TORONTO THROUGH THE 60’s, 70’s & 80’s
In a nostalgic look at over 30 years of Toronto’s History, Derek Flack (Blog.to) brings us a compilation of images to illustrate the evolution of a great Canadian City.
We’ve compiled a reel of the top 25 images per decade to provide a look back at the city’s urban landscape and showcase its considerable growth over the years.
In the later half of the 1960s, Toronto became a modern city. Yes, we managed to build a single-line subway a decade before, but it was the arrival of two buildings that dramatically transformed Toronto:New City Hall (1965) and the TD Centre (1967, first tower). Both structures were the work of accomplished international architects and both were unlike anything the city had seen before. An elevated photo of Viljo Revel’s City Hall on opening night looks quite distinctly as though it announces the arrival of the future in Toronto.
At the outset of the decade, Toronto’s skyline was a collection of sepia-toned banks, hotels and church steeples. It was a quiet place relative to today, and far more conservative. The restaurant scene was virtually non-existent and good luck finding booze on Sunday or anywhere in the Junction, for that matter. But for all the apparent dreariness, places like Yorkville and Yonge Street south of Gerrard were alive with activity, both day and night. The former was a hub of hippie culture and a musical incubator for the first half of the ’60s before eventually giving way to the more retail-driven culture that defines the neighbourhood to this day.
Another major development in the 1960s, seen particularly in some of the aerial shots of the city outside the core, was the dawn of apartment block housing. Between 1959 and 1969, large-scale concrete apartments appear en masse to house the city’s growing population, one which is less tied to the downtown core than ever before. The suburbs began their ascent in the ’50s, but it’s the following decade in which development kicked into high gear.
The Toronto of this period has been termed a “boom town” for all the changes that took place in such a short period of time. With a new subway and expressways, the city grew up a lot in the 1960s, a process that would, arguably, only increase in the decade that followed.
1970s Toronto might not have been a more entertaining place than the city we live in today (especially if you’re into eating out), but it was dirtier, sleazier, and less sanitized in general. Despite being thought of as “New York run by the Swiss,” by our own standards, it was a gritty decade. And this, of course, is perfectly apparent in its photographic legacy. For whatever reason, the 1970s seems to be the decade with which we collectively have the most photo-based fascination.
Perhaps it’s because our modern downtown was formed during this period, with the birth of Commerce Court West, First Canadian Place, The CN Tower and The Eaton Centre. Or perhaps it’s actually because the place looks so different. Thanks to an indifference to heritage structures, major swaths of the core appear as parking lots during this period. And everything is so filthy, covered in soot from the previous decades of heavier industrial activity in the city and (going even further back) reliance on coal. It is remarkable just how much cleaner Toronto looks nowadays.
Toronto has certainly become a more interesting and diverse place to live in over the last 40+ years, but if there’s one thing that it’s lost (and this is true of most cities), it’s that scrappy, hodgepodge element that a photographer like Patrick Cummins has documented so well. Not only have we lost much of our industrial architecture, but the mom and pop signage that tended to make the urban landscape seem like a scramble of unique markers has progressively given way to homogenous corporate branding. Throw in the glass condo building boom, and you have a profoundly different-looking city than a few decades ago.
So even as I’ve written about 1970s Toronto before, here’s a big and better photo roundup to address our collective appetite for a version of Toronto that’s a little rougher around the edges.
Toronto of the 1980s is a less grimy place than the previous decade, if not quite as spick and span as the city is today. Although development of the skyline wasn’t quite as dramatic as it had been over the previous 20 years (which, in fairness, witnessed the birth of modern Toronto), other obvious visual shifts can be spotted throughout these photos. PCC streetcars and the red Gloucester subway cars are no longer ubiquitous, automobiles get smaller and smaller as the decade proceeds, and slowly but surely the surface parking lots and the railway lands are developed.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of messy urbanism on display, but the 1980s is a far cleaner decade than the one that it followed. If photos of Toronto in the 1970s seem to be tinged with a sepia tone of nostalgia, those from the ’80s tend to be more stark, highlighted by bold colours. One thinks of the new colour scheme of the CLRV streetcars, which ditches the maroon and yellow of its predecessor in favour of red and white.
While Scotia Plaza was a major addition to Toronto in 1988, the forward-looking nature of the decade is perhaps best exemplified by SkyDome, which opened in June 1989. Although the building is often associated with the ’90s thanks to the Jays back-to-back World Series wins, what was once known as the Ontario Stadium Project represents a city looking for the next big thing. And aside from the various accolades the building got when it opened – try to bear in mind just how fancy that roof seemed at the time – SkyDome ushered in development of a huge swath of land below Front Street that was covered in rail lines – one that is now predominantly marked by condos.
Piecing together a city’s history on a decade-by-decade basis isn’t an easy task, as many trends and developments stretch beyond 10 years. But with the development of the rail lands, the steady disuse of the Inglis Factory on Strachan, and the rise of the first condominiums in Toronto, the 1980s can likely be seen as a transitional decade, one in which the city embraced a completely modern version of itself and left its industrial heritage and the grime associated with it behind.
Story by: Derek Flack
*Images Courtesy of the Toronto City Archive