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A visual history of Spadina Avenue

Posted by Derek Flack / April 25, 2012

Spadina Avenue History TorontoSpadina Avenue is long overdue for the visual history treatment on this site. Although it may not compare to Yonge in terms of importance and length or Jarvis in terms of (former) beauty, Spadina is one of those crucial thoroughfares around which the city developed as it pushed west from the area around the St. Lawrence Market. Whether on account of its proximity to Casa Loma, the dominant presence of Knox College, the public lavatory at Queen St., or just the wide expanse it cuts through the heart of the city, Spadina is one of those streets for which we have lots of archival photos.

It's also a place that exists as something of a microcosm of the city's history, from the rise of streetcar transportation, to the diversification of the Toronto's ethnic population, to the battle to prevent the street from being turned into an expressway in the 1960s, our local heritage can be spotted everywhere along here. And despite the significant changes that these photos document, Spadina's character has somehow stayed intact over the last century or so. Don't believe me? Compare the view at Queen and Spadina in the 1920s with what you see at the intersection today — you might just get a tinge of excitement over just how close the past seems.

Other sections, like the area around U of T, aren't so easily recognizable. As was the case with so many streets in the late 1940s, widening efforts eliminated the tree-lined character of the avenue between College and Bloor streets (north of Bloor, the street name changes to Spadina Road). And the construction of the streetcar right of way (ROW) in the 1990s did away with the diagonal parking that was once a recognizable feature of Spadina's make-up. Still, with so many other historical treasures left to be found, there's little point in bemoaning changes that have accompanied development over the years. If they ever tear down Casa Loma, on the other hand, I'll take up arms.

Note: The majority of the images below feature Spadina Avenue, but for the sake of comprehensiveness, I've also included plenty that depict areas north of Bloor Street — a.k.a. Spadina Road).


2012425-public-lav-1890s-s0376_fl0005_it0084.jpgPublic lavratory, 1890s

2012425-public-lave-int-1890s-s0376_fl0005_it0085.jpgInterior, 1890s

2012425-spadina-north-to-college-1890s-s0376_fl0004_it0002.jpgSpadina looking north to College, 1890s

2012425-spadina-fountain-college-1899-s0376_fl0002_it0049.jpgWaterfountain, Spadina & College 1899

2012425-spadina-college-1902-s0376_fl0003_it0067.jpgSpadina & College, 1902

2012425-before-casa-loma-north-dupont-f1231_it1333.jpgBefore Casa Loma, 1900s

2012425-foundation-casa-loma-1907-10-f1244_it4045.jpgFoundation for Casa Loma, 1907

2012425-knox-college-1908-f1244_it0321.jpgKnox College, 1908

2012425-foot-spadina-1010-f1244_it0235.jpgFoot of Spadina, 1910

2012425-spadina-north-harbord-1911-f1231_it0486.jpgSpadina looking north from Harbord, 1911

2012425-view-south-casa-loma-1914-f1244_it4123.jpgView from Casa Loma, 1914

2012425-spadina-dupont-1915-f1231_it1362.jpgSpadina & Dupont, 1915

2012425-streetcar-1918-roof-f1244_it7110.jpgStreetcars were more fun in 1918

2012425-spadina-queen-1920-c000283.jpgSpadina & Queen, 1920

2012425-spadian-north-to-bloor-1922-s0071_it1798.jpgSpadina looking north to Bloor, pre-widening 1922

2012425-ne-corner-bloor-spadina-1924-f1231_it2084.jpgNortheast corner of Bloor & Spadina (Scotiabank has deep roots here), 1924

2012425-spadina-bridge-south-1925-s0372_ss0079_it0004.jpgSpadina Bridge, 1925

2012425-spadina-bridge-1926-s0372_ss0079_it0038.jpgSpadina Bridge, 1926

2012425-spadina-front-1926-s0372_ss0079_it0056.jpgSpadina & Front, 1926

2012425-spadina-queen-north-1926-f1244_it7338.jpgSpadina & Queen, 1926

2012425-spadina-lonsdale-1927-f0207_s1251_it0056.jpgSpadina & Lonsdale (Forest Hill Village), 1927

2012425-south-to-college-1927-f1231_it2010.jpgLooking south to College, 1927

2012425-paving-1928-north-adelaide-s0372_ss0058_it1203.jpgPaving work near Adelaide, 1928

2012425-spadina-north-to-stclair-1929-f1231_it1561.jpgSpadina looking north to St. Clair, 1929

2012425-st-clair-resevoir-site-1929-f1231_it0783.jpgSite of St. Clair Reservoir, 1929

2012425-ne-corner-dundas-1930-s0372_ss0058_it1232a.jpgNortheast corner Dundas & Spadina, 1930

2012425-south-from-casa-loma-1930-f1244_it4136.jpgLooking south from Casa Loma, 1930 (Royal York Hotel now in the background)

2012425-st-clair-reservoir-1932-f1548_s0393_it23909.jpgSt. Clair Reservoir, 1932

2012425-spadina-look-dupont-1933-s0372_ss0058_it1350.jpgSpadina looking north to Dupont, 1933

2012425-track-north-darcy-1937-s0372_ss0058_it1443.jpgTrack work north of D'Arcy, 1937

2012425-st-andrew-spadina-1938-s0372_ss0058_it1500.jpgSt. Andrew & Spadina, 1938

2012425-187-191-spadina-1940-s0372_ss0033_it0714-cn.jpg187-191 Spadina, 1940

2012425-corner-harbord-spadina-east-1944-s0372_ss0058_it1658.jpgCorner of Harbord & Spadina looking east, 1944

2012425-spadina-st-clair-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1850.jpgSpadina & St. Clair, 1948

2012425-looking-north-to-bloor-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1836.jpgLooking north to Bloor, 1948

2012425-nroth-from-spdina-cres-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1834.jpgNorth from Spadina Crescent, 1948

2012425-spadina-cres-1948-s0372_ss0058_it1830.jpgDifferent angle

2012425-spadina-post-wide-cres-north-s0372_ss0058_it2028.jpgPost-widening, 1949

2012425-spadina-north-to-bloor-1949-s0372_ss0058_it2032.jpgSpadina looking north to Bloor, post-widening

2012425-spadina-south-dupont-1949-s0372_ss0058_it1893.jpgSpadina between Bloor & Dupont, 1949 ***

2012425-spadina-south-lowther-1949-s0372_ss0058_it1891.jpgSpadina looking south at Lowther, 1949

2012425-spadina-e010745353-v8-1957.jpgSlides from the National Archives, 1957

2012425-spadina-e010745348-v8-1957-from-knox.jpgSlides from the National Archives, 1957

2012425-bloor-spadina-1960s-f1257_s1057_it0011.jpgBloor & Spadina, 1960s

Victory Burlesque TorontoVictory Burlesque, Spadina & Dundas (NE corner, building still standing), 1960s

2012425-spadina-expressway-1963-f0217_s0249_fl0169_it0001.jpgSpadina Expressway (now Allen Road) at Lawrence, 1963

2012425-knox-1980s-s1465_fl0209_it0015.jpgKnox College, 1980s

2012425-spadina-harbord-1990s-s1465_fl0213_it0019.jpgSpadina & Harbord, 1990s




And, this post wouldn't be complete without... The Spadina Bus.

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted



Franco / April 25, 2012 at 05:29 pm
These are exciting archival images! I especially like the one marked St. Clair Reservoir, 1932. The history of our city is fascinating.
handfed / April 25, 2012 at 05:36 pm
Amazing how many of these buildings remain. Also amazing that all the beautiful buildings at the corner of Spadina and College have been demolished, but the Hotel Waverly has been kept.
Paul / April 25, 2012 at 06:09 pm
What, no pics of Shopsy's!? Other than that, nice job as usual Derek. That shot of the waterfountain @ Spadina & College 1899 is very interesting in that it wasn't provided just for the humans passing by. That tub-like affair on the front facing the curb isn't what might appear to be a bathtub. It's a horse trough! There used to be hundreds of them scattered all over the downtown core. I can recall seeing them (along with hitching posts) on Yonge St. & University Ave. right up until the early 70's when they finally started to disappear. Anyone know of any that have survived?
lofty replying to a comment from Paul / April 25, 2012 at 06:27 pm
Paul, I believe there's on at St. James Park at King and Church St.
Paul replying to a comment from lofty / April 25, 2012 at 06:47 pm
Thanks for the reply. I'll have to check it out the next time I'm down there.
lo / April 25, 2012 at 06:54 pm
that palm tree sign is awesome
Chris / April 25, 2012 at 07:08 pm
What is that place in the Spadina and Harbord, 1990s photo between Papa Ceo's and B B Ques? It has been vacant for so long now.
Shuffle Demon / April 25, 2012 at 08:16 pm
Spadina Bus!
Torontonian replying to a comment from Paul / April 25, 2012 at 09:19 pm
A closer look at that water fountain will show that
there is a third facility for dogs! You'll see that
it drains from the horse trough and is underneath
the human's fountain.
Paul replying to a comment from Torontonian / April 25, 2012 at 09:35 pm
Hey, you're right! I suppose it could have worked for cats & rats as well . They sure were thoughtful back then.
Melissa / April 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm
Hey! Waverly Hotel! And I'm pretty sure the building in the background on Adelaide from the 1920's is still tere and being turned into a downstairs? Awesome job - these photo essays are my favourite feature of BlogTO.
Derek replying to a comment from Paul / April 25, 2012 at 10:11 pm
Ok, two important additions thanks to @Paul and @Shuffle Demon (could it be?):

I've added a great photo of the Victory Burlesque, which also prominently features the Shopsy's near Spadina and Dundas.


And, of course, a YouTube embed of Spadina Bus. Enjoy!
Noreen Farooqui / April 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm
Love this piece, Derek! Great job.
Paul replying to a comment from Derek / April 25, 2012 at 10:41 pm
Thanks Derek. Keep up the great work.
pat / April 25, 2012 at 11:00 pm
Don't forget the house of Dr. Moorhouse at Spadina and Dundas! http://www.heritagetoronto.org/discover-toronto/photos/dr-moorhouse-home-1921

And another tidbit: the Moorhouses and the Baldwins (Spadina House) married and were related (I don't have data for when that happened, but could find it).
Lxpatterson / April 25, 2012 at 11:28 pm
The washrooms are so clean...unlike our current day ttc shitters. Pretty crazy that there wasnt any chinatown there until the 70s.
Daley / April 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm
Anybody else notice that the “Knox College, 1980s” photo is developed backwards. Cars driving on the wrong side of the road, and the back tower on Knox College on the left side (when facing North) when in reality it is on the right side of the main central tower.
Derek replying to a comment from pat / April 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm
Yes, I had that photo in here when I gathered everything together, but I must have inadvertently erased when formatting the post. I'll track it down and re-add it — it's such a cool-looking house.
Donald / April 26, 2012 at 01:13 am
St. Clair reservoir + old car picture made me laff because it's almost impossible to get a photograph of this beautiful architecture and imposing landscape without some darn TO city vehicle, trailer or fence permanently in the way.
Frank / April 26, 2012 at 04:39 am
I love the heated shite stalls..
Not Daniel / April 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm
Anyone know the explanation behind the giant painted letters spelling TONE on the roofs of the houses at Bloor/Spadina?
Martin / April 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm
Why are the cars in the "Knox College, 1980s" photo driving on the left side of the street? I'm assuming either some wild and unnecessarily confusing traffic switch up on this part of Spadina, or a problem with developing the original photo.
jennifer replying to a comment from Chris / April 26, 2012 at 01:30 pm
It looks like a stalled development...the building has a for lease sign on it. I watched them destroy that lovely little house from the streetcar on my morning commute. The concrete monstrosity that now exists just makes me sad.
Cody / April 26, 2012 at 04:30 pm
There is a great book by Rosemary Donegan called Spadina Avenue (printed in 1985) that explores the history of individual buildings on Spadina. It was fascinating to read it more than 25 years after it was published, so much has changed even in that timeframe.
wtfskies / April 26, 2012 at 04:44 pm
does it seem like people used to just walk along the street all willy-nilly back in the day?
416adam / April 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm
I presume that the underground toilets were filled in long ago? An interesting feature that I never knew existed. Even so civilized to have hooks so you can hang your coat if you have a big project to work on. Unfortunately these days such a facility would be a wretched hive of scum and villany.
Chloe / April 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm
When did the heavy chinese population immigrate to the spadina-dundas area? Anyone know?
ginnee / May 4, 2012 at 10:11 am
For those interested, Heritage Toronto has a free audio tour iTour of Spadina, available for download to your iPod or mp3.
TERISLAND / December 25, 2012 at 05:15 am
I've been enjoying Derek Flacks postings. I grew up in Toronto but live in Alberta now. It's wonderful to see historical pictures when I feel like reminiscing. My Dad used to take me, as a child, to places that are now long gone, like the Armouries on University Avenue when they were being demolished. I barely remember that, but did take note of Dad saying that it was stupid to destroy history when you could refurbish it. I guess the city fathers didn't think so at the time:) Dad was from Gdansk (Danzig) Poland and history meant a lot to him. Some of my favorite streets are Draper, Percy, Jarvis, and, of course, Spadina. I have great memories of the El Mocambo and Shopsy's and giggling with girlfriends when passing by the Victory Burlesque Theatre. I lived on Montrose Avenue, then on Waverley Road in the Beaches, and finally in an apartment on Bathurst Street north of St.Clair. The homes are all still there. I've been in Alberta for over 30 years and nothing here compares to the wonderful history of Toronto which I still enjoy reading about.
Lydia / January 30, 2013 at 12:21 am
I came to Toronto in 1959 We moved into a big house on the north west corner of St. Clair and Spadina Rd . There is a pic of the house on this website, but it is only showing a slight corner of the house. Does anyone have a front view picture of the house It was 306 St Clair ave west There is a condo there now .
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