While visiting O’ Canada (Reflections on Canadian Culture from Below the Border), I came across this post on Vintage Canadian Tire Catalogues. I am a bit too young to remember these specific ones, I have vague memories of the Old Gent featured on the cover.
The covers speak to a different time, with a different set of values, beliefs and ideologies. The target audience is definitely men. Even as a boy, I remember entering the local Canadian Tire and smell of rubber, metal and various merchandise said masculine territory – women & girls go to the clothing store next door to “shop”.
The activities presented on the covers of these catalogues, home & vehicle maintenance, outdoor recreation are presented as male-centric. The young Pretty Blonde in sweater or swimsuit catches the eye of old & young. Note that gardening is acceptable women’s activity as shown in the second image ( Spring and Summer 1958).
The second image also plays on Canada’a Two Solitudes in a cheeky way. The Pretty Blonde is on the other side of the white picket fence and the Parlez-Vous Francais is positioned to catch the eye and emphasize the stereotypical view of French culture.
Of course all the characters are white because Canada was a “white” nation – the reality is that this was never the case, but the socioeconomic narrative of the political & business power structure said otherwise . Characters is a very apt term. In a way these covers function somewhere between a postcard and serialized cartoon-strip. Elements of Gasoline Alley can be detected in the characterization and the humour & foibles of mundane life.
Unlike Gasoline Ally, the characters of the Canadian Tire Catalogue have seen their day. The catalogue in the age of online shopping and digital text has been replaced by flyers (print & e-mail), and specialty magazines and tabloid style seasonal reports on the latest products & sales.
All the intentional humour has dissipated. Obviously Canada now recognizes itself as a diverse country of many cultural, ethnic & racial backgrounds. Gender biases are a thing of the past,…….. maybe the humour is more subtle & ironic now. Maybe……..
… the more we see echoes of past beliefs & tropes. The Old Gent has disappeared and children, including one or two of different racial backgrounds have shown up. Girls play, but not “real” sports. Young white couples without children in the pools socialize, without a nudge or sly wink.
Responsible young parents turn Spring Cleaning into Family Fun – note tips on how to work efficiently and safely. No Laurel & Hardy slapstick antics here. Do not want to send the wrong message – might be held legally responsible if accidents should occur.
….. A different time and place, where values, beliefs and ideologies are slowly, subtly changing. Mom wears jeans now like Dad, just a bit more leg showing at the ankle.
Miss that Old Gent and the Pretty Blonde – cheeky fun and an attempt to market by way of familiar entertainment tropes …… now the entertainment & characters are saved for the television/online commercials.
As they say, the humour is a “guy thing”.