Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Harbord Street used to look like in Toronto

History Harbord Street Toronto
Harbord may seem like an underwhelming street to give the historical photo treatment to, but when you consider its transformation from a mostly quiet residential street into a crucial passage through U of T and a bonafide business strip west of Spadina, there's more than enough intrigue in its past to warrant a closer look. Going back a century, Harbord was a narrow thoroughfare cutting between St.
George and Ossington, anchored by Harbord Collegiate Institute in the west and the burgeoning U of T campus in the east. Street widening efforts in the early 1910s brought streetcars to the area and the first wave of commercial business, which has been preserved in the bustling stretch between Spadina and Bathurst streets.

Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, the area around St. George and Harbord — now a highly trafficked intersection with U of T students coming and going from one of the city's most notorious examples of Brutalist architecture, Robarts Library — was mostly residential in nature. A second wave of street widening in the late 1940s ushered in drastic changes to this stretch of Harbord, which culminated in the construction of the library in 1973.

Looking east from Spadina in 1944, the street bears almost no resemblance to its current state. Narrow and densely packed with trees, there's a sort of lazy quality about it that has been lost to the expansion of the university and the rise of large-scale buildings in the area. U of T has always had a gorgeous downtown campus, but it was really something back then. One wouldn't even consider walking around without leather patches on his suit jacket.

But U of T isn't, of course, the only prominent educational institution that graces Harbord Street. Both Central Tech and Harbord Collegiate have been staples since the western stretch of the street was still populated with farmland. Built in 1892, Harbord Collegiate was the first major building to be constructed on this section of the street. In honour of the school's hundredth anniversary, a group of alumni put together a sprawling history of the institution, which, despite dry moments, is certainly worth a skim. Also worthy of note regarding the school is just what a glorious building it used to housed in. What a roof!

Heading a bit further west, one encounters a bit of (mostly) buried Harbord history. The Harbord Street Bridge was constructed in the early 1910s to span the remains of the Garrison creek. Unlike the Crawford Street Bridge, which was buried entirely, the north railing of the Harbord Bridge was left above ground, so as to mark the presence of the lost structure below. It's one of those small examples of Toronto history that's easy to miss if you don't know about it, but at least somewhat satisfying to know about as you pass over it.

Harbord between Spadina and Robert, 1899
Harbord Bridge under construction, 1910
Harbord Bridge nearing completion, 1910
Grace Street and Harbord Bridge in the distance, 1910
Harbord west from Spadina, 1911
Harbord looking west to Borden, 1911
Harbord looking west from Spadina, 1911
Spadina and Harbord, 1911
2012124-harbord-hoskins-st-george-1913-s0372_ss0100_it0190.jpgIntersection of Harbord, Hoskins and St. George, 1913
Harbord west of Spadina, 1913
Harbord and Palmerston, 1914
Harbord and Clinton, 1915
Central Technical School, 1920s
Harbord Collegiate, 1920s (wow, check out the roof)
Bathurst and Harbord, 1935
St. George and Harbord (pre-Robarts), 1944
Harbord and St. George, post-street widening, 1949
Looking south at the same intersection
Harbord and Spadina in the 1990s
Photos from the Toronto Archives

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