Vintage Toronto Ads: The Greatest Canadian of All Times Wants Your Vote

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2010.


The North Toronto Herald, June 3, 1955.

During the current municipal election campaign, some candidates have unveiled promotional materials that demonstrate just how ballsy they are about their ability to govern the city. But for sheer belief in one’s abilities, few can match perennial 1950s fringe candidate George Rolland. The self-styled “greatest Canadian of all times” (we thought that title belonged to Tommy Douglas) tried to gain access to City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill and failed each time. Today’s ad, and its listing of his diverse talents, made Rolland an irresistible choice to 317 voters in the riding of Eglinton during the provincial election of 1955.

The great man had two major liabilities. Number one was a massive ego which led to all kinds of narcissistic fantasies. Whenever he showed up at candidate meetings during his run for Toronto’s Board of Control in 1954, he brought along a display board covered in medals he won in athletic competitions, which he felt entitled him to be a controller. It was reported that he sat in the window of a store he once owned and had a spotlight directed upon himself. He wrote an endless stream of letters to City Hall and local newspapers to prove his genius. As for his belief in his musical genius, Star columnist Ron Haggart noted in a 1960 profile that “he said there had been no composers worthy of mention in the past 500 years (except himself) and he had redesigned the musical scale.”

Liability number two was not so easily dismissed: the man was a raving racist. In his 1954 platform, Rolland promised to introduce “racial segregation laws” that would “correct the inter-racial mixing menace that sweeps over the world today, and destroys the true meaning of Christianity and destroys the self-respect of all persons alike.” If enacted, Rolland’s laws would have applied to schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, residences, and so on. His dream of bringing a touch of South Africa to Toronto was greeted with boos during candidate gatherings. His racist leanings became more pronounced as time wore on, climaxing in a fiery appearance on the CBC TV show Live a Borrowed Life in September 1959. Instead of limiting himself to talking about his supposed expertise on Abraham Lincoln, Rolland told the panel that blacks should move to Africa to establish their own culture instead of battling discrimination.

Rolland filed nomination papers to run yet again for the Board of Control in November 1960. His campaign would have likely included a battle against the design of the new City Hall, as its curving towers were “alien” in concept and would, he claimed, cause a vortex that would transform light breezes into hurricane-strength winds. But Rolland never got to make any more stump speeches. On November 23, the deadline day for candidates to qualify or drop out of the race, Rolland died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six. His death almost sparked a crisis, as due to the rules of the day, a new nomination meeting had to be held no less than seven days before the election, on December 5. Such a meeting required six days notice in a newspaper. Time was tight and the spectre of holding a separate election for the Board of Control loomed. This scenario was avoided when the Star indicated it could slip the official notice into that evening’s paper. As Haggart noted a week later, “at City Hall, where they laughed cruelly at George Rolland, they had to take him seriously at last.”

Additional material from the November 25, 1954, December 4, 1954, September 10, 1959, November 23, 1960, and November 28, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.


gm 1955-12-05 rolland racist ad

Globe and Mail, December 5, 1955. One suspects the paper wouldn’t run such an ad today.

Checking my files, it appears I only used the Star‘s archive when I wrote this piece. So, when prepping this reprint, I browsed the Globe and Mail to see what they had to say about this great Canadian. I’m happy to report that they didn’t pull any punches in calling him out for what he was, especially near the end of his life.

Here’s a description of his appearance at a candidate’s meeting during his run for the Board of Control in 1954:

Candidate George Rolland had a number of reasons last night why he should be elected to the Board of Control.

Winding up a rapid-fire election speech before a large audience at Brown Public School, candidate Rolland went to a satchel and pulled out a bright blue vest weighted with medals.

“Just look at those,” he exclaimed to the crowd.

“Running medals, walking medals, wrestling medals, boxing medals and singing medals.”

He looked at the crowd for a moment.

“Folks, all that skill and all that co-ordination of action is yours if you vote for me December 6.”

Among some of Rolland’s other beliefs:

  • Viljo Revell’s design for City Hall wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand a snowstorm. “It may topple over before it is completed,” he wrote in a letter to City Council in 1958. “The building will be very dangerous and unsafe.”
  • Pedestrian crosswalks were “a guessing game” and should be abolished.

His appearance on Live a Borrowed Life provoked editorials in both the Globe and the Star. “Mr. Rolland’s record as a racial agitator is too well known for the CBC to plead ignorance of his offensive views,” the Globe and Mail observed. “It should have realized he would grasp the rare opportunity of a national network audience to present them.” The Star chalked the appearance up to “a producer’s boner,” and that the discussion of heavy issues like racism should occur in a weightier setting than a light entertainment panel show.

Also not impressed with Rolland’s CBC appearance was script assistant Janet Hosking, who watched at home while sick with pleurisy. “I sat and slowly died,” she recalled a few months later.

ts 60-11-24 death tipoff

Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.


The headline of Rolland’s Globe and Mail obit pretty much sums up his character. One wonders how he’d thrive in today’s political climate. I’d hate to see his website…

Additional material from the November 26, 1954, October 2, 1958, November 18, 1958, September 11, 1959,  January 7, 1960, and November 24, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 11, 1959 edition of the Toronto Star.

Tales from the 2010 Municipal Election Campaign


One of the campaign posters referred to in this post. College Street, near Palmerston, September 19, 2010.

Revisiting my back catalogue of work brings back plenty of pieces I’d forgotten I’d written. Case in point: I was more active covering the 2010 municipal campaign than I remembered. I knew I wrote my usual election tie-ins–old ads, Historicists about past campaigns, etc.–but not that I tackled the unfolding mayoral race.

My contribution was two installments of Torontoist’s weekly roundup of the mayor’s race, “Campaign Chronicle.” Here’s the first, originally published on September 25, 2010.

Note: the original versions had plenty of links that are no longer valid. It seems the Globe and Mail and the Star have done a good job of keeping their links the same over the past seven years, the National Post and Sun not so much.

Despite front-page rumours and calls for anyone with weak polling numbers to drop out, as of this writing, the five leading mayoral candidates are hanging in the race. George Smitherman is being positioned as the anti–Rob Ford figure for other candidates to coalesce around, but will anyone follow? The growing spectre of the Grim Reaper stalking several campaigns has lead to loopier, more attention-grabbing policies and advertising campaigns. With the week’s major polls indicating that at least a third of Toronto voters still can’t make up their mind, expect the hallucinatory experience this race has been so far to continue.

Ford’s rising popularity and the strong lead he showed in the Nanos poll as the week began left media outlets scrambling to figure out how somebody they loved painting as a buffoon has become, among decided voters, the leader of the pack. The Sun has settled into being his cheerleader, which reduces the odds of Ford sending out angry emails to his supporters about its coverage. Other city papers are breaking out their crystal balls to predict who will be the power brokers in a Ford administration and who will be in the opposition.

The endless series of mayoral debates (including the one we live-blogged) carries on, and fatigue may be starting to show as candidates become more selective about which gatherings merit their presence, or at least those where the audience will include some supporters. Case in point: the Toronto Environmental Alliance debate on September 23, where Ford made a pit stop before heading to a police retirement party, while Rossi didn’t appear at all. They missed a debate that moved beyond talking points and provided a juicy quote from Joe Pantalone.

Oh Yeah!
In a Globe and Mail article about local Red Tories perplexed as to why centre-right candidates aren’t leading in the polls, writer John McGrath notes that Ford has broken through the “high walls of the Liberal fortress” like “an angry pitcher of Kool Aid.” Come to think of it, Ford has turned as red as the walking sugary beverage on occasion…

Invitees Included the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Doormouse
In the wake of the Nanos poll Monday morning, conservative gadfly Ezra Levant declared Ford’s commanding lead to be “Toronto’s Tea Party!” Allusions to politics south of the border were carried on with the revelation of Ford’s red, white, and blue lawn signs.

Making Voters an Offer They Can Refuse
Speaking of signage, Rocco Rossi’s campaign unveiled its latest ad campaign, which plays upon the candidate’s Italian heritage to show him as the Don the city needs…and we’re not talking the river. The image of a “goodfella” staring out above a darkened city did not impress some members of the Italian community, as, even if Rossi meant the ads to be playful, the images do reinforce certain stereotypes. The campaign could have been different: “I was going to use ‘It doesn’t take great hair to be a great mayor,’ but then George Smitherman came into the race and I thought he would steal it,” Rossi told the Sun.

Let Bygones Be Bygones
Remember Giorgio Mammoliti? The all-over-the-political map councillor (Ward 7, York West) who filed a human rights complaint after Ford allegedly hurled a derogatory term for Italians at him during a council session? That incident appears to be water under the bridge as the former mayoral candidate announced his support for Ford on Wednesday. Mammoliti has inspired other reconciliations among former political enemies—rumour has it that Sir Francis Bond Head is now backing Rebelmayor’s campaign.

Mayoral Idol
When asked by the Star on Tuesday which mayors she admired, Thomson listed three she felt had “accomplished change.” Her idols are David Crombie (“brought youth and a fresh approach”), Michael Bloomberg (“brought in visionary city planning”), and Rudolph Giuliani (“cleaned up crime, homeless issue”).

Arts and Transit
This week’s report card assessment of municipal candidates was issued by ArtsVote. Less than half of those registered to run filled out the form. Downtown incumbents received higher grades than their suburban counterparts, fuelling the arguments of those looking for wedges between the core and outlying areas. Recommended for remedial class was Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), who received an F (“actively working against the arts”).

The right flank of council would likely receive failing grades if the Public Transit Coalition issued grades. The umbrella grouping of transit advocates and union members launched a media campaign on Monday to oppose the privatization of the TTC as proposed by four of the five mayoral frontrunners.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math
One of the areas of the campaign that has shown a high degree of creativity is number-crunching. The most extreme case of number rounding emerged from the Ford camp, which claimed the cost of adding bike lanes to Jarvis Street left taxpayers $6 million poorer. The city’s price tag on the project? $59,000.

Here’s the second installment I wrote, originally published on October 16, 2010 and which was also partly written by Hamutal Dotan.

With the departure of Rocco Rossi from the race Wednesday night, the designated frontrunner field slimmed down to three candidates this week (though uber-diehard supporters can relax in knowing that his name will still be on the ballot). Whether you thought Rossi brought a touch of class to the race or scratched your head at his latest attention-grabbing tactic, his exit from the race will rob it of some of its colour. Be prepared in the next week for more calls to embrace strategic voting, likely for George Smitherman at the expense of Joe Pantalone and the other candidates still hoping to sit in the mayor’s chair. And who knows: perhaps those calls for strategic voting may cause some of us to start looking more seriously at alternative forms of balloting, such as RaBIT, and pressuring the province to implement it in time for our next go-round in 2014.

So, what happened this week?

Follow the Bouncing Poll
At least two polls gained media attention this week. An Ipsos-Reid/CFRB poll released on Wednesday showed Smitherman (31%) and Ford (30%) neck-and-neck, with Pantalone and Rossi bringing up the rear. A Forum Research poll released on Friday post–Rossi exit showed Ford back on top with a six-point lead. Though samples in both cases were small, the key battleground in each poll was the still-sizable contingent of undecided voters, which was in the 16–25% range. With numbers like these, it’s still anybody’s guess what the end result will be.

The Week in Rob Ford Controversies
While his face stared at voters from the cover of Maclean’s, Rob Ford was sued for $6 million by Boardwalk Pub owner George Foulidis after the candidate refused to apologize for suggesting the restaurant owner bribed city officials to gain a vending contract from the city. Tuesday morning found a series of signs erected in the median of University Avenue which declared in stark black and white: “Wife-beating racist drunk for mayor!” The signs, placed by an anonymous person ticked off at the course of the election campaign, were promptly removed.

In an interview with Dandyhorse magazine, Ford noted that bicycle issues had become too political and compared the debates about cycling infrastructure to the battles over abortion.

Now That You’ve Dropped Out of the Race, Where Would Like to Go?
For Rossi, the answer isn’t Disneyland but Spain, where he will spend up to three weeks on a hiking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Former Mayors Weigh In
The number of former mayors of Toronto offering their endorsements grew this week when Art Eggleton followed John Sewell’s lead and offered his support to George Smitherman after the candidate’s speech at the Toronto Board of Trade on Friday. We have yet to hear from David Crombie, June Rowlands, or Barbara Hall, but we do know that somebody claiming to be Mel Lastman isn’t a fan of Ford’s. As far as other endorsements went, Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) sent his regrets to Pantalone and lent his support to Smitherman, while John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) officially backed Ford.

Report Cards
The Toronto Environmental Alliance issued their final grades, which showed a clear split among candidates in their stands on green policies, if only because half of the frontrunners bothered to fill out the survey. Smitherman and Pantalone earned top scores, while the absentee Rossi and Ford flunked for not even pretending to care.

The Secret of Rob Ford’s Success?
According to an article in today’s Globe and Mailhis post-industrial gut. The same article postulates that David Miller was out of touch with Torontonians because of his weight loss. Thoughtful analysis at its best, ladies and gentlemen.

adventure rob ford cover

One of the memes of the 2010 campaign involved a picture of Rob Ford experiencing issues with an umbrella. Torontoist republished a pile of pics, including this one I created using the cover of Adventure Comics #425 (original art by Michael Kaluta).

On my own blog (originally published on October 28, 2010), I wrote my thoughts about election night, including how I wanted to throw the radio out the window when Sue-Anne Levy gloated about Ford’s victory. 

So here we are, just a little over a month before Rob Ford officially assumes the duties of Mayor of Toronto. Based on the numbers from Monday night, there were slightly more people walking around Tuesday with long faces (or nursing hangovers) than those giddy at the prospect of derailing the gravy train (and nursing hangovers). The results capped a campaign where anger reigned supreme and both candidates and voters did their best to imitate the Incredible Hulk.


I admit it. I drew a line to connect the two stumps of arrow next to Joe Pantalone’s name. Not my ideal candidate, but as the sort-of-stand-in for the outgoing administration, I could live with myself if I voted for him.
Neither Ford nor George Smitherman were enticing prospects. The only thing I discerned all along from the former provincial cabinet minister’s campaign was that he was running for mayor just to become mayor. Give Ford credit: his policies were unpalatable, but there was no question about where he stood. Smitherman’s vagueness allowed him to swing toward the right side of the spectrum when Ford gained momentum, then swing back toward the middle when he became the anointed lead for the anyone-but-Ford brigade…though Smitherman’s swings weren’t as wild, or bizarre, as Rocco Rossi’s.

The notion that voting for Smitherman was a must-do in order to prevent a Ford victory sealed my decision. I’ve never been impressed with strategic voting and its tendency to backfire (remember Buzz Hargrove’s attempts to corral votes in certain directions?). The concept encourages negativity as voters are directed to vote for someone just to prevent a more odious candidate from winning rather than cast a ballot for anyone more aligned with your belief system or who serves as a lesser evil than the designated lesser evil. It’s human nature that we don’t like being told what we should do, which affected my decision and may have swayed other angry voters to the Ford camp (I admit being one who relished insulting Ford for being a buffoon without thinking about the boomerang effect).

While David Miller made missteps, he was nowhere near the anti-christ figure he was made out to be in some circles (hello Toronto Star!). I still admire his positive energy and sense of care for the city. While driving through Leslieville on Saturday, I noticed Miller on the sidewalk outside Bonjour Brioche. I almost yelled out the window something praiseworthy, like “the city’s going to miss you” or “thanks for seven great years.”


I sat down at my computer just before CBC Radio started its coverage at 8 on election night. Besides natural curiosity over how the night would unfold, I intended to help supply the Torontoist live feed with anything interesting that floated across the airwaves. Within twelve minutes of the polls closing Ford was declared the victor.

It hadn’t been a good day generally (for election- and non-election related reasons), but hearing Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Anne Levy sound oh-so-smug as her paper’s poster boy cruised to victory was more than I could take. I got up and yelled at the radio “Oh, f@*k off, Levy!” (possibly with more unprintable words), then rushed over to turn it off. Had the window been open, it might have been the end of my long-time waker-upper.

Sensing I needed to cool down and get some air to regain perspective, I decided it wasn’t worth getting any angrier by sending off more missives. I closed my email, tossed on a pair of pants, flipped the radio back on (luckily Levy had moved on) and waited a few minutes before heading out for a stroll down Bayview with Sarah. We pondered the consequences of the vote and tried to find silver linings amid the gloom that most of our acquaintances reported as they heard the results. The street was quiet, with only a few souls walking or dining. Televisions in bars were fixed on football. Mannequins in store windows offered no comment on the night’s proceedings. The walk provided the calming atmosphere I needed to come back to Earth.


So far, we’ve learned that interviews with our new mayor and football practice don’t mix, streetcars aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, and rumours are floating of nepotism among candidates for the new executive committee. Opponents and pundits are slowly recovering from their shock to figure out how to ride out the next four years. Should progressives tone down the insults that didn’t work during the campaign and find respectful, constructive ways to reach out to and understand the anger of voters who chose Ford? Should they find every means possible to convincingly counter the inevitable gaffes that so far have increased Ford’s appeal? Pray our new mayor commits a snafu so bad that council turfs him? Embrace the quasi-apocalyptic visions predicted during the campaign and wait to rebuild the city after 2014? Keep fighting the good fight at grassroots/community level? Flee to Calgary?

Life rolls along. We’ll survive, one way or another.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

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

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.


The Globe, May 12, 1883.

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

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.


The Leaside Story, 1958.

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

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

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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

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

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

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

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

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

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: Booted by a Billboard

Originally published on Torontoist on October 7, 2008.


Election billboard for Liberal candidates Lionel Conacher and John A. MacVicar, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089,

Most of the election signs currently lining the streets of the city stick to identifying local candidates and their party colours. Commentary on the other candidates is rarely seen on lawn signs, while billboards tend to be the domain of lobbyists. This was not the case during the Ontario provincial race in 1948, when passers-by got an eyeful of what the opposition thought of the government.

The Rich Uncle Pennybags character getting the boot was Premier George Drew, whose victory over the Liberals in 1943 launched the Progressive Conservatives’ 42-year run in office. Attempting to give George the boot was one of the Grits’ star candidates, Lionel “Big Train” Conacher. “Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century” entered politics after his hockey and football careers wound down, starting with a stint as MPP for the long-gone Toronto riding of Bracondale from 1937 until his defeat in 1943 by Ontario’s second female MPP, Rae Luckock of the CCF (forerunner of the NDP).


Election billboard for Progressive Conservative candidates George Drew and Dana Porter, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089, item 2863.

The Tories countered with billboards using a sober portrait of Drew. Note the hint of a heavenly aura.

After the ballots were counted on June 7, the Progressive Conservatives won 53 of 90 seats, a drop of 13. Drew lost his own riding, High Park, to the CCF’s William Temple, a temperance crusader largely responsible for protecting The Junction’s dry status. Temple felt his victory was “a personal rebuke to the arrogant and dictatorial handling of public affairs by Mr. Drew. It is proof that his labelling as a ‘Communist’ everyone who disagrees with him no longer frightens the people of High Park.” Drew proved Temple’s accusation in a speech given after the opposition parties conceded, warning that the rise in the CCF vote (the party went from 8 to 21 seats) marked the “insidious, vile, poisonous encroachment of Communism,” and that Ontario voters should not be surprised if events similar to the recent Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia occurred. You be the judge whether Drew reflected period Red Scare fears or expressed sour grapes over his loss and the CCF’s new status as the official opposition.

With his personal defeat, Drew stepped down as premier and entered federal politics. By the end of 1948 he was leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa, losing twice to Louis St. Laurent before his retirement in 1956. His career wound down with a six-year stint as the first Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

The Liberals’ 14 seats did not include Conacher or John A. MacVicar, as both were defeated by the Tories. Like Drew, Conacher tossed his hat in the federal ring and was elected as an MP the following year. Conacher served Trinity as an MP until his death from a heart attack during a parliamentary softball game in 1954.

Additional material from the June 8, 1948 editions of The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.