Vintage Toronto Ads: Come Be Pampered at Tanaka of Tokyo (plus The House of Fuji-Matsu)

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2008.

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Canadian Football League Illustrated, September 1972. Note proofreading fail.

In the days before sushi joints lined seemingly every block in the city, Japanese cuisine was treated as an exotic experience by Toronto diners. Many Japanese eateries that operated in the city before the 1980s specialized in teppanyaki-style table cooking, where the chef’s entertaining skills were as important (or more, depending on the venue) as the food and allowed businessmen to impress their clients. Venues like Tanaka of Tokyo provided a comforting atmosphere that allowed local palates to ease their way from familiar dishes like steak and sukiyaki into then-alien fare like maki rolls.

Toronto’s first Japanese restaurant was House of Fuji-Matsu, which began a three-year run at 17 Elm Street (now home to the Fraternal Order of Eagles) in December 1955. The Star covered opening night and enjoyed “12 Japanese hostesses who will teach customers how to handle chopsticks, will cook a traditional sukiyaki Japanese shrimp or beef-base dish right on the foot-high tables and will act as ‘baby-sitters’ while parents enjoy the cuisine.” Curious diners dropped by, but the hospitality and child-watching service was not enough to keep the restaurant afloat. Among the reasons owner Richard Tanaka later blamed for its demise were blocked attempts to secure a liquor license, possibly due to a YWCA located across the street. “One day I called my accountant,” he noted in a 1972 interview, “and asked if we were still losing money. When the answer was yes, I said only two words: ‘Close it.’”

Tanaka waited just over a decade before trying again. “Like a bulldog, I hate to quit—to admit becoming a loser.” Nine months of planning and nearly $450,000 went into Tanaka of Tokyo before it welcomed its first guests at 1180 Bay Street (slightly south of Bloor) in December 1971. Eight master chefs were brought in from Japan to cook at the teppanyaki tables and add entertainment value to the first class atmosphere Tanaka conveyed through the slogan “Come Be Pampered.”

The kindest reviews tended to be in advertorials—in their 1976 survey of the city restaurant scene Dining Out in Toronto, Jeremy Brown and Sid Adilman gave Tanaka of Tokyo half a star out of five:

Popular with tourists on expense accounts, Tanaka of Tokyo is a swanky affair, the most expensive Japanese restaurant in the city. Once that is said, the next question is, what about the food? Teppanyaki tables bring out the theatrical in chefs, and the quiet sushi bar has its virtues. But overall, Tanaka is for people who want Japanese food without too much of the original taste.

The restaurant provided steak rituals for another decade-and-a-half.

Additional material from the December 19, 1955 and January 29, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1955.

The headline above these photos read “ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND IN CANADA, FUJI-MATSU CATERS TO BEGINNER AND GOURMET OF FAR EAST FOOD.”

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Globe and Mail, January 26, 1956.

In December 1956, MGM used the House of Fuji-Matsu to promote The Teahouse of the August Moon (which featured Marlon Brando in yellowface as a Japanese interpreter). Globe and Mail entertainment columnist Alex Barris attended the presser, which featured four Japan Air Lines hostesses. He was most impressed by Seiko Fukasawa’s musical talents: “She plays the koto, an ancient Japanese stringed instrument which consists of a six-foot length of wood, on legs, with 13 strings drawn across its top,” Barris observed. “It sounds more like a harp than anything else, and sounds quite beautiful when Miss Fukasawa plays it.”

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Toronto Star, March 21, 1956.

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Toronto Star, November 28, 1957.

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Toronto Star, December 12, 1958.

Pierre Berton’s review of the House of Fuji-Matsu. Given Ontario’s repressive liquor laws of the era (cocktail lounges had only been legal for a decade), it’s not surprising the restaurant had trouble earning a license.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Brainy Birds for a Child You Love

Originally published on Torontoist on May 26, 2009.

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Toronto Life, March 1984.

Hands up—how many of you read Chickadee or Owl during your childhood or purchased it for kids you knew? With features like the cartoon adventures of the Mighty Mites and the experiments of Dr. Zed (aka York Region science teacher Gordon Penrose), these magazines aimed to introduce scientific and environmental concepts to young readers.

Owl began publishing in 1976, with early subscription ads featuring praise from the likes of Pierre Berton, even if the language used may not have been deemed appropriate for innocent ears (“It’s a damn good magazine!”). Both magazines faced financial difficulties due to publisher Young Naturalist Foundation’s anti-advertising stance, but a fundraising campaign in 1980 kept the publications afloat.

Just over a year after today’s ad, Owl entered the TV biz…

Additional material from the April 16, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, March 26, 1977. 

Count me among the children who grew up reading Owl and Chickadee, sifting through issues sitting in a stack in the basement. These publications engaged me more than other naturalist/science magazines aimed at kids — I’m looking at you, Ranger Rick. The title of the following article may provide a clue as to why Owl succeeded with kids like me.

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Globe and Mail, October 24, 1979.

Shaping Toronto: Centennial Projects

Originally published on Torontoist on February 24, 2016.

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A mark of the centennial at the fountain at Rosehill Reservoir.

From neighbourhood tree plantings to the international spectacle of Expo 67, Canada proudly celebrated its centennial. The stylized maple leaf logo graced everything from historical sites to reservoirs. Cities and towns applied for governments grants to spruce up parks, restore historical sites, and build attractions to last long after the centennial spirit faded.

Across Toronto, many legacies remain of, as Pierre Berton’s book on 1967 termed it, “the last good year.” There are the community centres and parks in the pre-amalgamation suburbs with “centennial” in their name. Celebratory murals lining school walls. Caribana and its successors celebrating Caribbean culture each year.

Many of these projects received funding from programs overseen by a federal commission, whose work sometimes felt like an Expo footnote. “They felt like poor cousins,” Centennial Commission PR director Peter Aykroyd (Dan’s father) observed. “Expo was so big, so appealing, so clearly headed for success that it discouraged those who were plodding away on the less focused, something-for-everyone program of the Commission.”

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North York Centennial Arena (later named in honour of Herb Carnegie), 1967. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 217, Series 249, File 27, Item 7.

As is our habit, Toronto wanted spectacular major centennial projects. As is also our habit, they were mired in bureaucratic squabbles involving penny-pinching city councillors, politicians and pundits who swore delays embarrassed us in front of the rest of the country, and bad luck.

Discussions over marking the centennial began in earnest in September 1962 when the Toronto Planning Board proposed a $25 million cultural complex. With financial pruning, this evolved into a $9 million centennial program focused on the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, which included a repertory theatre, arts and culture facilities along Front Street, and a renovation of the decaying St. Lawrence Hall. Proponents also tossed in an expansion of the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO) and refreshing Massey Hall. Mayor Phil Givens supported the project wholeheartedly—during his re-election campaign in 1964, he said “I have never been so sincerely convinced in my life that something is right.”

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Sketch of a proposed theatre inside the St. Lawrence Centre, Globe and Mail, March 20, 1965.

A key opponent was councillor/former mayor Allan Lamport, who believed the city couldn’t afford the project, and was only willing to support the St. Lawrence Hall rehab. “He is barren of ideas concerning what the city might put in its place,” a Globe and Mail editorial criticized. “It is this sort of negative approach which could find Toronto celebrating the nation’s birthday with nothing more impressive and enduring than a pageant in the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand.”

The fate of the St. Lawrence Centre see-sawed over the next few years, as council battled over the budget. When it was clear the project wouldn’t be remotely ready for 1967, the city switched its focus to St. Lawrence Hall. When the 1960s started, the site was split among several owners, and there was at least one proposal to replace it with an office building and parking deck. Under the leadership of a committee of local architects and construction officials, the restoration of the hall appeared to be on track as 1967 dawned.

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“Searching for bodies; city firemen comb through the rubble of the east wing of St. Lawrence Hall which collapsed yesterday while being restored as a Centennial project. No one was injured and no bodies were found. Credit for this is given foreman Jack McGowan who cleared the building and sent men to stop traffic only minutes before the four-storey section crumbled in a cloud of dust.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0000233f.

On March 10, 1967, the northeast portion of the building collapsed. The press offered unanimous support to keep the project going, such as the following Star editorial:

The restoration of the old St. Lawrence Hall was one centennial project upon which everyone in Toronto was happily united. Today, when a section of the building lies in rubble, we can be sure the determination that it will live in its former glory is stronger than ever…it wasn’t until the report of the collapse that most of us realized how much the restoration of the historic old hall was coming to mean in this centennial year, troubled with apathy and dispute over other projects…Our appetite for history has been whetted and we need the completion of the St. Lawrence Hall to satisfy it. So light the torches and beat the drums, we’ve got a building to raise.

While the restoration endured further delays from a series of city-wide construction strikes (which prompted the city to sneak in concrete via the back entrance), the refurbished St. Lawrence Hall celebrated its rebirth when Governor-General Roland Michener officially re-opened it during a December 28, 1967 gala.

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Globe and Mail, April 28, 1965.

The St. Lawrence Centre finally opened in February 1970, several months after another delayed centennial project. When the province announced a science museum in 1964, it chose 180 acres of parkland at Don Mills and Eglinton. The city opposed the suburban location, preferring the CNE grounds, where Givens felt there were better connections to highways and transit. Unless the province provided compelling reasons regarding the CNE’s unsuitability, he threatened to hold up the transfer of the Don Valley site. The province wasn’t moved. Initially known as the Centennial Centre of Science and Technology, the project suffered numerous construction delays and bureaucratic bickering before opening as the Ontario Science Centre in September 1969.

Other local centennial projects had smoother rides, even if they occasionally ruffled egos. Leaside was the first to complete theirs, a community centre in Trace Manes Park which opened in September 1966, mere months before the town was absorbed into East York. The latter unveiled their major project, the restoration of Todmorden Mills, in May 1967. Mayor True Davidson scornfully called Leaside’s project “a change house for tennis players,” while touting Todmorden as “one of the most ambitious projects in Metro.”

The work on St. Lawrence Hall and Todmorden Mills demonstrated what Pierre Berton later called the true legacy of the centennial: recognizing the value of local heritage.

In 1967, the idea of preserving something of the past by restoring old buildings and preserving historic landscapes was a novel one at a time when local governments were still applauded for bulldozing entire neighbourhoods in the name of “urban renewal.” The Centennial marked the beginning of the end of that philosophy. “Heritage” had come into its own when Victorian mansions that had once seemed grotesquely ugly began to be viewed as monuments to a gilded age. Old railway stations, banks, even 1930s gas stations would be seen as living history lessons.

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Globe and Mail, May 20, 1967.

So far, the upcoming Canada 150 celebrations show little of the fervour associated with the centennial. An August 2014 city report recognized that the influx of legacy projects associated with the Pan/Parapan Am Games made it unlikely there would be similar scale construction to mark the country’s 150th birthday next year. A more recent report promotes marking the occasion through cultural festivals and community heritage programs. Unless an enduring celebration like Caribana/Caribbean Carnival emerges, it’s likely the reminders of 1967 will outlast those of 2017.

Additional material from 1967: The Last Good Year by Pierre Berton (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997); The Best Place To Be: Expo 67 and Its Time by John Lownsbrough (Toronto: Allen Lane, 2012); St. Lawrence Hall (Toronto: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1969); the December 27, 1963, September 2, 1964, June 17, 1965, and May 23, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the March 11, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

That Time Salman Rushdie Surprised Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on December 7, 2012.

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Toronto Star, December 8, 1992.

The PEN Canada benefit that happened twenty years ago today at the Winter Garden Theatre was an unusual evening. Amid serious readings supporting free expression, there were lighter moments, like when the Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, and Paul Quarrington appeared on stage in cowboy garb to sing country tunes written by Atwood.

It wasn’t long before talk turned to Salman Rushdie. Starting with John Irving, a succession of authors addressed the death threats Rushdie faced after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on him in February 1989 for blaspheming Islam in The Satanic Verses.

After reading a passage from Midnight’s Children, Atwood introduced the next writer. There was a collective gasp from the crowd of 1,200. Clad in a black PEN t-shirt, Salman Rushdie walked onto the stage.

Rushdie’s appearance had to do with his desire to emerge from hiding. After three years of seclusion, the author decided to be—as he notes in his recent autobiography, Joseph Anton—“a loud and visible man.” Starting with an appearance at a Danish PEN event, Rushdie became an unannounced guest at writing benefits around the world. He was invited to Toronto by his Canadian publisher, PEN Canada president Louise Dennys. Organizing the event required two months of cloak-and-dagger work. Rushdie’s name was never mentioned during phone calls and no information was leaked to the public—especially where he would stay (the home of Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding). The coded phrase when his appearance was confirmed was, according to Star columnist Michele Landsberg, “We have a turkey for lunch.” The event had the type of security usually reserved for a royal visit.

He arrived on December 5 on a private plane with a Ralph Lauren-designed interior, which he later said was the most comfortable transatlantic flight he had ever experienced. Two days later, PEN organized a top-secret lunch for the city’s top media executives. Rushdie urged the group to pressure the federal government to use its influence in international organizations to defend him at the United Nations. He believed that “the issue is simple: you don’t kill people for writing books.”

At the Winter Garden that night, authors were summoned backstage by Saturday Night magazine editor John Fraser during intermission. “The security people didn’t like it,” Fraser told the Globe and Mail. “We had to convince them it was okay to let so many people backstage.” The writers were handed papers listing events during Rushdie’s seclusion. One writer joked to Rushdie, “This is a helluva bar mitzvah you’re getting,” to which Rushdie responded, “Yes, but it’s a beautiful one.”

After the thunderous applause he received upon taking the stage, Rushdie discussed witch hunts and the power of comedy. He urged the audience to lobby politicians to impose sanctions on Iran and encouraged them to read The Satanic Verses. Rushdie then read a story of his, “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship.” Afterward, Dennys read a message from Minister of External Affairs Barbara McDougall, offering Rushdie the federal government’s support.

Rushdie was joined onstage by Ontario Premier Bob Rae, the first sitting leader in the Western world to publicly meet with the author since the fatwa. “Rae was youthful, friendly, blond, wore sneakers, and said he had agreed to come on stage at the benefit even though his wife was afraid he would be killed,” Rushdie later recalled. Noting that other political leaders seemed to be “terrified by an obscene edict from a fanatic sect in Iran,” Rae told Rushdie that “You are always welcome among us here in Ontario and Canada.”

Two days later, there were editorials in the Globe and Mail and the Star pushing the federal government to act. Both papers criticized Ottawa for seemingly being more interested in building trade with Iran than with censuring it for anti-democratic behaviour. The Globe suggested that cancelling the fatwa should be a condition of furthering the economic relationship. Star columnist Richard Gwyn felt the PEN event showcased the Bob Rae people had voted for: a classy, intelligent leader instead of a politician leading a gaffe-prone government. Pierre Berton used his Star column to urge a massive boycott of Iran, as otherwise “it means nothing that an evil old man can reach out beyond his country’s borders to invoke the death penalty against a citizen of a free country.”

Not everyone was impressed with Rushdie’s visit. McDougall received and promptly dismissed a letter from a Thornhill mosque which viewed the framing of Rushdie’s situation as a free speech issue hypocritical, given the alleged blasphemy against Islam and the recent deportation of holocaust-denying British historian David Irving. A letter from a University of Toronto student published in the Globe and Mail accusing Rushdie of religious intolerance and portraying his supporters as people who “lend legitimacy and credibility to his mockery of the belief system” sparked weeks of debate in the editorial pages.

In a letter published in the Star a year after his appearance, Rushdie wrote that the evening was “one of the most special moments of my life. When I walked on to the stage and felt that great wave of sympathy and support, it helped wash away the year of murderous hatred and the pain of the witch hunt.” He added that he was relieved that he had not experienced a single threat while in Canada, and he also praised Rae and McDougall for their support, as well as the House of Commons for unanimously passing a resolution condemning Iran.

“I send you my thanks,” he wrote, “and I send you my love.”

Additional material from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 11, 1992, and December 30, 1992 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the December 8, 1992, December 9, 1992, December 12, 1992, and December 16, 1993 editions of the Toronto Star. This story was suggested by Torontoist reader Patricia McCowan.

Vintage Toronto Ads: One For the “Cripples”

Originally published on Torontoist on September 25, 2007.

Vintage Ad #372: For the Cripples

Source: Toronto Life, October 1972.

Merriam-Webster defines “telethon” as “a long television program usually to solicit funds especially for a charity.” Almost from the dawn of broadcast television on both sides of the border, time has been set aside to urge viewers to support a long list of causes.

This tradition began in 1949, when a 16-hour telethon to raise money for the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund to fight cancer brought in just over a million dollars in pledges from viewers in New York City. The first national appeal came three years later, when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby urged people to dig into their pockets to support the 1952 U.S. Olympic squad.

In today’s more sensitive climate, the title of this telethon would not pass muster, as it conjures images of pitiable children hemmed in by their mobility devices and prosthetic body parts. The presentation of those helped by pledges has improved since 1972, though pathos-laden images of children in wheelchairs will survive as long as Jerry Lewis draws breath. This ad resists going for pathos, focusing instead on its nearly-all-Canadian lineup of guest performers (the exceptions being Mia Farrow and western TV star/youth leadership philanthropist Hugh O’Brian, the latter’s name spelled incorrectly).

1972 was a busy year in the telethon world, with several new ideas tried out. South of the border, the Democratic Party booked eighteen hours of airtime on ABC in July to help pay off debts racked up during that year’s presidential race, an idea hatched by former Kentucky Fried Chicken head/future governor of Kentucky John Y. Brown Jr. While some money was raised, the party still lost to Richard Nixon in the fall.

That September, a 30-hour telethon for the Committee for an Independent Canada served as both a method to provide support for the promotion of Canadian culture and economic interests and a final technical test for Toronto’s newest television station, channel 79 aka City-TV. Among the featured acts: Pierre Berton reading The Shooting of Dan McGrew and journalist Patrick Watson demonstrating how to make pancakes from bullrush pollen. Items up for bid ranged from boxing gloves used by George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali to Mel Lastman’s original Bad Boy convict suit (an item that deserves to be immortalized in a museum).