Vintage Signage Honest Ed's Toronto

Vintage signage in Toronto

What is it about old photographs of cities that we collectively find so compelling? Generally speaking, I'd wager that it's the way that they take the familiar (e.g. contemporary Toronto) and turn it into something strange (historical Toronto). This defamiliarization effect has been one of the guiding principles of modern art since the early part of the 20th century, but its scope stretches far beyond the gallery.

Despite the tinge of recognition that one often gets when viewing old photos of the city he or she calls home, there's so much about these scenes that's different — even when they feature buildings that are still standing. Some easy-to-spot markers of historical difference would be automobile and public transit design, what people are wearing, the architecture, and of course, the signage. Few visual components give photographs that "vintage feel" more than billboards, storefronts and other signs.

I know little about the history or typography and design, but it's not hard to tell that the examples below speak to a different way of thinking — and not just about the way to sell things, but about aesthetics in general. And that's not to mention more pragmatic issues like the availability of electricity. Ornate signage in Toronto reaches something of an apotheosis on the Yonge Street strip in the 1970s and early 1980s before the eventual rise of screen-based technology makes neon and bulb-based signs rather quickly dated.

It's precisely this "dated" quality, however, that's so stimulating to view after the fact. Signs are one of those visual cues that both invoke nostalgia and help us to place images within their respective time periods. Here's a little sample that I've cobbled together from Toronto's last hundred years or so. It really only scratches the surface, so I might toy with more specific themes in future posts.

PHOTOS

Vintage Signs Toronto

William Davies shop, 1908

Vintage Signs Toronto

Sandwitches? (1910)

Vintage Signs Toronto

Northeast corner, Yonge and Shuter streets, 1912

Vintage Signs Toronto

Bloor and Russett streets, 1915

Vintage Signs Toronto

511 Yonge, 1919

Vintage Signs Toronto

Madison Theatre (Annex), 1919 — via Chuckman's blog

Vintage Signs Toronto

Cyclorama, 1922

Vintage Signs Toronto

Ads on a Peter Witt streetcar, 1924

Vintage Signs Toronto

York and Front streets, 1925 — via Chuckman's blog

Vintage Signs Toronto

Sign at horse racetrack, 1930s

Vintage Signs Toronto

696-702 College Street, 1939 — via Chuckman's blog

Vintage Signs Toronto

Markham and Queen streets, 1940

Vintage Signs Toronto

Fruit and vegetable store on Coxwell, 1940

Vintage Signs Toronto

CN Telegraph office, 1941

Vintage Signage Toronto

Christies billboard, 1942

Vintage Signs Toronto

Scholes Hotel, 1945

Vintage Signs Toronto

North side of college, near Bellevue in the 1950s

Vintage Signs Toronto

111 and 113 Queen West, 1952

Vintage Signs Toronto

Power Grocery Store, Danforth 1953

Vintage Signs Toronto

Variety Store on Carlton, 1956

Vintage Signs Toronto

Lux Burlesque, ca. early 1960s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Victory Burlesque, ca. 1960s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Maple Leaf Stadium, ca. 1960s

Vintage Ads Toronto

TTC bus ads, 1960s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Steinberg's grocery store, ca. 1960s

Vintage Signs Toronto

TTC route map upon the opening of the Bloor-Danforth line in 1966

Vintage Signs Toronto

The Yonge Street strip, 1970s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Different angle

Vintage Signs Toronto

Yonge Street, Imperial theatre 1972

Vintage Signs Toronto

Yonge & Dundas Square before the square, 1970s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Southeast corner of Yonge & Dundas, 1970s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Edgewater Hotel (near Roncesvalles and Queen), 1970s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Yonge and Queen area, 1970s

Vintage Signs Toronto

St. Patrick's Market (Stork and Sons), early 1980s

Vintage Signs Toronto

Queen & Bay, 1980

Vintage Signs Toronto

The Eaton Centre Cineplex, CA. 1990s

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted, with the exception of some of the postcards (of whose origin I'm unaware) and the last shot of Eaton Centre, which comes via Silent Toronto.


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

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

Toronto might get its first big snowfall of the year this weekend

House of the week: 182 Wanless Avenue

Confusion after plane spotted flying Sorry Toronto banner

Presto has more problems at Toronto subway stations