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Veiled advertising, hard news, sentimental cards: Christmas 60 years ago

Sixty years ago, an Evening Telegram hack by the pen name (no doubt) of “Sally” prowled around Churchill Park taking notes for a pseudo chat column. It was more advertising than chat. A lot more.

The back and front of a Coutts Hallmark Christmas card sent and received in St. John’s, Christmas 1956.

“Sally’s” page was headlined with “Your Churchill Park Shopping Mart” and bordered by advertisements from all of those who engaged her in conversation. Perhaps the newspaper had discovered a novel way to draw in advertising from the newest St. John’s retailing area. It was a location that momentarily caused Water Street some worry.

Sally portrayed all storekeepers (er, ah, advertisers) on her beat as near-saints. They may well have been, but, well, in this setting, the scribe is suspect:

“We are so apt to think of Christmas as a time of happiness … smiling faces of children, full stockings, even fuller tummies … groaning tables, harmony everywhere … unfortunately, that is not so — right here in this city there will be hundreds of children who will be without a Santa Claus — that is, unless we do something about it. Mrs. Knight of Knightville, Allandale Road, would like to remind you of these children; she sees many small people in her store. Her thoughts always turn to them at this season.”

Sally even helped a drycleaner turn away an over-abundance of business: “Things are really humming at that home of good drycleaning, Mews Drycleaners Ltd., Elizabeth Avenue. They’re so full, they can’t manage to take any more orders for a few days.”

Let’s see who else succumbed to this determined reporter.

“Well, here it is at last — two days and a bit to do that last minute shopping  at The Churchill Park Shopping  Mart whose members all join with me in saying, the merriest Christmas ever! Also, Reid’s Confectionery where you can find those books of Lifesavers! The best selection of fresh fruit will be found at Cook’s Groceteria (proprietor, Alec Cook).”

Up for honourable mentions as well were Parsons Esso Service, Doug Brown’s Service Station and Westcott’s Venetian Blind Company.

As Christmas 1954 approached, the big news that gripped St. John’s daily was, ‘How is young Iggy Crotty doing?’

As he headed home from school one afternoon in May, the nine-year-old was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver and rendered unconscious. “Iggy” was in a coma for 115 days. A fund was launched and money in the order of $10,000 was subscribed to send the child to Toronto for treatment.

A report in The Evening Tele­gram, issue of Dec. 23, 1954 went like this:


Iggy away, no tree

in the Crotty home

Because Iggy won’t be home for Christmas, the Crottys have voted not to have a tree this Christmas day, but this morning they heard such good tidings that “Christmas will be a good one, now.” An Evening Telegram staffer phoned Mrs. Crotty to tell her about a report from Toronto that Iggy had actually gotten out of his wheelchair and made a few steps. Mrs. Crotty was thrilled and so were the kids — and Mr. Crotty.


The paper went on to remind readers, “Iggy was strictly a bed patient up to those steps.” In Toronto he had undergone two operations.

Imagine personal medical information being available (somehow) to a newspaper before the family got it!

A happier piece of news which fixated everyone was the fact that “a diminutive school girl” in Toronto had been named Canada’s Woman of The Year.

This was Marilyn Bell, and as the paper reported, “for 20 hours last September she held the country spellbound as she calmly stroked her way across Lake Ontario.”

Marilyn’s swim distance was 40 miles — from Youngs­town, N.Y., to Toronto.

Another Bell also made news at  Christmastime 60 years ago. Jack Bell had opened a delicatessen on Duckworth Street, just in time for the yule trade. In its promotional copy the newspaper paid  less attention to Jack and more attention to Molly Breen, his “Pastry Cook and Assistant to Chief Cook, John Chalker.”  

Molly was a busy woman. “She rolls out large quantities of pastry each day for the pie shells which she fills with lemon, butterscotch, apple, chocolate, and almost any flavour one wants in a pie.”

But the even bigger news at the new delicatessen was “fresh strawberry pies — a special feature.” Mrs. Breen was quoted as saying “this is made with a sponge cake base with fresh strawberry filling topped off with a rose ring of whipped cream. It’s enough to serve five or six and this pie sells for less than $1.00.” A headline across another segment of Bell’s promotion announced, “Secret Barbecue Sauce on Chicken from Bells.”

That is one heck of an improvement over the suggestion made by a headline a little further inside the same issue: dateline Edmonton — “Dried Moose Nose and Beaver Tails for Christmas Dinner.”

Wild weather

Do you think we have some significant weather events these days? Consider this group of headlines on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 1954:

• “Nature erupts: Quake, Storms

    Smear Europe and the States”;

• “North Sea rips into West Europe; walls cracked in 35-mile coastal area of California; snow 3 ft. deep around New England”;

• “Heat wave in Western Canada and in the mid-60s in the Maritimes.” (That would be around 18 C).


Regional High Schools?

Christmas was approaching, so it was time for school speech nights. One principal in St. John’s had more substance in his speech that year than was customary. The newspaper reported:

“In his report last night at Bishop Feild College speech day, Principal Ralph Anderson expressed some opposition to regional high schools in the capital. He said, ‘I can well appreciate and thoroughly agree with the Government’s original idea of these schools for rural areas, but I cannot see the object of such schools in St. John’s or any large centre. We already have such schools except for the physical separation of the age groups which is an idea I heartily endorse.’”


An unusual old practice

On Dec. 20, 1954, The Telegram’s Bonavista correspondent wrote:

“This is a time of year when many families in and around Bonavista leave their houses in their settlements and move into ones built of logs which are constructed at various places in the Blackhead Bay area. At Blackhead Bay, they will, during the winter, cut firewood to sell and to last them over the other seasons; many will cut and pull logs to Hodder’s Mill located at Blackhead Bay. By cutting firewood and selling it they earn good wages, thus enabling them to live, work and earn money in the bay. Wood sells for usually $10 per 100 sticks. The log camps are scarce and scattered now.”


Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Email:

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