Monday December 04, 2017

After CNN used an outdated Toronto skyline, local photographer pins down its vintage

This photo posted by CBC's John Lancaster shows a surprisingly out of date skyline during an interview with Walter Shaub on CNN.

This photo posted by CBC's John Lancaster shows a surprisingly out of date skyline during an interview with Walter Shaub on CNN. (John Lancaster/Twitter)

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Someone at CNN probably thought no one would notice.

But Sunday night, CBC correspondent John Lancaster spotted something off about a backdrop of Toronto's skyline broadcast during an interview with Walter Shaub: the Eaton's logo.

The tweet lead to plenty of discussion on Twitter and one astute photographer believes he has pinpointed the location, time and date of the image.

Pedro Marques spoke with As It Happens guest host Jim Brown. Here's part of their conversation.

Mr. Marques, tell me, first of all, what you were doing when you came across this tweet of the CNN interview with Walter Shaub?

I was just about to go to bed and I was just scrolling through Twitter, like I usually do, and I noticed the photo … I saw that it was a CNN picture. I assumed it was live. I saw the background of Toronto and immediately recognized that as an old photo.

You knew right away? What was the giveaway?

The very first thing that stood out to me? That was that the CN Tower wasn't lit up. It has these LED lights on it right now. It's very futuristic. That's very 2017 and that wasn't there. I noticed that the Edge Walk crown was also missing.

What did it for John Lancaster was the fact that it said "Eaton's" at the top of one of the buildings.

That wasn't the first thing that stood out to me, but I looked at that as well. Then I read the comments under the tweet and people were saying it was a composite photo; that certain buildings weren't where they're supposed to be. But I immediately recognized where it was from. It's looking south-west from around … Yonge and Dundas where Victoria and Dundas [meet].

You set out to really pin down the date here. You did all this triangulation of different things. Tell us what you did, walk us through your timeline and the thinking that lead you to it.

What I said about the LEDs … on the CN Tower, that was, I would say, around 2006, 2007 is when they installed those. I kept going through the photo.

The Eaton's logo was up there, so it had to be early 2000s or it could've been much earlier. But I also realized that Brookfield Place, BC Place, is in the photo and that was built in the early nineties. I would say 1991, maybe? So I kind of had some bookends to go with.

Pedro Marques

Pedro Marques is a photographer in Toronto. He went on a mission to disprove that the backdrop was a composite image of the city. (Pedro Marques)

Then I had a closer look and I saw that what's now called the TD Canada Trust Tower has a TD logo, has a green logo. TD purchased Canada Trust when I moved to Canada, which was … October 2000. So I realized right away this was either very late 1999 when they purchased it, but I believe I actually saw the change over because I do remember a red Canada Trust logo up there. So I assume it's around 2000, 2001.

So the time between the TD-Canada Trust merger and the death of Eaton's, that's basically what you're looking at here.

That's true. Sears purchased Eaton's in 1999, but they went on to re-brand it and had that whole campaign which I remember vividly because that was when I arrived in Canada: the whole aubergine Eaton's commercial. They closed completely in 2002, but Eaton's continued for a couple years after they purchased it.

Any idea what month in 2001?

I see some vapour coming out of that TD-Canada Trust building so that would mean it's cold. My best guess is that it's around March 2001. And I can even probably tell you the time.

What time?

6:00 p.m. — ish. You know the office lights are on but some of them are completely off. Some floors are off entirely. So people have gone home for the day ... It's definitely not dark yet. It's kind of twilight. 

Now you've got quite a lot of information at hand, not just about the Toronto Skyline but about corporate mergers and takeovers. How do you have all this right there?

I've always had a photographic memory. I'm a photographer, so it comes in handy. If I shoot somebody — for example, if I shoot somebody at an event that I've shot — I immediately remember the circumstances around that photo. Where I was, more or less, where I was in my life, who I was dating or things like that. So that's kind of how it comes to me.

I can look at a photo of a sidewalk in a tight shot and say, "That's Queen West on Bathurst," for example, "on the north-west sidewalk." I don't really know about the mergers, but I do remember visual things like TD taking over Canada Trust. I remember opening my account knowing that they had just bought Canada Trust and my aunt works there. I see visual things and remember circumstances or news events around those photos.

How long do you think it took you to come up with a year of 2001 for this photo?

Less than five minutes, I think. I immediately recognized it as old and then, as I started reading tweets, I went out to prove people wrong, that it wasn't a composite photo.

I think it took me longer to know exactly where it was taken … At first glance, I thought this was taken around the Ryerson Library, around Yonge and Gould. But that would be too close for the CN Tower to be in view.

So what's your best guess as to how a 16-year-old picture is being used on CNN?

I don't know. I think they probably just went and looked for some stock photos of Toronto. I thought Toronto would be well known in the U.S. and at CNN, but I guess not. Someone didn't catch this.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Pedro Marques.