The Ford Family of Riverside
and their 15 Minutes of Fame
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."
ad went on to win a gold medal prize from the Art Directors
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. Its now part of the ROMs permanent
famous ad was about my family.
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.
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 didnt 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, theres
me, eleven years old, second from the left with the big cheesy grin.
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.
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.
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 mothers 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.
is our neighbours 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.
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. Im 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 whod just arrived
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
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 fathers clients, learned of
the ad, they withdrew their business from my fathers employer,
even though he had been reassured by the advertising agency that
Ford had okayed the idea of the play on names.
by the urge to see his family in print, the loss of this account
was, for my father, a harsh slap in the face.
evening, after hearing my fathers story, I looked with fresh
eyes at that photo as I passed it in the hallway outside my sons
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
never did go see the exhibition at the ROM. I cant say I blame
him. But Im heartened and relieved by his parting words after
we spoke that evening:
still a damned good ad."
here to see the ad (60k file size)
TO THE TOP OF THIS PAGE