1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 7: See the New Cookery Methods and Latest Fashions

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

And so (after a long hiatus for this series), we roll into day 3 of the Mail and Empire‘s cooking school and fashion revue.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

A sampling of the prizes used to entice readers to attend the cooking demonstrations.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of the styles displayed during the fashion revue.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933.

Beyond the reminders to attend the cooking school, regular content carried on. In this case, recipes for crepes suzettes and mayo.

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Mail and Empire, April 6, 1933. Click on image for larger version.

A full page of recipes, alongside ads for the cooking school’s suppliers. The Acme Farmers Dairy plant was located on Walmer Road south of Casa Loma. After a succession of ownership changes, the plant closed in 1986 and was replaced with housing. Pickering Farms was acquired by Loblaws in 1954.

Mrs. Shockley was rolling in endorsements during her stay in Toronto. On April 6 alone, besides these two ads, she also pitched Mazola Corn Oil and Parker’s Cleaners.

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Anchora of Delta Gamma, January 1932.

Sidebar: a contemporary biography of Katherine Caldwell Bayley (1889-1976), aka Ann Adam. Beyond what’s mentioned here, she also wrote several cookbooks as Ann Adam or whatever house names her clients used. Based in Toronto, she ran Ann Adam Homecrafters, a consulting agency which operated through the 1960s. Among her assistants was Helen Gagen, who later became food editor of the Telegram.

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The Globe, February 21, 1935.

An ad for one of Bayley’s regular radio gigs. CKGW, which was owned by Gooderham and Worts distillery, was leased by the forerunner of the CBC around 1933 and changed its call letters to CRCT. On Christmas Eve 1937 it became CBL.

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Bayley’s first “Today’s Food” column for the Globe and Mail, September 24, 1942.

When the Mail and Empire merged with the Globe in November 1936, Bayley’s columns were not carried over. Six years passed before she joined the Globe and Mail as a daily food columnist on “The Homemaker Page.”

Her reintroduction stressed the realities of wartime home economics. “This daily column is designed to help you with the sometimes rather complicated problem of adjusting your cooking and meal-planning to the regulations necessary in a country at war,” the page editor wrote in the September 25, 1942 edition. “Some foods are rationed; some are no longer obtainable, and of others we are asked voluntarily to reduce our consumption. All this, and the effort, in spite of it, to increase, rather than decrease our physical efficiency to enable us to fill wartime jobs, involves more careful catering for our families and a skillful use of substitutes.”

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Globe and Mail, February 27, 1963.

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Globe and Mail, December 31, 1964.

Bayley’s final G&M column received no fanfare elsewhere in the paper, but went out in a partying mood.

Back to the cooking school…

 

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By April 7, the cooking school was front page advertorial copy…um…news.

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Mail and Empire, April 7, 1933.

Next: the cooking school wrap-up.

Vintage Toronto Ads: D-Day

As the reprints of older Vintage Toronto Ads columns wind down, this is the first in a new, occasional series. 

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Front page, Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

As Canadians participated in the D-Day invasion, newspaper advertisers expressed their feelings, hopes, and prayers about its outcome. Here is a sampling of some of those ads, as published in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Simpson’s department store suspended its normal sale ads for several days, starting on D-Day with a full-page prayer taken from Francis Drake’s attack against the Spanish at Cadiz in spring 1587.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

Near Simpson’s Queen Street flagship, the public gathered for a prayer meeting outside (Old) City Hall. Elsewhere in the city, schools held special assemblies, and all Anglican churches prepared for special services at 8 p.m. that evening. St. Michael’s Cathedral reported people streaming into the church as early as 7 a.m., many of whom were wives and children of soldiers serving in Europe. Special services were also scheduled at several war productions plants, including Massey Harris and, out in Malton, Victory Aircraft.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Simpson’s followed up the prayer ad with two spotlighting leaders of the invasion. There was also an invasion-tinged full page spot marking King George VI’s official birthday celebration, even though his actual 49th birthday wasn’t until December.

By contrast, rival Eaton’s continued with their normal advertising, only adding an invitation published on June 6 from Mayor Frederick Conboy to attend a civic prayer service in front of City Hall two days later.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944.

For regular updates on the invasion, moviegoers could catch the latest at the Uptown and Loew’s (now the Elgin) theatres on Yonge Street.

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Toronto Star, June 7, 1944.

Radio listeners could follow CBC’s invasion coverage. CJBC, the flagship station of the CBC’s recently formed Dominion Network, swapped frequencies with CFRB in 1948 and moved to 860 AM.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

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Globe and Mail, June 9, 1944.

Two examples of ads from the business community.

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Globe and Mail, June 7, 1944.

A listing of some of the Ontario residents who took part in the invasion.

Finally, a pair of editorials: one from the city, one from an outlying area.

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Toronto Star, June 6, 1944

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Orono Weekly Times, June 8, 1944.

1933 Mail and Empire Women’s Pages 2: Happy Marshmallow Day!

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

While March 3 did not catch on as a national observance celebrating the wonders of marshmallows in Canada, you can celebrate the toasted version of this sugary treat every August 30!

Also, hands up whoever has seen “mm” as shorthand for marshmallow in a recipe.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

After indulging in all those marshmallow recipes, a basket of vitamin-rich food may be required. It may also be a quiet reminder that winter was nearing its end, and fresher vegetables were not far away.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

“Do You Know This Utensil” was a weekly feature which introduced handy products for any 1930s kitchen, such as this dust pan which saved the day for any klutzes who dropped ingredients for their appetizing hot bread on the floor.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

Note the presence of Rice Krispies in the last recipe, which were still a relatively new product when this paper was published. Introduced to store shelves in 1928, their mascots Snap, Crackle and Pop made their advertising debut in 1933. It was several more years before the recipe for Rice Krispie Squares/Treats was unleashed on the public.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

And now, a few words from our sponsors.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

Four suggestions for celery-based soups. The title plays upon the notion of celery as a nerve-calmer, which had resulted in numerous celery-based drinks marketed around the turn of the 20th century. One of the few modern survivors is New York deli staple Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray. I’ve tried it several times and haven’t enjoyed it (this from somebody who loves old school sodas like spruce beer). I understand the concept and how Cel-Ray could pair nicely with some form of cured meat, but I suspect I’d be happier if there was a salty, pickle-based drink.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

It’s doubtful that Loblaws will revive its short lived mascots Cash and Carrie for the chain’s 100th anniversary this year.

Onto the second page…

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933. 

…and more cake recipes.

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Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

As gossip is “the child of laziness” that is “adopted by people who don’t think,” what weighty matters of the world shall we discuss while sticking a fork into a piece of tuna and celery souffle?

Aside: if any of you are tempted to try any of the recipes featured in this series, let me know. Send pictures, reviews, etc.

me 1933-03-03 page 11 is your child's diet a thief ad

Mail and Empire, March 3, 1933.

I wasn’t kidding when I said last time that underweight children were going to be a recurring advertising concern. As funny as this ad seems with its bizarre-looking nutrient deficiency crook, child malnutrition was a serious concern during this era.

As for the radio stations which carried the “VIP Broadcast,” both evolved into today’s CBC — CKGW (named after its owner, Gooderham and Worts) is the ancestor of today’s CBLA, while CKNC (run by the Canadian National Carbon Company) would become CJBC.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Wally’s World

Originally published on Torontoist on August 5, 2008.

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Toronto Life, September 1974.

Cow herds and invalids were among the radio listeners that spent over 10,000 mornings waking up with Wally Crouter. His run as CFRB’s morning man from 1946 to 1996 saw his comforting style stay afloat in the ratings against competitors like top 40 radio and shock jocks.

Crouter (1923-2016) felt that one of the keys to his long run was creating a comfort zone for listeners to ease themselves into the new day, without bringing up divisive subjects like sex, politics, and religion. In an interview with The Globe and Mail upon his retirement in 1996, he noted that:

I always tried to put myself in the place of the listener…it’s the most personal time of the day. The radio is on while you’re doing your morning ablutions, getting dressed, having breakfast with the kids coming to the table…I’ve had a surgeon write me to tell me that, when he had three serious operations to do in a day, he started off by listening to my show so he could achieve the right relaxation and focus he needed.

Crouter’s sidekicks in 1974 included reporters Jack Dennett and Bob Hesketh, sportscaster Bill Stephenson, and Henry Shannon with traffic reports from “the CFRB Twin Comanche.”

Additional material from the November 1, 1996 edition of the Globe and Mail.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Given the length of Crouter’s career, you’d expect that there would be plenty of ads to track its evolution. You’d be right. Here’s a sampling of them…

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Globe and Mail, September 4, 1948.

CFRB swapped frequencies with CJBC (then an English language station belonging to CBC’s Dominion Network — it would switch to full-time French programming in 1964) on September 1, 1948. The move was prompted when CBC decided in 1946 that all class 1-A radio frequencies in Canada would be reserved for the public broadcaster, which meant booting CFRB and several other private stations from their spots on the dial. It wasn’t the first time CBC had forced CFRB to move; in 1941, CFRB vacated 690 to allow space for Montreal’s CBF.

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Globe and Mail, September 1, 1948. Click on image for larger version.

After settling on 1010 as its future home, CFRB successfully negotiated to make its new frequency a 50,000 W powerhouse. The move cost the station $500,000, including a new transmitter in Clarkson (now part of Mississauga). Because of two other stations located at 1010 (New York’s WINS and a CBC transmitter at Lacombe, Alberta), CFRB had to use a directional signal which made reception ultra-powerful in Toronto.

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Globe and Mail, November 16, 1970.

From a 1970 Globe and Mail profile of Toronto’s morning radio men:

Wally Crouter is the king of morning radio. An unlikely king, too. Wrinkled, dishevelled, as casual as a sandwich, he looks a bit like Tennessee Ernie Ford. Or is it Ernie Kovacs? He is the king because he makes the most money and has the most listeners, and the key to it all is that CFRB’s Crouter looks and sounds the way most of us feel at that time of day.

“I don’t push people. I carry on a conversation with the listener. You can’t talk down to them and you can’t talk up to them—you have to talk at a level with them. Some of the guys shout, ‘Well, c’mon, it’s time to get up.’ I figure the guy’s intelligent enough to get up by himself. Besides, his wife’s probably bitching at him anyway, so why should I cause further aggravation?”

At the time, Crouter’s show drew 156,000 listeners, Runner-up Jay Nelson (1050 CHUM) drew 74,000.

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Globe and Mail, July 27, 1971.

Based on the illustration, I picture Billy Van in a live action television commerical of this ad campaign.

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Globe and Mail, April 26, 1973.

Once upon a time, radio hosts conducted interviews with celebrities at downtown department stores.

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Maclean’s, June 13, 1977.

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Globe and Mail, September 22, 1979.

Besides Crouter, CFRB personality Earl Warren also operated a travel agency.

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Maclean’s, February 25, 1980.

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1982.

Like any good local celebrity, Crouter had recipes to share with newspaper readers.

An interview with Wally Crouter from 1987. As CFRB’s format moved away from the old full service model towards a modern news/talk operation, Crouter remained atop the morning ratings. Regarding the changes, “I think we’re anxious to dispel the idea that it’s an old station for people,” he told the Globe and Mail. “I’m right with them. I’ve always thought it was essential to be vitally involved in the community and kept up with the times, but somehow that reputation as an old person’s station haunts us. For years we’ve played Big Band music, and I still enjoy hearing Tommy Dorsey, but like anyone else, I can only take it for so long before I want to hear something new.”

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Maclean’s, December 14, 1992.

From a 1992 Toronto Star profile:

Radio legends are a dime a dozen. Most, I can attest, are legends in their own minds, super-characters that exist only in the ether, in sealed studio chambers, in electric currents and radio waves.

Crouter is different. At work in the studio between 5.30 a.m. and 9 every day, he’s relaxed, composed, even nonchalant. After 45 years in the same slot, of course, the rhythm and pace of the show are second nature to him. He wanders about CFRB’s halls, in the slices of time dedicated to news, traffic and sports reports, commercials, contests, promotions, and commentary, making coffee, chatting to coworkers, collecting mail and messages, answering phone calls, cornering station executives in their offices for a quick word or two . . . and ambles back to the microphone mere nano-seconds, it seems, before he’s due on air again.

“It surprises some people when I tell them I do no preparation, none at all,” he said. “This show’s about what’s happening, what’s unfolding. You can’t prepare for it. And it makes every day different. It’s never boring.”

star 1996-10-11 crouter retirement ad

Toronto Star, October 11, 1996. Click on image for larger version.

Crouter ended his show on the 50th anniversary of his debut. His final on-air words were “Forget yesterday. Think about tomorrow, but live today. Thank you.”

Additional material from the February 7, 1970 and February 19, 1987 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 1, 1948, October 25, 1992, and November 2, 1996 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Original Blue Jays Advertisers

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on March 25, 2015.

“One of the most pleasant tasks for me as we are entering the 1977 baseball season,” wrote commissioner Bowie Kuhn in his introductory letter to Blue Jays fans, “ is to welcome all of you to the Major League Baseball family. Major League Baseball is exceedingly proud to include Toronto, one of the great cities of the world, within its ranks.”

Great way to stroke the egos of Torontonians aching to be seen as residents of a world-class city, eh?

Accompanying Kuhn’s letter in the inaugural Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazinewas one from American League President Lee MacPhail:

Now the youthful Blue Jays are off and flying on their own and it will be an exciting experience watching the development of this team. Your outstanding ownership and management will be working constantly toward building the contending baseball team that all Blue Jay fans will be proud of. Enjoy this first season of Major League Baseball at CNE Stadium. It will be fun. And the years ahead will be increasingly enjoyable.

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CBC sent 26 people to cover the Blue Jays’ inaugural spring training in Dunedin, Florida. The network’s plans included an hour-long special to introduce the team, along with feature segments on The National and 90 Minutes Live. To mark its 25th anniversary that fall CBLT rebranded itself as “CBC Toronto,” a move which the Globe and Mail declared was “an admission of defeat in a campaign that’s gone on for years, to give CBLT an identity as a Toronto local station, not just a network outlet.”

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Around 100 members of the Toronto media attended spring training, including CFRB’s trio of sports reporters. Blue Jays manager Roy Hartsfield didn’t mind the distraction. “I’d much rather have it this way,” he told the Globe and Mail, “then the other way with no reporters at all.”

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CKFH, whose primary format in 1977 was country music, served as the Blue Jays’ original flagship radio station. Sixteen other stations, including one in Buffalo, signed on to carry games. Calling the games was a Hall of Fame duo: Tom Cheek on play-by-play and Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn on colour. Before joining the Jays, Cheek spent three seasons as an alternate radio announcer for the Montreal Expos. Wynn lasted through 1980, and was replaced the following year by Jerry Howarth. Apart from a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s when CHUM held the rights, CFKH and its successor CJCL (Fan 590) has remained the team’s radio home.

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Pizza Pizza’s signature phone number still wasn’t in place a decade after its original location at Parliament and Wellesley opened in 1967. Before becoming ubiquitous, Pizza Pizza earned praise for its pies. In a taste test of eight pizzerias conducted by the Star in June 1971, Pizza Pizza came in second: “Pizza Pizza raises its standing with style. The pie arrives in a box that’s zippered into an insulated black bag. The deliveryman uncased it with words like ‘Here is your delicious Pizza Pizza. Enjoy it in good health.’ Their motto, ‘When you think of pizza, think of pizza twice,’ is also catchy. It is expensive with “the works”—a dollar more than any of the others. It was also the largest by several inches and easily the best-looking entrant.”

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George’s Spaghetti House was a fixture of the Toronto jazz scene for decades. Founded by Doug Cole in 1956, its booker was multi-instrumentalist Moe Koffman. Bourbon Street was a sister club which operated during the 1970s and 1980s. Playing at George’s this week in 1977 was trumpeter Sam Noto. Worn out from playing assembly line style gigs in Las Vegas during the first half of the 1970s, Noto relocated his family to Toronto. “Not only does he rank it as the jazz centre of North America,” Frank Rasky wrote in the Star, “but it’s the city that has enabled him to double his income, so that he now earns $44,000 a year. So it’s little wonder that his jazz creations sound so jubilant.”

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With its proximity to Exhibition Stadium, Ontario Place may have seemed like an excellent spot for families to prepare for the game ahead or unwind after the final out.

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Foster Pontiac Buick was among the local car dealers who advertised in the debut scorebook. One of the earliest dealerships to establish itself in postwar Scarborough, Foster switched its affiliation from General Motors to Kia around 2009. After over 60 years at Sheppard and Warden, the dealership moved to Markham Road in 2015.

We’d also like to note the recent passing of outfielder Gary Woods, who was part of the Blue Jays’ opening day lineup on April 7, 1977. Woods talked to the Star about the first season several years later:

I remember the snow on the field and I remember Doug Ault [who hit the franchise’s first home run just before Woods stepped up to the plate] and I remember the excitement in the city. I was a young ballplayer very excited to be part of a building experience. It was a really neat feeling. But of course we played like an expansion team and I played like a guy who wasn’t quite ready for the major leagues.

All images taken from Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine Volume 1, Number 17 (1977). Additional material from the March 21, 1977 and September 15, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 5, 1971, April 2, 1977, and October 8, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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A full ad for Ontario Place, which notes there were 10 restaurants to choose from. No mention of little Grozki.

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The “internationally famous” seafood platter from Fishermans Wharf was a staple of Toronto tourism magazines for decades. What visitor couldn’t resist a massive plate of overpriced crustaceans and other delights from the deep garnished with a lemon wedge?

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Globe and Mail, December 23, 1972.

When Fishermans Wharf opened in late 1972, it was featured in Mary Walpole’s advertorial dining column in the Globe and Mail. I’m curious to find out (whenever time’s available) to see if Walpole’s claim is true that the restaurant hired the city’s first female maitre d’.

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Globe and Mail, February 24, 1973.

Walpole regularly featured Fishermans Wharf in her column during its early years. Over the course of its early months, she updated readers on the construction of the restaurant’s oyster bar and touted its luxury liner qualities.

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Globe and Mail, December 17, 1977.

The only newspaper ad I found for Fishermans Wharf from 1977, spotlighting its New Years celebration. There’s that platter again!

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Globe and Mail, January 7, 1978.

At this time, Walpole continued to tout its ship-like qualities, but fails to mention the maitre d’ or chef Niki – perhaps both had set sail by this point.

A callout on social media didn’t produce any recollections from anyone who might have eaten there. The restaurant survived into the 21st century, ending its days on the south end of Church Street.

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Star Week, June 5, 1971.

The Star‘s random pizza test that placed Pizza Pizza in second place. Its current incarnation is one of the last things that I would enjoy in good health. Besides Pizza Pizza, Vesusvio’s is still turning out pies in The Junction.

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Globe and Mail, March 21, 1977.

A note on CBLT’s coverage of the Jays’ first training camp.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Alex Trebek

Originally published on Torontoist on July 15, 2015.

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Toronto Life, July 1972.

A sunny day on a Toronto rooftop, 1972. CBC Radio’s roster of local announcers gathers for a summery, stylish photoshoot. Sitting in a deck chair front and centre is CBL’s morning man, a dashing host who, though barely into his 30s, has a decade of experience with the broadcaster. Looking far more casual than anyone else in the picture (with the exception of the guy in the green shirt in the back), Alex Trebek possesses the aura of a person ready to go places.

Trebek assumed morning duties at CBL-AM in October 1971, after 23-year veteran Bruce Smith moved to the afternoon drive shift. The new host was described by the Globe and Mail as “a dashing bilingual bachelor, who can be expected to show more bounce than Bruce favoured, and thus to be more like his competitors on commercial stations.” Trebek’s show, I’m Here Till 9 (so titled because the show ran from 5 to 9 a.m.), was part of the “Information Radio” revamp of CBC which included new programs like Peter Gzowski’s This Country in the Morning.

Globe and Mail critic Blaik Kirby felt Trebek’s show didn’t live up to its promise of providing information, especially during its final two hours. “The most important part of the show has consisted almost entirely of alternating records and commercials, with a few pleasant words from Trebek to separate them,” Kirby observed. Producer Fred Augerman’s solution was to rely less on clips syndicated to all CBC stations in favour of local contributors specializing in entertainment beats.

The attempt to echo commercial radio didn’t work, as CBL’s ratings in the time slot slipped from the Smith era. Yet thanks to the growing popularity of Gzowski’s show, which followed Trebek, the station snuck into third place behind CFRB and CHUM.

After a year on the air, the axe fell on Trebek. In October 1972, the network announced it would convert all of its local early morning shows to a harder news format. “We’ve got new marching orders,” an unnamed CBC official told the Star. “We’ve changed the rules on Trebek, but he’s not to blame.” Another labelled the directive as a sign the network was “going back to the eighteenth century, in search of an audience that isn’t there any more.” Trebek would remain on the air through the end of the year.

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 Globe and Mail, October 27, 1971.

The decision irritated Trebek. “I was a little cheesed off,” he told the Globe and Maila month after the announcement. “They came up with a new format last year, a format I liked and felt reasonably sure I could operate in and now they’ve decided that’s not what they should be doing. I think they’re wrong getting away completely from what they’ve been doing.”

At the time, Trebek lived alone in a three-storey home on George Street, close to the CBC studios. Asked about his romantic life, he noted he was too busy pursuing his career “to have a stable, emotional relationship with anyone.” He joked that whenever he mentioned on air where he’d been the night before, women he dated speculated who he’d been with: “That’s why I end up going lots of places alone.”

Trebek intended to take it easy following his final broadcast on December 29, 1972, planning to ski and work on a chalet he was building near Collingwood. He still had his hosting duties on the teen quiz show Reach for the Top, and had four pending offers for television shows. One he accepted was an American game show called The Wizard of Odds. Though it only lasted a year, that series launched Trebek’s long association with the genre stateside, culminating in his 30-plus-year run emceeing Jeopardy!

As for the radio slot Trebek left behind, George Rich served as interim host until the new format was ready. Launched with veteran newsman Bruce Rogers as host on April 2, 1973, the new show was initially known as Tomorrow is Here. Within a year, it settled upon the name it currently goes by: Metro Morning.

Additional material from the October 4, 1971, October 25, 1971, October 7, 1972, and November 25, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the February 18, 1972, October 6, 1972, and January 4, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Black’s

Originally published on Torontoist on June 10, 2015.

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Globe and Mail, November 28, 1966.

“Black’s is Photography.” Or at least it was until yesterday, when Telus announced that it will shut the chain’s 59 remaining stores by August 8. A spokesperson blamed the 85-year-old brand’s demise on changing technology and the costs associated with making its recent revamp succeed.

Perhaps Telus, who has owned the chain since 2009, heeded advice Eddie Black gave his sons: “Don’t hang in too long.”

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One of the earliest ads to mention Eddie Black’s. The Globe, October 19, 1931.

Black’s traced its origins to 1930, when Eddie Black used a $500 loan from his parents (who owned a grocery store at Spadina and Lonsdale in Forest Hill) to open a radio and appliance shop at 1440 Yonge Street. Nine years later, sensing public interest in photography on the eve of the royal visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, he began carrying a small selection of cameras. The first batch sold out quickly.

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Globe and Mail, October 22, 1949.

When Eddie decided to open a larger store several doors north at 1424 Yonge, his eldest sons Bill and Bob proposed selling fishing gear, guns, and photographic equipment out of the old location. Eddie agreed, setting them up with a loan to launch those lines under his name in 1948. Within a year, the store dropped its outdoors goods. Besides retailing, the brothers offered lectures in their basement and ran equipment shows.

Sixty years later, Bob Black described the environment in which he began selling photographic equipment:

When we first started our store, the cameras were almost painful to use because they were so complicated. You had to focus, cock the shutter, set the lens opening and speed, set your flash, and figure out the proper distance. Photography often required a tripod. If you had slides, you needed slide trays, a projector, and a screen. Movies needed splicers, reels, and cans. Picture taking was a lot more than just the push of a button as it is today. Our timing, however, was perfect. In less than a decade, the camera went from being a specialty item to a common family purchase.

From the beginning, Black’s made good use of advertising. It sponsored a show on CFRB, “Black’s Camera Club of the Air,” which dispensed advice and previewed new products. Pitchmen included humourist Henry Morgan and Front Page Challengehost Fred Davis. The “Black’s is Photography” campaign developed by Saffer Advertising in the early 1980s used Martin Short to get that point across. Many of the ads featuring Short were improvised and sometimes mistakes made it into the final product, such as the time a spooked St. Bernard dragged the comedian across the set. It wasn’t the only time Black’s dealt with animal shenanigans; during an ad shoot at Bayview Village in the late 1970s, an elephant was depicted twirling a roll of film with its trunk before dropping it off with a clerk. “The elephant crapped all over the floor,” Bill Black later remembered.

Expansion into a chain began during the 1950s. Its fourth store, opened at Eglinton Square in 1954, launched its association with malls and plazas. There were hiccups along the way—the company was targeted by the federal government in 1962 over the definition of “regular” price under the recently passed Combines Investigation Act.

One of Black’s innovations was enlarging the standard size of photo prints. Up through the mid-1970s, customers usually picked up 3.5×5 prints. Sensing competition from instant cameras, management decided it needed something to set them apart. The answer was a larger 4×6 photo. When Black’s contacted Kodak to build a custom printer, they were told such machines would only be able to produce the new size. Introduced in 1977, the larger prints took off, eventually becoming the industry norm.

By the mid-1980s, a dozen members of the Black family worked for the company. They sensed the time was right to sell due to record profits, no debts, and private fears about how digital technology would affect the business. The 105-store chain was sold for $100 million to Scott’s Hospitality, which owned franchises for Kentucky Fried Chicken (“Scott’s Chicken Villa”) and Holiday Inn. The new owners doubled the number of stores to 210, and launched a short-lived foray into the United States. Subsequent owners included Fuji Film (1993-2007) and private equity firm ReichmannHauer (2007-2009).

When Telus picked up Black’s, by then reduced to 113 locations, for $28 million in 2009, it was to boost its shopping-mall presence in the wake of rival Bell’s purchase of The Source. “There’s a convergence going on between wireless and photography and Black’s is particularly well suited to take advantage of that,” Telus executive Robert McFarlane told the Globe and Mail. But adapting to the rapid changes in digital technology and how people display and store images proved too much of a challenge. A recent revamp, which included ditching the apostrophe from the chain’s name, increased profitability, but was deemed too pricey an initiative to succeed.

Black’s will soon be a memory, like those it long boasted of preserving among its customers.

Additional material from Picture Perfect: The Story of Black’s Photography by Robert Black with Marnie Maguire (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2009) and the April 24, 2009 and September 9, 2009 editions of the Globe and Mail.