Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Toronto's Coal-Choked Skyline in 1908



Once upon a time, Toronto was a filthy, coal-choked mess. Not that long ago, you couldn't even spend a day out-and-about without coming home with a collar blackened from all the soot in the air. Our buildings were coated with the stuff — Derek Flack, over at blogTO, has a whole post about it and even wonders if that might be part of the reason we were so willing to demolish so much of our heritage: it looked pretty gross. Even after the TransCanada natural gas pipeline came to Toronto in the 1950s, it was a long time before things got cleaned up. According to Flack, it wasn't until the '80s and '90s that our oldest buildings were finally cleansed of our coal-burning past. At the same time, new environmental regulations were introduced as a way of protecting our health — and ensuring that our skyline would never again look like this 1908 shot from the Island.

By the end of 2013, Ontario will shut down the last of our big coal-burning power plants — leaving only one "small backup generator" which will be closed next year. Coal plant closures here and in Qu├ębec are reducing carbon emissions by about the same amount that the tar sands are raising them. But smog is still an issue: in 2012, Toronto saw full-day smog alerts on 16 different days.

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You can check out more filthy Toronto photos thanks to Derek Flack's post here and another one looking specifically at coal here. I've got another smog-photo post here. The photo was taken by William James, one of Toronto's most important early photographers; Flack's got a post about him here too.

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