Wednesday, December 30, 2009

a hometown holiday lesson

Sushi is not raw fish

While Amy, Sarah and I wandered around Amherstburg's annual River Lights Festival on Christmas Eve (more photos), we encountered this sign outside of a downtown sushi joint (something I never thought I'd ever see in my hometown).

So what is sushi? Check out the other side...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

last minute christmas shopping in toronto, 1909

Portion of Front Page of the Christmas Edition of The News (Toronto), December 15, 1909

Christmas is days away and local shopping centres are packed with shoppers scrambling for last-minute bargains and procrastinators who suddenly remembered they have gifts to purchase. Scenes filled with mobs of shoppers and frazzled sales clerks appear to have been as common a century ago as they are now.

While researching a holiday-related piece, I came across a special Christmas section of the Toronto News from December 15, 1909 that urged readers to shop early. Note the thoughtfulness expressed towards those who get the short end of the stick at this time of the year—a century later, these suggestions could spare us a lot of grief.

Christmas is almost at hand and the spirit of Yuletide cheer already here. One can feel it in the air—can read it on the face of the passerby. Thoughts are turning to the selection of gifts—each one to add to the cheer of the time.

If only those thoughts could be converted into action.

If instead of thinking of selection the great public were buying now.

How the Yuletide cheer would swell and grow, until every clerk—every delivery boy in every store in the land would rise up and call the Christmas shopper "blessed."

Now is the time to do your shopping—now while the stocks are fresh and clean.

Now while the stores are yet uncrowded and the air is pure.

Now while the clerks have the time and spirit for courteous and smiling service.

It is to your advantage to do your Christmas shopping early.

Your choice is better—shop service is better—you are surer of satisfaction in every way.

Make your shopping motto "Early in the season—early in the day."

Make this your gift, the most welcome one on earth, from the shopper to the worker.

Just as surely as you do you will do your part toward banishing the cruelties of a time which should bring nothing but joy.

Picture a moment the usual late Christmas rush in various shops, which has grown to such proportions in the last few years.

Think of the seething crowds of nervous people—irritable—tired of body.

Think of the workers—girls with aching bodies and pale drawn faces—paying tribute to the demands of a thoughtless people.

Step a moment back of the scenes. Think of the shipping, the packing, the wrapping and delivery forces working in feverish haste to the very limit of human endurance.

And still further back think of the candy makers, toy makers and box makers, whose health destroying "overtime" work follows the belated orders of the late Christmas shopper.

Think of this tumult keeping up until eleven o' clock Christmas eve.

And then for another moment think that all of this could be so easily avoided by a little thought and foresight on your part.

Is the world, indeed, heartless and inhuman?

Is it only heedless?

Does each individual buyer imagine that his neccessity differs from all others and that he alone is justified in his late buying?

Does one impulse of pity for the worn-out shop people visit a single breast?

We wonder also what the simple Workman of Nazareth, if He looked down here on things below, would think of the manner in which the most enlightened of nations celebrate His feast. Is it consistent with the spirit of Christmas expressed in the words "Peace on Earth—Good Will Toward Men."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

a hotel opens in toronto

Vintage Ad #979: Brett Halliday welcomes the Ramada Inn Downtown Toronto
(click for full-size version)

But how could our intrepid writer not been impressed with the facilities, flat rates and "Fiddler on the Roof" while writing this advertorial? He's being paid to enjoy it...which makes me wonder how Mr. Halliday would have raved about a lesser establishment...

I spent a considerable amount of time researching each and every room at the Harlequin Hotel and declare that these character-filled spaces have their own unique touches. I could visualize the merry moments of bliss that filled each eye-catching element of all twenty-five rooms. The sheets come in a rainbow of colours that reflect the moods and inspirations of previous guests. The lush carpeting retains an inkling of the form and function of times long past. Sam the manager has done a spectacular job taking every guest's needs into consideration, from the cool breeze percolating through the stained-glass windows to the complimentary selection of toiletries carefully chosen to enhance your evening rest.

Brett Halliday's advertorial guides to local dining and shopping establishments have been a staple of Toronto newspapers since the 1970s, most recently appearing in the National Post. Unlike most of his work from the late 1970s, Halliday's gushing praise of the Ramada is not broken up by one ellipsis after another. Most of Halliday's dining "columns" can only be fully appreciated if read with dramatic pauses or your best William Shatner imitation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

vintage new yorker ad of the day

Vintage Ad #922: Rose Marie Reid

This ad for a popular 1950s swimwear designer delighted quite a few websurfers when it was posted on Flickr. Chalk it up to the simple, classy style the ad designer used, or the hints of mischief emanating from the model's face.

As for what a New York shopper could have done to amuse themselves after purchasing a "jewel of the sea," let's consult the "Goings on About Town" section (or, as it was subtitled in '58, "a conscientious calendar of events of interest").

If they were in a theatrical mood, productions in first run on Broadway included Look Back in Anger, The Music Man, Sunrise at Campobello and West Side Story.

Under "Night Life", the "Big and Brassy" section might have caught their eye. At the Copacabana, "Ella Fitzgerald, as oracle of many voices, many moods, many tempos, can range from the romantic to the abstract as quick as a wink. She's the one good deed in a very long night." Use your imagination as to what that last statement implied about the rest of the evening's entertainment.

The description of a night at the Latin Quarter is even more colourful:
A fond and foolish replica of the days when floor shows really were floor shows—a pride of showgirls big enough to beat the Chicago Bears; a spate o singers, clowns (the very broadminded Bernard Brothers), pony ballerinas, and whatnot, all marching and countermarching, and a real onstage rainstorm. Lest all this indicate the world to be a ceaseless round of heedless pleasure, there is Johnnie Ray, homely homiletics at the ready, to sing and swing from a flying trapeze.
For high culture, they'd have to forget about visiting the Museum of Modern Art: it was closed "for carpentry and such," with no set reopening date.

The "Other Events" section covered happenings ranging from information on how to attend a Security Council session at the United Nations to prominent auctions. Even university commencements were listed: did our shopper or any readers decide to crash the festivities at Harvard on June 12 or Princeton on June 17?

Source: The New Yorker, June 14, 1958 - JB

PS: A trio of posts for your reading pleasure on Torontoist:

Friday, December 11, 2009

vintage playboy ad of the day

Vintage Ad #912: What Sort of Man Reads Playboy While Snorkeling?

This man didn't read Playboy for much longer. Distracted by the bikini of one of the lovely girls who went snorkeling with him, he released the breathing apparatus one second too long...

Source: Playboy, August 1973.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ossington and on

Christmas on Brock Avenue (2)

Scene from a psychogeography walk last week:

The display greeted the group of walkers as they emerged from a neighbourhood park onto Brock Avenue. Nearly every traditional and commercial symbol of the holiday season was present amid the carefully constructed carnival of lights. The jolly big elf, snowmen, penguins, gift-loaded trains, nativity scenes...little was left out of this west-end front yard apart from an illuminated thank you note from the beancounters at Toronto Hydro. It would have taken a supreme show of willpower from any bypassers not to stop and observe the display and find subtle touches that would be missed by others.

Christmas on Brock Avenue (1)

Just as remarkable was the simplicity of the lights next door. Knowing there was no way to compete with the neighbouring display, the house on the right opted for simple yet colourful strings of lights to provide a cozy December glow.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

slumping buildings department

Lopsided Balcony (2)

Lopsided Balcony (1)

How secure would you feel on these balconies? I felt seasick looking at them during a lazy walk through downtown Montreal.

Photo taken in Montreal, November 7, 2009 - JB

PS: Over on Torontoist, blind workers and trained toasters.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

how about them apples?

Golden Delicious Apples Waiting to be Picked

For the past several years, an afternoon of apple picking has been part of my Thanksgiving weekend. As long as the weather cooperates, it's a chance to relive a favourite childhood activity, when the entire family would head to orchards around Essex or Harrow. Recent pickings have been closer the latter, usually at one of two orchards on Ferris Road. This year, Amy, Sarah and I headed to Twin Oaks, a no frills spot where the only razzle dazzle is the van where pickers purchase bags for the fresh apple goodness to come.

The trees hadn't been fully picked over, leaving us with plenty of fruit to choose from and clown around with.

Ladybug on an Apple

Even the ladybugs joined in the fun, though they failed to wrestle any apples off the trees.

I'm still making my way through the x-number of pounds I picked. Most have wound up in lunchtime salads, mixed with cheese, mandarin oranges and other goodies.

All photos taken October 11, 2009 - JB

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

vintage monthly detroit ad of the day

Vintage Ad #666: 1978 International Walk for Mankind (Sponsored by CKLW) - resized

While Project Concern is still functioning, it should also be noted that none of the chains thanked at the bottom of the ad currently operate in the Detroit area:

I have no idea what Quick-Pik was.


The July 1978 issue of Monthly Detroit reported on the “un-Americanization of CKLW,” as the "Big 8" was rebuked by the CRTC for not making enough of an effort to provide the proper amount of Canadian content to Windsorites. According to writer Judy Gerstel, “you have to understand right from the beginning when you’re talking about CKLW that it is a Windsor radio station licensed by the Canadian government and in Canada success, if not exactly illegal, is at least undesirable.” During the station’s license renewal, the CRTC expected the station “to develop plans to contribute more effectively and significantly to the development of local and regional creative musical talent.” Station manager (and American) Herb McCord indicated the station was making arrangements with the Pine Knob music venue to broadcast Canadian bands in concert. CKLW also considered building a recording studio in Windsor, though recent changes in immigration laws that made it more difficult for musicians to cross the border threatened to scuttle that idea—besides, McCord sounded unsure if the studio would “make twelve superstars from Chatham, Ontario.” He also felt that the CanCon regulations had helped destroy the careers of some Canadian acts, as the station felt obligated to play crap to meet their quota.
Everybody makes bad records, but if Rod Stewart makes a bad record, it never gets played [Ed note: oh really…]. You play three other cuts on the album. As a result the average youngster grows up thinking Rod Stewart only makes hits. But the Canadian content law has assured that Canadian non-hits will be played, again and again. CKLW has damaged the careers of certain Canadian acts, there’s no question about it.
One may quibble with McCord’s next statement: “There has not been a major new artist, with the possible exception of Dan Hill, to emerge in Canada within the last 8 years.”


The station, which was one of the most influential top 40 stations on both sides of the border during the 1960s and 1970s, continued to battle with the CRTC over the next decade. Staffers felt the regulator had it in for CKLW because the station refused to kowtow to its demands and because officials failed to grasp the role the station played in the Detroit market. As Michael McNamara, whose documentary Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8 covered the station’s glory days, noted in an interview with The Walrus, “CKLW was in a blue-collar city and it reflected rock ‘n’ roll. It was loud, brash, working class. The men and women running the CRTC were upper-middle-class central Canadians, many of them from Quebec. None understood, let alone liked, commercial pop radio.” CRTC brass felt the station focused too much on the American market (it was claimed at one point its signal could be heard in 23 states) and needed to repatriate itself. Other regulatory prejudices, such as a preference for keeping top 40 formats on AM, scuttled several proposed format changes on both bands for CKLW.

Source: Monthly Detroit, July 1978 - JB

Monday, November 30, 2009

there goes the dealership (a story in pixelboard)

Blowout Inventory SaleEverything Has To Go

I guess I should have waited a little longer to post the last installment of my stroll along Broadway Avenue.

Almost two weeks ago, I noticed that the lot of Brennan Pontiac Buick GMC was emptier than usual. Upon closer inspection, office equipment was piled up in the showroom. Sell-off sale announcements were posted on all of the windows.

In short: sixty years of car dealerships at the corner of Bayview and Broadway have drawn to a close.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

days of carltons past: bonus features

Before reading this post, check out the related Torontoist article.
Vintage Ad #969: Grand Opening of the Odeon Toronto
This ad appeared in Toronto newspapers on September 8, 1948, the day before the Odeon Toronto's opening gala. I considered using it for the article, but none of the copies I found were in good shape. This version from the Globe and Mail was the least scruffy of the lot—the copy in the Star looked as if somebody had dropped a bottle of ink on it.
To modern eyes, the coverage of opening night makes the event feel as if it was "let's suck up to the British" time...except that the speeches that stressed the importance of Toronto's strong ties to Great Britain were the norm during the first half of the twentieth century. When Mayor Hiram McCallum told the audience that “the future of this country lies with the British community of nations,” he repeated a mantra uttered by numerous dignitaries before him. McCallum also mentioned it was fitting that ever-loyal Toronto received such a fine British-owned theatre, as if the city was a small child rewarded by its parent for obedience. This tone was far more evident in the Globe's coverage than the Star's—while reading the latter I sensed a cynical tone towards the evening (reports that those in formal dress wielding invites were able to skip the long lineup, and a comment that "it was what they call a ‘brilliant premiere.’ That is to say, a lot of people gathered in the lobby to exchange small talk.”).
Other recent Torontoist posts for your reading pleasure:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

drinking chocolate, spo-dee-o-dee...

Vintage Ad #967: Nerves of Steel

After a hard day of working on the railroad, in the repair shop, or on the assembly line, isn't it nice to restimulate your nerves with a relaxing cup of cocoa?

I've been on a hot chocolate kick lately, or at least versions that aren’t just Swiss Miss in a cup. I foist the blame on Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, where I fell for the lure of a cup of Vosges Aztec Elixir Couture Cocoa over Thanksgiving weekend. The Zingerman’s website describes it as:

Inspired by the recipes of the Aztecs. Dark chocolate, ancho and chipotle chilies, Mexican vanilla beans, cinnamon, and cornmeal to thicken. Steamed with our Calder Dairy milk and a splash of 1/2 and 1/2, this drink is silky and rich.
It packed a rich, peppery punch that felt soothing on a sunny fall weekend afternoon after gorging on the sandwich below.

#46 Stan's Canadian Hotfoot
#46 Stan's Canadian Hotfoot at Zingerman's. More details.

Locally, Soma Chocolatemaker in the Distillery District makes a mean Mayan hot chocolate. The main drawback is its richness—it’s hard to imagine drinking more than a small cup.

Just because the chocolate drink has “hot” in its name doesn’t mean it has to be warm. While waiting for Sarah to order a drink at a Montreal branch of Second Cup earlier this month, I glanced at a display of canned mixes near the window. Looking over the “Fffrozen hot chocolate" mix, I noticed that its ingredient list had fewer oils and multisyllabic chemicals than the other preparations. Sensing that I could use a cooling, dessert-like drink after having downed a smoked meat sandwich and fries at Schwartz’s (hmm, does my chocolate consumption coincide with ingestion of mass quantities of deli meat? Discuss.), I ordered a cup. Sarah figured I had discovered the coffee shop equivalent of my addiction to Slurpees. The first one may point in that direction (the lower count of artificial ingredients was detectable), though the slightly heavy feeling that sinks in once you've polished one off might mitigate the risk of developing a habit.

Source: The Mail and Empire, October 24, 1929

PS – For advice on how to control overstimulated nerves, check out today’s vintage ad column on Torontoist.

Monday, November 09, 2009

shameless self-promotion department

If you aren't up to braving the masses at the Santa Claus Parade this coming Sunday, you can head down to the Gladstone Hotel to check out the launch of the latest collection of essays about Toronto from Coach House Books, The Edible City.

I contributed one of the essays, parts of which may not come as a big surprise if you've read some of the pieces I've published on the web over the years. Hopefully readers won't find the piece to be half-baked. - JB

Friday, November 06, 2009

vintage atlantic ad of the day

Vintage Ad #936: Atlantic Monthly Press Selections

With the Christmas shopping season underway, why not consider some literary picks from half-a-century ago for those on your gift list? This selection of books even fills CanCon rules, thanks to the selections from two Canuck literary titans.

While researching a recent Historicist column, I stumbled upon reviews for both of these books while browsing microfilms of The Telegram. It appears that portions of The Desperate People were serialized earlier that year in the paper, so those with long memories may have remembered Farley Mowat's look at Inuit life by the time Laurie McKechnie reviewed it:

Surely Farley Mowat’s book will stir the conscience, rouse the indignation of Canadians in much the same way the UNCLE TOM’S CABIN aroused America a century ago...Mowat’s book is NOT fiction. It is tragic truth. It is a magnificent documentary—the story of a race of primitive people carefully constructed by focusing upon the facts of one fragment of their society. And through it all, Mowat’s anger runs powerfully from his pen.

McKechnie was impressed by Mowat's efforts to demolish the myth of the average Inuit as “childishly simple roly-poly figure," even if it was noted later in the review that the author might have played loose with some facts in his earlier books (an issue that proved controversial forty years later). The critic's conclusion?

It may be that experts will find flaws in Farley Mowat’s facts; they may find chinks in his arguments. It may be that in his anger, Mowat has not always made allowances for human frailty. But, after reading this book, nothing can convince me that Farley Mowat speaks anything but the essence of truth…truth that makes me ashamed as a Canadian.


James Scott started off his review of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by comparing it to another rags-to-riches story about an ambitious young Jewish man, What Makes Sammy Run?, only Duddy is “a lot bigger stinker and a far more understandable human being than Sammy ever was.”

Have we a paradox here? Not at all. Human beings can be thoroughly horrible and yet attract our sympathy for them as human beings. A novelist can capitalize on this if he manages to do one of the most difficult things in fiction—that is make his horrible hero completely believable as a human being. This is what Mordecai Richler—in what is by far his best book to date—has accomplished.

And underneath this tale of a young man from the slums, driven to every extremity to prove himself and make money, lies both a deep understanding and a subtle satire of the Montreal ghetto and what has made the ghetto be there in the first place. Mordecai Richler has a sharp point to his pen which can bring the blood with a deft jab. He also is not inclined to be merciful. The result is a beautifully mature performance. I don’t think there is a false line, a blurred image or a contrived motivation in the whole book…This is a great book and when Mr. Richler has rubbed off the rough edges of his prose he is probably going to be the best writer in Canada.

Source: The Atlantic, December 1959. Additional material from the October 24, 1959 and October 31, 1959 editions of The Telegram.

PS: More vintage ads on Torontoist, featuring a "league of rations." - JB

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

the backstreets of toronto: broadway avenue (2)

Part one of this journey.

1 - Northern Secondary School
2 - Brennan Pontiac/Buick
3 - Esso station

Broadway and Mt. Pleasant

Northern Secondary School marks Broadway's crossing of Mount Pleasant Road. There was considerable debate on what name to bestow upon what was then planned as a joint commercial/vocational school. Possible monikers were tossed around on the front page of the February 8, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star, along with fussy reasons for their unsuitability:

"North Toronto": Would conflict with North Toronto Collegiate a few blocks away.

"Eglinton": Would conflict with the public school of that name.

"Mount Pleasant": Would sound too much like the cemetery of that name.

"Roehampton": Name of one of the streets on which the school will stand, is deemed rather an awkward sort of name.

Opinion now seems to favor the name "Northern Vocational School" as expressing both the location and the scope of the school.

One further name emerged: Hudson Vocational School, in honour of the local phone exchange. The front-running name was victorious in a February 11 meeting.

Friday, October 30, 2009

spooky lady

Spooky Lady (2)

Spooky Lady (1)

One of the latest additions to Mom's collection of seasonal decorations is this charming pumpkin-headed lady. I wonder what name Dad would have bestowed upon her, as he did with many of the human-like figures found around our house during holiday seasons.

PS: A pile of posts this week on Torontoist, including the first edition of IFOA, 1960s beverage dispensers and a diabolical intersection in North York.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

old timey games department: hallow-e'en

Games For All Occasions

“A Merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.”

The desire to play and frolic seems to be a heritage of mankind. In infancy and early childhood this joy and exuberance of spirit is given full sway. In youth, that effervescent stage of human existence, “joy is unconfined.” But in middle age and later life we are prone to stile this wholesome atmosphere of happiness, with care and worry and perhaps, when a vexed or worried feeling has been allowed to control us, even forbid the children to play at that time. Why not reverse things and drown care and strife in the well-spring of joy given and received by reviving the latent spark of childhood and youth; joining in their pleasures passively or actively and being one of them at heart. So presuming that “men are but children of a larger growth,” the games, pastimes and entertainments described herewith were collected, remembered and originated respectively with the view of pleasing all of the children, from the tiny tot to, and including, the “grown-up,” each according to their age and temperament.

So reads the preface to Mary E. Blain’s compendium of amusements, Games For All Occasions, which I recently found during a dive through the bins of a local thrift store. Published in 1909, this copy was once owned by Helen Barrow of 53 King Edward Avenue in Toronto—if any friends or relatives are reading this post and played any of the games in the book, let me know if Helen enjoyed any of them.

After a quick browse, I knew this book could be the foundation for many posts. Since Halloween is almost upon us, why not start with suggestions for ghoulish festivities from a century ago?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

remaking st. lawrence market: bonus features

Before reading this post, check out the related installment of Historicist.

Mingling amidst meat. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, Item 7.

The F. Ellis Wiley fond on the City of Toronto Archives website is a treasure trove of images that preserve changes in the city during the 1960s and 1970s in glorious colour. The site has preserved Wiley's organizational scheme, which allow for leisurely flips through sets of buildings (many downtown, many long gone), parks and tourist attractions. His set of pictures of St. Lawrence Market pictures from the early 1970s through late 1980s provided a springboard for a post on the changes the local landmark experienced during that timespan.

Warning! The pictures after the fold may not be suitable for those made squeamish by certain food items sold in the open. Reader discretion is advised...but you know you're going to look anyways. You survived the first picture, after all. Admit it. ADMIT IT!

Friday, October 16, 2009

backstreets of toronto: croft street revisited

Readers of this site love Croft Street. Hits still come in for the series of posts I wrote four years ago about one of the city's most interesting streets. The graffiti, murals and other decorations that line the street are ever-evolving—several of the works I captured back in 2005 are long gone. A post-Nuit Blanche stroll through the neighbourhood provided an excuse to snap a few shots of the current crop of art along Croft Street's garage doors and walls.

Croft Street October 2009 - Peace Out T.O.

A departing citizen wishes peace on Toronto before heading to the west coast.

Croft Street October 2009 - Face

Someone has to look out for the well-being of the neighbourhood.

Friday, October 09, 2009

tape from seattle

Space Needle

The first few hours I spent in Seattle made me wish I had stayed longer in Portland—call it a combination of fatigue and bad luck. After whizzing up I-5 and dropping my belongings off at the hotel, I drove into the city in search of dinner. I hadn't looked at guidebooks beforehand, figuring I'd stumble upon a secret treasure. Not much caught my eye on the roads between Seatac Airport and downtown. I wound in Belltown, where parking was non-existant. Next try was Pioneer Square, where barely anything appeared to be open and a homeless guy dogged pursued me for spare change. Frustrated (and tired), I picked up some mediocre Mexican takeout on the way back to the hotel.

Pike Place Market

My disposition towards the city improved the next morning, thanks to time Pike Place Market.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

nuit blanche 4, westbound public transit 0

Caution Art

Nuit Blanche summarizing moment: just after midnight, Sarah and I stopped by the bustling food court at Village by the Grange. Tables were filled with customers, nearly all under 30, fuelling up for the rest of the evening. The woman behind the counter at the Greek stand was in a joyful mood, knocking the tax off our hefty containers of pastitsio and souvlaki because “it was the city’s night to enjoy.”

Despite crowds and transit issues, it was a night to enjoy. The rain held off, the temperature wasn't extreme, fellow Torontonians appeared to be soaking in the atmosphere. If the art didn't grab you, the people-watching and snippets of overheard conversations did.

Inflatable Thingy at OCAD (1)

Much of our enjoyment was outside the food court on McCaul Street, which was closed off for exhibits related to AGO and OCAD. While it was busy, we didn’t feel like we were drowning in a sea of people like the disaster movie scenes we passed by to the east on the Dundas streetcar. The atmosphere was light-hearted, perhaps spurred by the mix of art students, fog machines and inflatable beings. I’ve seen or heard a long list of names applied to cloud-like creatures of Moon-een on McCaul: angels, Pillsbury Doughboys, sperm, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, teddy bears, etc, etc. Their charm made it difficult for many bypassers not to pose for photos in front of the inflating creatures. We also encountered a bubbly girl requesting high-fives from all—we couldn’t tell if her strong French accent was real or inspired by Peter Sellers.

The greeting we received at Village by the Grange was much warmer than those from coffee shops on Parliament Street. While many businesses catered to the crowds in the core, potential customers checking out the lower-key exhibits in Cabbagetown found doors closing around 11—a later time than normal, but hours that probably could have extended by another hour or two. Boozy-breathed patrons gave us the heads-up on closing time at Jet Fuel, while the cleaner at Starbucks tried to tell people the store was closing in five minutes. A steady stream continued to flow in.

Public Displays of Affection - Kissbots (2)

Maybe weary staff needed kissbots like those found in Riverdale Farm. All it took was a couple of claps for the kissbots to show their love.

The exhibits in Cabbagetown, which included kissbots, video cubes and illuminated spiders, were a relaxing way to ease into the night. Not having to face crowds right off the bat allowed us to get into the mood of the evening, rather than letting swarms of people immediately make us cranky and tense.

Beautiful Light: 4 LETTER WORD MACHINE - You Probably Think This Exhibit Is About You

You probably think this exhibit’s about you, don’t you? Don’t you?

Beautiful Light: 4 Letter Word Machine drew enthusiastic call backs from the crowd in Nathan Phillips Square whenever a new word flashed during our first swing-by. On trip two, the only response to the gibberish and symbols that flashed on was a lot of head-scratching. Hard to say if the crowd was fully aware of the machine’s capability to generate nearly five billion graphic combinations or if some of the “words” flashing by were DNA codes. The description provided in the program guide was straightforward compared to those for other installations, which were so overwritten in the descriptions of artistic aims that flew over the heads of 97% of the crowd that it was hard to tell if they had been written with a straight face (I suspect...hope...not, since there were some that could have been amusing parodies of such writing).

Queen Subway Platform, around 2:15 a.m.

One of the major sources of complaints about the evening was TTC service, or lack thereof after 2 a.m. Using the subway to get around? No problem. Surface routes? Oh dear...trying to catch westbound surface routes in the core was like waiting for Godot, except that we had an engaging conversation with him during one of our fruitless watches for a Red Rocket. Three attempts to head into Zone C after 3 a.m. wasted an hour of our rapidly diminishing energy.

Attempt 1: Dundas and University. No streetcars spotted. Overheard teenage girls complain about the inability of suburban guys to find their way around.

Attempt 2: Queen and University. Several eastbound streetcars passed by. Choked on cigarette smoke from others waiting in vain for westbound transit. Taxis tried to dodge a Frisbee game taking place in the middle of Queen Street. We waited...and waited...and waited. Gave up and checked out the Zone B exhibits on Bay Street.

Attempt 3: King and Bay. Plenty of eastbound buses, occasional eastbound streetcar. Zilch going west. We waited...and get the picture. Abandoned idea to go to Zone C, headed towards Union Station.

Solutions for next year: beef up service on Dundas as a alternate route? Close Queen Street to all but pedestrians and transit (or just leave it open to pedestrians and leave the transit to Dundas, King and Harbourfront)?

Witches' Cradles (2)

Curling up in a sense-depriving witches’ cradle was so tempting...until I wondered if they would have turned me into a pod person, a human/insect hybrid, or one of the mutations William Hurt underwent in Altered States.

10 Scents

After a final stop that helped me determine which Glade air freshener to pick up on my next grocery run (sorry 10 Scents, but I didn’t think of Alice in Wonderland when wandering in and out of your scented porta-potties—with little time to ponder the contents of each can and a brain heading towards sleep, the mind tended to focus on the obvious), we hopped on the subway and called it a day just after 5 a.m. Not a peep was heard from fellow exhausted passengers. The city had been theirs and it was time to bid it adieu for the rest of the morning.


Looking for more? Besides the links posted previously, check out coverage from the Globe and Mail, Spacing, and the Star. - JB

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

vintage harper's ad of the day

Vintage Ad #905: The SAS Coloring Page

To quote my partner-in-crime: "Colour her eyes devilish; colour the flaps of her hat, her horns, diabolic: shades of red. Isn't she a pretty demoness, the SAS hostess?"

The Executive Coloring Book (presented for your pleasure at Ad to the Bone), published in 1961, was a satirical depiction of the life of a grey-suited, pill-popping businessman—the sort of client needing the kind of vacation SAS could provide. Not to mention the nineteen additional stewardesses...hmm, maybe this ad should have been printed in Playboy instead of Harper's.

Source: Harper's, April 1962 - JB

PS: Over on Torontoist, an ad for the old Thrifty's clothing chain featuring a Blue Jay who liked to water the field.

Monday, October 05, 2009

unheralded nuit blanche projects department

Shoe Comparison

What do your shoes say about the state of the economy and those who have benefitted or suffered from the recent economic malaise? Are fresh shoes a sign of hope and progress? Do well-worn shoes indicate degrees of comfort with one's position or a sign of incipient poverty? To communicate the differences between economic conditions and perceptions in Canada and the United States, shoes used in this performance art piece were acquired at shopping centres in Niagara Falls, New York and Toronto, Ontario. Participants will be encouraged to sit next to fake green plants to contemplate the theoretical artificiality of economic and monetary concepts.

Performed between 4 and 5 A.M. at Brookfield Place in Zone B, October 4, 2009

In Reality: the energy boost provided by heaping helpings of Greek food at midnight had faded by the time I snapped pictures of our shoes during a rest break. Sarah had invested in a comfy pair of walking shoes earlier in the day, which paid off during our Nuit Blanche wanderings.

A full report and selection of links about the evening is forthcoming—in the meantime, enjoy some photos, notes from the night, and suggestions for improvement. - JB

Monday, September 28, 2009

thankful? what, me worry?

Vintage Ad #927: Thankful? What, Me Worry?

While researching an upcoming Historicist piece this past weekend, I stumbled upon this odd notice from the business section of the October 12, 1936 edition of the Mail and Empire. No idea what the backstory is, other than it appears to involve mining speculation.

Johnny did pretty well for himself after he changed his name soon after his assumption of mascot duties at Mad magazine in the mid-1950s. The fame he achieved made up for past jobs in the advertising world, which included promoting soda pop and painless dentistry, portraying a victim of a deficiency disease, and assuming the role of assorted grinning idiots. - JB

Friday, September 25, 2009

why do alien warlords like levi's?

Another example of YouTube proving long-term childhood memories are correct: a Levi's ad that stuck in my head for years featuring a slightly creepy alien warrior who uttered "LE-VI-ZUH!" a lot and chuckled at the end of the commercial. I'm not surprised that I don't remember the wussy human.

The warrior made at least one other appearance, shown above. The jean-makers animated ads from the late 70s/early 80s are stunning in their design, rotoscoping (basing the animation on human models) and overall quirkiness (A farmer who shows great pride in his denim crop? How would jeans have fit humans if we had physically evolved in different ways?). - JB

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

vintage detroit monthly ad of the day

Vintage Ad #925: Romantic Dining Under a Painting of Smoking Dogs Playing Poker

You've been waiting all day for this. A nice, romantic dinner with your beloved, where love is in the air as you gingerly tear into a rack of meaty pork ribs. Neither of you will care if sweet BBQ sauce drips onto your chic blouse or comfy sportcoat—it's being together in the moment that matters. Your relationship is sealed under the gaze of smoking dogs playing poker.

The painting may be gone, but Tunnel Bar-B-Q carries on.

Detroit Monthly ran the same review of TBQ for years: "For many Yanks, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is a long driveway to this rib shack. Big meaty ribs, oversized salads and diet-shattering desserts. The decor is Early Franchise."


Also in the June 1986 issue of Detroit Monthly:

* A profile of longtime WJR morning host J.P. McCarthy, a Detroit radio institution from the early 1960s until his death in 1995. McCarthy was usually on in the car at the start of long roadtrips—he always talked about his golf game. Other elements I remember: "Gee, I Didn't Know That!" (spoken like an old radio jingle), the gong for Farmer Jack savings time, the electronic music for "Computer Kickoff" (a syndicated preview of that week's football matches), and Paul Harvey advertising one product or another. He also hosted the station's main interview program, Focus.

As "the great voice of the Great Lakes", WJR was the classic full service radio station—strong news department, local personalities, thematic music programming (usually Patterns in Music or Kaleidoscope in our car), and a healthy sports lineup (Red Wings, Tigers, Wolverines). Now it's just another right-leaning talk radio station. Reruns of McCarthy's lesser golf conversations would be finer listening than thirty seconds combined of current station stalwarts Rush, Sean and Dr. Laura.

* Several features related to the fifth edition of the Detroit Grand Prix, highlighting costs ($25,000 for a corporate suite at the Renaissance Centre, anyone?), drivers who earned millions, and a photo spread of very 1980s spectator fashion.

* A newcomers guide for residents moving to the Detroit area, including "loony landmarks" (the giant Uniroyal tire on I-94 by the airport and the oil tank painted like a baseball on I-75 near the Rouge River that was later turned into a basketball) and "native customs" (regional quirks like party stores, street name pronunciations, deep potholes, Chaldeans, etc).


Sidenote: at some point during 1985-86, the magazine changed its name from Monthly Detroit to Detroit Monthly. Why bother?

Shameless Self-Promotion Department: Over on Torontoist, snapshots of North York in the 1960s, and where to celebrate your stunning Shakespearian performance in the 1980s. - JB

Friday, September 18, 2009

calling all liquor historians!

Ancient Bottle of Marie Brizard Creme de Menthe (1) Ancient Bottle of Marie Brizard Creme de Menthe (2)
Click on photos for closeup.

One useful task accomplished while resting at home over Labour Day weekend was a long-overdue cleaning-out of the family liquor cabinet. We're not known for overindulging in booze, so bottles of alcohol tend to stick around for years. Mom was certain that a few bottles near the back predated me, possibly back to the late 1960s.

Among the ancient treasures we found was a bottle of Marie Brizard creme de menthe of indeterminate age. If any liquor historians can date this bottle based on the pictures above, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

sun on the run: bonus features

Before reading this post, check out the original article on Torontoist.

In case the fine print is too fine—left to right: Ben Wicks, Paul Rimstead, Peter Worthington. Photo by Norm Betts. The Toronto Sun, October 24, 1972.

Paul Rimstead wasn't kidding when he said the other papers paid next-to-no attention to his mayoral campaign. Passing references were made to him in the Globe and Mail, while the Star couldn't resist a potshot or two. Case in point: Jack Miller's television column from the December 1, 1972 Star, which noted Rimstead's appearances on CITY:

The station even managed to present him in a suit—a nice blue suit—as part of a male fashion show on the afternoon Sweet City Woman series this week. It’s rumoured he’ll be wearing a suit again for tonight’s debate, indicating he takes CITY even more seriously than they take him (which is more seriously than most people take him).

This attitude may partly explain why Rimstead was not thrilled when the Star asked him for a three hundred word summary of his platform instead of a spot on a candidates forum beside David Crombie, Tony O'Donohue and David Rotenberg.

From the November 23, 1972 edition of the Star:

The Toronto Star asked me if I would like to outline my platform today in 300 words. I have declined, because it would not have nearly the impact of fair treatment and an invitation to last night's forum.

Oh well, that's show business. The Empire Club excluded me, too.

1972 Mayoral Logos
Logos for the three frontrunners in the 1972 mayoral race. The Toronto Sun, December 4, 1972.

The 1972 mayoral race will probably pop up in a future installment of Historicist, as it was one of the key elections in Toronto's history. The Toronto Life covers from the campaign alone are worth an article. (UPDATE: Said column didn't appear until 2014!)


It shouldn't come as a shock that I wrote an archive column for my university newspaper. I loved leafing through the bound copies of back issues and seeing how student attitudes had changed over time, or which political columnists and figures writers loved to take pot shots at. Through the 1970s and 1980s Lubor Zink's columns were a favourite target due his zealous Cold Warrior persona. Since the University of Guelph didn't have the Sun on microfilm, I asked Dad about Zink's writings. His assessment was that Zink was overzealous in his battle against Communist states and sympathizers, but felt that a few of his criticisms proved correct in the long run.

Still, any long-term truths are buried in an onslaught of unceasing vitriol that may provoke laughter in anyone other than die-hard Commie hunters. As former Telegram colleague Fraser Kelly summed up Zink in a July 1, 1972 column for the Star: “Those of us who know him well find him to be warm, kind and clever. We also consider him to be obsessed by the Communist menace.”

As for Zink's campaign against "Trudeaucracy"...hoo boy. Read for yourself. If you hate PET, you're in for a treat. If you love/respect PET, you're in for a comical treat.

Zink's stronger-than-expected result in the 1972 election was helped by chaos in the NDP camp. Economist/political activist Mel Watkins was slated to run in Parkdale until the party gave the boot to Watkins' Waffle faction. A last-minute scramble for a replacement candidate ensued.


As for Peter Worthington, the strong feelings that his campaigns evoked are best summed up in a photo:

We Want W
Photo by Nancy Ackerman. Source: The Globe and Mail, August 29, 1984.

Nearly all of Worthington's fellow Sun columnists were effusive in their praise during his runs (only Douglas Fisher was willing to admit his chances of victory was less than 100% certain). Here are a few words from Worthington's successor as Sun EIC, Barbara Amiel that appeared October 10, 1982:
What distinguishes the B-G campaign is not the facr of an independent candidate—Peter Worthington—running for office, but a candidate with independent ideas. For whatever the voters of [Broadview-Greenwood] may think of Worthington’s free-market, free-enterprise support of individual initiative and responsibility, there is no quibbling with the absolute fact that he offers a clearcut alternative to the various shades of state socialism now offered by all political parties...The party system will survive. But it will survive more strongly if the voters in Broadview-Greenwood, that strange amalgam if a thousand-and-one Canadians of every political shading, put down their ideological differences and personal animosities in favour of telling politicians of every hue and persuasion that the time has come to give meaning to the diversity of ideas.
Sorry Barbara, but that byelection didn't alter the face of the political landscape, though Worthington came within two thousand votes of victory. The seat was up for grabs after Bob Rae switched from federal to provincial politics upon his victory in the Ontario NDP leadership race. Most of the riding had voted NDP since 1965 (when it was part of Broadview) and continued to until Liberal Dennis Mills won in 1988. Following a renaming to Toronto-Danforth around 2000, the riding returned to NDP hands when Jack Layton defeated Mills in 2004.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

one fine thursday night in the city

Royal York Hotel by Night

It's been awhile since I've written about a psychogeography walk. Blame it on an inability to keep track of time—I've been lucky to post photos from recent strolls within a reasonable amount of time. Let's see if this entry will break the cycle...probably not, but it's worth a shot.


Last week's walk began at Union Station, where I positioned my mini-tripod to snap the shot above of the Royal York Hotel.

Simcoe Street Underpass (2)

From Union, we headed to the new underpass on Simcoe Street south of Front. The abrupt truncation of the bike lanes at Front was noted. It's grey, spare and nothing that will invoke dramatic oohing and aahing.

We stopped at Roundhouse Park to see if several vintage train cars destined to be displayed in the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre could be viewed. They were there, but under wraps. The roundhouse was a hive of activity, thanks to a raucous crowd that we initially thought was a film festival tie-in party at Steam Whistle Brewery. It turned out to be a fundraiser for St. Mike's Hospital that involved caged, costumed dodge ball matches.

We wandered into the new Leon's store at the north end of the roundhouse. The proposal had raised fears of a big box merchant ruining the historical structure, but the furniture chain has adopted well to the refurbished space. The high wooden ceiling and brick walls create a welcoming atmosphere that beats a suburban cookie-cutter store. As the store closed, we watched an employee close the giant bay doors one by one, as if the last train had departed for the night.

At the side of the store, a caped dodge ball player was having an awkward conversation with a young woman. This superhero wasn't saving the day.

Parking Entrance in Orange

A neat design covering the window above the entrance to a Cityplace parking lot, as seen on Spadina Avenue.

Viewing The Globe and Mail From Cityplace

A view of Globe and Mail HQ from Cityplace. The shot was taken from Telegram Mews, a street presumably named after the newspaper that originally occupied the Globe's present home.

Underpass of Blue Lights (1)

We ran into several spots around Cityplace where roads and passageways led to temporary dead ends. Several people emerged from the blocked off portion of Fort York Boulevard, but none were willing to tell us how they slipped in without attracting security guards (which was annoying, since a new park within the construction zone cries out for visitors). We headed down into a passage under Spadina that was bathed in blue, only to reveal a set of gates at the other end.

The walk wound down with a westward trek along Front and Wellington. Settling into a faux Irish bar for a drink, we compared the weightiness of three grand prizes offered to Guinness drinkers in a worldwide contest to celebrate the company's 250th anniversary: a trip into space, a voyage to the depths of the sea, and a recording session with the Black Eyed Peas.

I know which prize I'd want.

All photos taken September 10, 2009. Full set of pictures on Flickr.

Shameless Self-Promotion Department: Two posts on Torontoist—a look back at three Toronto Sun columnists who ran for public office and how cows aided the war effort. - JB