Lake Ontario over the years: 17 historic photos of Lake Ontario | Great Lakes Guide

People and the Lakes

Lake Ontario over the years: 17 historic photos of Lake Ontario

Published June 3, 2019

Ontario is Canada’s most heavily populated province, and some of the province’s most heavily populated cities (like Toronto and Hamilton) sit on the edge of Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario’s waters have been essential in the development of the communities that surround it, so it’s no surprise that the shores of Lake Ontario have seen a lot of history.

Here are 17 historic photos of Lake Ontario:


1873: Toronto’s harbourfront

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Unknown (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Toronto’s Harbourfront, with an unrecognizably level horizon, viewed looking east from the top of newly re-built Union Station.


1923: The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE)

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John Ryan (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

The Canadian National Exhibition, better known by most as the CNE, began in 1879 on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Ontario as a way to promote Canadian agriculture and technology. Today, the CNE is Canada’s largest annual fair, bringing in about 1.5 million guests every year.


1929: The Beaches

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Unknown (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Families enjoy the banks of Lake Ontario in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood.


1954: The Hamilton Harbour

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Eric Cole (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Situated on the most western end of Lake Ontario, the Hamilton Harbour is on a bay separated from the lake by a natural sandbar. Water transportation through the bay was extremely vital to west Toronto’s industrial development of areas such as the Dundas neighbourhood.


1964: Low water levels

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Dick Darrell (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Ontario Premier John Robarts attends a conference about water shortages in the Great Lakes. Water levels were at the lowest that they had been since levels had begun being recorded 104 years ago. Speculated causes of the time were water gates, hydro installations, dredging in the St. Lawrence Seaway, in combination with lower than average rainfall and accelerated evaporation.


1972: Pollution pilot

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Dick Loek (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Desmond O’Halloran patrols the shipping lanes of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway on the lookout for oil slicks. If he sees any, he documents the ship’s name so that legal action can be taken. In 1971 alone, there were 44 convictions.


1975: The St. Lawrence Seaway

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Frank Lennon (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

The St. Lawrence Seaway opened early this year, allowing European ships such as the Netumar Lines freighter (pictured here) to bring cargo into Toronto. A couple watches as the ship pass through frigid waters.

Did You Know?

The St. Lawrence Seaway also allowed invasive species like sea lamprey and zebra mussels to enter the Great Lakes.


1976: Fishing for smaller fish

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Mike Slaughter (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Brothers Stan Cooper and Leonard Cooper examine a carp, their catch of the day. They disclose that the fish in Lake Ontario seem to be getting smaller in the wake of increasingly polluted waters.


1977: An icy swim

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Jeff Goode (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Brian Beatson, Dave Salesse, Romeo Brennan, Ralf Bauch, Dave Azzarello, and Paul Doucette, members of Ontario’s Olympic Diving Club, welcome the New Year with an icy plunge into the -3°C lake near Bluffer’s Park. Brave men!


1979: Smokestacks over sparkling waters

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David Cooper (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Smoke stacks tower above the lake. Factories use significant quantities of Great Lakes water, and experts call for new technology and better ways of powering emerging industries.


1981: In the wake of the storm

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Don Dutton (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

After a particularly destructive storm, Paul Clarke inspects the wreckage that has made its way into the lake. The storm took down hydro poles, and objects as large as picnic tables ended up in the harbour.


1983: A nuclear swim

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Alan Dunlop (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

A quick dip the the lake is enticing on a hot summer day. The proximity of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station doesn’t deter Kim Kipp, Nicole Ferguson, and Michael Ferguson from cooling off in the water, even after a ruptured tube in the plant caused concern in early August.


1983: Beach is closed

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Brian Pickell (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

That very same summer, Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood had to prohibit swimming due to heightened levels of pollution in the water. No relief from the heat for these friends. Protecting the water quality of Lake Ontario is an ongoing effort, even today.

Did You Know?

You can help safeguard your waters by volunteering at a citizen science water monitoring hub on the Great Lakes.


1984: A royal visit

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Frank Lennon (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Britannia, the Royal Family’s yacht, makes its way into the Toronto harbour with the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on board. Excited Torontonians try to catch sight of the royals.


1985: Cycling Coronation Park

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Tony Bock (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

A cyclist gazes out over the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario near Coronation Park.


1986: Flooding of the Don

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Reg Innell (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Viewed from the Dundas St. Bridge, one can see the flooding of the Don River after an especially wet summer. The Don River has had issues with overflowing since the middle of the 19th century. Annual flows in the Don River have increased by 0.44% yearly since the beginning of the 1960s.


1986: Greenpeace for Great Lakes

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Keith Beaty (Toronto Public Library Archives: Link)

Greenpeace environmental activists Steve Loper and Kenn Hollis protest pollution in the Great Lakes with a banner on the 250ft smokestack of the Highland Creek Sewage Treatment Plant.

Do you have any historic photos of Lake Ontario? Show us your pictures by tagging us @greatlakesguide and using #greatlakesguide.