The Oldest Known Photos of Toronto

Originally published as a gallery post on Torontoist on February 25, 2013.

For the earliest known photographs of Toronto, we have a sales pitch to thank.

Following the union of Upper and Lower Canada as the United Province of Canada in 1841, Canada’s new parliament drifted from city to city. Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto all hosted the wandering colonial government. On April 14, 1856, the legislature voted 64 to 54 in favour of ending its recent practice of alternating parliamentary sessions between Toronto and Quebec City. The job of determining a permanent capital was handed to Queen Victoria, who examined presentations from those two cities, along with presentations on behalf of Kingston, Montreal, and Ottawa.

While Toronto’s pitch failed to sway the queen (she named Ottawa the capital in 1857), it preserved a record of what the growing city looked like. The photographic and civil engineering firm of Armstrong, Beere and Hime was hired to provide a set of 25 photos for Victoria’s consideration, which were forgotten until an archivist found them by chance in 1979 while researching images of the British Columbia gold rush at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library in London, England. The photos were exhibited at the Market Gallery in 1984, and a set of copies were presented to the City archives as a gift for the city’s 150th birthday.

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King Street East, south-side, looking west, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 1.

At the left of this row of buildings is the Golden Lion, which rivalled Eaton’s and Simpson’s as one of Toronto’s major department stores during the late 19th century. Officially known as Robert Walker and Sons, the store earned its lasting name when a golden lion statue was placed above its entrance soon after moving to the location shown here in 1847.

Renovated in 1867 and expanded in 1892, the store appeared to have a healthy future. But when no one in the Walker was left to carry on the business, it closed in 1898. Some observers, such as the Hamilton Herald, were dubious about the site’s future when the store was demolished in 1901: “In Toronto they are pulling down the old Golden Lion to make room for a new White Elephant in the form of a palace.”

The replacement? The still-operating King Edward Hotel.

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King Street East, south-side between Yonge and Church streets, looking east, 1856.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 2.

Among the businesses seen in this view is the British Colonist, one of Toronto’s first enduring newspapers. Launched in 1838, it was originally backed by supporters of the Church of Scotland. Considered “a staunch but not rabid Conservative paper” by the book Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867, it graduated from semi-weekly to daily publishing in 1851. The paper was sold to rival Conservative paper the Leader in 1860.

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Bank of British North America, north-east corner of Wellington and Yonge streets, 1856.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 3.

Opened in 1846, the limestone Bank of British North America was designed by John Howard, whose personal property later became High Park. Howard also designed the adjoining warehouses, which were initially occupied by a grocer. The building was rebuilt into its present form in the mid-1870s. The site later housed branches of the Bank of Montreal and CIBC, then a variety of tenants before the Irish Embassy pub settled in.

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The Exchange, Wellington Street, north side east of Yonge Street, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 4.

Modelled on a similar exchange across the Atlantic in London, the Toronto Exchange was established in 1854 for speculation traders specializing in produce. One-time Toronto postmaster Charles Berczy donated land he owned at the present-day northwest corner of Wellington Street and Leader Lane to the organization. Opened in 1855, it was renovated in 1877 and renamed the Imperial Bank Chambers when that financial institution moved in. Damaged by fire during the 1930s, it was demolished during World War II.

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Second United Presbyterian Church under construction, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 7.

Established in 1851, the Second United Presbyterian congregation renamed itself Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in 1856 in honour of Irish minister Henry Cooke. After holding services at several downtown locations, including St. Lawrence Hall, the congregation moved into its permanent home at Queen and Mutual streets in 1858. A Romanesque-style replacement was built in 1891 and became one of the city’s most popular churches—during the 1920s, you had to get there early to grab one of its 2,250 seats. When the church closed in 1982, its congregation had dwindled to 150. Despite a last-minute heritage designation, the church was demolished in 1984. Though there were hints of future office/residential development, the site became a parking lot.

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Normal School building, Gould Street, north side east of Yonge Street, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 8.

Founded in 1850 by Egerton Ryerson, the Normal School served as training institution for teachers who would populate the province’s emerging public school system. Its home in St. James Square was opened in 1852 and expanded a few years later to include the Model School, where boys’ grammar classes were held. Among its amenities was a museum of natural history and fine arts which evolved into the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Normal School was moved out in 1941 to make room for an RCAF training centre. After World War II, the site was used to prepare veterans to return to civilian life via a school which evolved into Ryerson University. Demolished to make way for the present Ryerson quadrangle in 1962, only a portion of the central façade remains today.

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Osgoode Hall, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 9.

Built between 1829 and 1846, Osgoode Hall served as the headquarters of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Shortly after this picture was taken, the central section was reconstructed by the architectural firm of Cumberland and Storm.

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Parliament Buildings, Front Street West, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 10.

The third set of parliament buildings erected in Toronto, three separate blocks were built on the north side of Front Street between John and Simcoe streets between 1829 and 1832. Architect John Howard was brought in to finish off the interiors. The complex was used intermittently during the United Province of Canada era (1841 to 1867), when legislators also sat in Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec City. When this picture was taken, work had begun to fill in the spaces between the blocks for offices in case Toronto became the permanent capital. Post-Confederation, the buildings served as the home of Ontario’s government until the present Ontario Legislative Building in Queen’s Park opened in 1893. The Grand Trunk Railway purchased the site and demolished the buildings a decade later. The site currently houses the Canadian Broadcast Centre.

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Trinity College, Queen Street West, north side, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 11.

When the University of Toronto declared itself a secular institution in 1850, Bishop John Strachan felt an institute of higher learning with ties to the Church of England was still required. He established Trinity College and hired architect Kivas Tully to design a Gothic-styled school, the first section of which opened in 1852.

Trinity joined U of T in 1904 and moved to the main campus in 1925. The buildings it left behind in what became Trinity-Bellwoods Park were briefly used as an athletic centre, then demolished in the mid-1950s. The only remaining portions are part of the gate at the park’s entrance and the former St. Hilda’s College building on Shaw Street, now John Gibson House.

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Rossin House Hotel, southeast corner of King and York streets, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 12.

Introduction to an article on the opening of the Rossin House, the Globe, May 5, 1857:

The want of proper hotel accommodation has long been a standing reproach to Toronto, and the boasted enterprise and energy of our citizens has often been called into question by visitors from other places. No longer, however, will this be needed, for by the completion of the Rossin House, ample accommodation can be afforded for as large a number of guests as are likely to visit the city at any one time, and, as far as the house is concerned, satisfaction will be given to the most fastidious.

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Toronto from the top of Rossin House Hotel, looking northwest, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 14.

This image formed part of one of three panoramas of the city shot from the top of the Rossin House, which were meant to impress Queen Victoria with how much the city had grown.

As for the Rossin House, though a fire in November 1862 gutted its interior, fire safety measures included by architect William Kauffman left the walls intact and resulted in only one fatality. Rebuilt by 1867, it remained one of Toronto’s most fashionable hotels until the King Edward opened in 1903. Later known as the Prince George Hotel, the building was demolished in 1969.

Sources: Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), Early Toronto Newspapers 1793–1867, Edith G. Firth, editor (Toronto: Baxter Publishing, 1961), Choosing Canada’s Capital by David B. Knight (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1991), the May 5, 1857 edition of the Globe, the March 22, 1984 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 12, 1901 and May 22, 1982 editions of the Toronto Star.

Tourism Tips, 1867

Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on June 11, 2011.

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How we imagine a tourist magazine cover might have looked in 1867.

In June 1867, Toronto was weeks away from becoming the capital city of the province of Ontario in the newly formed Dominion of Canada. Then, as now, the summer tourist season was underway, though the preferred methods of arrival were train or steamship. We recently thumbed through a travel guide published that year, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, which provides both brief highlights for visitors to our fair city and criticizes the lack of natural wonders. Which got us thinking…what would tourist literature akin to modern publications like Where Toronto have looked like during the Confederation year?

Here’s our attempt.

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Normal School building, Gould Street, north-side east of Yonge, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 8.

Summer is upon us and there are few better times to take a day’s visit or a week’s excursion to Toronto. Pay no heed to the authors of a recent travel guide who contend that our city has too many brick buildings (due to the absence of local stone quarries) and utterly lacks beautiful scenery and scenic drives. A city like ours has many aspects to appeal to any traveller, with which we hope to enlighten you.

ATTRACTIONS

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St. James Cathedral, between 1885 and 1895. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 23.

Toronto treats piety with the utmost seriousness. If your visit coincides with the Lord’s Day, there are many handsome churches that will satisfy your spiritual needs. If you are of the Anglican persuasion, attend a service at St. James Cathedral at the corner of King and Church streets. If you are a devotee of the papacy (which we generally do not advise visitors to openly display on Toronto’s streets, especially those of Irish extraction, unless brawling is on your itinerary), then slip into a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. Though both of these buildings of high worship have yet to be completed, we are assured that once their spires are finished they will provide much to the city’s appearance from a distance.

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University of Toronto, 1859. Painted by Sir Edmund Walker. Wikimedia Commons.

The city’s institutes of higher learning provide more than space to train the nation’s future leaders—these are sites for tourists who wish a sense of Toronto’s philosophy, the city’s aesthetics. Deep thought has gone into their architecture and aesthetic surroundings which make them ideal locations to spend an afternoon. The University of Toronto offers a beautiful botanical garden on its grounds, along with a main Norman-styled building made of the finest white stone from Ohio. On Queen Street, Trinity College offers 20 acres of lush parkland that we are certain future generations will enjoy on days resplendent with sun. The Normal School at St. James Square is said to the largest building in America designed to train future educators.

ENTERTAINMENT

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Right wing of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 1868. Photo by William Notman. McCord Museum, Item I-34480.1.

A recently published guidebook, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, highlights one of the most enlightening experiences in which any visitor to Toronto can partake, one that reinforces the frailty of human existence:

The Provincial Lunatic Asylum, at the western extremity of the city, is well worthy of a visit by the curious in such matters. It is kept in admirable order; and though it is a painful sight at all times to be brought in contact with “humanity so fallen,” it is pleasing to see the degree of comfort many of the patients seem to enjoy. There is no difficulty in obtaining permission to view it.

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The Globe, June 12, 1867.

Were a carnival of “fallen humanity” not diversion enough, visitors in July will have the opportunity to enjoy one of America’s finest travelling circuses, operated by veteran showman L.B. Lent.

ESSENTIALS

william armstrong painting of union station tpl jrr291

 

Union Station (1858-1871), waterfront, west of York St., Toronto, Ont. Water colour, pen & brown ink over pencil. William Armstrong, 1859. Toronto Public Library, JRR 291 Cab III.Union Station, circa 1860.

Travellers arriving from the north have a new train station to disembark from in the vicinity of City Hall and St. Lawrence Market. Operated by the Northern Railway, this wonderful new facility on the Esplanade west of Jarvis Street was recently described in one of the city’s finest newspapers, the Globe, as being “a much more ornamental and commodious structure than is generally imagined…It is in the Italian style, with heavy bracketed cornice, circular-headed windows and doors, glazed with ornamental ground glass.” No less a figure than John A. Macdonald (who we suspect will become leader of the new Dominion next month) was on hand for the opening ceremony to praise the future possibilities of extending the line beyond Barrie into Grey County and other points north.

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King Street East, south side looking west, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 1.

For the finest in dry goods and seasonal fashions, King Street east of Yonge offers high class shopping to rival that found in older cities. It is a district for the chattering class, as one writer has noted:

The buildings on King Street are greater and grander than their neighbours on Yonge; the shops are larger and dearer; and last but not least King Street is honoured by the daily presence of the aristocracy while Yonge Street is given over to the business man, the middle-class and the beggar. Amid the upper classes there is a performance that goes on daily that is known among the habitués as ‘doing King.’ It consists principally of marching up and down a certain part of the street at a certain hour, performing, as it were, ko-tou [sic] to the goddess of Fashion, and sacrificing to her sister divinity of Society.

At three o’clock in the afternoon the first stragglers appear on the scene, which extends perhaps a quarter of a mile. These consist primarily of young ladies, whose proper place should be at school, and young men attired in the height of fashion. By the time these ardent devotees have paraded a few times, the regular habitués make their appearance, and till six o’clock in the evening one side—for one side only is patronized—is crowded to excess.

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Advertisement spotlighting the Golden Lion, 1872. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1662, Item 14.

Among the finest of King Street’s merchants is the establishment of Robert Walker and Sons, colloquially known as the “Golden Lion” due to the jungle lord that gazes down upon patrons entering the store. Founded around 1836, the business has been in its present location for the past two decades. Current renovations to the handsome cast-iron building will make it the largest retailer in Canada West/Ontario. When finished, the store will consist of a four-storey frontage along King Street and a two-storey section stretching back to Colborne Street that will include a large dome to provide beautiful natural lighting to heighten customer appreciation of the goods for sale.

Additional information from The Canadian Handbook and Tourists Guide (Montreal: M. Longmoore & Co., 1867), Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978), Toronto by Bruce West (Toronto: Doubleday, 1967), and the June 11, 1867 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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The cover of the Coles Canadiana Collection edition of The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, published in 1971. Given its focus on modern-day Ontario and Quebec (then Canada West and Canada East), the book was likely prepared prior to Confederation.

From the introduction:

The nooks and corners of Canada, and more especially of the Lower Province, in addition to the interest they awaken as important sources of Commercial and Agricultural wealth, are invested with no ordinary attraction for the Naturalist, the Antiquary, the Historian, and the Tourist in quest of pleasure or of health. We have often wondered why more the venturesome spirits amongst our transatlantic friends do not tear themselves away, even for a few months, from London fogs, to visit our distant but more favoured clime. How is it that so few, comparatively speaking, come to enjoy the bracing air and bright summer skies of Canada?

Here is a Vintage Toronto Ads column about the Golden Lion department store, which was originally published on Torontoist on April 8, 2015.

 

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The Globe, September 7, 1858.

During the late 19th century, several downtown Toronto dry-goods merchants developed the potential to grow into major department stores. While Eaton’s and Simpsons evolved into national retailers, their competitors either couldn’t tackle the two giants or fell by the wayside for other reasons. One could-have-been-a-contender was Robert Walker and Sons, a.k.a. the Golden Lion, which was considered the largest retail business in Ontario in the late 1860s.

A native of Brampton, England, Robert Walker moved to Toronto in 1829, where he quickly entered the local clothing business. Around 1836, he formed a partnership with Thomas Hutchinson and operated a store on King Street east of Yonge. Around 1847, Walker opened up his wallet and spent a spectacular amount for the time period ($30,000) to build a stone structure at 33-37 King Street East to house his business. Two years later, the store adopted a golden lion as its symbol.

The intense competition between dry-goods sellers led to bloodthirsty ad copy. Take the following spot Walker prepared in January 1858:

NO HUMBUG
The remains
of the late stocks of
CLOTHING & DRY GOODS
to be
SLAUGHTERED!
at
FEARFUL REDUCTIONS
for cash

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The Globe, March 19, 1881.

The Golden Lion became a key component of one of the city’s most fashionable shopping blocks. Its success prompted a major expansion built in 1866-67 which utilized cast iron columns to free up floor space previously occupied by thick masonry. The new four-storey front on King Street included a 30-foot-high glass window, while a two-storey back section stretching to Colborne Street utilized a 12-foot-wide glass dome for improved natural lighting. Topping the store was a 12-foot-high stone lion. The result, the Globe declared, excelled “anything before seen in this city, or perhaps any other part of Canada.”

Walker was active in the community, serving as a firefighter and on the board of the Necropolis cemetery. He was a devout Methodist who acted as a Sunday school superintendent and donated the land to build the Parliament Street Methodist Church (later demolished to build the Regent Park housing project). Walker retired from the business in 1870; when he died in 1885, the Globe called him “an energetic and upright merchant, a Christian who lived up to his creed and was not afraid to be known as a Christian—Mr. Walker was one of whom Toronto was, and had a right to be, proud.”

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Toronto Star, September 25, 1895.

Though the store doubled in size again in 1892, by 1898 no one was left in the Walker family to run it. Unlike its competitor Simpsons, where founder Robert Simpson’s sudden death in December 1897 prompted his survivors to sell out, the Golden Lion closed its doors. Subsequent occupants included another short-lived department store and a Liberal campaign office during the 1900 federal election.

After the stone lion was removed on April 6, 1901, the store was demolished to make way for a prominent new development. “In Toronto,” the Hamilton Herald observed, “they are pulling down the old Golden Lion to make room for a new White Elephant in the form of a palace.” The store’s replacement has stood the test of time as a downtown landmark—the King Edward Hotel.

Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978); the January 19, 1858, February 23, 1867, and October 6, 1885 editions of the Globe; and the April 12, 1901 edition of the Toronto Star.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the years of writing Historicist, I developed a bad habit of finishing columns while I was supposed to be on vacation. Entries were finished everywhere from cozy hotels in Montreal to large chain suites near LAX. This entry was written during the first part of a roadtrip to Boston – part of it was written in Syracuse, while the finished product emerged in Beantown.

I was running so far behind on this one that I brought along a Toronto Public Library bag filled with research items. This sparked the curiosity of the border guard who checked my trunk when I crossed at the Rainbow Bridge. I think she was convinced I was trying to sneak into an academic conference or was seeking work stateside. She pondered the contents for several moments, and repeatedly asked why I was bringing so many books with me.

Finally convinced of my true intentions, she let me go…but not before locking my keys in the trunk.

While she laughed, I gritted my teeth. At least I learned where the panic button was in that car. I may have yelled an obscenity once I was safely past security. After that, I made sure to always have the column wrapped up before crossing the border.

***

If you click on the original Torontoist link, you’ll notice the images are broken. During one of the site’s revamps, images published on posts I wrote during mid-2011 vaporized. Several were fixed, usually when I needed to link to them, while others remain broken. It didn’t help that my computer died during this period, before I was able to backup some files.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Tongue-Twisting Bargains

Originally published on Torontoist on August 24, 2010.

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The Globe, November 15, 1858.

We dare you to say this store’s name five times fast.

Proprietor Thomas Hutchinson did not lack for modesty when touting the economical value of the products he sold at his dry goods emporium. In an ad in a catalogue produced for the Provincial Exhibition (forerunner of the CNE) in September 1858, he proclaimed that the store had “already obtained for itself a merited celebrity for selling the CHEAPEST GOODS ever sold in Canada.”

From the conflicting accounts regarding the store’s history, here’s what we’ve pieced together. Hutchinson and Robert Walker formed a partnership to sell dry goods on King Street East around 1846. Within seven years, their business relationship dissolved and Walker kept the store, which evolved into the Golden Lion department store (so named because of a statue that the store quickly became identified with). The bitter split led Hutchinson to establish his own dry goods store sometime between 1853 and 1857, which was located at either 45 to 49 or 55 to 59 King Street East.

The “Old Fogies and Extortionists” had the last laugh, as bargains failed to sustain the Pantechnetheca into the business equivalent of puberty. After, in the words of Telegram publisher John Ross Robertson, “a very lively but a short-lived career,” the store ceased operations in 1859.

Additional material from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto Sixth Series by John Ross Robertson (self-published, 1914).