Exploring Toronto’s Gilded Age To Learn If It Was Anything Like The New HBO Drama

Featured Image: HBO/Toronto Star Photo Archives

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With all the popularity surrounding HBO’s new drama The Gilded Age, we thought it might be fun to take a look back at what that time period was like in Toronto.

The Gilded Age is generally referenced as occurring during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900, although many push the period until around 1910 or so.

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today was a famous satirical novel by Mark Twain set in the late 1800s, and was its namesake. (source: history.com)

The Gilded Age. Photograph by Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

Sherbourne Street, Toronto. Photograph Baldwin Collection Of Canadiana

The American Gilded Age was a period of immense economic change, of great conflict between the old ways and brand new systems, and of huge fortunes made and lost. Against the backdrop of this transformation, HBO’s The Gilded Age begins in New York in 1882.

Toronto also saw a boom during this time, particularly in architecture. Some of our favorite architecture was built or completed building during this time including The Drake Hotel, The Broadview Hotel, Massey Hall, and Old City Hall.

A standout during this time was the historic Gooderham Building (often referred to as the flatiron). It was completed in 1892 for $18,000 by the Gooderham family of Gooderham Worts fame. The five story structure boasts Toronto’s first manually operated elevator. Even though each floor had a large safe and sometimes more than one, a tunnel existed that ran under Wellington Street to a bank that sat on the corner of Wellington and Church. It was delcared a National Historical Site in 1975. (source: gettyimages.ca)

If you push the gilded age into the early 1900’s then of course you start to see some true glamour with Casa Loma which was constructed from 1911 to 1914.

The Gilded Age. Photograph by Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

Toronto. Photograph Baldwin Collection of Canadiana

In HBO’s The Gilded Age, we get a glimpse of a shopping trip to Bloomingdale Brothers. Bloomingdale Brothers (and later Bloomingdale’s Inc.) is an American luxury department store chain; founded in New York City by Joseph B. and Lyman G. Bloomingdale in 1861. (Wikipedia)

During this time, Toronto had a few stores that could be considered equivalents, such as the Robert Simpson Company Department Store that opened at the southwest corner of Yonge and Queen Street in 1895. A then towering building, the store sold dry goods, carpets, wallpaper, footwear, books, food and dinnerware. Today it’s known as The Hudson’s Bay Company.

By 1883 T. Eaton & Co had opened a multi-story department store in the new shopping district of Yonge Street. It was a modern marvel: electric lighting, elevators, 300 employees and 35 departments. It carried everything from produce to bicycles, toys to cosmetics. Today you would know it as the expanded CF Toronto Eaton Centre.

There was also Philip Jamieson, a clothier & outfitter on the northwest corner of Yonge & Queen.

The Gilded Age. Photograph by Alison Rosa/HBO

Toronto Island. Photograph Toronto Star Photo Archives

The New York social elite often spent the majority of their summers in Newport, Rhode Island during this period. You’ll catch a glimpse of this in the first episode of HBO’s The Gilded Age.

Toronto doesn’t have the luxury of being near an ocean, so Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands became a favorite destination for families like the Gooderhams, Masseys, and Eatons who were considered the commercial-industrial elite (Toronto.ca). Hanlan’s Point provided the perfect backdrop for garden parties, picnics, boating, badminton, croquet and more.

Interested in learning more? The Toronto Public Library’s digital archive is a great place to start.

The City Of Toronto website, also has a whole section on the city from 1851-1901.

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