I recently had the opportunity to meet Petra Kruger. Ms. Kruger was “Miss Leaside, 1963.” She won the title when beauty contests were common across Canada. Leaside itself had sponsored one since at least the 1940s. The 1963 contest was particularly eventful because it coincided with Leaside’s 50th anniversary, scheduled for celebration on September 12-15.
Weeks before the contest, people were making preparations. The mayor of Leaside herself, Beth Nealson, announced in the August Leaside Advertiser the need for “attractive and intelligent Leaside girls” to compete. The Bayview Business Men’s Association published a similar request in the Toronto Star.
At the time, Petra was living with her mother and sister on Bayview Avenue, near Parkhurst. A few years earlier, when she was a teenager, she and her family had moved to Canada from Germany. A newcomer to Leaside, she worked in the office of the Kenneth M. Smith Glassware Company on 30 Industrial St.
Decision to compete
That’s how it all started – at work. “I didn’t ask to be a contestant,” said Petra. “I was told I had to enter by my boss.” Petra explained that at the time most Leaside businesses wanted to have an employee represent them in the contest. “My boss said to me – ‘You’re it!’ That’s how I became a contestant.”
In all, 17 entrants were chosen. This number was reduced to 10 following a semi-final competition held at Bayview Bowl on September 9. Petra remembers that before the semi-finals, the contestants were given training in modelling, deportment, and cosmetics. Clothes and accessories were provided by Leaside merchants.
The Miss Leaside finals took place at Leaside High School auditorium on September 12 – which also happened to be Petra’s 20th birthday. Petra recalls that each contestant was required to walk across the stage and back wearing shorts and a blouse. “Then we had to change to a skirt and sweater and do the same again.” No swimsuits! Right from the start the organizers stressed that this was to be a tasteful and wholesome event.
The women also had to answer a skill-testing question. “Each girl was given a word to use in a sentence of their own making. My word was ‘obey.’ The sentence I came up with was: ‘People who drive cars should obey traffic lights.’ My English wasn’t that good at the time,” Petra laughed, “but the judges must have liked my answer because I won the title.”
I asked Petra how she felt when her name was announced as the winner. “I wasn’t blown away by it. I guess it was because my boss asked me to do it. It wasn’t a big deal to me. My boss wasn’t that surprised either. He just said something like ‘good for you’ when I came to work a few days later.”
One thing did surprise her, though: “Right after they put the crown on my head, it fell off onto the stage. Fortunately, a photographer picked it up and put it back on.” A photo of the mishap appeared the next day in The Globe and Mail.
A motorcade followed, in which Petra was driven through Leaside in a convertible “waving like the Queen” to bystanders. In addition, she received gifts from several Bayview retailers – including a watch (which she still has), a gift certificate from a modelling agency and an impressive trophy, which she has also kept.
Life after “the crown”
When it was all over, Petra returned to her job at the glass company. Soon after she became a stewardess for Air Canada and by the mid-1960s had moved from Leaside to elsewhere in Toronto. It was around this time that she met her future husband David, also a Leasider. They were married in 1969 at St Cuthbert’s church. Later, the couple moved to King City where they lived for the next 30 years raising a family.
About seven years ago, they moved back to Leaside and now live in a condo near Leaside Memorial Community Gardens.
“I always felt at home in Leaside,” noted Petra. “I moved around quite a bit after the beauty contest. But Leaside always felt comfortable. And because I had worked here as a young girl, I felt I wanted to live here too. And would you believe – I came back!”
We’re glad you did, Petra. Our own Miss Leaside.