Some Torontonians joke that many of the buildings in Toronto look like they are from the 1970s and it’s because they were. Toronto in the 1970s was one that set up its future, now a construction boom of modern glass and steel buildings.
Many of our most recognizable landmarks were built in the 1970s. The Eaton Centre, the CN Tower, Ontario Place (under a current transformation of revitalization), and the Toronto Reference Library (also recently renovated in parts) are the buildings we know and love from this era.
It’s hard to believe now but Yorkville in the 60s was the hippie capital of Toronto, where legends like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young were singing in coffee houses through those brick-laned alleys. Toronto in the 1970s ushered in its change to its tony status today with the introduction of high-end retailers such as Holt Renfrew and Harry Rosen in addition to art galleries and cafes. High-rise office towers replaced the low-rise buildings at major intersections.
The Yorkville scene of folk music was being ushered out and the rising scene of rock and roll and punk on Queen Street West was gaining prominence. Bands like the Rolling Stones were playing at notable venues like the now historic venue, the El Mocambo.
As writer, Shawn Micallef, notes, “Torontonians generally like their public areas all on one level and in a straight line in contrast to Asian cities like Hong Kong, where street life can easily rise many floors above the sidewalk.” Despite our underground pathways and current consistent construction, this trend hasn’t really changed.
Check out this collection of photos of Toronto in the 1970s here.
The Toronto in the 1950s was still growing and pre-dated the era of skyscrapers which started to boom in the 1960s. After the Second World War, many British children were sent to Toronto for safety while their fathers were in the war. The city continued to expand into the suburbs and it was officially a major city in this era. A mark of Toronto’s prosperity was the construction of the Yonge Subway–it opened to the public in 1954– and a highway to the suburbs, which were located in Don Mills, at the time.
With the end of the war and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947 (LINK TO 1920s post here), Toronto boomed and made way for an influx of immigrants. Germans, Italians, and Eastern Europeans were our first major wave of our multicultural community. British immigration was on the decline by 20 percent. This pattern continued into the 1960s, with an exotic mix of newcomers including more Europeans, West Indians, South Asians, and Vietnamese.
Residents moved back downtown from the suburbs in the 1960s and this is when the core started to thrive. Yorkville was not the tony neighbourhood of affluent people it is now. Rather, it was the hippie capital of the metropolis, chock full of coffeehouses where legends like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot performed.
Though Toronto in the 1950s might have not been as exciting as the Toronto of other eras, it was still a definitive period of the growth of our urban landscape, which thrived into the 60s and 70s.
If you take a look at Toronto’s skyline today, it is hard to imagine what it was like back in the 1920s when there wasn’t a skyline along Lake Ontario. Toronto was a port city and became the chief aviation centre for Canada during the first World War.
Its mining boom fueled Bay Street, renowned as being the centre of the city’s financial district. An influx of immigrants were starting to settle here, mainly from the British Empire. Far from being the multicultural and diverse metropolis it is today, there was a lot of hostility towards immigrants. The most famous example of this was the Chinese Immigration Act, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese immigrants were denied entry into the country from 1923 until 1947. Into the 1930s, discrimination continued for other immigrants including the Jews, at the height of the Great Depression. People were still coming to the town known as Muddy York and it’s population doubled to over a half million in the 1920s from its previous decade.
Another law passed in Ontario was the Ontario Temperance Act in 1916. The law prohibited the sale of alcohol in the province but smugglers were still importing alcohol illegally. Prohibition also increased drug use in Ontario, notably morphine. The Act was discharged in 1927.
Notable landmarks were built in Toronto in the 1920s. Though the area down by Lakeshore west is home to Sunnyside Pavillion and entertainment venue Palais Royale, in the 1920s Sunnyside Beach was the site for the Sunnyside Amusement Park, which opened on June 28,1922. Our main train station, Union Station, which transports passengers within Canada, opened on August 6, 1927. The TTC –the Toronto Transit Commission–opened in 1921 and was created as a result of a referendum. Its first streetcar was erected onto city streets the same year.
Toronto was far from the thriving metropolis it is today but it in the 20s, it was on its way.