Doug Taylor, one of Toronto’s local historians, died recently at the age of 82. I got to know Doug because we were both among the inaugural inhabitants of a new mid-rise residential building in the formerly industrial King-Spadina area in the early 2000s. Doug and his partner Ivan were natural organizers and warm, enthusiastic hosts, and contributed to quickly forming a sense of community in the building – something many such buildings miss.
I soon learned about Doug’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for Toronto’s history. A few years later, Doug agreed to be my co-host on a Jane’s Walk, a tour of the past and burgeoning present of our new neighbourhood, which we residents dubbed the “Garment District” (the street signs call it the “Fashion District” but we felt that masked its industrial, sweatshop nature). We organized a great lineup of guest speakers at different locations, but Doug also contributed unscripted insights along the way, drawing on his vast store of knowledge about the city.
After his retirement from a career of teaching (and teaching teachers), Doug devoted himself to his painting and to writing down and sharing the treasury of local lore stored in his head. He wrote about the city’s history in novels, history books, and photography books. He based his writing on his own memories and on the stories told to him by his older relatives about growing up in Toronto, as well as on his extensive research.
Doug also shared his knowledge on his delightful blog, Historic Toronto (tayloronhistory.com). It reflects not only his knowledge and love of history, but also his ever-present warmth and sense of humour. The site is a treasure trove of information about Toronto’s past, and I am glad to know that his executor is working to make sure it is kept available as a valuable source of both reference and delight, and as a memory of his life and work.
I had the pleasure of reviewing a couple of his books for Spacing: Toronto Then and Now, a photography book that paired archival photos with photos of the same location as the present, and, in the magazine, Lost Toronto, which features remarkable Toronto buildings that have since been demolished. The Spacing Store sells both of these books, as well as Doug’s histories of Toronto movie theatres, Toronto Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen and Toronto’s Local Movie Theatres of Yesteryear. Check out this feature in Toronto Life of Doug reminiscing about some of these theatres, which captures his storytelling voice well.
Toronto has changed rapidly in the past few decades – indeed, throughout its history – and Doug took part in that change. He was one of the pioneer inhabitants of a new building in a new downtown neighbourhood that had been a centre of industry for most of his life. But a health city stays connected to its past even while being open to the future, and Doug was one of the people who helped maintain that connection. Just recently, in fact, his book Lost Toronto helped explain the mystery of the Dufferin Grove stones.
For someone like myself who did not grow up in Toronto, he recounted tales that gave me the context of the city I found myself in as an adult. What’s the history of that building? What was this neighbourhood like before I arrived? What are the stories of this area that I am just now discovering? Toronto is richer for having had him live his long life here, and for having him share his love of the city in so many ways.
If anyone has memories of Doug Taylor and his work on Toronto’s history, please share them in the comments.