While Toronto developers are sometimes quick to cannibalize old buildings to make way for shiny new condos, change is often more glacially paced, as one can see from the images on the walls of the Toronto Archives as part of its “Life on the Grid” exhibit. Spurred by a recent acquisition of photos by Ivaan Kotulsky, archivist/photographer Patrick Cummins combed through the archives’ stacks to create an exhibit showing Toronto street photography’s century-old roots. These photos show the evolution of the corner of Yonge and Queen.
1. English immigrant F.W. Micklethwaite (1849–1925) snapped this gem. Despite using an arduous large-format camera with bulky glass-plate negatives, he pioneered the concept of street photography nearly three decades before it was labelled as such.
2. “This is the beginning of electricity here,” says the show’s curator, Patrick Cummins.
3. Even in the 1800s, the Queen and Yonge intersection was coveted commercial ground. The northwest corner housed Philip Jamieson’s clothing store until a fire in 1895. Timothy Eaton snatched up a block of buildings on Yonge Street, moving his shop here by the mid-1880s.
4. The Toronto Street Railway, a sort of horse-drawn pre-streetcar service, launched on Yonge Street in 1885. “People just moved about freely—there was no order on the streets, really.”
5. By this point, Bilton’s fruit stand at 188 Yonge St. had changed hands and piano-makers Gourlay, Winter, and Leeming had moved in.
6. Alfred J. Pearson (1886–1955) was appointed the TTC’s first official photographer in 1922. Although his intentions were to document the budding transit system, he inadvertently captured the minutiae of street life in Toronto.
7. Paved roads, an increase in auto traffic, and the odd horse-drawn vehicle marked the bustling city life at the beginning of the Great Depression.
8. The first Woolworth’s variety store in Canada took over Jamieson’s building in 1912, just south of the slowly expanding Eaton’s complex.
9. Power wires for the now-40-year-old electric streetcar system crisscrossed above the intersection.
10. Canaline ad exec E.R. White (1899–1978) shot this scene of the Yonge Street Mall, a public-space experiment that saw the street opened up to pedestrians and independent vendors for a few weeks in the summers between 1971 and 1975.
11. A thorn in Eaton’s side, Bilton’s building—which remained protected by a clause that it never be sold to the Eaton family—housed a Reitman’s but retained the original architecture from the 1800s.
12. Five years after this photo was taken, in 1977, the first stage of the Toronto Eaton Centre opened. Two years later the remainder of the Eaton’s complex was torn down to make way for the southern half of the massive shopping centre.
13. Surface transit had moved underground in 1954, along with the hydro lines.
14. The cheese-grater exterior surrounding Woolworth’s would eventually be restored to its turn-of-the-century look in the 1990s.
15. The Brookfield-owned building at 2 Queen St. E., which was built in 2003, retains the iconic Bank of Montreal façade from 1910.
“Life on the Grid: 100 Years of Street Photography in Toronto” runs to May 2014 at the City of Toronto Archives, 255 Spadina Rd., 416-397-0778, toronto.ca/archives.