Vintage Toronto Ads: Happy Life Insurance Day!

Originally published on Torontoist on April 17, 2012.


The Globe, January 22, 1930.

Did you remember to celebrate Life Insurance Day earlier this year? Were the benefits you derived from the prudent savings of others at the top of your mind the last time you checked your safety deposit box or investment status update? Have you thanked your lucky stars and your broker that somebody else’s thriftiness has made almost everything that’s good and just in your life possible—especially those outings on the golf course? You didn’t? Shame on you!


The Globe, April 17, 1930.

Manufacturers Life was among the businesses that opened offices in the Canada Permanent Building at 320 Bay Street throughout late 1929 and early 1930. Architectural journalist Patricia McHugh had mixed feelings about the building in her book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989):

The architect said that he wanted to avoid ‘restless outlines,’ and by combining massive bulk with delicate ornament, that is exactly what he did. The two design impulses cancel one another and the Canada Permanent Building ends up with neither power nor grace—a stout matron in too-thin ingenue’s finery. Only the deeply vaulted entrance and its bold coffered ceiling speak with any vigour, pronouncing the solidity and weightiness that “The Permanent,” by its very name, undoubtedly hoped to evoke.

The interior lobby and banking halls are another matter—rich extravaganzas of satiny marble and burnished metal in the best Art Deco manner. Don’t miss the extraordinary bronze elevator doors whereon are portrayed kneeling antique figures, one holding out a model of the company’s medievally quaint former headquarters and another a replica of this skyscraper—self-congratulatory offers to the gods of commerce.

The building is currently one of the older towers in the financial district, with CIBC Mellon as its main tenant.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Man from Manufacturers

A pair of takes on a slightly morbid Manufacturers Life campaign – one happy, one dark.

Insuring a Skater’s Dreams

Originally published on Torontoist on December 1, 2009.


Saturday Night, November 21, 1959.

Mary sighed. Her heart had been set on being the greatest figure skater the world had ever seen. But now the life insurance funds she and her mother had received after her father’s fatal encounter with an exploding kiln had dwindled to nothing, which made the replacement of the last pair of disintegrating skates handed down from her cousin in Don Mills an impossible task. Mary’s mother saw the tears well up in the sad little girl’s eyes during the bus ride home and knew who could help restore the beaming smile on her daughter’s face: the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS. Surely he could sympathize with the family’s plight and provide dear Mary with a Christmas miracle.

December 25 arrived. Mary was so thrilled when the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS dropped in for a surprise visit and dangled from his right hand the skates she had so longingly looked at in the store window. So was Mary’s mother. Within a year, the MAN FROM MANUFACTURERS was Mary’s new father. He was always there to cheer her on from the grandstand as she pursued her dreams of figure-skating stardom.

He was also there to make sure all of the family’s insurance needs were met, which came in handy the night teenage Mary and her fellow skaters wrapped the family car around a tree after a wild post-show celebration.

Why Must This Sad Boy Go?

Originally published on Torontoist on March 9, 2010.


Liberty, May 1960.

Back in December we brought you the story of Mary and how the Man from Manufacturers saved her dreams of skating glory. Alas, not all children were as lucky as Mary…

Take sad little Johnny. He had enjoyed the childhood of which 1950s ad copy writers’ dreams were made: a father who played catch with him every night and took him to wrestling matches at Maple Leaf Gardens, and a mother who stayed at home and made the best Jell-O moulds on the block. Johnny’s father may have been a caring provider, but he lacked financial acumen and foresight. He was the type of man who believed his constitution was sturdy enough that life insurance was a waste of money. An intimate encounter with malfunctioning equipment at work changed his mind in a hurry.

This brings us to the sad melodrama playing out before your eyes. In a panic, Johnny’s mother sold as many items as she could to raise enough to live on while she figured out her future. This left Johnny with a lamp he won at a school fair, a lone suitcase of clothes topped by a shred of his favourite blanket, and a green trunk full of sports programs, photos from fishing trips and several Hardy Boys adventures. His mother called the Man from Manufacturers and discussed options to protect Johnny. She felt a deepening bond with the insurance agent as they discussed insurance options, yet was puzzled when he rejected her invitations to dinner. It was only when a picture of a smiling young girl with a gleaming pair of ice skates appeared on his desk that she knew the Man from Manufacturers would be unable to take care of her and Johnny permanently. Embarrassed by her overtures, Johnny’s mother couldn’t face any other Man from Manufacturers and bought a policy from another insurer.

Johnny spent moving day in a state of shock, repeating “why must we go?” like a record on a locked groove. He soon found himself in a small subsidized apartment far from his friends in suburbia. He hated his new surroundings and soon developed a chip on his shoulder. By the time Johnny reached his late teens, his mother discovered that purchasing a policy for Johnny was, tragically, one of the savviest financial moves she had ever made.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Balancing Act

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2008.

Vintage Ad #470: Watch Your Balance!

Maclean’s, April 16, 1955.

How will this space-age family’s future lose its balance?

  • Junior scares Father by having Teddy simulate a bear attack.
  • Rover, happy to see his master after a long session at the vet, jumps onto the ladder.
  • Mother relays the cost of the family’s latest insurance bill.
  • Father, overcome by a sudden burst of inspiration after reading an article about Jackson Pollock, tries to reach the yellow and blue paint cans.

The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company issued its first policy in 1887. The company’s first president was Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, though it is uncertain whether any policies were issued to cover his fondness for fermented beverages (though Macdonald was succeeded by distiller George Gooderham). After a spell in the King/Yonge area, its Toronto headquarters settled on Bloor Street East in the mid-1920s. The Manulife brand was adopted in 1971, a year before ground broke on the tower that bears its name at Bay and Bloor.