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.

Bonus Features: Loblaws, Cinesphere, and OSAP, Oh My!

It’s been a busy week-and-a-half for me on the writing front: a trio of stories set (mostly) in Toronto for TVO. Because after a holiday break, you need a good kickstart to get back in a regular writing groove.

Not everything I find over the course of my research for these kinds of stories can or should make the final cut. So, where appropriate and time permitting, I’ll share with you the scraps from the cutting room floor or the side material that’s too good not to post.

Loblaws

Read the TVO article, published on January 15, 2019.

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Toronto Star, October 7, 1920.

The earliest Loblaws ad I found, when the chain opened its third store, which shares the current address of St. Lawrence Hall.

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Toronto Star, August 26, 1926. Click on image for a larger version.

Within a few years the ads grew larger, and the spotlight was shone on house brands. This ad also shows how the company pitched the benefits of self-service, as competitors slowly began switching over to the format.

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The Globe, June 13, 1930.

The introduction of one of Loblaws’ oldest house brands. It may be bagged now, but the look of Pride of Arabia coffee has changed little over the past 90 years.

globe 1926-11-19 page 14 front page of special loblaws sectionThe Globe, November 19, 1926. Click on image for larger version.

In 1926 The Globe published a special supplement about Loblaws and related food stories. Among the article titles:

“Interesting Story of Orange Growing Goes Back to 1865”
“Salmon Induced Never to Travel Into U.S. Waters”
“Fine Frozen Foods May Be Appetizing Even on Cold Days”
“Analysis Can Show That Canned Fish is Good, Safe Food”
“Fattening Foods Described For Folks Who Are Thin”
“French Government Made Note of Early Use of Ice Cream”

And, my favourite, “Buying of Products Sold in Groceterias is Full of Romance.” The “romance” derived from items sourced from exotic lands like Asia Minor, Burmah, Mesopotamia, Siam, and Sicily. “Few people actually realize,” the article notes, “the romance existing in the conduct of a modern groceteria establishment, or the great extent of the operations necessary to place at the disposal of the buying public the many and varied lines demanded today.”

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

Photos took readers into the various departments which supplied each groceteria. Some of those spotlighted aren’t a big surprise…

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The Globe, November 19, 1926.

…while others just seem funny now. Maybe a Loblaws exec who stumbles upon this post might be inspired to launch a new, 100th anniversary artisanal, handcrafted mayonnaise division.

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The Globe, October 2, 1931.

Some chest-thumping as the company opened its 100th location. A condo was recently built on this site.

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The trade obit for T.P. Loblaw.

Cinesphere

Read the TVO article, published on January 21, 2019.

You may also want to read an earlier piece I wrote for Torontoist about the opening of the Cinesphere.

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Published circa 1972, this magazine offered readers highlights of the park along with articles spotlighting different regions of the province. “We are an interesting and exciting province,” observes Premier William Davis in his introduction. “One of our greatest assets, our size, is one of our problems. We are so vast it is almost impossible for a person to travel over the whole of the province and get to know it all.”

After a few paragraphs about the economy, Davis concludes that he believes “the province will remain as accommodating as it has been in the past, exerting steady and calm influence on Canada and the rest of the world. I believe we will continue to keep our voices down and let ourselves be judged on the quality of our lives, the clarity of our ideas and the full measure and value of our accomplishments.”

His present-day successors in government would be wise to generally revisit that conclusion.

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The section on the Cinesphere from the magazine, highlighting its second season offerings. The ETROGS (named after Sorel Etrog, who sculpted the award winners received) soon became the Genie Awards, which lasted until they were merged with the Geminis to form the Canadian Screen Awards in 2013.

OSAP

Read the TVO article, originally published on January 24, 2019.

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The Varsity, October 6, 1965.

I suspect that when this ad for the Canada Student Loans Plan was published, newspapers were supposed to insert the nearest locations at the bottom. The Varsity decided to let applicants find that out on their own.

Confession: trying to sort the financial details of what students could and couldn’t apply for in terms of bursaries, loans, and scholarships under CSLP and POSAP between 1964 and 1967 was confusing, especially as conditions constantly changed. Congratulations to those who figured it out without suffering a nervous breakdown.

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Front page, The Varsity, September 30, 1966.

The Varsity‘s turnout figure for the 1966 POSAP protest in Queen’s Park was at the high end of the estimate scale, while the Globe and Mail claimed as few as 1,200 (I used the Star‘s figure of 2,000, which seemed like a nice, median number). Inside this issue, the Varsity‘s editorial felt the gathering was a success. “It means student leaders do not need to think and work in a vacuum–with efficient and patient preparation they can obtain the co-operation and support of their fellow students and of the faculty and administration.”

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Globe and Mail, September 29, 1966.

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Queen’s Journal, September 29, 1966.

Following the changes to POSAP in early 1967, the Globe and Mail reported that a rumour spreading around student councils and media “that agitators will be given special preference by the Government in their applications for loans.”

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Globe and Mail, August 17, 1967.

Introducing UTSC’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building

Originally published on Torontoist on January 29, 2016.

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At first glance, the six silvery stacks that grace the plaza outside University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)’s Environmental Science & Chemistry Building look like a public art project, or perhaps a salute to Daleks. Whatever these stacks resemble in the minds of attendees at today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, they act as the exterior face of concrete shafts known as “Earth Tubes,” which play a key role in the building’s innovative, energy-efficient design.

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Exterior view of Earth Tubes.

A glass pane in the building’s east entrance summarizes how the Earth Tubes work:

The latent heat of the earth and ultraviolet light contribute to the energy efficiency of the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building. Air travels through the “Earth Tubes” two metres underground, drawing warmth from the earth in winter and transferring warmth back to the earth in summer, while the exposure to ultraviolet light sanitizes it. In winter, air enters the building already warm; in summer the tubes return warmth back into the earth, cooling the air. This process reduces demands on the ventilation system all year round.

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The Earth Tubes emerge in the basement.

The tubes emerge via a basement corridor, resembling tunnels out of a science fiction movie. They are tucked behind the main mechanical room, where other geothermal pipes run deep underneath the basement instead of being placed beside the building. The purified, temperate air is then circulated around the building, eventually being vented out via the labs. Sustainable technology like Earth Tubes is aiding UTSC’s application for LEED Gold Standard status.

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Looking down from the fifth floor.

Instead of sticking researchers in the basement or other hidden areas, the labs are located on the south side of the building, facing the Highland Creek ravine. It is hoped that glimpsing nature will spark inspiration. Plans call for the entire building to be surrounded by a more pleasing environment, with an adjacent parking lot slated to become green space and the current alignment of Military Trail beside it to become a pedestrian zone. Outside, the lab side is covered in a series of metal fins which, depending on the angle, resemble waves and will offer a cool shadow during the summer.

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Looking across the ground floor teaching labs.

The labs also offer flexibility for the needs of each project or any future development within the building. Ceilings are unfinished, while lab equipment is not permanently attached to the floor. Each floor’s suite of labs is relatively open concept, to allow for fluctuations in project head counts and to foster collaborations between research teams. First-year courses are taught on ground level, with each “classroom” able to view labs across the floor, which may come in handy if assistance is needed during emergencies (these labs went into service earlier this month). On the higher floors, signs of researchers at work are everywhere, with molecular diagrams and the occasional joke written on whiteboards and glass meeting room walls. Among the projects being worked on is a machine to scan bodies for bacteria, disease, drugs, and other objects akin to Star Trek’s tricorders.

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The backup diesel generator.

The building even boasts a penthouse—a mechanical penthouse, where the main backup emergency diesel generator is stored. Given a history of brownouts from the city’s power grid, and the potential ruin that awaits research projects if the juice is off for seconds (as was the case during the 2013 ice storm), it was critical a strong backup power source was installed onsite. Under a worst-case scenario, the diesel generator could power the building for one to three days.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and built over two years, the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building is one of the first completed portions of the current UTSC master plan. Besides reconfiguring routes across campus, will include new academic buildings which whose architecture will serve as a contrast with its original brutalist style, a parking deck, and a hotel/conference centre near the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

Bad Pronunciation Night in Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on February 25, 2009.

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Buses at Hart House, September 8, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1567, Series 648, File 5, Item 1.

Dateline: February 12, 1954. An evening of one-act plays was presented at Hart House Theatre by students from three of the University of Toronto’s colleges. Victoria was represented by a treatment of T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes, Trinity by Ferenc Molnar’s Still Life, and St. Michael’s by William Butler Yeats’s Land of Heart’s Desire. Once the performances were finished, the actors received feedback from an academic jury, led by a future Canadian literary icon.

All did not go well. As the Telegram headlined its account of the evening, “Student-Actors’ Diction Hit By Adjudicator.”

But who was the figure who slammed the students for their sloppy speaking abilities?

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Robertson Davies photographed by Harry Palmer, September 22, 1984. Library and Archives Canada, PA-182426.

Robertson Davies was a busy man in the mid-1950s, juggling careers as the editor/publisher of the Peterborough Examiner, a playwright, a novelist, and as a governor of the new Stratford Shakespearian Festival. In the midst of all this he found time to adjudicate student plays at U of T and did not mince words when providing his feedback to the actors.

From Rose Macdonald’s report in the February 13, 1954 edition of the Telegram:

None of the presentations attained a standard such as should be expected from performers under the aegis of a university.

Mr. Davies gave such limited praise as he was able conscientiously to bestow, considered the presentation of the Yeats work above the others, that the St. Michael’s group had made “a good shot at a wonderful play,” but had missed, for one thing, the quality of belief necessary for playing it.

Land of Heart’s Desire depended about 85 per cent on the way it was spoken. The present group did it a disservice by not speaking it well. Their way lacked charm and music, qualities needful on the stage, as Mr. Davies insisted. “You really should not attempt to act if you cannot sing at all,” he told his student audience.

At the outset of his comments, Mr. Davies made it clear he supposed the students wished to do plays because of the chance afforded to develop and refine their own taste in theatre. The play-writing editor from Peterboro[ugh] later had some criticism of pronunciations.

“This,” he said, “is a university and whatever may be said to the contrary, university people are supposed to be educated people and speak like educated people. An awful lot of us pay an awful lot of money to educate you and we would like to see more for our money.”

Mr. Davies got on to the subject of pronunciation as a result of hearing a young man in the course of the evening pronounce perfume (the noun) with accent on the second syllable.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Robertson Davies takes a moment out to reflect during a rehearsal, 1960. Photo by Mario Geo. Toronto Public Library, from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0042096f.

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Globe and Mail, February 15, 1954. 

Davies was a busy drama adjudicator that week. Here are some of his thoughts on a series of plays presented at Hart House on February 13.