’s a post from that period that is definitely one of Kevin’s: a proto-Historicist on William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837.