Yonge Street Toronto 1950s

What Yonge Street looked like in the 1950s

In the winter of 1950, as Yonge Street was being town up for Canada's first subway line, a photographer worked ahead of the moving construction site taking pictures of storefronts along the route. The pictures were presumably taken for surveying or insurance purposes but stitched together they provide a unique portrait of Yonge Street on a typical chilly day some 62 years ago.

Store as jumbled images in the Spadina Records Centre and online in the public archives, the set was a puzzle to reassemble and, like a real jigsaw, some pieces are missing.

The gaps between the pictures didn't always line up as I hoped - the angles differed wildly between some shots - but I've tried to preserve store signs and architecture over other things visible in the frame. So let's take a tour, starting on the west side of Yonge at Dundas Street and head north to check out some vintage storefronts.

West side of Yonge, Dundas to Edward Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Dundas

Considering what a prime piece of real estate the corner of Yonge and Dundas must be, it's surprising to find the low-rise Bank of Nova Scotia/Coward Clothes building is still standing. Everything north to Edward Street, including the building next to the bank that appears empty, is now gone. The store on the north end of the block is a "shoe rebuilder".

West side of Yonge, Edward Street to Elm Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Edward Elm

Located directly opposite what would become Sam the Record Man, it's hard to tell exactly what's left of this block because of the giant advertising boards bolted to the upper floors of many of the buildings. Allen Stores Limited, second from the left with the arched windows, is still in use as a Foot Locker branch. Aladdin Rugs is missed if just for its sign.

West side of Yonge, Elm Street to Walton Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Elm Walton

Several properties shown in this photo, the ones occupied by Simmons & Son Limited, Rose Hat Shop, Royal Chesterfield Co., Alter Furs and Milady Shoppe, are still standing today. In the photograph the building on the corner of Walton Street is undergoing an interior renovation by Displays Limited of Richmond Street.

West side of Yonge, Walton Street to Gerrard

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Walton Gerrard

Every one of the buildings in this short block between Walton Street and Gerrard are still standing today. The Novelty Hosiery Co., Ko's "Fancy Linens and Chinese Curios" and Checker Taxi are all worth zooming in for. The building cut off on the north (right) end of the block is a branch of the Dominion Bank.

West side of Yonge, north of Gerrard

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Gerrard North

This collection shows one of two S. S. Kresge Co. outlets on Yonge in 1950. A forerunner to Kmart, S. S. Kresge was one of the 20th century's best known retail stores. South of what used to be Eaton's College Street, Norday Ladies Wear and Charles' Restaurant have vanished; Bausch and Lomb Optical Co. lives on worldwide. The Aura College Park project, planned to be North America's tallest residential building, is under construction on the block.

West side of Yonge, Eaton's College Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Eatons

One of the most instantly recognisable buildings on our tour, Eaton's College Street was a monumental building that consumed an entire city block. What could have been even larger were it not for the Depression, Eaton's College Street was the flagship store of Canada's largest department store retailer T. Eaton Co. Limited before the building was converted into College Park. Among the buildings myriad features, the auditorium hosted concerts by Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Hogtown's own Glenn Gould. From here we cross Yonge and begin heading back south.

East side of Yonge, south of Carlton

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 South Carlton

This group of stores at Carlton Street, opposite Eaton's College Street, was home to the second of the two American S. S. Kresge stores crowding the Canadian retailer. This entire block has now been demolished but the awesome paint job on the sign of The Pagoda Chinese restaurant is worth checking out.

East side of Yonge, Granby Street to McGill Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 Granby McGill

Standing out among the anonymous stores on this block is Technocracy Inc., a base for a short-lived Depression-era social movement that advocated replacing politicians with scientists and engineers for the benefit of the economy. The group was banned for a short time in Canada over suspicions surrounding its ideology, a position perhaps not helped by its red and grey uniformed staff and their matching vehicles. The movement was all but dead by the time this picture was taken and the store looks abandoned. Eagle-eyed observers will be able to spot the faint reflection of the photographer, camera and tripod in the Technocracy window.

East side of Yonge, McGill Street to Gerrard

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 McGill to Gerrard

Two of these buildings, the one's containing Meriea's Beauty Salon, Lido Grill, Rideau Farms Marketeria, Open Hearth Grill and Kling's Jewellery, survive today but look a little worse for wear. Everything north (left) of the white Lido Grill building is now under the tower at 415 Yonge. Check out the "It's smarter not to drink" sign painted on the side of the Women's Christian Temperance Union building at 20 Gerrard Street made visible by the vacant lot on the south (right) end of the block.

East side of Yonge, south of Gerrard

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 South East Gerrard

This section of the street has a distinctly different flavour compared to the others, perhaps because it features most of the people captured in this series. The three workmen outside the Bermuda Tavern and the adult movie "Smart Girls Don't Talk" playing at the Rio Cinema are worth noticing. In spirit of tradition the building continues to play nudie pictures to 18+ crowds today. The buildings of Bassel's Lunch and Dominion Grill Restaurant survive too, while the Yonge Street Mission lives on in a different configuration on the same lot.

East side of Yonge, north of Gould Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 North Gould

Famous today as the former home of Sam the Record Man, this site has now been squished for the construction of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. The buildings of McDonald & Willson Lighting Studios Limited and Steele's Tavern were kept intact behind the massives Sam sign through the years as visible in the current Google Street View map of the site.

East side of Yonge, south of Gould Street

Yonge Street Stores Vintage 1950 South Gould

This last snippet shows the Edison Hotel/William Reynolds Block during happier times before the building's partial collapse and devastating fire last January. Le Coq d'Or "Fine Cuisine" Tavern/Olympia Bowling and Billiards is gone too, replaced by an HMV. We now complete our tour a few stores north of Yonge-Dundas Square.

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All pictures are from the Toronto Archives.


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