Vintage Toronto Ads: Bobby Orr’s Pizza Weekend

Originally published on Torontoist on October 4, 2011.

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Don Mills Mirror, October 13, 1971.

If Tim Horton could run a donut shop, why couldn’t Bobby Orr lend his name to a pizzeria?

Orr may have skated into the pizza business to fend off others hoping to utilize his name in the restaurant business. Around the time the first pizzas were delivered in 1970, Orr’s representatives sent lawyers after other restaurateurs hoping to cash in on the Bruins star’s fame, such as two New Hampshire gentlemen who dreamed of opening Bobby Orr’s Eating Place locations throughout the granite state.

Before the first puck dropped for the 1971/72 season, Orr signed a five-year deal with the Bruins that, at $200,000 per season, made him the NHL’s first “million dollar man.” Besides leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory, he picked up the Conn Smythe, Hart, and Norris trophies. We doubt any of that silverware made its way to the pizzerias for a special promotion. (“Buy two pizzas and win a chance to touch Bobby’s latest Norris Trophy!”)

Vintage Ad #1,668: Bobby Orr wants to give you some of his dough

Toronto Star, June 9, 1971.

Known as either Bobby Orr Pizzerias, Bobby Orr’s Pizza Restaurants, or Bobby Orr’s Pizza Parlor, the chain planned to expand across Ontario, but the business endured as well as Orr’s infamously bad knees. An Oshawa newspaper ad hinted at the problem, proclaiming, “Bobby Orr wants to make a comeback,” after, as Star columnist Jeremy Brown put it, “a lapse in quality.” As for the former locations listed in today’s ad, the new one in Willowdale is now a salon/spa, the Keele store is currently a Mr. Sub, and the Cabbagetown branch is a real estate office.

Additional material from the December 17, 1970, and May 21, 1971, editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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1971/72 O-Pee-Chee hockey card.

Whatever name it carried, the chain appears to have come to an end in 1973, when Winnipeg-based owner Champs Food Systems sold the pizzerias to an unnamed buyer for $100,000. As part of the deal, Orr Enterprises withdrew the hockey star’s name from the restaurants.

In his book Power Play, Orr’s agent Alan Eagleson included a paragraph about the pizza business:

Oscar Grubert is a really successful restaurateur of the chain variety. He owns the rights to several of them, all big–Cavanaghs and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Winnipeg, Mother Tucker’s in other places. When his deal for Bobby Orr Pizza Places was launched in the Royal York Hotel, a lot of celebrities, from Pierre Berton to Robert Fulford, were on hand, as well as all the sportswriters. The fanfare was for a new Bobby Orr Pizza Place to open in Oshawa. Oscar set them up and they did well, except Bobby didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He’d say “I never eat this stuff,” that type of thing, and wouldn’t go to an opening. So Oscar finally said, “We might as well get out of that deal.” If Bobby had co-operated he’d be making hundreds of thousands of dollars from that business now, but he just kissed off an association that could have been a long-time money-winner for him.

Or one that Eagleson probably would have benefited more from than Orr. In a 1993 Globe and Mail column on fact-checking, Robert Fulford disputed Eagleson’s account of the pizza chain’s launch night. “It’s nice to be called a celebrity,” Fulford noted, “but I’ve never been in the same room as Bobby Orr and never heard of Orr Pizza Places.”

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Find the Puck

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New Liberty, October 1948.

Can you help Maple Leafs Hall of Fame goalie Turk Broda find the puck before the Boston Bruins offense does?

Launched in 1932 as the Canadian edition of an American general interest publication known for providing readers with the estimated amount of time required to read each article, Liberty magazine was purchased by Jack Kent Cooke and Roy Thomson in 1946. Briefly renamed New Liberty, the publication adopted a sensationalist tone that increased its circulation (the cover story for the edition today’s ad appeared in promised to tell “the truth about margarine”). Thomson sold his share of the magazine in 1948 when it appeared profits were nowhere on the horizon, but Cooke persevered and managed to make a little money from Liberty during the 1950s as its focus shifted to chronicling showbiz personalities on both sides of the border. Cooke sold off “Canada’s young family magazine” in 1961 to new owners who let it limp along for three more years.

This game shot was likely taken during the 1947/48 hockey season, as the Leafs didn’t start the 1948/49 season until this issue was almost off the newsstands. Besides Broda, other Toronto players searching for the puck are Joe Klukay (number 17) and Bill Barilko (number 21; he switched to number 19 for the 1948/49 season, then to his eventually-retired number 5 before the 1950/51 season). It was a good era to be a Maple Leafs fan as, despite a losing record during the regular season, the 1948/49 squad became the first NHL team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups in a row.

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The answer, as shown in the December 1948 edition of New Liberty.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Voice from the Bee Hive

Originally published on Torontoist on September 29, 2009.

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The Telegram, December 2, 1948.

We can picture it now—a giant, disembodied head floating in the locker room of Maple Leaf Gardens, hovering near his microphone as he interviews battle-scarred hockey players preparing to dazzle the rest of the country with their skills over the airwaves on Saturday night. Interviewees were too focused on the game ahead to notice the lack of a body…

Sportscaster Wes McKnight (1909–1968) began his association with CFRB in 1928. Four years later, a chat with Charlie Conacher of the Leafs launched his long-running Bee Hive–sponsored Saturday night hockey interview series. Players received twenty-five dollars for appearing on the show, which aired before Hockey Night in Canada (CFRB simulcast the radio version, where McKnight appeared on the Hot Stove League show during intermissions, with CBC for many years). Besides hockey, McKnight also provided play-by-play for Toronto Argonauts matches and golf tournaments and offered a daily sports commentary. He wound down his radio career in the early 1960s as an executive at CFRB, retiring two years before his death.

As for McKnight’s sponsor, the St. Lawrence Starch Company produced Bee Hive corn syrup and other corn-based products in Port Credit for a century. For a couple of generations of hockey fans, the company was best known for the free player photos it offered as a mail-in promotion from 1934 to 1967. The offer was wildly successful, as up to twenty-five hundred requests a day passed through the company’s headquarters. Photos shot in Toronto were mostly taken by the Turofsky brothers.

Money proved to be the nail in the coffin for Bee Hive photos—teams were paid little for photo rights, while players were compensated, at least in the 1940s, with a six-pack of corn syrup at the start of the season. As a letter sent out to disappointed customers in 1967 noted:

It is not without some regret that we take this step, having over the years supplied millions of these pictures to hockey fans across Canada, but steadily rising costs have brought us to the point of no return. Fees for picture rights demanded by the N.H.L. clubs have gone out of all reason; clerical wages and salaries are much higher, cost of producing the pictures themselves and the envelopes has increased and, finally, postage has increased by 25%.

Production ceased at the Port Credit plant in 1990. The site at Hurontario Street and Lakeshore Road is currently home to mixed developments, though the St. Lawrence name lingers via a street and a park.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Who’s Got King Clancy’s Eno?

Originally published on Torontoist on March 31, 2009.

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Toronto Star, March 31, 1936.

When travelling by train between key games during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the last thing a hardened hockey player wants to suffer is indigestion. If King Clancy and his teammates actually did pop a few tablets to rid themselves of “the poisonous wastes that slow a man down,” they helped the Maple Leafs defeat the New York Americans two games to one during the 1936 semi-finals.

Francis Michael “King” Clancy arrived in Toronto through a trade with the Ottawa Senators on the eve of the 1930–31 season. After his retirement early in the 1936–37 season and a brief coaching stint with the Montreal Maroons, Clancy spent a decade as a referee. He returned to the Maple Leafs as a coach in the early 1950s and held various positions in the organization until his death in 1986. He was one of the rare individuals who, thanks to his charming personality, stayed on friendly terms with Harold Ballard during the latter’s stormy reign as the team’s owner.

Toronto fans would have been familiar with Harold “Baldy” Cotton, who had played just over six seasons with the Maple Leafs before being traded to the Americans before the season began. After retiring in 1937, Cotton would be heard by a generation of hockey fans as one of the experts of the “Hot Stove League” segment of radio broadcasts and on Hockey Night in Canada.

Unfortunately, a dose of Eno didn’t provide the Maple Leafs with enough pep during the final round of the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings, who had endured the longest playoff game in NHL history during the semi-finals (six overtime periods were needed to defeat the Maroons), won the Stanley Cup in four games.

Vintage Toronto Ads: You Will Believe A Bear Can Play Hockey

Originally published on Torontoist on September 9, 2008.

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Scene, September 20-26, 1970.

If Baikal was “the Bobby Orr of the bruin hockey world,” we hope that the bear’s knees were sturdier than the hall-of-famer’s. The results of two years of hockey drills for Baikal and nearly a dozen other bears were on display for Canadian audiences in the fall of 1970, when a Moscow Circus tour provided a slight thaw in Cold War relations.

The tour got off to a rocky start in Montreal after two trapeze artists hung helplessly for more than 10 minutes when a rope ladder became entangled around a swing and caused the acrobats to lose their footing. When the troupe arrived in Toronto, a photo call with three bears roped in Maple Leafs defenseman Jim Dorey and goalie Jacques Plante. Besides their prowess with the puck, the bears showed off their soccer, ballet, and tango skills.

The circus engagement forced the Leafs to go on an extended road trip to wind down their exhibition schedule. The team’s regular season started in Vancouver, where the Canucks earned their first NHL victory in a 5-3 match.

Reviewing opening night for the StarJim Proudfoot observed a less-than-enthusiastic crowd of 5,000, whose frosty reaction was attributed to the attempt to cross traditional circus acts and the Ice Capades.

As long as the Muscovites are doing their own thing they’re just marvelous. Their acrobats, their unicyclists, their trampoline athletes, their jugglers, all are magnificent. But they would be just as magnificent without skates. It is when the Russians attempt such things as production numbers and pairs and singles, just like they must have seem in some mediocre touring revue, that they fall absolutely flat. The comedy numbers are an example. Perhaps the audiences would be convulsed in Omsk or Minsk but in Toronto they were bored, or what is even worse, annoyed. One reservation must be made: the girls are gorgeous and sparkling and admirably energetic, and when they return the customers’ applause in the finale, beaming with genuine pleasure, they succeed where so many diplomats have failed. They make us love Russia.

Proudfoot was also impressed by the bears, who looked “no more disorganized than the Leafs on a bad night. They scored three goals, which doesn’t always happen on hockey night at the Gardens.”

Moscow-based circus acts returned to Toronto later in the decade. A planned appearance in October 1983 was cancelled by Gardens owner Harold Ballard after a Korean airliner that carried several Canadian passengers was shot down by the Soviets. Other cities followed Pal Hal’s lead and the circus tour was quickly scrapped, though the performers had an extended layover in Halifax when Aeroflot flights to Canada were suspended.

Besides joining the international condemnation of the Soviets after the airliner incident, Ballard may not have wanted to have been shown up by hockey-playing bears who may have exhibited stronger stickhandling than the Leafs of the early 1980s.

Additional material from the October 7, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hockey Night in the 1930s

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2008.

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1937 (left), December 6, 1937 (right).

The rumour mill is swirling around the Maple Leafs this week, as a less-than-stellar season and mixed signals from club ownership lead to daily reports about the fate of the team’s management and captain. With all signs pointing to a third straight early vacation at season’s end, the team’s followers are steamed.

Fans 70 years ago may also have been frustrated with the club, though in their case the problem was a team that usually reached the Stanley Cup finals but couldn’t quite win Lord Stanley’s silverware. At least if the team lost, the TTC was there to offer a cheerful bow before a warm trip home.

Under the stewardship of coach Dick Irvin, the 1937/38 edition of the Leafs finished first in the Canadian Division, eight points ahead of the New York Americans. The NHL would drop its divisional structure after the season, when its active membership fell to seven teams after the Montreal Maroons suspended operations (the franchise initially asked for a year off, tried to relocate to St. Louis and officially folded after the 1938/39 season). The existence of the Maroons explains why the Montreal Canadiens are billed by their nickname in today’s ad, as other period game notices indicated the city the Leafs were up against.

The game in question resulted in a 3-3 tie, highlighted by a stick-swinging fight initiated by future Habs coach Toe Blake. The Toronto Daily Star’s headline two days later read “Leafs Draw With Canucks But Lose to Tough Mick.”

The major hiccup during the season was the loss of captain Charlie Conacher in November, due to a dislocated shoulder. Doctors urged Conacher to retire—he sat out the rest of the season, but would return to action with the Red Wings the following year. Leading scorers for the Leafs, and the league, were right winger Gordie Drillon (26 goals, 52 points) and center Syl Apps (21 goals, 50 points).

TTC conductors would have had a busy playoff season, as the Leafs fought their way past the league-leading Boston Bruins into the Stanley Cup finals. Transit authorities didn’t have to worry about a mass victory celebration as the Leafs lost the Cup on the road to the Chicago Black Hawks, a team that still holds the record for the lowest regular season winning percentage by a Cup holder (14 wins, 25 losses, 9 ties). The Leafs may have tempted the fates by rejecting calls for goaltending assistance by Chicago after Mike Karakas suffered a broken toe—legend has it that the Black Hawks approached veteran minor leaguer Alfie Moore while he was drinking in a Toronto bar. It was the fourth time the Leafs had gone down in the Cup finals since their last championship in 1932 and they would lose twice more before hoisting the Cup in 1942.