life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

The Ford Family of Riverside and their 15 Minutes of Fame

by Anne Rochon Ford

Depending on your age and where you were in 1965, you might remember an ad that appeared in major newspapers across Canada for nearly a year with the catchy headline: "Why Ford swears by Volkswagen."

The ad went on to win a gold medal prize from the Art Director’s Club of Toronto and a couple of years ago, it appeared as part of an exhibition of award-winning ads from the past 50 years at the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s now part of the ROM’s permanent collection.

This famous ad was about my family.

At the time we lived in Windsor (then Riverside) on Riverside Drive. A clever copywriter with the Ronalds-Reynolds advertising agency had learned from my father, John Ford, who worked in photography, that he had nine kids and a Volkswagen bus. From this, he came up with the catchy slogan, and thus the ad was born.

To say I remember the day we were photographed like it was yesterday would be, well, stretching the truth. But, I do remember the bus well. I can remember the feeling of the wind in my hair as several of us hung out of the sunroof, waving to friends, catching flies in our teeth, my mother at the wheel, pretending she didn’t know the shenanigans we were up to. The VW bus had come to symbolize our family in that Windsor neighbourhood where we lived. When people saw the bus coming down the road, they knew: "Yup, there’s the Fords."

That’s me, eleven years old, second from the left with the big cheesy grin.

When my dad arrived home with news that we had been chosen to be in the advertisement, I was thrilled at the prospect that I might get some new clothes for the occasion which, of course I did, after a thrilling trip to the new Devonshire Mall with my sister, Mary.

That’s Mary to my left, four years older, and upstaging me by not only wearing an outfit she had personally made but by making the tunics worn by our two younger sisters, Kitty and Liz. And, in the centre of the photo is my older brother, John, who probably spent forever up in his room before the shoot, making sure the crease on the pants was just so.

My three middle brothers - Bill, Pat and Mike - would have been completely oblivious to the fashion dictates of the day. I remember that Matt, the babe in my mother’s arms, cried a lot that day, as only a few weeks before he had been diagnosed with a medical condition that left him in a great deal of pain.

In front is our neighbour’s dog, Pesky, who, seeing us all lined up so dutifully, voluntarily joined us in the picture. In the background is the wonderful house that my parents purchased from my grand-parents as a cottage and later renovated into a home large enough to accommodate our crowd. The location where the photograph was taken is now called Stop 26 Beach.

Shortly after this picture was taken, our family moved to Toronto in the middle of the school year. Our move coincided with the release of the ad in newspapers across Canada. While we were all thrilled at home to be seeing ourselves in print, the ad had mixed consequences at our various schools. I’m sure my face turned a bright and very hot red when the ad was passed around my classroom with all kinds of nasty graffiti having been added to it while my fellow classmates snuck a peek at the new girl who’d just arrived from Windsor.

On the other hand, my brother John acquired a certain notoriety as the new boy in school whose whole family is on a full page in the Toronto Star!

After visiting the exhibition when it was on at the ROM, I was anxious to talk to my parents about it. At that time my father told me of another consequence of our celebrity that I had never known. When Ford of Canada, also one of my father’s clients, learned of the ad, they withdrew their business from my father’s employer, even though he had been reassured by the advertising agency that Ford had okayed the idea of the play on names.

Motivated by the urge to see his family in print, the loss of this account was, for my father, a harsh slap in the face.

That evening, after hearing my father’s story, I looked with fresh eyes at that photo as I passed it in the hallway outside my son’s bedroom. It saddened me to think that while I know he was infinitely proud of all of us, he had had to pay a price professionally, and had kept that to himself. I took in this new information through the lens of a parent, as someone also trying to make it professionally, though ten years older than my father was at the time that picture was taken.

My father never did go see the exhibition at the ROM. I can’t say I blame him. But I’m heartened and relieved by his parting words after we spoke that evening:

"It’s still a damned good ad."

click here to see the ad (60k file size)





©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved