toronto 1980s

This colour photo series shows how much Toronto has changed since the 1980s

It's hard to believe the 1980s were 40 years ago, but photos from that time can blast us back to the Toronto that once was.

Avard Woolaver has been documenting Toronto for decades, and put out his first book of photos of the city years ago.

But unlike his project, Toronto in Colour: the 1980s, his first books were mostly in black and white.

"People online told me recently they would like to see more of my colour photos of 1980s Toronto, so I thought I'd put some of the best images together in a book," Woolaver told blogTO. "The three previous Toronto books had mostly black and white photos, with a few colour."

The images show iconic Toronto locations like Queen Street West, Yonge Street, Cherry Street, the CNE and Gerrard Street East.

Woolaver also captured long-gone venues like alt-dance spot Nuts & Bolts.

Conversely, there are also photos showing how little places like Zanzibar and Cameron House seem to have changed.

The photos also catalogue forgotten characters of Toronto's streets, like speed chess master Joe Smolij who would hustle all night playing chess for quarters.

"The idea for the book Toronto In Colour: the 1980s came about in the fall of 2020. I did a lot of street photography in Toronto, both during and after my studies at Ryerson in the 1980s," says Woolaver.

"Of the 800 or so rolls of film I shot back then, only about 10 percent of them were in colour. Colour film cost more, and I lacked access to a colour darkroom. Moreover, black and white was preferred, in those days, for fine art and documentary photography."

Woolaver says photographer friends have told him the colour brings a visceral quality to the photos that feel like a time machine or a historical document.

"Others noted that the colour images seem more realistic than the black and white and have a psychological component that the black and white images don't have," says Woolaver.

Woolaver founded New Image Gallery in Toronto when he used to live here. He's bounced back and forth between Toronto and Nova Scotia, which is represented in his Instagram through interspersing old images from his new book with photos of Nova Scotia from 2020, creating an interplay of past and present on social media.

"The response so far has been very good. People of my generation like to remember Toronto when it was perhaps smaller and simpler. It sparks a lot of memories of people, and things that are no longer there, cars, buildings, parking lots, phone booths, empty space," says Woolaver.

Woolaver's books are all available on Blurb in both PDF and physical format, and start at $15 for the PDF version. Flipping through old photos of Toronto is a fine way to pass time at home, so beat your boredom and support a Canadian photographer by picking up one of these visual time capsules.

Lead photo by

Avard Woolaver

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