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A visual history of Yonge and Dundas

Posted by Derek Flack / November 27, 2010

Yonge and Dundas HistoricalThe intersection of Yonge and Dundas is probably one of the most fascinating to track over the years. Always a place bustling with activity, it was already adorned with prominent billboards back in the 1920s. My memories of the area start in the mid 80s when it was much seedier than it is today, but considerably more interesting. Although it lacked as many outlandish ads -- something which I have to admit I almost like, if only from a photographic standpoint -- there just seemed to be a greater vibrancy back then.

The contemporary iteration of Yonge and Dundas has had its fair share of detractors, but even as the area has been cleaned up and become more and more corporate, it manages to modestly live up its designation as "the heart of the city."

Here's a brief survey of its many faces over the years.


Northwest corner
Yonge and Dundas

Looking north on Yonge
Yonge and Dundas


Northeast corner
Yonge and Dundas


Looking south on Yonge
Yonge and Dundas


Looking north on Yonge
Yonge and Dundas 1980s


From above
Yonge and Dundas

Northwest corner
Yonge Dundas

Northeast corner (introduction of scramble crossing)
Yonge and Dundas

Yonge and DundasDo you have images of Yonge and Dundas over the years? I'd love to fill out the decades, so let me know in the comments.

Black and white historical photos from the Toronto Archives. Photo looking south in the 70s via Damon Schreiber, looking north in the 80s by visual guy, aerial image by Duke 360, scramble crossing by Roger Cullman and spiderman drawing by Sam Javanrouh.



Riz / November 27, 2010 at 04:47 pm
When were those buildings demolished to make way for the square?
o.k. / November 27, 2010 at 05:19 pm
I do like the square.. my only beef is 10 Dundas (changes it's name every week) east. It's a cold bunker that has no life in it. It should defiantly be more than a fancy food court.
Abella / November 27, 2010 at 06:36 pm
Oh yes, Mr. Submarine!!! And Pinball place... went to both... Also worked at Coles in the 1980's... trip down memory lane!! Cool... :)
Abella replying to a comment from o.k. / November 27, 2010 at 06:37 pm
I thought that's where they hold concerts and events...
Fantomex replying to a comment from Riz / November 27, 2010 at 06:43 pm
Around the late 1990's (1998, to be exact.) I was there and had a dinner at the Licks branch on the corner the night before it was to be torn down.
bob / November 27, 2010 at 07:38 pm
There should be a rebate initiative to bring back the neon signs (Vancouver is doing the same thing for Robson St).
bob / November 27, 2010 at 07:39 pm
Bring back the neon signs and the Toronto Arcades!!!!

Also, 10 Dundas East needs to be more public-friendly. There's nothing to do in there!!!!! What a waste.
Alden C / November 27, 2010 at 08:05 pm
Check out this Then and Now mix of NW corner:

Fantomex replying to a comment from bob / November 27, 2010 at 09:31 pm
They should-but you know how Dave Meslin and the Toronto Public Space Coalition will feel about that...
Fantomex replying to a comment from bob / November 27, 2010 at 09:32 pm
I'd love to see the arcades come back too, but the reality is is that home video game systems have killed arcade gaming in North America.
Laura / November 27, 2010 at 09:33 pm
In the early 80s my family went nearly once a month to the Howard Johnson's restaurant (located next to the Cole's bookstore in the first pic). My favourite dinner was the veal parmigiana and a chocolate sundae for dessert. While the grownups yapped away about boring stuff, I looked at the window and could never understand why there were no stores on the outside of the Eaton's Centre. The whole block from Queen to Dundas was nothing but solid aluminum siding. Ugly as hell.

Thomas / November 27, 2010 at 10:13 pm
i really wish the arcade was still there.
tara / November 27, 2010 at 10:42 pm
Dov Charney attempts to come across as "not a pervert"
James B / November 27, 2010 at 10:43 pm
Apparently the Hard Rock Cafe at Y&D used to be a bar called the Friar's Club. It's where Bob Dylan first jammed with The Band (then called Levon and the Hawks) in 1965. Any photos of it dating from that period?
bob replying to a comment from Fantomex / November 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm
I didn't mean that type of arcade but ok
sam replying to a comment from tara / November 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Spamming troll!!!!
Aaron replying to a comment from James B / November 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm
Don't forget about Le Coq D'Or, where the HMV is now and where Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks tore Toronto a new, musical one, 5 nights a week. Above the club was Hawkins' party den, appropriately named, the Hawks Nest.

The story of Ronnie Hawkins and his band - who would later become The Band - is a proud, Toronto story which doesn't get the mention it deserves.
tara / November 28, 2010 at 12:21 am
Speaking of Yonge and Dundas - Here's a great article about local rapper Greedy Pockets who sells his cds there every weekend:
c / November 28, 2010 at 12:53 am
They should close it down to cars on yonge and dundas...and let PEOPLE actually enjoy the square....the sidewalk is tooooo small there
stro1 / November 28, 2010 at 01:24 am
I got some flicks from the late 90's I'll try to find and send your way. I Amazing transformation over the years !
Gregory / November 28, 2010 at 01:34 am
I got some flicks from the late 90's I've got to find and send your way. What an amazing transformation over the years! I totally remember going to the Just for Fun arcade all the time & play "King Boxer" and "Cyberball" There also used to be this booth mall I think it was called Young Dundas Mall right next to the Harvey's, it had hook ups on NES & Genesis video games + Hiphop gear & used CD's
dsaefr / November 28, 2010 at 01:43 am
I wish they had kept all the old buildings, and instead put a square at Yonge & Eglinton or something.
dave meslin / November 28, 2010 at 10:32 am
Fantomex, are you suggesting that the Public Space Committee (or myself) would be against neon signs?
Adam Sobolak / November 28, 2010 at 11:06 am
And besides, at least in the photos posted, it isn't like the Y-D of yore was significantly more "neonesque" than now--in fact, if one considers the 70s/80s arcade era, the hegemony of backlit plastic was already upon us. I think when people speak of "missing the neon", what they're really missing is the homespun, the mom'n'pop, the artisan, that which predates the overcalculated corporate overkill of H&M and Virgin. Something which even the spinning Sam's disks symbolized (and, oddly enough, the current Zanzibar frontage maintains)
Brandon / November 28, 2010 at 11:44 am
You guys skipped the 90s! I was hoping to remember how it looked before it became the monstrosity it is today. I do recall that the northeast corner was a construction site for many years, but I can't remember what was on the southeast corner before the square.
copper queen / November 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm
JEANS! JEANS! JEANS! and other stores like it were on the south east corner. They had about a hundred half mannequins hung outside wearing various cheap hochie mama outfits, oh and jeans
Lincoln / November 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm
Pretty silly for anyone to suggest the Public Space Committee would be against neon. They have quite the track record for anything bright and shiny.

Yonge/Dundas has been an embarrassment since the late 90s. It's ugly and gauche. In 2003, I had to walk past/thru the square every day on my way to work. It's crazy slippery in the winter, especially those grates, and freezing what with the big open space and nothing to block the wind.

Adam absolutely has it correct--the area used to have homespun charm with mom-and-pop style shops snuggling up against corporate giants. Now the corporate everythingness is just ignominious. There used to be a great falafel place on the NE block--and that awesome blues+jazz music shop where the old man always gave the youngsters attitude. There was the Russian (I believe)-owned diner one block south, which the landlords put out of business after 4 decades when the arrival of the square jacked the rents.

Yadda yadda yadda...

I avoid the corner at all costs now, even going out of my way from Bay to walk up to Elm or Edward to get to Yonge, just so I don't have to look at it.
Jon K / November 28, 2010 at 01:22 pm
The problem with Yonge & Dundas is that there's really not that much to do there... nothing unique. It's really just a shopping area like any other shopping area except with some big signs.
scottd / November 28, 2010 at 01:42 pm
Kids that went to highschool downtown like me knew that in the basement of the Howard Johnson's past the washrooms was another set of doors that led outside. There was an alarm if opened but sometimes the staff would over ride the alarm so they could go smoke. If that was the case then your meal was on the house.

I think the jean store was Rockwells.

I avoid this corner as much as possible.Its just a big shill zone.
Jake / November 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm
It looked so charming in the 20's, mind you a lot of places did.
Fantomex replying to a comment from dave meslin / November 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm
Well Dave, correct me if I'm wrong, but you've been against outdoor advertising for so long now, and neon signs are, in a sense, y'know, <i>outdoor ads</i>...
dave meslin / November 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm
Hey Fantomex,

There's an important distinction between "first party identifying signage", and "third party signage", which is "outdoor advertising".

I have no problem with companies having signs that identify their location. And if they want to use neon.. sounds cool to me. I liked the old SAMS sign a lot.

For me, the issue with Dundas Square has more to do with the quantity of third-party signage, and the also the ratio of commercial signage to locally-produced art/messages/promotion, etc (100% to 0%). The signage in our main public square should be unique and should reflect Toronto. The signage we have now at Dundas Square is the EXACT same signage you'll find in any other commercialised square, in any city in the world. That's boring. Most of the models are white, and all the words are in English. None of the models are visibly queer, religous, disabled, old, etc. And none of them say anything of interest. That's not Toronto. It's just a cookie-cutter wall of noise that only says BUY ME.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, thousands of students are creating artwork in design courses, marketing courses and urban planning courses at George Brown and Ryerson. Why not feature THEIR work in our public square? Rather than H&M models and car ads?

I've never been against signage. Or neon. I'm just against crap.

I'm against blandness and uncreative attempts to build "vibrant" spaces that aren't vibrant at all. We can do better.
Fantomex replying to a comment from Lincoln / November 28, 2010 at 11:10 pm
@Lincoln: the so-called 'mom & pop' vibe was as a result of the white flight to the suburbs that everybody loves to talk about; also, corporate chains at Yonge & Dundas were a part of life for quite a long time (before you and I were born, in fact!) What you're referring to in your denouncement of the corner is the seedy vibe that came on in the '70s that you miss so much and which you want to make a comeback. Well guess what, buddy; ain't gonna happen. That's gone, and will (hopefully) <i><b>NEVER</i></b> come back-besides, there are plenty of places in Toronto with stores that have a mom & pop vibe (<a href="";>many of them in Scarborough and North York where you wouldn't probably go!</a>) As for the other stuff, it's still there, and also on-line (head shop type stuff, t-shirts, etc.)I don't consider Toronto as losing something, rather I think of it as getting better and back to what it was before the 70's (think Times Square, but with no Disney) -call it <i>normalization</i>, rather than gentrification and corporatization. Something that you should also think about.
Fantomex replying to a comment from dave meslin / November 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm
Hate to break it to you, Dave, but Yonge/Dundas <i>is</i> a commercial district/square, similar to Times Square, the Ginza, and Piccadilly Square. It was never an 'art square' nor anything else you mentioned. Like I said to Lincoln, I think your view is clouded by nostalgia for the old vibe of Yonge/Dundas, if little else.
dave meslin replying to a comment from Fantomex / November 29, 2010 at 12:14 am
I hate to break it to you, but my view isn't clouded by nostalgia of what was. It's clouded by a vision of what could be.
richard / February 12, 2011 at 10:15 am
It's tougher to find early pics of Yonge/Dundas because it's not as old as some of the other intersections. (Dundas used to turn into Ossington) How about doing the history of Carlton/Yonge/College corner? That's got lots of visual documentation.
Selene / May 6, 2011 at 02:34 pm
bring back united cigars!!
Greg Hannah replying to a comment from Gregory / May 6, 2011 at 05:07 pm
The Yonge-Dundas mall used to be the Biltmore Cinema, a big old cinema that used to continuously play four "hit" movies from 10am to 4am. It was a little run down inside, the crowd sure was interesting but there was usually one or two good movies in the bunch. I spent many, many hours in there - and in the Rio which was a REAL dump that had the same type of operating policy. The Rio Cinema is now the AOV Adult store just south of Gerrard. Yonge Street was so much more fun and had much more charactor from Bloor to Queen Street in the 70's & 80's. Where licks was (now Yonge-Dundas Square, which I like) used to be the Downtown Cinema that usually played top action/horror & exploitation flicks. It was a clean, well run cinema that closed in the mid-late '70s & was converted to stores then eventually demolished to make way for the Square.
Rafael replying to a comment from Fantomex / December 13, 2011 at 11:28 am
@Fantomex: "White flight to the suburbs"? What are you talking about?

When you hear people talking about that, it is in the context of Detroit or some other cities in the United States. As far as I know, that phenomenon never occurred in Toronto.
Michael / March 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm
Does anyone else remember the All Star Eatery on the east side of Victoria Street, near the corner of Dundas?
Denise / March 31, 2012 at 04:28 pm
What was that dance club in the 80's called just EAST of the Eaton Centre on that side street near Ryerson?JUST off of Dundas(?) I think there's a (new/smaller) Rockwell Jeans there now.
LUIS / May 16, 2012 at 08:45 pm
Chad Stanley replying to a comment from Denise / October 25, 2012 at 01:10 am
@Denise - I'm not sure, but I believe it was called the 101 Club. Could be wrong on the name, but that's how I remember it. In the early 80's they had live bands there. I saw a great ska band there one night.
Bobby / September 17, 2013 at 07:32 pm
Cool, its a very cool area to work. the view from jack astor's is nice.
Celeste / January 10, 2014 at 09:36 pm
What the hell happened? Yonge Street was so colourful and now the buildings a dilapigated and falling apart. :(

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