Toronto Had Craaazy-Bad Smog in 1912

Oh boy. So that's what our skyline looked like around about 1912. Not exactly the kind of place you want to be spending time if you have asthma. Or, you know, lungs. A little more than 100 years before this photo was taken, the whole shoreline was covered by a forest that had been there for thousands of years, full of ancient oak trees and deer and wolves and eagles and bears. We started cutting down the trees as soon as the Town of York was founded. And we thought nothing of chucking our garbage and dead animals and piss and shit into the lake. Which we then drank from. Things only got worse as the Industrial Revolution kicked into high gear. In the mid-1800s, we got railways along the waterfront and with them came massive coal-burning factories like the ones in this photo. They say that by the early days of the 20th century, all the walls in downtown Toronto were black — brick walls hidden beneath a thick layer of toxic soot.


Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

This post originally appeared on the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog, which tells stories about the history of Toronto. You can read more highlights from it here, or visit it yourself here.


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