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What Harbord Street used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / December 4, 2012

History Harbord Street TorontoHarbord may seem like an underwhelming street to give the historical photo treatment to, but when you consider its transformation from a mostly quiet residential street into a crucial passage through U of T and a bonafide business strip west of Spadina, there's more than enough intrigue in its past to warrant a closer look. Going back a century, Harbord was a narrow thoroughfare cutting between St. George and Ossington, anchored by Harbord Collegiate Institute in the west and the burgeoning U of T campus in the east. Street widening efforts in the early 1910s brought streetcars to the area and the first wave of commercial business, which has been preserved in the bustling stretch between Spadina and Bathurst streets.

Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, the area around St. George and Harbord — now a highly trafficked intersection with U of T students coming and going from one of the city's most notorious examples of Brutalist architecture, Robarts Library — was mostly residential in nature. A second wave of street widening in the late 1940s ushered in drastic changes to this stretch of Harbord, which culminated in the construction of the library in 1973.

Looking east from Spadina in 1944, the street bears almost no resemblance to its current state. Narrow and densely packed with trees, there's a sort of lazy quality about it that has been lost to the expansion of the university and the rise of large-scale buildings in the area. U of T has always had a gorgeous downtown campus, but it was really something back then. One wouldn't even consider walking around without leather patches on his suit jacket.

But U of T isn't, of course, the only prominent educational institution that graces Harbord Street. Both Central Tech and Harbord Collegiate have been staples since the western stretch of the street was still populated with farmland. Built in 1892, Harbord Collegiate was the first major building to be constructed on this section of the street. In honour of the school's hundredth anniversary, a group of alumni put together a sprawling history of the institution, which, despite dry moments, is certainly worth a skim. Also worthy of note regarding the school is just what a glorious building it used to housed in. What a roof!

Heading further west, one encounters a bit of (mostly) buried Harbord history. The Harbord Street Bridge was constructed in the early 1910s to span the remains of the Garrison creek. Unlike the Crawford Street Bridge, which was buried entirely, the north railing of the Harbord Bridge was left above ground, so as to mark the presence of the lost structure below. It's one of those small examples of Toronto history that's easy to miss if you don't know about it, but at least somewhat satisfying to know about as you pass over its remains.

PHOTOS

2012124-harbord-1899-spadian-robert-s0376_fl0002_it0090.jpgHarbord between Spadina and Robert, 1899

2012124-harbord-bridge-1910-top-s0372_ss0084_it0024.jpgHarbord Bridge under construction, 1910

2012124-harbord-bridge-1910-f1231_it1917.jpgHarbord Bridge nearing completion, 1910

2012124-harbord-grace-bridge-1910-f1231_it1889.jpgGrace Street and Harbord Bridge in the distance, 1910

2012124-harbord-west-spadina-s0372_ss0058_it0016.jpgHarbord west from Spadina, 1911

2012124-harbord-west-borden-1911-s0372_ss0058_it0025.jpgHarbord looking west to Borden, 1911

2012124-harbord-west-spadina-1911-s0372_ss0058_it0026.jpgHarbord looking west from Spadina, 1911

2012124-spadina-harbord-1911-s0372_ss0100_it0230.jpgSpadina and Harbord, 1911

2012124-harbord-hoskins-st-george-1913-s0372_ss0100_it0190.jpgIntersection of Harbord, Hoskins and St. George, 1913

2012124-harbord-west-spadina-1913-f1231_it0493.jpgHarbord west of Spadina, 1913

2012124-palmerston-harbord-1914-s0372_ss0001_it0095.jpgHarbord and Palmerston, 1914

2012124-clinton-harbord-1915-s0372_ss0058_it0488.jpgHarbord and Clinton, 1915

2012124-central-tech-1920s-f1257_s1057_it0235.jpgCentral Technical School, 1920s

2012124-harbord-collegiate-1920s-f1257_s1057_it0272.jpgHarbord Collegiate, 1920s (wow, check out the roof)

2012124-bath-harbord-1935-s0071_it10829.jpgBathurst and Harbord, 1935

2012124-harbord-st-george-1944-s0372_ss0058_it1656.jpgSt. George and Harbord (pre-Robarts), 1944

2012124-harbord-st-george-1949-s0372_ss0058_it2017.jpgHarbord and St. George, post-street widening, 1949

2012124-st-george-harbord-1949-south-s0372_ss0058_it2018.jpgLooking south at the same intersection

2012124-hoskin-east-st-george-1949-s0372_ss0058_it1958.jpgHoskin looking east from St. George, 1949

2012124-hoskin-east-devonshire-1949-s0372_ss0058_it1957.jpgHoskin looking east from Devonshire, 1949

2012124-spadina-harbord-1990s-s1465_fl0213_it0013.jpgHarbord and Spadina in the 1990s

Photos from the Toronto Archives

Discussion

28 Comments

Dave / December 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm
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I had forgotten what the NE corner of Harbord & Spadina used to look like before they built Graduate House. I almost didn't recognize the intersection without the massive, stupid, ridiculous metal "O" dangling over the middle of the street.
Cyril Sneer / December 4, 2012 at 01:20 pm
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Wow, St. George & Harbord looked gorgeous way back then.
Peter / December 4, 2012 at 01:31 pm
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Amazing photos. Love the historical articles!
Andrew / December 4, 2012 at 02:05 pm
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Very cool!
iSkyscraper / December 4, 2012 at 05:07 pm
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This city clearly hates trees and bridges. This is why we can't have nice things.
Michael / December 4, 2012 at 06:46 pm
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"Brutalist architecture" just about sums it up. We are working hard to preserve the urban forest in the Annex and need volunteers. If you have time and the interest to help out, please email me. Thanks.
Sezme / December 5, 2012 at 12:05 am
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While going back a century, Harbord may have been a narrow thoroughfare cutting between St. George and Ossington, it's worth noting that as late as 1908, maps show that Harbord ended at Clinton to the west, and a few years before that it ended at Manning. So streets like Shaw were uninterrupted between College and Bloor.
Eric / December 5, 2012 at 01:16 am
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Wow, the old Harbord Collegiate was beautiful. I wonder what ever happened to it. These historical photo articles just underscore what a poor job Toronto has done of preserving its past.
norm / December 5, 2012 at 04:00 pm
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Great pics. and research Derek. Brother and I used to ride the Harbord streetcar which started (& ended) at Eaton's Annex (Albert St) up Bay, west on Dundas to Spadina, north on Spadina to Harbord, then west on Harbord to our stop "Brunswick" for Central Tech. This was around 1960-61. They were PCC cars then although Witt's were still running on Bathurst St. as I recall. The pic. of Central Tech. is intersting because the South end of the bldg. is so far away from the street. In our time the bldg. was, as today, right up to Harbord St. with a double stairway entrance which led almost straight to the auditorium. They must have expanded the South end between the 20's & '50's. The playing field which exists today was all houses on Lipponcott and Bathurst Sts. They were torn down to create that ugly football field sometime in the late '60's or so. The Art Bldg. on the North side was a small playing & marching field in 1960 before creation of that Art studies bldg. Any old CTS alumni out there?
Liz / December 5, 2012 at 04:40 pm
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I really do love the photos of old Toronto. Makes me want to go exploring.
tablogloid / December 5, 2012 at 04:49 pm
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The Robarts Library has grown on me. When it was first built it had many nicknames. My favourite is, "The Wild Turkey."
Unlike commenter, Dave, I like the big O sticking out of the graduate building completing the word Toronto. I just hope the O never falls because it would make for a massive "vowel movement."
tablogloid / December 5, 2012 at 04:53 pm
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Forgot to mention, this is a fabulous photo array on Harbord. I live on Grace below Harbord and it is interesting to recognize some of my neighbours' houses under construction.
D / January 28, 2013 at 11:15 pm
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These pics are awesome. I think St George and Harbord looks excellent today as well. City's gotta urbanize.
brian / July 5, 2013 at 09:35 am
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thanks victor! i lived at 276 harbord from1942 to i9950, corner euclid, next to harbord collegiate. wow, looking back to then is soooo cool!
David Cheifetz / July 23, 2013 at 02:05 pm
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Went to Clinton public school and Harbord Collegiate in the 1940's, we even went to Cental Tech one afternoon a week for woodworking and auto mechanics. Can you imagine Harbord students going to a technical school? lived on Grace street between Harbord and Bloor. Played and ice skated in Beatrice
Park, on Harbord St.
At U of T, I belonged to Sigma Alpha Mu and our frat house was on Harbord near St. George.
Bring back the good old days.
Been living in California for 50 years
Paul / October 24, 2013 at 06:55 pm
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Went to Central Tech. I wish streetcars were put back on Harbord to avoid bus pollution and to keep buses away from cyclists. Nice to see the evolution of streets. Sad to see old architecture torn down for ugly,dull modern monoblocks.
Spadina Expressway would have been useful down to Harbord for my previous job locations in the northwest but ramps would have destroyed more old buildings.
Paul / October 24, 2013 at 07:13 pm
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Went to Central Technical School, now considered for historical designation by Heritage Conservation for City of Toronto.
Bickford park would have been a ready made ditch for previous plans for the Highway 400 southern extension (planned to go through somewhere along Grace/Clinton)but would have ruined our parks for baseball,toboganning and cycling!
Visit my website www.compyou-pal.ca/about_us for my offerings and links such as the Harbord Village Residents Association website.
Paul / October 24, 2013 at 07:53 pm
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Bring back the beautiful bridges that have been buried in our parks such as Bickford shown in the archive photos above. Also
the Crawford Bridge in Bellwoods Park. I love the 1940's cars in the photos.All this reminds me how I loved to see Mike Finley's (Filey's?)Toronto Sun Newspaper's 'The Way We Were' article and archive photos of Toronto Buildings Before & After. Facinating! Harbord Collegiate should rebuild it's roof towers and get a historical conservation designation also, if it doesn't have it already.
Check out the History of Harbord Village on my website's link to HVRA, visit www.compyou-pal.ca/about_us
Paul / October 24, 2013 at 09:20 pm
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CORRECTION/Instructions; for Harbord Street History and photos, please visit www.compyou-pal.com/about_us
then click HVRA link and then HV History Project link.
Thanks,enjoy!
P.S.
visiting www.compyou-pal.ca
will also get you there if you then click the
about_us tab separately.
Much more to come!

Paul / October 24, 2013 at 09:24 pm
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CORRECTION/Instructions; for Harbord Street History and photos, please visit www.compyou-pal.com/about_us
then click HVRA link and then HV History Project link.
Thanks,enjoy!
P.S.
visiting www.compyou-pal.ca
will also get you there if you then click the
about_us tab separately.
Much more to come!
Catherine Nasmith / December 9, 2013 at 09:25 am
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loved this piece, I have often thought of writing a book called The Lost Streets of Toronto, so many streets were ruined by road widenings. Bathurst Street, Spadina. Spadina north of Bloor was like Madison. We gave up too much for cars.
Donna Bennett / March 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm
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I'm interested in finding (or making) a list of bookstores once open on Harbord.. If you know of such stores, especially with addresses and dates, I'd appreciate any information you could pass on. Thanks,
Anne McNichol / April 13, 2014 at 01:07 pm
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I lived at 81 Harbord street from 1945 to 1963. Remembering a lot of the old photos.I attended the original Lansdowne PS. Two doors down was a large private home when I often played at with one of the children before it eventually became the Morgentaller clinic. At 79 Harbord was a oriential family which owned a business of juke box distribution out of their workshop they were called Ontario coin machine.I often would help them type the song selection tickets for the various juke boxes.
I learned to ride my bike in the lane way and also played many hide and seek games among the old backyards.Bordens dairy had the best ever chocolate milkshake. My dad's father owned the corner fruit and veggie store at the corner of Robert and harbord at the south west corner before it became the local butcher shop.many many memories of what they now call Harbord village. Always interested in viewing the old photos of then and now thank you for bringing some of my fondest memories of my childhood.
Anne McNichol / April 13, 2014 at 01:11 pm
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It would be nice to hear from other people who also attended the public school I did. My maiden name Cannizzaro
alfletch / April 22, 2014 at 05:59 pm
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I lived three houses south of Harbord Street on Crawford Street from 1930 to 1950....went to Dewson Public School and Harbord Collegiate.
Bob Richardson / October 18, 2014 at 01:33 pm
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Trying to locate where Hackney Street was in St. Patrick Ward, running from queen Street to High Street. Also Eleanor and Monck Streets were located?

Were all these streets renamed?

My Great Grandfather George Timpson and family lived on "Hackney Street". He was the Bandmaster of the 2nd Regiment queen's Own Rifles.

Thank-you for assistance.

Cheers
Bob
Susan replying to a comment from Bob Richardson / November 9, 2014 at 12:07 am
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Hi Bob

Go to ontarioroots.com - click on 'databases' on the left and then 'street history' on the right. Hackney no longer exists - this site is a good source of streets, their names and what changes have happened over the years. I also found a family member on Hackney......

Susan.
Rosi / November 14, 2014 at 05:53 pm
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tablogloid Does the Corsi family still live on Grace? East side close to Harbord. Please let me know if you have info. Looking for old friend from mid 60's. Tks

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