Tourism Tips, 1867

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on June 11, 2011.

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How we imagine a tourist magazine cover might have looked in 1867.

In June 1867, Toronto was weeks away from becoming the capital city of the province of Ontario in the newly formed Dominion of Canada. Then, as now, the summer tourist season was underway, though the preferred methods of arrival were train or steamship. We recently thumbed through a travel guide published that year, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, which provides both brief highlights for visitors to our fair city and criticizes the lack of natural wonders. Which got us thinking…what would tourist literature akin to modern publications like Where Toronto have looked like during the Confederation year?

Here’s our attempt.

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Normal School building, Gould Street, north-side east of Yonge, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 8.

Summer is upon us and there are few better times to take a day’s visit or a week’s excursion to Toronto. Pay no heed to the authors of a recent travel guide who contend that our city has too many brick buildings (due to the absence of local stone quarries) and utterly lacks beautiful scenery and scenic drives. A city like ours has many aspects to appeal to any traveller, with which we hope to enlighten you.

ATTRACTIONS

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St. James Cathedral, between 1885 and 1895. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 23.

Toronto treats piety with the utmost seriousness. If your visit coincides with the Lord’s Day, there are many handsome churches that will satisfy your spiritual needs. If you are of the Anglican persuasion, attend a service at St. James Cathedral at the corner of King and Church streets. If you are a devotee of the papacy (which we generally do not advise visitors to openly display on Toronto’s streets, especially those of Irish extraction, unless brawling is on your itinerary), then slip into a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. Though both of these buildings of high worship have yet to be completed, we are assured that once their spires are finished they will provide much to the city’s appearance from a distance.

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University of Toronto, 1859. Painted by Sir Edmund Walker. Wikimedia Commons.

The city’s institutes of higher learning provide more than space to train the nation’s future leaders—these are sites for tourists who wish a sense of Toronto’s philosophy, the city’s aesthetics. Deep thought has gone into their architecture and aesthetic surroundings which make them ideal locations to spend an afternoon. The University of Toronto offers a beautiful botanical garden on its grounds, along with a main Norman-styled building made of the finest white stone from Ohio. On Queen Street, Trinity College offers 20 acres of lush parkland that we are certain future generations will enjoy on days resplendent with sun. The Normal School at St. James Square is said to the largest building in America designed to train future educators.

ENTERTAINMENT

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Right wing of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 1868. Photo by William Notman. McCord Museum, Item I-34480.1.

A recently published guidebook, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, highlights one of the most enlightening experiences in which any visitor to Toronto can partake, one that reinforces the frailty of human existence:

The Provincial Lunatic Asylum, at the western extremity of the city, is well worthy of a visit by the curious in such matters. It is kept in admirable order; and though it is a painful sight at all times to be brought in contact with “humanity so fallen,” it is pleasing to see the degree of comfort many of the patients seem to enjoy. There is no difficulty in obtaining permission to view it.

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The Globe, June 12, 1867.

Were a carnival of “fallen humanity” not diversion enough, visitors in July will have the opportunity to enjoy one of America’s finest travelling circuses, operated by veteran showman L.B. Lent.

ESSENTIALS

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Union Station (1858-1871), waterfront, west of York St., Toronto, Ont. Water colour, pen & brown ink over pencil. William Armstrong, 1859. Toronto Public Library, JRR 291 Cab III.Union Station, circa 1860.

Travellers arriving from the north have a new train station to disembark from in the vicinity of City Hall and St. Lawrence Market. Operated by the Northern Railway, this wonderful new facility on the Esplanade west of Jarvis Street was recently described in one of the city’s finest newspapers, the Globe, as being “a much more ornamental and commodious structure than is generally imagined…It is in the Italian style, with heavy bracketed cornice, circular-headed windows and doors, glazed with ornamental ground glass.” No less a figure than John A. Macdonald (who we suspect will become leader of the new Dominion next month) was on hand for the opening ceremony to praise the future possibilities of extending the line beyond Barrie into Grey County and other points north.

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King Street East, south side looking west, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 1.

For the finest in dry goods and seasonal fashions, King Street east of Yonge offers high class shopping to rival that found in older cities. It is a district for the chattering class, as one writer has noted:

The buildings on King Street are greater and grander than their neighbours on Yonge; the shops are larger and dearer; and last but not least King Street is honoured by the daily presence of the aristocracy while Yonge Street is given over to the business man, the middle-class and the beggar. Amid the upper classes there is a performance that goes on daily that is known among the habitués as ‘doing King.’ It consists principally of marching up and down a certain part of the street at a certain hour, performing, as it were, ko-tou [sic] to the goddess of Fashion, and sacrificing to her sister divinity of Society.

At three o’clock in the afternoon the first stragglers appear on the scene, which extends perhaps a quarter of a mile. These consist primarily of young ladies, whose proper place should be at school, and young men attired in the height of fashion. By the time these ardent devotees have paraded a few times, the regular habitués make their appearance, and till six o’clock in the evening one side—for one side only is patronized—is crowded to excess.

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Advertisement spotlighting the Golden Lion, 1872. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1662, Item 14.

Among the finest of King Street’s merchants is the establishment of Robert Walker and Sons, colloquially known as the “Golden Lion” due to the jungle lord that gazes down upon patrons entering the store. Founded around 1836, the business has been in its present location for the past two decades. Current renovations to the handsome cast-iron building will make it the largest retailer in Canada West/Ontario. When finished, the store will consist of a four-storey frontage along King Street and a two-storey section stretching back to Colborne Street that will include a large dome to provide beautiful natural lighting to heighten customer appreciation of the goods for sale.

Additional information from The Canadian Handbook and Tourists Guide (Montreal: M. Longmoore & Co., 1867), Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978), Toronto by Bruce West (Toronto: Doubleday, 1967), and the June 11, 1867 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The cover of the Coles Canadiana Collection edition of The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, published in 1971. Given its focus on modern-day Ontario and Quebec (then Canada West and Canada East), the book was likely prepared prior to Confederation.

From the introduction:

The nooks and corners of Canada, and more especially of the Lower Province, in addition to the interest they awaken as important sources of Commercial and Agricultural wealth, are invested with no ordinary attraction for the Naturalist, the Antiquary, the Historian, and the Tourist in quest of pleasure or of health. We have often wondered why more the venturesome spirits amongst our transatlantic friends do not tear themselves away, even for a few months, from London fogs, to visit our distant but more favoured clime. How is it that so few, comparatively speaking, come to enjoy the bracing air and bright summer skies of Canada?

Here is a Vintage Toronto Ads column about the Golden Lion department store, which was originally published on Torontoist on April 8, 2015.

 

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The Globe, September 7, 1858.

During the late 19th century, several downtown Toronto dry-goods merchants developed the potential to grow into major department stores. While Eaton’s and Simpsons evolved into national retailers, their competitors either couldn’t tackle the two giants or fell by the wayside for other reasons. One could-have-been-a-contender was Robert Walker and Sons, a.k.a. the Golden Lion, which was considered the largest retail business in Ontario in the late 1860s.

A native of Brampton, England, Robert Walker moved to Toronto in 1829, where he quickly entered the local clothing business. Around 1836, he formed a partnership with Thomas Hutchinson and operated a store on King Street east of Yonge. Around 1847, Walker opened up his wallet and spent a spectacular amount for the time period ($30,000) to build a stone structure at 33-37 King Street East to house his business. Two years later, the store adopted a golden lion as its symbol.

The intense competition between dry-goods sellers led to bloodthirsty ad copy. Take the following spot Walker prepared in January 1858:

NO HUMBUG
The remains
of the late stocks of
CLOTHING & DRY GOODS
to be
SLAUGHTERED!
at
FEARFUL REDUCTIONS
for cash

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The Globe, March 19, 1881.

The Golden Lion became a key component of one of the city’s most fashionable shopping blocks. Its success prompted a major expansion built in 1866-67 which utilized cast iron columns to free up floor space previously occupied by thick masonry. The new four-storey front on King Street included a 30-foot-high glass window, while a two-storey back section stretching to Colborne Street utilized a 12-foot-wide glass dome for improved natural lighting. Topping the store was a 12-foot-high stone lion. The result, the Globe declared, excelled “anything before seen in this city, or perhaps any other part of Canada.”

Walker was active in the community, serving as a firefighter and on the board of the Necropolis cemetery. He was a devout Methodist who acted as a Sunday school superintendent and donated the land to build the Parliament Street Methodist Church (later demolished to build the Regent Park housing project). Walker retired from the business in 1870; when he died in 1885, the Globe called him “an energetic and upright merchant, a Christian who lived up to his creed and was not afraid to be known as a Christian—Mr. Walker was one of whom Toronto was, and had a right to be, proud.”

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Toronto Star, September 25, 1895.

Though the store doubled in size again in 1892, by 1898 no one was left in the Walker family to run it. Unlike its competitor Simpsons, where founder Robert Simpson’s sudden death in December 1897 prompted his survivors to sell out, the Golden Lion closed its doors. Subsequent occupants included another short-lived department store and a Liberal campaign office during the 1900 federal election.

After the stone lion was removed on April 6, 1901, the store was demolished to make way for a prominent new development. “In Toronto,” the Hamilton Herald observed, “they are pulling down the old Golden Lion to make room for a new White Elephant in the form of a palace.” The store’s replacement has stood the test of time as a downtown landmark—the King Edward Hotel.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978); the January 19, 1858, February 23, 1867, and October 6, 1885 editions of the Globe; and the April 12, 1901 edition of the Toronto Star.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the years of writing Historicist, I developed a bad habit of finishing columns while I was supposed to be on vacation. Entries were finished everywhere from cozy hotels in Montreal to large chain suites near LAX. This entry was written during the first part of a roadtrip to Boston – part of it was written in Syracuse, while the finished product emerged in Beantown.

I was running so far behind on this one that I brought along a Toronto Public Library bag filled with research items. This sparked the curiosity of the border guard who checked my trunk when I crossed at the Rainbow Bridge. I think she was convinced I was trying to sneak into an academic conference or was seeking work stateside. She pondered the contents for several moments, and repeatedly asked why I was bringing so many books with me.

Finally convinced of my true intentions, she let me go…but not before locking my keys in the trunk.

While she laughed, I gritted my teeth. At least I learned where the panic button was in that car. I may have yelled an obscenity once I was safely past security. After that, I made sure to always have the column wrapped up before crossing the border.

***

If you click on the original Torontoist link, you’ll notice the images are broken. During one of the site’s revamps, images published on posts I wrote during mid-2011 vaporized. Several were fixed, usually when I needed to link to them, while others remain broken. It didn’t help that my computer died during this period, before I was able to backup some files.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Furs on the Cheap

Originally published on Torontoist on May 10, 2011.

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The Telegram, January 9, 1930.

Though you are under no obligation to buy, you can’t help but notice the hovering salesman as you wistfully glance at coats you can barely afford. Like clockwork, every 90 seconds he asks if he can help you try one on or find the coat of your dreams. Every five minutes, he waves a copy of the cheque shown in today’s ad and reminds you of how good today’s discounts are. “Feel free to compare our prices,” he says with a twinge of desperation creeping into his voice. “You are under no obligation. Take your time.”
Despite the discount, you contemplate if a fur is a proper investment at this time, given how your family’s other investments turned sour after the stock market crash. You decide the three sitting in your closet are still fine and head for the door. The salesman follows you. An anxious look rolls across his face as the corners of his mouth twitch. Finally, he breaks downs and violates the Levitt Policy. “Please, don’t go,” he begs. “Please buy one of our furs! Our manager was saddled with these coats, and if I don’t sell any, my family won’t eat next week! These coats are a good deal, aren’t they? Aren’t they?” As you leave the store, the salesman collapses into a sobbing heap on the floor.

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Toronto Star, May 16, 1932.

We imagine it wasn’t easy to be a fur dealer as 1930 dawned. The first ripples of Black Friday were starting to be felt and luxuries like furs were among the first goods consumers cut back on. Taking on marked-down stock from suppliers did not help Levitt Furs in the long run; two years later, out of “dire necessity,” they liquidated their inventory and placed whatever else was left in the hands of an auctioneer.

Scenes of Toronto: The Sign Lives On at Consumers Distributing

Originally published on Torontoist on April 21, 2011.

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Behind the gloss of the Shops at Don Mills, a few office buildings and plazas that haven’t experienced redevelopment still line the southwest quadrant of The Donway. A passing glance at the tenants of 49 The Donway West reveals an exiled anchor of the old Don Mills Centre (Home Hardware), service-based merchants (Cadet Cleaners, The Beer Store), and vacant space temporarily filled by the campaign office of the local Conservative candidate. It’s when you hit the western back corner of the plaza that you encounter one store banner in disbelief: Consumers Distributing. Disbelief, because it’s been 15 years since anyone ordered from a Consumers catalogue.

To a kid, the Consumers Distributing catalogue, along with the doorstop Sears dropped on the front step, was like a religious text. One could dream for hours about playing with any of the showcased games, toys, and video systems. Needed to show your parents what you wanted Santa Claus to bring on his sleigh? The catalogue provided a visual guide to pass on to the Jolly Old Elf. Whenever a new catalogue came out, the old one could be hacked up for cut-and-paste school presentations.

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From one location that opened in 1957 on a site now occupied by Eglinton West subway station, Consumers Distributing grew to more than 200 stores across Canada and a few south of the border. The model was simple: flip through the catalogue, choose an item, go to a store, fill out a form, and pray the item was in stock. Despite supply-chain hiccups, the model worked for four decades. By the mid-1990s, the combination of the refusal of its foreign owner to inject more money into the business in light of a couple of poor seasons, a new superstore model that didn’t perform to expectations (which included touch-screen computers for ordering), the decline of the catalogue-store business across North America, and competition from Wal-Mart and other new big-box stores caused the chain to go bankrupt. As 1996 closed, so did the last Consumers stores.

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How did this sign survive in pristine condition? Being hidden under a Blockbuster Video sign didn’t hurt. At first glance, the site appears vacant apart from a sign directing customers to a relocated dry cleaner. A small whiteboard with faded writing inside the door reveals the store’s current use as a dog-training facility.

UPDATE

As of 2017, the building has been demolished.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Remember 239 Yonge Is Bata

Originally published on Torontoist on April 5, 2011.

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All ad images: the Telegram, October 12, 1954.

For the downtown stretch of Yonge Street, 1954 was a year of grand openings. The major development was the opening of the city’s first subway line in March, which brought in shoppers to sample the strip’s stores. Less significant, but worthy of being heralded with giant ads, was the opening of an exciting retail concept from a company who had moved their base of operations from Czechoslovakia to Canada just a decade and a half earlier: the shoe department store.

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The Bata store at 239 Yonge Street on April 2, 1954, several months before its facelift. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 2437.

Based on the photo above, the immediate predecessor of this ultra-modern shopping experience was an average shoe store with a window display of the kind still favoured by long-standing purveyors of footwear around the city.

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As with any department store, Bata was divided into specialized departments designed to make each member of the family comfortable while enticing them to buy whatever was on display. Given touches like an aquarium for the kids and posters for teens, we’re surprised they didn’t include a miniature bowling alley in the sports section, a barber in the men’s department, a powder room for the ladies, and a fine selection of language courses on record for the internationally inclined.

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The tri-level shoe department store did not prove to be a concept for the ages. By the time they ceased Canadian retail operations in 2005, smaller mall-based stores sans goldfish aquariums were the norm for Bata.

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Mad About Clark Shoes (or One Fine Day in the Desert)

Originally published on Torontoist on February 22, 2011.

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Enesses, 1967.

Given that Mad magazine approached its peak circulation during the late 1960s, it’s not surprising to find that a local high school would look to the humour publication for inspiration when it was time to prepare ads for its yearbook. In 1967, rather than build on the excitement of Canada’s Centennial Year to sell footwear, the advertising designer for Northern Secondary School’s yearbook paid homage to “Mad’s Maddest Artist,” Don Martin. While the man stumbling through a desert where the combination of heat and delirium causes mirages of giant feet to appear is a decent copy of Martin’s style, a critical element is missing: sound effects (feel free to come up with your own).

This ad also provided an excuse for a friend of the former owner of this yearbook to provide commentary on the poor soul’s struggle to find relief for his parched throat. Unfortunately we can’t quite make out the commentator’s name (Marc-Vic? Mari-Vic?), as (a) it’s difficult to decipher his/her name in scribblings elsewhere in the book, and (b) the previous owner clipped out class pictures that may have provided a firm ID.

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Enesses, 1969.

The same illustration appeared two years later, sans additional commentary and references to deserts.

Historical Holiday Hints: ‘Tis the Season for Gifts

Originally published on Torontoist on December 15, 2011.

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The News, December 13, 1911.

“There are two kinds of people looking for Christmas gifts,” the Telegram noted 80 years ago. “Those who know what they want and those who don’t, and they both seem to be in difficulty.” With less than two weeks to go before presents are unwrapped, both types of gift hunters may be showing signs of panic as they look for the perfect present. Have no fear: we have some gift-giving suggestions from the past, along with the hazards of shopping for the toy everyone else wants.

A century ago, the News offered many creative homemade gift ideas built around picture postcards. Forgot to buy a specialty calendar? Make your own by using appropriately themed sets based on the recipient’s interests, from pets to “almond-eyed” girls. Need to decorate a manly den? String up brightly coloured hunting scenes set against red or black paper. Lacking in candle shades? Half-a-dozen cards nimbly cut will do the trick.

Who appreciates postcard-based gifts the most? Your invalid friends, apparently:

Nothing will delight them more than a judiciously chosen pack of postcards, all stamped and tied up with bright ribbons. Select a few cards with birthday and New Year greetings on, several with messages of friendship, and the rest bearing scenes of the home-town. These will be a boon to anyone confined to the house and dislikes to bother others about small matters.

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Children with Christmas presents during a photoshoot for Liberty magazine, 1950s or 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 1944.

What might not have been a small matter to a stuck-at-home ill child by the mid-1960s, or at least not a small matter to their parents, was to keep up with other kids who received the season’s hottest toys from Santa Claus. According to Telegram writer Stella McKay, this was unnecessary, as kids were “often satisfied with homemade playthings. They may prefer them since they are different from their friends’ toys.” Citing a government pamphlet, Play for Preschoolers, McKay suggested handcrafted gifts that would be the envy of the neighbourhood. Suggestions included tin can rattles and stuffed-sock dolls for boys and girls. The pamphlet provided full instructions for building accompanying gifts like a doll cradle that would appeal to today’s DIYers and recyclers:

A large fruit basket, with the handle removed, makes a cosy bed for a baby doll. Remove the hooks from two wide wooden coat hangers. Use screws to fasten a hanger at each end of the basket, for rockers. Mattress and pillow covers can be made from pieces of an old sheet. Fill them with any soft material. Make sheets and pillow cases from the same worn sheet.

The effort put into a homemade gift saves parents from dealing with other human beings during the rush to find the perfect toy, especially when it comes to the season’s trendiest items. The quest for the item everyone wants has caused normally sane adults to engage in wrestling matches on the retail floor. “Get ready to rumble” would have been an appropriate battle cry when Cabbage Patch Kid mania hit Toronto in 1983. Seasonal goodwill toward fellow humans vanished whenever retailers received a precious shipment of the adoptable dolls. At one store in Mississauga, fights occurred when customers grabbed dolls the way diners pile crab legs on their plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet. “Santa Claus himself would have dived behind the cashier’s desk for cover,” noted a Globe and Mail editorial.

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Toronto Star, December 7, 1983.

To avoid such scenes, Eaton’s pulled the dolls from its ads, while Pascal Stores placed notices in newspapers to announce that they wouldn’t have any more in stock until Leap Day 1984.

Joy Taylor of Scarborough introduced herself as a “short, athletic grandma of 60” when she wrote to the Star about her quest for the bald-headed male Cabbage Patch Kid her granddaughter wanted. After unsuccessfully checking several stores, she heard about a shipment arriving at the Cedarbrae Mall branch of Simpsons at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

The door opens and in I run. Where are they? Over there in the corner. Good. Suddenly I’m jammed into the corner as monstrous women crush me, climb over me. I’m too old for this. What am I doing here? I panic and I scream “Let me out! You’re smothering me!” The manager clears a path for me and presses a box into my hands. I can breathe once again but I look in disgust—a redhead in jeans. A woman trades me for a blonde-haired one and I throw all caution to the winds as I say “Any trades for a blonde for a bald boy.” A woman grabs my arm and there it is, more precious than diamonds or gold. Now I know how Columbus felt discovering America.

Taylor avoided injuries while caught in the mayhem. She ended her letter by hoping that toy companies would think of people like her when promoting hot toys and that she could convince her granddaughter that other, well-stocked toys would be equally nice to receive on Christmas morning. “To those of you still looking,” Taylor advised, “I say put on your armor and keep trying.”

Try as some parents did, they couldn’t purchase a genuine Cabbage Patch Kid. When extreme options—such as flying the Europe to secure a doll or paying up to $300 for one via the classifieds—were out of the question, they could pick up a pattern at the nearest department or fabric store make their own facsimile. Even these went quickly: Simpsons reported that Sew-a-Doll kits disappeared as fast as their Cabbage Patch Kids stock. At least there weren’t any reports of shoppers pepper spraying each other over doll-making instruction sheets.

Additional material from the November 19, 1983, and December 16, 1983, editions of the Globe and Mail; the December 13, 1911, edition of the News; the November 10, 1983, November 30, 1983, and December 16, 1983, editions of the Toronto Star; and the December 20, 1932, and December 19, 1966, editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The full article on making gifts from postcards from the December 13, 1911 edition of the News.

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Also from that paper, a short story on gift making. But wait…what is that item in the bottom right corner?

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The horror, the horror…

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The Telegram, December 21, 1931.

A few hints on how to wrap gifts like tobacco pouches, guest towels, and candied ginger. And don’t forget to use asbestos mats to make your dining table safer!

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Toronto Star, December 14, 1968. 

Be weary of Santas bearing chainsaws as gifts.

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Globe and Mail, November 19, 1983.

Finally, an editorial about the height of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, and the extreme behaviour exhibited by those desperate to get one.

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on December 25, 2010.

This holiday edition was, as the introduction noted, “a sampling of a century’s worth of Christmas advertisements, illustrations, pictures, and stories. Light up a Yule log (real or video), sit back and enjoy.”

For this edition, I’m not using the original gallery format, deleting some archival photos, and adding in some material that didn’t make the final cut. I am also merging in ads originally featured in a post for the 2014 holiday season.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1885. Library and Archives Canada.

In its Christmas Eve 1885 edition, the Globe reprinted the “Story of the Mistletoe” from Youth’s Companion. While much of the piece drones on about mistletoe’s role in Norse mythology and its use by Druids, it includes these nuggets about its contemporary sources and uses, in as non-romantic terms as possible.

It used to be brought over by friendly foreign steamers, but is now found in Virginia and in most of the Southern States, and is largely used for holiday decoration…The American mistletoe is not the genuine English article, although it strongly resembles it. The botanists have given it a new name, phoradendron, which signifies “a thief of a tree.” It is, however, a true parasite. The mistletoe is now so seldom found growing on the oak that when it is found there it is a great curiousity. It frequents apple trees chiefly, and is propagated by birds wiping their bills on the boughs and thus leaving some of the viscid pulp and seed, and if the bark happens to be cracked there it takes root.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Globe, 1889. Library and Archives Canada.

Little does the turkey suspect that the young lady who visited each day with yummy treats was secretly fattening him up for her family’s holiday feast. Speaking of turkeys…

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The Globe, December 20, 1890. 

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The News, December 22, 1894.

If you couldn’t slaughter a turkey, you could always check out a “slaughter sale” of fine reading material.

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The News, December 22, 1885.

The News also provided “practical hints for the benefit of West End residents and others” as it named off a variety of Queen West merchants. Among the highlights: a free set of tableware with every purchase of a pound of tea at Laut Brothers (420 Queen West); a stock of nuts “not surpassed in the city” at Mara & Co. (280 Queen West); bargains among the jewellery and other goods damaged in a recent fire at J.I.S. Anderson (294 Queen West); and “beautiful villa sites overlooking High Park and Humber Bay” free of city taxes that went for one dollar per square foot at the real estate office of R. McDonnell at Queen and Gladstone.

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Cover of the special Christmas edition of the Mail and Empire, 1897. Library and Archives Canada.

Underneath the colour cover of this supplement was a collection of seasonal art, stories, and other diversions for the entire family.

20141224xmascardsThe Mail, June 27, 1881.

Even back in the Victorian Age, saving a buck on Christmas supplies like cards was as important as aesthetic considerations.

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The Empire, December 22, 1894.

An excerpt from the Empire’s Christmas Day 1894 editorial: “To the mind of the child this is the glorious season of the year when there is no cloud in the sky to dim the sunlight of pleasure in which infantile natures rejoice; but to the mature it is a period, apart from its spiritual associations, the delights of which are tempered by gravity and the joys of which are tinged with sadness, for as men grow memories gather. Looking back upon the Christmases of the past, who is there among us who does not feel that change and decay have wrought their mysteries as the years rolled on, taking here a friend and there a companion and leaving gaps in the ranks more significant and impressive at this time than at any other, so that even at the feast, and where rejoicing reigns, the heart stops for a moment that sorrow may supply its chastening touch.”

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Front page, the News, December 24, 1910. 

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Illustration by Lou Skuce, Toronto World, December 25, 1910.

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Toronto World, December 22, 1912.

From an editorial on holiday charity: “People are giving freely now, who keep their hearts and pockets closd ’till next Christmas. Why? There is need always as at Christmas time. It is simply that we are moved now by an unusual sentiment–an impulse to kindliness.”

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The News, December 23, 1914.

The Copland Brewing Company’s Toronto roots stretched back to 1830, when William Copland opened a brewery along Yonge Street shortly after arriving in Upper Canada. By 1914, most of its products were brewed at its plant on King Street between Ontario and Berkeley Streets. Bought by Labatt in 1946, the site was later occupied by the Toronto Sun.

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Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

An editorial note from the second holiday season of the First World War:

Above all, the call of Christmas is ‘Peace on Earth.’ In the present grievous crisis of the world there is significance in this call beyond that of any crisis mankind ever before was called to read. That war has darkened Christmas for so much of the world may well seem, at the moment, the crushing condemnation of all such conflicts.”

 

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Toronto World, December 19, 1915.

As the war staggered on over in Europe, World cartoonist Lou Skuce reminded readers of where the battlelines were usually located on Christmas Eve.

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Toronto World, December 25, 1916.

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Toronto World, December 25, 1918.

A pair of First World War-themed ads from Eaton’s.

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Mail and Empire, December 25, 1920.

With the shadow of the First World War fading, Eaton’s ad held the promise that life was returning to normal for its customers, and that Christmas was a time to rejoice in youthful spirit.

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The Telegram, December 19, 1923.

Given that the establishment of Sick Kids was a pet project of Telegram founder John Ross Robertson, the paper took every opportunity during the holiday season to solicit donations for the hospital. Heart-tugging stories to invoke contributions were printed in the Tely around Christmas, bearing headlines like “CHILD SWALLOWS LYE THROAT BADLY BURNED” (December 19, 1923).

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The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

A sample of a Sick Kids ad from a decade later.

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Toronto Star, December 24, 1924.

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Mail and Empire, December 25, 1930.

Simpsons centred its 1930 holiday ad around verse from poet Bliss Carman, who died the previous year.

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Mail and Empire, December 20, 1933.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Mail and Empire urged its readers to light up the city at Christmas time. We doubt any displays inspired by this contest were accompanied by a menagerie of front yard inflatables.

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Mail and Empire, December 22, 1933. 

Years before teaching the world to sing, or employing polar bears as pitchmen, Coca-Cola offered an economical solution for holiday entertaining during the Great Depression.

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The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

 

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Weston Times and Guide, December 14, 1934.

The 1930s equivalent of the slightly naughty gift ads found decades later in alt-weeklies like eye and Now?

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Toronto Star, December 23, 1939.

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Weston Times and Guide, December 13, 1945.

Relieved that the Second World War no longer interfered in his annual delivery run, Santa relaxed a little in 1945. He found time to stop in Weston for a luscious roast bird. Note the slightly scary look in his eye, as if he’s daring the artist to take the plate away from him.

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The Telegram, December 23, 1950.

The poet of Toronto’s sports pages, Telegram columnist Ted Reeve, penned an ode to holiday shopping based on one of the big musical hits of that season, “The Thing“:

 

As we were walking north on Church, no Xmas shopping done,
We went into McTamney’s to maybe buy a gun.
The clerk behind the counter there let out a mighty roar:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and don’t come back no more.”

We hadn’t done our Christmas cards when reaching work today,
We asked the office girls if they would get them on the way.
They turned on us with a vicious yell as fierce as any blow:
“Get out of here with that shopping list and you know where to go.”

We’ll get to Kresge’s Christmas Eve and in a final dash
We’ll try to get the presents bought unless they want some cash.
The chances are the manager, while tearing up our cheque,
Will heave us out with our boom-boom-boom and land us on our neck

There’s only three more days to go, we haven’t bought the tree,
It is a most perplexing week, we think you’ll all agree.
And if we don’t get anything done we’ll just let Xmas pass
And take that terrible boom-boom-boom and hide it in the grass.

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Don Mills Mirror, December 8, 1960.

Either the caption writer was ordered to devise a happy sentence without seeing this picture, or somebody decided to play a cruel joke at the expense of the exhausted Santa at the Don Mills Centre. His arrival by helicopter in late November prompted ten thousand people to greet him at the shopping centre, doubling the number that greeted him the year before. Santa’s trip was delayed ten minutes due to fog and low-flying planes landing at Malton airport. Once the chopper landed, Santa hitched a ride on a fire engine, which took him to his seat at the centre of the complex. With over four-and-a-half thousand kids mounting his lap that day, no wonder Santa looks like he can’t wait to escape back to the comfort of the North Pole.

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Weston Times and Guide, December 22, 1960.

Wonder how many diners around that time hummed Marty Robbins’s 1959 smash hit about the west Texas town while eating their delicious young turkey dinner.

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Maclean’s, December 9, 1961.

From 1912 to 2006, Kodak’s Canadian division called Mount Dennis home. Its large campus near Eglinton Avenue West and Black Creek Drive is being redeveloped and will service the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Whenever that line begins service, perhaps someone who received a Kodak camera under the tree will be inspired by the site’s history to haul it out and shoot the opening ceremony.

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Weston Times-Advertiser, December 22, 1964.

Politicians love sending seasonal greetings, and Alan Eagleson was no exception. Before he achieved fame in the hockey world for forming the National Hockey League Players’ Association and infamy for his criminal actions regarding pensions and disability claims, Eagleson sat as a Progressive Conservative MPP for Lakeshore from 1963 to 1967.

 

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Willowdale Enterprise, December 8, 1965.

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Willowdale Enterprise, December 22, 1965.

Santa and the reindeer might have needed a map when a widened Highway 401 between Highway 400 and Hogg’s Hollow fully opened to to traffic on December 16, 1965. The expansion of the freeway from four to twelve lanes included the introduction of the express/collector lane system.

 

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Toronto Life, December 1966.

Toronto Life celebrated its first Christmas by asking Gordon Sinclair to describe how he really felt about the holiday? His verdict? Despite not being a fan of organized religion, Sinclair felt it was “the best and friendliest of all family celebrations when we are with kinfolk; the ones of our blood who accept us for what we are. Not what we should be, or could be, but what we are.” He also described Christmas was the worst day of the year to be alone, a situation he experienced while reporting from Shanghai in 1938. That day he wandered through clubs and pubs “looking for someone to feel sorry with” but found only a black eye (a present given by an American when Sinclair declined to have a drink with him) and a crying fit (after returning to his hotel to find “wish you were here” cablegrams from Canada). There was only one thing he would have changed about Christmas: “that stupid abbreviation, Xmas.”

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The Enterprise, December 20, 1967.

An excerpt from the Enterprise‘s December 13, 1967 holiday editorial, which criticized the trend toward war toys like G.I. Joe, which kids might have asked Miss Suzie for as they received a candy cane.

War toys are not going to make a killer out of a child, but they do instil an acceptance which lasts into adult life. In other words, war toys are a marvellous propaganda instrument…The only way to counteract war toy propaganda is for the consuer public to boycott any kind of violent toy–and encourage manufacturers to produce just as interesting toys who emphasis is not military.

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Globe and Mail, December 25, 1970.

A stylish seasonal ad from a fashionable Kingsway-area women’s clothier. Two weeks earlier, Lipton’s published a gift certificate order form in the Globe and Mail, positioning it as “great trim for any tree.”

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Toronto Life, December 1974.

While CHUM-FM offered a slender Santa for the holidays, its AM sibling distributed its usual CHUM Chart. Topping the Toronto hit list on December 21, 1974 was Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting.”

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Toronto Sun, December 16, 1975.

Unfortunately for eager carolers, the Sun-sponsored musical celebration of the season was cancelled due to the first blizzard of the season. High winds coupled with around 20 centimetres of snow resulted in a record number of help calls to the Ontario Motor League (now CAA), severe TTC service delays and the cancellation of a Toronto Marlboros hockey game. The storm did not deter holiday shoppers, as Simpsons reported a minor decrease in the usual last Saturday before Christmas crowd at their Queen Street flagship.

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The City, December 3, 1978.

Simpsons felt a little punny during the 1978 holiday season. It was a time of change for the retailer–Hudson’s Bay Company had launched a bid to acquire the department store chain in November, while shoppers at its Queen Street flagship would have seen the south end of the Eaton Centre near completion.

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Toronto Life, December 1985.

Because this article needs a touch of 1980s Christmas style.