REID: Remembering Doug Taylor, a historian of Toronto

Dylan Reid

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.

4 comments

  1. So sad hes gone. I have read his website a few times. I wish i was able to meet him. As someone who also did not grow up in Toronto there so many questions i wish in had the chance ask, about our city.

  2. Thank you for that Dylan. I had just moved to the Queen and Spadina area when I attended that Jane’s Walk. You and Doug and a few others gathered for beers at Bar Wellington afterwards and were gracious enough to invite me along and I knew I had found some kindred spirits with your enthusiastic interest in Toronto and its history.
    I got to know Doug more during our summer volunteering with the Fashion District MyMarket Farmers’ Market (which was unfortunately ahead of its time) and he included a photograph of my Grandmother in Kensington Market in his book The Villages Within.
    But my favourite memory of Doug was running into him during Doors Open Toronto and touring the newly refurbished Dineen Building at Yonge and Temperance. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Toronto history and his passion for the subject was infectious. Getting his take on a building that hadn’t been open to the public for many years was a experience I will fondly remember.
    He will be missed but I’m comforted that his work will continue to live on for others to enjoy.

  3. I loved reading Doug’s books he wrote on old Toronto theatres! I learned that I live close by to the old Prince of Wales theatre which is now a ValuMart grocery store! I miss Doors Open Toronto and Jane’s Walks! My condolences to Doug’s family and friends!

  4. Dylan: Thank you for the detailed and very accurate description of Doug’s approach to the world. His attitude to teaching, at Emery Collegiate in the late sixties was identical to your description. He loved classroom interaction with students, and they loved him back. Doug attacked the subject matter with an enthusiasm that was only matched by the legendary John La Flair, who went on to fame and fortune at North Toronto Collegiate.
    Doug carried the same spirit into the production of a massive school play. To this day, I hear comments from the student actors regarding the ‘fun’ aspects of Doug’s leadership.
    It was an honour to have worked beside him!

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