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A walk down memory lane in the St. Lawrence Market

I recently got lost looking through the Toronto Archives for old photos of my neighborhood. I’ve blogged about what the St. Lawrence Market neighborhood looked like in the 70s, but I wanted to go back even further. I wanted to see what exactly had been demolished and lost over the years.

But by the end of it, I was just sad. As a lover of cities, it always makes me upset to see great buildings disappear. I think you too will be surprised at what I found.

The following picture depicts the north side of Front Street East, about 2 blocks east of Yonge Street. I don’t know what year it is, but look at how stunning these buildings are. It looks like Soho, New York meets some glamorous European capital.

Can you imagine what we could do with these buildings today?

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If there’s any doubt in your mind that this is Toronto or that it’s Front Street East, take a look at the spire in the far left hand side of the picture. It belongs to the Toronto Board of Trade Building, which used to sit at the north east corner of Yonge Street and Front Street. When it was built in the late 1800s, it was considered one of the first “skyscrapers” in Toronto. It was demolished in the 1950s.

Here’s a picture of the Board of Trade Building so that you can compare. Again, take a look at the spire.

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For those of you who might not be familiar with the area, here’s a map to help you out. The Board of Trade Building is shown on the bottom left hand corner. And the buildings in the first picture are in the triangular land area between Wellington and Front.

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Now, let’s fast forward to the late 1960s. Those same buildings shown in picture number one have been demolished and in their place is the following parking lot. It’s a bit less glamorous looking. There are still heritage buildings on the south side of Front Street, but the balance of the area seems to have been blown out. What a shame.

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Finally, here’s an aerial view of the area. It’s also from the late 1960s or early 1970s. You can see the same triangular land area, with only the Flatiron Building still standing at the very tip of it.

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Obviously the St. Lawrence Market has come a long way since the 70s. That triangular area has since become Berczy Park, which is actually in the midst of being completely revitalized, and all of those parking lots have been filled in. But I still can’t help but wonder what the neighborhood would be like today had we preserved all of those heritage buildings. 

I think cities work best when you can figure out that delicate balance between preservation and progress. It’s not always the simplest approach, but as most things in life, the right decisions are often the toughest ones to make.

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