This fascinating photo from the mid-1970s depicts an urban space that no longer exists, at least not in this form. This is the Yonge Street Mall, right in the heart of Toronto, Ontario, on one of the city's most busy and most iconic streets. Though Yonge Street and this area have been important in the history of Toronto since literally its beginning, it was only for a brief time in the 1970s that a portion of the street was blocked off from vehicular traffic and turned into a pedestrian mall. This photo, taken in August 1975, shows what it looked like. I believe this is at Yonge & Dundas Street. Several landmarks are shown here, including record stores A&A and "Sam the Record Man," as well as Fran's Restaurant, which are no longer there. Fran's of course still exists--it's a famous chain in Toronto--but this particular restaurant, opened originally in 1960, closed in 1984.
As with anything in the 1970s, the hairstyles, clothes and look of the time period are fascinating to look at. If you look closely at the pedestrians at the bottom of the picture you can see some groovy sideburns and hairstyles that would get big laughs today. Yet there's something very grounding and appealing about the '70s that other fairly recent decades seem to lack. Maybe it's the music, or false nostalgia for a time that really wasn't the way we assume it was, who knows.
Yonge Street's history is as long as the street itself. Originally laid out in 1794, as the British were essentially reorganizing their Canadian holdings in the wake of the American Revolution that had robbed them of the bulk of their North American possessions, the street has long served military, industrial, logistical and social uses that have ebbed and flowed over the two centuries of Toronto's history. I fondly remember walking this street when I first visited Toronto in 2007, and I probably (unknowingly) crossed the exact place where this photo was taken. Below is a Google Earth street view shot of what I believe is the same area. It doesn't seem to have quite the same charm as it did 48 years ago.
Modern cities are layer cakes of history. Sometimes streets, sidewalks, lampposts, sewer drain covers or other such mundane things can be testaments to a vanished past. That's why I love pictures like this and feature them frequently on this blog.
The 1975 photo of the Yonge Street Mall is by Flickr user Robert Taylor and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license.
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