Toronto as Baltimore


Often I’ll watch movies that I’m not into if they’re filmed in Toronto, just to pick out the Toronto locations and see how they’ve been dressed up to look like some other place. Obscure late night films on obscurer high-numbered digital cable channels are good for this. The recent big-budget remake Hairspray had Toronto standing in for Baltimore. In this video, I’m able to pick out what I think are College, Roncesvalles, Harbord, and Lord Landsdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent (the modernist “crown” shaped school). There are lots of other locations that are subtlety Toronto enough but unsure of where they are (kind of like a dreamy backdrop you might have of a generic Toronto). Initially I thought the Esso Station was an anachronism, but it turns out that the Standard Oil antitrust settlement of 1911 allowed Maryland stations to continue using the Esso name, so there could be an Esso in Baltimore.


  1. That old lino/typesetting place on Dupont near our old apartment was transformed, I think, into a radio or tv broadcast station.

  2. I see that one of our two remaining PCC streetcars makes a cameo appearance around 2:43.

  3. As a resident of Baltimore, I can say we don’t have any Esso stations (they are all Exxon) and the closest we have to street cars is the Light Rail. Being that I;m in Toronto all the time (next time in 2 weeks), I can also say without a doubt that there is no Toronto street car that looks anywhere near similar to the Baltimore Light Rail. 🙂

  4. My understandings is that all “Esso” stations in the US were rebranded “Exxon” in the early 70’s. The period of the movie appears to be the 50s so the appearance of an Esso station would be O.K.

  5. Are there any ‘Toronto as Toronto’ movies or are the only ‘Toronto as Anytown USA’ movies?

  6. Their house and the joke shop are at the corner of Eastern and Carlaw. I drive past it daily on the way to work.

    Also the opening sequence was filmed partly along Queen west of Carlaw.

    They left the mural up on the building of the singers after production closed, until a new business moved in and painted it over.

  7. I was in Baltimore about a month ago. The Inner Harbor is lovely, but a bit too touristy. I took their light rail (of which much follows old railway and interurban streetcar lines, and runs to the airport as well). The light rail is a modern North American-style operation, with large cars, running relatively infrequently and connecting suburbs to the core, where it runs down one street that has largely not seen the revitalization that has occured near the waterfront.

    I posted a lot of pics here:

  8. They converted a 2-3 block stretch of Dundas W running E from Roncesvalles for the shoot. I think that this is where most of the street scenes in the video are.

  9. Four Toronto as Toronto movies off the top of my head: The Sentinel, Childstar, Owning Mahowny (a true story, made in 2003 but set in 1982 with yellow Metro Police cars etc.), and Last Night.

  10. Lie With Me was Toronto as Toronto.

    As well (late night digital cable watching) I saw a film called Obsession (or “Circle of Two”) with Richard Burton and Tatum O’Neil. Burton plays an artist living in Toronto — in love with a younger woman. He runs along the Beach boardwalk, takes her on the ferry to a spot on the island, under a tree, where they sit and look at the 1980 Toronto skyline.

  11. Aaron Brazell’s comment has provoked me to do some transit trivia research. As it turns out, while Baltimore’s light rail may not currently look like Toronto’s streetcars, both cities were operating PCCs in the middle of the 20th century:

    According to the IMDB’s “goofs” page, the movie is “specifically set in May and June of 1962”. Baltimore didn’t completely abandon its streetcars until late 1963 (replacing them with buses in the face of reduced demand post war, the same fate that befell many streetcar networks in North America). So actually the biggest fault with the streetcar seen in the video is that it’s entirely the wrong colour.

  12. Many ‘Canadian Classics’ are set in Toronto. The most notable ones being “Goin’ Down the Road” and “I Heard the Mermaids Singing.” If you want to see what Toronto was actually like in 1964, I recommend the underrated realist film “Nobody Waved Goodbye.”

  13. Michael:

    Strange Brew, I would consider, is another Canadian Classic, set and filmed in Toronto. There’s few “goofs”, apart from the Peel Regional Police (also with yellow police cars) at Oktoberfest in Kitchener. One of the scenes shows the old-time Brewer’s Retail, you know, with the rollers and the order-at-the-counter system.

    The Baltimore PCCs were not aywhere near the maroon-and-cream TTC colours, but are in a yellow colour scheme with green stripes, actually quite striking (I saw this beautiful colour scheme in San Francisco, where one PCC is painted in honour of Baltimore’s once-extensive system.

  14. Yes I realize I left out Strange Brew. I thought I’d mention some movies people may have not seen. That movie did have a rather nice shot of the skyline as the McKenzie van plunges into the harbour.

    I just saw ‘Talk To Me’ tonight. The setting is Washington D.C. but some of it was filmed in Toronto. The final shot is U of T’s King’s College Circle looking southwest at Convocation Hall!

  15. I have lived in Canada for a number of decades now and have never seen Strange Brew. None of it.

    I think spending much of it in a border town is the reason.

  16. Shawn> Please Explain. I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie and that didn’t stop me from seeing it.

  17. Michael> I think just American influence, in a sort of general way — it got a lot of our attention, and some standard-Canadian things sort of passed under our radar. Detroit next door (in Windsor) was a big distraction.

    None of this may be true though, and somehow I may have just missed something obvious. Oddly enough, the Strange Brew references I get, as they’ve seeped into the culture enough.

  18. Toronto as Toronto…

    True to the story of Hurricane Carter, The Hurricane ends up in TO for the latter chunk of the film.

    It’s not a movie, but the best TV show version of Kensington Market (imho) can be found in Bruce McDonald’s series Twitch City.

    And nobody is mentioning Canadian Bacon??

    Toronto as America…

    Most of Tommy Boy was filmed up in Willowdale.


  19. For “Toronto as somewhere else”, the city actually keeps a list of places represented. Toronto as Moscow (for the Showtime TV movie Spinning Boris) sounds pretty far-fetched to me.

  20. Cool link.

    Looks like Deepa Mehta is working to add one to the list — currently filming a feature called “Lake Ontario.”

  21. If you watch the movie with the Director’s commentary, he says that almost all the Toronto street scenes were filmed on Eastern Avenue.

    There are also a few scenes that were shot in Hamilton.

  22. If I remember correctly Videodrome was also set in Toronto.

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