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That time when the TTC was an Entertainment Network

Posted by Ed Conroy / November 23, 2012

Vintage TTC ads commercialsThe 1980s were a gloriously excessive period for commercializing Toronto, as new and old institutions sexed themselves up and marketed their vibrancy with big, lush broad neon strokes that proclaimed we were a world class city, and dammit we were proud of it. The TTC got in on the act with a variety of amusing TV commercials that spanned the decade and put to shame almost all of their marketing adventures since.

In early 1982 the TTC began running "The Better Way" campaign, which used minor celebrities like Vic Cummings (who at the time played a peripheral part on soapy juggernaut The Young & The Restless, hilariously tagged here as a "soap opera broadcaster"), piano wizard Hagood Hardy and consumer advocate Lynne Gordon to espouse the no-brainer advantages of using public transport in a busy city. These spots introduced sterling TTC slogan "The Better Way" into the public consciousness, where it has remained and today still serves as a glass jaw for those wishing to heap any kind of ridicule onto the TTC.

TTC student cards and fairness was the subject of this 1983 TV spot, featuring two actors (Michael Dwyer and Lydia Zajc) from TVOntario's then contemporary Sci-Fi edutainment spook show Read All About It!, which many younger viewers were familiar with thanks to in-class curriculum screenings. Young heartbreaker Zajc's appearance created a (false) hope amongst her adolescent fan base that one might actually bump into her while riding the TTC, natch. The voice over work here was done by none other than Toronto Rocks host and golden throated CHUM radio legend John Majhor.

"Toronto's Entertainment Network" campaign appeared in the mid-80s encompassing print, radio and TV, tying transit service to Toronto's many vaunted cultural hot spots (CN Tower, Chinatown, Science Centre, beef that's rare, even). The memorable jingle still brings a smile ("we got friends to see, all on the TTC"), and for a while anyway the ultra-positive messaging resonated with the city.

The apex of gussy and glossy '80s style can be viewed in the "Metro Moves on TTC" spots from 1987, which seem to have been produced, directed and performed by a friendly neighborhood avant-garde theatre troupe. Another boppy jingle, this time focusing on TTC drivers as well as passengers ("Time to go, got a job to do, we're on a roll, Metro moves on TTC...") and not a million miles away from the current ATU Local 113 campaign which ruffled so many feathers recently (although granted those don't feature headbands or shoulder pads). These spots ended with what would become the TTC's tagline for the remainder of the decade - "We've Got A Good Thing Going", and with these commercials they undeniably did.

With a light touch and voice work from the ubiquitous Don Lake, the "We've Got A Good Thing Going" spots were reminiscent of "Toronto's Entertainment Network", once again equating the service with having a social life, and getting great deals on shoes. Trainspotters will note the subway car used here is an H5 with original seats, and marvel at the sound of the old-school whistle from a time before the three note chime alerted riders the doors were closing.

As the decade closed out, so did apparently the TTC's investment in imagination when it came to marketing their crumbling service. "A Fare That Moves You" premiered in early 1990 and was a classy ode to foreign films which probably broke the bank and resulted in the dearth of TTC commercials in the years that followed (The ill-fated "Ride the Rocket" campaign debuted in the late 1990s). Still, gotta love that they went out on a romantic high note like this, even if it has all the grace of a pig adorned with lipstick.

With even more grumbling about fare increases, cancelled bus routes, delays, 501 Queen streetcars becoming as rare as Giant Pandas, rude and hygienically challenged passengers, even more delays and bold but schizophrenic plans which seemingly never come to pass, the TTC could sure benefit from some positive and fun messaging these days. These commercials highlight an era when the TTC brand was something Torontonians were proud of, and it was not out of the ordinary to see people wearing sweaters, shirts or baseball hats embossed with the TTC logo on them (Could you imagine wearing that now? You'd be in danger of a beat down at the hands of Def-Con 4 level furious denizens awaiting lost-in-the-ether 501 Queen streetcars).

The TTC store at Union closed down over 2 years ago, and there seems to have been no attempt at making merchandising hay from "The Better Way" in the lucrative style that London or New York does (New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority pulls in $60,000 annually marketing everything from dinner mats to cufflinks.

We can only hope that maybe one day when other wounds have healed, the TTC may wish to revisit some of the marketing magic that brought us so much merriment in the 1980s and bigged the rep of the better way - "Toronto's Entertainment Network".

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at



John / November 23, 2012 at 08:41 am
In the first video, who's the "She's right, you know" guy in the red sweater? I think I've seen that painting behind him on Parliament.
John / November 23, 2012 at 08:47 am
Cruising Google Street View reminds me it's the Ben Wicks Pub - is that Ben Wicks?
Pk / November 23, 2012 at 09:13 am
beef that's rare. heh heh.
Sean / November 23, 2012 at 09:24 am
@John. Yes, that's indeed Ben Wicks in the red sweater. He was so popular, he didn't need to have his name posted like the others.

Nice story and fond memories of those videos too.
Ben W. / November 23, 2012 at 09:30 am
"Be nice...clear your ice."
Ben / November 23, 2012 at 09:39 am
I'm pretty sure that if the TTC invested public funds in television advertising again there would be an uproar about waste--and I don't think it would be entirely unfounded. Does the city's only transit option really need to advertise? Who are they trying to beat? Cabs?
Plus no one's going to sell their car because of a catchy commercial, no matter how many sexy headband-and-neon-adorned teenage shoppers endorse the TTC.
Me / November 23, 2012 at 09:41 am
Back when people were grateful for what they did have and didn't constantly bitch and whine about what they didn't, and also before the internet empowered them all to think THEIR opinion mattered more than anyone else's. It was nice when we could have a different opinion from someone and they didn't call it a personal attack.
Pk replying to a comment from Ben / November 23, 2012 at 09:59 am
Transit definitely needs to advertise - the TTC must win the favour of the population when there are taxis and personal cars as options. Like any product being sold, you have to remind customers why yours is more effective, convenient, etc; than the competition.
Ben replying to a comment from Pk / November 23, 2012 at 10:02 am
Taxis are insanely expensive in Toronto and owning a car is a massive financial decision. I don't feel like anyone chooses cabs or their personal vehicle because they aren't aware of the benefits of public transit. I understand your point re: public favour, but I just think that at this point public favour could be better won by improving services, not marketing what already exists.
Tommy replying to a comment from Ben / November 23, 2012 at 10:53 am
True about service, but we still need to convince people to take the TTC that first time to give them a taste of what the service is like. There are still lots of people who are scared/disgusted/insulted/etc... by the suggestion of taking public transit, many of whom grew up being chauffeured around in mom and dad's car. These people exist, and need to be convinced they wont be stabbed on the 501.
Big poppa / November 23, 2012 at 01:11 pm
Guys - great work digging this up. These are fantastic.
realityCheck / November 23, 2012 at 02:55 pm
Wow... great to see that there was actually a time that TTC actually had buses that were large enough to hold more than 30 people.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from realityCheck / November 23, 2012 at 07:37 pm
Most likely, those buses were the old GMC 'New Look' ones, and they could barely hold a lot of people more the the new ones could (unless you're talking about the Flyer buses.) Streetcars hold more people, and go more faster-too bad Toronto planners didn't build a network of subways across the city as they were supposed to half a century ago.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Me / November 23, 2012 at 07:40 pm
Also back when people didn't blow up minor delays in service due to the vicissitudes of city living and auto traffic to mega proportions that they do now, with all of the nonsense about how bad the service is dialed up to 11.
Me replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / November 23, 2012 at 07:59 pm
I thank you for your comments Simon as some common sense and reality around here is a nice change.
Adam Sobolak / November 23, 2012 at 08:28 pm
The author seems to be conveniently overlooking that the TTC brand has actually gone *up* in stature in recent years--though more from without than within (Spacing subway buttons, Transit Toronto types, etc)
Lincoln replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / February 3, 2014 at 09:50 pm
I've taken the TTC every day this year. Every day this year there has been transit delays. One ride I got kicked off a subway as it went out of service, transferred to a streetcar, which short turned, transferred to a bus where the driver yelled at three passengers for knocking on the door after he'd closed it too soon. Took me 2 hours to get from Yonge and Eglinton to Dundas and Lansdowne.

There aren't minor delays when there's 5 per ride.
Greg / February 4, 2014 at 07:35 am
The TTC Merchandise store at Union was privately owned by a sporting goods company called Legacy Sports, who still holds the rights to produce merchandise with TTC logos. The store at Union Station was closed due to lack of profits. However, employees still benefit from Legacy Sports as the owner still produces TTC merchandise - which is also available to the public.
Leslie M. Bliman-Kuretzky / February 4, 2014 at 07:13 pm
This was when it was safe to ride the TTC
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