Phone Wallpapers for Toronto History Geeks (And Everyone Else)

July 22, 2022 | David

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Graphic showing three colourful pone wallpapers of buildings and park against old Toronto photo

Looking for Toronto-themed backgrounds for your phone? Here are 20 unique ones of old Toronto — from 1870 to 1950. There's a bit of history under each wallpaper, too.

We made them from our public domain photos, paintings, postcards and maps. The actual items are held in our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, one of the world's largest research collections of Canadian history. 

The full images are available on TPL's Digital Archive, a resource with over 175,000 digitized items from our collections. Feel free to explore and make your own wallpapers!

 

1. Don River (1870)

Evocative painting of river winding through nature with large building in distance

Download "Don River" wallpaper (JPG)

In this scene — near where Castle Frank Station is today, looking southeast — you can spot Don Jail. While no longer used as a jail, it's one of the few Toronto buildings that still stand from before Canadian Confederation in 1867. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

2. Todmorden Mills (1880)

Peaceful painting of building with a stack in forested area and logs

Download "Todmorden Mills" wallpaper (JPG)

Now a heritage site, this colonial development started with a sawmill in the 1790s. Other facilities were added, and it became known as Don Mills — and later Todmorden Mills. Its paper mill was the first in Upper Canada to produce machine-made paper. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

3. Vintage Toronto Map (1888)

Portion of old worn map of what is now downtownToronto

Download "Vintage Toronto Map" wallpaper (JPG)

Toronto is situated on Indigenous land and Dish with One Spoon territory. This is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

4. Inside Massey Hall (Approximately 1894)

Inside ornate vintage building with instruments on stage and empty chairs

Download "Inside Massey Hall" wallpaper (JPG)

Opened in 1894, this iconic venue was known as Massey Music Hall up to 1933. Built at the behest of industrialist Hart Massey, it was a gift to the City of Toronto in memory of his late son. The project was meant promote music, education, good citizenship, philanthropy and patriotism (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

5. Temple Building (1896)

Large red orange building rendered in illustration with people and horse carriages walking by

Download "Temple Building" wallpaper (JPG)

The Temple Building (1895–1970) was commissioned by Oronhyatekha, a Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) businessman and the second Indigenous person in Canada to earn a medical degree. It was the headquarters for the International Order of Foresters, led by Oronhyatekha. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

6. Swansea Golf Links (1900)

Vintage photo of woman in long dress swinging golf club in open land

Download "Swansea Golf Links" wallpaper (JPG)

Golf was first brought to Canada by early Scottish immigrants. The Toronto Golf Club was established in 1876. While women were involved in club social events, it often proved difficult for them to access tee times and practice facilities. In 1924, the Toronto Ladies’ Golf Club Ltd. was established in Thornhill. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

7. Scarborough Bluffs in Moonlight (1908)

Postcard of night with glowing moon and large land mass jutting up by water

Download "Scarborough Bluff in Moonlight" wallpaper (JPG)

Did you know that the name "Scarborough" was inspired by this natural landmark? Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, gave Scarborough its name as it reminded her of cliffs in Scarborough, England. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

8. Toronto Harbour Construction (Approximately 1910)

Colourful illustration of long large floating structure running along the short with men building on it

Download "Toronto Harbour Construction" wallpaper (JPG)

From Waterfront Toronto: "In the 1850s, a massive campaign of lake-filling was undertaken to expand the shore land south to the Esplanade. For the next hundred years, the shore was extended farther and farther south." (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

9. Woodbine Race Track (Approximately 1910)

Vintage photo of women in fancy attire spectating outside

Download "Woodbine Race Track" wallpaper (JPG)

In 1875, the Woodbine Riding and Driving Park opened to the public. It featured a trotting and running track on Ashbridge’s Bay. It was renamed the Greenwood Raceway in 1963 to avoid confusion with newly built Woodbine Racetrack in Rexdale. It was demolished in 1994. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

10. Streetcars on Yonge Street (Approximately 1911)

Vintage sepia photo of Streetcars  On Yonge Street

Download "Streetcars on Yonge Street" wallpaper (JPG)

Toronto’s first electric streetcars date back to 1892. Before then, streetcars were pulled by horses — a service that ended in 1894. Electric streetcars were less costly and were able to travel across areas with greater inclines. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

11. Gibraltar Point Lighthouse (1911)

Bright painting with Union Jack flag

Download "Gibraltar Point Lighthouse" wallpaper (JPG)

Completed in 1808, this lighthouse on Centre Island has a long history. Today, it is the oldest existing lighthouse on the Great Lakes. No longer used for its original purpose, the building occasionally opens for tours. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

12. Hanlan's Point Stadium (Approximately 1911)

Faded sepia photo of crowd of spectators near shore looking at baseball pitch

Download "Hanlan's Point Stadium" wallpaper (JPG)

Famous baseball player Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in this stadium on Toronto Island. That game was September 4, 1914. At the time, Toronto's baseball team was called the Maple Leafs. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

13. Yonge Street at Night (1912)

Brightly lit long street running through dark city with a few billboards

Download "Yonge Street at Night" wallpaper (JPG)

Yonge Street is the city’s gathering place for parades, street performances, festivals and protests. The street was named by Ontario’s first colonial administrator, John Graves Simcoe. He named it for his friend Sir George Yonge, an expert on ancient Roman roads. Ironically, Yonge never visited Canada. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

14. Packaging Soap in Leslieville (1919)

Long table packed with women wrapping bars of soap and big boxes packed with those bars of soap

Download "Packaging Soap in Leslieville" wallpaper (JPG)

Here's a peek into a facility for consumer goods company, Colgate-Palmolive. This location was at Colgate Avenue and Carlaw Street. At the start of the 20th century, Palmolive was the world's bestselling soap. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

15. Central Library (Approximately 1920)

Vintage interior of library with many reading tables full of people sitting and reading in wooden chairs

Download "Central Library" wallpaper (JPG)

Opened in 1909, this flagship location for Toronto Public Library is now home to University of Toronto's bookstore. The Chief Librarian at the time described the Reading Room as "perhaps the most handsome large room in the city, dignified in its architecture and eminently adapted to its purpose." (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

16. Inside the ROM (1924)

Vintage photo of old museum with cabinets full of artifacts

Download "Inside the ROM" wallpaper (JPG)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opened its doors to the public in 1914. It was originally five different museums, each with its own focus — archaeology, geology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. They were amalgamated in 1955. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

17. Kensington Market Orange Cart (1924)

Vintage photo of people around a large wooden cart with goods

Download "Kensington Market Orange Cart" wallpaper (JPG)

This cart was part of the weekly market held on Thursdays at the time. Kensington Market went on to change from a largely Jewish merchant community in the 1940s to a thriving multicultural community hub in the 1990s. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

18. CNE Fountain (Approximately 1928)

Evocative painting showing people gathering near large fountain in forest area

Download "CNE Fountain" wallpaper (JPG)

"Meet me at the fountain" used to be a common saying at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Gooderham Fountain was built in 1911. At that time, the fair was known as "Canada's Great Industrial Fair" — its name changed in 1912. The fountain was removed in 1958. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

19. Downtown Toronto (Approximately 1933)

Aerial view of vintage downtown Toronto with only a few tall buildings

Download "Downtown Toronto" wallpaper (JPG)

For decades, the Bank of Commerce Building (centre right) was the tallest structure in Toronto — standing 34-storeys tall. Located at 25 King Street West, it was incorporated into what is now Commerce Court. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

 

20. Ossington Avenue (1950)

Painterly view of snowy empty street with a tower an powerlines nearby

Download "Ossington Avenue" wallpaper (JPG)

This watercolour painting shows Ossington Avenue looking south from Queen Street West. It's yet another piece of documentary art in our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana. (See full image on Digital Archive.)

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