Shaping Toronto: Christmas Window Displays

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2015.

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View of Christmas window display at Queen and Yonge Street, December 26, 1958, Photo by Harvey R. Naylor. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 101, Item 23.

90 years ago, the Globe illustrated the annual pilgrimage of shoppers to the Christmas display windows of downtown’s consumer temples with prose as colourful as holiday lights:

There is a peculiar fascination in Christmas window-shopping, and for the lucky beggar whose purse is at once portly and elastic there is a stimulus in a leisurely stroll along main thoroughfares gazing upon the wonder display flaunted through polished glass plate. On a pre-Christmas afternoon—the purple twilight shattered with shafts of rosy light gleaming from a thousand meteor-lights illuminating the shopping district of the city—men and women, boys and girls loitered in the glare, finding appeal in the magnificence of the Yuletide exhibit.

For decades, Christmas wasn’t complete without viewing the holiday window displays of the rival department store giants at Queen and Yonge: Eaton’s (which also decorated its College Street store) and Simpsons. At their peak during the 1950s and 1960s, crowds jostled for the best view as children and adults stood transfixed by each year’s animated presentation of nativity scenes and Santa’s workshop, and families drove for hours to view the spectacular scenes.

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Globe and Mail, November 30, 1953.

In her book Eatonians, Patricia Phenix described the craft and creativity presented in these via one created for Eaton’s College Street store (now College Park) by Merchandise Display Manager Ted Konkle and his wife Eleanor:

In one illuminated window, movable figures skated figure eights on a Teflon rink; in another, a baby Jesus figure lay in his crèche, surrounded by the figures of three wise men, their velvet costumes designed to Italian Renaissance exactitude. The figures, modelled in Styrofoam, were moved electronically after heated brass rods were inserted in their bases.

The Konkles prepared much of the installation at home, where their clothesline was loaded with papier-mâché figures. “We remember our son sitting in a high chair pounding Styrofoam with something or other,” Ted Konkle recalled. “We were weirdos, let me tell you.”

Weird perhaps, but such efforts worked, pleasing the public and corporate accountants. But something was lost when Eaton’s replaced its downtown stores with its Eaton Centre flagship in 1977—with only three windows along Yonge Street to work with, executives decided there wasn’t room for a holiday display. When the decision was passed off an experiment to gauge public reaction, the Globe and Mailhad a simple reaction: “boo.” It’s tempting to treat this as foreshadowing for the retailer’s unpopular decision to drop the Santa Claus Parade in 1982.

Meanwhile, high-end retailers like Creeds on Bloor Street utilized holiday displays inspired by fashionable New York windows, where the icy creepiness of mannequins was used for dark comedic effect. The shock value of designs which skirted the boundaries of good taste made good headline fodder.

For Holt Renfrew, as fashion director Barbara Atkin told the Star in 2001, a good store window is like good sex: it’s all about the fantasy and allure. She noted that any retailer who just filled the window with merchandise didn’t appreciate, in the Star’s words, “the gentle teasing, the fervent anticipation and the climax of landing the sale.” Since the late 1990s, Holt Renfrew has drawn gazes for themes ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Moulin Rouge.

Beyond consumerism, holiday window displays can serve as a forum for social issues. This year’s scene at Untitled & Co on Queen West looks like a stereotypical nuclear family enjoying Christmas dinner…until the husband slaps the wife. The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH) hopes it will raise awareness of the spike in domestic violence the stresses of the season create. “We wanted to bring awareness to the public and we wanted women to know and understand that they weren’t alone during this period,” OAITH chair Charlene Catchpole told the Globe and Mail. “That isolation when everybody around you is happy, excited, looking forward to Santa coming and having this big holiday meal, when you can’t afford those things and you’re waiting for that other shoe to drop—we really wanted to let women know that they weren’t alone.”

The traditional department store holiday display is still available at Simpsons’ successor, Hudson’s Bay. Comparing its display to Holt Renfrew’s in 2008, the National Post observed that “kids don’t care about couture. They care about Santa Claus and elves.” We’ll see how both sides mix in the neighbourhood next year when Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue make their downtown debuts.

Additional material from Eatonians by Patricia Phenix (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002); the December 14, 1926 edition of the Globe; the November 25, 1977, April 5 1980, and December 14, 2015 editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 1, 2008 edition of the National Post; and the December 20, 2001 edition of the Toronto Star.

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Opening City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2015.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

When the new City Hall opened on September 13, 1965, that afternoon’s Toronto Star editorial echoed many initial thoughts about our new $31 million landmark:

Suddenly today every Torontonian is ten feet high. For the new City Hall is his. He is part of its greatness and shares its beauty. There in its mass and grace is his visible assurance that he is a citizen of no mean city. The building in Nathan Phillips Square is more than an impressive and proud architectural statement of civic status. It gives the metropolis a focus. It is the heart of Toronto’s future. It is the symbol of the new Toronto and we can rejoice in what it means.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Seven years after Viljo Revell’s design was chosen in an open competition, four years after ground had broken, the controversial structure buzzed with activity while preparing for its debut. Forty-two workmen moved furniture, including the mayor’s desk, across Bay Street via overnight dolly runs. Shelves were filled at the new library branch. Workmen scrambled to finish installing desks and rugs, catching up after an eight-week carpenters’ strike. Metro Toronto’s coat of arms for the council chamber arrived late. Officials decided that the first two floors of the podium, the council chamber, and the basement cafeteria were the only areas ready for public scrutiny.

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Cartoon by Sid Barron, Toronto Star, September 13, 1965.

A military band from Petawawa launched the festivities at 1:30 p.m., which drew a crowd of 15,000. The civic guard of honour escorted city councillors and suburban mayors and reeves from old City Hall to the platform in front of the new building. At 2:15, a 100-member honour guard drawn from five regiments marched into the square. Accompanied by the first of several RCAF flyovers, Governor-General Georges Vanier’s motorcade arrived on time. He was followed by the Finnish ambassador to Canada, Torstein Tikanvaara, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and Ontario Premier John Robarts.

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Toronto Star, September 14, 1965.

In his opening speech, Mayor Phil Givens observed that many were responsible for new City Hall, “from an architectural genius in far-off Finland, to the humblest labourer in Canada, and, above all, the support and patience of the citizens of this city.” To Givens, the building symbolized both Toronto’s transformation into a world-class city, and the audacity to build so unconventional a structure in a city steeped in tradition.

Pearson praised City Hall’s modernity, while lamenting the likely fate of its predecessor, which “must become a sacrifice to progress” (plans released later that week for an early version of the Eaton Centre would have demolished all but the clock tower of old City Hall). He was followed by Robarts, three religious leaders, and the presentation of a ceremonial gavel by Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps.

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The living former mayors on hand for the ceremony (Allan Lamport refused to come, while Hiram McCallum was out of town on business). The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

But the man of the hour was Nathan Phillips, whose championing of the new civic square led to his name being bestowed upon it. Givens and Vanier presented him with the Civic Award of Merit gold medallion. Phillips slipped comfortably back into his “mayor of all the people” mode all day, joking with fellow dignitaries. When he examined Givens’ new office, Phillips grinned and said “I didn’t know I was building this for you, Phil.” Noticing the press later on, he assumed a serious tone to state how this was one of the most important events in his life, and how grateful he was for the honour of having served as mayor. He smiled as he switched back to his normal speaking voice. “How was that, eh?”

While Phillips was visibly moved by the reception he received, one of his predecessors was a party pooper. Allan Lamport had backed more conventional designs during his mayoralty in the early 1950s, and believed taxpayer money was wasted on the project. Having campaigned to review the project during his failed 1960 mayoral bid, his bitterness was still evident. Lamport spent the day at his insurance office. “I have to work for a living and I haven’t got the time for parties these other fellows have,” he declared. He had no desire “to cheer something that is wrong and impractical for the taxpayers.”

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Globe and Mail, September 13, 1965.

After the presentation to Phillips, Givens paid tribute to Revell, who had died less than a year earlier. Revell’s widow Maire sat in the front row next to the Finnish ambassador. The Toronto Finnish Male Choir sang “Finlandia” to honour Revell, whose work was commemorated with a plaque by the front entrance. Mrs. Revell was given a gold pendant depicting her husband’s work. Despite her stern bearing during the ceremony, she later signed souvenir programs and indicated she had enjoyed the day even if it was difficult to express her feelings about the realization of her husband’s work. She admitted in a Globe and Mail interview that initially it wasn’t one of her favourite designs. “But when I first saw the drawings for it, I knew that it was going to be for the best,” she said. “I was really shocked at the design—shocked in the sense of liking it.” One of her laments was that Revell had visualized a sculpture by Henry Moore as part of the square, an element which appeared only after a battle royale among city politicians the following year.

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Mayor Phil Givens’s office. Canadian Architect, October 1965.

Among those sitting on the green benches reserved for dignitaries was 90-year-old Alfred Stagg. He had ventured downtown that day to buy a hearing aid battery for his wife. Noticing the crowd in the square, he asked a police officer what was going on. Stagg then shared stories about his childhood adventures on the site. “We used to play on the vacant lot there,” he told the Telegram. “And there used to be circus wagons there sometimes…and snake charmers and medicine men. I had a tooth pulled out by one of them.” The officer took Stagg by the arm and walked him past the VIP barricade. Asked his opinion of the new building, Stagg replied “I used to call it Phillips’ Folly. But now I like it.”

The ceremony ended with the official ribbon cutting. Watched by Givens and Metro Toronto Chairman William Allen, Vanier used a giant pair of scissors to cut the 132 foot long ribbon. Fireworks went off.

Confusion ensued when the dignitaries went on a post-ceremony tour. Robarts was accidentally barred from the mayor’s office. The building’s circular shape led confused guests into places they didn’t expect—trips to the cafeteria turned into expeditions through the chauffeurs’ garage. Limited elevator service created long waits for overcrowded cars to reach the council chamber. Pearson and others vainly searched for a staircase, only to discover that they were closed because they also led to the freshly asphalted front podium roof (workers were afraid high heels would leave holes). The PM joined everyone else in line.

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1965.

Press reaction was positive, steeped in civic pride and confidence in Toronto’s future. That feeling carried over into the Star’s man-on-the-street interviews, such as one with civic worker Jack Boustead:

You can have memories, but you can’t live in the past. The old City Hall, and I knew it for 54 years, served its purpose. The new City Hall is a symbol of Toronto’s progress and outlook on life. The City Hall should lead in new architecture.

Not everyone was pleased. Roofer John Fridz felt it lacked dignity, charm, and a clock tower. “This new thing is cold, grey, and not worth the cost,” he observed. “If it impressed any one—it won’t be from beauty.” At least one letter writer to the Star preferring that the hoopla be directed to building the Bloor-Danforth line into Etobicoke and Scarborough, proving you can work complaints about subway service in the east into any Toronto political development of the past half-century.

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Toronto Symphony Orchestra performing in Nathan Phillips Square. November 14, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2531.

Opening day ended with the first of a week-long entertainment series in Nathan Phillips Square, a salute to Canada’s military history. The next evening, around 30,000 watched a bill featuring the Canadian Opera Company, National Ballet of Canada, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The latter decided not to fire cannons during the 1812 Overture out of feat of shattering hard-to-replace glass—the replacement smudge pots proved a bust. “The entire event recalled something of a civilized ritual of a bygone era, the conversazione,” noted the Globe and Mail’s Ralph Hicklin. “There was music there—beautifully presented, well amplified—for those who wanted to hear it. There was room for the others, who had come to promenade, or to chat, or do a little courting. In Toronto, where we are reputed to take out pleasures sadly, it was wonderful to see so many people having a wonderful time, in surroundings as beautiful as any you could find in North America.”

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

Day two also saw the building open for public tours. Over 200,000 passed during the week, their enthusiasm keeping the tour guides perky. Some cranky visitors felt it was their right as taxpayers to visit private spaces. The most popular stops were the neighbouring offices of Allen and Givens.

Politicians testing the new facilities found flaws. The Board of Control found a committee room was too small to hold other officials and the press, while the Public Works committee met in the cafeteria. A policy to use the council chamber solely for full city and Metro council meetings was revisited. When Metro Council held its first full meeting on September 21, East York Reeve True Davidson, no fan of the building, insisted councillors didn’t need mics to be heard. She was later asked to remove her hand from her mic. After the session, she claimed she didn’t like how she sounded over the sound system.

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The Telegram, September 20, 1965.

The evening celebrations carried on, including events ranging from a multicultural night to square dancing. It climaxed on September 18 with “Toronto A Go Go,” a teen-centric concert featuring local rock acts and go-go dancers. Givens taped radio ads for the show, urging “all you cats and those who are young at heart” to come on down. The crowd of 60,000 whipped itself into a frenzy, causing officials to ask for calm several times. One of Givens’ requests turned into a duet featuring the mayor and Bobby Curtola singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Around 200 police officers were present in case the show went off the rails.

The climax came during the performance of the soul-influenced ensemble Jon and Lee and the Checkmates. During a cover of James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” singer Jon Finley’s gyrations “moved the girls in the front rows to new heights of endeavor,” reported the Globe and Mail, “as they screamed and tried to push through the police.” Givens and other officials had enough. According to Finley, the mayor tried to grab drummer Jeff Cutler’s cymbal, but was whacked across the knuckles as the band kept going. Finley was later helped off the stage, nearly unconscious—as another entertainer told the Star, “he doesn’t sing from his heart or that…he sings from his soul and it gets him emotionally.”

Givens ordered an early start to the evening’s fireworks.

Amid the mayhem, 19-year-old Brian Batt was stabbed, the result of an encounter with other youths described as wearing Beatles-style ensembles. The wound missed Batt’s coronary artery by a millimetre. Five men were later charged over the incident.

Despite the chaos, Givens was satisfied with how the go-go unfolded. “It was a great night and I’m glad we had it,” he told the Star. “There was a great spirit of enthusiasm, although I was worried a couple of times that someone might get hurt. But the police did a great job of controlling the crowds.”

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Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, September 13, 1965.

As politicians settled in and resumed their usual squabbling, the new City Hall remained a busy tourist attraction. To this day, the site retains its place as a symbol of our civic pride, and the heart of where we’d like Toronto’s future to unfold.

Additional material from Before the Gold Rush by Nicholas Jennings (Toronto: Penguin, 1997); the September 9, 1965, September 11, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 15, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 18, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 4, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, and September 20, 1965 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The final installment of  the second run of Vintage Toronto Ads, published on Torontoist on September 9, 2015, tied into this article.

When a major landmark opens, everyone (apart from skinflints complaining about cost) wants to join the party. It’s an opportunity to mark a major addition to your city, display optimism for the future, or find any means to hitch your wagon to the hoopla. Advertising in this vein ranges from simple congratulations to using the event as a springboard to brag about your latest milestone.

The opening of new City Hall in September 1965 was no different. The following ads mix historical perspectives, media coverage, building sketches, and corporations eager to embrace the future our new civic space symbolized.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 8, 1965.

Bosley Real Estate’s ad highlights how the process to build City Hall went back nearly two decades, and tips its hat to previous occupants of the site.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Shell Canada operated its head office at 505 University Avenue from 1958 until moving to Calgary in 1984. Design firm Mariani and Morris was among the contenders to build City Hall in the early 1950s.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

The Revell-inspired sand castles resemble those built by Nathan Phillips in an editorial cartoon five years earlier.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

John B. Parkin Associates’s Simpson Tower opened in 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1965.

Given the firm’s work on City Hall, employees of John B. Parkin Associates earned a well-deserved day off.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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The Telegram, September 10, 1965.

The Telegram’s supplement was the largest of the newspaper sections honouring City Hall.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Oscar Peterson

Originally published on Torontoist on June 17, 2015.

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Toronto Star, November 5, 1945.

In July 1945, Globe and Mail record reviewer Dillon O’Leary (in his tongue-twistingly-titled column “Hot Platter Patter”) declared that 20-year-old jazz pianist Oscar Peterson’s second single “My Blue Heaven/Louise” was disappointing “but his ideas still show lots of promise.” That promise was fulfilled: over the next 60 years, Peterson earned fame and honours worldwide.

Reviews of his early visits to Toronto, such as this one by the Globe and Mail’s Kay Sanford during a brief appearance at the Royal York Hotel in November 1945, glowed:

This personable young coloured man with the gifted fingers chased the ivories through a varied program and the blues to the lilting Polonaise in a style that left his audience with their mouths agape and pleading “Don’t stop now.” Yes, sir, that man is solid dynamite. But Oscar is a versatile lad who doesn’t just stick to the hot stuff. His long, graceful fingers caressed the piano in a flow of classics as well as chopping a faster tempo to more popular boogie numbers, offering tuneful evidence of the amazing gift which is his.

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Globe and Mail, March 7, 1946.

Peterson made his Massey Hall debut on March 7, 1946. “Peterson has technique, imagination and terrific drive, combined with that relaxed self-possession which allows a musician to give his best at all times,” O’Leary observed in his review. The crowd responded enthusiastically, applauding loudly following Peterson’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” and demanding encores at the end of the night.

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Globe and Mail, August 13, 1960.

Though born in Montreal, Peterson was later based in the Toronto area. One of his most ambitious local projects was the establishment of the Advanced School of Contemporary Music (ASCM) in 1960. Founded by Peterson, the rest of his performance trio (bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen) and clarinetist/composer Phil Nimmons, the school was established to allow professional jazz musicians to mentor emerging talent from across North America. Originally launched in the basement of Peterson’s suburban home, it soon moved downtown to 21 Park Road. The school initially offered courses lasting up to 17 weeks (later shortened to four), which the teachers soon found cut into their touring time. “When we set up the school,” Peterson told the Star in January 1964 after it suspended operations, “it was supposed to be a bit of a holiday activity on our days off. It never worked that way.” Despite the school’s demise, Peterson continued to teach, leading to a term as chancellor of York University. ASCM’s legacy will be honoured this week with the installation of a Toronto Legacy Program plaque on its site on June 18, the same day the Toronto Jazz Festival marks the 90th anniversary of Peterson’s birth.

While Peterson appeared in print ads and television commercials for products ranging from whisky to Coffee-mate, he also lent his presence to public service announcements regarding human rights issues. One such ad, “Together We Are Ontario,” featured Peterson and fellow jazz performers like Guido Basso and Moe Koffman promoting racial harmony in the province. The importance of such work to Peterson is reflected in his autobiography A Jazz Odyssey: on the dedication page, besides mentions of his parents and musical impresario Norman Granz, he gives a shout-out to former Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry, “who decisively assisted my efforts to persuade TV companies to feature more ethnics in their sponsorship programs.”

Additional material from Oscar Peterson: A Musical Biography by Alex Barris (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002); A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson by Oscar Peterson (New York: Continuum, 2002); the July 21, 1945, November 27, 1945, March 8, 1946, and September 10, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the January 6, 1964 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Very Special Birthday Party

Originally published on Torontoist on January 10, 2012.

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Globe and Mail, January 1, 1969.

9:30 a.m., January 2, 1969: a group of police-escorted limos filled with three generations of the Eaton family arrived at their Queen Street department store. As two of President John David Eaton’s granddaughters opened the store with a gold-plated key, fireworks exploded from the roof. Blasts were fired every four seconds until 100 went off. Inside, the Eaton family was greeted by a children’s choir and over 1,000 past and present employees. The entourage proceeded to the statue of store founder Timothy Eaton to officially launch the company’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

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Globe and Mail, January 2, 1969.

John David Eaton’s speech got off to a rough start when he mixed up his seasonal celebrations. “First of all a Merry Christmas…I mean a Happy New Year.” After a pause, Eaton joked “That’s a good way to start.” Though the slip was accidental, it may have signalled Eaton’s weariness with the duties he had been groomed for from a young age. After 27 years of running the company, Eaton retired from the presidency in August 1969.

Following a few more remarks, Eaton pushed a button which illuminated a six-foot “Eaton 100” logo. After the ceremony was over, a retired delivery man, whose association with the store dated back to the horse-and-buggy era, shook hands with Eaton. The teary-eyed man told Eaton, “I’m so proud.” Others in the crowd were less interested in greeting the owners—one woman asked “where are the shirts?”

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Globe and Mail, January 2, 1969.

Centennial activities were held throughout the year, culminating in a celebration at St. Lawrence Hall in December that included a seven-foot high birthday card and the presentation of an illuminated scroll by Mayor William Dennison. Given the mistakes Eaton’s management made during the company’s 30 remaining years in business, it might have been one of the last times they accepted anything that was illuminating.

Additional material from The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1998) and the January 2, 1969 edition of the Toronto Star.

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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: School Means Books (and a Larger Store)!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 6, 2009.

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The Globe, September 2, 1929.

For most city students, this week marks the start of another year of hitting the textbooks or reasonable facsimiles of. Back in 1929, local department stores such as Simpson’s did their part to further the education of their future customer base by offering texts alongside the normal range of school supplies. Of the subjects listed, note that it was slightly cheaper for students to study British history than Canada’s past, which demonstrates the societal ties that remained between Ontario and “the mother country” (unless the publisher simply charged less). Also note how perilously the texts float above each student’s head—we hope this wasn’t a hint that knowledge should literally be fed to student brains.

Besides students, today’s ad attempted to draw in visitors who came to Toronto once a year to attend the Canadian National Exhibition or enjoy a late-summer getaway. The addition referred to had opened to the public during the winter of 1929, with most of the prestige reserved for the unveiling of the Arcadian Court restaurant on March 11. Besides being “the smart place to meet friends,” the early days of the restaurant included regular fashion shows that showed off designs from around the world. While the Arcadian Court still operates, the same can’t be said for the Silence Rooms, which sound like a great concept for those needing a break from exposure to other shoppers. Would an attendant swoop down like a hawk on any hapless soul sneaking a cellphone call in the “silent” area?

Summer’s Here And The Time Is Right For Golfing In The Streets

Originally published on Torontoist on June 5, 2008.

Home-grown small-screen productions have also made ample use of our city’s streets since CBLT debuted in 1952. During the summer of 1971, comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster used downtown as a backdrop for an exciting new sport, city golf. Over the course of 18 holes, cameramen preserved pieces of the city that development has changed significantly in the ensuing years, from landmarks in their infancy to retail icons that have moved along.

Besides, wouldn’t shooting a golf ball down Queen Street over lunch hour be a great stress reliever, as long as you don’t brain any onlookers?

Among the sites to watch out for while viewing this clip (or to skip ahead to if Wayne and Shuster are not your taste):

1:54: City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, only open for six years at this point. Note the waving spectators on the top ramp.

2:10: Eaton’s Queen Street store. Initially located south of Queen when Timothy Eaton set up shop in 1869, the store moved to 190 Yonge Street in 1883 and gradually expanded to take up the entire block bounded by James to the west and Albert to the north. Company warehouses stretched along neighbouring blocks while a second retail store, the Eaton’s Annex, opened at Albert and Yonge. During the mid-20th century, the Queen store was Eaton’s mid-range store, with the Annex (destroyed by fire in 1977) catering to bargain hunters and their Yonge-College store (now College Park) attracting upscale shoppers. The sale advertised on the Queen entrance places filming around August, when the following ad appeared in local papers.

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Globe and Mail, August 2, 1971.

Across the street Simpsons also had a month-long sale running, though they appear to have taken less care in design and material with the “Great Toronto Days” banner.

The two stores would draw shoppers on either side of Queen until 1977, when Eaton’s consolidated their downtown retail operations into their new store at Yonge and Dundas during the first phase of Eaton Centre construction.

3:10: The first hole is near the King Edward Hotel, then on a downhill slide (note the less than elegant front sign). Before the decade was out, the hotel was threatened with demolition before being rescued by new investors…though its Crystal Ballroom might be a decent locale to practice short putts.

5:44: The original configuration of the 401/Don Valley Parkway interchange. The DVP had been built as far north as Sheppard by 1966, with Woodbine Avenue continuing northwards until the first phase of Highway 404 to Steeles Avenue was completed in 1977. More bridge hazards after recent construction would create a greater challenge in a modern game.

6:00: Long-gone parking lots on the south side of Carlton Street opposite Maple Leaf Gardens, later occupied by condos, fast food joints, Mick E. Fynn’s, Peach Garden, and Golden Griddle.

6:37: The Odd Fellows Hall at Yonge and College can be seen behind Wayne. Then a branch of CIBC, now home to Starbucks.

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7:40: The drawing of the 10th hole refers to several vanished buildings along Jarvis Street. The Four Seasons Motor Hotel at 415 Jarvis was the launchpad for the luxury hotel chain, which it maintained through the late 1970s. Opened in 1961, it won a Massey Medal for Architecture. Toronto Life’s Toronto Guidebook described the Four Seasons as:

…a great place: small and slightly chic (because of all the visiting celebrities who stay there, because of the proximity of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation across the street); not too expensive; only three storeys, so you don’t have top cope overmuch with elevators; and hassle-free parking. There’s a swimming pool in the central courtyard…a bar-cum-discotheque downstairs called The Studio from which, at lunch time, the timeless Elwood Glover conducts his CBC-TV interview show.

This was a boom time for the chain, with Inn on the Park humming along, its first overseas hotel welcoming guests in 1970, and the development of a new location on Queen that became the Sheraton Centre. The Motor Inn was closed in the late 1970s and eventually demolished, with The Central condos currently staying for the night at its address.

CBC was headquartered at 354 Jarvis until the opening of the broadcast centre on Front Street. Its land is now occupied by Radio City and the National Ballet School. We suspect “the beverage room” was a watering hole for employees of the Corp.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

“City Golf” originally aired on the September 19, 1971 edition of The Wayne and Shuster Comedy Special. According to a capsule preview in the previous day’s edition of Starweek, the show also featured a spoof of Citizen Kane, and a sketch going behind-the-scenes of a minimum security prison. Musical guests were Salome Bey and Gilles Vigneault.

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Blaik Kirby’s review of the show, from the September 20, 1971 edition of the Globe and Mail. The comedic merits of the city golf sketch are still debatable.