Christmastime in Toronto, 1919: Uplifting messages, sports heroes and women in office life

Christmastime in Toronto, 1919: Uplifting messages, sports heroes and women in office life

The year was 1919 and the Toronto Daily Star was on a crusade — again.

The paper wanted its readers to know that it was OK to hire women to work in offices, and ran a story on Boxing Day 1919 with a headline that announced, “Girls in Office Life Have Come to Stay; Women Just as Faithful as Men, and They Excel in Detail.”

“Nothing but the very best, say prominent Toronto men of their women employees,” the paper said. “They have employed hundreds of them, so they ought to know.”

The Daily Star was then in its 28th year and sold for two cents a copy. The office was downtown at 18-20 King St. W.

That year’s Christmas Eve edition contained an uplifting holiday message for troops who had just come home from war. It quoted Canada’s top military voice, Lt.-Gen. Sir Arthur Currie.

“Overseas in the great struggle, now happily over, you carried all before you: at home may your efforts prove equally successful in helping our country to follow the path of ordered peace,” Currie said.

“May good fortune ever attend you.”

In sports that year, there was space for Boxing Day boxing at Massey Hall and a story about how superstar baseball player George Herman (Babe) Ruth threatened to leave the sport unless Boston agreed to pay him $20,000 yearly. The 23-year-old said he could easily make movies. He also made it clear he wouldn’t go into boxing, no matter how much sports fans wanted to watch the Bambino swing leather.

There weren’t many credits given to reporters in the Daily Star in 1919, a year before Ernest Hemingway came on staff. One of the few bylines in December 1919 went to Lou E. Marsh, whose beats 100 years ago included seniors hockey, a level under the top pros. Marsh was then considered the country’s most read sportswriter. His name is now attached to a trophy given to Canada’s top athlete of the year, male or female, amateur or professional.

Anyone who was non-white and non-Christian was considered a novelty in 1919 Toronto news pages, including 31-year-old Indigenous athlete Jim Thorpe, a superstar who excelled in track, baseball and football.

A Dec. 24, 1919, headline didn’t give Thorpe’s name but did play up his race when it noted, “Akron Club Purchases Noted Indian Player From Boston.”

Other stories included a Boxing Day 1919 mention about how police raided the Royal Hotel in Halifax on Christmas Day for serving alcohol.

Back then, imbibers could legally get liquor through a doctor’s prescription, which could be filled at drugstores.

“Scandalous abuse of this system resulted, with veritable epidemics and long line-ups occurring during the Christmas holiday season,” the Canadian Encyclopedia notes.

Fifty years later, the Daily Star was heavily into feel-good stories, especially during the holiday season.

In December 1969, the Daily Star sold for 10 cents a copy and the paper’s office had moved down the street to 80 King St. West. Readers’ hearts were warmed with the news that blind 9-year-old Stephen Schmucker from Unionville got a piano for Christmas and bubbled to a reporter, “I don’t play by ear. I play by heart.”

There was also Mrs. Hilda Neal, an 80-year-old partly deaf Scarborough widow who lost a purse with her $397.12 life savings — and “burial fund” — on a city bus. The purse and money were returned to her by TTC driver Edward Swift, whom the Daily Star hailed as “a bus driving Santa.”

Readers also learned on Dec. 24, 1969, of a controversy over an invitation extended by Manitoba’s NDP government to John Lennon and Yoko Ono to help celebrate the province’s 100th birthday party. This sparked fears of a mob scene and of Manitoba becoming a “haven for hippies,” the Daily Star noted.

Lennon was back in the news that Boxing Day, after he, Ono and comedian Dick Gregory drove to an English cathedral to protest poverty in a white Rolls-Royce.

In sports, Maple Leafs fans moaned during 1969 holiday season about the uncertain backup goaltending provided by Bruce Gamble. That’s the same problem they have today from a new generation of backup goalies. That story was headlined, “Gamble: Either the best or a bust.”

Entertainment coverage in the holiday season 50 years ago included a rave review for Sir Lawrence Olivier from critic Nathan Cohen for his performance of “Othello.”

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“Of all the performances I saw during the last 10 years, incontestably the finest was Olivier’s Othello for the National Theatre in London,” Cohen wrote on Boxing Day 1969. “Here was a revelation of the mastery of gestus, a German theatrical term subsuming movement, gesture, facial expression, vocal inflection and tone. In total control of his body and voice, Olivier created a Moor whose tragedy derived from the sum of his hidden vulnerabilities, which erupt to extinguish Desdemona and debase, prior to destroying, himself.”

He offered plenty of other deep thoughts as well, but not a word on how Olivier, who was white, performed the role in blackface.

That article was published two years, minus a day, before the birth of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had his own blackface controversy during the last federal election.

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