New Facebook page explores old Toronto

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

You could say that Vintage Toronto is using the new to celebrate the old.

The public Facebook group has combined a very 21st century innovation: social media, to publish images of the city from an era long before the Internet made photo sharing possible.

And, as the Toronto Star reports, the formula seems to be striking the right balance between novelty and nostalgia. Since it launched in January, the page has accumulated more than 17,000 "likes" — or digital thumbs up in Facebook-speak.

While page founder Bill Stephenson technically lives in Kingston, Ont., a town three hours east of Toronto by car, he told the paper the two decades he spent living in the city from 1960 to 1980 left a memorable impression on him.

The 54-year-old, who sells vintage items in a general merchandise store, applied his love of all things archived to the project after stumbling across a similar Facebook group called Vintage Los Angeles.

"When I first started, I thought it might interest, you know, friends and a few other people," he told the Star. "I'm kind of surprised how popular it is, how quickly."

Stephenson combs through city online archives for material and also scans images from public libraries, universities, and government collections. His images range in date from the mid-1800s all the way up to the 1990s, although his page carries some illustrations from as far back as the late 1700s.

Categories like "Lost Cinemas and Theatres" and "Yonge Street Strip" are catalogued and arranged in dozens of albums (72 in total at last count).

A "Toronto — Then & Now" concept that places old landmarks like Dundas Square or well traveled intersections like Bloor St. and Avenue Rd. side-by-side with snapshots of their current incarnations has proved so popular there are now six sequels to the original album.

Though it began as a hobby, demand for constant updates has Stephenson tacking on an additional two-to-four hours to his workday.

He said he wakes up each morning at 5:30 so he can start scouring the web for images and post them on his page before he heads to his day job at 9.

Fans are keen to share their excitement about images that hit close to home, like a street corner they pass each day, or a now-defunct building that once set the scene for colourful memories from their past.

And thanks to the modern age, expats from all over the world can check in to catch a glimpse of their old hometown: the page counts fans from each corner of the globe — including Korea, Australia, and Israel — all of whom have at least one major interest in common.