Vintage Toronto Ads: Why Can’t You Set Your Monkey Free? (or Chimp Change)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 20, 2008.

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Toronto Life, September 1969.

How can an advertiser go wrong when they hire an adorable simian to help pitch their product (or not-quite-as-cute, as testified by the venerable gorilla suit mascot of Active Surplus on Queen West)? The old “aww, aren’t they cute” factor kicks in to such a degree that it may not matter what colour the model’s outfit is or that the “jungle” is a merely a cluster of trees next to a suburban pond or farm.

As for the fate of two of the listed locations, 92 Bloor West would have been located at or near Bellair Street (Roots, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma are listed at 100 Bloor West, Harry Rosen on the opposite corner is 82), while the Oakville branch operates as a menswear store.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Disco, Yorkville Style

Originally published on Torontoist on January 8, 2008.

Vintage Ad #463: Disco Checkers

Toronto Life, January 1978.

After reading today’s ad, Torontoist is certain of one thing—modesty was not a key element of the “Yorkville style,” especially when it came to attracting dancing queens and boogie kings looking for a place to strut their stuff. The neighbourhood had a cluster of disco floors waiting for John Travolta wannabes to demonstrate their dance skills and soak in the attitude. One might have been lucky enough to see celebrities like Sonny Bono indulge in the Yorkville way of life!

Nearly all elements of 1960s hippie Yorkville had been extinguished by the time Checkers opened on the second floor of Cumberland Court in early 1977. The last of the old coffeehouses, the Riverboat, remained in business for another year while upscale boutiques and dining spots set up shop around it. In an interview with the Toronto Star, a tourist from Winnipeg summed up the change in atmosphere. “Last time I was here in ’69, everyone was into pot. Now they’re into money.”

In a review for the Toronto Star, Bruce Kirkland noted that “the game Checkers plays is to create the illusion of sophistication—through luxury sofas and chairs set around classy wooden tables, better and more varied music than you find in routine discos, and the cultivation of a self-appointed chic crowd of straight couples and singles looking for excitement. Yet the service was slow and unreliable, albeit friendly, and the supposed main focus of a disco, the dance floor, was smaller than a subway washroom and about as atmosphere-laden.” He also felt that while drink prices were reasonable, a “nondescript” cup of coffee was a ripoff at $1.

In a survey of Toronto disco floors, the Globe and Mail was equally unimpressed with the size of the dance area. “The dance floor is located in front of a plate-glass window at the entrance, an arrangement that gives the unpleasant sensation of dancing in a fishbowl.” The neighbourhood competition included Mingles (“the place has all the warmth and charm of a sound stage”), Arviv’s (“much more pleasant to be seen sipping wine than working up a sweat”), Dinkels (“inhabitants of the dance floor range from 20-year-olds in Fairweather disco dresses to refugees from the Four Seasons in polyester leisure suits”), and Fingers (“it’s a place for intimate conversation and there’s a Latin twist to the music, an unusual and refreshing change”).

Patrons eventually got together someplace else as references to Checkers disappeared from local newspaper entertainment guides after the 1981 holiday season. Cumberland Court still exists and is home to the venerable Coffee Mill restaurant, which moved there in the mid-1980s.

Additional material from the June 17, 1977 and July 25, 1977 editions of the Toronto Star, and the December 16, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail.

UPDATE

After a long run, the Coffee Mill closed in 2014.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Hotel Toronto Deserves

Originally published on Torontoist on August 9, 2007.

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Source: Time, April 24, 1972.

All the city deserves is another high-end hotel?

Continuing Torontoist’s periodic look at downtown’s early 1970s hotel boom, it’s time to turn north to Yorkville. During the latter half of the previous decade, developments such as the Hyatt Regency and Hazelton Lanes, along with a growing number of high-end boutiques, began to erase the neighbourhood’s image as the home of coffeehouses and bohemians. One might not have been able to catch as many musical acts in the neighbourhood as before, but visiting businessmen were probably more dazzled by the spectacular meeting rooms and other thoughtful extras.

Hyatt eventually turned its attention across Avenue with the Park Hyatt, with the Regency becoming the Four Seasons.

UPDATE: Over time, the Four Seasons became known as a celebrity hub, especially when TIFF rolled around, which I learned the hard way one year when I was nearly run over by a mob of fans chasing a glimpse of some movie star. After the hotel closed in 2012, part of the site was demolished, while the rest was converted to condos. A new Four Seasons hotel opened at Bay and Yorkville.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Shoulders by the Grange

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, December 1984.

To borrow a line from an old Saturday Night Live parody of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s fashion sense, you may ask yourself “why such a big suit?”

Village by the Grange opened on McCaul St in the mid-1970s as a mixture of residential and retail spaces. Any secrets the complex held by the time this ad appeared were hidden in each model’s shoulder or loose jacket. The toll of those stuck in narrow passages or otherwise injured by wide clothes across Toronto during the mid-1980s is unknown (though if anyone wants to check the police accident records, your perseverance will be admired).

If you look at the Emy’s model from a certain angle, her outfit resembles a heart—raised curves at the top, narrowing to a point by the waistline. A subliminal suggestion that anyone would love to wear this, or an early hint for Valentine’s Day gift ideas?

BEHIND THE SCENES

Now that “Vintage Toronto Ads” was rolling along, I began buying cheap used copies of old magazines to widen my selection of source material. This was one of the first from a batch of mid-1980s issues of Toronto Life I found at a bookstore along Yonge Street (I want to say ABC, but don’t quote me on that). Dated fashion quickly became handy if I was in a hurry to write the column, or when the inspiration well ran dry. I might collect some future installments together, since I usually didn’t have a lot to say – the images told a better tale than I could. What more is there to say about the ridiculously puffed up shoulders on the Emy’s model?

There will be more about Village by the Grange – rebranded in recent years as Yorkville Village – in future posts.