Tuesday, April 16, 2013

bonus features: a box of laura secord

This post offers supplementary material for a recent edition of Historicist posted on Torontoist, which you should read first before diving into the following text.

Can you spot the Laura Secord shop in this picture? Click image for larger version. Streetcar track work at Queen, King, and Roncesvalles, April 23, 1923. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Series 71, Item 2058.
For a chain whose locations spread quickly across Toronto, finding good, close-up shots of a Laura Secord store from the City of Toronto Archives' online selection was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There's a sign here, a shop hidden behind hydro poles there, and generally good landscape shots where a Secord store is only a tiny portion of the picture.

A Laura Secord shop hiding behind a pole at the southeast corner of Yonge and Bloor. Maybe it was feeling shy when this shot was snapped on September 9, 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 3, Item 646.
The historical essay contest Laura Secord sponsored in 1923 was amusing for the rigidity it was run with. I'm not sure praising entrants for their work while simultaneously criticizing them for going over the word limit was a brilliant idea. I suspect contest officials believed they did the right thing by showing the importance of literary discipline and following rules to the letter, and provide a warning to entrants to other essay contests. My question: by how much did those kids run over? Given the strong sense of toeing the line in those days, it wouldn't shock me if it was less than 25 words.

The rules for the Laura Secord Historical Essay Contest. The Toronto Star, September 25, 1923.
And here are the rules, along with the caveat that if the grand prize winner chooses a trip to New York, their mother must accompany them. Let's be more specific: the male grand prize winner (because only a male would win this contest, right?) must take their mother. A smile crossed my face when the winner was revealed as a female.

Not that I would have complained going with Mom had I won this contest - she is a great traveling companion. But I would have wanted Dad to come along, if he could swallow his dislike of flying or, at the older end of the scale, just be a teenager let loose in the Big Apple without adult supervision. Actually, this wouldn't have been a worry, since Mom and Dad would have let me go my own way...unlike kids I witnessed on school kids whose parents were reluctant to let them out of their sight.

Advertisement, the Toronto Star, October 19, 1960.
An ad touting the chain's move into baked goods. By 1969, 13 out of Laura Secord's 182 locations were combo units. The baked goods division closed in 1981 after a plant in Scarborough was shut down. A personnel manager told the Globe and Mail that "being a small, handcrafted shop, we found we couldn't compete." Corporate overlord Labatt said the decision "was essentially a strategic one...the company plants to emphasize its top-quality confections and ice creams."

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, March 22, 1978.
While finishing the Torontoist article, I realized I hadn't eaten any Laura Secord Easter Eggs this year. Usually this means picking up one of the bite-size buttercream concoctions at the cash register for a quarter when prices are slashed after Easter - anything larger requires parceling it out over several days. Liking Secord eggs is a late development. We usually got one for Dad, but I rarely recall the rest of the family touching them. I preferred Cadbury.

My usual Laura Secord treat as a kid? Suckers. The branch at Devonshire Mall in Windsor was on a corner, with made it a easy diversion to run straight through. Sometimes I was successful in getting my parents to shell out for a square sucker, a shape nobody else in the area seemed to make.

When I told Mom I was writing about the history of Laura Secord, she laughed. "Don't put this in the piece," she told me over the phone, "but it's not as good as it used to be." Perhaps landlords agree - over the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that the chain's Toronto locations are disappearing. A store search on Laura Secord's website reveals there are no shops downtown, the closest being at the Yonge-Eglinton Centre. In the neighbourhoods were the chain originally grew, it appears the candy chain is as much a piece of the past as its namesake.

Additional material from the June 23, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail.

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