Vintage Toronto Ads: Stopless Topless

Originally published on Torontoist on May 6, 2015.


Key to Toronto, December 1978.

By the late 1970s, Yonge Street was synonymous with sin and sleaze. Despite growing calls to clean up its adult cinemas, arcades, and rub-and-tugs, especially in the wake of the murder of shoeshine boy Emanuel Jaques in 1977, businesses dealing in titillation continued to launch along the strip.

Take the Pancake Bakery Group, which began as a purveyor of flapjacks at its Pancake Bakery Restaurant and Creperie near Yonge and Eglinton. Browsing the entertainment sections of Toronto’s dailies throughout 1978 and 1979 shows a business with aspirations. First came novelty pancakes—pizza pancake, anyone?—then circus-style entertainment. In Yorkville, they launched Daddy’s Money & Apron Strings, billed as “a unique food & beverage establishment where you never know who you’ll meet.”

Down at one of the Yonge strip’s legendary music venues, the Colonial Tavern, the group operated a series of increasingly naughtier concepts with names like Daddy’s Folly, O’Daddy’s Restaurant, the Pussycat Patio, and the Black Bottom Lounge. One ad suggested that the venues were being run by “an unbelievably true Sugar Daddy,” even if it was officially a reference to a free pizza-pancake giveaway. The Black Bottom promised acts like “Hot Tamale and her breathtaking Fire Dance accompanied by X-rated live shows.”

Daddy’s Folly offered topless servers, which—along with other venues across the city that provided similar service—upset provincial officials. In October 1978, consumer and commercial relations minister Frank Drea warned lounge owners to cover up their staff or else be hauled before liquor authorities for a license review. While some bars, such as the House of Lancaster, resisted Drea’s call, Daddy’s Folly complied. Walking by the Colonial after Drea’s request, Star columnist Peter Gzowski observed several Daddy’s Folly staffers picketing, holdings signs which read “WE’RE NOT PRISONERS” and “WE ABIDE BY THE LAW.” Gzowski heard one of the sign-holders yell, “Where’s CityPulse News?”


Toronto Star, June 15, 1978.

Daddy’s Folly and its siblings advertised “stopless topless” servers until February 1979, when Metro Toronto council banned the practice. Management was not happy about the move, claiming staff cringingly dubbed “Daddy’s Girls,” would earn less covered up. As a manager told the Globe and Mail, “[T]he public will be unhappy because this is the kind of entertainment they want.” Not everyone bought that line—a patron interviewed, while the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” played in the background, felt that partial covering was sexier (“It leaves more to the imagination”).

By spring 1979, ads for all of the Pancake Bakery Group’s enterprises vanished from the papers. A Star classified the following year listed their Yorkville location as a distressed property. The Colonial Tavern lingered on for a few more years before it was demolished in 1987 for a parkette.

Additional material from the December 18, 1978 and February 12, 1979 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the August 3, 1978, October 24, 1978, October 25, 1978, and May 29, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.


Rebelling Over Postal Station K

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2012.


One hundred and seventy-five years after William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern, another group of angry citizens seems ready to rise up against the government on the same site, or at least let a crown corporation know they are unhappy about the possible fallout from its sale—especially if that fallout proves to involve a high-rise condo, as at least one commercial realtor has predicted.

Monday night, a crowd cried things like, “No more condos!” and, “Our history is not for sale!” at a rally in front of Postal Station K, which is what stands on the Montgomery’s Tavern site today. The protest was organized by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle. As a modest crowd listened to speeches about the history of the site and its value to the community, a steady stream of passers-by lined up to sign a petition to save the building.


Event flyer.

“There’s really not much going on right now,” noted Canada Post spokesperson John Caines in a phone interview yesterday. An RFP (request for proposals) was made in April for Postal Station K, along with Canada Post properties at 50 Charles Street East and 1780 Avenue Road. “We’re considering selling them, but only if the purchaser provides a suitable replacement property or properties in return. We’re not looking to leave the area but upgrade and modernize our network.”


Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle (centre) leads rally in cry of “No More Condos!”

While the property is a national historic site, because of its role in the rebellion of 1837, Postal Station K is listed but not historically designated by the City of Toronto, affording it few protections under the law. Designed in art-deco style by Murray Brown, whose other works include the nearby Belsize Theatre (now the Regent) on Mount Pleasant Road and the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Postal Station K is one of the few buildings in the British Empire to bear the insignia of King Edward VIII. Built in 1936, it replaced a structure originally known as Oulcott’s Tavern, which had been used as a post office from 1912 onward. Besides sorting neighbourhood mail, the building has also, at times, provided space for businesses and a halfway house.

Colle first heard rumblings about a potential sale while on a Heritage Toronto walk through the neighbourhood several weeks ago. He decided to mobilize the community before any clashes with developers could occur. “It’s a great place to take a stand,” Colle noted in a phone interview, referring to the property’s symbolic value. During the fight against amalgamation in 1997, Colle participated in a march that stopped at the site. He believes Canada Post is “totally remote from the public” and he will do his “darndest to make sure they realize that the taxpayers of Toronto paid for that building and they can’t just sell it off willy-nilly without listening to us.” Beyond the building, Colle stressed the property’s role as a public gathering place, especially for wheelchair users who find its lack of barriers ideal for relaxing and meeting others.


Anti-high rise sentiments in the neighbourhood should not be discounted, especially when a high number of condos are underway or being proposed. Though community efforts failed to stop the Minto towers south of Eglinton Avenue, anger at former city councillor Anne Johnston’s role in brokering the deal that allowed the project to proceed led to her defeat in Ward 16 by Karen Stintz in 2004. Though Stintz was unable to attend the rally because she was on vacation, neighbouring councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) was on hand to lend his support.

If a condo doesn’t become part of the site’s future, what could the building be used for? Colle said that the Anne Johnston Health Centre, located across the street, had expressed interest in additional space for their programs. Eglinton Park Residents’ Association chair Tom Cohen imagined a commercial tavern paired with a museum celebrating the rebellion of 1837. Whatever happens, it’s likely that a creative solution that utilizes most or all of Postal Station K (which seems to be a condition of any sale) will be better received than a high-rise that does little to acknowledge the site’s history. Otherwise, any march down Yonge Street to mark the anniversary of Mackenzie’s rebellion this December might not be a mere re-enactment.


In the end, Postal Station K was integrated into the Montgomery Square condo tower, which is nearing completion as of early 2018. The older building will become dining and retail space. The project is one of the numerous towers sprouting up around Yonge and Eglinton, which combined with the work on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, have transformed the neighbourhood into a gigantic construction zone.

Vintage Toronto Ads: British Days at Yonge and Eglinton

Originally published on Torontoist on November 20, 2007.

Vintage Ad #409: Happy British Days at the Yonge-Eglinton CentreNorth Toronto Herald, March 29, 1974.

How does a newly-opened shopping complex bring in shoppers? Hold a British-themed sale, featuring specials on fine UK products like Orange Julius and Gordon Lightfoot records!

The Yonge-Eglinton Centre opened in October 1973 with Dominion and Horizon as its anchors. The short-lived Horizon chain was an attempt by Eaton’s to enter the crowded discount department store field. This location was converted to an Eaton’s store when the company pulled the plug on Horizon in 1978. Among the current occupants of its space are Silver City and Pickle Barrel.

The store we’re fascinated by is Bean Hut, a name that nowadays would be used for a coffee shop or vegetarian grocery. It has one of the few coupons offering a UK-related special, unless the beans are green and the sausages are anything other than bangers. We imagine the family voted “most awful family in Britain” that year made the trek across the Atlantic to catch this special, if the BBC documentary on them is any indication.

The main event in the neighbourhood that week was the opening of the Yonge subway extension to Sheppard and Finch stations, which may have been a more relevant theme to new commuters passing through. Such a sale might have inspired the following ad copy:

Need a drink or bite to eat to or from the office or a gift for your family? Take advantage of these money-saving coupons! See displays of new neighbourhood developments and future technologies that will guide you around the Toronto of Tomorrow! The SUBWAY SALE at the YONGE-EGLINTON CENTRE is a tribute to the innovative fashions, quality workmanship and hearty foods of our city. Your next stop is YONGE-EGLINTON CENTRE’S SUBWAY WEEK! 


From the final episode of Monty Python, aired on December 5, 1974, the “Most Awful Family in Britain” sketch.

As time wore on, and the cultural makeup of Toronto changed, once surefire promotions like “British Week” faded away among retailers and shopping centres. This ad serves as a reminder that into the 1970s there was still a strong base this was easily marketed to.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Two Takes on The Art Shoppe

Part One: The Surgeon General Warns That Choosing Office Furniture Will Make You Lose Your Colour

Originally published on Torontoist on August 28, 2007.


Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.

Pity Mr. Businessman, so lacking in colour. He may have secured a lovely office set for his coworkers from a venerable North Toronto furniture supplier, but his grey demeanor led to his dismissal during a round of belt-tightening at A.T. & Love in 1980.

Note the pyramid, which plays into the “abstract mystery usually associated with office planning.” The Pyramid Power fad reached its height in Toronto during the Maple Leafs’ 1976 playoff run, when coach Red Kelly placed pyramids around the dressing room and under the bench. Kelly felt the pyramids would act as a confidence booster by distracting the team from the latest outbursts from irascible owner Harold Ballard.

During this period, a second location was maintained in Bermuda. One wonders how many luxury desk sets were lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

Part Two: The Art Shoppe 

Originally published on Torontoist on November 28, 2014.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977.

No matter how timeless a business may seem, change inevitably occurs. Take the case of high-end furniture store the Art Shoppe, which was a fixture of the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood from the Dirty Thirties until this month, when it moved to a new location in the Castlefield Design District and left its old site to be turned into condos.

People thought Leon Offman was crazy to open a luxury goods store in 1936. Toronto was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, which had crushed the high-end hopes of other retailers. Catering to the carriage trade, Offman’s store offered art deco and modernist designs inspired by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school.

In a 1956 Globe and Mail advertorial, Mary Walpole offered a glimpse into the shop’s early years:

From the smart façade, which we have always admired, right through the three floors, it is an exhibition of the finest names in the land of furniture and so artistically and tastefully displayed that you can sit back and relax and almost forget you are in a store … The floors are so spacious that the effect is beautifully uncluttered and it doesn’t take too much imagination to get the feel of things you like in your own house.

By the 1970s, the Art Shoppe’s scope had extended to designing and supplying furniture for international luxury hotels, Mount Sinai Hospital, Aeroquay One (at today’s Pearson Airport), and others. Much of the store’s business came from outside the country, as Canadians freshened up their home décor less often than did Americans. “The average American replaces his furniture every five years,” Leon’s son Allan told the Toronto Star in 1973. “In Canada it’s once every 20 years.”

The store’s advertising was in step with trends and passing fancies of the era, from popular 1920s-inspired fashions to “pyramid power,” which the Toronto Maple Leafs once used in an attempt to improve their playoff chances. Ads also promoted office designs tailored to the specs of high-powered executives (such as the man above, who could almost pass for former Toronto mayor David Miller).

The store itself, according to the Star, had the sombre atmosphere of a funeral parlour: “Men remove their hats, voices are hushed, and the salesmen are as discreet as funeral directors.” And outside, tour buses regularly stopped to give visitors a look at the window displays.

In the ’70s the store expanded, taking up the full frontage of Yonge Street between Soudan and Hillsdale avenues. A Country Style donut shop at the south end of the lot gave way to a $2.2-million, four-storey atrium completed in 1975. Controversy briefly arose when local residents protested plans for a parking lot to replace six homes.

Given the skyward expansion of the neighbourhood, it was almost inevitable that the site would be sold for residential development. Freed Developments purchased the property in 2012 and revealed plans the following year for 29- and 38-storey mixed-use towers. Community resident associations and city councillor Josh Matlow contested the plan, resulting in mediation, which shrank the towers to 12 and 28 stories.

Where window displays previously tantalized bypassers with visions of stylish home interiors, they currently entice potential home owners with contact information for the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos.

Additional material from the October 12, 1956, November 19, 1975, and September 13, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the April 12, 1973 and April 17, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.