toronto tourism 1980s

How Toronto was marketed to the world in the 1980s

Toronto had come into its own as a big city in the 1980s. If earlier decades were marked by a moral rigidity, a dubious dining scene, and a prolonged search for self-identity, this was a time when the city was building its confidence and having fun while doing it.

Clips marketing Toronto in the 1970s showed off a city in transition, fresh with new skyscrapers and budding diversity, but in the 80s it was all about "discovering the feeling" of life in the bustling metropolis.

One of Toronto's best known tourism campaigns "Toronto — Discover the Feeling" was all about establishing the city as a place to play.

It's noteworthy that Tony Bennett and Reba McEntire of all people were hired to promote the city, but the sentiment of the ads is the more interesting thing.

Gone are the shots of the TD Centre and the CN Tower that we see in the 70s, replaced by a focus on nightlife and entertainment. Sure, each tourism campaign has a different focus, but it's intriguing that the producers of this one no longer felt it necessary to establish Toronto as a major city.

It was already understood.

The other bit of brilliance in Discover the Feeling was that it traded on another widely successful campaign in the form of "Ontario - Yours to Discover." Roland Parliament's catchy province-boosting jingle had become ingrained after numerous TV spots over the course of the decade.

If provincial tourism was all about discovery and exploring the vast and rugged land surrounding the city, a visit to the city promised something more akin to self-discovery, the feeling you get when you let loose and play.

Naturally, Toronto had a significant role in national tourism campaigns at the time as well. Of these, the most memorable is surely "Canada - The World Next Door."

As the title makes plain, the target here was American tourists, though the ads also played overseas thanks to Air Canada. If you can get over the picture quality, these ads are impressively produced with Toronto front and centre.

Perhaps as a way to combat the perception of the country as the Great White North, the various clips are filled with neon signs and other urban hallmarks in addition to shots of the country's stunning landscape (all shot in warm weather).

It's fascinating to note two lost Toronto landmarks figure so prominently here. Both the Sam the Record Man and Honest Ed's signs make major cameos.

The latter seems odd at first, as the idea of using a discount store to promote national tourism must surely be ill-conceived, but I guess the Honest Ed's sign always transcended the store it advertised.

While the charm of these old tourism campaigns is rooted in nostalgia these days, if you suspend your disbelief and try to imagine how they would have been received at the time they were released, there's an unmistakable energy that most contemporary local tourism campaigns have failed to recreate.


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