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Real City Matters

Join us for a series of panel discussions about the state of our city, and how we can have more honest, constructive conversations about its future.

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culture

Five Years of Vintage Ads

We celebrate the fifth anniversary of our Vintage Ads column with a best-of edition.

Source: <em>Toronto Life</em>, February 1972.


In the beginning, there was a box of back issues of Sports Illustrated in my Mom’s shed.

As a kid, I loved flipping through SI when it arrived in the mail. The articles didn’t always grab my attention, but the ads did. When the time came to clear out two decades’ worth of magazines, I clipped the ads for future use on my blog. Once I started writing about them, I found myself scouring bins at bookstores and thrift shops for magazines yielding treasure galore.

When Torontoist posted a submission call around Christmas 2006, I figured a Toronto-centric version of the ad posts might fit the site. There was plenty of initial material to choose from: a resident on my street had recently left two boxes of 1970s issues of Maclean’s and Saturday Night by the curb, while a research trip to Guelph had unearthed unbound copies of the first decade of Toronto Life that I had photocopied. The editors gave the green light and the rest is history.

As I pointed out in my first column, advertising provides a valuable view of the time it was created. You can follow the development of Toronto through ads for homes and businesses, or discover what fashion sense people did or didn’t possess. The impacts of wars and other world events on Toronto are revealed, as are period prejudices and social concerns. The rise and fall of local landmarks and political careers can be traced. Sometimes ads are the only information remaining about a long-lost business, failed development, or quack cure-all. These ads have also provided a flexible vehicle for writing everything from short historical sketches to fictional tales built around an ad man’s earnest pitch.

While the column has featured many bizarre ads, the craziest was created by perennial 1950s fringe political candidate George Rolland, a man unfamiliar with the concept of modesty. It requires immense ego or extreme self-delusion to declare to voters that you are “the Greatest Canadian of All Times.” Researching Rolland cast a darker light on the ad when I discovered his racist views, along with tales of his carrying athletic medals everywhere and making claims that he was the only musical composer who mattered over the past 500 years.

The gallery presents some of the highlights of Vintage Toronto Ads from the past five years. We’ve got plenty more waiting to enlighten and entertain you every week.

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