Whatever Happened to Peggy Atwood?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2011.


Margaret Atwood’s high school yearbook; Clan Call, 1956–1957 edition.

As people continue to joke about Margaret Atwood running for mayor, we feel it is our duty as a responsible media outlet to scope out the potential candidate’s early influences. And so we bring you the above, from her high school yearbook. (We’d love to hear what “Peggy”’s “Reindeer Romp” jingle sounded like.)

It turns out that by the time she departed the halls of Leaside High, Atwood had decided that writing was in her future:

Up to 1956, I’d thought I was going to be a botanist, or, at the very least, a Home Economist…There was nothing at Leaside High School to indicate to me that writing was even a possibility for a young person in Canada in the twentieth century. We did study authors, it’s true, but they were neither Canadian nor alive…I contemplated journalism school; but women, I was told, were not allowed to write anything but obituaries and the ladies’ page; and although some of my critics seem to be under the impression that this is what I ended up writing, I felt that something broader was in order. University, in short, where I might at least learn to spell.


Clan Call, 1957–1958 edition.

Atwood learned more than spelling via her scholarships. By the time she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961, she had published her first collection of poetry, Double Persephone. With the release of her first novel, The Edible Woman, in 1969, Atwood was pursing her teenage quest to write “THE Canadian novel” in earnest. Library patrons can judge whether she achieved that goal.

Additional material from The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood edited by Coral Ann Howells (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).



How did I get my hands on these yearbooks?

I inherited them from my father, who was in grade 9 during Atwood’s final year. I’m guessing they had zero interaction.

While the grads received full-on profiles, younger students weren’t left out of the fun. In class photos, each kid got a one-liner. My dad’s was “Spends his English periods counting footprints on the ceiling.” Which is funny given (a) I recall him saying he despised one of his English teachers, (b) the massive library he would assemble, and (c) he wound up teaching English decades later.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.


The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.


The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2008

Nature Versus Streetcar Shelter

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2008.


Once upon a time, the stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard around Park Lawn Road was a stop for tourists and those looking for a quick good time, thanks to nearly thirty motels that lined the strip. All but three (Casa Mendoza, Shore Breeze, and Beach) are gone now, leaving empty lots awaiting their probable transformation into condominiums with romantic views of Lake Ontario and the Mr. Christie cookie plant.

The lag between the demolition of old motels, such as the Hillcrest and North American, and the arrival of new towers has allowed Mother Nature to take her course in several of the empty lots. The result: a streetcar shelter where riders on the 501 can enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked cookies to take their mind off any fears of someday being crushed by the emerging forest.

The overgrowth is creepier at night, making you feel like a doomed character in a “plants take over the world” story. A strong wind could easily conjure a week’s worth of nightmares.

UPDATE: All three of those surviving motels soon vanished. The Mr. Christie plant closed in 2013, and is being demolished as of fall 2017.

One Wrong Turn

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2008. Possibly my lone attempt to do an Action Line/The Fixer help piece.


When some people see an erroneous street sign, they call the city to have it fixed. Others will glance for a moment, pop their eyes, and then move along without a second thought. In the case of a faulty curve sign recently erected on Wicksteed Avenue in the industrial section of Leaside, one observer vented their frustration on the sign itself.


After we called the city’s transportation department, the sign was promptly removed. A bare metal post was all that remained as of last night.

Phone Dosa Dosa, Hey, Hey, Hey

Originally published on Torontoist on December 4, 2008.


Branches of Pizza Pizza are a common sight around Toronto. Most don’t jump out at the eye, though some outlets deserve marks for making an effort to stand out with artwork and other decorations (we miss the silver spangles that once graced Yonge Street). At the Danforth Avenue and Dawes Road branch it’s the attached eatery with a similar name that draws attention.

The shape of the outdoor sign hints at 2795 Danforth Avenue’s previous incarnation as home to Pizza Pizza’s sister chain Chicken Chicken. Give the pattern of repetitive names, our first thought was that the pizza giant had embraced the ethnic diversity of Toronto and decided to branch out into other forms of cheap, filling food—in this case, crispy, not-too-greasy Indian crepes and a variety of satisfying accompaniments.

Dosa Dosa Interior

When contacted to determine if there was a connection with Dosa Dosa, Pizza Pizza corporate provided a one-word answer: no.

UPDATE: Dosa Dosa was replaced by other eateries. As of October 2017, it houses Double Sushi. The Pizza Pizza next door is still in business.


We’re Renovation Obsessed

Originally published on Torontoist on August 1, 2008.


Three years after A&P Canada was purchased by Quebec-based Metro, changes stemming from the deal are becoming evident to shoppers at the company’s Dominion stores in Toronto. The Equality and Master Choice house brands are gradually being replaced with the Selection and Irresistibles labels. Bakery shelves include loaves of Première Moisson bread. Aisles are being rearranged and exteriors torn away as three aging stores (Yonge-Eglinton Centre, Bayview-Eglinton [above], and Bloor-Robert [below]) undergo renovations.


Though these three stores were long overdue for an overhaul, another factor may be spurring the sudden spate of activity. It may be coincidental that rival grocer Sobeys has recently opened or is planning “Urban Fresh” concept stores near the Dominions under renovation. Sobeys has rapidly expanded in downtown Toronto, taking a page from Britain’s Tesco chain in developing smaller, convenience-based stores that fit better into high-density neighbourhoods than the large-box strategy pursued by Loblaws after it closed many of its smaller locations.


Within months of this article being published, the Dominion banner vanished from Toronto, replaced by Metro. Several of Sobeys’s downtown Urban Fresh locations had short lives (for example, the one on Bloor Street in The Annex eventually became a Bulk Barn).


Vintage Toronto Ads: Be Sure of Your Radiantubes and Thermizers

Originally posted on Torontoist on June 17, 2008.

Vintage Ad #559: Be Sure of the Features on your Frigidaire Stove

Maclean’s, August 1, 1949.

If this spacious stove were marketed today, what expression would the customer service rep at your friendly neighbourhood big box retailer display if you asked them about the radiantube and thermizer specs?

A division of General Motors for 60 years, Frigidaire set up shop in Leaside in 1933 when it purchased most of the former Durant Motors property. The company opened a second plant along the Golden Mile in Scarborough in 1952, one of the first manufacturers to establish themselves in the rapidly-developing area. Both plants operated until 1958 when the Leaside property was sold to Canada Wire and Cable, who had purchased the remaining Durant property back in the 1930s. The Scarborough facility gradually switched to automotive manufacturing, shifting to GM’s Delco division in 1968. Six years later it became a van plant and operated until 1993, after which the facility was demolished and redeveloped as Eglinton Town Centre.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Sound Policies and Quality Products from Leaside

Originally published on Torontoist on April 30, 2007.

Vintage Ad #228 - Durant Motors Are Firmly Established

Source: Official Souvenir Program, City of Toronto Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Celebration, 1927.

Leaside—car manufacturing mecca? It was during our 60th anniversary as a Dominion, when Durant Motors of Canada called it home.

William Crapo “Billy” Durant was the main force behind the formation of General Motors in 1908, when he brought together manufacturers such as Oldsmobile and Buick. After being forced out of GM twice, he founded Durant Motors in 1921. The company established itself as a full-line automaker, with economy (Star), mid-range (Durant, Flint) and luxury (Princeton, Locomobile) lines.

A Canadian branch was quickly established, using a former munitions factory at Laird Drive and Commercial Road. Operations in Leaside proved to be healthier than the American parent, thanks to the export of its vehicles to Great Britain, touted in this ad.

The Star line was introduced in 1922 to compete with Ford’s venerable Model T. Neither make outlasted this ad very long—Model T production wound down in 1927 after a 20-year run, while the Star was phased out the next year.

After Durant’s American headquarters defaulted on a loan, the Leaside plant reorganized itself as Dominion Motors. The decision to focus on a new luxury line, Frontenac, proved disastrous. With the Great Depression reaching its depths, the company called it a day by the end of 1933. The property was split between its neighbour to the north, Canada Wire and Cable, and Fridgidaire. The latter left in the late 1950s, with Canada Wire and Cable claiming the rest of the site. Operations continued until 1996, with the land cleared away a few years later to make way for the Leaside SmartCentre big box complex.

As for Durant? Wiped out by the Depression, he ran a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan in the early 1940s, with plans for a national chain before suffering a stroke.