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Vintage Toronto Ads: The Humming of O’Keefe

As Torontoist reported yesterday, the Hummingbird Centre is changing its name to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, marking the second change in corporate naming rights during the venue’s half-century existence. Support of the site has ranged from a philanthropic brewer (O’Keefe Brewing head E.P. Taylor) to a multinational media company.
As today’s ad promised, Yonge and Front has seen a wide range of performances since the O’Keefe Centre officially rolled out the red carpet on October 1, 1960. Broadway musicals were a natural to top the list, as the grand opening featured the out-of-town tryout for Camelot, starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and former CBC television performer Robert Goulet. Opening night proved a lengthy affair, with the final curtain falling close to 1 a.m. Show writer Alan Jay Lerner noted in his biography that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” The show was significantly trimmed by the time it hit the Great White Way two months later.
In its 1974 Toronto Guidebook, Toronto Life summed up the O’Keefe’s history. Note the usage of capital letters on certain words.

It was built for $12 million in 1960 as a public relations gesture by a brewery – and has been patronized ever since chiefly by the kind of people who drink Scotch…The O’Keefe Centre, when it was built, was the largest concert hall in North America—3,155 seats in a cavernous auditorium, approached through a lobby which, with its carpeting, chandeliers and mural by R. York Wilson, is a monument to Culture in its own right.

The road towards the venue’s first name change began when Carling O’Keefe was purchased by rival brewer Molson in 1989. The naming rights were sold by the city (who received the property from O’Keefe in the late 1960s) to software producer Hummingbird in 1996.
In this age of rapidly-revolving corporate names on buildings, is anyone willing to place bets on how long the Sony name survives?
Source: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary


  • guest

    There was quite a fuss that the centre should be named after a [gasp!] brewery.
    Oh! the scandal. The embarrassment and humiliation that a place of culture should be associated to a tavern product.
    At the same time, you could show a bottle of beer on commercials on TV only during certain hours and you could not show it being poured.

  • guest

    I have heard the Rogers Centre being referred to as The Bundle. I like that.
    I also like the idea that corporations can buy naming rights, but the real name may evolve or be chosen by the public.

  • http://null rich1299

    Constantly changing corporate names does a huge disservice to great buildings. While personally I’d rather the great buildings in our city be named after notable civic minded people rather than corporations I think it does a disservice to the building itself to regularly change its name to whatever the highest bidder wants. How can a building become legendary if its identity changes every 20 years? I also think the regular name changes take away from certain buildings’ dignity, if they had it in the first place anyways.