Postcards from Toronto, then and now

A mailing my mother-in-law sent to her mother in 1947 joined us on our recent trip to Canada's largest city.
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In May, my wife, Sara, was going through boxes of photos that have languished for years in our basement.

Among the treasure trove of memories she found a fold-out postcard from Toronto, a color drawing of city hall on the cover and 20 other buildings and attractions on the inside.

The postcard was dated July 21, 1947, and sent from 18-year-old Dolores Olive to her mother, Josephine.

I knew her as Dolores Sides. She was Sara’s mother.

“We have been to see practically everything on these cards,” Dolores began her cursive missive to her mom.

She continued, her youthful excitement palpable:

“Today we went shopping and there are 2 stores that are so big you almost lose yourself in them. We went up to the 7th floor on escalators.”

Finding the postcard was a wonderful coincidence, as we were planning a mid-June trip to Canada’s largest city.

A city we love

I first visited Toronto on a day trip with two of my sisters in fall 1985, when I was a freshman at the University of Rochester. Sara and I have travelled there three times with our kids.

In previous blog posts, I’ve chronicled how the 2004 trip helped end the “Curse of the Bambino,” and expressed my love of Canada in general.

But it was especially intriguing to travel to Toronto this time with the postcard in tow, imagining how this city that we have grown to know and love has changed in the 69 years since Dolores slapped a 4-cent stamp on the postcard and mailed it to Hershey.

No matter where you travel in Toronto, the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, is almost always visible. But in 1947, its opening was still 29 years hence; the tower opened the same year that the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team played its first game.

Of course, some of the postcard sights remain vital parts of Toronto’s appeal: Royal York Hotel, where we stayed in 2012; across Front Street from the hotel, Union Station, which is in the midst of a years-long renovation; the castle Casa Loma.

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Royal York Hotel in postcard form, circa 1947.

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The hotel as it looks in 2016.

Other sights have been eclipsed as tourist draws (parliament building, which we have never knowingly passed) or lost altogether (the art deco Toronto Star building, said to be the model for the Daily Planet in “Superman,” razed in 1972).

The Canadian brand

Part of the appeal of Toronto is being in another country – but one that isn’t all that different from the United States.

Of course, that works both ways. Just as I am appalled by anything that bears the name or imagery of America without being made here, so do I feel protective of the Canadian brand.

At Roots and Hudson’s Bay, each an iconic Canadian retailer with ties to that country’s Olympic teams, this year I found a Canada-branded T-shirt and hat, respectively, made in China.

Vous aussi, Canada?

If you’re looking for genuine Made in Canada items, try the Harbourfront Centre Shop.

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A sales clerk touted Roots’ Toronto leather factory, but this maple leaf-emblazoned T-shirt is made in China.

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Tag on a ballcap sold by Hudson’s Bay, official outfitter of Team Canada.

But there’s much in Toronto that is authentically Canadian.

Toronto is home to one of the coolest adaptive reuse projects I’ve ever seen: The old Maple Leaf Gardens, on the northwest side of downtown. Once the home of the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s still a hockey arena. And a supermarket. And a liquor store.

It’s just that what used to be center ice is now Aisle 25 of Loblaws, an 85,000-square-foot supermarket that includes an 18-foot cheese wall. The ice rink, home to the men’s and women’s teams of Ryerson University, is now on the third floor but still beneath the Gardens’ magnificent domed ceiling.

Maple Leaf Gardens opened five years before Hersheypark Arena

Maple Leaf Gardens opened five years before Hersheypark Arena

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The red circle in Aisle 25 marks where center ice used to be.

Dolores wrote to her mother about having been to the 64,700-square-foot, 98-room residence Casa Loma. In 1937, the year Dolores was in Toronto, Casa Loma was leased to the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto, to operate (presumably for the first time) as a tourist attraction. Tours cost 25 cents.

“It’s really beautiful outside,” Dolores wrote. “We haven’t been inside yet but we’ll get there.”

I’m pretty sure she did. I recall her telling me about attending a dance there.

Looking more closely at the 20 postcards upon writing this, I was prompted to research some of the sights that I’ve missed. For instance, there’s the Princes’ Gates, which Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) opened at the 1927 Canadian National Exhibition.

Toronto is only a seven-hour drive from home.

We’ll get there again.

 

 

 

 

 

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