toronto skyline

How much has Toronto changed in the last 25 years?

You might not have noticed, but Toronto has changed a lot since the 1990s. A collection of photos I posted just before Christmas underscored the point for me. Minus countless key landmarks, images of what should have been familiar locations looked bizarre and alien. The Distillery was still an abandoned industrial complex, Liberty Village was still a brownfields site in need of clean-up, and Yonge-Dundas Square didn't exist yet.

To illustrate the drastic change Toronto has undergone in the last twenty years, here are five comparisons of photos from the 1990s and today.

The Skyline

toronto skyline


In the mid-1990s, the Toronto skyline was still dominated by the bank buildings of the 1960s and 70s. A real estate downturn in the early part of the decade put the kibosh on several new buildings, including most famously the original Bay-Adelaide Centre, but things began to come good closer to the millenium. The last two decades have seen First Canadian Place, TD Centre, and Commerce Court crowded out by the Trump International Hotel, the Bay-Adelaide Centre, Shangri-La (to name only a few).

The Distillery District

toronto distillery 1990s


toronto distillery

Once the largest whiskey distillery in the world, the old Gooderham and Worts factory complex closed in the early 1990s and fell into dereliction. When this photo was taken, the cobblestoned streets and red-brick Victorian buildings were making occasional cameo roles in Hollywood movies (in 2000, the Distillery was a Polish concentration camp X-Men.) A developer bought and transformed the site in the early 2000s and the finished product was unveiled in May 2003.

Liberty Village

toronto prison chapel


toronto liberty village

Another dereliction to development story, the former industrial area near King and Strachan was once dominated by the manufacturing plants of the John Inglis Co. and Massey Harris Company. 20 years ago, before a real estate team dreamed up the the "Liberty Village" name, the area was a brownfields site in need of extensive remediation. Now the major challenge facing the neighbourhood is a lack of public transit options.

Roundhouse Park

toronto roundhouse park


toronto roundhouse park

One of the few conspicuous remnants of the once dense railway infrastructure south of Front, the old Canadian Pacific turntable and storage shed was given an extensive makeover in the 1990s. The photo above, taken looking southeast towards the foot of Yonge, shows the Air Canada Centre when it was still a Canada Post facility and, in the distance, the Gardiner. The area has been given a new lease on life thanks to Steam Whistle Brewing and the Toronto Railway Historical Association museum.

Yonge-Dundas Square

toronto yonge dundas square


toronto yonge dundas square

Toronto's answer to Times Square was created in 1998 by demolishing a cluster of buildings at the southeast corner of Yonge and Dundas. The entertainment complex on the north side of the street, previously known as Toronto Life Square, didn't arrive until 2007 when it replaced a three-storey retail building, a parking lot, and a neat piece of concrete public art. Today, the square claims to be the busiest in Canada.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: City of Toronto Archives, Michael Monastyrskyj, Ferit Onurlu, Olga S, Grant D, Jack Landau/blogTO Flickr pool.


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