11 Vintage Crowd Photos in Toronto that Now Seem Otherworldly

February 19, 2021 | David

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Below are old photos of big crowds in Toronto — and some trivia about each scene. The images are from TPL's Digital Archive, our database of over 170,000 historical photos, books, maps and more.

The idea for this post came from a coworker's reaction to a photo of a crowd cheering on a royal tour in 1939. She commented that there is something about crowd photos that is really powerful right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These photos are indeed powerful. I wonder, does this power come from a new association of crowds with fear? A longing for communal gatherings? Something else?

 

Labour Day at the CNE (1923)

Admist the many fairgoers, you can spot the Gooderham Fountain. It was built in 1911 and removed in 1958. At the time the fountain was constructed, the Canadian National Exhibition was known as "Canada's Great Industrial Fair" — its name changed the following year, in 1912. (Learn more about the fountain.)

 

George Young celebrations (1927)

A massive crowd gathered at Old City Hall to celebrate Canadian swimmer George Young. He was the first winner of a competition held by William Wrigley Jr. (of chewing gum fame) to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. It took Young over 15 hours to complete the much-publicized swim. (Learn more about the competition.)

 

The King and Queen of England tour Toronto (1939)

Onlookers packed the street outside of the Old Toronto Star Building for the royal tour of 1939. This was the first royal tour across Canada, lasting from May 17, 1939 to June 15, 1939 — two years almost to the exact day of King George VI's coronation, and only three months before Germany invaded Poland. (See more photos of the tour.)

 

John Inglis and Company (1943)

Workers of John Inglis and Company, along with government officials, celebrated their 100,000th Bren machine gun. Many of these guns were manufactured for China. The caption in the Toronto Star notes that "[e]very mention of China's war effort was greeted with tremendous applause." (Learn about the Inglis company's history.)

 

Sunnyside outdoor pool (1945)

When it opened in 1925, the Sunnyside pool (part of Sunnyside Amusement Park) was reportedly the world’s largest outdoor public swimming pool. It opened a few years after the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion, which was designed as a changing station for Lake Ontario swimmers. (Learn more about Sunnyside Amusement Park.)

 

Crowd welcoming home figure skating champion (1948)

Thousands of Torontonians gathered for a glimpse of Ontario figure skater Barbara Ann Scott. During the 1948 season, she won three high-profile competitions: Canadian Figure Skating Championship, European Skating Championship and World Figure Skating Championships. (Learn more about Barbara Ann Scott.)

 

Yorkdale Shopping Centre (1965)

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson spoke to a jam-packed audience in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre during the election year of 1965. The North York mall opened in 1964 — it was the world's largest enclosed mall at the time. (Learn more about the mall's history.)

 

Rock concert in Nathan Philips Square (1970)

An estimated 6,000 music lovers filled Nathan Philips Square for a free concert by the band Lighthouse. (This photo shows their warm-up act.) According to the City of Toronto website, over 1.5 million attended events each year in the square before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Learn about the different parts of Nathan Philips Square.) 

 

New Year's Eve at Ontario Place (1972)

Around 700 revelers celebrated New Year's Eve at Ontario Place. Festivities included a screening of the documentary North of Superior, a turkey and lobster buffet, dancing and, yes, balloons! (See more vintage images of Ontario Place.)

 

Concert in High Park (1974)

The crowd at this outdoor concert in High Park was estimated to be about 40,000. The six hour concert also had a heavy police presence — nearly 50 visitors were charged. Others were treated for drug overdoses, as well as injuries caused by falling out of trees. (Learn more about High Park's history.)

 

Waiting to return from Centre Island (1980)

This huge crowd of picnickers waited to return by ferry from Centre Island, some of them waiting up to three hours. Did you know that Centre Island was the main location of the first Caribana festival in 1967? (Learn more about the Toronto Caribbean Carnival's beginnings.) 

 


 

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