In 1986, the Star decided to take a typical Toronto day and freeze it in time. Twenty-six photographers and five reporters spread out around the Metro Toronto area and captured vignettes of the ordinary people and places that made the downtown core sparkle.
Over the course of Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1986, Star staff watched as a father passed out cold during the birth of his son — making everyone in the room break out in laughter. The photo of the new mom laughing later won photographer Keith Beaty a National Newspaper Award.
Public Editor Kathy English, a reporter at the time, and photographer Jeff Goode stepped in as witnesses for a couple eloping at city hall when their original witnesses didn’t show. (The newlyweds declined to be photographed because they weren’t planning to share the news with family just yet.)
Coffee was poured, pastries were served, streetcars were swept and windows were washed.
By the time the clock rolled from one midnight to the next, 12,000 images had been shot on 500 rolls of film (remember those days?). Eventually, they were whittled down to 77 shots to sum up the city for the Star’s Sunday edition.
Some of the images below made that paper, but thousands failed to make the cut and were filed away in our archives.
In the 34 years since the daylong shoot Toronto has grown immensely. These images show just how much it has changed.
In the Great Hall of Union Station John Mastragostino, 23, swept up while listening to a Sony Walkman.
Later that morning, commuters hurried around Union Station at 8:30 a.m. Union still looked much like this well into the 2000s, but now instead of turnstiles and green fare-collector booths, there are green PRESTO machines for riders to tap.
Star staff went to a couple of doughnut shops in the wee hours of the morning and took photos of bakers preparing pastries for the day and patrons out late — or early, depending on your perspective. Robert Larson was at Pioneer Donuts on Dundas Street East at Jarvis Street, recovering from a night of socializing. “Drunk again,” he said sheepishly, clutching coffee. But it didn’t stop him from snapping pictures of photographer Dick Loek and reporter Tim Harper, using Loek’s equipment.
Women’s College Hospital
No, Mary Dininio wasn’t photographed in a moment of agony. Her husband, Mike Dininio, had fainted just as their 8-pound, 12-ounce son arrived. After a heartbeat of worried silence, the room at the Women’s College Hospital maternity ward filled with smiles and joy from nurses, the doctor, the sheepish dad and mom herself. Mary had her eyes squeezed shut and roared with laughter while cradling her wailing son, Myles, one of 12 babies born at the downtown hospital this day.
“At the time the photo was taken the father was out of sight (and unconscious) on the floor on the other side of the bed,” Beaty said.
“I wanted to get a high angle which would show the father but there was nothing to climb up on except for carts of medical equipment. I decided to give up on the idea of including the father in the photo and concentrated on the mother and child, and returned to the office regretting that I had blown a chance to get an award-winning photo.” Beaty went on to win a National Newspaper Award for the photo later that year.
We caught up with the Dininio family in 2011, with Beaty recreating the photo of mom and a now six-foot-five Myles lying across her lap.
Toronto (Don) Jail
An inmate at Toronto (Don) Jail got some exercise doing chin-ups while waiting to go to court. The daily court-appearance shuttle was due to make its last pickup at 9:20 a.m. “A full house around here is very common,” jail security chief Reg Smythe said, according to the original caption. The remaining inmates, “awaited transfers to other institutions, shuffling back and forth, a surprisingly amiable group, as Bryan Ferry’s A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall blares on the radio station CFNY in the background,” the caption read.
From 1864 to its official closing in 1977, Toronto’s Don Jail housed some of the area’s most notorious prisoners, including George Bennett, murderer of Father of Confederation George Brown in 1880, and members of the Boyd Gang of bank robbers in the 1940s. More than two dozen hangings took place on site, the last in 1962. A modern, east wing was built in 1958 and remained in operation as the Toronto Jail until 2013. The main building closed in 1977 and now serves as a hospital administration building for the Bridgepoint Active Healthcare campus.
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Since opening in 1943, Honest Ed’s was a discount oasis for immigrants, students or anyone seeking a deal. Even if they never set foot inside, passersby on the street could count on its gleaming red and yellow lights to illuminate the block at Bathurst and Bloor streets. On this day in 1986, a female shopper checked out 77-cent bras and the door-crasher special was $1.99 toothpaste for 79 cents. The iconic Toronto department store officially closed in 2016.
After-school mall hangout culture was in full swing in 1986, and the Eaton Centre was bustling. With styles from the ’80s and ’90s coming back in fashion in the 2010s, some of these outfits would not be out of place in the mall today. At the time, Star reporters wrote that an estimated 50 million people walk through the mall’s doors every year. While online shopping and discount stores have been eating into malls’ profits, some are strategizing how to make a comeback.
At the streetcar yards at Connaught Avenue and Gerrard Street East, worker Jerry Clayson ducks below a 502 streetcar. Elsewhere, emergency repair men were at work while maintenance people swept out the interiors. These streetcars — known as Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) — are officially a thing of the past. The last of their kind took its final ride at the end of 2019.
A solitary figure munched in peace at the McDonald’s Restaurant at 470 Yonge St. during a quiet night in the world of rapid culinary treats. According to the original caption, “McDonald’s sold almost $1 billion worth of Mc-whatevers” the previous year, 1985, at its 500 Canadian restaurants, 60 of which were in Toronto. As of 2020, this location is still a McDonald’s.
“Cats” at the Elgin Theatre
Lorena Cingolani applied makeup for her role as the cuddly kitten Rumpelteazer. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical Cats opened on March 13, 1985, and ran for two sellout years in Toronto, leaving the Elgin Theatre to allow for a two-year restoration of the Elgin and Winter Garden complex. At the time, Cats was the most successful Canadian stage production ever and, after its stint at the Elgin, it toured the country and arrived at Massey Hall for a seven-month run in 1989. The American film adaptation was decidedly less well-received when it premiered last month.
Cabbagetown Boxing Club
Later in the night, Toronto Star staffers found themselves ringside at Cabbagetown Boxing Club. The original caption read, in part:
“I was the kind of kid who got pushed around a lot. That’s why I got into boxing,” reflects Ken Hamilton, 58, coach and director of the Cabbagetown Boxing Club. The old converted warehouse is considered to be one of Canada’s best boxing clubs. Ten years ago, after giving up his school teaching job, Hamilton walked into the club and offered to share his boxing knowledge with the local kids.
“The boys learn a lot more than how to use their fist here,” he says. “They learn co-operation, self-confidence and self-reliance.”
Today, the club is Hamilton’s life. With his dog, Princess, and his cat, Cat, he lives in one room just a few yards from the ring.
The boxing club still operates to this day alongside Cabbagetown Youth Centre.
Imperial Six Cinemas
Crowds poured out of one of the six movie theatres at Imperial Six Cinemas at 263 Yonge St., then Toronto’s largest movie theatre complex. The building itself was erected around 1910 as a single auditorium, then reopened with multiple screens in June 1973. The longest-running film at the movie house was “The Godfather,” which opened March 17, 1972, and closed on Labour Day that year — only because the theatre had to close for renovations. This block is now home to various restaurants and shops.
Scroll through the gallery and map below to see more photos from Jan. 7, 1986: