toronto traffic 1970s

What Toronto traffic looked liked in 1960s and 70s

Traffic in Toronto is a major drag, but this wasn't always the case. There was a period in the 1960s and 70s when the city built plenty of new infrastructure and the burgeoning population had yet to max it out. 

The first phase of Highway 401 opened in 1947, which was followed by massive expansions until 1968. Meanwhile, far more sleepy versions of the Gardiner Expressway and DVP witnessed their first vehicles in 1955 and 1961, respectively. 

Back in the early days, these major expressways looked dramatically different, with huge spaces between fast-moving cars. Sure, there were still delays and traffic jams thanks to accidents and occasional roadwork, but it was nothing like today.

After all, much of the same infrastructure deals with hundreds of thousands more people each day. And the TTC hasn't gotten a whole lot better, either.

It wasn't just Toronto's highways that looked deserted during this period. As we've seen before, prior to the the massive development boom we're still experiencing today, the city's downtown was often sparsely populated, whether you're talking about cars or people. 

Exercises like this one are always a bit dishonest, I must confess. The photos have been chosen to convey a sense of emptiness that isn't necessarily present in all images from the era.  

Still, the point isn't to claim that the city was perpetually traffic-free during this time, so much as to underscore just how profoundly different our roads looked. Toward that end, it's a useful nostalgia trip.

Behold, what Toronto traffic looked like in the 1960s and 70s.

toronto traffic 1960s

The early days of the 401. Looking east from the Allen Road off ramp.

toronto traffic 1960sNot much going on at Front and York streets in the late 1960s.

toronto traffic 1960sPhotos always show plenty of cars parked in Toronto; just not many in motion. This is Front Street East near Church, late 1960s.

toronto traffic 1960s

Etobicoke strip mall, early 1960s.

toronto traffic 1960sKing Street East approaching St. Lawrence Hall in the late 1960s. toronto traffic 1960sEmpty Yonge Street, south of Bloor in the late 1960s.

toronto traffic 1960sWhere's all the action on Queen Street West (near Beverley) in the late 1960s?

toronto traffic 1960sFront Street looking east from Yonge Street, early 1970s.toronto traffic 1960sKing at York streets, early 1970s.toronto traffic 1970sThe CN Tower rises over a mostly empty Gardiner Expressway in the mid 1970s.

toronto traffic 1970sWith Gardiner traffic so low, Lake Shore Boulevard and Queens Quay were also quiet in the 1970s.

toronto traffic 1970sLooking across Wellington at John in the 1970s. This was a typical Toronto scene.

toronto traffic 1970sMore parked cars and industrial remains, but no traffic at Wellington and Peter streets in the 1970s. 

toronto traffic 1970sBathurst and Lake Shore wasn't the nightmare intersection that it is today back in the 1970s.

toronto traffic 1970sNo traffic for as far as the eye can see. King Street East looking towards the Financial District, late 1970s.

Lead photo by

Islander800 / Shorpy (subsequent photos from the Toronto Archives)


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