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Some early examples of posters imagined the tragedy of a young, helpless Canada being sold to an eager American moneybags, although most images were intended to help close the deal, such as selling an image of Canada as young, strong and wide open for business. However, limited largely to type, most nineteenth-century posters settled on lists of what goods were available or the details of an event. As the need to attract and command the viewer's attention grew, however, the use of a second color became an important part of broadside design.
Figure 1: Campaign poster featuring John A. Macdonald protecting Canada from U.S. interests, 1891
Figure 2: Canada West publication, Immigration and Colonization, Ottawa, Canada, 1925
Figure 3: Notice regarding the speaking engagements of James Spencer Lidstone on Scotland, Ireland and Poland, held at McAuley's Hotel, Montréal, 1847
Figure 4: Advertisement for land grants in Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan, March 1, 1892
As name brands began to replace generic products, large full-colour images of factories began to appear, which flattered the industrialists whose names were on them but surely did little to interest or inform buyers. It can be said that modern advertising began with lavish images showing the benefits, real or imagined, associated with a product: a life of leisure at the lake awaits you in a package of tea; a lively sailor ropes in a new flavour of candy. It is also worth noting that printing had become a huge, steam powered, factory-based industry itself in the late 19th century, and that the mass reproduction of colour posters and lithographic images quickly replaced simpler woodcut pictures and wildly creative typography.
Figure 5: Advertisement for the Nova Scotia Brewery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, ca. 1865 - 1870
Figure 6: Advertisement for E.B. Eddy's Manufacturing & Lumbering Establishment, Hull, P.Q, ca. 1884
Figure 7: Advertisement for King Cole tea. Date unknown
Once brand images became less generic themselves, they proved particularly useful in differentiating "parity products," those largely identical, staple goods that come to us in different guises. The highly accomplished Canadian illustrator, Rex Woods, did many renderings of the MacDonald's "highland lassie," familiar for years on Export "A" cigarette packs. Other mythical beings, such as the familiar Robin Hood character, created brand recognition-even if the link between flour and medieval marksmen was perhaps not entirely clear. The use of such brand images quickly demonstrated the value of supplementing or even supplanting words with images. One of the most universally recognizable brands is not for a commercial product at all, and the power and simplicity of the abstract Red Cross symbol contributes considerably to the effectiveness of the organization itself. Name brands and brand images also allowed manufacturers to survive the upheavals of modernity: the McLaughlin Carriage Co. of Oshawa originally took a hostile view of the horseless carriage, but went on to become part of General Motors.
Figure 8: Advertisement for Robin Hood flour, ca. 1935
Figure 9: Canadian Red Cross advertisement for giving blood, ca. 1939 - 1945
Figure 10: Advertisement for the McLaughlin Carriage Co. depicting its models for a horse-drawn carriage and automobile passing each on a road, ca. 1910
Governments, meanwhile, would promote products and trade in suitably general ways. As part of the Empire Marketing Board initiative, a lovely Art Deco abstraction reminds buyers of the importance of the British Empire to the motor industry (and vice versa), while a soft colour palette and the bright, inviting storefront of "John Bull and Sons" lures modern shoppers in to sample other British wares. How different, then, the message of wartime posters admonishing us to stop buying and invest in Victory Bonds. A clever graph using toy trains clearly demonstrates how pennies a day can add up to big savings just a few months down the track. But the postwar boom would soon replace the logic of wartime restraint and savings bonds with shiny new goods promoted through modern marketing.
Figure 11: Advertisement for Empire Overseas Motor Industry, 1926
Figure 12: War production and savings poster against unnecessary purchases
Figure 13: Far-right panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a woman shopping, ca. 1928
Figure 14: Victory Bonds poster "All Aboard!"
Figure 15: Complete version of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons and Daughters" featuring all five panels, ca. 1928
Figure 16: Far-left panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a man walking in front of a store, ca.1928
Figure 17: Near-left panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons and Daughters" featuring a woman walking a dog, ca. 1928
Figure 18: Centre-panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a man exiting the store, ca. 1928
Figure 19: Near-right panel of the advertisement "John Bull, Sons & Daughters" featuring a woman walking down a street, ca. 1928
Images of the exotic and faraway have long been among the most powerful ways of getting us to spend, luring Canadians to travel by bus, catch a flight to the nightlife of the Caribbean, or experience the timeless thrills of the circus. But perhaps the central engine of postwar recovery was simply providing an easy means of spending our savings and more, through a vast expansion of consumer credit.
Figure 20: Victory Bonds poster "We're Going to Need So Many Things When the War Ends...," 1942
Figure 21: Advertisement for Greyhound, ca. 1951 - 1959
Figure 22: Advertisement for British Overseas Airways Corporation, ca. 1955 - 1960
Figure 23: Advertisement for Polack Bros. Circus,ca. 1950 - 1959
As visual imagery has become the raison d'être of the poster, then it follows that many of the most interesting posters have been the work of Canada's best visual designers. Vittorio transfixes us with a bold, graphic eye for a film festival; Theo Dimson suggests the peacock finery of Lipton's fashions with an Art Nouveau-style line; an eerie grinning face by Neville Smith promotes an Ottawa gift shop. This latter poster, in fact, began life as an abstract exercise, illustrating the concept of "sound," and was only later dusted off (and the five letters changed, to "folio") to reappear as a retail advertisement. A great visual idea can transcend its intended use.
Figure 24: Advertisement for Chargex "Winter Bargains!"
Figure 25: Advertisement for the 6th international film festival, held at Loew's Cinema, Montréal, 1965?
Figure 26: Advertisement for "Lipton's Spring Images," 1982
Figure 27: Advertisement for the Folio gift shop, designed by Neville Smith, Ottawa
Because of the extraordinary power of such images, as a government informational poster reminds us, "Canada's Cultural Industries are Big Business." Graphic design has emerged as an art form, distinct from the advertising and printing industries. This promotional poster for the prominent Toronto typesetting firm, Cooper & Beatty, pays homage to the remarkable visual inventions of a previous century, displaying dramatic typography, lush colour, and imaginative brand associations. Can these very different packages really all represent tobacco? Will Yardley soap really transport you to a meadow full of maidens? In a way, yes, thanks to Heather Cooper's artistry. By offering so much more than just the "straight," factual message, by creating desirable and sometimes otherworldly associations for everyday products, marketing posters can be said to fill one of the most striking and creative corners of our visual culture.
Figure 28: Advertisement, "Canada's Cultural Industries Are Big Business", Department of Communication, Government of Canada, ca. 1981 - 1982
Figure 29: Advertisement for tins of tobacco, Beatty &aamp; Cooper Ltd., Toronto. Date unknown
Figure 30: Advertisement for Yardley of London (Canada) Ltd.
Figure 31: Advertisement for the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario
Figure 32: Advertisement for The Magic Box, a 30-minute show introducing children to ballet, Expo '67, 1967
Professor Brian Donnelly
Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
Sheridan Institute Joint Program in Design
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