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Aerial photographs of Toronto from the 1920s to 1980s

Posted by Derek Flack / September 15, 2011

Aerial Photos Historical TorontoIf the most fascinating thing about historical photos of Toronto is that they allow the viewer to track just how much the city has changed, then aerial shots would have to sit somewhere near the top of the archival heap. The macro-perspective they afford may not make for the most rewarding study of buildings that have survived the test of time, but there's probably no better way to get a sense for how Toronto's built environment has expanded over the years than by looking at the city from the air over the decades. What might be familiar geography today can look completely foreign in the absence of development or infrastructure that's now ingrained in our minds as part of the landscape.

Over and above the sweeping changes that these images reveal, discrete developments are also satisfying to note. If you've ever wondered where the old Maple Leaf Stadium was or what the Port Lands looked like when they were still an industrial hotbed, here's your chance. It's tough to pick favourites, but I'd be remiss not to point out just how eerie it is to see the R-101 Dirigible cruising across Toronto in the 1930s.

PHOTOS

2011915-aerial-king-west-1920-f1244_it2420.jpgKing West and what is now Liberty Village in 1920

2011915-aerial-toronto-islands-1920-f1244_it6009.jpgToronto Islands 1920

2011915-hanlans-stadium-s1465_fl0291_it0029.jpgToronto Islands and Hanlan's Point Stadium, where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run

2011915-distillery-aerial6_1927.jpgThe Distillery District was just a touch bigger in 1927

2011915-aerial-1940s-maybe-s0065_fl0025_id0001.jpgLooking north across Toronto Ca. 1929 (thanks, Adam!)

2011915-aerial-downtown-1930-f1244_it1742.jpgDowntown Toronto 1930

2011915-aerial-bayview-lawrence-1930-f1244_it2433.jpgBayview and Lawrence in 1930

2011915-aerial-malton-airport-1930-f1244_it4644.jpgAbove what is now Pearson International in 1930

2011915-aerial-northern-1930-f1244_it2426.jpgNorthern Secondary School 1930

2011915-aerial-queens-park-1930-f1244_it1746.jpgQueen's Park 1930

2011915-aerial-bathurst-lakeshore-post-1930-f1244_it7297.jpgMaple Leaf Stadium near Bathurst and Lake Shore 1930

2011915-aerial-toronto-islands-1930-f1244_it6052.jpgToronto Islands 1930

2011915-kodak_aerial-1930.jpgMount Dennis and Kodak Plant 1930

2011915-old-aerial-1930s-s1465_fl0335_it0024.jpgLooking southeast across Toronto 1930 (The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building was quite prominent back then)

2011916-aerial-chorley-park-1930-f1244_it10086.jpgChorley Park 1930 (the trace of which can still be seen from the air)

2011916-aerial-with-r101-dirigible-f1244_it10016.jpgAerial with R101 Dirigible in view 1930s

201915-toronto-aerial-downtown-1932.jpgDowntown Toronto 1932

2011915-aerial-yonge-college-1932-f1244_it1950.jpgMaple Leaf Gardens and the now demolished Normal School (Ryerson campus today)

2011915-aerial-bathurst-north-eglinton-f0207_s1251_it0021.jpgBathurst north of Eglinton had yet to be developed much in the 1930s

2011915-aerial-forest-hill-1935-f0207_s1251_it0019.jpgAbove Forest Hill 1935

2011915-aerial-forest-hill-russel-hill-1935-f0207_s1251_it0020.jpgDifferent Angle, same year

2011915-aerial-hanlans-1937-f1244_it1705.jpgThe current site of the Island Airport 1937

2011915-aerial_Toronto-1940s.jpgAbove Toronto in the 1940s

2011915-RS-TorontoEastYorkAerial1942.jpgEast York Aerial 1942

2011915-RS-TorontoStJamestownAerial1942.jpgSt. James Town Aerial 1942

2011915-Toronto-Garden-District-Aerial1942.jpgThe Garden District 1942

2011915-Toronto-HighPark-Aerial1937.jpgHigh Park Aerial 1942

2011915-Toronto-Rosedale-Aerial-1942.jpgRosedale north to St. Clair Aerial 1942 (notice the Rosehill Reservoir was yet to be covered)

2011915-aerial-summerhill-station-1950-s0381_fl0080_id7448-1.jpgSummerhil CPR Station 1950

2011915-aerial-hurricane-hazel-1954-f1257_s1057_it2005.jpgDamage from Hurricane Hazel north of Toronto 1954

2011915-aerial-jane-lawrence-SW-1950s-f1257_s1057_it8129.jpgLooking southwest from around Jane and Lawrence 1950s

2011915-aerial-1960s-maple-leaf-stadium-s1465_fl0240_it0092.jpgA freshly demolished Maple Leaf Stadium 1960s

2011915-aerial-late-1960s-s1465_fl0335_it0023.jpgThe TD Centre has arrived late 1960s

2011915-cn-tower-construction-s1465_fl0240_it0091.jpgHello CN Tower mid-1970s

2011915-portlands-aerial-1970s-s1465_fl0240_it0033.jpgThe Port Lands in the 1970s

2011915-Ex-grounds-aerial-1980s-s1465_fl0240_it0036.jpgExhibition Stadium and the CNE grounds 1980s

For context:

2011916-aerial-2008.jpgLooking straight up the city, 2008

Photos from the Toronto Archives (with the exception of the last, which is by the author)

Discussion

44 Comments

Louis / September 15, 2011 at 04:18 pm
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These are so cool, especially the CN Tower one!
mike in parkdale / September 15, 2011 at 04:26 pm
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this post is absolute GOLD! Thanks Derek
mike in parkdale / September 15, 2011 at 04:27 pm
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also, this one is amazing

http://www.trainweb.org/oldtimetrains/CPR_Toronto/parkdale_aerial.htm
realtalk / September 15, 2011 at 04:30 pm
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I wish Toronto had more trees downtown lol...
the lemur / September 15, 2011 at 04:48 pm
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<i>Rosedale north to St. Clair Aerial 1942 (notice the Rosehill Reservoir was yet to be covered)</i>

You can also see that Mount Pleasant Rd didn't extend south of St Clair yet - if you follow the ravine southeast past the railway overpass, the squiggle is how Roxborough used to run before the new road separated them.

paul / September 15, 2011 at 05:02 pm
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Awesomesauce!
Matt / September 15, 2011 at 05:05 pm
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Lord, I'd love links to some big, fat high-res images.
Fig / September 15, 2011 at 05:07 pm
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I'm really surprised at the lack of development on Bathurst north of Eglinton in the 1930s. I thought some of the apartment buildings that are in that area would have been built around this time.
Nick / September 15, 2011 at 07:59 pm
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Crazy how you get so used to photo after photo of purely brick and masonry structures that the TD Centre suddenly looks like the beginning of the end.
Sean / September 15, 2011 at 08:01 pm
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Would be nice if you could include links to larger versions of these (I assume there are some). The small images of the blogTO don't do them the justice that a Boston.com Big Picture size would (or better yet, a shorpy.com huge one)
vlvlv / September 15, 2011 at 08:02 pm
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what a town
Stella / September 15, 2011 at 08:08 pm
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In 1970, the Don River was blue :'( Heart breaking.
Paulette Frost / September 15, 2011 at 08:09 pm
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I was brought up in Toronto but live in BC now and miss Toronto very much. I find it delightful to at your photos,
old and new! Thank you!
Lloyd / September 15, 2011 at 08:27 pm
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Kind of sad what happened to Chorley Park, it looked beautiful. *From Wiki
"Under mayor Nathan Phillips in 1960, the City of Toronto bought the house for $100,000 in order to destroy it and create municipal parkland.[10] At the time, Chorley Park was considered dilapidated and outmoded, and municipal dollars were being spent demolishing heritage structures throughout Toronto to make room for modern buildings. The building was demolished in 1961, and the grounds of the estate were added to the civic parks system.
The only trace of Government House left is the bridge to the forecourt, and some depressions in the earth that outline the rough footprint of its foundations. The once formal gardens have long gone fallow and today Chorley Park is a 'naturalized' park."
Lloyd / September 15, 2011 at 08:28 pm
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Sad what happened to Chorley Park, looked beautiful.
*From Wiki
"Under mayor Nathan Phillips in 1960, the City of Toronto bought the house for $100,000 in order to destroy it and create municipal parkland.[10] At the time, Chorley Park was considered dilapidated and outmoded, and municipal dollars were being spent demolishing heritage structures throughout Toronto to make room for modern buildings. The building was demolished in 1961, and the grounds of the estate were added to the civic parks system.
The only trace of Government House left is the bridge to the forecourt, and some depressions in the earth that outline the rough footprint of its foundations. The once formal gardens have long gone fallow and today Chorley Park is a 'naturalized' park."
Lucy De Luca / September 15, 2011 at 09:21 pm
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THANK YOU!!!! I LOVE this wonderful and never tire of looking at photos of it.

Your effort was very much appreciated by me.

Much Love

Adam Sobolak / September 15, 2011 at 09:28 pm
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That shot marked "Looking north across Toronto 1940s" would actually be about 1929 or so: the Royal York Hotel was up, Commerce wasn't, Canada Permanent was coming up, and the railway viaduct south of Union Station was still in the process of construction...
John Duncan / September 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm
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I didn't realise the demolition to expand Moss Park happened so recently (or was so extensive!). In the shot of "The Garden District 1942" you can see that the original park itself was almost completely tucked behind buildings. Crazy!
FAC33 replying to a comment from Lloyd / September 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm
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Thank you also for the side-by-side of the Chorley Park site. I've been up to the park and seen the rather sad little bridge that is the last stone remnant of this beautiful house, but I wasn't aware how much of the layout can still be spotted from the air.
tinder / September 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm
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stunning photo archive of the old smoke: superb aftermath image of Hurricane Hazel [so bizarre to have hit TO], really like the TO islands shot of the site of Babe Ruth's first pro homer and TO Flying Club/Pearson site, and the Dirigible is fantastic, cheers!
iSkyscraper / September 16, 2011 at 01:18 am
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Fabtsatic. The Bayview / Lawrence shot (which is looking ENE) shows estates that are today Toronto French School, Glendon College and Crescent School.

Utterly sad what happened to the U of T campus when they brutalized it with the Medical Sciences Centre. Had that single complex been placed outside the historic core of the campus, as was normal at other universities (Duke, etc.), U of T would have had a shot at having a campus as good as the urban Ivies.
freesxfreesx / September 16, 2011 at 10:01 am
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Great post.

I can't figure out where and what the Garden District is. Can someone pls point out a familiar couple of landmarks that still exist?

Also, are there any aerial pics that show the Mutual Street arena?
Eva / September 16, 2011 at 11:18 am
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I love that the Royal York hotel used to be such a grand building in the city. It looks like it held a lot of power being such a big tall building right at Union station. Now it is conpletely overpowered by office buildings. Sad. :(
Godfrey Mallion / September 16, 2011 at 11:38 am
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The Garden district is Allan Gardens,at Sherbourne and Carlton Streets. It is at the top centre of the photo. Dundas Street is the curved street running from left to right across the middle.
David / September 16, 2011 at 11:46 am
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The Gsrden district is the area near Allan Gardens. You can see the Gardens at the top centre of the picture. The actula area shon is Yonge on the left to Parliament on the right and from Queen St on the botoom to Carlton on the top.
Torontonian replying to a comment from Eva / September 16, 2011 at 01:05 pm
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I remember when the Royal York Hotel was a truly imposing and grand edifice and dwarfed all the buildings around it.
Now, it's the other way round. Sadly, there is no "room" around the building and that also reduces its visual impact.
The ManuLife building at 200 Bloor St. East is massive and grand and it is set back from the street and is not crowded like the Royal York is. ManuLife has breathing room and the Royal York is asphyxiated in its location
Traveller replying to a comment from Stella / September 16, 2011 at 06:18 pm
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Though it looks blue, I'd wager it is cleaner now than it was then. I suspect regulation and remediation of the valley has come a long way. Let's hope we get the wetland restoration, and that will be something to see!
Traveller replying to a comment from Stella / September 16, 2011 at 06:20 pm
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Check out the angle of the biplane wing in that hurricane Hazel photo! It would be interesting to see what that flight looked like from the ground. I'm picturing the pilot one-handing the photo while doing these tight turns, but I suppose that was a passenger shooting. Very cool nevertheless!
Dave Delaney / September 17, 2011 at 10:20 am
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My childhood home was by Northern Secondary. It's amazing to see that shot of it (then a dirt road) from the 1930s.

Thanks so much for this amazing post!
Jessica / February 16, 2012 at 10:50 pm
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Absolutely amazing photos. Can't believe Toronto had all those trees and space at one point. Love love love the pics!!
Geneva / March 21, 2012 at 12:11 am
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Derek, so you have a source for the very first photo at the top of your post? Date? Thank you so!
Cameron / April 13, 2012 at 09:00 am
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Wonderful! I was sad to see the only East York photo misses my house by inches! Are there any online sources to hunt through for this sort of thing anyone can recommend?
Skeezix / April 13, 2012 at 09:18 am
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Cam, your house is on the aerial from 1942:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TorontoTodmordenAerial1942.jpg

Skeezix replying to a comment from Cameron / April 13, 2012 at 09:19 am
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I replied above, but forgot to hit reply.
Cameron replying to a comment from Skeezix / April 13, 2012 at 09:20 am
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Awesome, thanks!
The Pal Guy / April 28, 2012 at 06:23 pm
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Stunning photos of such a remarkable city. It is interesting seeing how the cityscape has developed over the years. I am thrid generation Torontonian and I find this type of history very remarkable.
Randy replying to a comment from Stella / June 26, 2012 at 03:26 pm
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No it wasn't....it was a sewer. You'd have to go back a lot further than 1970.
Ivan J. B. / September 9, 2012 at 03:33 am
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Great post! Many excellent photos. But according to the Wikipedia article you linked, the dirigible in the picture couldn't have been R101, since that one crashed in France on her maiden overseas voyage.

Also of interest: In the picture of the Kodak Plant in Mount Dennis, it looks like Building # 9 hasn't been built yet. (Building 9 is the only structure remaining on that site)

pub quiz austin texas / March 15, 2013 at 02:03 pm
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DJ spins out on Saturday nights. Popular prizes include sports tickets,
cash and vouchers for drinks, food - and dollars off of tabs.
They feature almost nightly drink specials and
some form of entertainment every night of the week--DJ's, live music, trivia, you name it.
RCL / April 28, 2013 at 06:11 am
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Correction for "Above what is now Pearson International in 1930". It is actually the "Toronto Flying Club Airport on the north side of Wilson Avenue just east of Dufferin Street" -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/98353311@N00/6767243585.

And for "CN Tower mid-1970s", it would be about mid September 1973 based on my CN Tower construction history information.
bills8091 / September 25, 2013 at 08:00 pm
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Those pictures look great. I have been thinking about going into an aerial photography business. I love pictures and I love flying, I figure I might as well.
Pluckysod replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / February 14, 2014 at 09:21 pm
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A great perspective on the city.
barry replying to a comment from freesxfreesx / February 18, 2014 at 03:45 pm
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mutual street area still visible in this shot just where I remember it to have been, on west side mutual street just below Dundas, site of the old Caledonia curling and skating club, then the Terrace till 1988
also the normal school at Ryerson
st mike's cathedral
Joanne / August 28, 2014 at 10:42 pm
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I remember when the TD centre was opened.

The centre was the highest thing on Bay Street at that time.

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