postcard pretty

Feb. 8 vendor table 4The wind chill was at -15 C and the sun emerged sporadically throughout the morning. Feb. 8 vendor table 7market square table displayed vintage Toronto postcards, enlarged copies of these, and print-out copy of Facebook and Twitter pages of the market’s social media promotion. Feb. 8 vendor table 6

the heyday of postcards 1898-1914

Just over a century ago there was with a mania for postcards in many parts of the world. The colourful little pictures were avidly collected, traded and sent. Although there were different types– joke cards, retail cards, exhibition cards, etc.– the scenic variety was the most common.  Among these, from the evidence of vintage postcard collections at The Old Book and Paper Show this past November,  the most numerous featured popular outdoor recreational sites.

Toronto postcards Balmy Beach front“Balmy Beach, Toronto”

postcards were part of a revolution in conveying news in graphic form

Their popularity coincided with the advent of pictorial weekend supplements of the daily papers. In contrast to the more weighty Monday to Friday news content, these offered more photographs, cartoons and lighter topics. Gradually, the weekday edition began to look more like that of the weekend. The Toronto Daily Star‘s photo illustrated coverage of the 1912 Sunday Tobogganing Controversy reflected this trend. Below, a snowy scene with winding toboggan tracks and colourfully dressed children is presented as an iconic Toronto moment.

.Toronto postcards-A Young Enthusiast, Rosedale“A Young Enthusiast, Rosedale Toronto”

postcards fed support for the creation of urban parks

Toronto postcards-Fishing on the Humber River front“Fishing on the Humber River, Toronto

Toronto postcards-Old Mill on the Humber front“Old Mill on the Humber, Toronto”

The Humber River, especially in the vicinity of the “Old Mill”  was already iconic not only to Torontonian paddlers and canoeists but also to postcard fans when developer R. Home Smith successfully lobbied City Council to annex the area in return for riverside land for a park that would be focused around a scenic drive.

postcards reflected a population on the move

The postcard trade flourished in part because many people were exploring possibilities for re-settlement or leisure travel. Along with producing his own postcards such as “Beautiful Oakville”, local photo journalists William James likely hoped to sell the same views to local developers or boards of trade for pamphlets. The addition of his name on the picture reflects the fact that photography was used for postcards without compensation or attribution to the photographer.


Postcards were an expression of “city boosterism”. Conveying the card sender’s pride in her city they were appreciated as a form of viral marketing. Every population centre was competing for tax payers, manufacturers, trade and other investors to fuel their growth; postcards of civic buildings, parks and picturesque surroundings projected confidence in the town’s current and future glory.

Toronto postcards-Cluny Ave. & Crescent Road, Rosedale front“Cluny Avenue and Crescent Road, Rosedale, Toronto

The neatly composed scenes of tranquility and prosperity presented the city as an “exhibit” similar those in the popular World Fairs and Expositions. The Alberta government-produced postcard below documents a diorama of epic-sized wheat framing a cowboy presented at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. The flip side features a fake hand-written message extolling the agricultural bounty of the province. “Frederick” who signed and sent the postcard to Miss A. Wiggins in Brampton,  was in contemporary terms, re-tweeting the Alberta Government’s promotional message.

Toronto postcards-CNE Alberta front Toronto postcards-CNE Alberta back

postcards celebrated migration and mobility

Tourist travel was an indicator of personal prosperity and self-improvement. Frequent short-trip travel, on the other hand, was the result of the mass migration into the cities and a corresponding retreat to one’s home town for day trips and holidays. In an age of twice daily mail delivery and two cent postcard postage, people sent them to announce the arrival time of their train the day before the trip. Cheaper than a telegram, a postcard suggested that you belonged to the new class of pleasure-seekers constantly drawn to new horizons. The image of the radial service that serviced Toronto’s outlying rural hamlets, especially those along the scenic lakeshore route, neatly conveyed the dual agenda of necessary yet gratifying travel.

Toronto postcards-Lakeshore Rd. and Longbranch car front“Lakeshore Road and Long Branch Car, Toronto, Canada”

camera-use led people to master the art of visual messaging demonstrated by postcards

Toronto postcards-On the Don River front“On the Don River near Toronto”

This was the period when it became a habit to take a camera on any pleasurable excursion. In figuring out how to create pleasing views amateur photographers were inspired by postcard compositions. Note the similarity between the postcard above and the privately produced example below. One could buy blank postcards and print a photograph on the picture side.

Toronto postcards-handmade front

By 1913 the Don River, where it flowed through Toronto, was visibly polluted and through public health campaigns it was understood that un-pasteurized milk was a major disease carrier. In this context, the bucolic vignette of cows by a river was likely perceived and produced with a degree of nostalgia.

the art of composing a succinct text that hints at the experience represented by the image is a legacy of the postcard

Toronto postcards-View in Rosedale front“Toronto View, Rosedale”

Feb. 23, 08

I as just writing a note to “Rasez” & thought I would send you a line too. I am so glad you have you own “company” now & I can imagine all kinds of successes I as so pleased to get the “litho”. I am flourishing—as usual and so is Leo. I wish the summer would hurry up. Best love from “Peggy” P.S. We go show-shoeing sometimes on the other side of this card!

Toronto postcards-View in Rosedale back“Toronto View, Rosedale” back

the exchange of postcards to reinforce social bonds is another important legacy

Many messages offer thanks for a received postcard and present the one sent in the same spirit of friendship. Others reference common interests or experiences that bound the correspondents together. Informal commentary and slang is used to reinforce the spur of the moment quality of sending the card.  The postcard was a”shout-out”; it did not bind the correspondents to a lasting relationship but united them in a temporary yet vivid way.

Promotional Images and the Market Experience

The Facebook page for The Stop Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns lists The Stop’s  mission: “to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.” The market is an important source of revenue for the organization’s programs many of which take place in a separate facility located in a “priority” neighbourhood. The emphasis is on skills development in growing and preparing food as a collaborative and social process. At Wychwood, the farmers’ market and the “Green Barn” serve a higher income area about two miles from the priority neighbourhood. Here, The Stop promotes healthy eating, supports local, sustainable-practice agriculture and, at the market ensures that all of its non-farmer vendors buy their ingredients from the farmer vendors.

Fb page market

The Greenbelt Farmers’ Market Network under the aegis of Greenbelt Fresh produced a booklet Healthy Habits, What Makes Farmer’s Markets so healthy?  Market shopping, it says, encourages cooking “from scratch” based on market inspired recipes… The happy outcome is that half of shoppers are sharing more meals with friends and loved ones.”

Facebook the Stop market macaroons

The Facebook page for the past year of the The Stop market features 12 close-up appetizing shots of dishes and snacks; 8 of happy people in the community kitchen or the market; 5 of raw produce; 2 of a survey in which market shoppers register their answer by putting a bean in in the appropriate mason jar. Photo galleries offer sundry views of the market inside the covered barn.

Are networks among the most important products available at the farmers’ market?

The market Facebook page also offers links to fresh posts, articles, events, programs, enterprises etc. that connect with The Stop mission. Wychwood Barns on twitter, @wychwoodbarns which is administered by a volunteer, boasts an extraordinary 7,805 followers. It uses this reputedly most successful Toronto market, as the social network reference point for selected tweets on events, media stories, commentary etc on local food culture, advocacy, activism and education around food system change, public health, urban issues and sustainable agriculture.

Market Square asked market goers “Do you use the Facebook or Twitter to find out what’s on offer at the market?

None of the individuals with whom I spoke used social media to decide whether or not to come to the market. Everyone walked to the market and they do this as a habit on most weekends. Some visitors were killing time while their children took part in Saturday morning art, music or drama classes at the Barns. Other regulars come to connect with neighbours and well-known vendors. Most market goers were there to linger, promenade and chat.

One market visitor stressed that an image in isolation however appealing did not represent the kind of experience that draws him to the market.”I can’t say that my image of the market is divorced from other senses. The image of any market stall includes different memories, such as the history of conversations with the vendor. Moreover, in the case of St. John’s bakery  I see bread from where I’m standing now but this sight is enhanced by memories of the smell and the taste of the bread.”

A young adult visitor mentioned that when he wants to leave the neighbourhood he uses the internet to search out information through its conventions of stylish photos, snappy listings etc. but when he comes to the market it’s because he has chosen to remain close to home and the market experience is antithetical to what is internet-based and digitally produced.

Read more about Edwardian Toronto leisure sites and postcards in “Paving the Way to Paradise”–Chapter 3: The Park