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What Front Street used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / April 30, 2013

Front Street Toronto HistoryAs Toronto's southernmost east/west thoroughfare prior to major infill efforts in the early part of the 20th century, it's not surprising that Front Street has been home to some of the city's most important buildings, at least a few of which remain to this day. Front has, at point or another, housed the province's early parliament buildings, Toronto's first city hall, the St. Lawrence Market, the Flatiron Building, multiple Union Stations and some of the city's finest hotels, to provide only a brief sample of its most important tenants.

Going back a couple of centuries, what we now call Front Street was referred to as Palace Street thanks to presence of the province's second parliamentary buildings. These were located at Front and, you guessed it, Parliament streets (etymology is fun!) before being rebuilt further west (near Simcoe) in 1832.

In addition to this important bit of provincial history, the street played a major role in the development of the city itself. Located on the current site of the St. Lawrence Market, Toronto's first city hall could be found at the corner of Front and Jarvis streets between 1845 and 1899, when it relocated to Queen and Bay Streets (what we now refer to as Old City Hall). The remains of this building have been preserved at the entrance to current the market, though the bulk of the structure was demolished long ago.

There are too many other iconic structures that have called Front Street their home to devote much time to each of them, but it'd be silly not to draw attention to the gem that was Old Union Station. Technically the city's second hub train station (there was apparently a first, far less dramatic Union prior to this one's construction), it sat on Front between York and Simcoe streets until it was demolished in 1931. Perhaps it's a stretch to say that the loss of this building was equivalent to that of the original Penn Station in New York, but not by much.

Speaking of Front Street structures lost to demolition, it still irks me that the Board of Trade Building was knocked down in 1958 only to exist as a parking lot prior to the construction of the EDS Building, which wrapped up in 1982. Toronto! What were you thinking?

Also, noteworthy, of course are the Royal York Hotel, The Cyclorama Building, and current day Union Station, but we've already written about them, so I'll stop blathering in favour of presenting the photos.


Front Street Goad's AtlasGoad's Atlas, 1910


201182-Third_Parliament_Buildings_1834.jpgThird Parliament Buildings (Front & Simcoe), 1834

2011117-Front_Street_1876.jpgFront Street, 1876

2013430-coffin-block-1888.jpgCoffin Block, 1888

2013430-coffinblock.jpgCoffin Block, 1880s

20110103-1890sGooderhamBuilding1890s.jpgGooderham Building (Flatiron), 1890s

20110103-1890-Victoria_Row_1890_Toronto.jpgVictoria Row, 1890s

201191-BMO-HHF-1900-f1568_it0224-1.jpgBank of Montreal at Yonge and Front (now the Hockey Hall of Fame), 1900

20101227-1900-Board_of_Trade_Building_Front_Street.jpgBoard of Trade Building (NE corner Yonge & Front), 1900

2013430-front-1904-fire.jpgAftermath of the 1904 fire, looking west across Front

20101227-1907-Flagpole_painter_with_view_looking_west_on_Front_Street_from_Yonge_Street.jpgFlagpole painter (view of Front looking west from Yonge), 1907

2011128-DPC-old_union.jpgOld Union Station (a.k.a. Union Station II), 1910s

20101220-1915-XQueensHotel.jpgQueen's Hotel (Front & York), 1915

201216-Cyclorama-Building-1922.jpgCyclorama building, 1922

2011614-union-ext-ca1926-f1244_it5045.jpgUnion Station, 1926

20100822-Front_of_Royal_York_Hotel.jpgRoyal York Hotel (Front & York), 1929

2011614-union-front-st-1931-s0071_it8454.jpgUnion Station, 1931

2011614-union-streetcar-1932.jpgStreetcar in front of Union Station, 1932

2013430-barclay-hotel-1955-simcoe.jpgBarclay Hotel (Front and Simcoe), 1955

2013430-okeefe-centre-construction-f0124_fl0001_id0051.jpgO'Keefe Centre under construction, late 1950s

20111026-okeefe-wide-2-f1257_s1057_it0815.jpgOpening night O'Keefe Centre, 1960

201191-bank-montreal-HHF-1960s-.jpgYonge and Front, 1960s

2011121-Stlawrenceext1965.jpgSt. Lawrence Market, 1965 (York University Archives)

2011221-canopy.jpgSt. Lawrence Market (canopy between north and south buildings), 1960s

2013430-front-east-yonge-1960s-f0124_fl0001_id0094.jpgFront east of Yonge, 1960s

2013430-front-east-yonge-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0086.jpgFront east of Yonge 1970s

2013430-walker-house-hotel-1975-york.jpgWalker House Hotel (Front and York), 1975

201216-Cyclorama-1970s.jpgCyclorama building, 1970s

2013430-union-station-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0117.jpgUnion Station, 1970s

2011225-flatiron-f0124_fl0002_id0065.jpgGooderham Building (Flatiron), 1970s

20111020-dominion-public-early-80s-front-dirtyf0124_fl0003_id0095.jpgDominion Public Building, 1970s

2011121-St.-Lawrence-and-Area.jpgBird's eye view of the St. Lawrence Market area, early 1980s

2013430-front-street-cbc-construction-f0124_fl0003_id0173.jpgCBC Headquarters construction, 1988



David / April 30, 2013 at 03:45 pm
I suspect that the photo "Bird's eye view of the St. Lawrence Market area, early 1980s" is actually late 1970s because several buildings in the St Lawrence area including the David B Archer Co-op at George/Frederick/Esplanade and the condo at the corner of Front and George South were occupied in 1981. By early 1980s there would probably have been signs of building activity.
Rafa / April 30, 2013 at 03:51 pm
Toronto loves demolishing old buildings..shame. The Board of Trade building woulda been epic today...even with O&B at the bottom!
steve replying to a comment from Rafa / April 30, 2013 at 04:02 pm
If we don't stop pushing cars over transit an lot more destruction will happen.
awesome! / April 30, 2013 at 04:05 pm
What exactly transpired at that Cyclorama building ?
Ding Dang replying to a comment from awesome! / April 30, 2013 at 04:09 pm
Why, cycloramics of course.
W. K. Lis / April 30, 2013 at 04:37 pm
Front Street needs a streetcar along it. From Bathurst Street to Cherry Street?
Torontonian replying to a comment from Rafa / April 30, 2013 at 04:42 pm
The old Board of Trade building later became headquarters
for the Toronto Transit Commission before the move to
1900 Yonge St. in the early '50s.
Benitez replying to a comment from awesome! / April 30, 2013 at 05:22 pm
Cyclorama is a kind of circular theatre:
seanm / April 30, 2013 at 05:45 pm
As unfortunate as it was to lose a lot of those buildings, I do see how, at the time, they'd appear to be undesirable in the age of modernity. Years of weathering and pollution really took their toll, and the old city looked dumpy and decayed by the 1960s and '70s.

At the time a lot of those buildings weren't quite old enough to be considered historic or important, which further fuelled the destruction. Nothing can bring back what we've destroyed, so instead more focus needs to be put on preservation and adaptive reuse, since developers are still tearing down a significant number of notable buildings.
Jack / April 30, 2013 at 06:00 pm
Man, let's play count the number of parking lots in that bird's eye view pic, I count at least ten! Also Berckzy park with no trees and no water fountain. Say what you will about the crappy condo and office buildings that have gone up in the area east of Yonge and south of King in the last 30 years, but at least the area is in use now.
E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from Jack / April 30, 2013 at 07:18 pm
It is worth pointing out that those parking lots were a product of deindustrialization -- newly vacant land being temporarily re-purposed to serve an emerging office economy. It's not like Torontonians back then were in love with parking lots, or were unsophisticated.
iSkyscraper / April 30, 2013 at 10:58 pm
But for all those who knock the condo boom, you have to look at these old photos of parking lots and at least give thanks to the glass facade gods for filling them all in with buildings. Sure, not every condo is a beauty but as late as the mid 90s the downtown area was a sea of surface parking and that did not change until the condos arrived. People really take that transformation for granted. Go visit some city that did not experience a boom in condo construction, where the lots are still there, and think how lucky Toronto has been before criticizing the next shiny new condo that pops up.
Bloory / April 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm
I always thought St. Lawrence Hall at Jarvis and King was the original City Hall.
Mark Moore / May 1, 2013 at 12:43 am

Hey Jack
Even Berczy Park was a parking lot. Saw a photo on 'Vintage Toronto' which showed a corner of the space full of cars.
iUglyCondo replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / May 1, 2013 at 09:21 am
We are lucky to have these ugly condos that destroyed our once beautiful skyline? I wonder what people a 100 years from now will think about our shortsighted and greed-driven condo boom? That's if any of these poorly constructed glass houses are still standing. I doubt it since the glass is already shattering on some of the balconies!
NativeOfToronto / May 1, 2013 at 10:20 am
There's a map out there done in the early 20th century of the downtown core at the time, and this specific district was highlighted. It's more of a hand drawn animated type of map, where the artist highlighted the buildings and their figures and shapes, basically how the city's shape was. Almost 3D format. Well, it resembled an European town or city, mainly a British flavour, of course. Endless blocks of those now-historic buildings on Front Street. Now we just have pieces of these, and the Distillery District, which was not even residential nor business originally. If these were standing today, it wouldn't even be called some "district" in a tourist sense, but it would simply be Toronto. The irony was that the city, in the 70s, tore down buildings that were sturdier and more appealing than the pathetic and flimsy condos going up today.
bob davis / May 1, 2013 at 11:44 am
In spite of the devastation , I still love TORONTO
Fig / May 1, 2013 at 04:21 pm
Excellent post - I've been missing these!!
bleepbloop / May 1, 2013 at 08:44 pm
Few things I notice right off the bat:

1. The roads are in excellent condition.
2. Some of those electrical poles from 1890 STILL exist in some parts of the city.
3. Some very beautiful buildings were lost, in many cases to utter stupidity.

You'd think we could improve on some things in 120 years.
King replying to a comment from NativeOfToronto / May 3, 2013 at 09:45 am
Excellent point

How does someone demolish the Board of Trade and Barclay Hotel, even if at the time they weren't considered historic? What a very shortsighted and disposable state of mind to be rid of such sturdy/appealing buildings.

The 60's and 70's were the epidemy of it but we still continue to shorten our already brief visual history of the city every year and unfortunately it will likely continue as these cheaply built condos won't last the test of time.
Bo Zou / February 17, 2014 at 11:39 pm
I wish Toronto streets always looked like this.
Jeff Hubbell / December 9, 2014 at 04:28 pm
Quick comment: the flagpole painter? His job title would be "steeplejack".
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