Published around a century ago in the Saturday Star Weekly and the Sunday World, the snapshots below illustrate the breadth of social life that existed in Toronto. One end of this breadth was defined pictorially by Regents Park toddlers in their soap-box toboggans…
and the other end by Rosedale women in costly furs.
In the middle, where everyone came together, were the parks, the all-season recreation grounds for exercise, group bonding and spectacle.
Within the democratic parks and at exclusive events, the higher ranks worked at maintaining their aura of power through display. Society women had an important cultural role to play in a media culture. Their up-to-the-minute fashions were circulated through weekend papers so that readers could recognize the new patterns emerging from Paris.
The sidewalk, like parks, was where city residents, high and low, inter-mingled. For photojournalists it was a catwalk for fashion, theatre of cultural other-ness and barometer of women’s push into the public sphere. The visual reports from sidewalks and parks were not merely entertaining. The images took form around anxious debates about social climbing newcomers, immigration, poverty and loosening morals among the young.
Furs and feathers were part of a well-turned out appearance. The movement and texture of these contrasted with the sobriety of the tailored walking suit and, in the case of fur, added warmth to the thin outer layer necessary for a fitted outline.
The women below don’t acknowledge the presence of the camera man or stop to pose. The photos suggest that the dangling fur tails would have been in motion, twitching back and forth with each energetic stride
caption: … showing how furs are worn in Toronto are snapshots made during the past week in Rosedale. Some of the ladies are out for a morning constitutional; some are going shopping, and so on. It might be noted that the black tails are often sparingly used. This will be noted in the muff worn by a well-known Toronto bride whose picture is here show.
Yonge street sidewalks at the height of Christmas shopping was a lively backdrop for snaps.
caption: CHRISTMAS SHOPPERS. A snapshot on Yonge street one morning this week. ANOTHER YONGE STREET GROUP. The gentleman with the fur cap gives the picture a real old fashioned Christmas look.
New York society ladies who picketed were known as “the mink brigade”. Although Toronto suffragettes did not join their sisters on the picket line, local interest in the movement is reflected in the many published photos of marches in England and the United States.
caption: The daughter of the famous Senator La Follette of Wisconsin, a prominent suffragette, who has recently interested herself in labor troubles. She is here seen with a number of striking garment workers doing picket duty in New York City.
While it may seem that the muff was an object designed to make hands helpless, in the Star Weekly it was proposed that, in fact it signaled a modern freedom from an escort.
A French journal has discovered that men and women no longer walk arm-in-arm in public. In other days, it said recently, the lady would place her hand within the arm of her cavalier, resting it lightly upon his sleeve; now such a couple walk coldly apart, the woman with both her hands in a muff, the man with his hands behind his back or in his overcoat pockets. …Here are methods of the four periods.—Drawn by Pecoud in The Sketch.
Silhouettes were used to highlight the shape of new fashions as well as to highlight who was seen together.
Part street style, part social mission report, the snaps below document office and factory girls running towards their low-cost lunch provided by a canteen set up for them at the Central Methodist Church. An important aim of the program was to protect them from the predations of Yonge street “mashers”.
Play Spaces Safe from City Streets
Concern over the dangers of the street led to the creation of numerous free public skating rinks around the city in the same years that the playground movement was in full force. To complement its reports of posh society Sunday World had its photographers trawl through the city’s most humble neighborhoods to represent the working classes in their environments. The following snaps show the paper’s inclusive coverage of Toronto’s skating scene.
Us and Them
The Sunday World branded itself as a frank-talking populist publication. In this image it aired common prejudices not expressed in the more progressive pages of its rival, the Star Weekend. The subtext of the dual images below was the definition of “the foreigner” as a counterpoint and threat to Toronto’s Anglo-Protestant rural ethic.
caption: AN EARLY MORNING STROLL. One of the beautiful walks in Riverdale Park, along which hundreds of Toronto people daily pass. FOREIGNERS OF OUR CITY. …fortune-tellers passing along Queen-street toward their quarters, after a morning’s shopping.
caption: “OPPOSITION IS THE LIFE OF TRADE” Hebrew dealers of the Ward bidding against one another for a particularly fine assortment of “rags and bones”. ON THE HUMBER RIVER PLAYGROUNDS. Canoists enjoying a mid-day loll on the green carpet of the Huber banks.
Toronto’s strong Methodist ethic to help the poor and the ill was channeled through women’s groups such as the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire. Membership in the I.O.E.D. guaranteed the status of the old family compact and new mercantile aristocracy but numerous other women’s groups from church auxiliaries to clubs measured their value through hands-on help. These snaps, with the recipients of their charity, capture the social identity of the worthy ladies.
Private Party Glimpsed by Flash
The elegant assembly portrayed below must have stood frozen and well prepared as the photographer triggered the mini-explosion that illuminated the porcelain plates at the farthest reaches of the room. In contrast, a less carefully rehearsed detonation of flash at Mrs. Purdy’s party caught more spontaneous expressions among the guests.
Beautiful ballroom of Mrs. E.F.B. Johnston’s residence, St. George street showing some of her valuable china and pictures. Among those in the picture are….
The Island Park
The Toronto Islands provided a vital escape from the summer heat. Large gatherings such as the Methodist picnic where young people were kept busy with games under the careful eye of their elders were still common. Increasingly however the autonomy of working girls made possible a new kind of scene at the beach and amusement park.
For those looking to join their own sort, the snapshots of recreation spots relayed a wealth of information. Thanks to new technology, the Victorian artfully posed or regimental group photo was replaced by images of people caught mid-interaction. With the focus on body language, clothing style and setting, the images convey the “feel” of an event or moment.
These fast-draw social sketches in the most popular public spaces offered weekly updates on “the latest thing” and cumulatively, a grand chronicle of city living. The following post displays examples of snapshots from the James collection in the City of Toronto Archives. In photocopy format they will be exhibited at the Wychwood Farmers’ Market tomorrow.
Be snapped at the market and insert your portrait among those of other Torontonians of a century ago.