Signs of the (past) times

A little while ago, the Shoppers Drug Mart sign at Queen and Lee came down and a large, somewhat decrepit Loblaws sign was underneath.

Talking to some residents about it, one said, “I know where the oldest billboard is – it’s on the Danforth.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, and when the offended person retorted, “Well, where is it?” I suggested they read the next issue of Beach Metro News to find out.

In my humble opinion, if you look to the photo here, you are looking at what is probably one of the oldest advertising signs in the area.

This faded sign for Prest's sporting equipment is more than 100 years old and may be the oldest in the area. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
This faded sign for Prest’s sporting equipment is more than 100 years old and may be the oldest in the area.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

If the sign is a little faded and hard to read, that’s because it’s about 120 years old. It is a slogan for Tom Prest, whose company made cricket bats, footballs, and all sorts of sports equipment in what was then a hamlet called ‘Norway’ near Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road.

The area was also called Midway, a part of the Township of East York (not to be confused with the later East York), and it extended east of Yonge Street to Victoria Park.

Prest ran a very lucrative sporting business for more than 30 years. He sold thousands of footballs in Canada and the US. One order from Cincinnati, Ohio, called for 500 Prest Co. footballs.

Prest was so successful that larger companies made several offers to hire him, but Prest wanted to stay in the Beach. He was a community figure, well-known for helping to put on local events and for his 15 years of service to the school board, where he was chairman for many years.

Prest was also known for his generosity, and employed several people at his sports-equipment factory.

You may be wondering where this factory was. Well, you have to go back 120 years on Kingston Road.

St. John’s Norway Church stood at the northwest corner of Kingston and Woodbine, as it does today, but a post office and several homes were on the opposite northeast corner. A little further east, there were two hotels on the south side, and another 300 metres east was Prest’s factory.

Buildings were sparse on Kingston Road in those days, and the road didn’t run in a straight line but curved, rose and fell with the surrounding hills.

Today, Prest’s building stands on Elmer Avenue, tucked between houses just south of Kingston Road.

But back then, the brick building had a Kingston Road address, 391, and stood along St. Mary’s Lane. The painted sign on its north side could be seen unhindered from Kingston Road, and was the only sign in the area for many years – a stroke of advertising genius for Prest.

As Kingston Road built up, St. Mary’s Lane gave way to Elmer Avenue, and the building got a new address: 161 and 163 Elmer. Prest died around 1930, but the sign lives on as part of our local history.

On that note, dear Beachers, I hope you will get in touch with me about other events, people and places in our local history. And watch for a future column on another Beach resident who at one time was known as the “Billboard King” of Canada, and even the world.

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