Historic 1906 panorama shows early Beach in vivid detail

Published on Sunday, 25th Mar, 2018 at 1:50pm

Queen St E and Kippendavie Ave, circa 1906. This image, taken from atop the fire hall tower, shows Queen St E extending off eastward toward the hill at Beach Ave. It is part of a six-photo panorama taken by a City engineer in the spring of 1906.

Photo: Toronto Archives

Queen St E and Kippendavie Ave in early 1906. This photograph is part of a six-image panorama taken by a City of Toronto engineer in the spring of 1906.

Buried deep in the City of Toronto archives are a series of remarkable photographs taken 112 years ago by an ambitious city engineer. Laid out side-by-side, these 6 photos overlap to create a sweeping panorama of the early twentieth-century Beach. Taken from the birds-eye vantage of the tower of Fire Station 17 (completed the year before in 1905), the images cover all of Queen Street East and the area south to the beach. The complete panorama spans about 240-degrees east, south and west.

The photographs themselves are fascinating. Although most of today's familiar landmarks of are absent, it's not hard to orient yourself in the landscape. Much of it is oddly familiar, even after a centuries' worth of development along Queen. Clearly visible in the photos is the vast Woodbine racetrack complex, with its myriad stables lining the south side of Queen, now-vanished.

 Kew Beach Fire Hall (today’s Toronto Fire Station 227) in 1906
Kew Beach Fire Station No. 17 shortly after its construction, c. 1905.

The Panorama

The series of six photographs were taken in the spring of 1906 by City Engineer's Office employee Arthur F. Rust from the 80-foot tower of Fire Station 17, also known as Kew Beach Fire Hall (today's Toronto Fire Station 227). Rust shot the photos from a long-gone cupola atop the tower (see photo above) using a technique that allows the images to be viewed together as a single panoramic photo.

Rust, a prolific photographer, was the younger brother of Charles H. Rust, who was appointed City Engineer in 1898. Between 1891 and 1911 the City Engineer's Office produced more than 600 photographs documenting the infrastructure, operations, and development of early 1900's Toronto.

For this article we stitched together the six photos into one image and annotated it with street names. We've also included the original plates so you can check out the detail.

A panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
The complete panorama (click for full-sized image).

Original Plates

 Plate 1 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 1: Looking northeast from the fire hall, Hebert Ave. is visible in the immediate foreground, with Elmer Ave in the mid-foreground. Queen Street is just visible in the upper-right of the image.

 Plate 2 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 2: Looking east from the fire hall. Queen Street is on the left, with a pair of streetcars visible in the distance. The gothic revival-style building (right-center) is Kew Beach Elementary School, which is having an addition constructed on the rear.

 Plate 3 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 3: Looking southeast from the fire hall. Kippendavie Ave runs diagonally through the photo left-to-right. Note the large number of houses hugging the shoreline, all of which were demolished in the late 1920's and early 30's.

 Plate 4 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 4: Looking south. Woodbine Ave and the bend of Woodbine Racetrack are visible to the right. When this photo was taken Woodbine Ave dead-ended at the lake, and the racetrack's southern boundary was the shoreline of Lake Ontario and Ashbridges Bay.

 Plate 5 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 5: Looking southwest, shows the intersection of Queen St E and Woodbine Ave circa 1906. The track and infield of the racetrack fill the center of the image, with rows of stables in the foreground. In the centre-left of the image you can see a long spit of land, with Fisherman's Island at its tip. This spit separated the eastern tip of Ashbridges Bay, in the foreground, from the Lake beyond. It roughly marks the location of Lakeshore Blvd. today.

 Plate 6 of a six-plate panorama of the Beach, taken in 1906
Plate 6: Looking west along Queen Street towards Toronto. The racetrack grandstands are visible in the left-centre of the photo, where Queen intersects Kingston Rd.