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
Broadview and Gerrard, postcard circa 1910
Confederation Life Building, postcard circa 1912
McMaster University (now the Royal Conservatory of Music), postcard circa 1906
Sherbourne and Carlton, postcard circa 1910
Simpson's Building at Queen and Yonge (now the Bay), postcard circa 1908
Looking north on Spadina at Queen, postcard circa 1909
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, postcard circa 1913
Carnegie Library (now the U of T bookstore), postcard circa 1910
King and Queen by Roncesvalles, postcard circa 1900
The postcards found above were sourced from the Wikimedia Commons.