It has been said that a city is much like a person. They all have a few skeletons in their closet, they go through growing pains, and the events they experience can define them, for better or for worse.
Toronto has a rich and colorful history that can be explored in many ways. For the more active and adventurous, Heritage Toronto has an exploration map and plaques throughout the city for you to discover.
The Toronto Archives holds a treasure trove of images for any Toronto history enthusiast. The 1.2 million photographs are housed in a climate controlled facility that reminds me of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
For the cyber-explorer, the online archives have almost 97,000 photos available to browse at your leisure. The oldest is a map of Toronto Harbour that dates back to 1792. You can also find a panorama shot stitched together from the oldest known photos of Toronto from 1856 of our very own neighbourhood. I guess that’s why it’s called old town.
We decided to explore some of Toronto’s history online, on foot, and via Google Street View and give it the Photoshop treatment for this week’s blog, Toronto: Then and Now.
With special thanks and photo credits to Toronto Archives.
This before photo by Arthur Goss from 1913 was commissioned by the Toronto Health Department. It was to be included in a report regarding the poor state of Toronto’s housing. The property was located in The Ward, a notorious slum in the heart of the city. This property, demolished soon after, was located where the Nathan Philips Square ice rink is today. You can see Old City Hall in the background.
Did you know that our “new” city hall is actually the city’s fourth? 500 designs from 42 countries were submitted in an international competition that was very much ahead of it’s time. It’s hard to imagine our Nathan Phillips Square without this “futuristic” and iconic building completed in 1965. It has been an integral part of numerous films and even appeared in Star Trek comics as early as 1969 and an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the The Devon Corporation headquarters in the popular Pokémon franchise as well.
This inside shot was captured by John Boyd, photographer for the Globe and Mail. It was taken on Bay Street on May 7, 1945, the day Germany unconditionally surrendered to the allies.
Commissioned by the City Engineer and taken by F.W. Micklethwaite in 1899, this old photograph shows a drinking fountain just south of the Spadina Circle. These drinking fountains were commonplace in Toronto in the late nineteenth century, with a trough for horses, a common cup for people and even a basin for dogs! The Health department later deemed them a public health hazard and replaced them. One remains on King Street East near St. James Cathedral.
Commissioned by the City Engineer’s Department, this photograph illustrates the near completion of the construction of the subway, or underpass, at Queen and Dufferin Streets in 1897. Visible in the background is the 1897 Gladstone Hotel.
Invoking memories of North York’s rural past, Yonge Street appears as a mere country lane in 1936 rather than the main arterial route north out of the city that it is today. The railway track parallel to the road, is in fact, a streetcar line that took weekending Torontonians all the way to Lake Simcoe. The Jolly Miller Hotel is still there, a heritage building and popular restaurant now called The Miller Tavern.
Taken by city photographer Arthur Goss in 1917, this photograph of the Bloor Street Viaduct under construction was used as the cover image for the City of Toronto Archives’ book Toronto’s Visual Legacy, celebrating the city’s 175th anniversary. The viaduct gained fame internationally through Michael Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion.
Looking north up Yonge Street today you can still see some of the buildings from the turn of the century. It is amazing how many structures that are 100 years old remain here in Toronto. It is becoming a hot topic of debate – which buildings will survive the upward sprawl of today’s condo boom? It is at least a consolation that many of the facades of some of our historic buildings are being preserved.
The area around Yonge and Dundas has gone through massive changes from the construction of the Eaton Centre in 1977 to the re-launch of Yonge Dundas Square in 2002. While the Hard Rock cafe building remains structurally the same from when it first opened its doors in 1978, the facade and the fashions have changed.
Finally, looking north from Yonge Dundas square today, the new Ryerson University building dominates the landscape that was once reserved for the sparkling neon lights of Sam The Record Man. Sadly, one of the only recognizable buildings remaining in this stretch of downtown Toronto is the decrepit and sad looking Zanzibar strip joint, and something tells me it’s days may be numbered.
If you’d like to check out a few more “Then and Now” photos from New York and Berlin, click here.
I hope you enjoyed browsing these images of this amazing city we live in. Every day Cheryl and I discover something new by taking a side street less travelled, or simply googling “old Toronto photos”. Googling “old Toronto photos” was what started me on the path that is this little blog project. Remember not to take for granted that we live in one of the best cities in the world. Go out and (re)discover it.