Vintage Toronto Ads: The Humming of O’Keefe

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2007.

2007_09_11okeefe.jpg

Source: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.

As Torontoist reported yesterday, the Hummingbird Centre is changing its name to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, marking the second change in corporate naming rights during the venue’s half-century existence. Support of the site has ranged from a philanthropic brewer (O’Keefe Brewing head E.P. Taylor) to a multinational media company.

As today’s ad promised, Yonge and Front has seen a wide range of performances since the O’Keefe Centre officially rolled out the red carpet on October 1, 1960. Broadway musicals were a natural to top the list, as the grand opening featured the out-of-town tryout for Camelot, starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and former CBC television performer Robert Goulet. Opening night proved a lengthy affair, with the final curtain falling close to 1 a.m. Show writer Alan Jay Lerner noted in his biography that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” The show was significantly trimmed by the time it hit the Great White Way two months later.

In its 1974 Toronto GuidebookToronto Life summed up the O’Keefe’s history. Note the usage of capital letters on certain words.

It was built for $12 million in 1960 as a public relations gesture by a brewery – and has been patronized ever since chiefly by the kind of people who drink Scotch…The O’Keefe Centre, when it was built, was the largest concert hall in North America—3,155 seats in a cavernous auditorium, approached through a lobby which, with its carpeting, chandeliers and mural by R. York Wilson, is a monument to Culture in its own right.

The road towards the venue’s first name change began when Carling O’Keefe was purchased by rival brewer Molson in 1989. The naming rights were sold by the city (who received the property from O’Keefe in the late 1960s) to software producer Hummingbird in 1996.

In this age of rapidly-revolving corporate names on buildings, is anyone willing to place bets on how long the Sony name survives?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Opening night at the O’Keefe Centre, October 1, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 796.

As of 2017, the venue still bears Sony’s name. A large nearby parking lot still refers to it by its original name.

For a fuller look at the O’Keefe Centre’s origins, check out Kevin Plummer’s Historicist column.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Even the Hippies…

Originally published on Torontoist on June 5, 2007.

Vintage Ad #248 - Even the Hippies Read Our Magazine

Source: Toronto Life, July 1967.

…need to know the latest bridge strategies.

Businesses rushed to latch onto hippies during the “Summer of Love” as their next target market, if only to convince squarer clientele of how their product swung with the times (and there was a lot of swinging going on within the pages of Toronto Life’s first half-decade).

The pair on the right appears to be part of a Velvet Underground-style band—he with Sterling Morrison/Andy Warhol pockmarked skin, she with Nico’s icy reserve.

The model on the left? Three possibilities:
1) A tourist from the suburbs, pulled away from her garden to make the other two look less remote and threatening.
2) A “lady who lunches” in training, hoping to eventually earn a passing reference on the monthly social calendar photo spread.
3) The only member of the trio who actually hung out in Yorkville.

As for Toronto’s hippies that summer? In August, a sit-in was held to push the city into making Yorkville Ave a pedestrian mall. Despite arrests and follow-up events (a Queen’s Park love-in and City Hall sleep-in), Yorkville was not closed to traffic. The idea of a pedestrian mall lived on, with the Yonge Street Mall experiment during the 1970s and comtemporary special event versions such as P.S. Kensington.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 67-03-28 source of toronto life hippies ad small

Source: Toronto Star, March 28, 1967.

I don’t know if the ad’s models were ever part of any band, but several years after the original post was published, I stumbled upon a Star article about opening night for the 1967 edition of the annual Spring Thaw theatrical revue. And there were the three “hippies” from the Toronto Life ad, only here they were dubbed “mods.”

Following the show at the Royal Alexander, these young hippies/mods/swingers/fashionistas/whatever-you-want-to-call-them may have joined in the opening night party at Ed’s Warehouse restaurant. Among the attendees were Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Earl Rowe and Maple Leafs star Frank Mahovlich. Among those not present were former Ontario Premier George Drew (stayed at home due to a slipped disc; his wife went) and Mayor William Dennison (at the evening’s other major arts opening, the National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake at the O’Keefe Centre).

ts 67-03-28 source of toronto life hippies ad

Source:  Toronto Star, March 28, 1967. Click on image for larger version. 

Some of the proceeds from opening night benefitted Niagara Lodge, a summer camp for psychiatric patients operated in Niagara-on-the-Lake by the Metro Toronto branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Previously used as a hospital for First World War vets suffering from TB, the aging campsite required plumbing to replace obsolete outhouses and repairs to roofs and walls.

gm 1967-04-01 spring thaw adSource: Globe and Mail, April 1, 1967. Guessing the cartoon depicts Barbara Hamilton.

Besides poking fun at the Centennial Year, the 1967 edition of Spring Thaw, My Country What’s It To You, marked the revue’s 20th year. Written by Don Harron, the show had sold out 58 of its 60 performances across the country before reaching Toronto. It took a humourous look at Canadian history from the ice age onward.

The Globe and Mail‘s Herbert Whittaker enjoyed the show:

gm 1967-03-28 whittaker review of spring thaw
Source: Globe and Mail, March 28, 1967.

The Star‘s Nathan Cohen was less enthralled:

star 1967-03-29 cohen review of spring thaw Source: Toronto Star, March 29, 1967.

These reviews reflect each critic’s style: Whittaker highly supportive of Canadian work, Cohen wanting something better than the norm. My guess is that I’d probably be inclined to side with Cohen on this one, possibly because such patriotic humour isn’t my taste, probably because Harron’s humour regarding Canadiana feels antiquated these days (going by the endless copies of Charlie Farquharson books lining fundraising book sale tables and thrift shop shelves, and the one time I saw him perform at a Heritage Toronto Awards ceremony).