A simpler, happier childhood? Toronto of yesteryear.

Chris Selley: A time in Toronto’s history when children roamed free — and polite society decided this wouldn’t do

Chris Selley | September 30, 2016 | Last Updated: Oct 1 8:24 PM ET

For some reason, it was the face of the little girl buying ice cream from a horse-drawn carriage that finally had me laughing in astonishment at what I was seeing, on a big-screen TV at the Toronto Archives.

Vid Ingelevics, a professor at Ryerson’s School of Image Arts, called it a “guided tour” of a 1913 photograph by Arthur Goss, Toronto’s first official photographer, depicting scores of children at play on the Elizabeth Street Playground in the heart of The Ward — the densely populated, immigrant-rich and poverty-stricken neighbourhood once bordered by Queen, Dundas and Yonge streets and University Avenue — at a time when Jewish, Chinese and other new arrivals were pouring into the area.

Using technical wizardry I can’t begin to understand, Ingelevics created a video that takes us through Goss’s scene as if by drone, and the level of detail had me slack-jawed. You can clearly see the children’s faces and expressions and attire, mid-motion on the slide and the swings in the foreground, playing basketball in the background, striking poses for Goss in the middle. And off to the right — totally indistinguishable in online reproductions of the photo — you can see the little girl, by herself, getting a treat. It’s an objectively inconsequential moment, but it sure doesn’t feel like it 113 years later.

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