Pat Troll, Ricky Receptacle and more: a look back at some of the city’s strangest displays of civic pride
Toronto’s long history of civic boosterism goes back at least 130 years, to the winter of 1884. That’s when the city decided to throw a huge party for its 50th birthday.
It was an odd affair, not least because Toronto wasn’t actually turning 50. The date local leaders chose to celebrate wasn’t the anniversary of Toronto’s founding, but the day it was officially incorporated as a city, which had happened decades later. The “birthday” parade even featured a float depicting the thrilling moment the paperwork received royal assent.
But that odd celebration was only the beginning. Toronto’s golden age of bizarre civic initiatives came a century later. Here are five tales from those even stranger days.
Comedian Mike Myers once wrote, “When Canada tries to create its own legend and lore, it falls short.” He was referring to Ricky Receptacle.
The talking trash can began appearing in Canadian cities in the 1970s, the brainchild of the Windsor-based Ecolad Corp., which provided garbage cans to municipalities free of charge in return for being able to sell advertising on them. To promote the idea, Ecolad launched an anti-litter campaign centred on a rubbish bin with eyes and a microphone hidden inside. Ricky toured schools, encouraging children to throw trash into its mouth and responding with a thank you and a groan-worthy joke when they did. (When one girl asked him where he’d gone to school, he answered, “Garbage College.”) Ricky was even given a love interest: Rebecca Recycler.
To this day, you can still find some old garbage cans on Canadian streets emblazoned with the slogan “Ricky Receptacle Says Thank You.”
In 1984, Toronto celebrated another “birthday”: its 150th. A new mascot was in order, and the debate over the contenders turned unexpectedly dramatic.
Sesqui the Sesquicentenary Squirrel would land the gig, but the rodent’s leading rival was a cartoon pig called T.O. Hog. The name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the city’s swine-inspired nickname, “Hogtown.” The pig’s leading backer was school trustee Nola Crewe, whose daughter brought a real live squealing piglet to the debate.
That’s when things got heated. Alderman Ben Grys, who was not amused, denounced the lighthearted move as a “disgusting exhibition” in an angry tirade that drove Crewe to tears as she fled the room. “Life,” Grys declared, “is not a laughing matter.”
T.O. Hog would not be entirely forsaken, however. A couple of weeks after the contretemps, the Toronto school board adopted the pig as its own sesquicentenary mascot.
Few Toronto mascots have enjoyed more popularity and longevity than Elmer the Safety Elephant. The cartoon pachyderm, created in the 1940s by a former Disney animator to teach the city’s kids about traffic rules, was hailed as an instant success, credited with cutting the number of traffic accidents involving schoolchildren by more than half in less than a decade.
But after nearly 50 years, the Toronto Police Service announced they could no longer afford to keep the elephant on the payroll. In 1995, Elmer left for Peel while the Toronto police unveiled a new mascot. The punnily named Pat Troll was designed to capitalize on the Troll doll craze, because who better to warn kids “against the evils of criminal acts” than a giant gnome in a police uniform?
Blinky the Talking Police Car
Pat Troll wasn’t the only disturbing mascot created by the Toronto police. In the 1960s, Elmer was given a companion on the traffic safety awareness circuit. Seemingly inspired by the popularity of local BP oil company mascot Mr. Beep, the Toronto police transformed one of their ordinary yellow cruisers into Blinky. They gave the vehicle an unsettling face and adapted the windshield wiper system to open and close its eyes, allowing it to blink answers to questions from kids.
Blinky was eventually given a speaker system as a voice box and updated again when the force introduced white cruisers in the 1980s. It has even continued to make occasional public appearances in recent years, terrifying a whole new generation of children.