As a former Scarborough city councillor, Ron Watson has been a lot of places in this city.
But until today he had never set foot on the roof of Toronto’s iconic Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
After taking the hotel’s elevator as far as it would go, it was a steep climb for the senior-cane in hand. Tackling several flights of stairs, he emerged on the roof, 88 years to the day after his father did the same.
Watson carried with him more than a dozen photographs taken by his father on April 5, 1934.
Harry Watson came to Canada in 1923 and got a job working for the Canadian National Railway. He also purchased a camera and developed a love of photography,which led him to the hotel on that day.
“He came one day after work, or during work I don’t know,” Watson said with a laugh. “The Royal York was a CPR hotel. He came here and when he came to the roof he took pictures 360 degrees.”
The photos are among a collection Watson has kept in his Scarborough home for a generation. Each one is labelled with the information from his father, including the direction the picture was taken from the roof. The photos capture a moment in time much different from the views of today.
“Where is that? That’s an old hotel,” Watson said while holding one of the large photos to the skyline, trying to line it up with the buildings of Toronto today.
Many of the buildings in the photos are no longer standing. Many of those that are, like the 34-storey north tower of Commerce Court, once the tallest building in the British Empire, now hidden behind a number of much larger skyscrapers.
“It’s like a canyon,” Watson said, looking around at the buildings that have sprung up since his father stood on the same rooftop.
With the help of current Scarborough councillor Jennifer McKelvie and her staff, Watson got the chance to access the rooftop today-something off limits to most.
“It’s beyond me,” he said as he surveyed the surroundings. “it’s just unbelievable.”
For Watson, his father’s photos are not just a part of his family history, but also of the city’s story.
“It’s history,” he said, “People have to understand history is what we have here. Years ago should have a better understanding of the future.”
As for Watson, he now has a better understanding of the past and the city both he and his dad loved.
“I find it very difficult walking in my father’s footsteps.” said Watson before heading back to ground level.
“But I’m glad I came. He made it then, I made it now.”
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