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A 1970s Toronto photo extravaganza

Posted by Derek Flack / March 7, 2014

Toronto 1970s photos1970s Toronto might not have been a more entertaining place than the city we live in today (especially if you're into eating out), but it was dirtier, sleazier, and less sanitized in general. Despite being thought of as "New York run by the Swiss," by our own standards, it was a gritty decade. And this, of course, is perfectly apparent in its photographic legacy. For whatever reason, the 1970s seems to be the decade with which we collectively have the most photo-based fascination.

Perhaps it's because our modern downtown was formed during this period, with the birth of Commerce Court West, First Canadian Place, The CN Tower and The Eaton Centre. Or perhaps it's actually because the place looks so different. Thanks to an indifference to heritage structures, major swaths of the core appear as parking lots during this period. And everything is so filthy, covered in soot from the previous decades of heavier industrial activity in the city and (going even further back) reliance on coal. It is remarkable just how much cleaner Toronto looks nowadays.

Toronto has certainly become a more interesting and diverse place to live in over the last 40+ years, but if there's one thing that it's lost (and this is true of most cities), it's that scrappy, hodgepodge element that a photographer like Patrick Cummins has documented so well. Not only have we lost much of our industrial architecture, but the mom and pop signage that tended to make the urban landscape seem like a scramble of unique markers has progressively given way to homogenous corporate branding. Throw in the glass condo building boom, and you have a profoundly different-looking city than a few decades ago.

So even as I've written about 1970s Toronto before, here's a big and better photo roundup to address our collective appetite for a version of Toronto that's a little rougher around the edges.

2011225-pier6-c-f0124_fl0003_id0014.jpg20111011-Toronto-parking-lots-history.jpg2011104-fcp-architects-fresh.jpg20111020-royal-alex-f0124_fl0001_id0134.jpg2011426-no-name-cab-1970s-union-f0124_fl0002_id0117.jpg20111020-king-street-east-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0083.jpg2014115-church-south-esplanade-1975.jpg2014115-church-south-dundas-1975.jpg2014115-queen-church-1971.jpg2011627-cn-tower-unfinished1f0124_fl0008_id0049.jpg20100225-CN-Construction.jpg20100926-70sCN.jpg2012210-eaton-centre.jpg2011221-tivoli.jpg2011225-imperial-c-f0124_fl0003_id0003.jpg2011222-Glendale_cinema.jpg2012123-yonge-1970s-f0124_fl0003_id0198.jpg2012123-uptown-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0111.jpg2012123-yonge-temperance-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0157.jpg2012123-odeon-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0158.jpg201188-yonge10.jpg201188-yonge7.jpg201188-yonge5.jpg201188-yonge4.jpg201188-yonge3.jpg201188-yonge2.jpg201188-yonge1ED.jpg20100225-water-torstar1976.jpg20100225-City-Hall 1973.jpg20100225-Carlton-line-1970s.jpg2013424-pcc-chuckman-st-clair.jpg20110531-70sCarltonED.jpg2013424-pcc-bath-dundas-chcukman.jpg2012724-qkr-pcc-1976.jpg201419-ontario-place-night-1979-1.jpg201419-city-hall-night-looking-nw-1978-1.jpg201419-night-traffic-blur-1976-1.jpg20100926-NIGHT-1970spostcard1.jpg20100926-night-70sSamsNIGHT.jpg201419-new-city-hall-looking-n-from-queen-aerial-night-1970-1.jpg20111116-70-YONGEspc2-post.jpg20111116--EdgewaterHotel-70s.jpg20111117-yonge-1970s-postcard.jpg.jpg



Borte / March 7, 2014 at 11:21 am
The top photo with the BMO and CN Towers both at that particular stage of construction is terrific.
help me / March 7, 2014 at 11:29 am
I don't understand, where are the condos?
kevinn / March 7, 2014 at 11:43 am
Looks like Toronto's buildings needed a good powerwash in the 70s.
torontobob replying to a comment from help me / March 7, 2014 at 11:51 am
They're all surface parking lots.
CaligulaJones / March 7, 2014 at 11:53 am
I think for many of us of a certain age, the murder of Emanuel Jaques pretty much summed up just how dirty the city was.
WTF / March 7, 2014 at 11:54 am
Sam The Chinese Food Man
Todd Toronto / March 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Sure it looks miserable in those photos, but to people who were around back then, did it seem so dreary and scuzzy at the time?

Larfs replying to a comment from help me / March 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm
No, you wouldn't understand, would you? People who are stuck in the past can't deal with the present, and imagine "condos" to be evil monsters from outer space! LOL!
BH / March 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Ah, the days when the Bank of Montreal building dominated the skyline. I also remember Classic bookshops at Dundas Square and the Steak & Burger. Yonge street was so full of energy. Toronto was grittier back then but fun in its own way.
Dan / March 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm
I'd rather have a million cookie-cutter glass condos than a million surface parking lots.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from torontobob / March 7, 2014 at 01:01 pm
Indeed. So. Many. Parking. Lots. Whatever one's hatred towards condos, remember that they made the downtown surface parking lot an endangered species and thereby did more good for the city than falling glass and boxy architecture can ever harm.

These photos do show how clean, modern and stunning Ontario Place and the Eaton Centre must have seemed back then.
Lina / March 7, 2014 at 01:08 pm
Look at all the parking spots! Heaven!
Peter Gunn / March 7, 2014 at 01:26 pm
If he were still alive, I'll bet Peter Ustinov would be most amused to discover how Torontonians have clung to their bosom a spur of the moment off-the-cuff remark about being New York run by the Swiss. It seems to have evolved into becoming the Gospel Truth. Had he said something completely flattering it would have been forgotten ten minutes after it was uttered, but we love to wallow in perceived slights about our city.
GRBY / March 7, 2014 at 01:27 pm
Destruction of parking lots for condos - GOOD

Destruction of heritage buildings for condos - BAD
Good and Bad replying to a comment from GRBY / March 7, 2014 at 02:09 pm
True, but it has been 99% parking lots and 1% using the façade of 'historical buildings' (ie anything more than 50 years old) so why do people lump all condos into the same rotten category? Does anyone REALLY want Toronto to be more like it was back in the '70's?
Nostalgic / March 7, 2014 at 02:14 pm
Great Shots!
tripper replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / March 7, 2014 at 02:15 pm
I don't think anyone perceived that comment as a slight, did they? Most of us took it as a compliment.
Oldfaert / March 7, 2014 at 02:19 pm
Having been around in the 70's, I would exchange Toronto from the 70's for Toronto of today. Fewer chain stores, better music, less congestion, less pretension, less materialistic, way friendlier, reliable transit, fresher air, and a sense of optimism. Way cooler clothes and haircuts!
Sheila / March 7, 2014 at 02:23 pm
coolest looking cars ever!
Peter Gunn replying to a comment from tripper / March 7, 2014 at 02:25 pm
Really? Sorry to have been the one to break the news to you, then. I'm astonished there are people who took it at face value!
A replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / March 7, 2014 at 02:49 pm
I'm pretty sure it was meant as a compliment, certainly most people have interpreted it that way. Ustinov meant that Toronto is a cosmopolitan city like New York, but is clean and well-organized, like Switzerland.
Peter Gunn replying to a comment from A / March 7, 2014 at 02:53 pm
Clearly this was a 'back-handed compliment'.
Peter Gunn replying to a comment from A / March 7, 2014 at 03:19 pm
lols! And Jimmy Kimmel swears up and down he had no intention of ridiculing a certain fat bozo. Of course it was intentionally "ambiguous". Had it not been, it would have been instantly forgotten by all, and most definitely he would not be quizzed about it years later as to whether he had meant to be polite or not. Sheesh.
A replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / March 7, 2014 at 03:25 pm
From the article:

"Nevertheless through researching the origins of this label I learned that the intention was just opposite: The phrase was used by actor and writer Peter Ustinov in an interview in 1987 and was meant as a compliment for the city of being much cleaner and more efficient than its US counterpart."

Agreed replying to a comment from Oldfaert / March 7, 2014 at 03:31 pm
Both have pros and cons, but I'd take 70s Toronto back in a heartbeat. It was better.
Peter Gunn / March 7, 2014 at 03:38 pm
Perhaps you didn't grasp my comparison.. Jimmy Kimmel also gave a new tongue-in-cheek spin on his antics with the fatboy. You believe what you want to believe but Ustinov enjoyed a bit of a joke. Clearly it went over quite a few heads because he had to be asked to clarify whether or not he was taking the piss out of the city. In a very Canadian fashion, he politely denied. If you don't believe me wake him up and ask him yourself.
Terry replying to a comment from BH / March 7, 2014 at 04:11 pm
Ah yes, Toronto was beautiful back in the '70s. As a young lad hanging out on Yonge Street, taking in the scene all day, was simply magical. I saw the city being transformed into what it has become today. The murder of that young lad surely set in motion a lot of the change that we see today.
Mike replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / March 7, 2014 at 06:00 pm
Yeah, a little scuzzy anyway, but also exciting and full of possibilities.
Al Hunter (@rastalam) / March 7, 2014 at 06:04 pm
Grungy & gritty. That was my Toronto! Shoeshine Boy by the Curse says it all. Remembering living at Queen and Ossington before it became hipster land brings back a whack of memories.
Mike / March 7, 2014 at 06:12 pm
I love these pictures. They really bring back memories and feelings from from that time.

…You know, if we were ever New York run by the Swiss, we have somehow morphed into Cleveland run by a random group of small-time thugs.
Jack / March 7, 2014 at 07:10 pm
Does anyone know who the woman is crossing Young St and waving. I've seen that image used to represent Toronto in the 70s a few times. Most recently here:
E. Toby Coke / March 7, 2014 at 07:37 pm
It wasn't scuzzy at all. The streets were generally spotless and graffiti-free back then. The dirty buildings were a legacy of the industrial past that made the whole thing possible.

Toronto in this era was an old industrial town just beginning to reinvent itself, overtaking Montreal as the top city in the country. All today's Torontonians owe the 70s some respect. It was an important time for the city.
Papa John / March 7, 2014 at 08:04 pm
And I'm sure you're sending a HUGE THANKS TO BJ AND NIA WHO DID MOST OF THE HEAVYLIFTING so that you guys could do your thing in prettying it up.
annalee orr / March 7, 2014 at 08:44 pm
There certainly was NO shortage of parking spaces and empty lots after most of the older architecturally beautiful buildings were torn down in the mid to late 60s. We left whole swaths of the City empty and abandoned to the car and small industrial enterprises. Loft spaces were plentiful for artists in these semi industrial wastelands. We rented studio space in a run down warehouse at the corner of Berkeley St. & the Esplanade beside the railway sidings and wrecking yards. It is now known as the gentrified "Berkeley Castle" in the center of the St. Lawrence Neighborhood.
mpmont / March 7, 2014 at 08:51 pm
I noticed one thing in common with all those pictures; you can see the sky without trying !
RCL / March 7, 2014 at 09:00 pm
It has only recently dawned on me that I haven't seen any mention of "Van air brushing" since the 1970's. It was so wildly popular back in the day, as everyone one was doing it. Seeing how 80's music is so much in vogue again I was scratching my head wondering why 50-something yuppies don't go and air brush their SUVs and MiniVans as pure nostalgia :-) Now, that's something few of today's kids will know of the 1970s...

Here's some nostalgic images:;client=firefox-a&hs=HTn&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=S3gaU4ScI4OqyAG57IHYBQ&ved=0CCkQsAQ&biw=1352&bih=664#imgdii=_
Dan / March 7, 2014 at 09:24 pm
Sorry, but, to all those who seem to be saying it was so dirty... did you live in the city as a teenager/early 20-something at the time? Is it cool now that it's present day to label it as a rougher time? Because it is so much dirtier now than in any of the above pictures. The roads were cleaner, traffic lighter (obviously), skyline not overrun by ugly condos. I didn't live in Toronto at the time, but in just about every picture, things look a hell of a lot clearer and cleaner than they do in 2014. It seems like people are trying to pretend like Toronto at the time was like living in NYC at the time...
Sam / March 7, 2014 at 10:52 pm
I'd somewhat prefer the amount of parking lot spaces from the 70s to lessen the bitching and complaining of certain people nowadays.
RCL / March 7, 2014 at 11:00 pm
I will "second" the comments of others saying that the 70's was generally a better time to "experience Toronto" than that of today, in more cases than not. I don't want to write an expose about this so only some short comments. First, the forward thinking politicians of the 60's brought us unprecedented and new urban structures that transformed the city from a backwater town to an (almost) global city in the early to mid 70's: Ontario Place, the Ontario Science Centre, our highway system, UofT's Scarborough & Erindale campuses, Eaton's Centre, City-TV & UHF (no more 2-channel TV!) and so forth. It was a really exciting time to be in Toronto. Since then the Science Centre has become a dead zone, Ontario Place is closed, the CNE is not like it once was in the 70's, and do kids go to the Eaton Centre & Sam the Record Man anymore to buy their LPs and 78s each Saturday (no, they get chubby by sitting around at home glued to their iPads and computers, like me and most reading this message :-) Signage was indeed more gaudy but that was due to people visiting more local Mom & Pop stores vs. the expansion of urban shopping malls. I don't recall everything being "soot covered" but indeed there was a lot of sand blasting work done to remove the grime once the coal & oil heating went the way of the dodo. Once the Eaton Centre was done there was always a lot of things a teenager could do by hopping on a subway from the suburbs and going downtown. My personal feeling of 2014 is that we are half-way between the fun times of the 70's and the coming urban slums of 30 years from now when all the cheaply built condos are going to fall into deep disrepair (if they are not already partway there around the CN Tower). Nostalgia always has a way of making those of today see the past with rose coloured glasses, but life generally goes on the same except but with technology & infrastructure changing around us (for the good and bad).

Dave Keays / March 8, 2014 at 01:46 am
Steeles Tavern between A&A Records and SAMs ... Lots of memories including buying Gordie Lightfoot many beers.
Laurin Jeffrey replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / March 8, 2014 at 09:11 am
That is almost exactly my thought. That is the Toronto I grew up in, but I certainly do not remember it looking anything like that. But that is the Yonge Street I remember hanging out on after school, I remember a lot of the corners and stores and signs. I love these blogTO retrospectives!
Gayle / March 8, 2014 at 12:18 pm
One absolute truth - Torontonians love pontificate about their city - albeit more eloquently than most. I grew up in the heart of Toronto and was around in the 70's and loved being there, have been long gone but still enjoy visiting. My favorite photos in this group? The 'red rockets' so representative of the city I remember flaws and all!
rick mcginnis replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / March 8, 2014 at 01:41 pm
Toronto was a grimy, worn-out looking place back in the '70s, but it had a kind of style that comes from all that old stuff remaining largely intact, albeit worse for wear. You'd turn a corner and you couldn't be sure what decade you were living in, and most of the time the default mode was '40s film noir. It looks a lot more prosperous now, but I'd give anything to have most of that neon signage back. (It's been made illegal, by the way, on most main streets, Yonge in particular.)
Natalia / March 8, 2014 at 04:19 pm
I was a teenager in the yearly to mid sixties. True, downtown TO. was not consistently elegant, but it did have classy areas like: the theaters on young street, simpsons and Eaton's both on young and college, Maple Leaf Gardens, Fran Restaurant, had the best coconut cream pies, after work we had to go there. Bloor and Avenue rd we had Yorkville, it was quirky and had a great deal of character, great restaurants, the rome, El mocambo where rawny Hawkins performed, You would have loved it even today. Mutual arena where we roller skated it was awesome. Some of the run down areas downtown, I would have to say were: Dundas Street King street, Queen Street. Bathurst st, St clair, Vaughn east words: Parliament st, Broadview, Carlaw , the Beaches, the Danforth. In 1963 I visited New York. Talk about run down, that was New York, My wish was that I hoped Toronto would never become a metropolis for that reason. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit of my Toronto from the 60's-70's.
tony / March 8, 2014 at 08:20 pm
A truly representative album of Toronto photos from this period would have a close-up of the signs that Parks Commissioner Tommy Thompson was responsible for putting in Toronto parks: "Please walk ON the grass". That, and a portrait of David Crombie. Toronto has been the same since.
tony / March 8, 2014 at 08:23 pm
has NOT been the same!
Norbert Vollkornbrot / March 8, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Great pictures, really enjoyed reading the article and most of the posts. A very enjoyable aspect of living in Toronto during the 1970's was the unique experience of being in a very large city on a Sunday when a great deal of the city was closed for business. Especially downtown at Yonge St. south of Queen. I used to wander everywhere with these huge tall mostly old buildings looking down on me. If it was the late afternoon you might get these dusty rays of sunshine angling down between the buildings. Quite beautiful, time would stand still and you could feel the pulse of the city. It was the slowing down aspect that I really miss because otherwise there were some really strange and nasty intolerant people hanging around ready to do lord knows what. You'd see some pretty freaky people walking around standing out like a sore thumb and trying desperately to fit in. But you got wise pretty quick and didn't go into certain places. I sure miss it a lot.
Jenny / March 8, 2014 at 11:40 pm
Roncesvalles and Queen looks almost the same to me.

Up and at'em replying to a comment from Norbert Vollkornbrot / March 9, 2014 at 11:30 am
I think you will find that having businesses closed on Sundays was not as unique as you think, Norbert. No city in Canada allowed Sunday shopping in the '70's, and many countries, like France, to this day still either ban it or strictly regulate which tourist cities may have it. Sunday shopping did not come to London until Britain allowed it with some limitations in 1994. Alberta and BC allowed it first in Canada, then Ontario in 1990 and after that Quebec. Nova Scotia forbade it until 2006, as did Sydney Australia. Astoundingly, they are still wrestling with Sunday closing laws to this very day in Germany. If you visit, do your shopping early because you never know what will be open later!
Nadine replying to a comment from Dan / March 9, 2014 at 02:17 pm
Yeah I think people are confusing 70s signage and concrete with grit.
John / March 10, 2014 at 12:43 am
Anyone who wasn't around then, especially those in their 20's, wouldn't see anything special in these photos. To look at it Toronto was a dreary city, less appealing than most American cities. I remember how depressing it was to come back after a trip to New York in the 70's. It just felt - ugly.
But that doesn't matter, because what we see when we look at these pictures is our memories of ourselves, growing up in this wonderful city, a city that was growing and becoming more worldly along with us.
E. Toby Coke replying to a comment from rick mcginnis / March 10, 2014 at 07:22 am
Neon signage is illegal?
Rod / March 10, 2014 at 09:44 am
Yup. This is the Toronto I remember. I was born and raised here. Went to Runnymede Collegiate in the 60's and then on to Rye High in the early 70's. Saw most of the big building being built. Great place to grow up and have many wonderful memories including the Lampton Tavern and Victory Burlesque.
Trent replying to a comment from Dan / March 10, 2014 at 02:14 pm
"I didn't live in Toronto at the time, but in just about every picture, things look a hell of a lot clearer and cleaner than they do in 2014." Wow. So, you're going by selected pictures to help form your opinion? If you HAD lived here, you would have a more informed view.
Dan replying to a comment from Trent / March 10, 2014 at 03:03 pm
Yes, Trent, I am. What else would these pictures be used for? Thank you for repeating exactly what I stated I was doing. The thought that living somewhere would provide a deeper knowledge of that place over just seeing pictures of it is a groundbreaking one, and for that deep analysis, I thank you again.
Having grown up in NYC at the time, I wished my city looked like the Toronto of these pictures. I guess the difference is one of the two cities cleaned itself up, while the other is slowly deteriorating physically and politically with no plan or valid ideas on how to reverse that. World class vs. world class imposter.
More deep analysis is required from you, Trent.
Alexa J. / March 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm
To see how the city changes before one's eyes without even realizing it is one of the things I'll never grasp. I wish we could just go back in time and really see, instead of just subconsciously perceiving the buildings around us... I love the assemblage of pictures though. Very different compared to the contemporary geometric Toronto.
Alexa J. / March 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm
To see how the city changes before one's eyes without even realizing it is one of the things I'll never grasp. I wish we could just go back in time and really see, instead of just subconsciously perceiving the buildings around us... I love the assemblage of pictures though. Very different compared to the contemporary geometric Toronto!
Godfrey Mallion / March 12, 2014 at 03:37 pm
The Tivoli Theatre closed in November, 1964 and wawis torn down the following year. The photo should be in the 1960s set.
toronto dude / March 13, 2014 at 12:39 pm
the only thing good about the good old days is that they're gone. the damage done to the city from the 50s to the 90s is horrifying. only in the last 20 years has the city finally come in to it's own.
Danielle / March 13, 2014 at 11:10 pm
Thanks for the great shots! I grew up on that Yonge St! Lived downtown, went to school off Jarvis st. Loved exploring with friends. All the nook and crannys. Roller skated at the Terrace, played in the arcades at Dundas, bowled at the now almost gone Worlds Biggest Bookstore. My Dad took me to the walk through dry cleaners near Sams then for a hot dog at Tops Tavern next door. Used to buy all my black lite posters lol at the smoke shops at Gerrard. Loved playing with the Table jukeboxes at LIndys steak house their served by the one old Greek? Waiter who's memory was outstanding!!! One of the last places left is the papaya hut? Going soon too. Change is good. Memories are fond.
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cheryl stuart replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / May 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm
never thought of Toronto as being dreary or dull.....enjoyed all the time I spent wandering up and down Yonge Street on a Sat night, Yorkville Village (I still think of it being a sunny street and the smell of marijuana) was a very special time
jb / May 2, 2014 at 02:48 pm
More sky. Less rats in the cage then. Why else did T.O. attract soooooo many people all over the world?
jb / May 2, 2014 at 02:49 pm
More sky. Less rats in the cage. More human and civil then.

Bill replying to a comment from Dan / May 8, 2014 at 03:54 pm
Toronto in the seventies, you could still walk around downtown and feel safe. It was still a place where people went to have fun and enjoy the day. Spend all day checking out the sights,shopping or whatever. Take in a movie or a show, have a great dinner at a good restaurant and head home on the subway after. Always met interesting people on every visit to downtown.
Roy Chefets replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / June 27, 2014 at 06:48 pm
It did look dreary and a bit sleazy but we didn't know any better. It did not look like a world class city though, more like someplace in the Mid-West.
The 70s were an exciting time. The political upheaval in Quebec made Toronto the Number One city in Canada and real estate prices soared. Gourmet food stores were just beginning to be popular although some had been around a long time.
Roy Chefets replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / June 27, 2014 at 06:53 pm
Toronto is now and never was anything like New York. Its a bigger Minneapolis without the many lakes downtown (although Lake Ontario is pretty nifty)
HelenInTO / July 2, 2014 at 09:47 pm
Ah, both my parents arrived in Toronto in 1969 (one from Greece, the other from the Philippines), and lived in a tiny apt somewhere near Dufferin downtown. Were ECSTATIC to find a lovely house in spacious, green Scarborough (along with many other couples eager to have kids)& have a family. LOVED Thomson Park, the Zoo etc. I was raised in the heydey of optimistic suburbia. Yup, that was the trend. They're still skeptical of ppl moving downtown...ha.
TaylorP / July 2, 2014 at 09:49 pm
Wow! a lot of comments already. The parking lots were already owned by the developers. They were just waiting for the wages to catch up to the market prices.
! pic of the CIA guy.! And the rockers. Could have been me. Yikes.
I was just thinking of the construction of the CN tower today. DoDaDoDo!
Razor Johnson / July 3, 2014 at 09:35 am
I spent the 70's in Toronto. It was known as one of the cleanest cities in the world. Great looking at these photos.
gingermitts replying to a comment from CaligulaJones / July 3, 2014 at 01:51 pm
Yes, was that not the "Shoeshine Boy" who went missing from Yonge Street in the 70's ? I was very young but I still recall what an impact that had on the city. Toronto lost a lot of it's innocence after that. Still is very sad
bluemlein / July 3, 2014 at 02:00 pm
Lived in Toronto at that time. It was considerably more human-scale than the sterile, money-obsessed, fractured, condofied imitation of New York of today. Instead of working to become an imitation of NYC Torontonians should have built on those things that differentiated it from the big apple.

Yes, it was one of the cleanest cities of the world, which you can't say these days. Yes, you used to be able to walk along many streets in many areas of the city in the middle of the night without fear. Yes, people were more relaxed than the shoving, elbowing, rude crowds of today. Toronto now is soulless and money-grubbing.
John / July 4, 2014 at 09:11 am

bluemlein - you hit the nail on the head EXACTLY.

Toronto in the 70's wasn't always esthetically beautiful but it had true Canadian charm. I remember it well.
Toronto makes me sad today: Rude and inconsiderate people, always in a hurry, always talking and obsessing about money. Ugly condos everywhere blocking out the sun and sky, ugly corporate branding everywhere, politically correct-narrow minded mindsets, and a lack of vision resulting in a wanna-be New York, topped by a mayor who is the biggest self-absorbed loser Toronto has ever had. Poor Toronto - how the mighty have fallen.
Julia Falsarella / July 8, 2014 at 03:30 pm
I was born in 39 and Toronto was worse
Len / July 21, 2014 at 08:30 am
I like the cars (they also were very reliable, built very well) It had a character and charm that isn't there with chain stores, and people were more relaxed. It was a great time, we had everything we really needed or wanted but without the complications (except there is better medical advancements now)
Tonhy / August 13, 2014 at 09:29 pm
I miss those old art-deco style movie theatres. They made going to the cinema a special occasion.
Derek / August 13, 2014 at 11:12 pm
I'm a bit surprised by the amount of naïve nostalgia for the 70s in the comments here. Okay, nostalgia I understand but saying Toronto was better back then than now? What? Crappy cuisine, cars that spewed way more pollutants out of each tailpipe, grime on every building, more racism and homophobia, I could go on... I too wish that Toronto wasn't so corporate and homogenized now, but I wouldn't want to live here any time before about 1990 at earliest.
Derek P replying to a comment from Derek / August 13, 2014 at 11:29 pm
Too clarify, that's me above, don't want peeps to think it was Derek Flack.
nicdees / August 14, 2014 at 12:36 am
Say what you want but Toronto was a much better city in the good old days.

I for one wish we could go back.
Tim / August 14, 2014 at 11:06 am
The author who wrote the piece above the photos seems to exaggerate the "sleezy" and the "dirty" of old Toronto from the 70s . After looking at the photos myself I wonder if the author subconsciously associates the past with "sleezy and dirty". Weird.
Joyce Quarrie / August 14, 2014 at 11:06 am
Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane. I arrived in Toronto from London as a naive teenager in 1969 and fell in love with the city - a love affair that has continued to this day. I found it exciting, different, the best place to live and have fun despite it's antiquated drinking laws and small town feeling. Today's city bears no resemblance to the one back then but how many things are the same as they were 40+ years ago. I loved the city then and I love it now. Anyone who lives there is a very lucky person.
Dave replying to a comment from Dan / August 14, 2014 at 11:51 am
"I'd rather have a million cookie-cutter glass condos than a million surface parking lots. "

I know all those words, but together in that order they make no sense.
Edward / August 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm
I missed the 70s in Toronto as I grew up on Vancouver Island. We would never have thought of Toronto as a destination until word leaked out about the burgeoning Queen Street West scene in the late 70s. Prior to that we would have considered our nearby mainland "big city" Vancouver or Montréal. I came to Toronto first in '81 and much of it looked similar to these 70s photos. It was fun for me. There was a sense that it was turning into something as the last days of disco passed, Yorkville was of course long past its iconic days, and the early punk scene had blended with the New Wave and visual art scenes. When I moved here permanently in 1984 the "big city" thing was still aspirational. Everyone wanted to be New York. Ugh. Thankfully that's mostly long over now. And now the air is cleaner (sorry nostalgics it is cleaner, cars pollute less, we don't burn coal etc.). Now there are vastly more than 2 cool neighbourhoods. Bars don't close at 1 am (midnight on Sunday) anymore. And several hundred thousand people live in the central core now. Vibrant. Busy. Walkable. It's a good thing. If you hate Toronto now, you hate growth, change and diversity.
David replying to a comment from Jack / August 15, 2014 at 09:38 pm
I'd seen the picture a couple of times as I'm looking for any thing Toronto 70s that might have me in the photo, the women seams questionable.
Richard / August 15, 2014 at 10:06 pm
Toronto is cleaner now, that much is certain. Whether or not the urban landscape is more "interesting" is a very subjective matter of opinion, and what you consider interesting. We've certainly progressed as a city, there's no denying it, but deep down inside there's a part of me that misses the allure of all the bright lights and scuzzy-ness of Yonge Street in the 1970s and 1980s.
lovetoronto / August 17, 2014 at 08:59 am
I love Toronto now and then. These photos don't do 70s Toronto justice, except for the night shots. Imagine a future blogger doing posts about today that showed nothing but grey-day day photos of potholes, the Gardiner collapsing, and grimy downtown buildings; that would be the equivalent of this selection. Today's Toronto has way better food and nightlife. But back in the 1970s the city was much cleaner, transit worked, neighbourhoods were preserved, and Ontario Place, the CNE and Ontario Science Centre were gems that hadn't fallen into decay. Ustinov's comment was absolutely a compliment; he loved the city and Canada, and spent a summer here playing Lear at Stratford. Old Toronto also had a very progressive city council and elected mayors like Phil Givens, John Sewell and David Crombie. It wasn't swamped by post-amalgamation conservatives from Etobicoke and Scarborough that elected disasters like Mel Lastman and Rob Ford.
lovetoronto / August 17, 2014 at 09:14 am
P.S. For those who slam 70s Toronto for being all about the tragic Emmanuel Jacques murder, consider a future blog with posts that limited a consideration of Toronto today ton the G20 and Rob Ford. One poster has said that Toronto is less polluted now because cars don't emit as many fuel toxins. But that would be true anywhere; and anyone who believes we have less pollution now than then hasn't been reading up on global warming. They also forget that we didn't have the same density in the core; that we had way fewer cars; and that there were height restrictions on buildings which not only let people see the sky but also allowed winds off the lake to disperse pollutants. Americans used to say Toronto was so spotless they imagined we were all up at 6 am to scrub the streets. :)
Anne / August 17, 2014 at 01:38 pm
The Toronto of the 1970s was an exciting place to be as a teen.
Charles Marker replying to a comment from gingermitts / August 25, 2014 at 08:41 pm
Brilliant novel, fall 2013, about the shoeshine boy and how his murder altered Toronto.
"Kicking the Sky" by Anthony de Sa.
Godfrey Mallion / October 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm
There were 2 theatres named Tivoli in Toronto. The one pictured in the above set closed in 1964 and was torn down in 1965. (The picture belongs in the 1960s set.)
Paul Irish / November 14, 2014 at 12:35 am
Peter Ustinov spoke the words "Toronto is New York, Run by the Swiss" in a mini series he did on various cities of the world. It was made in the 1970s. Toronto was classed as an "emerging" city at the time and you can tell the producers were right to focus on our city. By no stretch is it New York or other world class cities like Rome or Paris, but the point made is that Toronto will grow on many levels through this century ... you can see it by just looking out your window. Many cities have plateaued, but Toronto is accelerating. There are many issues in the city ... but show me a spot where there isn't. P.S. I watched the show where Ustinov made the "Swiss" quote and it was indeed a compliment.
trashytoronto / November 14, 2014 at 08:32 pm
where did those cute guys outside the Hard Rock get to??
Mike / November 17, 2014 at 07:22 am
While It'd be great to go back in time for a weekend to this era in Toronto's history, I'd rather live in the Toronto of 2014.
There's just a more exciting vibe to the city now.
jean / November 17, 2014 at 03:33 pm
The two guys outside the hardrock cafe - I think it could be 2 guys I worked with way back then - Alistair & Brent
J Mowles replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / December 8, 2014 at 07:10 pm
No, Todd,nothing ever seemed dirty.Toronto was always known as a clean city. Then again, when you`re 17-27 (1964-1974) the Yonge St. scene was everything in T.O.and the last thing you noticed was any need for soap and water.
It was a BLAST "back in the day" with Yorkville , the Pedestrian Mall on Yonge, the bars along Yonge (sang on stage at Le Coq D`Or one night for a dare) ; drank with Chuck Mangione at the Colonial; split a tab with Al Martino at the Hook and Ladder ; met the Shirelles at the Savarin(my buddy and I won a singing contest!)met Gord Lightfoot at Steele`s Tavern(between A&A and Sam`s)and stop in at CHUM 1050-world`s greatest radio station and say Hi! to Bob Laine; the Friars, the Brown Derby, and a few places I fondly remember but won`t confess to...and on and on.You just walked cover, no bouncers...just dress codes.You could walk Yonge all day and as can be.All those store windows to many Fri. and Sat`s we spent burning shoe leather-1000`s of us- from College down to Queen and back. One thing I do remember is that the streets were ALWAYS litter or handbills,
and no druggies. About `74 the downtown "died".The entertainment scene moved to the Airport Strip,and with it the $$$ ,and Yonge St. deteriorated.All good things must end.
Now it`s all so sterile and contrived. No personality.
What I`d give to see Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks at Le Coq D`or tonight!Or Oscar Peterson again at the Town Tavern.
Or David Clayton Thomas at the Mynah Bird in Yorkville.
Been there , done that ...and would do it again in a heartbeat! There`s your time capsule...All the best.
Pat / May 30, 2015 at 09:49 pm
I was inToronto, early 70's, transferred from Royal Bank, Vancouver, to Toronto when I was about 22. Quite loved it, but summers were so hot, humid, & then winter so brutal. Wished I had stuck it out, but moved back to Vancouver way too soon.
MRH replying to a comment from lovetoronto / July 6, 2015 at 08:04 am
Just want to say thanks to everyone! As an American, Toronto was my second home from birth-over 54 years. My aunt( a West ender) passed away last year. I am not only grieving her, but my "second home" as well. I experienced 70's Toronto as a very clean, safe, progressive city, with the most beautiful people and interesting culture. Living in Detroit aka "The #1 murder city", during the 70's, we all found Toronto "clean, warm, safe and friendly. It is still beautiful. I will miss it always. Thank you.
David / July 14, 2015 at 07:41 am
Hi from London UK. I spent two great summers in Toronto as a teenager back in the 70s, and these pictures really brought it back - thanks!
Kyler / November 7, 2015 at 02:32 pm
I don't understand why people are knocking the 70's or even the 80's Toronto and many who knock those time periods period, they should stop and think that most of the entertainment they love so much today is nothing more then 70's and 80's remake wanna b's that can't hold a candle to the originals, take Star Wars for example. its beginning is 1977 and then the 80's and now everyone from this generation are all jumping on the Star Wars band fad wagon! and to put down music from the 70's is total BS! I am black and Hip Hop started in the 70's also 70's soul is another great music thing! of coarse another black invention including R&B, Funk Rap, Jazz The Blues, so if your one of those ignorant non black people just Google the roots of hip hop- global darkness and you will see that all that music came from Africa, and as far as condos go to me they are nothing more than apartments with exclusive features, to me a home is so much better I mean who the hell wants to live in a place with a bunch of other people who most likely complain about their neighbours at just the sound of someone being a bit too loud? I love music and I love it loud! so a total detached home is the best! condos suck! but they try to promote them to so many potential suckers many who regret moving into them in the first place! but back to the 70's topic like I said most if not all of you love some movies or series that are based on the 70's etc, and I have heard this BS so much, it goes something like this, oh they just improved all these shows from the past. Really? I say Bull Shit! that's just their excuse for not admitting that things from the 70's are cool and the real reason for most remakes is to bring in the mighty dollar and that's the only real reason aside from another fact is that Hollywood runs out of ideas to bring in more big bucks so they turn to the past to generate more bucks! Srar Wars is 70's and 80's Battlestar Galactica is 70's and 80's etc, etc, etc! and Toronto was wonderful in the 70's and you negative people need to look at as I said all the things you love so much that are 70's and say the past is wonderful! if we told everyone who goes to school and learns about history that people who are attached to the past or dwell on it so to say are wrong is dumb, we as black people never forget our past of who we are and all we have given, just Google black inventions and you air heads will see why black people as you say dwell on our past. So goes for the people who dwell on the 70's or whatever time period, one day all you who say that will be doing the same just watch how days turn into months and months turn into years, I guarantee you will be doing the dwelling. I was born in the late 80's but I know so much about the 70's and I just love it!
Jim replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / November 24, 2015 at 07:00 pm
Whaaaaat?! It was a flattering statement. The glitz and glamour of "the City that never sleeps, "The Big Apple", but we Torontonians ran it like a fine Swiss watch.
Did you truly misunderstand what he'd meant for all these decades?
Jim replying to a comment from Peter Gunn / November 24, 2015 at 07:34 pm
Sleazy and dirty? Perhaps the quality of these aged, faded or colour washed pictures gives that impression. I worked near Sam's from 1973 onward for years and I can't remember ever thinking of that area that way.
Taking a 2nd look through these photos, except for the photo taken outside of the Upton3 Theatres where hordes of people lined up for hours waiting to get in left litter, it's pretty darn difficult to find any litter at all on Toronto's streets in almost every other picture.
*PS: Sam the Chinese Food Man was where I had my 1st legal drink, a Tom Collins, while watching silent B&W Chinese movie classics. The décor was amazing and my love affair with Hot&Sour soup and General Tao chicken started there!
d / March 19, 2016 at 03:12 am
Streets were clean, subway was clean, there wasn't graffiti everywhere, you didn't see homeless people lying on the street ... there were good areas and not so good, but generally it was a fun place, going to Sam's, the new Eaton's Centre, seeing all the street vendors stuff in the summers, buskers in the subways, going to the Ex and Ontario Place for great concerts at the Forum and afterward to the Blockhouse Tavern for a Singapore Sling! :) To me it was fun, not sleazy or dirty.
Hilde replying to a comment from CaligulaJones / March 19, 2016 at 06:24 am
Yes, that was the loss of innocence, the atmosphere and City changed after that horrific incident.
Rod replying to a comment from GRBY / March 19, 2016 at 03:18 pm
Horrible how the city razed all those heritage parking lots for condo housing.
Ian / March 29, 2016 at 12:47 am
I was born in East York in '62, and have been in and out of Toronto since. Now back in the UK for the past 6 years, I visit once a year to immerse myself in Toronto's one truly world-class annual cultural event, TIFF.

I think that the many of us who prefer this era of the post-war urban environment and Toronto's place in at the time have a perception based upon sentimentality/looking backwards through rose-tinted specs; I can freely admit, having lived here then that this is absolutely true in my case.

However, there was an excitement in the air that the downtown pictures aptly convey. I'll take a certain amount of shabbiness/dirt left over from a more polluted era on an architecturally interesting downtown core any day, in any city.

Even those who prefer the city as it is today have to admit that there is a marked lack of character and variety in the core now, a homogenous sterilty that is tedious to look at or spend time amidst, regardless of why or how it has come to be that way.

Cultural changes driven by technological development have sadly sent the beautiful cinemas I regularly went to with my father and on my own, and the multitude of bookstores, the way of the dodo.
Other Cities: Montreal