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The Daily Photoist: Canada Life Building 1932

CanadaLife_airship_archive.jpg
Once one of the tallest buildings in Toronto, the most marked characteristic of the Canada Life building today is the weather beacon with its cryptic code of flashing lights and colours. We were surprised to find, however, that the beacon feature located 100 metres from the ground was only added in 1951, and it had been originally built as a mooring point for airships—once viewed as the future of luxurious air travel until the rise of the passenger airplane and a series of airship accidents, including the infamous Hindenburg disaster in 1937.
Though the use of airships was waning by the time the Canada Life building was completed in 1931, they were still used for publicity flights, novelty exhibitions (pictured) and war purposes. Another photo of an airship hovering over the building’s contruction promised a bright future for Toronto as a global industrial leader, with more grandiose architecture planned for University Avenue. Sadly, most of these projects became casualties of the Great Depression, when the Canadian economy fell further than any other nation besides the United States.
UPDATE: We’ve let the cat out of the bag on this photo.

Comments

  • Diane

    I for one did know that the Canada Life tower was originally intended for use as a mooring mast, but I was under the impression that it was never used that way.
    Thanks for the enlightening photo!

  • Steve

    cool post.
    “Whoa, this dude is like, trying to teach me somethin’, he’s trying to make learning fun”

  • james a

    What’s the deal with those flashing lights? I know they are weather related, but I’ve never understood the meanings of the colours and blinkiness.. Can anyone enlighten?

  • SDS

    James, click on the link about the weather beacon in the entry. All the info’s there. :)

  • rek

    1) The world, or at least Toronto, would be a better place with more zepplins, air ships, and dirigibles in metro airspace. Perferably bathed with giant spotlights at night.
    2) I find the weather beacon useless, I’d rather they used the lights to tell the time. I believe there is such a tower in Hong Kong. Or how about have it alternate?

  • Ryan

    Most people already have access to the time via their wrist watch or cellphone. Few people carry barometers around with them. I think it’s good as it is.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Coloured light on top:
    Steady green = fair weather
    Red = cloudy skies
    White flashes = snow
    Red flashes = rain
    Lights on the tower:
    Lights running up = rising temperatures
    Lights running down = falling temperatures
    Steady lights = steady temperature

  • RK

    Yes – the world would be better off with more zepplins – esp those enticing you to to a better life “offworld”. : )

  • Adam Sobolak

    Two things:
    (1) Was the actual mooring mast structure short-lived? I seem to recall later pre-beacon Canada Life photos showing a simple flagpole on top.
    (2) Also interesting (and also short-lived?) is that Canada Life had a sign–I guess that was used as “historical evidence” to justify its more recent sign appendage…

  • rek

    The tower is only updated every 6 hours, and not everyone wears a watch and has a cell phone all the time. It would take very little to find a workable light pattern to tell time.

  • Gloria

    Thanks, Marc! I’ve always wondered; it’s a pretty logical system too, easy to remember.

  • Colin

    Any idea what the airship was called? Any numbers? I’d love to know where it came from, date of the photo?

  • Marc Lostracco

    Today we revealed the origin of this photo and our new feature. Many good-natured apologies, of course…