Toronto Through My Lens

Category: From The Vaults (Page 1 of 2)

From The Vaults: Farewell, Jack

This post is based on an event from thirteen years ago, so I guess it qualifies for my so-called From The Vaults series.

A Bit Of Background

Everyone who has a pulse is familiar with the name Jack Layton (July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011). Jack served as the leader of the NDP from 2003 to 2011 and was leader of the Official Opposition in 2011. Previous to that he sat on Toronto City Council, occasionally holding the title of Acting Mayor or Deputy Mayor of Toronto during his tenure as City Councillor. Jack was also the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Toronto-Danforth riding from 2004 until his death.

Jack rose to prominence in Toronto municipal politics, where he was one of the most prominent left-wing voices on the City and Metropolitan Toronto Councils, championing many progressive causes. In 1991, he ran for Mayor, losing to June Rowlands. Returning to Council, he rose to become head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In 2003, he was elected leader of the NDP.

Under Jack Layton’s leadership, support for the NDP increased in each election. The party’s popular vote almost doubled in the 2004 election, which gave the NDP the balance of power in Paul Martin’s minority government.

Jack died on August 22, 2011, after being diagnosed with cancer. He was survived by his wife of 23 years – our current Mayor – Olivia Chow.

Remembering Jack, Nathan Phillips Square

In the week before the funeral, Jack’s body was laid in state at Parliament Hill at the House of Commons foyer in Ottawa, then in repose at Toronto City Hall.

On August 26, 2011 a huge memorial for Jack was held in Nathan Phillips Square, outside Toronto City hall. It is from this memorial that my following pictures originate. It was a low-key but very powerful event; the love and respect for this man was clearly on display everywhere in the Square that evening:


Jack Layton’s ashes were scattered in three places: Cote St. Charles United Church in Hudson, Quebec where he was raised; on Toronto Island, where he was married; and at the Toronto Necropolis, near where he lived.

Here is Jack’s bronze bust atop a red granite pillar at the Toronto Necropolis:

Leaving A Legacy

For those interested, here is a CBC timeline of Jack Layton’s accomplishments

Ice Storm!

All this inclement weather lately has put me in mind of the infamous Toronto ice storm in late December 2013. This happened 11 years ago now, so I guess it qualifies for one of my so-called From The Vaults posts (i.e. Toronto events and photos from several years past).

At the time of the storm I took a little walk around the neighbourhood to see everything more or less encased in ice:

The massive ice storm began on December 19, 2013 and dispersed on December 23, 2013. In addition to hitting Ontario the storm also reached Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Maine, New England, New York, Michigan and even Arkansas. In Toronto, the ice was so heavy it resulted in damaged hydro lines and trees weighing down onto roads and vehicles.

The 2013 ice storm consisted of 40-plus hours of freezing rain and more than 30 millimetres of ice, leaving 416,000 customers without power, 500 wires down and two million trees damaged. During the ice storm, Toronto Hydro said 73,000 metres of service wire and 80,000 pieces of hardware had to be replaced. The storm had a total cost of $200 million.1

The storm killed 27 people, particularly from carbon monoxide poisoning in enclosed and poorly ventilated areas as people attempted to keep warm and cook with gas generators and charcoal stoves.

Streets And Cars Were Shrouded In Ice…

An Icy Allan Gardens

Lots Of Broken Trees…

At the time I remember thinking how weird everything felt; the city had mostly came to a halt throughout the storm. The ice storm of 2013 remains yet another Toronto vignette I will never forget.

1 Stats courtesy of The Weather Network

From The Vaults: Blackout!

Time for another post from what I call From The Vaults – pictures and events from Toronto’s past. Here is a Toronto event I’ll never forget as long as I live. Twenty years ago, everyone that summer was asking…

…Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?

On Thursday, August 14, 2003 at 4:11 PM, everything stopped.

In my memory, two big events occurred in Toronto that summer of 2003: one was SARStock (click here to read my post on my general blog My-Ramblings) and the other was the power blackout that affected all of Ontario and parts of the northeast and midwestern United States. It was the world’s second most widespread power blackout in history, with 50 million people affected by the outage. For some, the blackout lasted a couple of days, for others it was as long as 14 days, depending on where you lived.

Ontario originally caught the blame for the gigantic outage, but over time the source would be traced to a stretch of road in suburban Ohio. Weak areas in the electricity grid of U.S. and Canada further exacerbated the situation.

For a high-level technical explanation of the situation, I’ve borrowed some text from


August 2003 had been a scorcher. Hot weather and heavy demand for electricity had put the local grid in Ohio under unusual strain, causing power lines to sag into overgrown trees and short out. When the Eastlake coal-fired station near Cleveland went offline it was like knocking over the first in a line of 50 million dominoes.

One by one, power stations across the northeast U.S. became overloaded then automatically powered down as they tried to compensate for other downed stations in neighbouring areas. The blackout rolled northeast from Ohio, round Lake Erie into Ontario, knocking out power to cities and towns as it went.

Systematic faults meant tools used to track and monitor blackouts either failed or didn’t work as intended. Ontario was left 8,000 megawatts short – 500 megawatts usually spells trouble – as nuclear plants in Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington became hopelessly hobbled. When the blackout finally stabilized, 50 million people were left without power in the United States and Canada.

Maybe now they’ll learn to shut the lights off up there…

An American woman on a local newscast, trying to blame the outage on Canada’s power consumption

In Toronto…

My Memories of the 2003 Blackout in Toronto

At that time in my life I was still working at Canada Life Assurance in the downtown core of Toronto, at Queen Street and University Avenue. I remember the outage hitting just at the start of everyone’s commute home from work. It foiled a lot of attempts to get home that Thursday afternoon – the GO trains weren’t running, there was no subway, the downtown core was so clogged with cars that no one could move. Out of our team of about a dozen people at work, I was the only one who lived downtown so guess where everyone came for food, rest and some strategic planning to get home.

It was Vince’s day off that day so he was at home. He had put on a huge slow cooker of stew early in the day, which luckily was now ready. I had been unable to reach him to let him know there would be a dozen of us descending on the house; the phone lines were all overloaded and jammed so it was impossible to get through. It was a big surprise for him when a dozen people showed up on our doorstep for dinner! Over the course of the next 4-5 hours we all ate stew, had lots to drink and watched the Jarvis Street pedestrian parade and revelry from our balcony – oh, the sound from the streets! It was one really big party out there – the streets were jammed with people, cars and party fiends who were simply making the most of the unusual event.

Cell phones did not work during the blackout (no power=no functioning cell towers), so there were only land lines available (imagine no cellular service for a day!). Using my one wired phone on a land line, one by one my guests for the evening took turns calling their homes to arrange a pickup or to give a status update to their respective families.

When one has a dozen guests eating and drinking for any length of time, there is an inevitable need to use a bathroom. When you live in a high-rise, one of the downsides of a power failure is the lack of water (water is electrically pumped up to the units), so guess what – the toilets can’t flush. The bathroom turned into a communal toilet during the course of the evening (was I ever glad when the water came back on!). It was all good though – by the end of the evening everyone found their way home, be it by cab, shared ride or pick up from a family member (no Uber or Lyft in those days).

Along with many other things that day, the streetcars came to an abrupt halt.

For about three days, the hustle and bustle of Toronto came to a stop. People slowed down, became friendlier, and just seemed to enjoy life a little more during this unusual time. I have memories of Vince and I sitting in the food court in College Park, just killing time along with so many others. These were calm, happy, patient people – something you rarely find in downtown Toronto. Our part of the world, or so it seemed, had stopped all its rushing about and bustle.

There was a definite party atmosphere on Toronto streets during the blackout
Darkness descends on Toronto

Meanwhile, In New York City…

Chaos reigned supreme:

It was an amazing and unique time no matter where you lived in the blackout region. I’ll never forget that hot summer of 2003 when the lights went out.

So, where were you during the blackout that summer in Toronto? Please feel free to leave a comment or remembrance in the Comment form below.

Eaton Centre & The Bay, 2014

So, I don’t know if shots from 2014 qualify for inclusion in my so-called series From The Vaults (i.e. old shots of Toronto). I found these the other day while browsing and thought I’d post them as they are a bit of a blast from the past, so to speak.

Some of the shots are slightly “arty”; I was experimenting at the time with capturing urban life using a slow shutter speed, hence the intentional motion blur.

The Bay at Queen and Yonge

The original Bay store at Yonge and Queen Streets only partially exists since Saks Fifth Avenue took over the entire east half of the building in 2016. These shots are prior to the merge and remodel of the building.

The Bay’s southeast entrance on to Yonge Street. This entrance is long gone; in its place is a trendoid coffee bar/resto, which is part of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Pay phones!!?? Remember those? In the lobby of The Bay’s southeast entrance.
The Bay sales floor, ground level
Riding The Bay’s escalators
More people movers
Ground level sales floor, Women’s jewellery (note Ivanka Trump’s jewellery line, far right – that dates it!)

In The Old Queen Street Bridge

I shot these while crossing over from The Bay to the Eaton Centre in the old pedestrian bridge spanning Queen Street West. This bridge has long disappeared and been replaced with a new one (check out my Eaton Centre bridge post here).

Above Queen Street during a rainstorm
The old Eaton Centre pedestrian bridge

Inside the Eaton Centre

Another busy Saturday afternoon in the Eaton Centre

Speeding through Yonge and Richmond Streets

From The Vaults: Toronto Skyline, 1985

So, it’s time for another installment of From The Vaults – so called as these are cityscape photos from many years past which I had originally shot on film, then scanned to digital only recently.

This short sequence (hey, this was film and every shot counted!), was shot on July 1, 1985 as I travelled out to the Toronto Islands on the ferry boat.

Our downtown skyline has changed considerably over the years!

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