Sunday, April 8, 2012

Partying With An Architect and A Skeleton in 1896

Toronto, 1896

This photo was taken by a guy named J.J. Woolnough. He obviously had a pretty weird sense of humour for a Victorian dude. He was born in England, in Dickensian London, where he started an apprenticeship as an architect when he was just 14 years old. A couple of years after that, for some reason that Google doesn't want to tell me, he sailed across the Atlantic and settled in Toronto. Here, over the course of the next few decades, he worked for a bunch of different architectural firms – and also developed an interest in amateur photography (pun oh-so-very-much intended).

He took this photo in 1896 using cutting edge technology: flash lights. That's what they called those trays of magnesium powder that old-timey photographers had to hold up for a flash while they ducked their heads under a hood to look through the camera. The flash lights meant you could take photos in places that would otherwise be too dark. And only occasionally did they set those places on fire and burn them to the ground.

This photo was originally given the caption "Good Company... but he has seen better days!"

Woolnough's architecture, though, is what he's remembered for. In the 1920s, he was named official City Architect; he designed all of Toronto's city-owned municipal buildings for the next seven years. His Art Deco designs are still all over the place. Like, say, these ones:

The Horse Palace
at the Canadian Nation Exhibition
The Riverdale Fire Station
Toronto Fire Station #324 on Gerrard East
The Rosedale Viaduct
the northern bridge on Glen Road
Montgomery's Police Station
on Yonge north of Eglinton, at Montgomery; now the Anne Johnston Health Station
Gallery 1313
on Queen West in Parkdale
The Toronto Water Works Maintenance Department
on Richmond West at the end of McCaul, just south of Java House
The Symes Road Destructor
an old trash-burning factory near Weston and St. Clair, now rundown but apparently the subject of revitalization efforts, which you can read about in The Grid here
I came across the skeleton photo in a great book full of beautiful and fascinating images, Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s to 1920s. You can buy it here or get it from the library here. The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada has a brief biography of J.J. Woolnough here.

1 comment:

  1. This photo shows that before the company was not very different from now, it also wanted to highlight with these strange pictures