Originally published as a Historicist column on Torontoist on June 11, 2011.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
of the late stocks of
CLOTHING & DRY GOODS
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.”
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.