Frozen in Time: Ontario's Wintry Past

January 8, 2019 | Ann

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Enjoy these vintage images from Digital Archive Ontario, a website for finding historical photos, maps, postcards and rare books — all digitized by Toronto Public Library. 

Taking the lead, literally

Dog holding leash attached to sled with two small children

Brandy, a golden retriever, takes two children for a ride on their new tobogan after Christmas of 1989 in Lawrence Park, Toronto. What could be more charming? 

(Check out the history of dogsledding from The Canadian Encyclopedia.)


A "winter taxi"

Snowy street with a horse and carriage resting in front of buildint

Dated December 29, 1910, this picture shows a Jewel & Hinton's Cab Sleigh. The company operated in Ottawa in the early 1900s.

An enclosed sleigh is an exciting concept — to glide through the chilly winter wonderland... In reality, it might have been pretty cold to trek through the landscape for the horse and driver. Passengers would have covered themselves with blankets, fur apparel and warm muffs. Before central heating, winters in Ottawa were pretty unforgiving.


Fire and ice

Men and a dog in winter uniforms on horse drawn sled in winter time

In this photo circa 1910, members the Ottawa Fire Brigade are wearing identical well-buttoned coats and matching winter caps. Note the small white bulldog riding astride the big sled strapped down with fire hoses, all pulled by two strong horses. To recap: two horses, five men, one dog and a sleigh. It did not seem as though their equipment could successfully douse a large fire such as the Hull Ottawa Fire of 1900 a decade earlier, though. But these men (and their dog) appear very dedicated to the cause.

More historical information on the Ottawa Fire Department is available from The Old Ottawa South Community Association (OSCA) and Today in Ottawa's History


Earl Grey (not the tea!)

A winter scene near a gate  there is a four-horse drawn sleigh and other men on horses behind it

His Excellency Earl Grey rides in a sleigh at Rideau Hall, Ottawa in 1908. The Fourth Earl Grey in the picture was also the ninth Governor General of Canada. One other traveler and two guards are pulled by three glorious horses for prestige and show of importance.

When one hears "Earl Grey", the first image that comes to mind is a nice steaming cup of tea spiced with citrus peels and lemon grass that a particular fictitious starship captain enjoys. The Earl Grey Blended tea was named after the Second Earl Grey and British Prime Minister in the 1830s.


A painting, old and cold

Painting of a few houses sitting on a grey winter landscape

Behold Sturgeon Lake in Sturgeon, Ontario in 1858. The tranquil setting was captured by Sir Daniel Wilson, a talented artist, an "eclectic polymath" with many intellectual interests. Wilson took on the role as President of University College at the University of Toronto. In his final years, he became President of the University of Toronto.

During his time away from academia, he would relax with his paintbrush in areas like Kawartha Lake Region. Four years before his death, Wilson drew this lonely wintry scene. You can feel the stinging snow in the wind as he gently sketched this majestic scenery. The land appeared untouched by neither sleigh nor horse.

Enjoy the quiet ambiance of winter before the spring thaw and take a moment to contemplate all the winters of Ontario's past.