Vintage Toronto Ads: Where Else Would You Eat?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2009.

20090922chiaro

Bravo, November/December 1982.

Yes, your friends were happy that the iambic pentameter flowing out of your mouth finally sounded naturalistic and not an exercise in word fumbling. For that, you deserved a night on the town!

Your friends also had deep pockets, as a meal at Chiaro’s (pronounced key-arro) wasn’t in the typical actor’s price range, especially if they treated you to the exclusive wine room. Two people who were denied the latter were Globe and Mail restaurant critic Joanne Kates and her dining companion:

We mere mortals, and two females to boot, are not invited into the wine room. We are not even offered a wine list. We are offered a table by the door and, having reserved earlier, we begin to wonder: Would the waiter chide a male customer for asking to see the label on a bottle of house wine before it was poured?

Chiaro’s was part of the multi-million-dollar renovation of the King Edward Hotel in the early 1980s. Kates compared the décor to both ends of the hospitality spectrum owned by new operators Trusthouse Forte: the Plaza Athénée in Paris and your average roadside Travelodge. “The lobby is splendid and subtle,” she noted, “an Edwardian triumph of massive marble columns and Oriental rugs lit from above by a glass roof. But in the women’s room the soap is that horrible green stuff (what, no Pears?) and Muzak plays.“

Kates felt the pasta dishes were worth the money while most of the mains were boring. Her summary of the Chiaro’s experience expressed disappointment:

Neither the $20,000 peacock mirrors nor the grey walls and ceiling are glorious. The food is good, but it is attention to detail that makes a restaurant great: Salada tea and banal desserts give Chiaro’s a mass-produced air; waiters who seat and serve diners according to their Dun and Bradstreet rating do not belong. A restaurant that charges $105 for dinner had better treat everyone like a queen.

Additional material from The Joanne Kates Toronto Restaurant Guide (Toronto: Methuen, 1984).

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Summer’s Here And The Time Is Right For Golfing In The Streets

Originally published on Torontoist on June 5, 2008.

Home-grown small-screen productions have also made ample use of our city’s streets since CBLT debuted in 1952. During the summer of 1971, comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster used downtown as a backdrop for an exciting new sport, city golf. Over the course of 18 holes, cameramen preserved pieces of the city that development has changed significantly in the ensuing years, from landmarks in their infancy to retail icons that have moved along.

Besides, wouldn’t shooting a golf ball down Queen Street over lunch hour be a great stress reliever, as long as you don’t brain any onlookers?

Among the sites to watch out for while viewing this clip (or to skip ahead to if Wayne and Shuster are not your taste):

1:54: City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, only open for six years at this point. Note the waving spectators on the top ramp.

2:10: Eaton’s Queen Street store. Initially located south of Queen when Timothy Eaton set up shop in 1869, the store moved to 190 Yonge Street in 1883 and gradually expanded to take up the entire block bounded by James to the west and Albert to the north. Company warehouses stretched along neighbouring blocks while a second retail store, the Eaton’s Annex, opened at Albert and Yonge. During the mid-20th century, the Queen store was Eaton’s mid-range store, with the Annex (destroyed by fire in 1977) catering to bargain hunters and their Yonge-College store (now College Park) attracting upscale shoppers. The sale advertised on the Queen entrance places filming around August, when the following ad appeared in local papers.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1971.

Across the street Simpsons also had a month-long sale running, though they appear to have taken less care in design and material with the “Great Toronto Days” banner.

The two stores would draw shoppers on either side of Queen until 1977, when Eaton’s consolidated their downtown retail operations into their new store at Yonge and Dundas during the first phase of Eaton Centre construction.

3:10: The first hole is near the King Edward Hotel, then on a downhill slide (note the less than elegant front sign). Before the decade was out, the hotel was threatened with demolition before being rescued by new investors…though its Crystal Ballroom might be a decent locale to practice short putts.

5:44: The original configuration of the 401/Don Valley Parkway interchange. The DVP had been built as far north as Sheppard by 1966, with Woodbine Avenue continuing northwards until the first phase of Highway 404 to Steeles Avenue was completed in 1977. More bridge hazards after recent construction would create a greater challenge in a modern game.

6:00: Long-gone parking lots on the south side of Carlton Street opposite Maple Leaf Gardens, later occupied by condos, fast food joints, Mick E. Fynn’s, Peach Garden, and Golden Griddle.

6:37: The Odd Fellows Hall at Yonge and College can be seen behind Wayne. Then a branch of CIBC, now home to Starbucks.

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7:40: The drawing of the 10th hole refers to several vanished buildings along Jarvis Street. The Four Seasons Motor Hotel at 415 Jarvis was the launchpad for the luxury hotel chain, which it maintained through the late 1970s. Opened in 1961, it won a Massey Medal for Architecture. Toronto Life’s Toronto Guidebook described the Four Seasons as:

…a great place: small and slightly chic (because of all the visiting celebrities who stay there, because of the proximity of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation across the street); not too expensive; only three storeys, so you don’t have top cope overmuch with elevators; and hassle-free parking. There’s a swimming pool in the central courtyard…a bar-cum-discotheque downstairs called The Studio from which, at lunch time, the timeless Elwood Glover conducts his CBC-TV interview show.

This was a boom time for the chain, with Inn on the Park humming along, its first overseas hotel welcoming guests in 1970, and the development of a new location on Queen that became the Sheraton Centre. The Motor Inn was closed in the late 1970s and eventually demolished, with The Central condos currently staying for the night at its address.

CBC was headquartered at 354 Jarvis until the opening of the broadcast centre on Front Street. Its land is now occupied by Radio City and the National Ballet School. We suspect “the beverage room” was a watering hole for employees of the Corp.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

“City Golf” originally aired on the September 19, 1971 edition of The Wayne and Shuster Comedy Special. According to a capsule preview in the previous day’s edition of Starweek, the show also featured a spoof of Citizen Kane, and a sketch going behind-the-scenes of a minimum security prison. Musical guests were Salome Bey and Gilles Vigneault.

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Blaik Kirby’s review of the show, from the September 20, 1971 edition of the Globe and Mail. The comedic merits of the city golf sketch are still debatable.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Great Depression Hospitality

Originally published on Torontoist on January 23, 2007.

Vintage Ad #133 - King Edward Hotel 1934

Source: Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934

TO. Hogtown. The Queen City of Canada. The Centre of the Universe. Centennial City. All names applied to Toronto over the years.

Centennial city?

That was the nickname tossed around when Toronto celebrated its 100th birthday in 1934. To commemorate the event, a Centennial Committee was put together by city council, whose lasting work was Jesse Edgar Middleton’s book Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934. The book includes a variety of sketches of the city’s first century, as well as a program from a “service of thanksgiving and prayer” (and Wagner and Rachmaninoff) held on March 5th to mark the anniversary. Among the sub-committees formed for the celebration: permanent memorial, song judging (which included poet E.J. Pratt), drill corps display and stamp exhibition.

The last 60 pages of the book feature ads from leading institutions and businesses of the city. One of those still surviving is the King Edward Hotel, recently displaced as the city’s most fashionable place to stay by the newly-built Royal York. Opened in 1903, the King Edward was built on the former site of the Golden Lion department store. The hotel was designed by architect E. J. Lennox, who also worked on Old City Hall, Casa Loma and the Massey Mausoleum in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. The original eight floors were joined by an 18-storey addition on the east side of the hotel in 1921.

In 1932, the hotel entered receivership, which probably accounts for the rates “keeping with the times” at the height of the Great Depression. Using the Bank of Canada inflation calculator, based on the Consumer Price Index, shows that the starting rates for those rooms would be $45-120, or your average roadside chain hotel today. The 50 cent breakfast? $7.50.

Note all the elements designed to lure a posh crowd, even as they began to recover from financial ruin. A floor just for the ladies! Not just any run-of-the-mill French chef, but one honoured by the French government! Not just a house band, but “an internationally famous 15-piece orchestra”! The latter claim had some merit – Luigi Romanelli, who led the hotel’s house band from 1923 until his death in 1942, made radio appearances with his Monarchs of Melody on CBC and NBC.

Weak management and competition from newer hotels downtown led to proposals to raze the building in the mid-1970s. Instead, much of the hotel was restored by the early 1980s, though the Crystal Ballroom on the upper levels remains in ruins, used to teach fly fishing.

UPDATE (June 2017): The Crystal Ballroom eventually underwent renovation, reopening for public use in April 2017.