Old newspaper ads offer enticing glimpse of life in 1938 Sarnia

Punch was a carved wooden figure that stood outside Storey’s tobacco shop on Front Street. Photo courtesy, “Sarnia: More Picture History” by Glen C. Phillips

Phil Egan

Stories of the past aren’t the only descriptors of Sarnia rich history. Old advertisements can also bring back memories of the way things used to be.

Reader Scott Brown recently dropped off an August, 1938 issue of the Sarnia Canadian Observer, and the 80-year-old newspaper was full of such reminders.

Some seniors may remember the iconic hand-carved 1880s-era statue of “Punch.” which stood for decades in front of G.W. Storey’s tobacco store at 167 N. Front St.

Punch had come to Sarnia to replace the naked figure of Puck from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which town council had deemed obscene and banished from public view.

U.S. tourists, much on the minds of local merchants in the days before the Blue Water Bridge opened, were urged to drop by and have their photo taken with Punch – “the only one of its kind in Canada.”

Just down the street, the Morden Hotel promised “comfortable rooms and delicious food on the banks of the majestic St. Clair River.” Forty years later, paddy wagons parked outside the Morden House most Friday night as police broke up fights in the raucous tavern.

One ad, in particular, caught my eye for answering a Sarnia trivia question. Who had the telephone number 1? In 1938, that was the phone number for City Insurance at 215 N. Front St.

Feel like shopping? Buehler Bros. Butchers offered choice rump roast at 17 cents a pound, and veal patties for 15 cents a pound. Walker Stores was cleaning out it summer dresses. Normally $2.98, they were marked down to $1.89. Meanwhile, Zellers had work pants for $1 and work shirts for only 59 cents.

The Capitol Theatre was inviting moviegoers to treat the family to “this year’s comedy hit” – My Bill, starring Kay Francis. At the Imperial, Rudolph Valentino was thrilling fans in “Son of the Sheik,” And a mystery featured a “phantom killer on the loose” in The Shadow.

Sign of the times? An ad for Sweet Caporal cigarettes featured two young women in one-piece bathing suits sitting under a beach umbrella. “Who is that man you keep smiling at?” one asks. The other replies, “The fellow who introduced me to Sweet Caps.”

And Nicholson Brothers, out on the Bluewater Highway, offered cottages on a clean, sandy beach, a golf course, two dance pavilions and nightly dancing to Jack Kennedy and his Orchestra.

Back in town, McFee’s Hotel on Cromwell near Christina offered a licensed establishment “modern in every appointment” and “away from the noise of the business district.”

While the low price of goods in 1938 might sound tempting, they must be balanced against what working people were actually earning. A police officer, for example, was paid $4 a day.

Got an interesting tale? Contact Phil Egan at philegan@cogeco.ca