Vintage Toronto Ads: A Home University Fit For an Empire

Originally published on Torontoist on March 2, 2010, though the image was long-missing there.

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The Empire, January 26, 1895.

Ah, nothing like using the bait of personal enlightenment to lure people hoping to expand their knowledge base into buying newspaper subscriptions and a set of encyclopaedias. The only cost to unlocking the “sum of all knowledge” and avoid being forever disparaged for having only attended a little red school house was to read the news of the day filtered through the official viewpoint of the governing political party in Ottawa. It may have mattered little which of the five great classes of humanity an Empire reader belonged to, as long as they ultimately used the knowledge gained to cast their ballots for the Conservatives (or, to go with the party name that was fading from official use, Liberal-Conservatives).

Based on these ads, the heart of the Empire’s library was the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Also known as the “scholar’s edition,” this incarnation of the popular series was published in twenty-four volumes between 1875 and 1889. Perhaps special note was made of this version being the “Edinburgh Edition” to distinguish it from the cheap forgeries that floated around the United States.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 17, 1887.

As for the newspaper offering the means of expanding one’s knowledge, the Empire was launched when the Conservatives found they could no longer trust the Mail (which the party had backed since the paper’s founding in 1872) to always push party policies. The editorial direction of the Empire was clear when the first edition hit the streets of Toronto on December 27, 1887:

It is proposed to strengthen by all legitimate means the hands of the Party and the Government that have controlled the politics of the Dominion (with the exception of a term of five years) ever since the foundations of Confederation were laid. Believing that the public affairs of Canada have been, on the whole, wisely and ably administrated under the premiership of Sir John A. Macdonald, and holding that the remarkable progress of our country has been due in large measure to his far-sighted and patriotic administration, The Empire will extend to the Leader and his Government its fullest confidence and heartiest support.

In short, if you liked new Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier, the Empire wasn’t going to be high on your daily reading list. Based on random flips through its pages, we recommend the Empire to those readers who have deep interests in the National Policy, coverage of the death of Sir John A. in 1891, and gatherings of late nineteenth-century cheese producers.

Faithful readers who dithered about buying a set of encyclopaedias had little time to ponder a purchase. Two days after the last of today’s ads appeared, the Empire published its final edition and merged with the Mail to form the Mail and Empire (which merged with the Globe in 1936). The newspapers on the left were mixed in their reactions to the Empire’s demise—the Star noted it was a “sorry good-bye” but that Empire staff “know how the chicken felt” on this “cold day” before the Star editorial writer criticized the Tories, while the Globe gave a front-page thank you to Empire staff for temporarily housing their paper after a fire in January 1895 destroyed the Globe’s office.

Additional material from the December 27, 1887, edition of the Empire and the February 6, 1895, edition of the Toronto Star.

Holiday Dispatches from the Toronto Daily Mail, 1888

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

For no particular reason other than it’s the holiday season (and the scanned pages of historical newspaper microfilm on Google News are working properly again), here are a few seasonal stories taken from the Toronto Daily Mail 130 years ago.

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Editorial, Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

The pre-Christmas edition of the Woman’s Kingdom page had several holiday-related items, starting with general thoughts about the occasion.

(Aside: the following year, Woman’s Kingdom was taken over by pioneering female journalist Kit Coleman)

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 22, 1888.

There were suggestions on what to have for Christmas dinner:

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There was also a poem about mince pies:

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The strangest item on the page was this story about women’s toes:

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On Christmas Eve, the Mail published the tale of a lonely boarder, residing by themselves in the city far away from loved ones, who decided to take in a vagrant for some holiday cheer. The result, if it had happened in 2018, would be a headline on the 11 o’clock news.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 24, 1888.

Finally, a few stories published in the Christmas Day edition of the paper. It seems odd that the man who was taken in for a crime he was immediately cleared of still had to pay bail. Also note the hordes of last-minute Christmas shoppers in downtown Toronto.

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Toronto Daily Mail, December 25, 1888.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Political Decor

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2014.

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 4, 1887.

It’s possible that some lucky souls will find a Rob Ford bobblehead doll under their Christmas tree this year. Whether hoarded by Ford Nation loyalists or re-gifted as a joke, these novelty items join the long line of political memorabilia that’s been available to Torontonians over the years.

Had the Ford administration been in office during the heyday of the party press, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers backing Ford would have offered supporters many mementos. Portraits and busts allowed readers to make known their political allegiances, and at election time were akin to modern-day lawn signs.

Had the 1887 federal election been scheduled earlier than February 22, the Mail might have offered its bust of Sir John A. Macdonald to true-blue Conservatives as a stocking stuffer. This fine terracotta likeness of Canada’s first prime minister would doubtless have taken pride of place in the homes of Tory supporters. Supporters of Liberal leader Edward Blake, meanwhile, might have used his bust as a decorative doorstop, tapped a hole in its head to convert it into a flower pot, or used it as a target for shooting practice.

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The News, March 13, 1914.

Photographic prints of Sir James Pliny Whitney served as a “get well soon” gesture. In late 1913, after serving for a decade as premier of Ontario, Whitney was ordered by doctors to take a vacation. On January 4, 1914, attorney general James J. Foy received a telegram indicating Whitney had suffered a massive heart attack in New York City. Though initially he was not expected to live, Whitney rallied. He was brought back to Toronto via train on January 19, and spent several weeks in hospital regaining his strength. By the time the above ad was published, Whitney was able to go on daily walks.

Those who bought a print might initially have been motivated by sympathy, but they soon found another reason to keep Whitney’s portrait handy—Conservative officials were convinced that, despite his health, Whitney would lead the party to victory in the upcoming provincial election. Whitney, realizing it would probably be his last hurrah, agreed to run. Though he barely campaigned, the premier’s appearance at a June 23, 1914, rally at Massey Hall left few eyes dry.

Coming back, my friends, as I have, by God’s mercy, from the shadow of the dark valley, I am constrained, nay, compelled, to express the thanks I owe to the people of Ontario. They have given me an opportunity. I think I may say, of being some service, and they have given me their confidence in full measure—in full measure heaped up, pressed down, shaken together, and running over—and as long as my renewed health and strength are vouchsafed to me I shall be at their disposal, and endeavour to give them the same faithful service I have in the past.

Whitney led the Tories to their fourth consecutive victory, and with an overwhelming majority of the vote. He performed some administrative work over the summer, and issued an official statement regarding the outbreak of the First World War in August. He died suddenly on September 25, 1914, from a cerebral hemorrhage; we imagine his portrait was displayed out of respect around the city.

Additional material from ‘Honest Enough to Be Bold’: The Life and Times of Sir James Pliny Whitney by Charles W. Humphries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), and the September 25, 1914 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Mail “Want” Columns Get Results

Originally published on Torontoist on January 22, 2013.

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

Based on the first situation depicted in today’s ad, it’s clear that, in 1886, serving real butter and eggs instead of that weird oleomargarine stuff was guaranteed to attract as many applicants for a boarding house room as, today, an attractively illustrated apartment listing on Craiglist draws renters. The medium may have changed, but the power of a well-placed classified ad remains the same.

Though small ads had been commonplace for years, recognizable classified sections only started appearing in Toronto papers during the 1870s. In his survey of the 19th century Canadian Press, A Victorian Authority (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), Paul Rutherford summed up the want-ad’s initial impact:

Normally, each item was very short, rarely fancy, mostly abbreviated, since the client was charged according to the number of words used. Here could be found something for everyone, whether of high or low station—business cards, real estate listings, articles for sale (including machinery), personals, board and lodging, above all jobs available and jobs wanted.

For years, the market leader in Toronto was the Telegram, which distinguished itself from other papers by devoting its front pages to classifieds, a practice it stuck with through the mid-1920s. By the end of the 1880s, the Mail carried an average of half-a-page of classifieds daily, and up to two pages in its Saturday edition. Their classified rates ranged from free (accommodations, jobs wanted, lost items) to two cents per word (commercial listings).

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Toronto Daily Mail, February 20, 1886.

In 19th-century Toronto classifieds, the buzzword seems to have been “first-class,” which may explain our city’s eternal obsession with securing first-class/world-class events and projects. Among the highlights of the January 23, 1888 classified section:

  • A barber was needed in Tilsonburg, but only if he was white and “first-class.”
  • Morrison & Co. of 48 Yonge Street was looking for sales agents for an entirely new line of products: “ornamental adhesive hooks used in houses, stores, banks, offices, etc., instead of nails and tacks.” The ad promised large profits.
  • A baker and his wife “without encumbrances” placed a “situations wanted” ad. He was “first-class on bread, cakes, and pastry,” while she was “competent to serve in store or assist in house.” Both offered “first-class references.”
  • A “large, handsomely furnished room” was available for boarding at the Stormont Lodge at the corner of Adelaide and John. The room was heated with hot air and dinner was served late. “None but first-class need apply.”
  • A “respectable middle-aged woman and her son, aged 12” sought a home for a few months. Both were “willing to make themselves generally useful.” They didn’t provide any first-class credentials.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Top-Rung Advertising

Originally published on Torontoist on February 28, 2012.

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The Toronto Daily Mail, March 1, 1892.

Newspapers have always wanted to sit atop the wall of public opinion. While we don’t think the children trying to climb the ladder represent any particular rival papers, we imagine that the two brats at fisticuffs by the “good work” rung could easily be the Mail’s nineteenth-century rivals, the Globe and the Telegram. The kid sprawled on the ground could be the Empire, which was established when the Conservative Party found the Mail no longer willing to toe its party line without question.

The Mail‘s editorial page on the day this ad appeared (March 1, 1892) shows no evidence of opinions that would have swayed public thought. The Mail’s push to sell eggs by weight, due to the inability of hens to lay uniformly-sized eggs, was obviously not successful, since we still buy them by the dozen. The editors’ energy was also devoted to pitching the value of the Mail as an impartial observer of the new session of Parliament (even if, despite the break with the ruling Tories, the paper tended to lean in their political direction). As the editors put it:

The Parliament of the Dominion is now in session. The proceedings during the next few months will no doubt be of unusual interest, not only by reason of the importance of the measures promised and the discussions thereon, but because exhaustive enquiries will be instituted regarding boodling [whose root, boodle, is defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “money, esp. when gained or used dishonestly, e.g. as a bribe.”] operations in various places. The Mail has made liberal and extensive arrangements for reports of the House and Committee proceedings, which will be prepared by an able staff of reporters and correspondents, whose instructions are to tell the whole truth, regardless of the interest of either political party. People who desire the truth must therefore read the Mail, and they will acquire such an accurate knowledge of the political situation as will enable them intelligently to consider and discuss all the important questions of State. Every patriotic Canadian should subscribe for Canada’s great independent paper.

We imagine a follow-up ad would have depicted new subscribers sitting on the wall alongside the flag-bearing boy, with the objective reporting of the Mail providing the balance required to prevent them from tumbling off like Humpty Dumpty.