There is a pub/bar/my local beer hangout called the Rhino Restaurant in Parkdale, Toronto. They have a mural on the side of their wall that for some reason I only noticed recently that I have found very intriguing and has encouraged me to write a blog post about it. Here is the mural (sorry for the side image but the patio was closed and this was a close as I could get).
It’s a mural of the “Miss Toronto Pageant” in the 1920’s…1926 to be exact, the year that the Miss Toronto Pageant started at Sunnyside Park.
WOW…I never knew Toronto had done anything like this. I moved to the city in 1999 and from my reading I discovered that the pageant closed it’s doors in 1991, so of course I would not of read or heard anything about it. Anyways as I was looking thru some very cool vintage pics of the “early days” of the pageant (lets say pre 1960’s because that is what my blog focuses on) I discovered the original image that the mural was based from. Here it is…the first Miss Toronto winner of 1926 – “Miss Jean Ford Tolmie” in her full glory (holy flower hat!) at Sunnyside Park.
Image source: Toronto Archives
Look at the hair and the bathing suits and stockings but the best part is how very unhappy the ladies who did not win are. Totally Miserable! Cheer up ladies you are all beautiful and I would not of known who to have picked if I was a judge!
There is not a lot of history online about the pageant but what I could find, after its initial startup in 1926 it seemed to remain dormant till about 1937. In 1937 the “Toronto Police Amateur Athletic Association” who wanted to add something “extra special” to their annual Police Games decided to take over the Pageant and run it again. It was not without controversy though, no sooner had the pageant been announced than it came under fire from the Local Council of Women of Toronto in a letter to the Board of Control and the chief of police. The council’s issue was not that the pageant objectified women—as feminists would assert in the future—but rather that the pageant was “not in good taste.” Their letter read in part:
“We look to the heads of the police department not only to see that existing laws pertaining to standards of decency and good taste are enforced, but also to be most punctilious in seeing that nothing they sponsor may tend to have a lowering effect on the standards of the people in general.” (Torontoist.com)
But this did not stop the pageant from moving forward with 350 pretty 16+, British Subjects entering. 66 were then chosen to compete in the finale at the CNE Grandstand (Canadian National Exhibition) on July 17th, 1937. The website “Torontoist.com” has a super post on what went down that day that eventually had the very pretty 17-year-old Billie Hallam become “Miss Toronto, 1937“.
6 of the ladies –Look at their cute shoes and the hair..fantastic!
Your 1937 Miss Toronto Winner-Billie Hallam”isn’t she just a doll?
With her win, the lovely Miss Hallem won $200 cash (a lot of money in 1937), Free trips to the police games in several other cities, invite to the Miss American pageant, jewellery, and sponsorship deals with companies like “Ponds Produce” & “Star Taxi” to name a few. She even had a potential chance to screen test with R.K.O. Studios…amazing!! (Torontoist.com). This was a huge deal for a 17-year-old in Toronto.
The pageant continued on until 1991 where backlash from Feminists and declining sponsorship eventually saw it shut it doors but thanks to the internet we can relive some of those wonderful pageant moments thru the pictures that still exist today. Lets take a look…
Some of the other contestants from the 1937 pageant. OMG the parasols!!!
Now for something slightly different…”Miss War Worker 1942“. This contest was created to encourage women to enter the workforce during the war (not sure how a pageant would do this, but ok).
Miss Toronto 1946 – Her surfing bathing suit is totally adorable and something I would love to have today. Check out the ladies in the background, the one to the left looks a bit like Ava Gardner.
Miss Toronto 1947 – Look at the handsome Police officer hoisting her in the air. Lucky her! Once again her shoes are divine!
Miss Toronto 1948-The bathing suits are super amazing. These ladies all look like they stepped out of a movie set.
Miss Toronto 1950 contestants Beautiful!!
Miss Toronto 1956 – Ummm Hello! Where can I get THAT DRESS???? yooza!
Miss Toronto 1957 – The runner-up should have won because her shoes were the cutest 🙂
So there you have a brief early history/pictures of the “Miss Toronto” Pageant, hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the Glory Day of the Pageant.