What's in the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Touring Toronto



The Queen's Hotel, a four-storey red brick building

Toronto has been a tourist destination since at least the 1850s when city directories lauded recent civic improvements such as a rebuilt St. James Cathedral, an expanded Osgoode Hall, and a newly constructed St. Lawrence Hall, and even republished international praise for the Queen City that appeared in a Buffalo newspaper. Larry Becker's collections of postcards and diverse tourist ephemera illuminate the history of tourism in Toronto from the late-nineteenth century onwards.

This small selection of materials suggests what Toronto landmarks were deemed to be worthy, or saleable, tourist attractions, and how the city was promoted to tourists. Compare, for example, the 1905 horse-and-buggy era with the 1965 jet-age fold-out views of the city. Despite differences of scale and extent, for example, both souvenirs promote "dynamic growth" and "modernity." Each includes modern transportation, downtown streets, and major institutions. Similarly, the 1905 cloth Souvenir of Toronto features &quotold&quot City Hall before the Cenotaph was added, Queen's Park, and the University of Toronto - all still standbys of Toronto's tourist trade.

Engraving of the Rossin House Hotel, a square five-storey building

But other differences emerge. More churches, boats, trains, and public works appear in early twentieth-century tourist ephemera. The 1911 Niagara Navigation Company pamphlet, for example, is opened to the waterfront wharf where many tourists still landed; while the 1923 Visitors Guide promotes "Toronto: A Public Ownership City," because of its public hydro, newly-created TTC, public waterworks, and civic abattoir.

Tourists, of course, need not only attractions, but also places to stay. Other items illustrate a succession of Toronto's finest hotels: the Queen's Hotel on Front Street in 1873 and about 1900; the Rossin House (later Prince George Hotel) on York Street in 1873 and 1907; the ornate and "absolutely fire proof" King Edward Hotel shortly after it opened in 1903, and after the east tower was built in 1922; and the largest hotel in the British Empire (later the Commonwealth), the Royal York Hotel on the site of the old Queen's Hotel, where a convention of American Railroads accountants dined in 1939, and sampled the tourist fare that they would promote to their railway riders.