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.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: The Leaning Tower of CN

Originally published on Torontoist on July 28, 2009.

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1987 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Little-known fact: during the construction of the SkyDome, so many people stared down at the rising stadium from the CN Tower that the landmark occasionally came to life, with binoculars in hand, to see what all the fuss was about. Reports of the tower leaning over at a precarious angle were written off as mass hallucinations or proof of too much partying.

But what if the tower leaned over too far while observing its surroundings? Back in the late 1990s, Toronto Life‘s Urban Decoder playfully imagined what would happen if the structure toppled over:

The CN Tower, we are assured, is a most stable structure. So to contemplate such a question…let’s say a large, aggressive, radioactive lizard were to rise up out of the harbour and find this most famous of landmarks not to her liking. A good push north would result in some extensive renovations to the Metro Convention Centre and CBC headquarters…If tipped to the northeast, the patrons of Roy Thomson Hall would suffer a greater disturbance than the usual coughing and whispering…A good shove to the south would create a convenient footbridge across the Gardiner, though depending on the angle, it might just nick the corner of York Quay Centre. A tumble to the west would close SkyDome for good; thereafter, the rubble would merely be a small impediment to further development of the railway lands east of Spadina. If kicked over to the east, the damage would extend as far as York Street; eastbound train services from Union Station would be unaffected, but commuters from Oakville might experience delays…This is all idle speculation, of course. The obvious target of a sauropod of delicate aesthetic sensibilities would be the condos on the waterfront.

Additional material from Urban Decoder: Secrets from the Dark Underbelly of the Mega-City! (Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1998).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Your Festival of Festivals

Originally published on Torontoist on September 4, 2007.

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Source: Toronto LifeSeptember 1985.

With this year’s Toronto International Film Festival kicking into high gear, it seems appropriate to look back to the advertising for its tenth edition, back in the days when it was known as the Festival of Festivals.

Besides today’s ad, Toronto Life also featured an article on the festival, highlighting its first decade and offering a preview of that year’s fare. The “Tribute to” event was scratched for 1985, after the debacle surrounding the previous year’s salute to Warren Beatty (cost overruns due to a switch in hotels from the Sutton Place to the Four Seasons and footing the bill to jet Jack Nicholson in, plus Beatty’s decision to sit in the audience for most of the night instead of onstage with Siskel and Ebert). New features included a series of pre-festival free screenings in High Park and “Open Vault,” a series of restored silent films with live musical accompaniment.

The magazine also offered their picks and pans:

What to See: Joshua Then and Now (the opening night gala), La Historia OficialThe Devil’s PlaygroundColonel RedlKiss of the Spider WomanThe Funeral and a restored version of Way Down East.

What to Avoid: Dim Sum (“You can tell it’s authentic because people talk very slowly and never say anything very interesting”) and Mishima (“More a graduate seminar than a movie”).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Toronto or Vancouver?

Part One: A Full Day of Fun in Vancou..Toronto!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 24, 2007.

2007_07_24ontario.jpgSource: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.

For years, Toronto tourism ads have gotten a bad rap. These attempts to bring visitors to our fair city have a knack of running off the rails—try finding the love for the Toronto Unlimited campaign.

Today’s ad proves this is not a recent trend, even when the provincial government is the culprit.

When you hear “Toronto,” are images of totem poles and children building castles on a sandy beach the first scenes that come to mind? One suspects these were not the prime attractions for 1950s travelers either (though the ROM would have been one of the few places in the region to publicly display aboriginal works at the time). Did the ad agency mix up the clip art intended for Toronto with that for Vancouver? Even the “Exhibition” could apply to both cities, since the drawing is so generic, the scene could be at the PNE as much as the CNE.

Our happy nuclear family may not have gotten to know Toronto in its 125th anniversary year. Father can only laugh at the travel bureau’s folly, especially when they failed to warn him that the city all but shut down on Sundays.

Part Two: The Wandering Welcome Wagon

Originally published on Torontoist on March 18, 2008.

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Source: Toronto Life, November 1969.

A family moves into one of Toronto’s more fashionable neighbourhoods. In the middle of deciding where Junior’s playpen will fit in the living room, there is a knock at the front door. Standing on the front step is the official neighbourhood greeter from Welcome Wagon.

The new residents are greeted with the finest publications our city has to offer: Toronto Life, the Vancouver Province, and an unidentified Vancouver Sunday paper (our city’s dailies respected Sunday day-of-rest traditions and didn’t launch a regular Sunday edition until the first Sunday Sun rolled off the press in 1973).

Junior is not impressed. Mother feigns interest. The greeter drops their gifts and moves on to the next set of new neighbours four doors down.

Originating in Memphis in 1928, Welcome Wagon doled out its first gifts to Canadians in Vancouver two years later. Perhaps our greeter had been with the organization since its early days and brought along leftovers to recycle when she moved to Toronto, or was confused by tourism ads placed by the Ontario government.

Just watch out if they hand you tickets for a Canucks home game.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the years, there were vintage ad columns with similar themes. In some cases, especially in these short early pieces, I’m going to group them together as a single post. These examples also illustrate how, especially if time was tight, I used my imagination to write scenarios for what was going on in each ad, a habit I’m tempted to revive when I start rolling out fresh material on this site.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

One historical note: there were earlier attempts to launch “Sunday” papers in Toronto, even if they weren’t necessarily published that day. To circumvent Toronto’s blue laws, the Toronto Sunday World was distributed late Saturday night beginning in 1891. A well-packaged paper, it outlasted the demise of the World in 1921, being published by the Mail and Empire until it was sold to Star Weekly in 1924 (good luck finding copies of those final three years, as major institutions don’t hold it on microfilm). The Telegram briefly experimented with a Sunday edition in the 1950s, but it didn’t last a year.

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

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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).

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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:

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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).