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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

NFB film shows Toronto as a “boom town” in 1951

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This 1951 Leslie McFarlane film from the NFB, “Toronto Boom Town,” showcases Toronto as a growing metropolis. It really is a blast from the past. There’s early shots of landmarks like the Toronto Stock Exchange and Casa Loma. The skyline is surprisingly high, and a bit shocking to see minus our ubiquitous CN Tower. There’s streetcars, bars, theatres, and even a glimpse a the Toronto police force roaring out of their headquarters on motorcycles to combat the dread of every growing city: congestion. Already they were imagining amalgamation of the suburbs, and the narrator even adds, “the way it’s going it won’t be long before Toronto is a suburb of Hamiliton.”

The growth of Toronto after the war was so rapid that it lead mayor Hiram McCullom to warn during his weekly radio address on CFRB, “the city is in danger of being strangled by its own prosperity.” Shortly after this address McCullom split the conservative vote with Nathan Philips and lost his mayoral seat to Allan Lamport.

The film also contains early footage of the Yonge subway construction. While men dig their way through the earth with shovels an elderly woman looks on and says, “Well, I hope they know what they are doing.”

When it comes to transit, it’s a question we’re still asking today.



  1. “Produced by Sydney Newman”. Who, 12 years later, would go on to co-create Doctor Who at the BBC. Small world…

  2. Ooops. I think we used up the NFB’s licenses on this one…it’s gone black even on their site.

  3. One AMAZING thing is that the old CIBC building (which stands out so prominently in this NFB film but can hardly be seen today because of all the much taller buildings surrounding it) was the tallest building in the British Empire (later the Commonwealth) for about 3 decades – a record that it kept until 1962!