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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The urban photography of Arthur Goss, Part 3: Parks and Recreation, 1913-1940

As Toronto's parks and recreation programs expanded, Arthur Goss captured athletes in action and new facilities


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Board of Education No. 101, Aug. 20, 1913 Board of Education Toronto City of Toronto Archives, s0372-ss0011-it0101

Following the appointment of Charles E. Chambers as Parks Commissioner in 1912, Toronto’s park system entered a period of continuous expansion, creating new parks, playgrounds and recreation centres to meet the needs of a growing population.

Between 1913 and 1939, Arthur Goss produced more than 2,000 photos for the Parks Department. His work on this commission overlapped with work he was doing for the City Architect’s office and the Board of Education. It involved a combination of landscape and architectural photography, sports action shots and portraiture.

Although Toronto during that era had a reputation for being dull and sanctimonious, the photos in this series depict Torontonians engaged in celebratory social rituals, educational activities and friendly sports competition. Organized sports included baseball, football, hockey, tennis, soccer, swimming, gymnastics and lawn bowling.

One popular new park, Willowvale, opened in 1909. Only in 1983 did this facility acquire its current name, Christie Pits. Goss’s 1922 photo of a baseball game shows the main diamond already established in the northeast corner of the site. It also records the unfinished state of the park. Spectators sit on the rough slopes of the original sand pit which are today covered in grass.

Parks No. 1001, May 13, 1922
Willovale (Christie Pits)
City of Toronto Archives, s0372-ss0052-it1001

Starting in 1914, Goss was assigned to take portraits of each season’s champions in the individual and group sports that fell under the aegis of the Parks Department. The victorious athletes were usually photographed outdoors under shadowless skylight. They were posed in variety of configurations, sitting or standing, in a single row or in tiers, frontally or in profile. The background might be the entrance to a field house or the edge of a sports field. These variations give life to what might otherwise have devolved into a rote exercise.

Parks No. 1339, March 3, 1928
Carlton Park Bantams, Playground Champions, 1928
City of Toronto Archives, s0372-ss0052-it1339

While Toronto continues to add new features to its parks, including indigenous storytelling circles, sculptural lounge chairs and luxurious dog corrals, the photos Goss took of High Park and Toronto Island Park are for me a reminder of the need for a less determined kind of recreational space.

In choosing the group of images posted below, I have attempted to represent all the major subjects Arthur Goss’s covered in his Parks series over the 27 years he worked on it.

See earlier articles in this series:

Click on any image below to launch the photo gallery


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