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Vintage Toronto group takes Facebook by storm

Posted by Derek Flack / April 11, 2012

20101121-skyline1959.jpgJudging by the reception of our series of historical posts about Toronto, the local appetite for vintage photos is at an all-time high. And what's not to like? As sites like Pinterest confirm the contemporary desire for visually-oriented information, vintage photographs prove themselves both an easy and satisfying way to engage with the history of one's city. Even if one's interest in, say, Toronto of the 1910s is limited, having a quick peek at a photo from the period seems to be an exercise that most are up for.

Enter the Vintage Toronto Facebook group. Started by former Toronto resident, Bill Stevenson (who now lives in Kingston), it's quickly become a popular source for quick dose of local history for its over 12,000 members/fans. Part of the reason for its popularity, I suspect, is the implementation. When an old Toronto photograph appears in my newsfeed, I'm destined to take a closer look. Also working in the group's favour is that there are a lot of photos to be seen that haven't made appearances on sites like this one. Throw in the fact that the platform makes it easy for people to add photos from their personal collections, and you have a recipe for a fascinating site.

I caught up with Stevenson via email to find out a little more about his project and why he thinks the response it's received has been so positive.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Well, let's see, I'm Bill Stevenson age 54, a former Toronto resident (1960-80) who moved to Kingston to go to Queen's and ended up staying. I actually started as a history major, as I have always found history fascinating. I own a music/gift store The Jungle, and I sell a lot of nostalgia items like records, Black Lights and posters, candy like pop rocks, T-shirts, wallets buckles of Batman, Star Wars, rolling Stones, Nintendo and other memorabilia type stuff.

Vintage TorontoWhat was the inspiration for starting the Vintage Toronto Facebook page?

I belong to a Facebook group that does old ads — 50's & 60's & 70's — and in mid-January one of the other members posted about "saving" the Vintage Los Angeles Page. Many of the ads I posted to that group were Canadian and Toronto-based, and I thought that I should like the Vintage Toronto page; however I was surprised that there was not one, so I figured it was a void that needed filled.

Initially I envisioned it mostly as a pop culture Toronto type of thing, mainly the 1960's and '70s when I grew up and lived in the city, and fitting in with the items I sell at the store that everyone always goes "wow" about. During the early 70's especially I used to go down to Yonge Street and the record stores a few times a week, usually starting at Queen and working my way up. On Saturdays I would walk all the way back to where I lived near Avenue Rd and Lawrence so I got to see all of Yonge. Once I got my license I started going away from the familiar spots out to the beaches and Queen west, then during University days when I came back from Queen's I worked as a courier and got to see a lot more areas.

Anyway now that I have lived out of the city since 1980, I am always struck by the changes every time I return. So I started to chronicle the changes since I was growing up, but the I started looking deeper at buildings that were "old" when I was a youngster, so I started digging further, and I'm coming up with more photos all the time.

Vintage TorontoHow much time do you spend on it on a weekly basis?

I have help from Bruce Marshman, who does all the "then & now" features on the page. I'm not sure exactly how much time Bruce spends, but I probably put 30-40 hours a week into it, between sourcing the photos, adding descriptions and then loading them onto the site. I try to be as accurate as possible, and if I am wrong about location and date people let me know. Car years seem to be a good indicator for many people. Bruce then takes the old photos and does the then and now albums.

Vintage TorontoWhere do you source the photographs from (aside from the Toronto Archives)?

Well the Toronto Archives are the main source, and I look at hundreds more photos than I actually save to use. I have also used newspaper archives, York U library, the Ontario Archives, the National Archives, and of course good old Google.

Vintage TorontoHave readers/fans contributed images?

Oh many people contribute, and I hope more will do so as well. I put some of the contributions into the "time" albums, especially if they helpfully give me the year of the photo. Everyone has their own memories, and I hope more people will start going through photo albums and scanning in the photos. Often it is one that I add that triggers a person's memory, and they add a follow up which is fantastic. Bruce, who I added as a second administrator was initially a contributor of then & now photos... They are great but not really my thing.

Vintage TorontoGiven the positive response to the page (you've racked up 10,000 "likes" pretty quickly), do you think that Torontonians have a renewed interest in the city's history — more so, say, than 10 or 20 years ago?

Well now we are over 12,000 and growing daily. Initially I thought it would interest myself and a few of my friends. I know every time I return I am struck by the changes, and to be honest I think that there are too many old buildings being sacrificed for buildings that are utilitarian and bland. I look at the old photos and am struck by the craftsmanship of the masons and carvers, and there is no equivalent today. I think the growth of the page shows many people feel the same, and I know the comments in the then and now albums almost always communicate this sentiment as well.

Vintage TorontoDo you have any favourite images that you'd like to draw attention to?

Well I put in a lot of photos of buildings and streets, which were best with the then and now albums, but really I prefer the shots of people at various point of time just being citizens of Toronto. A couple I really like are the morning hunt on Bathurst near St. Clair, which I think is 1912, the Don Valley when it was just farms, people swimming and riding and cows grazing, kids skipping in the streets and playing road hockey and I also like the albums of Eaton's, CNE, Toronto Island and the one called "Simpler Times" which is mostly just interesting memories of Toronto like Pop Shoppe, Friendly Giant, Popcorn vendors, Dave Keon and other nostalgia-inducing photos.

Based on the initial popularity of the project, have you thought of expanding beyond Facebook?

Well it is really just a hobby and part time for me, and with running my own retail outlet, a web site and an electronic record store I think the Facebook is enough for now.



Olga / April 11, 2012 at 10:00 am
Wow, that page is awesome. "Liking" complete.
Bruce / April 11, 2012 at 10:07 am
Great post and an awesome tip, thank you for this.
Andrew / April 11, 2012 at 10:17 am
I LOVE this facebook page!
Sinter / April 11, 2012 at 10:23 am
Best FB group out there.
Lost in Vintage Toronto / April 11, 2012 at 10:29 am
I "liked" this site about 2 weeks ago and my productivity has dropped through the floor. I think I might have to unlike it for a while or I'll lose my job.
Andrea / April 11, 2012 at 10:30 am
I am really enjoying the Vintage Facebook group! Keep the pictures coming!
Zlatko(Zee) / April 11, 2012 at 10:43 am
I also am a proud former Torontonian. I left thge city where I was born in 1990 and now live in Frankfurt, Germany. I am so happy this site came into existence so I can see how Toronto once looked and so I can remember where I used to go for long walks and spent my youth!! Please, keep the pictures coming!
Joy Lapine / April 11, 2012 at 11:20 am
This is so cool. I have just been going through some old photos for a family slide show and came across some 1910 photos of Toronto. Would love to share them with you. Just need some direction from you.

Mark / April 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm
Thank you so much for putting the Vintage Toronto facebook page together Bill!! I love it, even though it's mostly distressing to see how the 'befores' are almost always more interesting than the 'afters'. This should become a city funded website where one can search for specific images.

Samantha / April 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm
Great review of one of my favourite Facebook pages! I visit the page daily and have spent many hours looking at the pictures. So interesting and very addictive. Glad to see that the page is getting the profile that it deserves.
linda reynolds / April 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm
luv this,bring back wonderful memories : )
JohnA / April 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Great fb page. Great interview. But the selection of photos you featured here? Fail.
betty dondertman / April 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm
Really appreciate the effort put into this! Can't get enough of it! Thank you.
dougfordsblowupdoll / April 11, 2012 at 12:46 pm
Those damn streetcars need to be scrapped for good, they take room from the roads i want to drive on.
neilson / April 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm
toronto, forever looking backward™
Nancy Hall / April 11, 2012 at 01:01 pm
I'm loving this! With condo's popping up everywhere, it's nice to see the old and beautiful Toronto.
Derek replying to a comment from JohnA / April 11, 2012 at 01:08 pm
I appreciate the feedback — if not the use of the word fail — but I should note that the criteria here was twofold: I wanted to include a few of the photos mentioned by Bill and I wanted to avoid doubling up on the thousands of photos we've already featured on this site. For what it's worth, I love these more snap shot-like vintage pics of TO. If you want more stunning and composed photos, I suggest you check this post out:
Sades / April 11, 2012 at 01:46 pm
If you like Vintage Toronto...then you'll LOVE!
Sades / April 11, 2012 at 01:47 pm
Jason Paris / April 11, 2012 at 02:17 pm
Urban Toronto's ongoing Then & Now thread is another great resource of a similar note.
Staraphe replying to a comment from Jason Paris / April 11, 2012 at 02:40 pm
ya but that site is full of non-sequiturs and innuendo from that Urban Shocker dame.
Rhea Copeland / April 11, 2012 at 02:51 pm
glad to have finally found the face behind the Chum picture - thank you for all your efforts - having lived in TO all of my 78 years I delight in seeing all the pics and the comments made - many memories
j-rock / April 11, 2012 at 03:54 pm
The picture of the morning hunt on Bathurst is a few hundred metres from where I now live, but I can't reconcile that with what I see out my window. It's amazing. Will definitely check this group out.
JenC / April 11, 2012 at 07:16 pm
Love these pictures, but had to unlike on Facebook as they post way too frequently and their stories took over my news feed!
Tony Berlingeri / April 12, 2012 at 07:55 pm
Very enjoyable and nostalgic for me.
How can I contribute?
I have a very nice photo of the Bloor st. bridge to the Danforth under construction.
Dianne Haist / September 17, 2012 at 07:55 pm
Love the phtos and contributing comments. Thanks everyone. Peace and love Dianne in NZ
Derek / March 5, 2013 at 01:51 am
Seems like the Facebook group was deleted. Oh well
Carol Ward / March 28, 2013 at 07:48 am
Love this site, thanks!!
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