1958 Postcard

By Derek Boles, originally published January 14, 2010

The view along York Street, before the Gardiner Expressway


This 1958 view is looking north along York Street; the roadway in the foreground is Fleet Street, later renamed Lakeshore Boulevard. The grimy looking Royal York Hotel dominates the scene. To the right of it is the relatively pristine 400-room eastern extension of the hotel, which opened in February 1959 at a cost of $14 million. The tall building on the right is the 34-story Bank of Commerce building, from 1931 until 1967 the tallest skyscraper in the city. On the far right can be seen the cluster of skyscrapers at King and Yonge streets that were themselves Toronto’s loftiest structures in the first decades of the 20th century.

The modern building on the far left horizon is the 20-storey Lord Simcoe Hotel, opened in 1957 and named after John Graves Simcoe, considered the founder of Toronto. Local historians objected to the name since Simcoe had never been elevated to the peerage but the owners possessed other hotels named after lords and they wanted their Toronto hotel to be consistent with that brand. The hotel was closed in 1979 and demolished in 1980.

In the centre of this view are Union Station and its trainshed. To the south are the lead tracks to the Canadian Pacific Railway coach yards, filled with wine-red CPR heavyweight passenger cars. South of that is the Canadian National High Line, built so that freight trains could bypass Union Station and the CPR John Street Roundhouse. The York Street railway bridges carrying the High Line and the coach yard were demolished in 1995 and the underpass was reduced to about half its previous length.

The very dark building on the far left is the corner of the Central Heating Plant that provided steam heat to the Royal York, Union Station and several other buildings along Front Street and in the rail yards. When it opened in 1929, it was the largest such facility in Canada, producing 600 million pounds of steam heat a year. It was demolished in 1990. In the early 1960s, the Gardiner Expressway was built at this location on top of Fleet Street, which was then renamed.

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