A visual history of Toronto taxicabs
Toronto taxicabs are a less conspicuous presence in our municipal archive than you might think. Rarely the main subject of those tasked with documenting city life — a fact underlined by the fruitlessness of keyword searches — one has to dig through scores of photos to find them at the edge of the frame, enmeshed beside other traffic, or captured as a blurry force shooting unexpectedly across the photographer's field of view.
Given the preponderance of cabs in the city, one would think they'd play a more prevalent role in Toronto's visual record. Between 1931 and 1971 the number of taxis in Toronto increased from just below 1000 to around 3000, and yet it's only recently that they've become a more ubiquitous feature in photographs. This isn't just a numbers game — there are about 5300 cabs on the streets today — so much as a reminder that, in our collective memory, taxis are prescribed lower-deck status. If there are more photos of them available today, it's simply because the level of documentation the city receives has increased exponentially over the last five years or so (thank you compact cameras, smartphones and Flickr).
Nevertheless there are fascinating tales to be told about Toronto's cabs and cabbies, including that of Thornton Blackburn, the former slave who escaped to Toronto from Kentucky and set up the city's very first taxi service in 1837. His is a tale too rich to compress into a few lines of what is supposed to be a visual exercise, but one crucial tidbit is that Blackburn's first cab was reported to be red and yellow, a colour scheme that's still seen on the streets today in the form of Co-Op cabs.
A savvy businessman, Thornton probably couldn't have imagined the legacy the decision to paint his cab would have. While New York will forever be known for its yellow taxis, Toronto's multicoloured versions just have so much more character. To celebrate that fact (which is actually just my opinion), here's a loosely organized visual timeline of cabs in Toronto, presented in reverse order to highlight the colour photographs.
1990s Yonge and Summerhill area
Late 1980s Yonge and Eglinton
1980s Downtown Yonge
1980s Yonge and Gould
Metro Cab (?), 1980s
1980s Avenue and Bloor
1970s College Park
Metro Cab (?), 1970s Queen West
1970s Union Station (which is rather dirty, no?)
Late 1960s Richmond and Victoria
1960s Bay Street (check out the gorgeous Temple Building)
1950s Davenport and Dupont
Taxi Stand, 1931 Union Station
Taxi Stand, 1930 Union Station
Cab rates by zone in 1857
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All images from the City of Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted.
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