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From the Library: Yorkville Avenue

Having been around for more than 100 years, the Star has substantial library of prints and negatives. Many significant pictures have been digitized, but many more, especially those depicting daily life in the city have not.

In the first of an occasional series of posts, we'll take you back to Yorkville Avenue in the 1960's.

Yorkville's Beatniks stroll past residents of a rest home, who say they would like to meet them. The elderly live in a 63 room mansion on Yorkville Ave., where heavy walls and doors shut the noise of coffee houses at night. The nurse is Margaret Byfore. (Mario Geo/Toronto Star) July 18, 1966

Before it became one of the most expensive shopping districts in North America, Yorkville was a hotbed of hippie culture. Rents were cheap, and there were plenty of coffee houses and restaurants. Musical talents, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot, as well as then-underground literary figures such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen and Dennis Lee spent time there. The city was not particularly tolerant of the hippies. In 1965, city council enacted a moratorium on licenses for coffee houses, which only elevated Yorkville's reputation in the minds of counterculture youth. Syl Apps, the Chair of the Parliament's Select Committee on Youth (and former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs), famously decried Yorkville as "a festering sore on the face of the city" in the spring of 1967.

When reports surfaced of a Hepatits outbreak in August 1967, the media, the police, and villagers whipped themselves into a frenzy. The area was quarantined, beat cops refused to patrol, and residents left in droves. Despite health authorities warning against using the word, the Star's headline on August 8 read: "Hepatitis among Villagers now an Epidemic, Doctors Fear." The previous day's paper included the warning, "In theory, any visitor to Yorkville who ate in a café, bought any object or contacted any person, may have been exposed to the disease, a liver infection which can eventually lead to death."

When the dust settled, the Ontario Department of Health final report found only 32 cases of hepatitis, almost all of which were confined to intravenous drug users. During the hysteria, the Star had suggested there were up to 500 possible cases.

By then, the transformation of Yorkville was well under way.

When the Star publishes a picture today, the published caption is added to the digital record, allowing editors to see when a picture was last published and what we said about it. Before the digital era, a librarian cut the caption out of the paper, and taped it to the back of the print. It was also stamped every time it went to the engraving department. For these photos, the original captions are as entertaining as the photos themselves. With each picture, I'll include a more formal caption along with the original one. Some have more than one, and I'll include those as well.

Some of these photos bear obvious signs of retouching. This was common practice of this era. Some of this reflected the challenges of print technology at the time, and some is of the sort that would get a photographer or editor fired today. 


11 (Reg Innell/Toronto Star) April 19, 1966.

A place to perch - to think- to watch - and wait.

Not rebellious by nature, suburban youths often seem content to sit and watch the world go by, but they long for cars to take them out of the suburbs and into the action downtown.

These young people do not smoke marijuana. But Liberal MP Barney Danson thinks teenagers generally will be closely following the older generation's reaction to the LeDain Commission's interim report on drug use.

12 Teenagers today face family breakdowns, growing violence and uncertain futures. They're facing a society in recession. June 18, 1968 (Reg Innell/Toronto Star)

Cutline August 9, 1992: Rags to Ritches: In the '60's Yorkville made its name as a hang-out for hippies and crowds flocked to get in on the action. In the affluent 80's, it became a shopping enclave for Toronto's well of chic. 


The "Mods" meander down the two blocks they can call their own. Short skirts and lacy legs, or leather jackets and sandalled feet, it doesn't matter. (Reg Innell/Toronto Star) April 19, 1966.

"Fine job, fine job," Allen tells PC Douglas Freure during a visit to Yorkville Coffee house. "I haven't seen a problem because I haven't seen a problem. People need this walk and breathe atmosphere."  (Jeff Goode/Toronto Star) July 8, 1966. 


Some come in their bare feet, others strum a guitar, some just sit and hold hands, ... this is Yorkville. (Reg Innell/Toronto Star) April 19, 1966.

Yorkville: A haven from the work a day world. 


Penny Farthing Paint-in. From Top: Jerry Paquin, Karen Wilde, Linette MacKay. (Barry Philip/Toronto Star) April 26, 1967.

Yorkville at midnight: Young slow-march aimlessly or merely stand in silent groups while police watch. Inside coffee houses and jazz spots like the Mynah Bird, scores sit in semi-darkness nursing a cup for hours. 

Yorkville at midnight: Young slow-march aimlessly or merely stand in silent groups while police watch. Inside coffee houses and jazz spots like the Mynah Bird, scores sit in semi-darkness nursing a cup for hours.

HIPPIES TAKE THE HEPATITIS TEST. Doctor takes blood sample to test for the disease. August 6, 1968. Toronto Streets Yorkville (Reg Innell/Toronto Star)

Surgical Masks are hippiedom's answer to the spread of hapatitis germs in Yorkville as Nancy Dymond, right, daughter of Ontario Health Minister Matthew Dymond, sells vintage paper to customers at Grab Bag. Masks are the gag of owner Reuben Bernatt, left. August 7, 1968. (Barry Philip/Toronto Star)


VICTIM OF THE HEPATITIS HANG-UP. Owner blames 'excessive needling' for closing of store. (Dave Norris/Toronto Star) August 12, 1968.

Yorkville Avenue (Fred Ross/Toronto Star) May 17, 1971.


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Great Pics....Love em
Yorkville was my home for many years in the 60's
These pics bring back so many memories

A lot of memories, a lot more trees back then. Now the old folks home is an upscale garden joint, and Anthopologie down the street sells clothes that oddly resemble Yorkville of yesterday at astronomical prices.
It's like once tie-dyed t-shirts got massed produced, the Movement was over.

Nice to see old photos my dad (Mario Geo) took still pop up now and then in print and online.

whatever happened to old "pops" ? remember him ? the old guy with all the badges, black jacket,...always wore a hat and had something to say about everything...he was a daily figure back in the day..I knew most of the the characters back then .. as I lived in yorkville for a few years late 60's

Yes, Pops was a great ol' man with a big smile always for everyone. Carrying his 'staff' with unusual carving(s). He was old back in the sixties (at least compared to us, who are in our sixties now. Probably up with the great spirit in the sky.
If memory serves, he often wore high-top runners and enjoyed the attention from us 'hippie-chicks'.


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