A new exhibit explores postwar life in the suburbs of Canada’s largest city.
When Rob Ford became Toronto’s mayor in 2010, pundits explained that the rise of the brash populist—who believed that bike lanes and light rail lines amounted to a “war on the car”—was the revenge of the suburbs on the cosmopolitan city. “Ford Nation is made up of thousands and thousands of ordinary Torontonians, suburban Torontonians, who, like the mayor they so admire, see the city as little more than a place they drive through on the way somewhere else,” wrote Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star in 2013.
Leaving aside the fraught legacy of Ford, who died in 2016, the notion of a “suburban” big-city mayor seems like a paradox outside of Toronto. What makes it possible there is the city’s unusual political structure. Several of Toronto’s inner suburbs are now part of the city, having been amalgamated with it into a single megacity in 1998. So the kind of urban/suburban divide that characterizes most metropolitan regions in the U.S. is felt within the boundaries of Toronto itself. Former satellites like Etobicoke (Ford’s home base) and Scarborough are still thought of culturally distinct from downtown and the city’s more urban neighborhoods.
The growth of these suburbs prior to amalgamation is the subject of a new photography exhibition at the City of Toronto Archives. Wide Open World focuses on life in suburban Toronto from the 1940s through the 1980s. “I chose the suburbs as the topic for the exhibit because in the last five years or so, the archives has gotten a lot of new collections showing the suburbs, and we wanted to share some of these wonderful images that really haven’t been seen much before,” says curator Manda Vranic in a short video accompanying the show.
Some of the photos offer clear parallels with the wave of suburbanization that swept through the U.S. during the postwar period. In the picture above, two small girls stand in a park surrounded by Levittown-esque tract houses, built for war veterans in the late 1940s. Other shots, however, reveal the relatively urban form and ethnic diversity that were starting to give these places a different and less stereotypically suburban character. There’s a picture of a multiracial group of boys playing basketball. Another shows men playing boules in front of a row of apartment towers.
The exhibit is on display through August 2018. For those unable to visit in person, here are a few highlights.