Mobility and Geography
In the first decade of the twentieth century Torontonians were enlisted in a debate on the future shape of their city. The Guild of Civic Art, a collection of architects, artists, town planners and social reformers organized to design and propose a town plan. The group saw the need to develop recreational areas for children, to protect pockets of nature and to provide easy access between downtown and outer districts through an efficient road network.
The Guild’s town plan acknowledged the power of cars, electric streetcars and radial train lines to shrink space. City residents could move with ease from the environment of uniform buildings, straight lines and hard surfaces to river valleys, lakeside cliffs and beaches. The new version of Toronto, from the new vantage points being enjoyed by its residents had permeable borders, was ever-expanding and encompassed diverse landscapes.
IN THE COOL SHADE OF A VERDANT HILLSIDE An attractive spot in the Rosedale Ravine. The roads and paths wind in and out amongst the thick-set trees. The World July 31910 p. 5
A speech by Mr. Byron E. Walker, General Manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce at the 1906 Annual Dinner of the Ontario Association of Architects was an impassioned plea for the municipal government to purchase property in the city outskirts for parks. He emphasized that access to views was essential so that Torontonians could know their local geography and so take pride in where they lived.
The Mayor seemed to think there would be some difficulty in buying, for instance, the banks of the Humber. …So far as the city is concerned we can remember the time when it was perhaps a third of its present size, and the general impression most people had of Toronto was that was an unusually uninteresting place. It was not exactly flat, but a flat slope. Now that it has grown larger and by means of street cars we can reach the Humber and the Don and the Rosedale valleys, we realize that it is not by nature an ugly place at all, but that it is by nature a beautiful place…. We can have with as little expense as any city of the same size a wonderful investment of parks. The Canadian Architect and Builder, v.19 (1906) n.2. 19
A RARE BEAUTY SPOT IN RESERVOIR PARK Nature and the landscape gardener have combined to fill Reservoir Park with beautiful spots like this. If you have not discovered them, take a Yonge street car north and do so. The Toronto Star Weekly, Sept. 7, 1912 John Boyd Sr., City of Toronto Archives,Fonds 1548 Series 393
Traded, mailed and collected, postcards helped to create an iconography of scenic views identified with Toronto.
Scarboro Bluffs near Toronto ANOTHER VIEW OF SCARBORO HEIGHTS This is another new photograph of the Bluffs, looking out on the lake, showing the extraordinary formations of these huge masses of clay. In a picture of this size a man standing on the cliff would appear little more than a mere speck. John Boyd, The Star, Dec. 28, 1912
William James and other such notable press photographers as John Boyd fed public appetite for pictorial views of districts around Toronto. The circulation of these in weekend newspaper supplements and postcards helped the Guild’s lobby for buying park land.
As “motoring” began to overtake water and rail travel in popularity, scenic landscaped drives were appreciated for the way they wove natural beauty into the fabric of the city. Negotiations with subdivision developer Home Smith proposed the exchange of land along the Humber for the extension of city services to his subdivision. The focus of the new river-focused park was to be a riverside drive.
THE BEAUTIFUL BEND IN THE HUMBER AT BLOOR STREET, One of the prettiest spots on the Humber River is the valley in which lies the much-discussed property of Mr. Home Smith's syndicate. The Star, Oct. 12, 1912
THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE ONTARIO MOTOR LEAGUE AT THE KING EDWARD HOTEL Motorists from all parts of the Province in session at the annual general meeting of the Ontario Motor League, held at the King Edward Hotel, Toronto on Monday every January 20. ...In the foreground is Mrs. Shales of Danforth avenue, the solitary representative of her sex and who took part in the discussion of the proposal made by Mr. George Gooderham M.I. A. that all drivers of vehicles should be licensed. The Star, January 25, 1913 p. 3
NORTH YONGE STREET AS IT IS FREQUENTLY THRONGED WITH MOTORISTS. The roads through North Toronto are about as bad as can be found in the civilized world, but beyond motorists strike a fine smooth highway running on for several miles. Yonge street now is traveled by many Toronto autoists when they take a spin to the country, but when the North Toronto road is improved it will be ten times as popular. The Star, Aug. 30, 1913
ONTARIO'S FIRST ROADHOUSE INN ...sign of The Blue Dragon Inn at Clarkson, recently opened at a great favourite of Toronto motorists. It is modeled on the English plan and is the first real roadhouse in the province. The Star, Dec. 6, 1913
COUNTRY RAMBLING IN A SIDE CAR A Toronto motorcyclist helping himself to some apples while on a jaunt in the country. The rapid growth in popularity of the motor cycle sidecar is quite astonishing. The Star, November 22, 1913 p. 22
HOW THE COUNTRY ROADS LOOK IN SPRING Motorcyclists splashing through the mud at the bridge at Lambton Mills. There is mud in the country long after city roads dry up. The Star May 9, 1914, p. 7
Toronto Motor League's Fresh Air Fund excursion to take city children on a country drive, The Star June, 25, 1913
The country road was not just a route somewhere, it was a destination in itself. The rural fields and woods unfolded before the windshield at a moving-picture pace offering new horizons with each curve of the road.
Country roads offered the spectacle of the seasons and contact with the agricultural world left behind by many city residents.
A SCENE OF HOMELY BEAUTY, This photograph, taken in York county, has about it the genuine atmosphere of autumn and also of Old Ontario where many Torontonians spent their childhood. The Star, Nov. 12, 1912
The symbolic importance of country roads influenced the landscaping of highways. Already in 1897 Provincial Road Commissioner Archibald W. Campbell advocated for the “artistic treatment of roads”. The goal was to offer the spectacle of nature in the form of borders maintained to best effect by maintenance crews. The sight would edify travelers and foster in them the proper civic impulse to beautify of their own environments.
The jewel in the crown of Toronto parks was High Park. Architect and city surveyor John Howard developed his grounds with an eye to passing it on to the public and in 1876 opened it as a park. As a condition of his gift to the city he was able to hold the post of “Honorary Forest Ranger”. He ensured that his English Romantic design which used a cultivated rural landscape as the basis of a pleasure ground, became a cherished part of the Toronto park typology.
The park, with its forest glades, large pond, pavilion and flower gardens presented a pleasing variety of sights. All were available when travelling along its curving, sloped and “edge-planted” roads. Views, designed by the landscaping, were stamped by photographers of all levels of ability, delighted that any shot they took was successful.
A ROADWAY IN HIGH PARK. High Park is so full of beauty spots that artistic photographers say one has “anything you want” in pictures there. John Boyd, The Star, Sept. 7, 1912