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What street vendors used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / April 7, 2014

street vendor history torontoStreet vending started in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century in Kensington Market. Handcarts pushed by predominantly Jewish merchants were, in fact, how the neighbourhood got its started as a marketplace altogether. It would be easy to say we've come a log way since then, but the truth is that Toronto street vending has only just entered its renaissance with the birth of the food truck and freshly loosened regulations that will actually allow vendors to operate on, you know, city streets.

For years, Toronto street vending was dominated by the candy/cashew vendor and the hot dog stand. In fact, judging by the photos below, you'd have been lucky to get much of substance at all on Toronto streets until the mid '80s when more and more street meat became available. Prior to that, you were looking at ice cream, pop corn, candy apples, and the aforementioned cashews.

Yes, the street eats of Toronto's past were nothing to get excited about. Some of these photos actually look a little sad, but that's what makes great. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I can assure you that these stands were the most wonderful things in the world, filled with things you weren't allowed to it. And then the wool is pulled from your eyes and you realize you've grown up -- just like Toronto's street vendors.


2011727-kensington-1910s.jpgKenington Market, 1910s

201448-yonge-queen.jpgNewspaper stand at Yonge & Queen, 1925

201448-kensington.jpgKensington Market, 1926

201448-balloons.jpgKensington Market 1970

201448-candy-apples.jpgCandy Apples on Yonge, 1971

201448-aa-records.jpgOutside A&A Records in 1972

201448-pop-corn.jpgPop corn vendor in 1973

201448-yonge-dundas2.jpgYonge & Dundas, 1978

201448-cashews.jpgHot Cashews in 1979

201448-rom-gray-coach.jpgAcross from the ROM in 1980

201448-yonge-dundas.jpgYonge & Dundas, 1985

201448-queen-bev.jpgQueen West, 1988

2011130-yb1980s.jpgYonge & Bloor, 1980s

20090518---A-La-Cart.jpgThe ill-fated A La Cart program, 2000s

201448-crazy-food-truck.jpgWacky food truck by Danielle Scott

201448-hot-dog.jpgTrusty hot dog vendor at Bathurst and College by Brian Cameron

toronto food trucksPhoto by Jesse Milns

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise marked. Special thanks to the Toronto History Flickr page, from which most of these photos were sourced.



craftsy / April 7, 2014 at 10:37 am
Not just food. My family and their friends were street vendors along Yonge in the 70s and 80s. Basically there used to be a non-stop flea market on Yonge and Queen streets. People would find their "spots" in doorways and in front of vacant stores and just sell stuff like crafts, jewellery, clothing. You can see a little bit of it in some of those pics. Would love to see BlogTO dig out a photo series showing the whole variety of street vending that used to go on in Toronto, especially around the time when Yonge was a pedestrian street, I believe that was the height of it.
Hamish Grant / April 7, 2014 at 11:16 am
Oh, I used to love those roasted chestnut vendors with their rickety carts. The roasters had whistles on their stacks so you always knew when they were nearby. They sold all kinds of stuff, cotton candy, popcorn, caramel corn, small toys, etc. The smell of roasted chestnuts is something I really miss from downtown.
W. K. Lis / April 7, 2014 at 11:29 am
Those politicians who vote to get rid of street vendors are the "elitists" who want to stick their noses up in the air.

Street vendors add life to the streets. Without them, the city would be barren, like the suburbs.
DL replying to a comment from W. K. Lis / April 7, 2014 at 12:01 pm
Street vendors are about as needed as the annoying jet ski and necklace people on Caribbean beaches.
Bye bye nine oh fiver replying to a comment from DL / April 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm
You're just jealous that you can't get to them from your SUV.
Steve replying to a comment from DL / April 7, 2014 at 01:06 pm
Millions of people disagree with you.

But then again, I personally would rather a $3.50 Polish sausage than the sushi at the ACC.
G / April 7, 2014 at 04:40 pm
Montreal does not allow street vendors and it's not barren
Greg / April 7, 2014 at 05:49 pm
Who cares about Montreal, this is Toronto. Food carts and truck vendors have been a part of Toronto culture for decades, now Council has finally passed reasonable regulations for carts and trucks to expand well beyond standard hot dog/french fry fare. This is about to become a very exciting time to test new foods from specialty trucks around the city.
Jeremy / April 7, 2014 at 07:21 pm
Always love these posts. Thanks Derek.
Elizabeth / April 8, 2014 at 07:34 am
Great post. I remember all those jewellery vendors and carts selling hats and things on Queen West. Can't wait for more food carts!!
Neolle / April 8, 2014 at 08:58 am
I used to love going to QW in the 80's on a Saturday, you could get the coolest stuff.. I bought one of those hand-painted t-shirts by kiki I believe. I have good memories the haters can piss off.
GeoToronto / April 8, 2014 at 10:16 am
I'm surprised there aren't any pictures of the early ice cream trucks. my father inlaw would trade ice cream for hot dogs with neighbouring hot dog carts.
My father in law used to have one and my side of the family, we used to have a couple of popcorn/roasted chestnut carts.

But nostalgia aside, The new breed of food trucks are a refreshing to see.
charalique / April 8, 2014 at 08:27 pm
*bells chiming*

hey everyone the dickie dee's guy is on our street!!!! who's got money?
Franklin replying to a comment from G / April 11, 2014 at 09:26 am
"Barren" might be going a little far, but it is true that Montreal has been getting less and less interesting every decade. Nothing ever seems to change or evolve there, and it is getting tired.
paul / September 14, 2014 at 08:18 am
Sweet jesus....can some please proof read this shit before it's posted?
Alex / September 14, 2014 at 09:15 am
It looks like BlokTo dislike the idea of the old vendors, there was not too many options but people was allowed to sell things now vendors have to pay lots of many and there are no to many prions either ... Food truck is kind of a monopolio and not from them but the government, with a very strict rules, if rains, if snow, if there is a restaurant near by, just few days ago one vendor was kicked for yonge and dundas ...
Lisa replying to a comment from paul / September 14, 2014 at 11:31 am
Agreed! Lovely topic but, hard to read!
Allan / September 28, 2015 at 11:47 pm
I remember the pop corn guy being at the bottom of the street everyday when we got out of school. I loved the popcorn 5 cent and 10 cent bag. what a treat extra butter and lots of salt was the request every time and never did he disappoint. Not everything changes for the better.
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