History Harbord Street Toronto

What Harbord Street used to look like in Toronto

Harbord may seem like an underwhelming street to give the historical photo treatment to, but when you consider its transformation from a mostly quiet residential street into a crucial passage through U of T and a bonafide business strip west of Spadina, there's more than enough intrigue in its past to warrant a closer look. Going back a century, Harbord was a narrow thoroughfare cutting between St. George and Ossington, anchored by Harbord Collegiate Institute in the west and the burgeoning U of T campus in the east. Street widening efforts in the early 1910s brought streetcars to the area and the first wave of commercial business, which has been preserved in the bustling stretch between Spadina and Bathurst streets.

Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, the area around St. George and Harbord — now a highly trafficked intersection with U of T students coming and going from one of the city's most notorious examples of Brutalist architecture, Robarts Library — was mostly residential in nature. A second wave of street widening in the late 1940s ushered in drastic changes to this stretch of Harbord, which culminated in the construction of the library in 1973.

Looking east from Spadina in 1944, the street bears almost no resemblance to its current state. Narrow and densely packed with trees, there's a sort of lazy quality about it that has been lost to the expansion of the university and the rise of large-scale buildings in the area. U of T has always had a gorgeous downtown campus, but it was really something back then. One wouldn't even consider walking around without leather patches on his suit jacket.

But U of T isn't, of course, the only prominent educational institution that graces Harbord Street. Both Central Tech and Harbord Collegiate have been staples since the western stretch of the street was still populated with farmland. Built in 1892, Harbord Collegiate was the first major building to be constructed on this section of the street. In honour of the school's hundredth anniversary, a group of alumni put together a sprawling history of the institution, which, despite dry moments, is certainly worth a skim. Also worthy of note regarding the school is just what a glorious building it used to housed in. What a roof!

Heading further west, one encounters a bit of (mostly) buried Harbord history. The Harbord Street Bridge was constructed in the early 1910s to span the remains of the Garrison creek. Unlike the Crawford Street Bridge, which was buried entirely, the north railing of the Harbord Bridge was left above ground, so as to mark the presence of the lost structure below. It's one of those small examples of Toronto history that's easy to miss if you don't know about it, but at least somewhat satisfying to know about as you pass over its remains.



Harbord between Spadina and Robert, 1899


Harbord Bridge under construction, 1910


Harbord Bridge nearing completion, 1910


Grace Street and Harbord Bridge in the distance, 1910


Harbord west from Spadina, 1911


Harbord looking west to Borden, 1911


Harbord looking west from Spadina, 1911


Spadina and Harbord, 1911


Intersection of Harbord, Hoskins and St. George, 1913


Harbord west of Spadina, 1913


Harbord and Palmerston, 1914


Harbord and Clinton, 1915


Central Technical School, 1920s


Harbord Collegiate, 1920s (wow, check out the roof)


Bathurst and Harbord, 1935


St. George and Harbord (pre-Robarts), 1944


Harbord and St. George, post-street widening, 1949


Looking south at the same intersection


Hoskin looking east from St. George, 1949


Hoskin looking east from Devonshire, 1949


Harbord and Spadina in the 1990s

Photos from the Toronto Archives

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