Six photos of everyday Toronto life in the Roaring Twenties

Six photos of everyday Toronto life in the Roaring Twenties

The way Hollywood tells it, the Roaring ’20s were a time of glitz, glamour and excess: flapper girls in fringe dresses, slender cigarette holders, epic parties and bottomless champagne. The decade immediately following World War I was also one of extreme economic and political disparity, and by the second half of the decade, the economy had crashed almost as quickly as it had risen. The new ’20s are already not so unlike those of the past: we live in a time of rapid technological growth, tumultuous social upheaval, and the gap between the rich and poor is wider than ever.

The City of Toronto Archives’ new exhibition, “The Twenties: Snapshots of Everyday Life,” shows a collection of more than 140 items, including photographs, personal correspondences and promotional materials from the 1920s, revealing how prosperity of the era affected everyday Torontonians. It runs through to August at the City of Toronto Archives at 255 Spadina Road. Here’s a look at a few of the images and stories on display.

City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1244, Item 2402)
Fred H. Beasley and friends at Hanlan’s Point, 1922

In this image, Toronto strongman Fred H. Beasley balances three unidentified women on Toronto Island.


City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1266, Item 8306)
Two winners of the Sunnyside Charleston contest, 1926

On the evening of July 20, 1926, three women and four men participated in a Charleston competition on Sunnyside Beach. According to a report in the Globe and Mail, the participants were “wriggling and stamping, writhing but still smiling, whirling and spinning, now seductive, now boisterous, but always mobile.”


City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1034, Item 149)
Workers at typesetting machines, 1926

In this decade, manual work and mechanization existed side by side, like at this typesetting plant at an undisclosed location in Toronto.


City of Toronto Archives (Series 71, Item 4918)
A chartered transport vehicle below blossoms at Grimsby , 1927

In 1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission began operation. The TTC was responsible for all public transportation, excluding taxis and trains, within the Toronto city limits, like this chartered commuter bus.


City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1244, Item 1028)
Competitive swimmers ready for CNE marathon swim, circa 1927

These two-piece swimsuits were made of wool, which sagged when it got wet. Eaton’s offered them in black, navy, scarlet, emerald, pansy and orange. There was some public concern over the lack of modesty of these limb-revealing suits.


City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 1244, Series 2119, Item 17.23)
Participants in fourth Wrigley Marathon swim at the CNE, 1929

Most of the photographs in the exhibition are in black and white, since there was no colour film available at the time. However, some are hand-coloured—also known as “overpainted”—on glass lantern slides.