Old Toronto Postcards

Nostalgia tripping via old Toronto postcards

Old postcards of Toronto might just provide me with the perfect way to satisfy my nostalgic desires for a glimpse of this city's history. And when they depict buildings that still exist, their power is all the more palpable, offering my limited imagination a picture of the past in the present.

I wasn't, of course, around to experience the Toronto of these images (unlike my last entry on the 70s and 80s), but somehow they still inspire longing. Both foreign and familiar, I'm caught wanting to travel to this contradictory "place."

Yet, it'd be silly to call this desire inauthentic -- the force of nostalgia always rests upon an idealized and fictional version of the past. And that's why postcards are such an apt vehicle for this sentiment. They are always already an "improved" version of the place they depict and thus act as something of an advertisement for their subject matter. "Come here," they say, "it's beautiful" or "intriguing" or "idyllic."

So they foster desire -- and not just for the place in question, but for the person sending the postcard as well, who's often separated from the receiver by great distances. And it strikes me that this spatial relationship is rather similar to the one we encounter when we look at postcards that pre-date us. Now separated by time, these images are perhaps the very essence of nostalgia, presenting a version of life that seems simpler, tidier, and above all, more innocent.

But enough theorizing. One of the reasons that I like looking at these "artifacts" is that I think they're cool, plain and simple.

Here are a few of my favourites, featuring the postcard and a Google Street View image of what the scene looks like now. I'll be doing a follow up post with more postcards and information about where to find extensive collections of these vintage Toronto scenes.

Avenue and Bloor, postcard circa 1901

Old Postcard Toronto VintageAvenue Road and Bloor

Broadview and Gerrard, postcard circa 1910

Old Toronto PostcardBroadview and Gerrard

Confederation Life Building, postcard circa 1912

Old Toronto PostcardsConfederation Life Building Toronto

McMaster University (now the Royal Conservatory of Music), postcard circa 1906

Old Toronto PostcardRoyal Conservatory of Music Toronto

Sherbourne and Carlton, postcard circa 1910

Old Toronto PostcardSherbourne and Carlton

Simpson's Building at Queen and Yonge (now the Bay), postcard circa 1908

Vintage Toronto PostcardThe Bay Toronto

Looking north on Spadina at Queen, postcard circa 1909

Vintage Toronto PostcardsSpadina and Queen Toronto

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, postcard circa 1913

Vintage Toronto PostcardSt, Andrew's Church Toronto

Carnegie Library (now the U of T bookstore), postcard circa 1910

Old Toronto PostcardsU of T bookstore

King and Queen by Roncesvalles, postcard circa 1900

Toronto Postcard VintageKing and Queen Street

The postcards found above were sourced from the Wikimedia Commons.


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

12 photos of Casa Loma brilliantly lit up for the holidays

You can now fly direct to three new US cities from Toronto

Downtown Toronto is getting a new outdoor skating rink

Condo of the week: 390 Cherry Street

Toronto startup wants to solve city's parking lot woes

5 underrated neighbourhoods to rent an apartment in Toronto

New development could completely transform King and Bathurst

Someone is putting up poop flags in Toronto