Vintage Toronto Ads: Hudson’s Bay Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on January 28, 2015.

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Toronto Star, November 5, 1975.

“A kind of urban Rip Van Winkle” was how the Star assessed the state of Yonge and Bloor in 1970. “We let it fall asleep in the early decades of this century, then tiptoed all around it during the ensuing years building the modern face of Toronto. While glittering towers of glass and concrete and stainless steel shot up everywhere else, mid-town retained a sleepy two-storey profile.”

In terms of large-scale development, the neighbourhood was waking up. Headlines transitioned from the complaints about youth in Yorkville to announcements of new office towers and shopping complexes. By the end of 1970, over 200 storeys of new space were expected to be built within the next four years. While buildings like the Manulife Centre and 2 Bloor West materialized, other ideas, like a pedestrian walkway above Bloor Street into the Colonnade, remained on the drawing board.

Among the first projects announced was a reshaping of the northeast corner of Bloor and Yonge. Backed by affiliates of Swiss-owned developer Fidinam, Toronto architectural firm Crang and Boake revealed plans for the as-yet unnamed complex in June 1969. They called for an office tower, an apartment/hotel tower, two levels of shopping, and an 800-vehicle garage, among other features. Sitting atop a major commuter hub, the complex linked into a series of underground shopping centres stretching westward, whose foot traffic would allow landlords to charge hefty rents. The project soon secured interest from Famous Players cinemas and, vacating its old building on the corner, Royal Bank.

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Toronto Sun, August 7, 1974.

Two major tenants were announced in December 1971: the Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB), which planned to rent up to 13 floors of office space, and Hudson’s Bay Company. The Bay was familiar with the neighbourhood, having operated a branch of its Morgan’s chain at the present site of Holt Renfrew. The new store would serve as the flagship for the Bay’s rapid expansion in Eastern Canada. It also lent its name to the project: the Hudson’s Bay Centre.

Political controversy soon arose at Queen’s Park. It emerged that Fidinam, which received a $15-million loan from the WCB toward construction, donated $50,000 to the ruling provincial Progressive Conservatives following the decision to move the WCB into the building. A probe by attorney-general Dalton Bales found no wrongdoing under existing laws.

Not everyone was happy with the changes the rising towers brought to the neighbourhood. “Due to the rapid expansion of Bloor from Spadina to Church in the past five years no one paid any attention to amenities, sunlight, wind current, the general environment and the general esthetics,” alderman Ying Hope lamented to the Globe and Mail. “As a result it is rapidly becoming just another canyon with little uniformity and ‘toothgaps’ everywhere. Without some control the whole environment could be killed.”

When The Bay opened on August 7, 1974, district general manager Al Guglielmin promised it would give Eaton’s and Simpsons “a good run for their money.” The 260,000-square-foot store was touted as the first major department store to open in the core since Eaton’s College Street (now College Park) welcomed its first customers in 1931. A fifth-floor exhibition hall showcased displays from community groups. Of its three restaurants, the highlight may have been “The Edibles,” a buffet-style restaurant with English cuisine (roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips) decorated with cartoons by Ronald Searle illustrating the company’s colorful history.

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Toronto Sun, January 12, 1977.

A parade on the Bay’s opening morning ran from Varsity Stadium to the store. A year later, on November 6, 1975, the rest of the complex officially opened. To celebrate, high-wire performer Jay Cochrane walked the 287 feet between the two towers at a height of 439 feet above ground, sans safety devices.

One of the Hudson Bay Centre’s persistent detractors has been Star architecture critic Christopher Hume. He has frequently noted its failings, especially the cold concrete face it displays at street level. In a 1987 article on the best and worst buildings in the city, Hume considered it a lowlight:

An object lesson in how to take one of the two most important intersections in Toronto—Bloor and Yonge—and wreck it. Without windows or doors to break up its solid concrete facade, this Crang & Boake monstrosity looks more like a bunker than a department store. The only way life has returned to the corner is through the itinerant vendors who set up their wares around the centre.

A decade later, Hume declared “it sums up everything that shouldn’t happen in a city.”

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Left: Globe and Mail, November 17, 1975. Right: Toronto Star, October 28, 1975.

In recent years, the shopping complex underwent years of renovations. The Bay gradually lost its flagship status after Simpsons on Queen Street changed branding. It appeared the space would be transformed into the Canadian flagship for Saks Fifth Avenue, until Hudson’s Bay management decided to convert part of the Queen store. Height-wise, the complex looks tiny compared to new neighbours like One Bloor East. Amid the current developments in the neighbourhood, some might say the site feels like the Rip Van Winkles it displaced.

Additional material from the June 18, 1969, December 7, 1971, March 17, 1972, October 1, 1973, and November 7, 1975 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 14,1970, November 2, 1972, January 5, 1973, July 17, 1974, August 1, 1974, May 9, 1987, and September 19, 1998 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Morgan’s

Canada’s Quality Department Store

Originally published on Torontoist on March 23, 2007.

Vintage Ad #195 - Morgan's, Canada's Quality Department StoreSource: Leaside High School Clan Call, 1959/60 edition.

Quick–name the first department store chain to locate in suburban Toronto.

Eaton’s? No, they waited until 1961 to open shop in Don Mills.

Simpson’s? No, they followed Eaton’s a year later, landing in Scarborough at Cedarbrae Plaza.

Try a chain that only lasted in Toronto for a decade, but whose locations served those moving into areas like North York and Etobicoke.

Morgan’s roots were in Montreal, where Henry Morgan opened a dry goods store in 1845 (originally Smith & Morgan, until Smith sold out a few years later). In 1891, the store moved to St. Catherine Street, the first of several department stores to locate in what soon became Montreal’s retail centre.

Morgan’s entered Toronto in 1950, with the Bloor Street store mentioned in this ad. As they claim in this ad, Morgan’s was the first department to move into Toronto’s suburbs, with stores at Lawrence Plaza in North York (1955) and Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke (1960).

Morgan’s presence in Toronto was short-lived, as the company was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company towards the end of 1960, which would HBC’s first venture into department stores in eastern Canada. While the Ontario locations saw a name change within a few years, the Morgan’s name hung on in Quebec until 1972 (HBC would repeat this tactic years later, when the Simpson’s nameplate was reduced to Toronto). The flagship store on St. Catherine still operates.

As for the Toronto locations, the Bloor Street address is buried within Holt Renfrew, Lawrence Plaza is split between Winners and Dominion and Cloverdale is now home to Zellers.

Hearth-y Eating

Originally published on Torontoist on August 8, 2012.

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Don Mills Mirror, November 13, 1963.

A menu full of cozy comfort foods for harried shoppers, kids tagging along, and managers from nearby industrial plants along Scarborough’s Golden Mile. That, at any rate, is who we imagine today’s ad—for the restaurant inside a Morgan’s department store—was targeting. While some of these old Toronto favourites linger on in diners and cafeterias, milk and crackers is nowhere to be found on menus at modern eateries, just as “smorgasbord” has given way to “buffet.” There are times when we wonder if bylaws existed in every municipality within Metro Toronto that obliged all dining establishments to serve roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and a salad plate incorporating cottage cheese.

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Toronto Star, August 22, 1963.

Opened on August 22, 1963, the Eglinton Square Morgan’s was the fourth Metro Toronto location since the chain entered the market in 1950, and the first since Hudson’s Bay Company took over the business in 1960. The event was marked by the arrival of store manager D.B. Murdy in a helicopter, which was promptly offered for sale after he disembarked. Besides choppers, the store also allowed customers to order “anything else possible and legal.” The Hearth was a second floor cafeteria that seated 150 and, according to the Star, was decorated with “six murals of early Toronto plus antiques such as flintlock rifles, copper kettles and spinning wheels.” For the convenience of drivers, a spiral parkade adjoined the store.

The store’s days as Morgan’s were short-lived. The following year, management dropped the brand outside of Quebec and renamed the stores The Bay.

Additional material from the August 21, 1963 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Maclean’s, June 15, 1953. Click on image for larger version.

A spread opening a seven-page article on the history of Morgan’s and the state of its business as it expanded during the 1950s. An excerpt on the store’s policy towards “bargains” at its downtown Montreal flagship (warning: outdated language is used by the writer):

Morgan’s abhors the word “bargain.” Nothing is ever “cheap” at Morgan’s. The advertising copy writers on Morgan’s staff are niggardly with the word “sale.” But every month Morgan’s offers a prize of two dollars to any member of the staff who sports in a rival store a comparable article selling at a lower price. Last March there were only three winners.

The budget floor in Morgan’s is not in the basement because that would give it an unfortunae association with “bargain.” It is on the third floor, and the third-floor staff is watched with particular care to see that its customers are treated with the same deference observed in the more ritzy departments.

On the budget floor models slink around in twenty-four dollar dresses with the same femme fatale fluidity they assume in the more expensive salon downstairs. Last April when Eve Trill, the fashion director, was posing models for catalogue photographs of cotton house dresses at five-ninety she made them wear dainty gloves and cute hats to show that the garments were suitable for outdoor wear too.

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Toronto Star, November 7, 1960.

As of early 2018, none of the three stores listed in this article remain Bay-owned stores. The Bloor flagship is now Holt Renfrew, while Lawrence Plaza is split between Metro and Winners. Cloverdale, after a stint as a Target, is planned to be redeveloped into more retail, a gym, and a food court.

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The Toronto Star‘s preview of the Eglinton Square Morgan’s, from its August 21, 1963 edition.

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Photo by Reg Innell, 1963. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0110310f.

A clearer version of the photo used in the previous article. While you can still park on the roof of the main section of the mall (which involves a neat retro experience of driving up the ramps), the parkcade shown here has been torn down. With the Eglinton Crosstown LRT headed in Eglinton Square’s direction, a redevelopment plan has been proposed which would retain the mall and add residential towers.

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Toronto Star, August 21, 1963.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Gentlemanly Day on a Budget

Originally published on Torontoist on April 15, 2007.

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Source: Maclean’s, December 1972.

Is this how you or your parents spent a leisurely day around Toronto 35 years ago?
Except for the F.O.B. and possibly Sean, it would be easy to recreate this “gentlemanly” jaunt, though ferry fares to the Toronto Islands are cheap enough to make it worthwhile checking the schedule before leaving the house.

HBC remained in the booze business until the distillery division was sold to Seagram in 1987, though a licensed scotch is still available in the United States.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Compared to how the feature evolved, some of the early installments of Vintage Toronto Ads are ridiculously short, especially if the ad depicted had its own wordy storyline.

The source of this particular ad is a good time to bring up how the feature started. Collecting old ads began when I started going through my father’s boxes of Sports Illustrated a few years after he passed away. He had a subscription throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and had kept the back issues in our crawlspace (first house we lived in) or the backyard shed (second house we lived in). Rather than immediately put them out for recycling, I spent several visits home browsing through the collection. A tiny handful of issues I kept intact. For the rest, I clipped out catchy ads, or ones that left an impression on me as a kid.

I started posting these ads on my blog, which led to me seeking out cheap copies of other old magazines. One day on my walk home from work (which, at the time, was working in internal communications at Canadian Tire’s head office at Yonge and Eglinton), I noticed a box by the curb filled with issues of Maclean’s, The New Yorker, and Saturday Night from the 1970s.

Near the end of 2006, I saw a call for new contributors to Torontoist. I pitched a column based on the ads. Thanks to that curbside box, along with photocopies made from the first decade of Toronto Life I stumbled upon at the University of Guelph’s library, I had plenty of Toronto-centric material to use. The pitch worked and my writing career, which had been on hold since leaving the shenanigans surrounding working at Guelph’s student paper, was slowly revving up again.