The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).

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: Short Cuts 9

Let’s Have a Sherry Before Dinner!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2012.

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Liberty, October 1955.

As with many cookbooks from the 1950s, print quality and the passage of time have not done wonders to the appetizing qualities of these special oven-roasted meals meant to be enjoyed with a cheap Canadian sherry. That this fine beverage’s economic benefits are touted as much as its palate-pleasing qualities tends to reinforce the poor image the Canadian wine industry enjoyed among serious oenophiles at the time.

We weren’t able to find much about the Canadian Wine Institute apart from its evolution into the Canadian Vintners Association. We do know that they offered a free home delivery service during the 1950s—newspaper ads published throughout the decade offered prompt service if you ordered three or more bottles over the phone from the nearest wine store. The organization also offered cooking guides rich in suggestions for using sherry in ways other than pickling yourself.

How to Solve a Prop Emergency

Originally published on Torontoist on July 18, 2012.

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The Performing Arts in Canada, Volume 6, Number 1, 1968.

In the midst of a busy summer theatre season, a missing prop can strike terror in the heart of any performance troupe. Sure, skilled actors can improvise around an absent item so well that an audience would never notice its absence, but given all the time devoted to maximizing a prop’s symbolic value during rehearsals, wouldn’t you want a replacement or close approximation? Have no fear—the polymer industry has come to your rescue!

Whether it’s Yorick’s skull or a hand-crafted Godzilla statue that the unfortunate fellow depicted in today’s ad can’t find, a quick run to Toronto’s venerable Malabar costume house to pick up some Polysar XB-407 might have solved his problem. Not that it would do a perfect job of replicating everything—we doubt it would have recaptured the texture of Aunt Ruthie’s old scarf that was borrowed for the production, never mind placating Aunt Ruthie once she discovered the neckwear she’d worn since her flapper days was nowhere to be found.

Who is Canada’s Most Quoted Newspaper?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2012.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1962.

In the three-way battle for Toronto’s daily newspaper readers during the early 1960s, any minor advantage turned into a selling point. For the Telegram, digging up stats on how often it was quoted proved a matter of pride, especially when compared to its ideological opposite, the Star. The Telegram’s quote tally may have been aided its growing roster of editorial columnists—some of whom, like Douglas Fisher and Lubor Zink, would be associated with the paper and its stepchild, the Sun, for decades.

Not that being quotable helped the top two papers on this list. We ask you to observe a moment of silence for the Telegram (died 1971), the Ottawa Journal (died 1980), and the Montreal Star (died 1979).

Watch Your Feet!

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 21, 1930.

It was one of silent cinema’s most iconic images: comedian Harold Lloyd dangling from a clock face in 1923’s Safety Last. Seven years later, talkies had arrived and Lloyd attempted to recapture the excitement of that scene in an extended sequence, complete with period slow-talking racial stereotypes, for his second sound feature, Feet First.

The film made its Toronto debut during a late evening showing at the Uptown. The Star noted that the theatre “echoed to laughter” for over two hours, primarily over Lloyd’s antics. As for the rest of the night’s fare, the paper was succinct: “The remainder of the bill is good.”

Additional material from the November 22, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Tiny Bennett Wants You to Unpollute

Originally published on Torontoist on April 24, 2012.

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The Telegram, April 24, 1971.

Today’s ad appeared to be the bright beginning of a newspaper campaign designed to raise awareness among Torontonians, especially younger residents, about the environment. What idealistic youth could resist doing their part to build a better world by tracking their own efforts at helping Mother Nature, or by wearing an “I unpolluted” button as proudly as Telegram pitchman John “Tiny” Bennett wore the conservation badges on his jacket?

While Bennett wanted people to join the “unpollute” campaign, he soon decided he no longer wanted the Telegram. Since joining the paper in the late 1950s, Bennett, whose nickname derived from his 6’6”, 250-pound frame, had served as a man-on-the-street reporter, covered environmental conferences, and offered cooking and wine-making tips. But it was his outdoors column that he took pride in, as it allowed him to share his love of nature. “He helped countless newcomers to the outdoors discover its secrets,” noted the Sun in 1978, “and was never too engrossed in his activities of the day to stop and give advice, practical help, or encouragement. His patience, particularly with children, was boundless, and the knowledge that they would one day enjoy outdoor life as he did was the sufficient reward.” Despite having a syndicated column, making various media appearances and writing half-a-dozen books, by 1971, Bennett’s annual take-home pay from the Telegram had dropped $1,000 from what he earned five years earlier. When he requested a raise, the result was a memo that, according to journalist Jock Carroll, “was so insensitive his wife cried when she read it at the kitchen table.” Bennett quit and had the memo framed.

The campaign only lasted one summer, as the Telegram ceased to care about anything when it folded in October 1971. Bennett joined other former Telegram staffers at the new Toronto Sun, where he revived his column. Upon his death in June 1978, the Sun reminded readers that “In his columns over the years, he told how he made his own candy and ginger syrup, studied snakes and plants, and was a bird watcher and nudist.” The weekend following his passing, Bennett’s column space featured a short tribute accompanied by a picture of a fisherman striking a Bennett-like pose with fine catch. This seemed a fitting final honour for Bennett, who traced his love of the outdoors to the gypsies who showed him how to fish as a child in his native England by using special herbs as bait. Bennett reflected that “they taught me nature.”

Additional material from The Death of the Toronto Telegram and Other Newspaper Stories by Jock Carroll (Richmond Hill: Pocket Books, 1971), and the June 15, 1978 and June 18, 1978 editions of the Toronto Sun.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Tiny Bennett’s final column, from the June 18, 1978 Toronto Sun.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hobnobbing with Authors

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2012.

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The Telegram, May 24, 1971.

There once was a time when newspaper book editors could relax on a tower of bestsellers, comforted by the knowledge that their section received full blessing from the bean counters.

As today’s ad notes, the revamped Telegram books page featured editor George Anthony’s column on general notes from the publishing world, a selection of current reviews, and columns dedicated to mystery, paperbacks, and children’s literature. Apart from the columnists, the reviewers were drawn from across the paper’s staff, ranging from entertainment writer Sid Adilman to newsman Peter Worthington.

One publication unimpressed by Anthony’s selection of friends to hobnob with was Books in Canada, which devoted a page of its debut issue to the revamp. That all of the headlining authors and books piled under Anthony were American stuck in the magazine’s craw. Even the book he was reading, The Sensuous Man (whose prime advice, according to its review in the Telegram, was to watch monkeys copulate at the zoo), was from south of the border. The article noted that the combined Canadian sales of the seven listed authors’ most recent books were less than Pierre Berton’s previous opus, The National Dream. With bookselling in Canada calculated to be more difficult than in the United States, “is it any wonder that Canadian publishers beat their heads against the wall when they see valuable newspaper space being devoted to the latest imports?”

The article’s parting shot:

We are left to speculate: will he move into a new social sphere where he might “hobnob” with Norman Mailer, William Gass, and Kate Millett, or, horror of horrors, might he find that Canadian writers like Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Margaret Laurence, Peter Newman, Leonard Cohen, not only sell more books in this country than do his American friends, but are also willing to hobnob with newspaper critics.

We browsed several of the Telegram’s book sections from the spring of 1971. Though Anthony’s column mixed gossip from both sides of the border and the genre columns often discussed Canadian books, few domestic titles were featured in the main review section. We suspect the primary reasons were reader interest in foreign books and limited room to fill (there was barely any white space on the pages we reviewed).

When the Telegram folded in late 1971, Anthony moved to the Sun, where he served as the tabloid’s original entertainment editor before beginning a long career in the television industry.

Additional material from the May 1971 edition of Books in Canada.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here is the Books in Canada piece criticizing this ad campaign.

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And here’s a sample of what the Tely’s book page looked like, taken from the April 24, 1971 edition. Click on the image for a larger version.

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Good Grief Charlie Brown!

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2011.

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Cover of The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2004), which includes the first strips seen in Toronto newspapers. Cover design by Seth.

“DYNAMITE NEW SPAN 6-LANES NEVER USED,” screamed the headline atop the November 15, 1954 edition of the Telegram. While extensive water damage from Hurricane Hazel to an unopened Highway 401 bridge over the Humber River required TNT to tear down the buckled structure, the story at the bottom of the front page introduced readers to a new feature in the paper that proved equally dynamite: a comic strip that exploded into the hearts of readers in Toronto and around the world.

Among the new features—introduced under the headline “To Make Your Reading Easier The Telegram Presents A New Look”—were two comic strips making their local debut. Though the paper promised Marmaduke would “keep you in chuckles,” it has long been debated whether Brad Anderson’s chronicles of a giant dog was ever comical. The second strip tickled more funny bones: “On the first page of the second section appears a new comic series Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz. Mr. Schulz has created a weird and wacky world inhabited by small children and an improbable dog that makes a very different type of comic strip.”

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954.

A fuller profile of Peanuts and its creator appeared inside the paper. The strip’s name “refers, not to baseball’s favourite accompaniment, but to children—the funny (peculiar and humorous) children who populate this strip, already popular in other countries.” The article neglects to mention that Schulz hated the title Peanuts, which was devised by his syndicate after the name of an earlier strip he drew, Li’l Folks, was subjected to a copyright claim by the creator of a defunct 1930s strip. As Schulz once noted, “Whenever I am asked about the origin of the name ‘Peanuts,’ I always manage to slip in a little dig that it is the worst name ever thought of for a comic strip…It was undignified, inappropriate and confusing.”

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The Telegram, November 15, 1954. 

Readers were told that they would meet a “band of children whose reactions to everyday occurrences are half-childish, half-adult, part-philosophical and wholly amusing.” The cast was still evolving when Telegram readers first met the gang: Linus had ceased to be a toddler, Pig-Pen had debuted earlier that summer, the short-lived Charlotte Braun yelled a lot, and characters like Peppermint Patty, Sally, and Woodstock were years away from appearing.

The first regular strip, which ran underneath stories about the Queen Mother’s visit to Ottawa and Prince Charles’ sixth birthday, saw Lucy counting the number of suns in the sky. When Charlie Brown explains that it’s the same sun that occasionally hides behind clouds, she tears into him (“and I suppose that same sun stays lit ALL day long?”) before declaring he “must be getting more stupid every day.” Good ol’ Charlie Brown moans about his stomach in response.

Readers didn’t retch though: Peanuts remained a key element of the Telegram until the paper’s demise in 1971. Rights were picked up by the Star, where reruns continued after Schulz’s death in 2000.

Additional material from You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! by Charles M. Schulz (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985).

Election Results, 1930s Style

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2011.

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Newsstand at the northeast corner of King and Bay, November 9, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1289.

How will you discover the latest election results on Monday night? Watch them on television? Head to the neighbourhood bar? Follow Torontoist’s coverage? Take the matter into your own hands and tweet the early returns to the entire world? OK, maybe you should be careful with that last option—if a tattletale rats you out, an Elections Canada official may reward you with a hefty fine, since social media is off-limits while the west coast is still voting.

Back in 1930, early reporting wasn’t a problem. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, Canada didn’t have a national broadcasting network, any telegraph and telephone operators who sent early results to the west wouldn’t have faced any harsh legal penalties, as section 329 of the Canada Elections Act wasn’t enacted for another eight years.

How did Torontonians satisfy their election night curiosity at the dawn of the Great Depression? Thanks to the city’s four daily newspapers, voters who cast their ballots on July 28, 1930, had two options: listen to special radio broadcasts in the comfort of their homes, or join the crowds gathered outside the cluster of press buildings around King and Bay to find out if Conservative leader R.B. Bennett would topple the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

For those in a partying mood, the liveliest festivities were found at the Star’s new headquarters at 80 King Street West (now the site of First Canadian Place). Four screens were set up: one for typed bulletins with the latest results, one utilizing a telautograph (an ancestor of the fax machine) “by which the actual writing of the operator at the telegraph wire is made visible to the crowd,” and two movie screens. To soothe those who were anxious and to entertain those who were bored waiting for the results, a 22-piece orchestra was on hand. For readers who couldn’t make it downtown, the Star set up two screens at Fairmount Park at Bowmore Road and Gerrard Street East (one featuring the latest bulletins, the other comedies), which were accompanied by diversions ranging from a military band to a ladies’ softball game. Coverage on the Star’s radio station, CFCA, was anchored by hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt.

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Mail and Empire building, northwest corner of Bay and King streets, December 30, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2037.

A few doors east of the Star at the northwest corner of King and Bay, the Mail and Empire didn’t add any frilly touches to its offerings, apart from a loudspeaker that played music and a platform for candidates to address the crowd. Results were screened across the street on the side of Cawthra House. The paper promised that during its four hours on air over radio station CKNC, there wouldn’t be any breaks from its election coverage for regular programming—“lulls, if any, between results will be filled in with music.”

The opposite was true of the Telegram’s radio plan. Listeners of CKGW were promised that there would be little disruption to the programs they normally enjoyed on a Monday night, as updates from the Tely intruded for three brief election bulletins. Meanwhile, down at the Tely’s office at Bay and Melinda (now occupied by Commerce Court), results were flashed on the side of the building. Breaks were filled by movies, projected drawings sketched on the spot by the paper’s cartoonists, and live music courtesy of the 48th Highlanders. (We wonder if any of the pro-Bennett blurbs the paper used as space fillers during the campaign—such as “British Bankers Back Bennett…So Should You” and “Vote Bennett and a Boom/Oust W.L.M. King and Gloom”—were projected on “the old lady of Melinda Street.”)

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Advertisements, the Globe, July 26, 1930 (left); the Globe, July 28, 1930 (right).

The Globe, then located at 64 Yonge Street, projected returns for the public via a stereopticon (or magic lantern) onto a canvas hanging on the Melinda Street side of the Dominion Bank Building (now One King West). Seven phone lines were set up to provide returns for eager callers. The paper promised that for its radio coverage on CFRB, “Special preparations have been made to make the radio newscast as rapid and accurate as human ingenuity and the super-powered equipment of CFRB will permit.” Regardless of which way the vote went, readers were promised that Prime Minister King would provide a short radio message once the results were in.

That speech turned out to be a concession address, as Bennett emerged the victor. While the result may have disappointed ardent followers mulling outside the Liberal-leaning Globe, we suspect the crowd was jubilant outside the staunchly Tory Telegram. Despite each paper’s fierce partisanship, no fights between neighbouring left-leaning Star readers and right-leaning Mail and Empire fans were reported. If there were any bitter feelings, voters bottled them up until the internet comments section was invented.

Additional material from the July 28, 1930, edition of the Globe; the July 26, 1930, edition of the Mail and Empire; the July 26, 1930, and July 28, 1930, editions of theTelegram; and the July 28, 1930, edition of the Toronto Star.