Coal in Toronto

A look back at when Toronto was a city run on coal

A little while ago I wrote a piece titled "A look back at when Toronto was kind of filthy," which tried to demonstrate just how much soot had accumulated on Toronto's older — and, at the time, often endangered — buildings. This little look at coal in Toronto might be read as preface to that post.

Coal is the main reason why those buildings had become so filthy over the years. Toronto, being a city with dreadfully cold winters, relied on coal to heat just about everything. Although it's tough to find panoramic photos like the one above that depict the city engulfed in smog, the Archives are littered with images of coal supply companies, which were a fixture on Toronto streets until the late 1950s when the TransCanada pipeline ushered in the natural gas era.

Prior to this period, coal was used by Toronto's manufacturing sector and to heat stoves and furnaces in most homes throughout the city. Even streetcars had coal ovens way back when. Paintings of Toronto in the early part of the 20th century often have a certain hazy, unfocused quality that speaks to the the soot hovering in the air.

The industry eroded quickly after the pipeline's arrival, but one could still see evidence of its former presence at Mount Pleasant and Merton at the Dominion Coal and Wood silos. Although the company would drastically scale back on coal sales in favour of home renovation supplies, I fondly recall that as I child I once purchased a small amount of coal to put in my sister's Christmas stocking. I thought I was a genius. I mean that was real coal!

The buildings have since been cleaned up and the Dominion silos were eventually torn down just a few years after I made my triumphant purchase, but it remains fascinating to imagine a time when Toronto was covered in an industrial fog.

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Chimney Sweep, 1900

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Collecting coal, 1909

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Coal samples, 1910

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Skyline and smog, 1912

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Conger's Coal Dock, 1914

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Elias Roger's Coal Company, 1916

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Coal chutes, 1927

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The scene of industry near Union Station, 1930

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Oil and coal refineries in the Port Lands, 1930

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Conger's Lehigh Coal Company, 1930

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Milne Coal Company, 1931

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Coal oven in streetcar, 1931

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Dominon Coal silos, 1980s

Photos from the Toronto Archives


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