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A 1980s Toronto photo extravaganza

Posted by Derek Flack / March 11, 2014

Toronto 1980sToronto of the 1980s is a less grimy place than the previous decade, if not quite as spick and span as the city is today. Although development of the skyline wasn't quite as dramatic as it had been over the previous 20 years (which, in fairness, witnessed the birth of modern Toronto), other obvious visual shifts can be spotted throughout these photos. PCC streetcars and the red Gloucester subway cars are no longer ubiquitous, automobiles get smaller and smaller as the decade proceeds, and slowly but surely the surface parking lots and the railway lands are developed.

Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of messy urbanism on display, but the 1980s is a far cleaner decade than the one that it followed. If photos of Toronto in the 1970s seem to be tinged with a sepia tone of nostalgia, those from the '80s tend to be more stark, highlighted by bold colours. One thinks of the new colour scheme of the CLRV streetcars, which ditches the maroon and yellow of its predecessor in favour of red and white.

While Scotia Plaza was a major addition to Toronto in 1988, the forward-looking nature of the decade is perhaps best exemplified by SkyDome, which opened in June 1989. Although the building is often associated with the '90s thanks to the Jays back-to-back World Series wins, what was once known as the Ontario Stadium Project represents a city looking for the next big thing. And aside from the various accolades the building got when it opened - try to bear in mind just how fancy that roof seemed at the time - SkyDome ushered in development of a huge swath of land below Front Street that was covered in rail lines - one that is now predominantly marked by condos.

Piecing together a city's history on a decade-by-decade basis isn't an easy task, as many trends and developments stretch beyond 10 years. But with the development of the rail lands, the steady disuse of the Inglis Factory on Strachan, and the rise of the first condominiums in Toronto, the 1980s can likely be seen as a transitional decade, one in which the city embraced a completely modern version of itself and left its industrial heritage and the grime associated with it behind.

2012224-portlands-wrecked-cars-1980s-s1465_fl0378_it0038.jpg2013424-pcc-504.jpg2014115-church-south-dundas-1982.jpg2014115-church-front-1981.jpg2014115-church-colborne-1981.jpg20131002-Thomson-Construction1.jpg20131128_motelstrip2.jpg20131128_motelstrip3.jpg2011727-kensington-early-80s-s1465_fl0053_id0003.jpg2011727-kensington-1980s-s1465_fl0053_id0002.jpg2014312-mirvish-1982.jpg2014312-mirvish-village-1982.jpg2011121-North-Buildings.jpg2011121-southmeat80s.jpg201419-nps-night-80s-ed.jpg2011113-railway-lands-bathurst-bridge-closer-1980s-s1465_fl0349_it0047.jpg20111218-fishbowl-eginton.jpg2011225-skyline-best-f0124_fl0008_id0113.jpg2011225-cars-willey-f0124_fl0003_id0139.jpg2011225-yonge-dundas-f0124_fl0003_id0124.jpg2011426-Co-op-early-80s-f0124_fl0003_id0103.jpg2011426-black-white-cab-1980s-.jpg2011426-Co-op-beck-1980s.jpg2011426-cabs-yonge-street-80s-f0124_fl0003_id0130.jpg2011426-beck-cab-late-80s-s1465_fl0045_id0005.jpg2012215-inglis-early-1980s-s1465_fl0037_id0038.jpg2012215-strachan-north-80s-s1465_fl0037_id0025.jpg2011823-lead-king-west-80s-s1465_fl0058_id0075 (1).jpg2011513-Toronto_Flyer_E700A_trolleybus_in_1987.jpg2011513-Toronto_Flyer_trolley_bus_in_1987.jpg2011211-Eaton_centre-queen80s.jpg2014213-colonial-tavern-demo.jpg2011812-st.-patricks-market-s1465_fl0024_id0008.jpg20101011-80smanulife.jpg20101011-1980sf0124_fl0008_id0111.jpg2011727-hc-waterfront-1980s-s1465_fl0059_id0005.jpg2012316-captain-johns-80ss1465_fl0016_id0005.jpg2012316-lead-queens-quay-1980s-west-s1465_fl0366_it0013.jpg2014312-86-87TorML.jpg20100829-1987_skyline.jpeg2011915-Ex-grounds-aerial-1980s-s1465_fl0240_it0036.jpg2011221-university-thetre.jpg20100225-Mister-Frankfurt.jpg2014312-Toronto-1987.jpg2014312-pearson-1977.jpg2011713-skydome-plans-s1465_fl0072_id0003.jpg2011113-railway-lands-dome-construction-s1465_fl0060_id0007.jpg201217-sky-dome-ad.jpgPhotos from the Toronto Archives, Wikimedia Commons, and Ontario Archives



tuffonthepeepers / March 11, 2014 at 02:00 pm
Amazing how stunningly hideous the city actually was.
E / March 11, 2014 at 02:05 pm
It's still hideous with all the condo developments
hip / March 11, 2014 at 02:06 pm
Except for Captain John's.
HoseA / March 11, 2014 at 02:09 pm
Thanks, that was great. I remember all those lots. I saw Jedi as a 10 year old at the University when it came out.
captiony curt / March 11, 2014 at 02:10 pm
it'd be nice to have some captions
tommy / March 11, 2014 at 02:11 pm
The 3rd picture would have been from the 70's. Streetcars stopped running on Mount Pleasant in 1976.
Ryan / March 11, 2014 at 02:13 pm
Was concrete super cheap back in the 80's or what? What's the deal there?
Todd Toronto / March 11, 2014 at 02:22 pm
I wonder whether the University was as grand as I remember it, but I sure do miss it.

Also, no Catelli bat?
Derek replying to a comment from tommy / March 11, 2014 at 02:34 pm
That one has been nixed. Thanks.
iSkyscraper / March 11, 2014 at 02:39 pm
The city that works! Remember learning all about the Sesquicentennial in elementary school?

Although, seriously, Parking Lots. Parking Lots. Parking Lots. The highpoint of downtown desolation before the condos and new office development came in to save the day starting in the mid 90s. (Check out that Roy Thompson Hall shot, or the aerial of the Westin Harbour Castle. Whoa.) I'll take falling glass and sometimes awkward density over asphalt lots anyday.

Other 80s theatres that deserve a place in this montage -- the Hollywood and the Hyland. Many fond memories of 80s blockbusters there.
Chris / March 11, 2014 at 02:42 pm
Great collection of photos, still not ancient enough to freak me out too much, but still some good memories there!
chris james / March 11, 2014 at 02:46 pm
thanks! that was a fantastic trip down memory lane.
W. K. Lis replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / March 11, 2014 at 02:55 pm
The movie theatres were large. Except then there were the lineups to buy tickets, and another lineups to enter. A long wait for both. However, one at least had neighbourhood theaters, not the few multi-plexes they have now.
Canaduh / March 11, 2014 at 02:57 pm
Ahhh the 80's! When men could still wear cut off shorts with their genitals practically hanging out and still be considered straight as in the photo above.
Goldielover / March 11, 2014 at 03:05 pm
I remember those trolley buses. The second one (the one with the CHUM-AM ad on the side) is southbound on Concord Ave. and just pulling into the southbound platform at Ossington Station. Lived in that area for years, and at that time, so well familiar with them as I rode them frequently.
Shorts / March 11, 2014 at 03:07 pm
13th pic down, those fucking shorts were for real.
slaves / March 11, 2014 at 03:13 pm
The child labour laws look to have been pretty lax down at the St Lawrence Market meat aisle back in those days.
Becca / March 11, 2014 at 03:50 pm
Really enjoyed this! The shot of the railway tracks with the yellow train going towards the CN Tower is CRAZY! The area is so bare, and looks so strange without the Rogers Centre!
Steven / March 11, 2014 at 03:50 pm
Opening night of the skydome I was a waiter up the street at York and Richmod (Movepick - remember the horribly overpriced shitty food place with the asshole owners that eventually lost their entire empire? Yeah, That place.). So anyway it was a humid summer night and we served plenty of the grey haired wealthy set heading off to see the skydome and of course the biggest spectacle of the evening was to see if that roof could actually slide open. Well it did all right, in the pouring pouring rain soaking all of the well heeled ticket buyers that had purchased their very expensive tickets to see just that If they hadn't opened the dome there would have been hell to pay.. So they did and then came the lawsuits and complaints and drycleaning bills etc which I think went nowhere. I LOVED it -- Those customers were rotten to serve dinner to and the idea that the had spent so much money to be drenched was beyond delightful and made up for all th shitty tippers who were as usual 'in a rush to get to a show'. LOL - Also, the sound was universally slammed as echoey and rotten from day one. And I kinda have to agree with that to this day - Final story - we made international news when a couple had sex in front of their window at the hotel attached the stadium during a baseball game. Ah the Skydome. They can call it whatever they want now, Rogers Center etc. It will always be the Skydome and although it aged rather quickly, I still think its a great addition to downtown Toronto and is a great place to see a baseball game.
Carrie / March 11, 2014 at 04:39 pm
I was on a class trip to Ontario Place in gr. 5 and when we arrived that morning they were just starting to put on the the dome. We never really did explore the area that day, we kind of just plunked down where we could see the Dome and watched it for most of the day!

In our defense, we lived out near Lindsay so seeing something so big being built just blew our little minds.
Rick McGinnis (@rickmcginnis) replying to a comment from slaves / March 11, 2014 at 05:12 pm
I don't know about child labour laws, but kids could - and did - get jobs pretty much as soon as you were a teenager. It was a great way to make spending money, but I knew frugal kids who saved up for cars, travel, even school (usually because their folks didn't make enough to pay.) You'd start with caddying at 12 or 13 - most courses don't have caddies any more. Right now any kid looking for a part time job would be competing with adults, some middle aged. Progress!
McRib replying to a comment from Shorts / March 11, 2014 at 05:28 pm
have some compassion, he's a never-nude.
Jeremy Wilson / March 11, 2014 at 05:41 pm
First thought - "So many ads for smokes."
shamz / March 11, 2014 at 05:58 pm
Good to see Kensington Market hasnt cleaned up its act one iota.
Alex replying to a comment from Carrie / March 11, 2014 at 06:51 pm
No reason to defend. I can only imagine that was an absolutely breathtaking moment. Great story :)
Peanut / March 11, 2014 at 07:03 pm
I remember the 80's in Toronto as way cleaner than today. The city had more trash cans, and people actually used them. Nowadays, at least around where I live, most of the trash cans are gone. People get fast food, and onto the ground the wrappers go. The school boards had more pride in the maintenance of their properties, with annual flowers planted yearly, shrubs clipped multiple times per year, and pruned trees. Now there are literally thigh-high weeds in the old flower beds at school entrances, and our local school's hedge has not been clipped for three years. I could go on and on.... sorry, I miss the 80's!
Rodney / March 11, 2014 at 07:35 pm
Some of the shots like the Kensington Market and Holt Renfrew, look almost identical to today just the cars look dated.
King Clancy / March 11, 2014 at 09:01 pm
Nothing says "Losers" like the Leafs of the 80s. Oh, wait!

A lot of the development that started filling those vacant lots downtown in the 90s was planned in the 80s, like Metro Hall, the CBC building,
Gail replying to a comment from King Clancy / March 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Go FUCK yourself you fucking Cumcwat!!!! Its peices of shit like your that fucking lay turds all over everbody else! EAT SHIT AND DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
G / March 11, 2014 at 11:36 pm
When did the Sam's at 347 Yonge take over the CIBC that was next door?
Gail Lover / March 11, 2014 at 11:59 pm
Gail, you beautiful creature. Kiss me. Now.
Christian / March 12, 2014 at 12:01 am
I remember going to see "Return of the Jedi" at the University, memories!
logikol / March 12, 2014 at 12:58 am
Thanks for sharing this.
the 80s were the best replying to a comment from tuffonthepeepers / March 12, 2014 at 07:01 am
Actually, it's stunningly hideous how Toronto is now,2014, my friend. The city of the 80s was in fact, much, much cleaner, well kept in general, and far less crime ridden. There was serenity, accord, much more green space, all of what's missing today. Get your facts straight, the city has declined to a dirty, overpopulated concrete jungle.
what i remember most / March 12, 2014 at 07:28 am
about how it used to be vs. how it is now is how many parking lots defined an area, and then as they slowly became filled in with buildings, you didn't realize how they shaped and added to an area until you were faced with a giant block building.

Want to see what I mean, but in reverse? Go to Gerrard St W and Elizabeth right now and look at the space created by the building that was razed there recently. Squint, and you can easily imagine it was a park that had always existed.
gonzo / March 12, 2014 at 09:00 am
12 rib eye's for $10? Sign me the F up!
King Clancy replying to a comment from Gail / March 12, 2014 at 09:02 am
Gail, I feel the love! Walt Poddubny must have been your idol.
Sandra / March 12, 2014 at 09:31 am
The 80's were a great time to live in Toronto. I have wonderful memories of that time.
fred / March 12, 2014 at 10:01 am
True Torontonians appreciate this!
Jane / March 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm
Toronto of the 80s was so clean!

It's really time that the city rethink its plan for sanitation and garbage. Picking up the garbage only once every 2 weeks is ridiculous. Other cities around the world of Toronto's population density pick up their garbage at least once a week. And those big black garbage bins and blue recycling bins that we have to use now are what make the annex, and really the entire west end of the city, very ugly. After building a better transit system, the city's next priority should be sanitation.
get with the program replying to a comment from the 80s were the best / March 12, 2014 at 01:02 pm
LOL! Stuck in the '80's. If you are man you likely have a skullet (mullet with receding hairline). If a woman you likely have a Farrah Fawcett Hairdo and maybe blue eyeshadow.
Everything Bad and Ugly now. Everything was Beautiful and Clean back then. Condos bad. People Bad. Where's my mommy? Blah blah blah.

You sound ready for Shady Pines.
local replying to a comment from get with the program / March 12, 2014 at 02:57 pm
That was pretty funny...and I'm a child of 70's/80's-era Toronto. Everyone bashed the parking lots from the blogTO 70's flashback, but those eyesores were far outweighed by the cool old buildings and awesome vintage signage that made our city look as though it actually had some history. Had the eighties and nineties not eradicated much of that during its taste-free reign, this city, buoyed by the massive population growth that's occurred in the last fifteen years, could have been really amazing. Nothing beats a mix of old and new.
Jon / March 12, 2014 at 07:20 pm
Kensington looks exactly the same...
? / March 13, 2014 at 02:52 am
Awesome to see the old photos but I'm sorry, a la Rob Ford, saying something doesn't make it true. Toronto is not spic and span. Toronto is actually quite filthy dirty. I laugh when this city is raised up as some kind of utopia. Toronto the good. Pffft
Rkots / March 13, 2014 at 01:30 pm
To those of you who choose to put today's Toronto down, do you stop and pick up the garbage you see or continue walking by. To those who like to say it's horrible, why do you choose to live here? This city is a wonderful melting pot with stunning areas everywhere. What other city with a population this large has the trees, the parks, the gardens walking paths and the safety you find in Toronto. I would not raise my child anywhere else. Be the person who says hello to strangers, picks up trash, makes it the city others dream of coming to. Stop complaining and do something.
natrx replying to a comment from Sandra / March 13, 2014 at 03:11 pm
I know what you mean. Toronto in the 80s was amazing. Had more of a calm, natural feel. And probably one of the last times era where had kids walking and playing around freely.

Many small mom and pop businesses relatively still thriving and viable. People weren't obssessed about being materialistic in terms of housing, which 'neighbourhood' you live (or want to move) in, which school you're going to send your kid to.

People would actually go to a local restaurant to dine in. Now, if it's not a national chain, or some bistroesque type place, it's considered 'not elegant' or sophisticated enough.

Just was a time when you were in the moment, instead of being so hypercritical and self-observing.
grey / March 13, 2014 at 07:40 pm
My favourite 80s Toronto time-capsule:

The original version of I'm an Adult Now by The Pursuit of Happiness.
Costas / April 5, 2014 at 10:06 am
Even though i didn't live in Toronto during the 1980's my first visit there was 1987.I lived in Toronto from 1990-2005(almost 15 years). I agree that Toronto in many ways was better up until maybe 1999. That's when the large influx of condos started sprouting up all over like mushrooms. Toronto had better sports teams too. I have visited quite a few times since i left and the city has become more crowded,dirtier and tasteless(architecturally wise especially the area around the Skydome:)(dont like that term Rogers Centre).Although i don't think any city today is actually better than any other.They're all pretty much horrible places to live.
SteveM / August 25, 2014 at 09:28 pm
People commenting here who claim that Toronto today is "filthy" and "crime ridden" have clearly never left the Bridle Path. Not just in Toronto, but never been to any other city in the world apparently.
Hendrix / August 25, 2014 at 09:41 pm
Do any of you complaining about condos actually live in a condo? I live in one at Harbourfront, and it's awesome. Downtown is much better than it was in the 80s. So many people actually residing here, different ages and cultures... Workers working here.... Vitality reigns. Sure beats Calgary's downtown, where everyone leaves at 5pm and it becomes a ghost town.
Steve replying to a comment from the 80s were the best / November 16, 2014 at 02:31 pm
There probably was a lot less fast food litter in the 1980s, but crime rates were much higher, peaking in 1991. Our current crime rates are back down where they were in the early 1980s.
Plochu / January 5, 2015 at 06:34 pm
The condos today look a whole lot better than the gray parking lots and office buildings that dominated the seafront then. Though I can't say I'm too surprised most people don't agree. After a few decades go by, any time from the past looks brighter than the now. I know exactly what people of the 2040s will say when they look back at 2010s Toronto.
Amanda replying to a comment from E / January 19, 2015 at 07:04 am
Every City is hideous in North America!!!.
Mike / April 4, 2016 at 08:36 am
I remember the Toronto of the 80's. It had a fresh "smell" and warm hum flowing through it. The Eaton''s centre close to Christmas time, June and July in cool shaded backyards. I was there, and it was a great place.
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