By Eric Veillette, originally published June 1, 2010
When a nickel was too costly for a candy bar.
The thought of modern-day kids protesting the price of candy bars — let alone anything — seems inconceivable today.
No matter how pricey multiplex food courts get, people just keep gobbling and sipping away.
But years before concessions became common-place, independently owned cigar stores and candy stores such as Laura Secord or Jenny Lind often flanked downtown or neighbourhood theatres and they continued to do so long after snack bars came into vogue in Toronto in the mid-1940s.
The Tivoli Cigar store was located on the left-hand side of the grand Tivoli, at Victoria and Richmond streets. The Tivoli was the first Toronto theatre built for the mighty Allen chain before Famous Players took over in the early 20s. The cigar store’s proprietor, Max Blackstein, posed in the photo above for the Globe & Mail on May 6, 1947, when the price of candy bars had recently risen from 5 cents to 8 cents, a big increase in those post-war years.
The enterprising Blackstein refused the increase, hence the happy-looking kids in the photo above. He told the Globe & Mail his bars are “for kids only” and reported a ten-fold increase in business. G.S. Moffatt of Moyers Ltd., speaking to CBC Radio (available at the CBC Archives), said the increase was a result of poor cocoa crops and the increase of other commodities used in their products. The previous week, over 500 students marched along Bloor Street from Harbord Collegiate to Christie Pits, protesting the increase and leaving rallying cards on parked automobiles lining the street.
“The price of chocolate bars is too high,” said Norman Penner, the executive secretary of the National Federation of Labor Youth, the organization who sponsored the protest. He claimed youngsters simply couldn’t afford the bars at that price.
Penner said that the excuses from manufacturers weren’t helping, either. The students took it a step further by boycotting the offending vendors. The Star reported that students in Halifax were “flaunting their disapproval in the face of retailers. Groups of youngsters, both boys and girls, toured retailers stores yesterday. In each case they asked the price of bars and when told, registered pained expressions and marched on to the next store.”
Similar protests occurred in Winnipeg regarding the increasing price of soft drinks. Indeed, the teenagers were coming of age. But according to the Toronto Telegram, the protest was seen as nothing more than the exploitation of children to further a communist agenda. The Telegram further accused the NFLY of being a front to a Marxist organization.
What kind of a world was post-War North America coming to when an old fashioned nickel couldn’t buy you a nickel candy bar anymore?
Globe & Mail, May 6, 1947 (photo); Toronto Telegram, May 1, 1947; Toronto Star, May 1, 1947; CBC Radio, May 6, 1947. More: a great writeup on the history of the concession stand by Jill Hunter Pellettierri over at Slate.
Eric Veillette is a Toronto-based journalist and film programmer. A regular Arts and Insight contributor to the Toronto Star, he often examines our city’s dearly departed movie houses and how they helped shape much of our urban landscape. In the world of film, he runs Silent Sundays, Creepy Classics and other special events at the Revue Cinema and Fox Theatre and has programmed outdoor silent film retrospectives for TIFF. His musings can be found at SilentToronto.com.