President’s Choice Memories of Dave Nichol

Originally published on Torontoist on September 26, 2013.

Before Dave Nichol, store brands lacked cachet. You tossed them in your shopping cart if your budget was tight, or if they were the only product available. They didn’t inspire visions of culinary creativity. Packaging design was often an afterthought.

To lessen their stigma, private labels needed the enthusiasm of an executive like Nichol, the force behind No Name and President’s Choicewho passed away over the weekend at the age of 73.

Nichol made Loblaws’ store brands fashionable, marketing them with a combination of sophistication and folksy pitching. Reminiscing about his advertising presence in 2007, Canadian Business observed that he “looked like a guy who loved to eat—someone who might as well have had ‘foodie’ tattooed on his forehead, who you might actually believe spent his time scouring the globe for exotic foods.” You might not be able to afford a dinner at a five-star restaurant, but Nichol created the impression that you could, with the right “Memories of” sauce or other accompaniments, elevate your meal to similar heights. Clever branding raised the profile of everyday items, so that packaged chocolate-chip cookies became “decadent” and outsold competitors. Though competing Canadian chains launched their own higher-quality private labels, few earned the respect of Loblaws’ lines.

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Vintage Ad #2,293: Loblaws save signs Toronto Star, September 14, 1977. 

It began when Galen Weston Sr. became Loblaws’ CEO in 1972. He assembled a team, including Nichol, executive Richard Currie, and designer Don Watt. Together, they transformed the dowdy grocer into an industry innovator. Soon after becoming president of the chain’s Ontario and Quebec operations in 1976, Nichol replaced William Shatner as Loblaws’ pitchman, portraying himself as an executive passionate about product quality and affordable prices. (You can see some clips of his TV work embedded in this post, and also in this memorial video released by Loblaws earlier today.)

Nichol had a knack for building on ideas introduced elsewhere. Noticing French grocer Carrefour had a successful generic product line, he introduced the No Name brand during a March 1978 price war. The line’s bright, simple, yellow-and-black packaging stood out on store shelves. He touted No Name as an alternative to the ad noise generated by name-brand items, and consumers responded. Within three weeks of launching, the line sold as much as Loblaws expected to sell in a year. The generic concept was expanded in July 1978 when the first No Frills store opened at St. Clair and Victoria Park.

In the early 1980s, Nichol noticed an irreverent grocery flyer used by Trader Joe’s in California. Figuring its mix of product pitches, silly cartoons, and enthusiasm about food would work in Canada, he launched the Insider’s Report in November 1983. Written by Toronto Star food writer and Loblaws product developer Jim White, the Insider’s Report generated enough buzz to empty store shelves and excite foodies whenever a new edition appeared. It helped launch lines like President’s Choice, Too Good to be True, and G.R.E.E.N., using a light-hearted tone its current incarnation lacks.

Nichol became the embodiment of President’s Choice, touting products ranging from beer to the oddly-named Oreo imitation “Lucullan Delights.”

“People could relate to me,” he told the Globe and Mail in 2007. “They really trusted me.” Behind the genial demeanour was a perfectionist whose demanding nature earned him a spot on the Report on Business list of Canada’s toughest bosses in 1987. This manifested in his deep involvement in testing new products in a kitchen built next to his office. “Dave would work his way down the counter with a steely intensity—sniffing, licking, sipping, swallowing, appraising, critiquing,” noted Nichol biographer Anne Kingston. “On the rare times a product met Nichol’s approval, the tension in the kitchen would break. ‘This is fantastic,’ he would roar. Occasionally, after he ingested something that gave him pleasure, a look of rapture would flicker across his face. ‘I can hear the angels singing,’ he would say.”

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Published in 1993, The Dave Nichol Cookbook sold over 200,000 copies. Your local thrift shop or used-book sale should have a copy.

After Nichol left Loblaws in 1993, he worked as an industry consultant. The public continued to associate him with Loblaws, as both No Name and President’s Choice remained the grocer’s backbone. Those lines allowed people to serve store brand products to others without shame.

Additional material from The Edible Man by Anne Kingston (Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1994), the July 1993 and October 22, 2007 editions of Canadian Business, the December 1987 edition of Report on Business Magazine, the June 23, 2007 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the March 21, 1978 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, September 22, 1972.

Vintage Ad #2,294: The First Insider's Report (1) Vintage Ad #2,295: The First Insider's Report (2)
Toronto Star, December 10, 1983. Click on image for larger versions. 

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Globe and Mail, September 14, 1982. As of 2018, this store operates as a Loblaws.

Living the Towne & Countrye Square Life

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on January 19, 2013.

20130119enterprisebanner  Following the opening of Lawrence Plaza in 1953, North York went shopping plaza mad. As the once-rural township transformed into postwar suburbia, farms gave way to large retail structures and their accompanying parking lots. From small neighbourhood strip malls to major shopping centres like Don Mills and Yorkdale, North York residents could do most of their shopping near home. Among the participants in this boom was the oddly spelled Towne & Countrye Square. When it opened at the southwest corner of Yonge Street and Steeles Avenue in June 1966, it touted itself as “Sophisticated ‘Downtown’ Shopping in a Country Club Atmosphere.” Although one would be hard-pressed to find any resemblance between a genteel golf course and the shopping centre’s present-day incarnation as Centerpoint Mall, credit the opening day ad writers for their imagination. As was typical of the era, the mall was greeted with several advertorial pages in the community newspaper, the Enterprise.

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Globe and Mail, November 16, 1961.

The oldest component of Towne & Countrye Square was Sayvette, which opened in November 1961. It was the second location for the discount department store chain, which had launched five months earlier in Thorncliffe Park. Management’s dreams of quickly building a Canada-wide chain crashed after the chain sustained a $1.5 million loss in 1962. By the time Towne & Countrye Square was built, Sayvette was supported by a mysterious saviour who eventually turned out to be Loblaws.

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Mall developer Marvin Kratter was one of Sayvette’s initial investors before withdrawing his shares within a year of the chain’s launch. The New York City-based real estate investor briefly owned Ebbets Field in Brooklyn then built the apartment complex which replaced the legendary baseball stadium after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season. When Towne & Countrye opened, Kratter owned the Boston Celtics basketball team, who had just won their eighth consecutive NBA title. His New York Times obituary noted that Kratter viewed the team as a vehicle to promote one of his other investments: Knickerbocker Beer.

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

The mall’s unusual name was the result of a “Name the Centre” contest which drew 18,000 entries. The winner was Harry Wong, described by the Enterprise as “a semi-retired chemical engineer, of 62 Elm St., Toronto.” Wong received $1,000 and a return trip for two to Bermuda via Air Canada. There was no explanation why Wong added an extra “e” to “town” and “country”—we suspect it was to lend an antiquated, rustic air to the enterprise, a la “ye olde.”

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The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Anchors Sayvette and Super City were not directly attached to the main mall. Instead, they were linked by covered patios. A giant fountain was installed in the centre court. According to the Enterprise, “this huge floor-to-ceiling fountain ‘drops’ curtains of rain in three big circles within the fountain, while sprays add to the attraction around the base, and coloured lights enhance the effect.”

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Toronto Star, May 25, 1966.

Ads for Towne & Countrye Square began appearing in local newspapers a week before the official opening on June 1, 1966.

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Toronto Star, May 30, 1966.

Management tried to draw every demographic to the new shopping centre, including toddlers mutated into giants by atomic radiation.

The Telegram, May 31, 1966.

Among the amenities not mentioned in this ad: an auditorium, banquet space for up to 400, and a Tuesday night jazz concert series.

Indoor suburban shopping centres were still a novelty in 1966. “A completely enclosed shopping mall,” the Enterprise advertorial noted, “is like a building turned inside out. The entrances are on the inside and the outside is actually the backs of stores.” Designers used touches like quarry tile flooring, light filtered through skylights, plants, park benches, and street lights to create an illusion of being outside.

The Enterprise noted that Towne and Countrye’s stores preferred hiring local employees. “We are a part of the community and want to contribute more than just real estate and merchandise,” a mall spokesman noted. “By hiring our employees from the area, we are augmenting the basic income potential of the people who live there—our neighbours. This policy will be a sound addition to the economy of the area and play a major part in the future growth of the Towne & Countrye Square complex.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Reitman’s PR department was eager to tout the clothing retailer’s 209th store. An accompanying article noted that like its other locations, the Towne & Countrye store emphasized service and comfort: “Wide aisles, air-conditioning and restful lighting are installed with careful consideration for customers.”

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

It may seem odd that Bata didn’t bring in a Maple Leaf to open their Towne & Countrye location, but Detroit Red Wings goalie Roger Crozier was a good choice to draw in hockey fans. Despite suffering a bout of pancreatitis at the start of the 1965-66 season, Crozier led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup finals. Though the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the cup, Crozier was rewarded for his efforts with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

Bata also tried to exploit Batmania, though it was a year ahead of the Adam West TV series when the shoe store unveiled its version of “Batman’s Girl.” While a short-lived “Bat-Girl” served as a romantic interest for Robin in early 1960s comic books, this female caped crusader could almost be a prototype of the better-known Barbara Gordon incarnation of Batgirl.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

Super City Discount Foods was Loblaws’ lower-price banner during the 1960s, though management refused to publicly confirm or deny the grocery giant’s involvement. In the annual corporate report, Loblaws listed sales derived from Super City among other unidentified subsidiaries like National Grocers and Pickering Farms. By the time the connection was acknowledged in the late 1960s, Super City was merged with another Loblaws-owned budget chain, Busy-B.

The Enterprise, June 1, 1966.

In its Enterprise advertorial, Super City promised customers “an exceptionally fast check out system, with extremely courteous cashiers.”  The piece also boasted about attractively displayed produce that was so fresh “it’s almost like picking them yourself.”

Toronto Star, June 3, 1966.

If this customer made up for missing opening day by becoming a regular patron of Towne & Countrye Square, she would have witnessed many changes in the years to come. Later additions included a movie theatre and a Bay department store, while Sayvette was replaced first by Woolco, then a succession of Loblaws-owned banners.

Toronto Star, November 29, 1990.

During the 1990 Christmas shopping season, newspaper ads announced a new identity for Towne & Countrye Square: Centerpoint Mall. The new name bothered Willowdale resident Gordon Allen, who complained about the American-style spelling to the Star:

“Strange! Did the shopping ‘centre’ people hire Americans to do this material and rename their ‘centre?’ Or are we really becoming so much Americanized that even these subtle Canadian differences are to disappear completely? I know that publications have for years left out the “u” in words like labour and favour in order to save space. But, frankly, it still sends shivers through me to see theatre spelled theater, labour and favour as labor and favor, and NOW THIS! Just curious.”

Additional material from the June 1, 1966 edition of the Enterprise, the October 19, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the December 9, 1999 edition of the New York Times, and the March 28, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Less Sugar Tonight in My Coffee

Originally published on Torontoist on March 1, 2011.

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Toronto Star, February 5, 1942.

As World War II reached its midpoint in 1942, Canadian consumers increasingly felt the effects of the conflict. Partly out of a desire to free up shipping vessels and materials used in packaging to aid the Allied war effort, food rationing gradually went into effect over the course of the year. When it was announced that the sugar supply would be curtailed, a sense of panic quickly ensued.

Sugar rationing went into effect on an honour-system basis on January 26. When word reached edgy Toronto consumers that they would only be allowed three-quarters of a pound of the sweet stuff per person per week, they rushed to their neighbourhood department stores and grocers. Some of those stocking up worried the new regulations would prevent them from sending sugar to friends and relatives affected by the war in Europe, but government officials quickly reassured them that as long as the quantity exported was taken out of their ration, the practice could continue. Other people were just plain greedy, as demonstrated by four local hoarders caught stowing away up to sixty pounds of sugar. Though they weren’t charged (likely due to their sheepish attempts to return the sugar once investigators were hot on their trail), it was legislated that those who tried to skirt their ration could faces fines of up to $5,000 and two years in jail.

Retailers like Loblaws, who were given little guidance in how to combat hoarders, held emergency staff meetings. Some tied the amount of sugar one could purchase to the final tally on the grocery bill. Others printed signs with patriotic messages stressing how hoarding hurt the war effort and constituted an offence against decency. Customers looking for alternatives found plenty of advice in newspapers from dieticians who embraced the reduced circulation of sugar. The recommended alternative was honey, and beekeepers across the province promised a bumper crop for 1942. Another alternative would receive less favourable press today: corn syrup, which had been used as a substitute in sodas during World War I. One expert told the Star that “it is not as sweet as sugar but otherwise its presence will not be noticed in soft drinks.”

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Toronto Star, January 27, 1942.

Rationing also brought out the stand-up comedian in editorial page writers. One knee-slapper from the Star: “Canadians are restricted to three-quarters of a pound of sugar as a war ration, but young men will be relieved to know that there is no restriction upon 115 pounds of honey.”

Tighter restrictions on the purchase of sugar went into effect when coffee and tea were subjected to rations on May 26. The sugar allocation was decreased to half a pound per person per week. Restrictions were also placed on how restaurants could serve sugar—containers and packets could not be placed on tables, while those wanting to sweeten their favourite hot beverage were limited to three lumps. Despite a vow to remain on the honour system, ration books were soon in the works, and when the first ration books were mailed out later that summer, sugar was among the items for which coupons were issued.

Those with a sweet tooth had to wait two years after the war was over before their favourite ingredient was available without restriction. Sugar was one of the final food products to be removed from rationing when the federal government decided in November 1947 that supply restrictions were no longer necessary.

Additional material from the January 26, 1942, January 27, 1942, and May 26, 1942 editions of the Toronto Star.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 25, 2010.

This holiday edition was, as the introduction noted, “a sampling of a century’s worth of Christmas advertisements, illustrations, pictures, and stories. Light up a Yule log (real or video), sit back and enjoy.”

For this edition, I’m not using the original gallery format, deleting some archival photos, and adding in some material that didn’t make the final cut. I am also merging in ads originally featured in a post for the 2014 holiday season.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1885. Library and Archives Canada.

In its Christmas Eve 1885 edition, the Globe reprinted the “Story of the Mistletoe” from Youth’s Companion. While much of the piece drones on about mistletoe’s role in Norse mythology and its use by Druids, it includes these nuggets about its contemporary sources and uses, in as non-romantic terms as possible.

It used to be brought over by friendly foreign steamers, but is now found in Virginia and in most of the Southern States, and is largely used for holiday decoration…The American mistletoe is not the genuine English article, although it strongly resembles it. The botanists have given it a new name, phoradendron, which signifies “a thief of a tree.” It is, however, a true parasite. The mistletoe is now so seldom found growing on the oak that when it is found there it is a great curiousity. It frequents apple trees chiefly, and is propagated by birds wiping their bills on the boughs and thus leaving some of the viscid pulp and seed, and if the bark happens to be cracked there it takes root.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1889. Library and Archives Canada.

Little does the turkey suspect that the young lady who visited each day with yummy treats was secretly fattening him up for her family’s holiday feast. Speaking of turkeys…

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The Globe, December 20, 1890. 

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The News, December 22, 1894.

If you couldn’t slaughter a turkey, you could always check out a “slaughter sale” of fine reading material.

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The News, December 22, 1885.

The News also provided “practical hints for the benefit of West End residents and others” as it named off a variety of Queen West merchants. Among the highlights: a free set of tableware with every purchase of a pound of tea at Laut Brothers (420 Queen West); a stock of nuts “not surpassed in the city” at Mara & Co. (280 Queen West); bargains among the jewellery and other goods damaged in a recent fire at J.I.S. Anderson (294 Queen West); and “beautiful villa sites overlooking High Park and Humber Bay” free of city taxes that went for one dollar per square foot at the real estate office of R. McDonnell at Queen and Gladstone.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Mail and Empire, 1897. Library and Archives Canada.

Underneath the colour cover of this supplement was a collection of seasonal art, stories, and other diversions for the entire family.

20141224xmascardsThe Mail, June 27, 1881.

Even back in the Victorian Age, saving a buck on Christmas supplies like cards was as important as aesthetic considerations.

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The Empire, December 22, 1894.

An excerpt from the Empire’s Christmas Day 1894 editorial: “To the mind of the child this is the glorious season of the year when there is no cloud in the sky to dim the sunlight of pleasure in which infantile natures rejoice; but to the mature it is a period, apart from its spiritual associations, the delights of which are tempered by gravity and the joys of which are tinged with sadness, for as men grow memories gather. Looking back upon the Christmases of the past, who is there among us who does not feel that change and decay have wrought their mysteries as the years rolled on, taking here a friend and there a companion and leaving gaps in the ranks more significant and impressive at this time than at any other, so that even at the feast, and where rejoicing reigns, the heart stops for a moment that sorrow may supply its chastening touch.”

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Front page, the News, December 24, 1910. 

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Illustration by Lou Skuce, Toronto World, December 25, 1910.

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Toronto World, December 22, 1912.

From an editorial on holiday charity: “People are giving freely now, who keep their hearts and pockets closd ’till next Christmas. Why? There is need always as at Christmas time. It is simply that we are moved now by an unusual sentiment–an impulse to kindliness.”

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The News, December 23, 1914.

The Copland Brewing Company’s Toronto roots stretched back to 1830, when William Copland opened a brewery along Yonge Street shortly after arriving in Upper Canada. By 1914, most of its products were brewed at its plant on King Street between Ontario and Berkeley Streets. Bought by Labatt in 1946, the site was later occupied by the Toronto Sun.

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Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

An editorial note from the second holiday season of the First World War:

Above all, the call of Christmas is ‘Peace on Earth.’ In the present grievous crisis of the world there is significance in this call beyond that of any crisis mankind ever before was called to read. That war has darkened Christmas for so much of the world may well seem, at the moment, the crushing condemnation of all such conflicts.”

 

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Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

As the war staggered on over in Europe, World cartoonist Lou Skuce reminded readers of where the battlelines were usually located on Christmas Eve.

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Toronto World, December 25, 1916.

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Toronto World, December 25, 1918.

A pair of First World War-themed ads from Eaton’s.

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Mail and Empire, December 25, 1920.

With the shadow of the First World War fading, Eaton’s ad held the promise that life was returning to normal for its customers, and that Christmas was a time to rejoice in youthful spirit.

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The Telegram, December 19, 1923.

Given that the establishment of Sick Kids was a pet project of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson, the paper took every opportunity during the holiday season to solicit donations for the hospital. Heart-tugging stories to invoke contributions were printed in the Tely around Christmas, bearing headlines like “CHILD SWALLOWS LYE THROAT BADLY BURNED” (December 19, 1923).

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The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

A sample of a Sick Kids ad from a decade later.

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Toronto Star, December 24, 1924.

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Mail and Empire, December 25, 1930.

Simpsons centred its 1930 holiday ad around verse from poet Bliss Carman, who died the previous year.

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Mail and Empire, December 20, 1933.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Mail and Empire urged its readers to light up the city at Christmas time. We doubt any displays inspired by this contest were accompanied by a menagerie of front yard inflatables.

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Mail and Empire, December 22, 1933. 

Years before teaching the world to sing, or employing polar bears as pitchmen, Coca-Cola offered an economical solution for holiday entertaining during the Great Depression.

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The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

 

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Weston Times and Guide, December 14, 1934.

The 1930s equivalent of the slightly naughty gift ads found decades later in alt-weeklies like eye and Now?

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Toronto Star, December 23, 1939.

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Weston Times and Guide, December 13, 1945.

Relieved that the Second World War no longer interfered in his annual delivery run, Santa relaxed a little in 1945. He found time to stop in Weston for a luscious roast bird. Note the slightly scary look in his eye, as if he’s daring the artist to take the plate away from him.

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The Telegram, December 23, 1950.

The poet of Toronto’s sports pages, Telegram columnist Ted Reeve, penned an ode to holiday shopping based on one of the big musical hits of that season, “The Thing“:

 

As we were walking north on Church, no Xmas shopping done,
We went into McTamney’s to maybe buy a gun.
The clerk behind the counter there let out a mighty roar:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and don’t come back no more.”

We hadn’t done our Christmas cards when reaching work today,
We asked the office girls if they would get them on the way.
They turned on us with a vicious yell as fierce as any blow:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and you know where to go.”

We’ll get to Kresge’s Christmas Eve and in a final dash
We’ll try to get the presents bought unless they want some cash.
The chances are the manager, while tearing up our cheque,
Will heave us out with our boom-boom-boom and land us on our neck

There’s only three more days to go, we haven’t bought the tree,
It is a most perplexing week, we think you’ll all agree.
And if we don’t get anything done we’ll just let Xmas pass
And take that terrible boom-boom-boom and hide it in the grass.

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Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1960.

Either the caption writer was ordered to devise a happy sentence without seeing this picture, or somebody decided to play a cruel joke at the expense of the exhausted Santa at the Don Mills Centre. His arrival by helicopter in late November prompted ten thousand people to greet him at the shopping centre, doubling the number that greeted him the year before. Santa’s trip was delayed ten minutes due to fog and low-flying planes landing at Malton airport. Once the chopper landed, Santa hitched a ride on a fire engine, which took him to his seat at the centre of the complex. With over four-and-a-half thousand kids mounting his lap that day, no wonder Santa looks like he can’t wait to escape back to the comfort of the North Pole.

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Weston Times and Guide, December 22, 1960.

Wonder how many diners around that time hummed Marty Robbins’s 1959 smash hit about the west Texas town while eating their delicious young turkey dinner.

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Maclean’s, December 9, 1961.

From 1912 to 2006, Kodak’s Canadian division called Mount Dennis home. Its large campus near Eglinton Avenue West and Black Creek Drive is being redeveloped and will service the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Whenever that line begins service, perhaps someone who received a Kodak camera under the tree will be inspired by the site’s history to haul it out and shoot the opening ceremony.

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Weston Times-Advertiser, December 22, 1964.

Politicians love sending seasonal greetings, and Alan Eagleson was no exception. Before he achieved fame in the hockey world for forming the National Hockey League Players’ Association and infamy for his criminal actions regarding pensions and disability claims, Eagleson sat as a Progressive Conservative MPP for Lakeshore from 1963 to 1967.

 

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Willowdale Enterprise, December 8, 1965.

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Willowdale Enterprise, December 22, 1965.

Santa and the reindeer might have needed a map when a widened Highway 401 between Highway 400 and Hogg’s Hollow fully opened to to traffic on December 16, 1965. The expansion of the freeway from four to twelve lanes included the introduction of the express/collector lane system.

 

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Toronto Life, December 1966.

Toronto Life celebrated its first Christmas by asking Gordon Sinclair to describe how he really felt about the holiday? His verdict? Despite not being a fan of organized religion, Sinclair felt it was “the best and friendliest of all family celebrations when we are with kinfolk; the ones of our blood who accept us for what we are. Not what we should be, or could be, but what we are.” He also described Christmas was the worst day of the year to be alone, a situation he experienced while reporting from Shanghai in 1938. That day he wandered through clubs and pubs “looking for someone to feel sorry with” but found only a black eye (a present given by an American when Sinclair declined to have a drink with him) and a crying fit (after returning to his hotel to find “wish you were here” cablegrams from Canada). There was only one thing he would have changed about Christmas: “that stupid abbreviation, Xmas.”

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The Enterprise, December 20, 1967.

An excerpt from the Enterprise‘s December 13, 1967 holiday editorial, which criticized the trend toward war toys like G.I. Joe, which kids might have asked Miss Suzie for as they received a candy cane.

War toys are not going to make a killer out of a child, but they do instil an acceptance which lasts into adult life. In other words, war toys are a marvellous propaganda instrument…The only way to counteract war toy propaganda is for the consuer public to boycott any kind of violent toy–and encourage manufacturers to produce just as interesting toys who emphasis is not military.

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Globe and Mail, December 25, 1970.

A stylish seasonal ad from a fashionable Kingsway-area women’s clothier. Two weeks earlier, Lipton’s published a gift certificate order form in the Globe and Mail, positioning it as “great trim for any tree.”

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Toronto Life, December 1974.

While CHUM-FM offered a slender Santa for the holidays, its AM sibling distributed its usual CHUM Chart. Topping the Toronto hit list on December 21, 1974 was Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting.”

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Toronto Sun, December 16, 1975.

Unfortunately for eager carolers, the Sun-sponsored musical celebration of the season was cancelled due to the first blizzard of the season. High winds coupled with around 20 centimetres of snow resulted in a record number of help calls to the Ontario Motor League (now CAA), severe TTC service delays and the cancellation of a Toronto Marlboros hockey game. The storm did not deter holiday shoppers, as Simpsons reported a minor decrease in the usual last Saturday before Christmas crowd at their Queen Street flagship.

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The City, December 3, 1978.

Simpsons felt a little punny during the 1978 holiday season. It was a time of change for the retailer–Hudson’s Bay Company had launched a bid to acquire the department store chain in November, while shoppers at its Queen Street flagship would have seen the south end of the Eaton Centre near completion.

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Toronto Life, December 1985.

Because this article needs a touch of 1980s Christmas style.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Towering Over Deer Park

Originally published on Torontoist on November 4, 2008.

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Bravo, November-December 1982.

How does a company celebrate a century in business? If you’re George Weston Limited, you hire a photographer to shoot corporate headquarters at sunrise, just as neighbours in Deer Park get ready to start their day with fine Weston’s or Loblaws products.

The 20-storey octagonal Wittington Tower opened in the mid-1970s. Architect Leslie Rebanks won an honourable mention citation from the American Institute of Business Designers in 1976 for the artistic touches that were utilized in the lobby. A relative of the Weston family, Rebanks would work on the Loblaws store design rolled out in the late 1990s and serve on the committee that chose Daniel Libeskind’s crystal design for the Royal Ontario Museum.

New for ’82 was Sails, sculpted by Gordon Smith from stainless steel. We wonder if plans were ever developed to produce a collectible version for the public as President’s Choice Memories of Deer Park Mini Sails.

Vintage Toronto Ads: One of the Great Reasons for Living in Toronto…

Originally published on Torontoist on June 10, 2008.

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Toronto Life, January 1978.

…unless you’re a vegetarian.

Ziggys Fantastic Foods was a chain of gourmet deli/specialty food shops around the GTA, located in stand-alone locations and within Loblaws stores as part of the grocer’s revitalization attempt in the mid-1970s. Their prices were considered high—when complaints of price jumps of up to 89% after the conversion of Loblaws’ Yonge and Yorkville store to Ziggys made the front page of The Toronto Star in November 1975, Loblaws president William Sherman replied that gourmet products and service cost more, and that “people who don’t want to pay Ziggys prices shop at the supermarket.”

By 1978 Loblaws had moved in the opposite price direction, opening its first No Frills store at Victoria Park and St. Clair in July. That fall, company president Dave Nichol announced that Loblaws stores would soon offer a European-style bacon from the Ziggys plant under their new No Name brand, for which customers could pay a special low price (99 cents/pound) as long as they sliced it themselves in-store (statistics are unavailable as to how many fingers were lost during that experiment). The year ended with the opening of a Ziggys in the St. Clair Centre. This would be the last stand-alone location, with the name eventually changing to today’s St. Clair Market.


The orange-and-black Ziggys banner faded away, though the name still adorns the deli section of some Loblaws stores and the brand endures on prepackaged lunch meat and salads.

As for the fine print in today’s ad, it should be read with the smooth tone of a radio announcer. Note the obsession with cereal and fillers.

Ziggys hot dog hasn’t got what it takes to make a common hot dog—like cereal or other fillers (up to 40% in some brands). It’s what Ziggy leaves out that makes his processed meats special.

Some manufacturers get their product down to competitive price by adding more water and cereal, so that the finished product approximates a bland, watery pulp.

Millions have been made selling the hot dog with cereal and other fillers added, but Ziggy (not clever enough to grasp the profit opportunity) clings to the naive idea that a hot dog should contain pure, fresh beef, pork and seasoning.

Ziggy takes the same attitude with his Processed Sliced Meats – all made in his own plant under careful supervision, and to his infuriatingly high standards.

Not one ounce of filler gets into these products, only pure, fresh beef, pork and seasonings (they’re all made to Ziggy’s Old World recipes).
And then there’s Ziggys Bacon – you’ll notice the difference – it starts with the basic pig, and Ziggy selects only the best, known for his (or her) lean flanks.

His Blackforest Ham is notable because it is produced by long, careful curing and smoking, that gives it the unique flavour – a gastronomic sensation beyond expectation.

The Mini-Deli line of sausage chubs offers sliceables in a variety of Continental flavours and even the common Lyoner (Bologna) and Picnic Pork Shoulder reach new heights.

Canada probably could use another cheap, water-cereal line of meat; but Ziggy, consistent as ever, went against the trend and made the best. People are discovering just how much better his processed meats are, and he’s been forced to enlarge his plant to meet demand.

So, in case you haven’t tried them, discover what Ziggys “Less is more” philosophy has done for processed meat. But how does he keep them competitively priced?

We’d love to hear Galen Weston talk about processed meat the way he waxes about reusable bags and naan.

Additional material from the November 7, 1975 and September 18, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Baseball Prescription

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2007.

Vintage Ad #58 - Tamblyn's Baseball Prescription

Source: Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Vol 1 No 17, 1977.

As a public service to fans planning to catch the Blue Jays’ home opener on Monday night, we offer a prescription for enjoying the game from the team’s debut season. Given the current weather, will the 30th anniversary opener be as snowy as the first?

You can debate whether Canada was still a child when Gordon Tamblyn purchased a drug store at Queen St. E. and Lee Ave in 1904. By the early 1930s, the chain had grown to nearly 60 stores, mostly in Toronto, where the companied relied on a fleet of bicycle couriers for deliveries. The company was later purchased by Loblaws, whose hand is evident in the design of the Tamblyn logo.

The company wouldn’t write prescriptions for much longer, as it was sold to British drug store giant Boots within two years of this ad. Several sales and name changes later, the stores evolved into the Rexall Pharma Plus chain.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Vintage Ad #194 - G. Tamblyn 1934

Source: Toronto’s 100 Years (published 1934).

I wrote more about the Tamblyn chain in an article for Historica Canada at the time Loblaws purchased Shoppers Drug Mart in 2013. The ad above provides some more historical context. You can still find traces of Tamblyn’s existence; for example, take a close look at the entrance to Sarah’s restaurant at the corner of Danforth and Monarch Park.

As for the Blue Jays’ 2007 home opener, they crushed the Kansas City Royals in a 9-1 victory in front of 50,125 fans. Pitcher A.J. Burnett earned the win. The Jays finished third in the American League East that season with an 83-79 record.