A Peek at the Past
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A Peek at the Past

2007_02_06Visual_Legacy.jpg Are you a fan of municipal development and urban planning? Do you read Spacing (or at least say you do)? Then you should endeavor to visit A Visual Legacy: The City of Toronto’s Use of Photography, 1856-1997, an exhibition of images from the City of Toronto Archives.
The exhibit holds appeal to planners and history geeks alike simply because all images were taken specifically for administrative purposes, meaning that these shots aren’t pretty enough to end up as posters at some student centre Imaginus art show. As documents of specific moments in Toronto’s history, however, each photo has power.
The exhibition surveys 140 years of urban development and municipal initiatives. Marvel at surveyors’ photos showing your apartment looking unchanged since 1921. Look closer and discover there used to be dairy with horse-drawn delivery vans two doors down. Or take a long look at the image pictured above, which shows workers in 1917 constructing the Prince Edward Viaduct a.k.a. The Bloor Viaduct—a project that literally spanned the gap between West/Central Toronto with the East. These kinds of massive civic projects were monuments to both progress and workmanship, and you can almost see the bright and sunny future gleaming off the white stone of the deck arch bridge.
Now picture the Viaduct 90 years-on. Designed for automobiles, pedestrians, trains and trams, it has since been adapted to carrying the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Don’t forget to add the Luminous Veil. The view is different, but the Viaduct is still pretty cool.
The Archives show also features photos of visiting potentates, politicians, religious leaders and celebrities posing with past mayors and councillors, all with funny clothes and haircuts. But like fashion trends, architecture also has a good, bad and ugly side—see old structures that now wear different skins, temporary buildings that now seem permanent and monuments that were made to last now long-gone. Seriously, you could easily spend a whole afternoon time travelling through these images.
The exhibition opened January 27th and runs until September 22 at the City of Toronto Archives, 255 Spadina Ave. (if you’re taking TTC, exit the University subway line at Dupont Station and walk north).
Photo courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.