Vintage Toronto Ads: Provincial Election Campaigning, Fifties Style
Election day is tomorrow, which provides a good opportunity to look back at how election ads were handled in the past. Today’s selections come from the 1955 campaign, which Premier Leslie Frost’s Progressive Conservatives won in a landslide on June 9th (83 PC, 11 Liberal, 3 CCF, 1 “PC Independent”). The “Big Blue Machine” was firmly entrenched, remaining in power for the next 30 years.
York Centre was a new riding for the 1955 campaign, consisting of most of North York west of Yonge Street. This ad is typical of many that appeared in community newspapers, touting the candidate’s local roots (Thomas Graham was a deputy reeve in North York township). Note the casual manner with which the party leader is treated—it’s hard to imagine current candidates boasting of their support of Dalt McGuinty, Howie Hampton, Johnny Tory or Frankie DeJong.
On election day Graham narrowly defeated Liberal Fred McMahon, then reeve of North York.
Perhaps the nastiest race in Toronto was in St. Andrew, a riding centered around Kensington Market. The main combatants were 12-year Labour-Progressive Party (LPP) incumbent J.B. Salsberg and city alderman/Progressive Conservative candidate Allan Grossman. Describing the tricks employed during the campaign, district returning officer Murray Caplan told The Toronto Daily Star, “I’ve never seen it so low.”
The mud flew freely in St. Andrew, as the leading candidates accused each other’s supporters of a long list of dirty tricks. The ad on the left refers to the late entry into the race of independent candidate Elizabeth Sarah Langfield, who had been a campaign worker for the LPP (which had been the Communist Party of Canada until a 1941 ban caused them to reorganize under a new name). The ad on the right refers to a series of telephone calls and pamphlets which indicated that Grossman had pulled out of the race. Grossman also accused the LPP of sending canvassers to urge voters to vote for the incumbent first, then the candidate of their choice. This particular ad angered all of the other candidates, who demanded that Caplan (who also happened to be a vice-president of the PC riding association) also have the government pay for notices reaffirming their status in the campaign. Caplan did not do this, stating that he had only been instructed to run the Grossman ad.
The climax came on election day. Salsberg nearly came to blows with a Tory official who he accused of placing “Vote with Grossman” signs on cars used to carry special election constables to polling stations. Soon after, police visiting Salsberg’s campaign headquarters noticed the cap had been removed from his car, with sugar scattered near the fill pipe. According to the Star, “when Mr. Salsberg rushed up to protest what he thought was a parking ticket, he took one look and declared, ‘those dirty Tories. What they won’t do next.'”
The Star also reported the fallout from an anonymous phone call that afternoon regarding a conversation overheard on a streetcar.
Gist of it was, Mr. Caplan reported, “the ballot boxes will never get to my headquarters if the voting is close.” Mr. Caplan contacted the police subversive squad. He got assurance of a special squad of 20 uniformed police constables, plus assorted plain clothesmen and motorcycle policemen, to escort the ballot boxes from polling stations to Mr. Caplan’s Spadina Ave. headquarters.
Grossman defeated Salsberg in a tight race, 5,060 votes to 4,380. Langfield’s impact was negligible, as her 150 votes placed her well behind the CCF and Liberal candidates.
Sources: The North Toronto Herald, May 27, 1955 (Graham ad), The Globe and Mail, June 9, 1955 (Grossman ads)