Vintage Toronto Ads: Coming Christmas Day—The Odeon York!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 20, 2011.


Toronto Star, December 24, 1969.

Things opened on Christmas Day: presents under a tree, cards from dear friends, bottles of wine at the dinner table, old family wounds, and movie theatres.

Yes, movie theatres.

Catching a film on December 25 is a tradition for lonely souls eager to escape painful reminders of the holidays, for families and friends to flee chaotic Christmas celebrations for a few hours, and a shared cultural experience for those who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place. With a large pool of customers to draw upon, especially on a day when few other businesses are open, why not use Christmas to debut a splashy new cinema?

Parents may have welcomed the York Theatre’s opening bill on December 25, 1969, since neither of the main attractions was suitable for younger audiences. We suspect kids were content to stay home and play with Santa’s deliveries. Viewers could take the theatre’s spiral staircase to see a farce (Cactus Flower) or a foursome (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice).

Blockbusters graced the screens of the York until 2001. After operating as an event venue and fitness club, the site became the Madison condo project.


star 1984-09-19 amadeus ad

Toronto Star, September 19, 1984.

The York occupies a sentimental spot in my heart, as it was the first place I saw a drama intended for grown-ups, as opposed to family-friendly blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. We ate dinner at Harvey’s on the northeast side of Yonge and Eglinton, then walked over to see Amadeus. Nine-year-old Jamie was impressed, following along without being bored.

Best of all, I was a big boy now! Bring on the non-kiddie films!

(I went to kid-friendly flicks for a few more years)

I wonder if my father thought it might spur me to share his love of classical music. If so, it didn’t, though I briefly explored his Mozart records when we returned home.

Given the timing of Amadeus‘s release, this may have occurred either on my last trip to Toronto before my grandmother moved down to Amherstburg or the first visit there after she left the city.

By the time I moved to Toronto in 1999, the York was nearing its end. At the time, the few remaining non-rep house single or double screen cinemas in the old City of Toronto were heading toward their demise. A survey of the scene by the Star in January 2001 indicated that Cineplex Odeon was operating the York on a month-to-month basis and a “For Lease” sign was already out front. Elsewhere, Famous Players did not renew the lease at the Plaza in the Hudson’s Bay Centre, while the fates of the Eglinton and Uptown waited for a ruling in a human rights complaint regarding accessibility (the result of which was used as an excuse for their closure).

Sometimes when an old movie house closes, we can’t help feeling that there’s something more being demolished than the broken seats and torn carpets in the lobby. For some of us, our vivid memories of movies that mattered to us long ago are all wrapped up with memories of the way we were, who was with us at the time, and, of course, the odd little details about those places where we gathered long ago waiting in the dark for something wonderful to happen. – Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, January 21, 2001.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Discover the Mug

Originally published on Torontoist on January 11, 2011.


Tribute, Winter 1982.

It’s December 1982. You’ve planted yourself in a seat at the York cinema on Eglinton Avenue, arms loaded with popcorn and soda for fuel while watching Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic biography of Mahatma Gandhi. As the theatre fills up, you flip through the issue of Tribute devoted to Gandhi that you picked up on the way in. The short cast bios and puff pieces don’t hold your attention long, so your mind drifts elsewhere. You observe your fellow moviegoers, none of whom appear interesting or seem like they could be potential cause for concern during the movie. After polishing off your Coca-Cola and long before the trailers start, you flip through the magazine again to keep your hands and mind occupied.

While turning the pages, an ad catches your eye, though you’re not sure what draws you to it: the young server with flowers in her hair and a burger platter in her hand, or the mug filled with a healthy-headed beverage that may or may not be alcoholic. Mental note to self: suggest The Mug to your friends as a place to go after Christmas shopping at the Eaton Centre?

And then the movie begins…

Postscript: By the end of 1985, The Mug appears to have evolved into the J.J.Muggs chain. Of the locations listed in this ad, 500 Bloor Street West currently houses Aroma Espresso Bar, while the 1 Dundas Street West branch awaits its reincarnation as Toronto’s second Joey Restaurant. The next feature at the York will be a 3D showing of My Date With a Wrecking Ball, as the building (later used as an event venue and fitness club) will be demolished to make way for a condo.