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Thursday, August 25, 2016

That time Toronto demolished the heart of Yonge St.

eatons demolition torontoStrolling around Yonge and Queen streets in the late 1970s would have felt eerily reminiscent of entering a war zone. Massive buildings lay smouldering in half-ruins, work crews scrambled to remove steel and bricks, and everywhere people would stop and stare at the magnitude of it all.

eatons demolition torontoThe largest urban demolition project in Toronto's history took place in 1977 around Yonge, Queen, Albert, and James streets. It involved an entire city block composed of 12 major buildings, and upon completion, it temporarily left a gaping hole in the heart of downtown Toronto.

eatons demolition torontoThat hole would soon be filled by the southern portion of the Eaton Centre, the construction of which was the reason for the elimination of the company's former flagship store near Yonge and Queen as well as a score of others that made up the giant retail complex dating back to the late 19th century.

eatons demolition torontoThe northern portion of the new Eaton Centre opened in 1977, the same year that the Queen Street store was razed. To add to the drama of the demolition effort, on May 9th the Eaton's Annex building - located at Albert and James streets - caught fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the surrounding area as nearby warehouses were ignited in the blaze.

eatons demolition torontoFirefighters eventually got control of the blaze before it had major impact on the shiny new mall beside it, but it was almost the third great fire in Toronto history. Photographs of the scene make it look as though Toronto was under attack, but it was all in the name of progress.

eatons demolition torontoGiven the excitement over the new mall, the demolition of the old Eaton's buildings never was the cause for grand public outcry, but it would eventually become clear that something important had been been lost when they were torn down. As wonderful as the Eaton Centre was on the inside, it's cold exterior practically killed off street life on Yonge St.

eatons demolition torontoThe Queen Street flagship store animated the street with its dramatic window displays and entrances, but its replacement was turned inward. You entered at Dundas or Queen or drove in the parking entrance at Shuter, but the space between its two ends was a veritable no man's land until a renovation in the early 2000s restored some relationship with the street.

eatons demolition torontoIt's hard to imagine these days, but the Eaton Centre was like a suburban shopping centre plopped in the heart of downtown Toronto, and to make way for its arrival, the demolition project was of a scale that the city had never seen.

Additional Photos

eatons demolition torontoPre-demolition on Albert St.

eatons demolition torontoAftermath of the May 9th fire

eatons demolition torontoLooking east from Old City Hall

eatons demolition torontoLooking east toward Yonge St.

eatons demolition torontoLooking north from Queen up Yonge St.

eatons demolition torontoLooking northwest toward New City Hall

Photos from the Toronto Archives.

by Derek Flack via blogTO

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