Today we take more photos than ever before. But fifty years ago, photography was much less common. Even rarer were photos of ordinary parts of cities. One exception to this were the photos taken by streetcar enthusiasts. In an attempt to capture these vehicles on film, they ventured into urban neighbourhoods, distant suburbs and gritty industrial districts in big cities and small towns. While doing this, they unintentionally recorded the buildings, activities and day-to-day life of these places the way no one else did.
Their photos offer a power record of how cities have changed. Far from being confined to the world of nostalgia, they portray urban life and cities that are very different today. They show us a unique insight into a world before suburbanization, deindustrialization, superhighways, and the rise of shopping malls. They help us to understand the impact that big shifts in society have had on buildings, businesses, neighbourhoods and daily urban life.
Toronto has North America’s largest streetcar network and is one of the few cities to have retained this mode of transport after World War II. As a result, there are many photos which uniquely captured the city in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In Streetcars and the Changing Geography of Toronto, we will use many of these photos and update them with contemporary images taken at the exact same locations. This side-by-side format will dramatically show the ways in which Toronto has developed and changed over the decades.
The aim of our book is to allow readers to better understand how Toronto has changed and why by visually comparing historic and contemporary images of different parts of the city. A second aim is to build bridges between academic research and a city whose residents desire to know more about why Toronto is the way it is, how it has changed and where it is going.
More than just a photo book, Streetcars and the Changing Geography of Toronto will employ visual methodologies, combined with descriptive and analytical chapters which will place the images into the context of both Toronto’s changing geography and wider national and global trends.
Click on the photo gallery below for a sample of some of the images in our collection. We express our gratitude to the streetcar photographers who have provided us with historic images, or allowed us to use their photos as part of this project.