Historicist: Bloor and Spadina '76
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Historicist: Bloor and Spadina ’76

Every Saturday at noon, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

Karabanow Tourist Home and the parking lot next to Spadina subway station, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8700.

Who’s up for a walk, even if means never leaving your computer? Admit it, you’ve taken a “stroll” or “drive” through locales familiar and alien on Google Maps and not noticed the time at the bottom of your screen. But what if you could glide down a street from the distant past online? Though we can’t send a Google car back through time, you can come close to that futuristic experience with some of the historical photo sets available at the City of Toronto Archives. Today’s time-warped stroll revolves around a series of photos shot at Bloor and Spadina in 1976 by Alexandra Studio for the Subway Property Committee, presumably to figure out how the construction of the Spadina subway line would affect the neighbourhood.

Scouts Canada building, Bloor Street West at Madison Avenue, northwest corner, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8658.

Our walk begins at the corner of Bloor Street and Madison Avenue, which housed the offices of Scouts Canada. Apart from more foliage and a different tenant (the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association), the exterior of 316 Bloor Street West has changed little over the decades.

Row of stores, Bloor Street West, north side, between Spadina Road and Madison Avenue, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8660.

Walking west, you’ll notice the neighbouring row of businesses also retains its basic look, even if the tenant mix has changed. Make any jokes you want about Pizza Pizza occupying the current home of Noah’s Natural Foods.

Varsity Restaurant, 328 Bloor Street West, north side, east of Spadina Road, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8661.

Pizza Pizza’s current location a few doors west, and the most altered exterior in the row, was the home of the Varsity Restaurant. The diner had been in operation since at least the early 1940s and had undergone at least one renovation circa 1970. We weren’t able to find any opinions on how good the food was—guides to Toronto dining skipped the spot, while newspapers only provide a steady stream of classifieds looking for wait staff. The Varsity did figure, in a 1989 Star challenge, to see if three students could survive a weekend with only forty dollars to spend. Over the course of the twenty-four hours it took U of T biochemistry student Luis Del Pozo to blow his wad, six dollars provided him with a cheeseburger, fries, and beer at the restaurant, which he felt was a “dive of a diner and a real student hangout.”

Scotiabank, Bloor Street West at Spadina Road, northeast corner, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8662.

At the northeast corner of Bloor and Spadina, Scotiabank looks bare without the present-day row of scruffy newspaper boxes. Note the heavier reliance on words over pictures on the turn and bus stop signage.

Spadina subway station, Spadina Road, east side, north of Bloor Street West, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8662.

As we head north on Spadina Road, you’ll notice that pedestrians had a longer hike to the entrance of Spadina subway station. The bus loop that brought the station’s gateway closer to the street was a few years away, so the space was used for parking. Work on both of Spadina’s stations wasn’t finished when the new line opened in January 1978—the Globe and Mail reported that “the directional signs seemed to have been made by workmen with red crayon. And once the riders got turned in the right direction, they were in for another surprise: the new station is a long way from Bloor Street.”

9 Spadina Road, east side, north of Bloor Street West, Karabanow Tourist Home, front, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8704.

Next to the lot was one of Spadina Road’s oldest structures. When the double house at 9 and 11 Spadina Road was built in 1889, it was the second dwelling to go up along the east side of the street. As Patricia McHugh points out in her book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, “It is in the tradition of symmetrical Bay-n-Gables built in older parts of town, with only elaborate wooden balconies to mark it as part of the Queen Anne fancy so inimitably associated with the Annex.” By the 1950s, the houses passed into the hands of Olga Karabanow, who ran them as a guest house for visiting tourists, professors, and university students for four decades.
1976 was not a happy year for Karabanow. Subway construction annoyed her guests and tenants through constant noise and periodic inconveniences. The peak of her aggravation came in April, when excavations to build the walkway to the new Lowther station (as the new line’s Spadina station was still referred to at this point) isolated her business from the rest of the street—”how would you like to live on an island?” she told the Star. Workers had chopped up her sidewalk and driveway, ripped up most of the lawn, and left only a few narrow plywood planks as access. Karabanow’s complaints led to visits by TTC general manager Michael Warren, Toronto fire chief Charles Chambers and local alderman Ying Hope. All agreed that the contractors were too zealous in isolating the property, even if it ultimately did play a part in the TTC’s aim of preserving historic properties along Spadina Road. While Karabanow feared her business would be ruined, it carried on and received several glowing notices in local newspapers that pointed out her efforts to provide helpful information to guests about the neighbourhood. After her death in the early 1990s, the homes were sold, with 9 Spadina continuing to operate as a guest house.

8 Spadina Road, west side, north of Bloor Street West, front, Olivetti Underwood Central Branch, 1976. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8694.

Across the street, next to the west side subway entrance, was another building spotlighted in McHugh’s book. Built in 1953, 8 Spadina Road was originally constructed by John B. Parkin for the McColl-Frontenac Oil Company (the forerunner of Texaco Canada). McHugh notes that “this two-storey box was one of Toronto’s—indeed Canada’s—first International Style buildings. Extremely plain and clad in glassy white brick with virtually zero detailing, it shows the early zeal with which the Parkin firm carried the less-is-more message to Canada.” By 1976, the building was home to a branch office of calculator/typewriter manufacturer Olivetti Underwood. “Less-is-more” didn’t save this structure in the long run, as the site is currently occupied by residences along Annex Lane.
Additional material from Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, Second Edition by Patricia McHugh (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989), and the following newspapers: the January 30, 1978 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the April 25, 1970, April 27, 1976, and January 13, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.