Originally published on Torontoist on February 9, 2010.
Valentine’s Day is less than a week away—have you selected a special card, a heart-shaped trinket, or a generic box of chocolates yet? Stereotypical gifts to suit every degree of thoughtfulness, or lack of that, were much the same in 1960 as they are now, whether you shopped at tonier shops in Yorkville or the neighbourhood five-and-dime.
This ad for Yorkville businesses included in ultra-fine print a list of merchants where shoppers could discover the BEST gift. Among the businesses still in the neighbourhood, even if their Yorkville locations have changed or have shifted south along Yonge Street, are Bay Bloor Radio, Birks, Curry’s Art Supplies, Grand & Toy, Roberts Gallery, and Stollery’s.
If a gift didn’t work, the way to a valentine’s heart might have been through his or her stomach. The Star’s Margaret Carr suggested a traditional full-course meal. “Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Carr wrote, “but I’m all in favour of the hearts-and-flowers type of day…So, what better valentine than a dream of a dinner for two, with soft lights and soft music? Even without any flowery verses, he should get the idea!” On the menu: veal scallopini, buttered asparagus, hot rolls, celery curls, cherry gelatine salad on lettuce, ice cream in maraschino cherry pastry shells, and coffee. If this meal didn’t produce the desired results, the chef could use Carr’s ready-made reply: “Roses are red, the salad is too, if this food doesn’t send you, nuts to you!”
While newspaper ads for Kresge’s and other retailers highlighted their selection of traditional boxed valentines, they didn’t mention whether they carried trendy “sick” cards. Seen as “contemporary” valentines for “sophisticated” people (or at least an excuse for the reporter to use air quotes), these cards ditched the traditional for quick insults. One example: a card with a lovely peacock on the front with the text “There’s something about you that reminds me of a bird…” The punchline inside? “…Your brain!” According to Toronto psychologist Dr. David A. Stewart, the cards were a cynical reaction by the “cool set” against use of traditional emotions like love in advertising campaigns. “It reveals a desire to get away from the traditional emotional expressions. It’s an affectation of coolness,” he told the Star. “Friendship is trite and corny, but we all appreciate it. We are living in a consumers’ goods society and we’re constantly exploited. It’s a little thing to sit down and write a note to a friend that would be more appreciated. But we’re in a hurry and use the printed cards.” Stewart predicted that the cards, which were popular in urban areas but not among the rural set, would soon die out in favour of traditional expressions of love.
Perhaps the popularity of “sick” cards inspired this piece of verse sent to the Star by Wilma M. Coutts of Durham, Ontario:
We’ve seen some classy valentines
Around here in our day,
Festooned with satin hearts and lace
And perfumed with sachet.
The valentines that we get now
Would make an artist wince,
Lop-sided hearts and wobbly darts—
Bedaubed with crayon prints.
These funny, funny valentines
Designed by someone small,
These are the ones we put away
And treasure most of all.
Additional material from the February 10, February 12, and February 13, 1960, editions of the Toronto Star.