Banner image is of a Christmas window display, featuring gas ranges and water heaters, in 1937. Courtesy of Toronto City Archives.
Well, here we are on the cusp of Christmas once again and, I have to say, I’m feeling quite festive. The tree’s up, carols are tinkling in the background and I’ve big plans for baking a bunch of stuff I don’t need to eat. I’ve even managed to get some Christmas cards in the mail – which for me is always quite a feat. About the only thing left to do is my Christmas shopping – but then this is something I always leave till the absolute last minute. The strain and anxiety, which build as I run feverishly from shop to shop, is the special gift I give myself each year. Surely, you can see the allure.
To help me mentally prepare for this impending shopping spree, I’ve been paging through old newspapers to see what Toronto of yore had to offer last-minute-shoppers, like myself. … What’s that? Okay, fine, yes – I’m really just procrastinating.
Anyhow, should you also be looking for a diversion, I offer you this selection of Christmas gift offerings from yesteryear.
Just like today, retailers hoped to cash in on the public’s anxious, last minute hunt for gifts. Though some things seem less likely to be an impulse buy than others:
Use of the feminine form was apparently a favourite ploy of Mason and Risch’s ad department:
Here’s another example – this time found on sheet-music for their very own ditty called the “Mason and Risch Two-Step”:
Though the above sheet music is not dated, there is a clue to its age. The cover notes the address of their King St factory, which was built in 1894.
And I’m happy to report that the factory itself is still with us:
But enough of pianos. Let’s see what else folks might be shopping for:
You’ll notice that R. Walker and Sons didn’t list their address, but they really didn’t have to – everyone would’ve known their store. See that lion in the ad? It was kind of the company’s thing:
But if clothing and fur capes weren’t quite what you had in mind, you could always go the traditional route and pick up a bottle of perfume. Perhaps something from Taylor’s line of “concentrated extracts for the handkerchief”:
And, of course, you couldn’t go wrong with a good pair of boots. Perhaps not quite romantic, they would certainly be a sensible choice during a gold ol’ Canadian winter:
Happily, I’m able to show you William West’s boot shop on Yonge St:
Though if you were up in chips you might want to splash out and bring home something truly exciting – something that would have all the neighbours talking:
But if you didn’t have Grafonola money, not to worry – there were other more affordable gifts which were sure to satisfy.
In the same vein:
For something less fleeting than the joy of a good smoke, you might consider a solid, handsome piece from the Adams Furniture Company:
Adams even had something for the kiddies:
If you’ve never heard of the Adams Furniture Company, it might surprise you to learn that they once occupied a prime spot next to Old City Hall (or just plain City Hall, as it was then.)
Today this site is part of the Eaton Centre complex – an enormous mall that runs from Queen St all the way up to Dundas. Here, over several floors, endless corridors are thronged by brand name shops of every description. And at this time of year, it’s really bustling – loud and chaotic, the hapless shopper can be carried its length by hordes moving quickly from one busy store to another.
No doubt you’ll be surprised to hear it, but this is not where I will be heading this weekend (okay, probably Christmas Eve.) Instead I’ll likely stick to some of the smaller, stand-alone shops where the pedestrian traffic is less unnerving. The sort of places that the old retailers we’ve met today would find, if not quite recognizable, certainly less stupefying.
… And with that, I should now probably get back to my Christmas preparations.
But before I go, there is one last ad I’d like to share – sort of as a Christmas card from me to you:
Whatever you’ve planned this holiday, I hope it finds you surrounded by good food, old friends and great cheer. May you make merry, my friends.