Vintage Toronto Ad: Miracle on Yonge Street

Originally published on Torontoist on June 7, 2011.


The Financial Post 500, Summer 1988.

For today’s featured ad, we hand writing duties over to the longest-serving mayor of North York, Mel Lastman. In his introduction to the semi-advertorial book North York: Realizing the Dream (Burlington: Windsor Publications, 1988), the Bad Boy describes how his municipality’s miraculous new downtown is one of the factors behind his boast that “nowhere is the human spirit stronger than in North York.”

The focal point of our city is what I refer to as North York’s Miracle on Yonge Street—a $4 billion downtown that’s being constructed in our city centre, complete with a civic square and major performing arts centre. Millions of square feet of retail establishments, offices, and residences are sprouting up seemingly overnight.
But it took many years of planning in partnership with our citizens. Area ratepayer groups participated fully in the forging of our downtown plan and gave it their complete support. Outside of North York, it is rare to see so keen a level of cooperative planning between local government and its citizenry…It is nothing short of miraculous that we are creating a downtown after we built the city and that this barrage of construction activity is happening all at one time, spurring us on from one success to the next.

The City of North York is quickly becoming the main magnet for commerce in Metropolitan Toronto. Our shiny new miracle of a downtown has prompted major corporate head office relocations and a flood of new business activity, and has spawned an unprecedented demand for our office space.

When completed, our downtown will generate full-time jobs for 60,000 employees, homes for more than 30,000 new residents, and $100 million annually in business and realty taxes. We’re in great shape. We are becoming recession-proof.


Vintage Toronto Ads: The Rise and Fall of a Diefenbaker MP

Originally published on Torontoist on April 19, 2011.


Don Mills Mirror, June 6, 1957.

If you think we’ve headed to the polls one too many times to elect a federal government over the past decade, then you’ll feel a twinge of sympathy for the average Canadian voter who had the opportunity to exercise his or her democratic privilege five times between 1957 and 1965.

The unifying figure through all of those elections was Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker and his roller-coaster ride of popularity. Running alongside him: a Metro Toronto candidate whose fortunes mirrored those of Dief the Chief.

And so, a chronicle of five elections in five election ads…

1957: Frank McGee had politics in his blood. One grandfather served as an MP for eight years, while another was the longest serving Clerk of the Privy Council in Canadian history. His great uncle was assassinated Father of Confederation D’Arcy McGee. His father-in-law was Senator Grattan O’Leary. Shortly before his 32nd birthday, department store merchandise buyer McGee was chosen to carry the Progressive Conservative banner in York-Scarborough. During the February 25 nomination meeting, McGee promised to hold Liberal incumbent Frank Enfield accountable on the government’s role in the pipeline debate and the Suez crisis. The vigour of the national Tory campaign, as opposed to the stay-the-course mode the Liberals adopted, must have left an impression on York-Scarborough voters, as McGee received the largest personal majority in the country on June 10 (just under 20,000 votes more than Enfield).


Don Mills Mirror, June 13, 1957.

Of the 18 seats in Metro Toronto, the Tories captured all but one (rookie Liberal Stanley Haidasz won Trinity). Twenty-two years of Liberal rule was replaced with a Diefenbaker-headed minority government.


Don Mills Mirror, March 13, 1958.

1958: McGee and Diefenbaker experienced a record-breaking election night. When the ballots were counted on March 31, the Tories captured a record number of seats—with 208 seats out of 265, they still hold the federal record for the highest seat percentage in an election. Every seat in Metro Toronto went blue. York-Scarborough voters did their part by giving McGee the largest majority ever received up to that time in a single riding as he defeated Enfield by 35,377 votes (the current record holder is Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who crushed his closest opponent in York North by 51,389 votes in 1993). During the 24th Parliament, McGee introduced a private member’s bill to abolish capital punishment. Though McGee’s proposal met the fate usually meted out to such bills, it helped pave the way for the eventual abolition of the death penalty.


Toronto Star, June 13, 1962.

1962: It didn’t take long for internal squabbling and Diefenbaker`s penchant for nursing grudges to cause rancor within the Tories. As John Duffy summed up in his book Fights of Our Lives, by 1962 “John Diefenbaker was already the doomed Tory hero, wrapped in a Union Jack and battling alone against the dragons of Americanization, big business, and technology itself.” Diefenbaker’s government was reduced to a minority, thanks to a resurgent Liberal party and the success of Social Credit in Quebec. Of the 20 candidates shown in this ad, only McGee and six others headed to Ottawa to take their place in Diefenbaker’s minority government. Our man’s margin of victory dropped to just over 5,000 votes over the resurgent Liberals. In the short-lived session that followed, McGee served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration.


Don Mills Mirror, April 3, 1963.

1963: Shortly before Diefenbaker’s minority government fell amid disarray over nuclear defence policy, McGee was made a minister without portfolio. By this point, he was campaigning on his own merits without comparisons to Diefenbaker. Voters decided that McGee wasn’t a good enough MP as he lost to Liberal Maurice Moreau by 21,500 votes. He wasn’t the only Tory out of a job; Diefenbaker lost the reins of power to Lester Pearson. Following his defeat, McGee became a political columnist covering the Conservative point of view for the Toronto Star and hosted a public affairs program on CBC Television.


Don Mills Mirror, October 27, 1965.

1965: When another election loomed, McGee left his media gigs in an attempt to regain his old seat. There’s no mention of Diefenbaker in McGee’s ad, which may reflect the ever-increasing animosity within the party toward the former PM. Local officials blamed Diefenbaker for turning local voters away from McGee, who was tied with Liberal Robert Stanbury for a time before losing by just under 4,000 votes. Still, it was a slight improvement on McGee’s performance in ’63, just as the Tories modestly upped their standing in the House of Commons by a couple of seats.

McGee came oh-so-close to returning to office during his final political run in the suburban riding of Ontario (which included parts of present-day Durham Region stretching from Pickering to Uxbridge) in 1972, but lost to the Liberals by four votes in a recount. Before his death in 1999, McGee also served as an executive at a public relations firm, a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and a citizenship judge in Toronto.

Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002), the November 10, 1965, edition of the Don Mills Mirror, and the February 26, 1957, edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Who’d Make a Better North York Controller than Mel Lastman? NOOOBODY!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 12, 2010.


Left: The Don Mills Mirror, November 19, 1969. Right: The Enterprise, November 12, 1969.

He had never attended a council meeting. He admitted he didn’t know what exactly the duties were for the position he was running for. He was unable or unwilling to partake in certain traditions of the campaign trail, like handshaking. None of these factors hindered Mel Lastman in his quest to become a North York Controller in 1969: his inexperience was seen by voters and several publications as a plus.


The Enterprise, November 26, 1969.

The Mel Lastman that entered municipal politics was a thirty-six-year-old millionaire who had gone from selling appliances out of the back of a truck to owning fifteen Bad Boy stores. He gained a reputation for attention-grabbing sales gimmicks such as running down Yonge Street in a mini skirt, selling fridges to Inuit, and standing on street corners handing out two dollar bills for a buck. His ignorance of the workings of municipal politics was seen as a breath of fresh air in some quarters, such as the endorsement he received from the Don Mills Mirror: “In his attempt to educate himself about the workings of municipal government, Lastman, in our opinion, will ask the questions which trouble many voters, but rarely trouble politicians.”

Lastman Loop

Diagram of “Lastman’s Loop.” The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Lastman’s platform stressed his business experience by questioning how anyone could trust politicians who emptied the financial coffers of North York and Metropolitan Toronto. Among his platform planks, the item that gained the most attention was “Lastman’s Loop.” He proposed to use sixty miles of railway track that CN and CP planned to phase out for passenger service on as a commuter loop operated in a manner similar to the then-recently-introduced GO transit system. The scheme would have used a CP line from Union to Doncaster Avenue in Thornhill, turned west along the track north of Steeles, then used CN lines on the east side of Keele to head back toward Union. Lastman claimed that a trip from Union Station to Doncaster would take half an hour. He also provided for extensions of the service using existing rail lines to the airport. According to a blurb in a Bad Boy ad shortly before the election, Lastman estimated that a system following his plan could build 200 miles of surface rapid transit for the same cost as one mile of subway (which he estimated to be twenty million dollars).

Vintage Ad #1,227: Lastman Speaks for Youth and Gets Things Done! (2)

The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Several aspects of Lastman’s platform were tailored for the youth vote, including a vow to fight pollution (“something must be done immediately about pollution or ten years from now, we will all be going in for blasts of oxygen to cleanse our lungs”) and offer clinics for users of illicit substances (“speed freaks and LSD bad trippers will kill themselves before they reach twenty. If they want help, give it to them. Turn your back on a child and you’ll never bridge the generation gap”). Lastman also supported amalgamation of all the municipalities within Metro Toronto, the expansion of North York into parts of Vaughan and Markham townships, improved facilities for students with special needs, private funding for a domed stadium, and an improved Landlord and Tenant Act to favour apartment dwellers.

Lastman’s campaign was marked by the candidate’s unwillingness to do the usual rounds of door-knocking and hand-shaking. “I’m so shy,” he told the Star. “I didn’t have the guts to go out and shake anyone’s hand. I tried it once in a restaurant and the woman told me to go away because she was eating. That was the last time.” This quirk didn’t harm Lastman’s chances among the nine candidates who sought the four available controller seats. When the ballots were counted on December 1, Lastman came in third with just under thirty-six thousand votes. Amid the cheers and high spirits of supporters at his victory party, the Star noted that Lastman looked “bewildered but happy.” If the accounts of his speech that night are taken at face value, it appears that Lastman was still unsure of what his new job entailed: “now, all I want to know is what does a controller do?”

ts 69-12-02 election results

Toronto Star, December 2, 1969.

When asked why he didn’t set his sights on the mayor’s chair, Lastman replied “well, then everyone would have thought I wanted to be king.” He bided his time as a controller before mounting a challenge to the throne in 1972. Once the crown was in his grasp, he held onto it for the next quarter century before overseeing the amalgamation he had supported during his first electoral campaign.

Additional information from the February 1968 issue of Toronto Life and the following newspapers: the November 19, 1969 and November 26, 1969 editions of the Don Mills Mirror; the November 19, 1969 edition of the Enterprise; and the November 29, 1969 and December 2, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 4

Ten Thousand Doctors Can’t Be Wrong

Originally published on Torontoist on January 12, 2010.


Toronto Star, March 5, 1915.

Trusting the judgment of her faithful nurse, the morose, near-suicidal patient took the tipple of Wincarnis. And another. And another. She wasn’t sure if the promised “new life” ran through her veins, but at least she was temporarily distracted from the other pressures of this mortal coil.

Wincarnis derived its name from its mixture of wine and meat byproducts. It was a snappier branding than the one it bore when introduced in Great Britain in 1887: Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine. The current manufacturer continues to tout the medicinal qualities of the herbs and vitamins mixed into Wincarnis, even if it is officially marketed as an aperitif instead of a cure-all. We’ve also read that it tastes great mixed with Guinness and milk.

Golden Girls Galore

Originally published on Torontoist on April 27, 2010.


Toronto Sun, August 29, 1983.

Thirty years after this ad teased Toronto Sun readers, the phrase “golden girls” may not conjure up a night in a peeler joint, unless you’re a fan fiction writer willing to place the sitcom characters in such a setting (though given Betty White’s willingness to do anything lately, it might not be that great a stretch to imagine her in pasties and a g-string).

Besides overemphasizing the hair colour and lusty potential of the dancers, we wonder if club management had a soft spot for a classic Bob Dylan album. Would the non-blonde (unless the newsprint is lying) Viki Page have titillated her audience to the strains of “I Want You” or “Just Like a Woman”? Would the urging to get stoned in “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” combined with the lack of accessories on the dancers have caused club clientele to drop all discretion?

Later nightclub incarnations at the same address include Uberhaus, Tila Tequila, and Moda Night Life.

A Cure for Oilcers

Originally published on Torontoist on June 1, 2010.


New Liberty, March 1948.

Today’s ad is for readers who are puzzled whenever bags appear under the headlights of their vehicle that aren’t caused by scratches bestowed by other drivers exiting a tight parking space or provided by a bird in an artistic mood. Fret not: oilcers can be cured (however, that puddle of stomach battery acid on the ground might be a different story…).

For readers unable to decipher the good doctor’s prescription underneath the remedial box, our certified medical professional recommends that the patient should have “one complete set of Perfect Circle Custom Made Piston Rings—to be taken before the next meal. This to be followed by plenty of road work.”
Disclaimers: Only use Perfect Circle as recommended. Do not use if car develops fever, froths at the mouth, or responds to the name “Christine.”

Free to Go

Originally published on Torontoist on July 13, 2010.


Maclean’s, March 2, 1987.

Yes, this businesswoman is free to go…into the afterlife, that is. The glowing lights and yellow arches welcome her to whatever awaits after she shuffles off this mortal coil (though it looks like it will resemble a 1980s ad designer’s dream). She should have taken it as a warning sign when the pressure of balancing so many communications gadgets sitting atop her head, day after day, caused her face to assume a grape juice–like complexion. Poor Robert will receive neither a reply about the breaking developments with the coffee supply contract, nor will he receive the page she was preparing when her brain caved in.

National Pagette was acquired by Shaw Communications in 1995. At the time, it was described as Canada’s largest provider of telephone answering services and sixth-largest paging company.

Scenes of Toronto: Pleasant View, Diabolical Drive

Originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2009.


The Pleasant View neighbourhood in the northeast corner of North York looks placid enough—comfortable middle class demographics, a community centre to take a relaxing skate or swim, and so on. On the surface, the only thing that appears askew is an inability to determine if the neighbourhood’s name should be spelled as one word (the recreational complex) or two (city documents and the local library branch). But one look at the intersection in front of the swimming pool hints that darker forces lurk in the background.


Given certain popular culture associations with the names Lucifer and Van Horne, it’s tempting to think that a devilish wit was at work when these street names were doled out and joined together. It’s an imaginative theory but unlikely, especially in the naming of Van Horne Avenue, which honours nineteeth century railroad tycoon William Cornelius Van Horne.

As for Lucifer Drive, we checked with Brian Hall of the city’s Survey and Mapping Services division for its origins. He revealed that the street received its name in 1968 (the same year Rosemary’s Baby hit local screens—coincidence?) and theorized that the name may have honoured an early type of match or stemmed from a practice of naming streets after the developer’s stable of racehorses.


A stroll down Lucifer reveals a two-block suburban residential street with roomy homes whose owners sweep away fallen leaves. The twisted limbs of the bare trees lining the sidewalks are one of the few hints of seasonal spookiness, though they aren’t droopy enough to provoke a sense that they could come alive and drag you to Hell at any second. For those searching for the truly diabolical in the vicinity, your best bet is to navigate nearby construction work on Victoria Park, or drop into the Value Village a couple of blocks east on Van Horne to pick up devil horns, red makeup, or the proper costume elements to resemble a likely citizen of any form of purgatory that may exist.



Map showing location of Van Horne Avenue (now Dupont Street). New World Atlas and Gazetteer (New York: P.F. Collier and Son Company, 1924). Image via University of Alabama Map Library. Full jpeg of map.

The old City of Toronto also had a Van Horne Avenue, which was one of several streets stitched together to form present-day Dupont Street. Van Horne ran between Dufferin and Ossington.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Someday Your Prince Hotel Will Come

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2008.


Toronto Life, February 1975.

Today’s ad offers an ideal 1970s entertainment lineup for upper middle class patrons on business, vacation, or a wild night in the suburbs. The Royal Box offered dinner theatre twice a night. The “merely posh” Le Continental filled the decade’s appetite for romantic meals loaded with soft jazz and slabs of meat (chateaubriand for two, ma belle amie?). Katsura supplied a then-exotic Japanese dining experience. The Brandy Tree offered fancy drinks and a piano bar. The Coffee Garden catered to those for whom none of the above appealed to (or were affordable for) and to those with an appreciation for macrame walls.

Opened on July 10, 1974, this luxury hotel was the first foray by Prince Hotels International into North America and its second outside of its Japanese base (the first was in Guam). In an article published shortly after the hotel opened, the Toronto Star noted that:

A recurring theme of conversation with the hotel executives was a determination from the outset not simply to transplant a Japanese hotel to Canada but to fit it in with the environment (even the dead trees on the property have been left standing) and with Canadians (domestic materials, almost exclusively, Canadian architects, local people comprising almost all the operating staff).

Another way the owners ingratiated themselves to nearby residents was through minor hockey sponsorship a year before the hotel opened. The team won their division and Prince executive Kikuo Yamazaki treated them to a party at his home.

The Prince experienced growing pains, tearing through three operations managers and four PR firms by the time Christmas of ’75 rolled around. By March 1976, the hotel was one of three the Star marked as the emptiest luxury spots in Toronto, along with the Harbour Castle and the Plaza II (now the Marriott in the Hudson’s Bay Centre). The paper felt that apart from a few specialty suites and Katsura, the hotel didn’t provide enough Japanese decor and atmosphere. With its average occupancy hovering under 32%, Prince did not move forward with further North American expansion plans. The site was eventually rebranded as a Westin hotel.

Additional material from the August 24, 1974, December 9, 1975 and March 23, 1976 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Just Dial GO

Originally published on Torontoist on March 4, 2008.

nth 1974-03-22 dial a bus

The North Toronto Herald, March 22, 1974.

Congratulations. You’ve just moved into a home or apartment in the rapidly growing city of North York to start your bright future. You either don’t own a car or prefer to use one as little as possible. Fixed public transit services haven’t quite made it out to your neck of the woods yet you really want to be chauffeured by a bow-tie wearing driver with a creepy smile who will drop you off at your doorstep.

For a brief period in the mid-1970s, GO Transit and the TTC combined to provide a fleet of minibuses to come to your rescue. GO launched the first Dial-a-Bus pilot in Pickering Township in the summer of 1970, which ran for three years. The service was introduced to Metropolitan Toronto in October 1973, when three zones were launched in partnership with the TTC along either side of York Mills Road between Yonge and Leslie. Accessibility came at a premium compared to bus fares of the time (40 cents versus 30), with no transfers between Dial-a-Bus and regular TTC bus stops.

The experiment barely had time to prove itself. Service expansions to Armour Heights and Downsview lasted less than a year, while the York Mills service fizzled out in 1976. The stereotypical image of a user may have been a problem, as residents complained that only “maids” would provide the bulk of the ridership for proposed permanent TTC routes in the York Mills zones.