Sun on the Run

Originally posted on Torontoist on September 15, 2009

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Front of Sue-Ann Levy’s campaign office on Mount Pleasant Road, 2009. 

When voters go to the ballot box in St. Paul’s on Thursday their choices will include the latest in a long line of Toronto Sun columnists who have attempted to parlay their print personas into elected office, usually for parties that have matched the paper’s right-wing tilt. City Hall columnist Sue-Ann Levy’s run is part of a tradition that stretches back to the early days of the paper and was inherited from a large number of staffers from the Telegram that sought to represent the public. Some came to the paper during/after their elected stints (True Davidson, Douglas Fisher, Paul Hellyer, Morton Shulman), while others found the exposure didn’t hurt when they ran (Garth Turner). Today we’ll look back at three prominent figures from the paper who, despite not achieving their ultimate goal, left behind tales of colourful, controversial campaigns.

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Logo for Paul Rimstead’s mayoral campaign. Toronto Sun, December 4, 1972.

From the paper’s first edition in 1971 until his death in 1987, Paul Rimstead provided readers with a daily dose of his colourful misadventures. His hard-drinking, populist persona earned him a loyal audience that played a part in his decision to run for mayor in 1972. Born out of a joke during a “welcome home” party at the Brunswick House after he had spent the winter in Mexico, Rimstead initially intended to run for office employing the same irreverent tone found in his column. Along with several other Sun staffers, Rimstead considered ideas such as running a donation-free campaign and a deal with a brewery to market a specially labelled beer around the city. But as Rimstead thought more about a run, his mood changed, as he revealed in his column on October 18:

I went home, enthused about another madcap adventure and started to think. Something told me it wasn’t right. Just a small signal somewhere up there in my usually-vacuous noggin. It would be a ball. Two months of parties. A chance to poke fun at City Hall. But, dammit, this is Toronto we’re fooling around with…This used to be the best city in North America, the best possible place to live. I was away for seven months. When I returned, it was bursting at the seams. More clubs, more music, more entertainment, relaxed laws…more hookers, more crime, more undesirables. We are growing too fast…I am far too worried about the future of Toronto to fool around with it, even though I love a good time. That’s why I can’t run a fun campaign.

At the end of that column, Rimstead asked readers if he should consider a serious run for office. The Sun’s switchboard was flooded with calls for the rest of the day—by the time Rimstead checked with the office before an evening jazz gig, more than thirteen hundred readers called in favour. He soon set up headquarters at the Brunswick House, where volunteers produced signs and buttons. Rimstead remained nervous about entering and waited until the last minute to file his nomination papers, by which time he had already participated in several candidate meetings. His platform consisted of issues he felt the three leading candidates (aldermen David Crombie, Tony O’Donohue, and David Rotenberg) were afraid to tackle—the deterioration of Yonge Street, a rise in handguns, racial tensions (he felt the city turned its back on the black community), the need to shut down Rochdale College, and the need to slow overdevelopment of office towers downtown. As he was allowed to continue writing his column, he arranged to have the three frontrunners write one column a week for the Sun. Rimstead ceased writing for one week after an opponent complained he had an unfair advantage, but returned when he discovered the other papers in town would cover him as just another fringe candidate. The last week of the campaign saw a desperate, bordering on whiny, tone creep into Rimstead’s columns, as he pitched his platform and complained about the lack of respect and coverage from elsewhere. As he noted on November 28, “I’m learning a lot in this election. In a way, it is going to hurt. I am as disappointed in politics now as I am with my own profession. I am afraid I am going to come out of this a cynic.” When the ballots were counted on December 4, Rimstead finished in fourth place with just less than eight thousand votes.

Perhaps Rimstead’s run was best summed up by Jean Sonmor in her history of the SunThe Little Paper That Grew:

He entered as a lark but found himself taking it seriously and the more he did, the more his patchy naivete stuck out all over the place…in the end, the snowy day and the overzealous use of his column to promote himself kept his vote low and his candidacy on the fringe. What the Sun had hoped would be a great whimsical romp turned into a vaguely embarrassing chapter for everyone concerned.

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Advertisement for Lubor Zink’s second election attempt in Parkdale. Toronto Sun, July 7, 1974.

Concurrent with Rimstead’s mayoral run was editorial page commentator Lubor Zink’s first attempt to woo voters as the federal Progressive Conservative candidate in Parkdale. Unlike Rimstead, any humour in Zink’s columns tended to be unintentional. Having fled his native Czechoslovakia after the Communists took over in 1948, Zink’s zealous criticism of anything with the slightest Commie tinge bordered on grotesque caricature, even when his accounts of horrible conditions behind the Iron Curtain were dead on. He displayed an obsessive hatred of Pierre Trudeau, whom he was convinced was destroying the country in a dictatorial manner. Though he would claim otherwise, it seemed clear that his hate-on for Trudeau was the guiding force behind his campaign, even if he told the Sun “he doesn’t bother me as a person—but he does as Prime Minister. I am accusing Trudeau of not only slowing down the economy and raising unemployment artificially, but of killing jobs by undermining the working morale—by destroying the work ethic that built this country.” He blamed the destruction of work ethic on government programs that allowed young people to “do their own thing” instead of good old-fashioned work. When the votes were counted on October 30, Liberal incumbent Stanley Haidasz remained in office, but Zink had improved the Tories’ usual lousy standing in the riding with a second-place finish. Zink waited until late in the evening to congratulate Haidasz on his victory, by which time the MP had left. On the way out, Zink was jeered by two young boys who echoed a refrain that had been heard throughout the campaign: “Zink stinks!”

Insults didn’t deter Zink, who tried again two years later. The 1974 campaign was a nasty affair, as swastikas were spray-painted on Zink’s headquarters on Queen Street and on campaign signs in the north end of the riding, while Haidasz’s windows were smashed. Zink blamed the graffiti on the Liberals’ “almost pathological appeal to chauvinism and racism.” He was bitter about his reception in the “Polish Fortress” he found around Roncesvalles Avenue, where voters were afraid to publicly associate themselves with the columnist. “I am being called a stinking Jew and a Nazi collaborator,” he told the Star. “I would be proud to be a Jew. It so happens I am not Jewish.” He claimed that posters were ripped up nightly and that the tires and radiator hose on his car had been slashed. Haidasz brushed aside these complaints as a case of Zink “running scared” as he tried to take advantage of the vandalism. A call from a local Polish paper that it was “obligatory” to vote for Haidasz because of his Polish background added to the tension. Zink lost again, blaming the defeat on goon tactics and voters who feared change. “They don’t realize that the economy now is like a firecracker in the sky that is burning itself out,” he told the Star. “Anyone who tries to tell them that the brightness can’t last is bound to be unpopular.”

A burning dislike of Trudeau also fuelled the political adventures of the Sun’s first editor-in-chief, Peter Worthington. That he considered running for public office surprised many, as Worthington often admitted that he didn’t care for politicians. But 1982 found Worthington looking for new challenges after he resigned as editor-in-chief of the Sun following its sale to Maclean Hunter. Following a mountaineering trip to the Himalayas, he joined a crowded field of candidates running for the Progressive Conservative nomination in a federal by-election in Broadview—Greenwood. The nomination meeting at the CNE Coliseum on September 9 proved a raucous night, as Greek-Canadian delegates were fuelled with rage stoked by candidate Bill Fatsis and an editorial that had appeared in the Greek Canadian News two days earlier that accused Worthington of “racist fanaticism.” The charge was based on an August 26 Sun column where Worthington denounced multicultural policy as a waste of money that divided Canadians. Boos drowned out Worthington’s supporters as their man lost to Fatsis by sixty-nine votes. Some party officials were relieved not to have to deal with Worthington’s maverick nature…or so they thought.

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Cover of Looking For Trouble, published the same year as Peter Worthington’s second run for office in Broadview—Greenwood.

Despite proclaiming “I don’t think I’ll try politics again. Once is more than enough,” a grassroots campaign impressed Worthington enough for him to re-enter the race as an independent two weeks later. He admitted that “on a personal level, I’ve felt unfulfilled. All the fight was not taken out of me and I wanted to go on. I’m in the same race, I’ve just changed horses.” He also believed that once elected, he would inevitably find his way into the Tory caucus, even if party leader Joe Clark wanted no part of him for violating traditions like supporting the winning party nominee. Nervousness in Tory ranks over the rise in support for Worthington saw Clark visit the riding five times in the final weeks of the campaign. Other newspapers, especially the Globe and Mail, delighted in skewering Worthington, emphasizing his millionaire status, right-wing opinions, lack of knowledge of the riding apart from its softball diamonds, and his tendency to draw attention to himself. He admitted that he “generally made a nuisance of myself” while campaigning, to the point of blaring the theme from Chariots of Fire while wandering along Danforth Avenue. When ballots were cast, he lost to the NDP’s Lynn McDonald by two thousand votes, which placed him far ahead of Fatsis. The wrap party felt like a victory celebration, as Worthington was pleased that Clark had had his “ass kicked.” When asked if he was through with politics, he said, “The last time I quit forever, it lasted three days,” then smiled when he suggested he wouldn’t rule out another run in the future. He later revealed that his secret plan was to run for the party’s leadership so that he could act as a kingmaker for any potential leader who hewed closer to his views than Clark.

By the winter of 1984, the ouster of Joe Clark in favour of Brian Mulroney made Worthington consider another run. Despite manipulations by remnants of the Fatsis camp, Worthington won the nomination. During the election campaign, his outspokenness resulted in opposition from a group calling itself the Committee to Defeat Peter Worthington (CDPW), whose brochures portrayed him as someone who represented hardship for the poor, the military for the unemployed, political confusion and discrimination,” which was backed up by quotes from years of columns. Worthington accused CDPW of being an NDP front and considered pressing hate literature charges. McDonald’s camp denied responsibility and was further outraged when they discovered some Worthington workers reprinted the brochure with a slight modification—the addition of an NDP phone number. Worthington was predicted to win, but finished four thousand votes behind McDonald on September 4. Joking that “it takes real talent to lose even an NDP riding in the middle of a Tory sweep,” he vowed never to run again. Over at McDonald headquarters, a black-draped coffin topped with candles representing Worthington was brought onto the stage once her victory was secure.

In the closing words of his book Looking For Trouble, written in the midst of the 1984 campaign, Worthington wrote:

The creed that the politician’s first duty is to get elected, his second duty to get re-elected, has to change if the country is to improve. The people recognize this, but do the politicians and bureaucrats who control the system? Only politicians can rescue themselves from the quagmire of their own making. It will be interesting to see if someone who feels this way, as I do, can be elected and, if elected, can do anything about it.

Time will tell if any future Sun columnists with designs on elected office will heed these words.

Additional material from Looking for Trouble by Peter Worthington (Toronto: Key Porter, 1984), The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993), and the following newspapers: the September 22, 1982, October 7, 1982, August 14, 1984, and August 17, 1984 editions of the Globe and Mail; the October 31, 1972, June 20, 1974, July 4, 1974, and July 9, 1974 editions of the Toronto Star; and the October 16, 1972, October 18, 1972, October 19, 1972, November 28, 1972, September 9, 1982, September 14, 1982, September 22, 1982, October 13, 1982, and September 5, 1984 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Sun, December 4, 1972.

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Toronto Sun, December 6, 1972.

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Globe and Mail, June 20, 1974.

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A sample Lubor Zink column from his pre-Sun days, looking at April Fools Day for the Telegram in 1967.

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Toronto Star, October 13, 1982.

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Toronto Star, October 13, 1982.

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Globe and Mail, August 14, 1984.

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Globe and Mail, August 17, 1984.

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Globe and Mail, August 29, 1984.

As for the 2009 by-election that inspired this column, Sue-Ann Levy finished second behind Liberal Eric Hoskins by a margin of 5,341. She returned to spewing her special brand of vitriol in the Sun, where she remains as of summer 2018.

The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).

Toronto Sun Columnists on the Wrong Side of History Through the Ages

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2017.

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Toronto Sun, November 9, 1980.

In a response to a reader question on Twitter earlier this week provoked by Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah’s comments on the Quebec City mosque shooting, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale described the Sun as publishing, beyond a decent sports section and solid tabloid-style news coverage, “the country’s worst opinion writers.” While readers can debate Dale’s use of “worst,” the current crop of Sun columnists continues a long tradition of deliberately provocative writing that has shaped the paper since its inception in 1971.

It’s a tradition that hasn’t always landed on the right side of history. To be fair, flipping through the back pages of any newspaper exhumes opinions which would be questionable today. Skeletons among the Toronto press range from George Brown’s attacks on Irish immigrants during the early days of the Globe to unflattering descriptions of minorities in the Star which matched the prejudices of the day.

But the Sun has always stood out for its unapologetic view of the world, which grew from cockiness as the new kid on the block and its ability to connect with its conservative readership. It played upon fears of outsiders, and earned its stripes as a dedicated Cold Warrior by labeling opponents as evil Communists/Marxists/socialists/bleeding hearts/etc.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Sun’s biases regarding anyone who wasn’t white provoked consternation among minority groups, which nearly caused the City to pull its advertising from the paper. An extensive report by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations published in 1987 pulled few punches in its analysis of the paper’s stances: “The sheer volume of racial stereotypes, racism, scapegoating, and the presence of statements that may elicit fear and hatred against racial minorities can leave little doubt that there is considerable prejudice and racism directed toward non-whites and ethnic minorities within the pages of the paper.”

Reading back issues of the Sun, and certain columnists in particular, can be a depressing experience. Beyond the posturing and vitriol, it’s eye-opening to witness the level of contempt writers express for their fellow human beings.

Here are some historic topics where the Sun’s views didn’t stand the test of time, or remain offensive.

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A more enlightened view of Desmond Tutu than some Sun columnists had. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, June 1, 1986.

South Africa

As the fight against the apartheid regime grew stronger during the 1980s, the Sun was lukewarm on the idea of handing power to the Black majority before they were “ready” to assume control. Given the African National Congress’s ties to Communist organizations, and the track record of post-colonial Africa, Sun editorials conveyed fears that South Africa would become another Marxist hellhole. In the Sun‘s view, all that stood in the way of total chaos were the white Afrikaners. “The hundreds of blacks dying in South Africa are victims of racism, but not by the dominating whites,” a July 1985 editorial observed. “It’s the racism that is the by-product of the class warfare demanded by Marxists and liberals blinded by Marxism.

Barbara Amiel went further, suggesting that progressives couldn’t wait to see a long, bloody war unfold. “The struggle closest to them,” she wrote in August 1985, “actually seems to be their own effort to restrain an unseemly relief that, at last, South Africa might be in for a really good spell of what the rest of the unfortunate people on the African continent have known and are suffering: murder, mayhem and economic disaster.”

Columnist McKenzie Porter all too frequently defended the apartheid regime, seeing it as both the last hope against the Commies and as a benevolent, paternalistic means of looking after the backward Blacks, who “still consult witch doctors and rely on donkey power.” Porter criticized condemnation from the West as springing from “the illusion that all men are equal.”

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Toronto Sun, December 22, 1977.

In his July 24, 1985 column, Porter predicted that “if South Africa gave the vote to every black today it would bring about the destruction of the agriculture, industry, and commerce that are essential to the eventual emancipation of the supposedly oppressed majority.” He also thought that South African Blacks were dumber than their North American counterparts, who’d had the benefit of being in white educational systems for generations. “For reasons palpable to every reader of history,” he observed, “the average South African black, clad though he may be in a collar and tie, still embodies some vestiges of a recent Stone Age past.” Finally, he stated that Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu was “not very bright.”

That particular column was the final straw for Mayor Art Eggleton and his committee on community and race relations, which had noticed the Sun’s less than admirable stands on race in general. The committee threatened to pull city advertising from the paper, which provoked a heated response from Sun publisher Paul Godfrey. He defended the Sun’s writers on the grounds of freedom of the press, and taunted both the mayor and the committee in print. He also noted Porter had visited South Africa, though it was unclear if the trip had been paid for by the regime. Both sides soon cooled the conversation, with Eggleton suddenly declaring the Sun wasn’t so racist after all (a shift Godfrey, a former Metro Chairman, praised as a sign of the mayor’s conciliatory nature).

When Nelson Mandela toured North America in 1990, the Sun was not wowed by the praise showered upon the recently released icon. There was still suspicion of Communist links, along with the behaviour of Winnie Mandela and her bodyguards while he was imprisoned. As David Frum put it, “myth-making has transformed a man who might otherwise be just another African opposition leader into an international celebrity.”

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Comment on John Sewell’s support of Toronto’s gay community during the 1980 municipal election. Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, September 28, 1980.

Homophobia

Let’s be blunt: the Sun was intolerant toward homosexuals during the 1970s and 1980s. From cartoonist Andy Donato’s frequent limp-wristed depictions of gays to editor Peter Worthington’s threat following the 1981 Bathhouse Raids to expose names of anyone rounded up in subsequent police scoops, there was no sympathy to anyone who wasn’t heterosexual.

Perhaps the most homophobic of the lot was Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy. In piece after piece, Hoy depicted homosexuals as sad, pathetic creatures. He was convinced that there was an agenda by homosexuals to gain access to classrooms to convert innocent children to their perverted lifestyle. “It is not true that homosexuals want simply to be left alone to do whatever it is they do to each other,” he wrote in January 1978. When a “Gaydays” celebration was held later that year, he wondered why “more Torontonians don’t let them know they’re not welcome here” and when people would “wake up and realize the danger of keeping silent in the face of this creeping, crawling sickness in our society?”

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Typical Claire Hoy column headline. Toronto Sun, October 30, 1979.

Hoy used his QP perch to step into the 1980 municipal election, a campaign the Sunhad no shortage of homophobic commentary on in the wake of mayor John Sewell’s support of the community and George Hislop’s council run. Following the Toronto Board of Education’s decision to allow a homosexual liaison committee to talk with students struggling with their own sexual identity, he listed all of the trustees who “voted to give homosexuals a beachhead.” He urged readers to register their indignation at the ballot box lest the radicals (who he referred to as “dingles”) win.

Hoy went on to serve as the paper’s Ottawa columnist and was forced out after writing one too many columns attacking Brian Mulroney for Godfrey’s taste. A subsequent stint at the Ottawa Citizen ended after he continued to attack the queer community.

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McKenzie Porter on the crapper, a reference to one of his most infamous columns. Globe and Mail, November 2, 1986.

Eugenics

One of the darkest corners of the Sun’s back pages is McKenzie Porter’s ongoing support of eugenics as a solution to society’s ills. While peers commented that his snobbish persona may have been a put-on, his repeated references to sterilization make one wonder how serious he was about other outrageously written columns.

The following excerpt from Porter’s October 25, 1982 column is as chilling an opinion piece as you’ll ever find in a Toronto newspaper. It’s absurd and frightening at the same time.

The only way to rid ourselves of poverty and its related diseases of insanity and crime is by embracing the science of eugenics. This science was held back 100 years because Hitler distorted and pursued its principles in a hideously cruel way. We must remember that Hitler was crazy. We must believe that eugenics may be practiced in a sane and civilized way.

It should not be difficult to persuade genetically unsound indigents to submit them to sterilization if it is pointed out to them that their new condition will permit them unlimited sexual pleasure without bringing upon them the burden of handicapped children. A properly mounted government publicity campaign would result in the submission of the vast majority of unfit people to voluntary sterilization. Some element of compulsion will have to be accepted once the practice of eugenics is adopted. Boards of control manned by doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, clergymen and others should be empowered to order certain people be sterilized.

Porter further suggests that anyone sent to prison for the second time be sterilized, and that all patients admitted to hospital “should be examined for severe hereditary handicaps.”

He continued to write for the Sun until 1990, by which time a column suggesting that no Canadian citizen born outside of the country should be allowed to vote because of a tendency to indulge in ethnic partisanship prompted city council to pull its ads from the paper.

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This Andy Donato cartoon, about the situation in southeast Asia, typifies the paper’s view of Communism, and ran next to a pro-Pinochet editorial. Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

Augusto Pinochet

The Sun’s hatred of any government with the faintest left-wing tinge had few bounds. The paper’s mad hate-on for Pierre Trudeau became something of a joke. Columnists like Lubor Zink forever warned about the dangers of Communism. While Zink exposed true atrocities committed by such regimes, his zealous fervour also became a joke.

One fight against the left the Sun really misfired on was its support of Augusto Pinochet’s regime in Chile. In a 1978 editorial, Chile’s status as a “whipping boy” nation alongside nations like Rhodesia and South Africa was criticized. “Chile’s great sin is to have violently ousted a Marxist government—a rare occurrence,” the paper noted. The piece went on to note how poor Chile was trying to earn a spot among respectable nations while it undid damage blamed on former president Salvador Allende, and how it was ironic China helped them when Canada didn’t. “It is an obscenity to concentrate on the sins of a minor offender while ignoring sins of a major offender.” To which we say it’s also ultimately a sin to brush aside the thousands who disappeared or were tortured during Pinochet’s regime.

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Toronto Sun, September 4, 1977.

After spending years sifting through these opinions, it’s disturbing how there’s been a steady market for this strain of journalism. What really grates, as a study done of depictions of immigration and racism in the Toronto press of the 1970s showed, was that unlike its competitors, the Sun often presented a single worldview, lacking diversity or nuances. Instead of promoting healthy debate around the above issues, or ongoing problems such as community-police relations and where immigrants fit into Canadian society, the Sun frequently promotes divisiveness at the expense of better understanding between people. It’s the easier, more sensational way to go, but it ignores the human cost of such thinking.

Ultimately, future historians will judge whether today’s Sun columnists and editorial writers reflect the beliefs of their readership, have a sense of where the world is heading, or live up to Dale’s criticism of their worth.

Additional material from Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve by Effie Ginzberg (Toronto: Urban Alliance on Race Relations, 1987); The Little Paper That Grew by Jean Sonmor (Toronto: Toronto Sun, 1993); the October 31, 1985 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the February 4, 1977, January 6, 1978, January 8, 1978, August 25, 1978, September 3, 1980, September 25, 1981, October 25, 1982, July 24, 1985, August 4, 1985, and June 22, 1990 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1985.

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Globe and Mail, December 13, 1985.

The report referred to, Power Without Responsibility: The Press We Don’t Deserve, is worth seeking out. Be prepared to be nauseated by some of the excerpted columns (unless your views align with those of the late 1970s/early 1980s Sun).

Godfrey spent the next two months listening to deputations, then wrote a conciliatory letter to the Urban Alliance. In March 1986, the Ontario Press Council dismissed complaints about Porter’s take on South Africa. “Those meetings went on for four, five, sometimes six hours,” Godfrey later recalled. “But I valued them. I always remember that wars are started by a failure to communicate. So I’d take them into the boardroom, give them muffins and coffee and invite them to tell me why they were unhappy with the Sun.”

I suspect present-day Sun management would throw the muffins and coffee at complainants.

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Toronto Sun, February 6, 1989.

While this story didn’t make the final cut, it’s worth bringing it up within the context of the other issues discussed in my piece. This column proved the final straw when it came to McKenzie Porter writing provocatively outrageous things: suggesting that anyone born outside of Canada should be prevented from voting or running for office.

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Toronto Star, February 26, 1989. Note that the wrong date was provided for the offending column.

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Toronto Star, March 3, 1989.

The city’s ad ban lasted two months, before reconsidering after being accused of censorship. Porter was criticized in the Ontario Legislature for the column, and retired from the Sun the following year.

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Toronto Sun, November 13, 1977.

For contextual purposes, here is a typical example of a Claire Hoy column dripping with homophobia. The vitriol in his pieces, which ostensibly were supposed to cover goings-on at Queen’s Park but often degenerated into rants against people Hoy hated, is thick. The language is dehumanizing, referring to his opponents not as people but “creatures.” And yet it is not difficult to imagine these words being used in 2018 in discussions over Ontario’s sex education curriculum.

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Toronto Sun, January 8, 1978.

The pro-Pinochet editorial I referred to. Not unusual during the Cold War era but, given what we now know about the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup in 1973, an editorial that has not aged well.

BEHIND THE SCENES

This was my last non-Historicist piece published by Torontoist, though it could have easily fit within that column. It was a parting gift to outgoing EIC David Hains, who had suggested for some time that I write a piece on the past transgression of the “Little Paper that Grew.” Two more Historicist columns, and a look back at my time writing that particular column, would mark the end of my decade-long run at Torontoist.

I was first exposed to the Sun when my father picked up copies of the paper during m childhood trips to Toronto. It was the first tabloid-sized paper I was exposed to, and I loved the comic book format of the weekend funnies. Those papers made it into my father’s giant clipping collection–I recall photocopies of Douglas Fisher columns explaining the mechanics of parliament being passed around in the grade 9 history class Dad taught.

In university during the mid-1990s, I occasionally bought the Sunday Sun, partly as a joke, partly as a chance to see what the right side of the spectrum was saying, and partly for the Sunday funnies to hang on my dorm room. Two things brought this to an end: the incessant attacks against teachers and other public professionals, and a landlord who cheered on the paper’s taunts. While I have flipped through copies of the paper lying around, I have not paid for one since the end of the 20th century.

Its current incarnation is little more than a vehicle for populist outrage, reconfirming the biases of its readers instead of trying to broaden them, stoking divisions that aren’t necessary and do more harm than good. I ignore it and its writers as much as possible, since I can probably predict from a headline whatever the copy will read.

A History of Newspaper Endorsements in Federal Election Campaigns

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2015.

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Cartoon urging readers to defeat Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government, the Globe and Mail, August 10, 1953.

In the offices of Toronto’s major dailies, editorial boards have been cracking their knuckles tapping out each paper’s official election endorsement. As this article was being written, those which have been published for the 2015 campaign have not strayed from their traditional stances: Liberal for the Star, Conservative for the Sun (which we also expect from the National Post based on other Postmedia papers), and head-scratching caveats from the Globe and Mail, a paper whose choices depend on who’s running the presses and which side of the bed the editorial board woke up on.

During the Victorian era, endorsements were hardly necessary. Party organs pushed their backer’s platform. The Globe filled this role for the Liberals under founder George Brown, while the Conservatives bounced from paper to paper (usually the Mail) as owners developed independent streaks or were deemed useless. Feistier, populist papers like the NewsTelegram, and the World supported the Conservatives, but did so on their own terms.

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Toronto Star, November 6, 2000.

Occasionally, a paper rose above the fray, determined to appear impartial by backing nobody. Having declared itself independent of the Tories prior to the 1887 election, the Mail used its editorial page to criticize hyper-partisanship in ways which are still relevant:

The party organs furnish some extremely entertaining reading just now. All agree that what the Mail says favourable to their side is correct, and all are equally of the opinion that what the Mail says against their gods is wrong. If the party press is to be believed, the sheep and the goats have already been separated. The righteous are in one political camp and the wicked in the other. This being the case, the people, it seems, have no right to enquire further into the merits of the applicants for their suffrages. They must be content with such one-sided information as they can get from the partisan press, and the journal which tells them the unvarnished truth is criminal, except, of course, when the truth it relates is pleasant to the taste.

Several 19th-century newspaper proprietors ran for office, which affected their picks. For example, when Telegram owner, John Ross Robertson, was approached to run by Tories in Toronto East disgruntled with leader Charles Tupper in 1896, the paper backed fellow “independent Conservative” candidates.

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How to fill out a ballot in Parkdale for the 1917 federal election. Graphics such as these were used by many papers to depict how they felt readers should vote. Toronto Star, December 14, 1917.

Wartime united all the major dailies together for the first time in 1917. Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden’s successful overture to pro-conscription Liberals to form a Union government was viewed as a patriotic act. The degree of jingoism varied between papers, with the remaining Liberal rump depicted as an unpatriotic bunch spreading Quebec’s evil influence. The World’s endorsement gives a flowery idea of where our media stood:

No Canadian will ever be able to look another American in the face again, nor a Briton either, if the soldiers’ cause and the new government is not sustained on Monday. It is the duty of every voter to cast his ballot for that sacred resolution taken by the whole civilized world that the sword will never be sheathed until the cause for which it is unsheathed has been won. Let us stand apart from those who wait, with infamous treachery to our gallant dead, ready to sheathe the sword of Canada on Monday. Let us be a solid phalanx to stand behind our armies to give them good courage, good faith, and good cheer.

Until the 1920s, the Globe stood solidly behind the Liberals. When the Brown family sold the paper during the 1880s, the new owners understood that the Globe would be “in perpetual trust for the Liberal party to act as its mouthpiece.” This disintegrated when William Gladstone Jaffray gained control. He despised William Lyon Mackenzie King, partly because he felt our longest-serving prime minister was an opportunist who’d do anything to stay in power, and partly because King failed to push through bills banning what Jaffray saw as one of the greatest evils plaguing humanity: the publication of horse-racing results. The Globe refused to back anyone during the tight campaigns of 1925 and 1926, but returned to the Liberal fold during the Great Depression.

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Advertisement for George McCullagh radio speech where he supported the Tories and attacked the Toronto Star. The Telegram, June 23, 1949.

The Globe’s lasting break with the Liberals came after George McCullagh merged it with the Conservative Mail and Empire in 1936. The new owner had a messianic complex, regarding it his personal destiny to save Canada, a worldview that didn’t mix with the federal Grits. He naively believed the country needed a non-partisan, pro-imperalist government, which citizens would unquestioningly rely on to solve all of its problems. In 1940, McCullagh’s Globe and Mail officially backed nobody, urging voters to elect MPs willing to eventually participate in a coalition government as the Second World War wore on.

By war’s end, McCullagh backed the newly renamed Progressive Conservative party. His hyper-partisanship grew after purchasing the Telegram in 1948, as did his goal to drive the Liberal Star out of business. “I’m going to knock that fucking rag right off its pedestal,” he told his staff. The 1949 federal election showed both sides at their worst, as news coverage was distorted in a partisan manner unseen for decades. McCullagh puffed up Tory leader George Drew, and attacked the Star for being a Commie rag, which allegedly dodged sales tax payments. The Star responded by depicting Drew as being in league with wartime isolationists like Montreal Mayor Camillien Houde. One headline was so over the top that Star execs scratched it for late editions. When the campaign was over, editors at all the papers agreed to exile excessive partisanship to the editorial page.

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Dief as Nero. Cartoon by Duncan Macpherson, Toronto Star, April 6, 1963.

Endorsements rolled out as usual until 1963. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were in disarray: an election the year before reduced them to a minority government, cabinet ministers fled the sinking ship, and the thin-skinned PM’s paranoia was operating at full tilt. The press’s desire to ditch Dief was so strong that, for the first time in its history, the Telegram backed the Liberals. In its March 30, 1963, editorial, the Tely declared that Diefenbaker had compromised the Progressive Conservatives’ principles so much “that Canada’s position at home and abroad will immeasurably deteriorate under his continued leadership.” The move confused longtime readers; one told columnist Douglas Fisher that the act was as if “devout Christians have had to face the fact that the Bible is a false, spurious document.” Publisher John Bassett’s decision also resulted in something that hadn’t happened since 1917: unanimous support for one party among all major Toronto dailies.

Bassett felt bad about the situation and sent Diefenbaker an apologetic response. Dief called him an SOB.

If the Tely’s support of the Liberals came as a shock in 1963, its rival’s turn in the opposite direction a decade later was equally stunning. The headline atop the Star’s October 19, 1972, editorial said it all: “After 50 Years—Liberals have forfeited our support.” Publisher Beland Honderich observed that the state of the Canadian economy under Pierre Trudeau was a shambles, and that poor management of foreign ownership threatened our nation’s independence. While dubious about both Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield and the NDP’s David Lewis, the Star sided with Stanfield (“an honest, sincere man”) for promising tax stimulus measures. “The easy way for a newspaper, as for a citizen, would be not to support any party in this election,” Honderich wrote. “But this is not a responsible course for a citizen in a democratic society—or for a newspaper that believes it has a responsibility to provide comment and opinions on the issues of the day.”

The Sun, covering its first election, hailed Honderich for “courage and the strength to break tradition. Canada may be better because of it.” Ironically, the Sun has never shown similar courage as federally it has never officially endorsed any party, other than the Canadian Alliance, which didn’t have “Conservative” in its name.

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Front page, Toronto Sun, February 3, 1980.

While the Globe backed Trudeau in 1972, it joined the Star and Sun on Stanfield’s side in 1974. Unfortunately for Stanfield, he literally fumbled the ball during that campaign. In 1979, the Star became the first Toronto paper to back the NDP (admiring its stands on social justice), but returned to its traditional Liberal support the following year.

As the political landscape realigned itself during the 1990s, our papers seemed lost. Both the Globe and Mail and the Sun continued to support the Progressive Conservatives after the party collapsed in 1993. But reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the editorial writers at both papers really wanted to back Reform and the Canadian Alliance, but felt they weren’t quite ready to hold power—they went out of their way to show that the new right movement weren’t evil, just occasionally wrong. Conducting strategic voting on the right passed for endorsements.

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Cartoon of Jean Chretien by Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star, November 25, 2000.

For elections where editorial writers united in feeling “meh” about the choices at hand, it’s hard to top the 2000 campaign. All endorsements came with heavy caveats. The Globe and Mail backed the Liberals as long as the party dumped Jean Chrétien in favour of Paul Martin ASAP. The Star, disappointed by a divisive campaign where none of the leaders impressed them, reluctantly stuck by the Grits; while Chretien was “an impediment to the renewal that Canadians seek,” the party “provided competent government and reflect the values Canadians cherish.” Though the Sun despised the Chrétien government, it believed Stockwell Day’s Canadian Alliance still wasn’t ready for prime time. It recommended right-wing strategic voting, backing whichever Canadian Alliance or Progressive Conservative candidates had the best chance of knocking off Liberals. Sun editor Lorrie Goldstein offered a list of 50 reasons voters should choose the “ABC” route: Anybody But Chretien.

Internal fissures were evident in the National Post, which was covering its first election. While columnists like Andrew Coyne, David Frum, and Mark Steyn favoured the Canadian Alliance, the paper officially endorsed a Liberal minority, while owner Izzy Asper penned a separate editorial promoting a Grit majority. The Post hoped that the NDP would lose their official party status “and one hopes their will to survive might go with it.” In the following elections, the Post lined up behind Stephen Harper.

Recent years have seen little deviation from traditional party lines, with the exception of the Star’s backing of the NDP in 2011. Sticking with the known has raised hackles among readers, especially when choices don’t mesh with public opinion. How much they still matter is debatable, but they offer an opportunity to argue about the role of the media in politics.

After having gone through nearly 150 years of election coverage, we’ve compiled stats on endorsements in Toronto’s major papers:

Globe/Globe and Mail
Elections: 42 (1867-present)
Liberal: 20; Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 17.5, Nobody: 3; Unionist: 1, Reform: 0.5
Endorsements realized: 21

Mail/Mail and Empire
Elections: 17 (1872-1935)
Conservative: 14; Nobody: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 6

Telegram
Elections: 25 (1878-1968)
Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 23; Liberal: 1; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 11

News
Elections: 9 (1882-1917)
Conservative: 6; Nobody: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 4

World
Elections: 9 (1882-1917)
Conservative: 8; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 5

Toronto Star
Elections: 35 (1896-present)
Liberal: 30; Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 2; NDP: 2; Unionist: 1
Endorsements realized: 20

Toronto Sun
Elections: 14 (1972-present)
Conservative/Progressive Conservative: 13.5; Canadian Alliance: 0.5
Endorsements realized:6

National Post
Elections: 6 (2000-present)
Conservative: 4; Liberal: 1
Endorsements realized: 4

Additional material from Scrum Wars by Allan Levine (Toronto: Dundurn, 1993); the February 7, 1887, edition of the Mail; the November 27, 2000, edition of the National Post; the October 19, 1972, May 21, 1979, and November 25, 2000, editions of the Toronto Star; the October 20, 1972, and November 26, 2000, editions of the Toronto Sun; the March 30, 1963, edition of the Telegram; and the December 15, 1917, edition of the Toronto World.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Political Decor

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2014.

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 4, 1887.

It’s possible that some lucky souls will find a Rob Ford bobblehead doll under their Christmas tree this year. Whether hoarded by Ford Nation loyalists or re-gifted as a joke, these novelty items join the long line of political memorabilia that’s been available to Torontonians over the years.

Had the Ford administration been in office during the heyday of the party press, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers backing Ford would have offered supporters many mementos. Portraits and busts allowed readers to make known their political allegiances, and at election time were akin to modern-day lawn signs.

Had the 1887 federal election been scheduled earlier than February 22, the Mail might have offered its bust of Sir John A. Macdonald to true-blue Conservatives as a stocking stuffer. This fine terracotta likeness of Canada’s first prime minister would doubtless have taken pride of place in the homes of Tory supporters. Supporters of Liberal leader Edward Blake, meanwhile, might have used his bust as a decorative doorstop, tapped a hole in its head to convert it into a flower pot, or used it as a target for shooting practice.

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The News, March 13, 1914.

Photographic prints of Sir James Pliny Whitney served as a “get well soon” gesture. In late 1913, after serving for a decade as premier of Ontario, Whitney was ordered by doctors to take a vacation. On January 4, 1914, attorney general James J. Foy received a telegram indicating Whitney had suffered a massive heart attack in New York City. Though initially he was not expected to live, Whitney rallied. He was brought back to Toronto via train on January 19, and spent several weeks in hospital regaining his strength. By the time the above ad was published, Whitney was able to go on daily walks.

Those who bought a print might initially have been motivated by sympathy, but they soon found another reason to keep Whitney’s portrait handy—Conservative officials were convinced that, despite his health, Whitney would lead the party to victory in the upcoming provincial election. Whitney, realizing it would probably be his last hurrah, agreed to run. Though he barely campaigned, the premier’s appearance at a June 23, 1914, rally at Massey Hall left few eyes dry.

Coming back, my friends, as I have, by God’s mercy, from the shadow of the dark valley, I am constrained, nay, compelled, to express the thanks I owe to the people of Ontario. They have given me an opportunity. I think I may say, of being some service, and they have given me their confidence in full measure—in full measure heaped up, pressed down, shaken together, and running over—and as long as my renewed health and strength are vouchsafed to me I shall be at their disposal, and endeavour to give them the same faithful service I have in the past.

Whitney led the Tories to their fourth consecutive victory, and with an overwhelming majority of the vote. He performed some administrative work over the summer, and issued an official statement regarding the outbreak of the First World War in August. He died suddenly on September 25, 1914, from a cerebral hemorrhage; we imagine his portrait was displayed out of respect around the city.

Additional material from ‘Honest Enough to Be Bold’: The Life and Times of Sir James Pliny Whitney by Charles W. Humphries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), and the September 25, 1914 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Mail “Want” Columns Get Results

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2013.

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

Based on the first situation depicted in today’s ad, it’s clear that, in 1886, serving real butter and eggs instead of that weird oleomargarine stuff was guaranteed to attract as many applicants for a boarding house room as, today, an attractively illustrated apartment listing on Craiglist draws renters. The medium may have changed, but the power of a well-placed classified ad remains the same.

Though small ads had been commonplace for years, recognizable classified sections only started appearing in Toronto papers during the 1870s. In his survey of the 19th century Canadian Press, A Victorian Authority (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), Paul Rutherford summed up the want-ad’s initial impact:

Normally, each item was very short, rarely fancy, mostly abbreviated, since the client was charged according to the number of words used. Here could be found something for everyone, whether of high or low station—business cards, real estate listings, articles for sale (including machinery), personals, board and lodging, above all jobs available and jobs wanted.

For years, the market leader in Toronto was the Telegram, which distinguished itself from other papers by devoting its front pages to classifieds, a practice it stuck with through the mid-1920s. By the end of the 1880s, the Mail carried an average of half-a-page of classifieds daily, and up to two pages in its Saturday edition. Their classified rates ranged from free (accommodations, jobs wanted, lost items) to two cents per word (commercial listings).

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

In 19th-century Toronto classifieds, the buzzword seems to have been “first-class,” which may explain our city’s eternal obsession with securing first-class/world-class events and projects. Among the highlights of the January 23, 1888 classified section:

  • A barber was needed in Tilsonburg, but only if he was white and “first-class.”
  • Morrison & Co. of 48 Yonge Street was looking for sales agents for an entirely new line of products: “ornamental adhesive hooks used in houses, stores, banks, offices, etc., instead of nails and tacks.” The ad promised large profits.
  • A baker and his wife “without encumbrances” placed a “situations wanted” ad. He was “first-class on bread, cakes, and pastry,” while she was “competent to serve in store or assist in house.” Both offered “first-class references.”
  • A “large, handsomely furnished room” was available for boarding at the Stormont Lodge at the corner of Adelaide and John. The room was heated with hot air and dinner was served late. “None but first-class need apply.”
  • A “respectable middle-aged woman and her son, aged 12” sought a home for a few months. Both were “willing to make themselves generally useful.” They didn’t provide any first-class credentials.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 9

Let’s Have a Sherry Before Dinner!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2012.

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Liberty, October 1955.

As with many cookbooks from the 1950s, print quality and the passage of time have not done wonders to the appetizing qualities of these special oven-roasted meals meant to be enjoyed with a cheap Canadian sherry. That this fine beverage’s economic benefits are touted as much as its palate-pleasing qualities tends to reinforce the poor image the Canadian wine industry enjoyed among serious oenophiles at the time.

We weren’t able to find much about the Canadian Wine Institute apart from its evolution into the Canadian Vintners Association. We do know that they offered a free home delivery service during the 1950s—newspaper ads published throughout the decade offered prompt service if you ordered three or more bottles over the phone from the nearest wine store. The organization also offered cooking guides rich in suggestions for using sherry in ways other than pickling yourself.

How to Solve a Prop Emergency

Originally published on Torontoist on July 18, 2012.

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The Performing Arts in Canada, Volume 6, Number 1, 1968.

In the midst of a busy summer theatre season, a missing prop can strike terror in the heart of any performance troupe. Sure, skilled actors can improvise around an absent item so well that an audience would never notice its absence, but given all the time devoted to maximizing a prop’s symbolic value during rehearsals, wouldn’t you want a replacement or close approximation? Have no fear—the polymer industry has come to your rescue!

Whether it’s Yorick’s skull or a hand-crafted Godzilla statue that the unfortunate fellow depicted in today’s ad can’t find, a quick run to Toronto’s venerable Malabar costume house to pick up some Polysar XB-407 might have solved his problem. Not that it would do a perfect job of replicating everything—we doubt it would have recaptured the texture of Aunt Ruthie’s old scarf that was borrowed for the production, never mind placating Aunt Ruthie once she discovered the neckwear she’d worn since her flapper days was nowhere to be found.

Who is Canada’s Most Quoted Newspaper?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2012.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1962.

In the three-way battle for Toronto’s daily newspaper readers during the early 1960s, any minor advantage turned into a selling point. For the Telegram, digging up stats on how often it was quoted proved a matter of pride, especially when compared to its ideological opposite, the Star. The Telegram’s quote tally may have been aided its growing roster of editorial columnists—some of whom, like Douglas Fisher and Lubor Zink, would be associated with the paper and its stepchild, the Sun, for decades.

Not that being quotable helped the top two papers on this list. We ask you to observe a moment of silence for the Telegram (died 1971), the Ottawa Journal (died 1980), and the Montreal Star (died 1979).

Watch Your Feet!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1930.

It was one of silent cinema’s most iconic images: comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock face in 1923’s Safety Last. Seven years later, talkies had arrived and Lloyd attempted to recapture the excitement of that scene in an extended sequence, complete with period slow-talking racial stereotypes, for his second sound feature, Feet First.

The film made its Toronto debut during a late evening showing at the Uptown. The Star noted that the theatre “echoed to laughter” for over two hours, primarily over Lloyd’s antics. As for the rest of the night’s fare, the paper was succinct: “The remainder of the bill is good.”

Additional material from the November 22, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.