Post-ing About Toronto

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on February 4, 2012.

20120204cover

How would you open a profile of Toronto for one of the U.S.’ most popular general interest magazines? Well, if you were the Saturday Evening Post 60 years ago, you would start with a joke that originated in a rival city, Montreal: a Toronto magnate was summoned to appear in court. On the appointed day his doctor appeared in his stead, claiming the businessman had lapsed into a coma. An attorney asked, helpfully, “Did you try showing him some money?”

So began that magazine’s look at Toronto in its March 22, 1952 issue. Our city was profile number 116 in the magazine’s “The Cities of America” series, which spotlighted the continent’s most colourful urban areas. After reading the article, a reader might have concluded that Toronto possessed a boastful attitude and an obsession with money.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive a Norman Rockwell cover to go with it.

20120204royalyork

That the article started with a joke from Montreal may not have been just an illustration of the rivalry between the two cities. Author Leslie Roberts was considered the dean of Montreal journalism, at least in the eyes of the Montreal Gazette, when he died in 1980. Long a commentator for CJAD radio, Roberts had been a correspondent for Harper’sReader’s Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post during the Second World War. An opponent of Quebec nationalism who promoted the “No” option during the lead-up to the first vote on sovereignty, Roberts’ last words to his wife were “make sure I vote in that referendum.” He died five days before the ballots were cast.

20120204elizabeth

“Torontonians assume,” he wrote, “with considerable accuracy, that Montrealers are disturbed by Toronto’s threat to their city’s pre-eminence as the Canadian banking-and-financial center, by the fact that the capital of Ontario has already become Canada’s greatest industrial producer, and because Toronto is rapidly catching up in the census figures.” The Torontonians Roberts talked to took the pot shots in stride, acting “as if the laugh really were on the originators.” They pointed out that Torontonians donated more to charity than other Canadian cities, volunteered in larger numbers for military service, and “cheerfully vote[d] for community improvements without much caring what they cost.” Money was something used to unashamedly build civic pride, which provides a sharp contrast to the views of certain members of the current city administration.

20120204sickkids

According to Saturday Night editor R.A. Farquharson, Toronto’s pursuit of wealth was fuelled simply by the desire to meet its own growing needs. If an institution like the Hospital for Sick Children required a new wing, for instance, fundraising teams would quickly raise the necessary monies. A combination of taxes, endowments, and public subscriptions allowed institutions like Sick Kids, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Toronto Public Library, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to develop. Farquharson believed that these institutions, combined with a reverence for old traditions, reflected the city’s “conservative-progressive” spirit.

And, according to the article, these successes prompted Torontonians’ passion for boasting to visitors about our accomplishments, which seems to indicate a self-confidence our citizens are now often accused of lacking. Instead of shrugging off or appearing self-conscious about Toronto’s achievements, people were eager to boast of our discoveries, such as insulin, or large-scale buildings and events. The Royal York wasn’t just a luxury hotel—it was the largest in the British Empire. The Canadian National Exhibition billed itself as “The Biggest Annual Fair in the World.” Roberts observed that “When bigness or uniqueness is under discussion, everybody in Toronto, everybody gets into the act.” Among our greatest braggarts was Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe. Having won six Stanley Cups since 1942, Smythe’s boast that perennial baseball champions the New York Yankees were “the Toronto Maple Leafs of baseball” was not without merit. Smythe also claimed that “every boy in Canada who owns a pair of skates hopes to play for Toronto when he grows up—and most of the good ones do!” We can think of at least one child in Quebec who didn’t share Smythe’s world view.

20120204eatonslobster

Roberts observed that citizens born outside Toronto were among the city’s loudest boosters. “So heady is Toronto’s missionary spirit,” Roberts wrote, “that it often leads the immigrant who has been around for a mere decade or so to talk as if his ancestors founded the community.” Such was the case with Mayor Hiram McCallum, who discussed the city’s “most favoured fragment of historic folklore,” the American invasion and occupation during the War of 1812. When Roberts asked McCallum if he was a Toronto native, the mayor replied “Bless you, I don’t belong around here. I’m just a western boy who had the good sense to move to an up-and-coming city!”

Among old line Toronto families mentioned in the article, the Eatons were treated with admiration bordering on worship. Citizens loved telling outsiders how wonderful the retailing family was, from overseeing the highest annual merchandise turnover in the British Empire to, despite customer complaints, upholding marketing practices initiated by Timothy Eaton such as refusing to sell tobacco and covering display windows with shades on Sundays. People often repeated a quote uttered by Sir John Craig Eaton when he was asked to place a price tag on the business: “There is not enough money in the world to buy my father’s name!” According to Roberts, “Toronto considers this the finest sentence ever uttered by mortal man.”

20120204baystreet

Much of the wealth flowing through the city during the early 1950s derived from mining, whose participants Roberts frequently encountered deep downtown:

Gaudy Mackinaw shirts and knee-high boots—the uniform of the bush—stir no greater excitement in the lobbies, bars and elevators of the Royal York, or the nearby King Edward, than a ten-gallon hat does in Texas. Geologists, mining engineers and prospectors, out from the mining country, hustle around the business district, and those who don city clothes for their stay in town are identifiable by the uneasy air they put on with them. The morning coffee drinkers in Childs’ or the lunchers at the next table to you in the Savarin spin fancy tales of new strikes out in the Northwest Territories, or of gold up yonder in Quebec province. They talk the romantic lingua franca of a new wilderness empire. But no Torontonian, overhearing it, pays much attention. The mining argot is as common hereabouts as wheat talk in Winnipeg or cow talk in Cheyenne.

Mining represented a frontier spirit that, according to Toronto Industrial Commission manager T.H. Bartley, inspired business magnates old and new. “The old barons were tough,” Bartley noted, “but they taught us the value of the frontier. As long as we remember, and Canada has frontiers, this town will boom.” For Bartley and industrialists of the early 1950s, the frontier was the farmland surrounding the city that was quickly being bought for developments like Don Mills, the Golden Mile, and Rexdale.

20120204harbour

That people came to Toronto and its hinterlands strictly for business prompted Roberts to examine the saying that “nobody ever moved to Toronto for the scenery.” He suggested that our citizens took on the task of creating beauty themselves. While the article advises that one had to head north to Lake Simcoe, Muskoka, or Georgian Bay to experience true scenery, the city’s ravines were seen—as they still are today—as a refuge from the roar of traffic, while a road like Highway 2 (encompassing portions of present-day Lake Shore Boulevard and Kingston Road) took advantage of the contour of Lake Ontario. As for downtown, “Few North American cities can boast a finer view than that seen up the broad mall of University Avenue, faced by the rugged dignity of the provincial Parliament Buildings,” Roberts noted. “The avenue is flanked by new skyscrapers, clubs, publishers’ offices, armories, hospitals, and a row of dwellings, in one of which Mary Pickford was born. It is a graceful eight-lane boulevard, with grass down the center and a flower display which would do credit to a city in the gentle Pacific coast climate.”

20120204uot

What the article captures is the end of an era. The 1950s were the beginning of the end of Toronto as a fiercely loyal outpost of Great Britain, an era when Sunday restriction began to loosen and the influence of organizations like the Orange Order waned. While Roberts notes that Toronto was seen to be both Canada’s most British and most American city, our southern neighbour began wielding a stronger influence. The old frontiers vanished with the growth of suburbia and the worship of icons like the Eatons became less devout and more irreverent. The flow of new arrivals continued, but diversified to include draft dodgers, Cold War refugees, and immigrants from the other side of the globe. To the rest of the country, our pursuit of wealth and the stereotype of the world revolving around Toronto still resonate, even if other regions are rolling in more resource-derived money than we are.

Roberts’ final thoughts on our fair city?

Toronto, admittedly, is not beautiful in the sense that San Francisco is, nor as colourful as its rival, Montreal. But the townsman cheerfully shrugs off belittling comparison. Toronto may lack the scenic charm and heady atmosphere of the French-speaking metropolis, but it has more tourists and is away out in front as a convention city—the “biggest,” of course, in Canada. It may be likened to a plain but clever woman, who has studied her good points and made the most of them. And, like the woman who has given intelligent aid to Nature, Ontario’s capital may be fairly called a handsome, as well as a prosperous, up-and-coming town.

Additional material from the May 17, 1980 edition of the Montreal Gazette. Unless noted, all images photographed by Ivan Dmitri and published in the March 22, 1952 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

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.

globe xmas1885

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.

xmas1889

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…

globe 1890-12-20 live turkeys

The Globe, December 20, 1890. 

20141224slaughtersale

The News, December 22, 1894.

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

news 85-12-22 ads

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.

me 97 xmas cover

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.

20141224johnmilne

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.”

news 10-12-24 xmas cartoon

Front page, the News, December 24, 1910. 

20101225world1910

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

20101225world1912

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.”

20141224coplands

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.

20101225world1915

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.”

 

20101215skuce1915

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.

20101225eatons1916

Toronto World, December 25, 1916.

20101225eatons1918

Toronto World, December 25, 1918.

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

20141224eatons1920

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.

20141224sickkids1923

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).

20141224sickkids

The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

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

20141224loblaws1924

Toronto Star, December 24, 1924.

20141224simpsonsblisscarman

Mail and Empire, December 25, 1930.

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

20141224christmaslights

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.

20141224coke

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.

20101225eatons1933

The Telegram, December 23, 1933.

 

20101225lingerie1934

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?

20101225simpsons1939

Toronto Star, December 23, 1939.

20101225britishfruit1945

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.

20101225eatons1950

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.

20101225donmills1960

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.

20141224elpaso

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.

20141224kodak

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.

20141224eagleson

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.

 

20101225walktodeath1965

Willowdale Enterprise, December 8, 1965.

20101225highway1965

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.

 

20101225sinclair1966

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.”

20141224newtonbrook

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.

20141224liptons

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.”

20141224chum

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.”

20101225caroling1975

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.

20141224simpsons1978

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.

20101225collegepark85

Toronto Life, December 1985.

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