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Toronto postcards from the 1970s

Posted by Derek Flack / August 13, 2014

Toronto 1970sIt's safe to say that Toronto has a 1970s fetish. I've speculated as to why this is in past posts about the decade, but I think, suffice it to say, we're fascinated by the degree to which the city looks both familiar (the CN Tower and many of the major towers of the Financial District can be traced back to this point or just before) and yet profoundly different (parking lots galore). It's a compelling tension, and one that's only increased by the curious sepia tone that seems to define images derived from this period. People really seemed to like brown 40+ years ago.

If there's an ideal set of images that shows off the historical allure of the decade, it might very well be postcards. I've posted a number of night shots from the 1970s before, but the slightly faded day images really show off the sparsity and grit of the city back then, even as they are intended to sell the city to tourists. The 1970s were a decade in which Toronto grew up (both in terms of its built landscape and a population boom), which is why it's so intriguing to see how undeveloped everything looks.

Here's a collection of some of my favourite Toronto postcards from the 1970s.

Toronto 1970sThe foot of Roncesvalles

Toronto 1970sSt. James ParkToronto 1970sSparse, yellow-toned skylineToronto 1970sYonge St.Toronto 1970sLooking down from the CN TowerToronto 1970sYorkvilleToronto 1970sEglinton and the DVPToronto 1970sFreighter in the harbourToronto 1970sNo condos hereToronto 1970sCity HallToronto 1970sGlory days at the CNEToronto 1970sSkyline at duskToronto 1970sYonge north of GouldToronto 1970sYonge looking south from GerrardToronto 1970sNighttime on the GardinerToronto 1970sOntario PlaceToronto 1970sYorkdale in its infancy

Thanks to Chuckman's Blog, which is an excellent resource for Toronto postcards across the decades.



HistoryLesson / August 13, 2014 at 01:37 pm
To all the people (most likely under the age of 30) who routinely like to say on BlogTO comments things like "what's the big deal about that stupid Sam's sign? It's just an old piece of junk, why does anyone care?" Did you notice how many of those old postcards feature Sam's in them and in fact one up there even has printed right on it below a picture of Sam's "The Heart of Toronto". That's why.
Potrzebie / August 13, 2014 at 01:45 pm
Another history lesson: Toronto was not "undeveloped" in the 1970s, it was freshly "post-industrial."

DL replying to a comment from HistoryLesson / August 13, 2014 at 01:52 pm
One postcard had the sign; the second postcard was pre-sign, so...
John Labatt / August 13, 2014 at 02:58 pm
Younge st in the 1970's was all strip clubs, rock and roll bars, porn of all kinds, it a real cleaned up city today. Also no body wanted to live downtown back in the day.
No one cares replying to a comment from HistoryLesson / August 13, 2014 at 03:31 pm
Buddy, get over it. No one cares but you... there have been many signs come and go and no one cared. People only care about this old sign because they are stuck in the 70s! LOL
John / August 13, 2014 at 03:41 pm
I guess it's a good reminder that if it's ugly now you shoulda seen it in the 70's...
Elizabeth / August 13, 2014 at 03:48 pm
Yorkdale when you could actually get a parking spot!
HistoryLesson replying to a comment from No one cares / August 13, 2014 at 04:21 pm
You're not getting it. The fact that it was on so many post cards means it was important at the time, whether you feel it was today or not is irrelevant. That's what "history" means.

And the comment about the sign being there or not, I knew that was coming LOL. The point is Sam's was an important Toronto instition in those decades. These postcards illustrate that. The sign is what everyone remembers (even though Sam's pre-dates the sign).

Basically what I'm saying is if the CN Tower is torn down 20 years from now, then 100 years from now there'll be a bunch of people like you folks saying "What's that big needle thing on this old postcard? Who cares about this tower, I never even heard of it. It looked ugly and useless anyway. Who cares about that old thing?" People who are interested in local history care. People who care about the city they live in care.
SG / August 13, 2014 at 07:45 pm
It's nice to see a skyline without any condos! It makes me wonder what could have been...
BS replying to a comment from HistoryLesson / August 13, 2014 at 08:43 pm
It's still a piece of shit, dude.
Bloop replying to a comment from HistoryLesson / August 13, 2014 at 08:45 pm
Are you seriously comparing the CN Tower to a NEON SIGN?
Neon Nights / August 13, 2014 at 09:54 pm
I don't miss the Sam's sign (Sam's was a disorganized rip-off...but they had the best 'catalog' of product), but I do miss shopping for Records in the downtown core in the 70's & 80's
1989 replying to a comment from No one cares / August 13, 2014 at 11:09 pm
I care and I'm only 25. This one is different.
Mellow Man / August 13, 2014 at 11:20 pm
Two questions:
Does anyone remember the DVP lit up with yellow streetlights at night?
On what street is the Yorkville patio postcard photo taken?
sean replying to a comment from John Labatt / August 14, 2014 at 12:04 am
yeah it's much better today where people bump into someone texting and stab them. bring back the sams sign, strip clubs and porn any day of the week.
Torontonian / August 14, 2014 at 12:05 am
Aside from the leaded gas cars, Toronto was cleaner tidier in the '70s than today. At the same time, nothing has changed in television programming in general, commercial TV shows were cheesy garbage back then, and there's just much more of it today.
Michael replying to a comment from Mellow Man / August 14, 2014 at 12:43 am
Hi Mellow Man, I remember the sodium lights (it's sodium that gives the distinct yellow that older street lights have) on the DVP. In 1979 or '80 (I was two or three) I had tubes put in my ears and I recall my parents had to drive me down to the hospital early in the morning from Finch and Leslie. I recall we took the DVP, back in those days you could actually do the speed limit on the highway early (i.e. 6~7am) heading into the core.
I remember sitting in the back seat of the car watching the lights fly backward thinking how early it was that the sun wasn't out yet. But there were roads all over the city that used sodium lighting, less power and longer lasting bulbs than many other lighting systems.
John Labatt replying to a comment from sean / August 14, 2014 at 12:55 am
Back in the day when everyone was getting laid. Nobody wanted to live downtown, now that everyone lives downtown nobody gets laid as much and the porn and strip club industry has really suffered since all the condo's went up.
jehovah69 / August 14, 2014 at 08:24 am
Great instagram filters here! good work
Midway / August 14, 2014 at 09:14 am
Everything else gets bigger, while The Ex gets smaller.
Kheleya / August 14, 2014 at 09:54 am
I was actually in Toronto during part of the 1970s. While things look superficially different, they have substantively remained the same. Toronto, like all other aspects of reality, is just one huge hamster wheel where you run your butt off for 80 or 90 years and never move forward an inch. So nostalgia is pleasant but not reflective of what really happens.
Audio Blood / August 14, 2014 at 11:14 am
These are pretty interesting. Love the classic cars shots on Gerrard. Too bad that A&A Records isn't around anymore. I suppose we have Sonic Boom & HMV now.
Warren / August 14, 2014 at 11:34 am
OMG look at the horrible stains on the Royal York hotel. What a dirty decade!
John Labatt replying to a comment from Kheleya / August 14, 2014 at 07:08 pm
Its not Toronto's fault you did not save any money. You make your own decision if you save or spend money.
Elizabeth replying to a comment from Warren / August 17, 2014 at 11:19 pm
Do you mean the Edgewater Motel?
Flawless / August 24, 2014 at 07:52 am
I grew up most of my younger days in Scarborough and when I got to drive at 16, I would take the car down to Yonge St. My buddies and I loved music and collecting LPs. It was SAM's and A&A records that gave us all the opportunity to purchase hard to find releases that nobody else had. The music industry had a huge impact in my life and was grateful that both SAM's and A&A records were there. I will never forget those days. They are visually, imprinted in my head. By the way, I love Toronto...past and present.
robert5521 / November 23, 2014 at 09:01 am
Back in the day the Gardiner had lighting in the guard rails. Close to eye level, the effect of driving alongside the ribbon of light could be almost hypnotizing. Over time, many of the bulbs burnt out, resulting in strobe effect as you whizzed by. (Of course those were the days when you could actually whiz along the Gardiner)
unclebuck / November 23, 2014 at 10:08 am
Remember the Bulova Tower at the C.N.E. I remember when they tore that down...
CoolKeith replying to a comment from HistoryLesson / November 23, 2014 at 10:09 pm
But like it's just a sign and it is likely a huge commsumer of energy, you aren't allowed to have electronic things from back then because they are terrible for the environment. Remember the sign, that is amazing but dont be ignorant cuz you like nostalgic things. First the Sam's sign and then the automobile lets get rid of it all! no driving with in the downtown core, purely public transit and electric taxi's. Park your car at Finch/Keele/Kennedy station and subway in. Old people are destroying our planet cuz they are too old
Stephanie / November 24, 2014 at 08:32 am
Does anyone remember the name of the 3-story bar that used to be on the south-east corner of Yonge + Dundas Square, where the Hard Rock Cafe is now? There was a piano lounge in the basement, main floor was a dining/dancing night club, and top floor was more of a Ryerson hang-out...peanut shells on the floor, and rock bands played there. It's driving me NUTS trying to remember the name of the place.
Omer Quenneville / November 24, 2014 at 01:12 pm
KWT has a knack for rewriting history and inserting her name and renaming historic places in return for endorsements to get re-elected. In a few years, I wouldn't be surprised to see Yonge Street re-named.
Omer Quenneville replying to a comment from Omer Quenneville / November 24, 2014 at 01:13 pm
Don't worry, Kristyn Wong-Tam will erase all our history,

KWT has a knack for rewriting history and inserting her name and renaming historic places in return for endorsements to get re-elected. In a few years, I wouldn't be surprised to see Yonge Street re-named.
LucasF replying to a comment from Omer Quenneville / November 24, 2014 at 02:55 pm
Such a passionate double-post Omer! Which endorsement are you referring to?
Omer Quenneville replying to a comment from LucasF / November 24, 2014 at 06:46 pm
All endorsements, the problem with endorsements is they require pay back. And guess who gets to pay the bill.
Timberland / December 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm
I said "Time Lord," not "blurry clock baby. "But When You're an Adult . . . This is extremely hard for a lot of kids to grasp, because teaching responsibility is such a slow process. In the early years, we hammer home the idea to "just be a kid. " Play, have fun. Your responsibility begins and ends with "don't set anything on fire. " Then, as you grow up, we add little bits at a time. Make your bed. Then clean your room. Then we add dishes or yard work or replacing all of the sewer pipes. Eventually, we hit a tipping point where the parent realizes, "Holy poop, she'll be on her own in just a couple of years, and we still have so much to teach her about taking care of a house and herself while maintaining a job and college classes!" At the same time, the teen thinks, "I'm going to release snakes into this house if they don't let up. I only have a couple of years left before I have to do all of this crap on my own -- why can't they just let me relax and enjoy what's left of my teenage years?"It's panic on both sides, and each is justified. Human nature makes us repel each other, and the adults can easily start thinking of their kid as lazy, while the teen thinks of the parents as pointless drill sergeants who are getting out of chores by dumping them on the kids. Which is totally an awesome side effect of what we're doing, but it's not the goal. Marc Debnam-Digital Vision-Getty Images
Mark replying to a comment from Stephanie / March 28, 2016 at 05:11 pm
Was it the Friars?
Mark / March 28, 2016 at 05:15 pm
To those of us of a certain age, the Sam's sign is iconic of downtown Toronto. As a teenager, I visited Sam's EVERY weekend to buy the latest Motown 45's and other R&B hits. Sam's was cheapest too! 69 cents per 45 rpm record, including tax!
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