Across This City With Stompin’ Tom

Originally published on Torontoist on March 7, 2013.

“People say Stompin’ Tom’s sound ain’t culture, and I say it’s real,” Toronto Mayor David Crombie declared when he handed the Canadian music icon the Best Male Vocalist award at the 1973 Juno Awards. While some critics found Stompin’ Tom Connors corny, devoted fans like Crombie were drawn by his colourful, good-humoured songs and relatable lyrics. For Connors, who passed away yesterday, 1973 was a banner year, with many of its highlights occurring in Toronto.

“If you can’t identify with one of Connors’s work songs because you’ve never picked potatoes or crewed on a coal boat,” Robert Martin observed in the Globe and Mail following a January 20, 1973 Massey Hall concert, “he’ll get you with one about that small town you grew up in or lived in for awhile.” Connors’s work could also evoke big-city life, as in songs like “To It and at It” (later used for SCTV’s classic parody of Goin’ Down the Road) or “TTC Skidaddler.”

Connors spent the early part of 1973 waiting for confirmation of a proposed Labour Day headlining show at the CNE Grandstand. One problem: the CNE board of directors had to approve performers, and half of them had never heard of Connors. As he waited, Connors turned down other potentially conflicting gigs, including a telethon. Depending on the source, in April he was offered either a “Maritime Day” show on August 17 at the CNE Bandshell or the opening-act slot for American country star Charley Pride on August 29. Either way, he would receive $3,500, nearly 10 times less than Pride was getting.

“I must decline this offer as a protest of the way the Canadian entertainers are treated by the CNE and other exhibitions in Canada,” Connors told the press on April 24. “It means something to every Canadian performer to appear at the CNE, but there are a lot of fogeys around who listen to one kind of music. They should make it their business to know what’s going on.” His action signified his ongoing support for Canadian musicians, another aspect of which was his Boot record label, which existed in an office above Gryfe’s Bakery on Bathurst Street.

Two weeks later, Metro council’s executive committee asked the CNE to present 60 per cent Canadian headliners. CNE management claimed that its entertainment was as much as 95 per cent CanCon, but that total encompassed all forms of live performance. The political pressure and Connors’s stance worked. That fall, CNE officials agreed to place more emphasis on domestic headliners.

Meanwhile, a series of concerts Connors played at the Horseshoe Tavern in mid-May were filmed for the documentary Across This Land With Stompin’ Tom. The film captured the strong rapport he’d developed with his audience, and was sprinkled with guest acts, animation, and vintage footage of TTC streetcars. Ontario Place audiences caught Connors in IMAX during a segment of Catch the Sun at the Cinesphere, or in person during an August performance at the Forum.

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The televised wedding of Lena Welsh (being interviewed by Elwood Glover) and Stompin’ Tom Connors, November 2, 1973. Photo by Frank Lennon. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0039988f.

In early September, Connors announced that he was getting hitched to long-time girlfriend Lena Welsh. The ceremony aired live on CBC television during the November 2 edition of Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date. Around two million viewers watched the wedding, which was broadcast from the basement of the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Street. Connors wrote a song for the occasion, “We Traded Hearts Today.” Guests included Polaroid-snapping New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield and Gaet Lepine, the Timmins bartender who launched Connors’s career in 1964 when he asked the performer to sing to pay off a nickel beer debt. Following a lobster buffet, the wedding party went to the Imperial Six cinema on Yonge Street (now the Ed Mirvish Theatre) for the premiere of Across This Land With Stompin’ Tom. The party moved to the Holiday Inn on Chestnut Street (now a University of Toronto residence) before the newlyweds departed for a 10-week honeymoon. The marriage endured until Connors’s passing.

Sources: the January 22, 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the January 20, 1973; March 14, 1973; April 18, 1973; May 9, 1973; May 16, 1973; September 3, 1973; and November 3, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas for The Telegram (Part 4)

In December 1959, the Telegram ran a comic strip adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In our last episode, the Grinch was convinced he had destroyed Christmas in Whoville.

December 22, 1959

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December 23, 1959

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December 24, 1959
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The microfilm copy of the final strip was in poor shape compared to the rest of the page (perhaps it was printed in colour?). Also, don’t you feel they could have wrung at least another day from the overload of text in panel one?

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For print/microfilming quality comparison, here’s Frank Tumpane’s Christmas Eve column, which was placed beside the Grinch strip.

(Sidebar: Tumpane was a columnist, usually focusing on city matters, for the Globe and Mail during the early-to-mid 1950s, then moved over to the Tely, where he remained until his death in 1967.)

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

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Toronto Star, December 17, 1966.

Chuck Jones’s animated adaptation made its Toronto-area debut via Buffalo’s WBEN-TV (now WIVB) at 7 p.m. on December 18, 1966.

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Toronto Star, December 19, 1966.

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Globe and Mail, December 20, 1966.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Original Blue Jays Advertisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

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

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Globe and Mail, December 23, 1972.

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

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Globe and Mail, February 24, 1973.

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

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Globe and Mail, December 17, 1977.

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

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Globe and Mail, January 7, 1978.

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

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

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Star Week, June 5, 1971.

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

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Globe and Mail, March 21, 1977.

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

Vintage Toronto Ads: Election Central ’68

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2012.


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American presidential candidates, 1968. Left to right: George Wallace (American Independent), Richard Nixon (Republican), Hubert Humphrey (Democratic). Toronto Star, November 5, 1968.

It’s election day south of the border, which means many Torontonians will spend tonight glued to televisions or to social media, awaiting the results of an endless campaign. Among tonight’s options for analysis is CBC, which provided plenty of coverage during a three-way presidential race 44 years ago—even if most of it came from another broadcaster.

Viewers settling in for the evening on November 5, 1968 witnessed the final chapter of a tense race. Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s campaign hadn’t made anyone forget the battles between police and antiwar protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Republican Richard Nixon had vowed to the media that they didn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore” after his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial contest. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose pro-segregation platform emphasized law and order, had mounted a strong third-party challenge. When the ballots were counted, Nixon carried 32 states, Humphrey 13, Wallace 5.

In Toronto, CBC television carried NBC’s election feed. To fill the peacock’s commercial breaks, the public broadcaster offered analysis from Washington correspondents Knowlton Nash and Gordon Donaldson. While the Globe and Mailpraised Nash’s solid commentary, the paper felt that NBC anchors David Brinkley and Chet Huntley lacked the “person to person strength” of CBS’s Walter Cronkite.

Star TV critic Patrick Scott preferred ABC’s coverage, citing the concise analysis of anchor Howard K. Smith and the reunion of the “incomparable comedy team” of guest commentators William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal following their combative performance during the Republican National Convention. “If you are going to go with NBC anyway,” Scott observed, “you might as well go with it all the way and spare yourself the tortures of the CBC’s guest commentator, a sort of pauper’s combination of Buckley and Vidal called Tony Howard, whom I can only assume Knowlton Nash found on his doorstep on Hallowe’en.”

Additional material from the November 6, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, November 6, 1968.

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Toronto Star, November 6, 1968.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Jack of Hearts’ Flying Circus

Originally published on Torontoist on September 20, 2011.

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Toronto Sun, February 28, 1974, depicting Gilda Radner and Victor Garber.

In brief: Jack was a musical extravaganza based on the four Jacks in a deck of cards, and it featured Victor Garber embodying hearts. Another Jack, Star TV critic Jack Miller, praised it as fun, melodic, and unpredictable, “a musical experience that flies in several directions without ever losing either itself or its pace.” We’d back up Miller’s recommendation, but we haven’t seen it.

And now for something completely different…

The first two series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted on CBC as part of the network’s fall 1970 lineup. After 19 episodes, the show lost its place on the schedule in January 1971 to The World We Live In, an American science program whose title could have been a Python skit. Throughout the week after CBC yanked Monty Python, more than 700 people called in to complain, while 150 students staged a demonstration outside the network’s Montreal studios. CBC officials promised to air the remaining seven episodes as soon as they could find a slot—the show eventually returned, becoming a fixture on the network during the first half of the 1970s. In Toronto, the troupe’s popularity solidified during a long run of their film And Now For Something Completely Different at the Roxy on Danforth Avenue and sold-out live performances at the St. Lawrence Centre in June 1973.

One person left unimpressed by the series was a Mr. John Cameron, who wrote to the Sun in February 1974 regarding the show’s prejudicial attitude toward the Scots. As you read Mr. Cameron’s complaint, with proper Python-ese diction and a “Dear Sir” at the start, try to imagine which skit ticked him off so much that he wished to inflict the Spanish Inquisition on the national broadcaster:

How long is the CBC going to be allowed to bring into this country such racist garbage as the English BBC Monty Python show that we are forced to watch every Thursday night, if we want to watch CBC. I would advise everyone to switch channels. The English government is responsible for this anti-Scottish poison and it is their deliberate policy to try to destroy the Scottish character by ridicule, portraying Scots as mean and miserly so that we will be ashamed of our racial origin, and more easily assimilated into the English Empire…The CBC is a government of Canada body, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada and this proves that our Canadian government is nothing more than a stooge for the English government and this country takes its orders from England and is a partner in these criminal activities against the Scottish people.

Mr. Cameron went on to bellyache about the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s hypocrisy in not pursuing action against this slight to the Scots, before concluding that Monty Python was “the most sick, racist show on television, and it proves just how degenerate our Canadian and English government’s policies are. Imperialism still lives.” The Sun’s one-line response? “We think Monty Python is very subversive—as CBC brass thinks too.”

We’re surprised they didn’t say “you’re a looney.”

Additional material from the February 2, 1971, and February 28, 1974, editions of the Toronto Star, and the February 22, 1974, edition of the Toronto Sun.

The Roar of Greasepaint, The Smell of Gunfire

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2011.

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“Hundreds of onlookers thought they were witnessing an actual bank holdup and police-desperado gun battle at Yonge and Grosvenor today as these phoney [sic] officers raced onto the scene as part of the filming of a TV drams.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Wednesday morning, downtown Toronto. As a bank robbery unfolds a desperate man, hiding his identity underneath clown makeup, threatens to blow up the financial institution and anyone within it if his demands are not met. Outside the police prepare to swoop in—their every step monitored by a television camera crew filming the scene for an upcoming police drama.

While such a scene wouldn’t faze citizens used to seeing crime shows like Flashpoint and Rookie Blue filmed on Toronto’s streets, the reaction from passers-by was far different during the first decade of local television production. When a CBC crew filmed Power to Destroy at the Bank of Montreal branch at Yonge and Grosvenor Streets (now an A&W) on September 10, 1958, some of those who gawked believed they were witnessing an actual crime scene. As the Telegram reported in that evening’s edition, “for a hectic hour today the corner was the scene of what will probably go down in history as the most confused bank robbery staged in downtown Toronto.”

Based on an incident that happened in Montreal, Power to Destroy was chosen to lead off a new season of CBC’s Sunday night drama showcase General Motors Theatre. The cast included Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey) as the clown-faced robber, John Drainie (veteran radio actor and an original co-host of This Hour Has Seven Days), and, as a cop, James Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek). The bank robbery sequence shot on the morning of September 10 was to be mixed in with live studio performances when the program aired 11 days later.

Given how the shoot went, it’s a good thing the robbery wasn’t transmitted live.

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“Despite the generous co-operation of real Metro officers, some of whom are seen here, director Paul Almond had to shoot the scene several times before he was satisfied. Traffic piled up and there was one collision as unknowing onlookers gaped.” Photo by Madison Sale. The Telegram, September 10, 1958.

Despite having genuine Metropolitan Toronto police direct traffic around the intersection of Yonge and Grosvenor, so that actor cops could rush into the bank, the outside world had a habit of interfering. One motorist who stopped to inspect the hubbub outside the bank blocked the way for a fake cop car, causing the actors inside the obstructed vehicle to stop 100 yards from the shoot.

Filming resumed as an ever-increasing crowd of onlookers tried to figure out what was going on. The Telegram reported that “the shooting of the bank robbery scene had such authenticity that a crowd of more than 200 gathered open-mouthed on the street, waiting for the worst to happen.”

The “worst” turned out to be outside drivers and other bystanders:

A woman driver tried to turn the corner and watch the officers in action. Her car ran into the rear of a car driven by another woman. As both argued, a middle-aged woman suddenly screamed at her husband. “I told you not to stand there. He’s inside the bank armed. Get back, Henry, get back.” A drunk wobbled onto the scene and warned all who would listen: “I know the guy that’s in there and he means business. They won’t get him without some shooting.” An elderly man turned to his wife and said “I don’t think he can get out of there with all these officers around. But we’d better move on anyways.”

By this time, bystanders who clued in to what was going on teased anyone walking by who was unaware of the situation—when one woman asked what was up and was told a bank robber had been shot, she replied “heavens, oh heavens.” As the morning wore on, the Telegram noted that the actors playing police officers “were shot over and over again, but their only wounds were sore feet from continuous running outside the Bank of Montreal.” Their fatigue wasn’t helped by incidents like a re-shoot caused by a traffic jam on Yonge Street. When the final scene was shot at noon, “a confused little man, hobbling on a cane, got in the way of the cameras. Befuddled by shouts to move on he tried to move in all directions at once and almost fell in front of two ‘policemen’ sneaking up on a bank window.”

The finished product was reviewed by the Star’s Gordon Sinclair, who felt Power to Destroy “was no world beater but it had some merit.” He praised the way the filmed sequences were spliced into the live drama, but criticized the high volume of background noise in scenes set in the bank and police station.

Additional material from the September 10, 1958 edition of the Telegram and the September 22, 1958 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Astral Offers the Best of Two Worlds

Originally published on Torontoist on January 6, 2009.

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Broadcaster, March 1980.

Most of Torontoist’s recent reports on Astral Media have centred on their outdoor advertising unit and its role in the city’s new street furniture. We’ll take a short break from our continuing coverage to look back at what Astral’s television distribution arm was up to in 1980, when it offered programming that included a venerable prank showadventure travel, and a mini-series starring David Niven as a World War II Canadian spymaster.

One client was TVOntario, who aired the Canadian version of Kidsworld, a current affairs show for the junior set. Of the other shows listed, the one that probably received the widest distribution was the compilation of sketches from The Carol Burnett Show.

Astral dates its origin to 1961, when four brothers in Montreal launched Angreen Photo, which quickly landed the photo finishing concession for the Miracle Mart discount department store chain. By the end of the decade the company had expanded into film production and its own chain of photo stores. As for the other components of Astral’s corporate name in 1980, Bellevue was a Montreal photo lab acquired in 1963, while Pathé-Humphries operated film and recording studios in Toronto prior to being purchased circa 1967.

Within a year of today’s ad, Astral’s film arm produced a movie that raked in money for years: Porky’s.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Astral Media eventually faded into history, dissolving into Bell Media in 2013. I tried looking for videos of the TVO version of Kidsworld,  but only found samples of the American edition, which looks like it was shot on a lower budget.