Art

A Yorkville brickmaker, a reclusive taxidermist and nine more portraits from Toronto’s quirky past

A Yorkville brickmaker, a reclusive taxidermist and nine more portraits from Toronto’s quirky past

An organ grinder on Bay Street in 1922. An organ grinder on Bay Street in 1922.
 Photograph by Van and Ryan, from the Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library

Ask Carol Elder how Toronto has transformed over the past century and she’ll tell you to look at the portraits of everyday people. As a former manager of the Toronto Star’s photo archives, she tracked the evolution of faces, fashions and photography styles through the portraits that passed her desk. Now, Elder has collected more than 200 photos of ordinary citizens—shopkeepers, truck drivers and pensioners—for The Changing Face of Toronto, an exhibition on display at the Toronto Reference Library’s TD Gallery until July 23. Even though the subjects aren’t household names, their quirky and compelling stories serve as an untold history of the city. We asked Elder to tell us about some of the photos she selected.

Robert-Porter Robert Porter.
 Photograph by H.E. Peagram, from the Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library
1908
Robert Porter

“Robert was 94 years old when this photo was taken; he had lived in Yorkville for over 60 years. He was a brickmaker, but at first I didn’t know where he’d worked—he was already in his mid-70s when the Don Valley Brick Works started production in the late 1880s. I did a bit of research and discovered that there was a Pears Brick Making Establishment in Yorkville at the time. Brick making in Yorkville! I wonder if some of his bricks are still in those buildings.”

 

George-Pearce George Pearce.
 Unknown photographer, from the Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library
1900s
George Pearce

“George was a reclusive taxidermist who earned the nickname Hermit of the Humber. It’s possible that some of the objects you see in this photo are currently at the ROM; some of his mounts of ducks and birds of prey were donated to the museum.”

 

Josephine-Puccini Josephine Puccini.
 Unknown photographer, from the Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library
1910
Josephine Puccini

“She was born in Italy and came to Toronto in the 1890s with her parents during the first wave of Italian immigration. Her father founded a macaroni manufacturing plant. Unlike many photographs of people at this time, this was not a studio portrait.”

 

Morris-Melamed The Melamed Family.
 Unknown photographer, from the Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library
1920
The Melamed Family

“Morris Melamed and his family are standing in front of Ontario Dry Goods and Dresses Co., his shop on Spadina. The Canadian Documentary Art Collection has a lot of photos of shopkeepers, but I like this one because there are a lot of little details that reveal what was going on in Toronto: the prices of the clothes, the sign that says ‘Union Made.’ They’re trying to appeal to people who are in or who support unions.”

 

Carter-Family The Carter Family.
 Unknown photographer, from the Toronto Star
1936
The Carter Family

“In 1936, a lawyer named Chance Millar Vance created a competition called the Great Stork Derby—he planned to bequeath $275,000 to the woman in Toronto who could produce the most babies in the 10 years after his death. The Carters, pictured above, were the first black family to enter the contest. John W. Carter, on the far right, said that, if his family won, he would divide the winnings with everyone who entered the contest. In the end, four different women shared the proceeds.”

 

Toby-Robbins Toby Robbins.
 Unknown photographer, from the Toronto Star
1948
Toby Robbins

“On the day of the Miss CNE pageant in 1948, Toby Robbins slipped out of her father’s store, telling him she was going for a soda. She actually went to the Ex, entered the contest and ended up beating out 300 other contestants.”

 

Jean-McCormick Jean McCormick.
 Photograph by Frank Teskey, from the Toronto Star
1969
Jean McCormick

“Jean was a pensioner, and education taxes were about to be increased. That made her really unhappy. She said didn’t have enough money to go to the movies or the hairdresser.”

 

Ed Clarke.
 Photograph by Frank Teskey, from the Toronto Star
1970
Ed Clarke

“He was a Toronto community activist. For decades, he fought against racial injustice and organized demonstrations after several black Canadians in the 1970s and ’80s were shot by police. He was a founding member of the Black Action Defence Committee in 1988. Although this photo was taken in 1970, it was published in 1977, when Clarke ran for provincial parliament as a Liberal candidate. To make the photo stand out in the newspaper, they used a lot of airbrushing—you can see it all over his face and around his head.”

 

Rick-McFadyen Rick McFayden.
 Photograph by Mario Geo, from the Toronto Star
1973
Rick McFayden

“He was a truck driver by trade. In 1973, he volunteered to play goalie at a Leafs practice when he heard that Jacques Plante and Ron Low, the two Leafs goalies at the time, were both sick. The Leafs passed on his offer.”

 

Natalia Pracepa.
 Photograph by Ken Faught, from the Toronto Star
1985
Natalia Pracepa

“I got this from a photo folder that was labelled ‘Hair.’ She worked as a bank employee and was quoted in the Star as saying that her hair is the only thing that makes her happy. ”

 

Heather-Carter Heather Carter.
 Photograph by Peter Power, from the Toronto Star
1994
Heather Carter

“She was in the paper for an article about people who wanted to join the police force, which she ended up doing. She was from Mississauga and was 20 years old when this photo was taken.”

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