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A visual history of demolition in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / June 6, 2014

demolition history torontoIf you lived in Toronto during the 1970s and '80s, you'd probably be familiar with the names Greenspoon and Teperman. In fact, it would have been relatively difficult to drive around Toronto a whole lot with encountering signs bearing the names of these businesses during this period. They are, of course, demolition companies -- and Toronto was a place where a hell of a lot of demolition took place. Some of it was perhaps justified by huge projects like City Hall, the Eaton Centre, and all of our modern skyscrapers in the Financial District. But there were also a lot of buildings that suffered the fate of the wrecking ball on account of the city's utter lack of respect for heritage structures. Old Union Station comes to mind here, but also the Board of Trade, Trinity College, the Temple Building, and the Armouries.

We've already nominated our most tragic losses in previous post, but thanks to some new digital scans from the Toronto Archives, it's possible to get a sense of what the Toronto streetscape looked like during all of this destruction. Some of the views are painful, while others offer a fascinating look at the city during a period of massive transformation. Here's what Toronto looked like during the wrecking ball's reign of terror.

201466-demo-union.jpgDemolition for Union Station

201167-demo-old-union-1927f1231_it1068.jpgTrain shed at Old Union Station being demolished

201466-demo-yonge-queen.jpgDemoltion at Queen & Yonge

201466-demo-gilead-place.jpgDemolition at Gilead Place in old Corktown

201466-demo-yonge-bloor.jpgDemolition at Yonge & Bloor

201466-demo-tepperman.jpgThe notorious Teperman sign

201466-demo-parking.jpgThe last remains of a now long lost building downtown

201466-demo-frederick-st.jpgDemolition at Frederick St.

201466-demo-bay-st.jpgDemolition at Bay and Albert streets

201466-demo-eaton-c.jpgDemolition for the Eaton Centre

201466-demo-eatons.jpgSame deal here

201466-demo-downtown.jpgAnd another one

201466-demo-old-eatons.jpgThe Old Eaton's store bites the dust

201466-demo-for-eaton-centre.jpgDifferent angle, looking towards Yonge St.

201466-demo-city-hall.jpgThe smouldering ruins of the old Eaton's store

201466-demo-board-trade.jpgGetting ready to kill the Board of Trade building

201466-demo-bayview.jpgDemolition off the Bayview Extension

2011815-city-hall-construction-1964-f1268_it0462 (1).jpgThe Registry Building gives way for city hall

201466-demo-tep.jpgDemolition at King & Dufferin

20120124-Massey Tower-Colonial Demo.jpgColonial Tavern Demolition

20101104-samsdemo.jpgThe remains of Sam the Record Man

20111011-Toronto-parking-lots-history (1).jpgAnd this is what you get when you demolish everything. Parking lots!

Photos from the Toronto Archives



Jacob / June 6, 2014 at 02:32 pm
Wow. That Board of Trade building was quite something. What a shame.
Doh! / June 6, 2014 at 02:33 pm
i cannot believe they were allowed to tear down the Board of Trade building, wow!
Beccca / June 6, 2014 at 03:18 pm
This makes me cry :(
Peja / June 6, 2014 at 03:36 pm
Ah, so THAT'S where all the history and character went.
deezee / June 6, 2014 at 03:42 pm
So sad about that Board of Trade building. It was so nice looking. A few others had great architectural detail too.
NV / June 6, 2014 at 04:19 pm
Very depressing. All those gorgeous buildings. I mean look at the Princess of Wales Theatre, it was build in only 1991-93, and they are already taking of demolishing it to build another Geary monstrosity. Glass and steel don't last long.
Paul O'Brien replying to a comment from NV / June 6, 2014 at 04:42 pm
They are not touching the POW theatre now as part of the Mirvish and Gehry project
NV replying to a comment from Paul O'Brien / June 6, 2014 at 05:01 pm
Thank you, but wonder how long they have some new plans for it.
(Knew I got the spelling wrong soon as I posted it.)
Goldielover / June 6, 2014 at 05:02 pm
The Board of Trade Building and the Armouries in particular were a big loss. Surely they could have found some other use for them instead of demolishing them.
stopitman replying to a comment from NV / June 6, 2014 at 05:07 pm
The Princess of Wales theatre was meant to be a one-off theatre built for Miss Saigon - a temporary solution. If you're inside it and you have a half decent eye, you can spot the cheapness built into much of it. There's not much special about it so it would make sense to tear it down and build something that is actually beautiful.

Let's be honest here, though - there are some building worth saving (i.e. Board of Trade Bldg), and others that are unimportant architecturally or culturally. If nothing ever got replaced we'd be in a big pickle because that type of thing only ever happens in a city with economic problems. Ever wonder why Hamilton has better heritage homes and commercial buildings than Toronto?

Again, keep the important buildings, but the NIMBY-ism based off of age only (or because you never-ever want anything to change) doesn't belong in a city. A city is, by its very nature, dynamic and changing. When that stops, we're screwed.
Gimbo replying to a comment from stopitman / June 6, 2014 at 06:38 pm
Well said. The Board of Trade building was nice yes, but if wasn't demolished (and I'm sure it was for good reason it was) we'd either have a nice little building downtown, or we'd have some large corporation bringing in money and jobs for the city. Take your pick.
NV replying to a comment from stopitman / June 6, 2014 at 08:12 pm
I didn't say it (POW) was worth saving, I'm just saying that tt was built just a few years ago and they were already thinking of replacing it. Even buildings are becoming disposable. Nothing being built or produced is being made to last.
Adam Sobolak / June 6, 2014 at 08:27 pm
I'll take "a nice little building downtown", thank you.

And something about the way these stopitman/Gimbo types dismiss heritage reminds me (esp. as we've all been reminded post-Isla Vista) of Men's Movement types dismissing feminism. "Urban emasculation" in their eyes, I suppose...
Wrenkin / June 6, 2014 at 09:16 pm
The Board of Trade building wasn't replaced by anything for 25 years, let alone a large corporation. Just a parking lot. Northeast corner of Yonge and Front.
seanm replying to a comment from Gimbo / June 6, 2014 at 09:21 pm
I'm not sure I agree with you. Toronto is a city that's not geographically limited in a specific way besides the lake to its south. Many of the largest and most financially powerful cities in the world have managed to retain historic city centres and built heritage better than Toronto. Paris's modern financial district, La Defense comes to mind.

In a lot of cases we didn't gain much in place of the new buildings either. The building at Yonge and Bloor was replaced by a concrete bunker, you'll notice the acutal tower portion was fully built behind it. First Canadian Place replaced most of the significant buildings on the site with its sprawling podium as well. Same goes for the many buildings lost to plazas and parking lots (as evidenced in the final shot).

Sure, a lot of our buildings weren't as significant as what you'll find in NYC, but they make up a fabric and provide context to the many marooned buildings you find lying around the city (the building that held the Fox and the Fiddle at Adelaide and John for instance, and has now been moved beside another previously orphaned neighbour).

No, sadly the bigger issue was that our Victorian architecture was viewed as unsafe, dated, ugly and an impedance to progress. I love Modernist architecture in its own right, but I wish they had the foresight to better integrate our history amongst the new during the age of destruction.
Mr. TNT / June 6, 2014 at 10:32 pm
I call bullshit. Toronto was a drab, provincial town. Boom, boom, boom...then it joined the 20th century! BOOM!
The Hier / June 6, 2014 at 11:20 pm
Maybe a shame.. But definitely pays the bills!
Jackie / June 7, 2014 at 07:28 am
Toronto could have saved these beautiful old buildings while moving forward. Visit Manchester, England and you'll find a city that saves it's old buildings and breathes new life into them. It's beautiful in many areas with green space (unlike downtown TO) and heritage buildings that give a glimpse of what was. Toronto's planners should be ashamed. Our city is ugly.
norm / June 7, 2014 at 04:58 pm
Nice job Derek, demolition at Bay/Albert NE corner, I think is for new Bell bldg. not part of Eaton Centre. Great to see the shot of the Ford Hotel entrance/Murray's Restaurant under siege! History is certainly in the eye of the beholder; as someone over 65 I don't recall many citizens at the time raising a fuss over the destruction (maybe about Old City Hall successfully, yea), we just thought it was progress although there were some who fought valiantly and sometimes won. The shot of the old Eaton's warehouses is also nice; as an employee you got to it through a tunnel which started in the Eaton's Annex basement located next to the WAFFLE SANDWICH SELLER ladies (15 cents each?). Unlike European cities saving the old architecture for new uses was not the N.American style then (yes much of it was ugly/utilitarian). Keep up the good work I know many love the pics/comments.
Robin Blackburn McBride / June 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Thanks for your great blog posts, Derek. I always enjoy your findings.
Adam Sobolak / June 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm
Before hailing cases like Manchester, let's keep in mind that back in the 60s/70s, the same "indiscriminate demolition" patterns that held in Toronto, held in English cities, too--the old buildings you see being saved now are those which escaped (through accident and recessionary economy) urban renewal schemes back in the day. Cold War Corporate/Welfare State Britannia didn't much appreciate its "ugly" Victoriana, and was all too willing to sacrifice it on behalf of Modernity in the form of multilane ring roads and megastructures--much of which is itself presently being replaced by condos and contemporary starchitecture...
Fig / June 9, 2014 at 10:55 am
Excellent post Derek but it is hard to view the extent of the demolition and not feel like crying.
John / June 10, 2014 at 05:07 pm
Sorry to see a building as great as Board of Trade go under the wrecking ball. I never saw the old Cinema at Bloor near Avenue of which only the facade was saved. I'd much rather see the old buildings kept up than a new glass and steel box.
Dawna / September 15, 2014 at 09:56 pm
I get heart palpitations every time I see photos of those beautiful buildings that are now gone. It's just unfair. Bricks, mortar, design and craftsmanship. Most buildings going up today are slapped together quickly and won't stand the test of time. It's heartbreaking. The detail on some of those buildings is breathtaking.
MH / December 2, 2014 at 07:07 am
They are still doing this to this day in Toronto. The only difference now is that sometimes they pretend to value heritage buildings by keeping the street facing facade while demolishing everything behind it.
I've never understood the wholesale disregard for heritage in this city. It's bewildering, yet it continues generation after generation.
PC / December 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm
Let's not forget Chorley Park - such a beautiful victorian masterpiece ... at least it's still a "park" instead of a parking lot!
Michael Baker / April 7, 2015 at 12:54 am
We all secretly deny that we love cities like new york, Montreal, Chicago, Philadelphia and many others ~~~ All of them found a way to retain early historic beautiful buildings blended with 20 & 21st century shiny towers. Just Saying.... Seems a shame that Toronto never kept some gems. During this time it clear that Toronto became and is a World class city but has lust some of it's luster.
Greg Hannah / April 7, 2015 at 02:55 am
The problem with many old buildings that are no longer with us is they weren't practical, or safe moving through the 20th century. Many didn't meet modern fire code and couldn't be refitted, had low ceilings, no way to install air conditioning (or fresh air flows for that matter), insufficient emergency stairs, some didn't have elevators (just stairs) and the spaces within the building were inflexible so walls couldn't be knocked down to make bigger offices/board rooms/open concept offices. The same fate met with many old hotels, they were often wooden and fire traps. People forget these things. It's heartbreaking to see many of these buildings gone (and this is only a very, VERY small sampling of what we lost in the 20th century) but they simply didn't work anymore. Some were lost simply to progress (if you'd call it that). I *suppose* had some of them survived they could have been gutted and condoized, new staircases added & with window shakers to keep owners cool in the summer months.
unclebuck001 / April 7, 2015 at 09:50 am
I grew up in T.O thru all that. It was just as the story says Temperman signs everywhere. That company made a killing......
Suri / April 7, 2015 at 04:22 pm
It is excruciating to look at these pics and see all the history lost to the ages. We have suffered the same in Weston with the loss of many of our heritage buildings only to have crap built over the ruins. The blame lies in bad decision-making. However, the article and accompanying pics make it seem like it was Teppermans or Greenspoon were to blame for this destruction -- it was the owners of the buildings and the City of Toronto who utterly failed in their responsibility to repurpose these beauties and see their value. Instead, the prevailing thought of the day was to rip out the old and put up modern and new. The demolition companies were doing a 'job' nothing more. Now if they were the owners of all the buildings they tore down, it would be a different story. I have no vested interest in either company, just don't like the narrative or the implication.
Mike replying to a comment from Gimbo / April 8, 2015 at 03:28 pm
I hear you, but places like Paris and London have kept most of their beautiful buildings intact. And they built their dull glass towers where nothing worth saving existed due to bombing or it was just dumpy space (La Defense). And it's not like the Board of Trade building was torn down to make way for a new corporate headquarters: nothing was on the site for many years except a parking lot--lots of jobs there! And now an incredibly dull glass box sits there, which is about the same size as the Board of Trade building. If it survived into the 80s, it would have been restored and re-purposed.
Mike replying to a comment from Mr. TNT / April 8, 2015 at 03:33 pm
Mr. TNT: A lot of T.O. became a dull 20th & 21st century city. i.e. TD Centre, FCP, York from Wellington to Queen, Commerce Court. Although, if you like Legoland those blocks are your heaven.
Doug / April 3, 2016 at 07:04 am
None of these buildings were that wonderful that they need to be preserved. They were just old asbestos laden hellholes. If we don't get rid of them our city will end up looking like Buffalo.
Other Cities: Montreal