Following is the result of a detailed web search for quality online material related to the Old Town. For convenience it is divided into the following categories:
City of Toronto’s Heritage Property Search
This database maintained by the City of Toronto allows you to search Toronto and East York for heritage properties by address, ward, building type, district, architect, or building year. Only a few wards are within the boundaries of the Old Town.
The Ontario Heritage Directory Online
This Ontario Historical Society database lists Ontario historical organizations, including archives, museums and historical sites. The search term “Toronto” yields both well and lesser known organizations and places to visit, a number of which relate to the Old Town. Phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs are provided for organizations, but beware a fair number of expired links.
Toronto’s Historical Plaques
History enthusiast Alan Brown has assembled this informative and accessible way to search for and view Toronto’s historical plaques. Each entry includes an easily readable photograph of the plaque, as well as extra background information about the site it commemorates and even photographs and a Google map of its location. An excellent alternative to visiting these sites in person, this website’s “York” and “East York” sections are most relevant for the Old Town.
Toronto's Historical Artifact Collection Database
The aim of the City of Toronto’s artifact database is to allow you to search for physical items curated by the City’s museums. Currently it covers the Larry Becker Collection only. The earlier the artifact, the more likely it originates within the boundaries of the Old Town.
The number of digital-only historical exhibitions is increasing. Following are the web addresses of virtual exhibitions featuring themes connected with Old Town Toronto. The first five are the handiwork of the City of Toronto Archives and are hosted on its website.
Toronto in 1834
This small exhibition of paintings, documents, maps, and excerpts from first-hand accounts explores what the capital of Upper Canada was like in 1834. It was created to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the City of Toronto in 2009. Zoom tools mean that exhibit items can be inspected closely
The Textures of a Lost Toronto: John Howard's Documentary Art & Drawings 1830s-80s
This multi-part themed exhibit highlights documents produced by architect and engineer John George Howard. While only some of the maps, plans, and illustrations depict landmarks within the Old Town, the exhibit as a whole reveals the organic development of Toronto around that core thanks to the influence of planners like Howard.
The Earliest Known Photographs of Toronto
This exhibition gathers together photographs and documents produced in the mid-1800s as part of Toronto’s bid to become the capital of Canada. Many photographs depict parts of Old Town Toronto.
The Great Fire of 1904
Through photographs, maps, and other documents, this exhibit explores the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1904 which devastated much of an area adjacent to the Old Town. Special attention is paid to the fire’s effect on Toronto businesses. The exhibit also includes fascinating film footage of the fire itself, unfortunately within a very small video space. (The same footage in a more watchable size has been uploaded by Library and Archives Canada at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ETqEZ49oA4.)
A Work in Progress: Preserving Toronto’s Architectural Record
“This exhibit highlights some of the many architectural records housed at the City of Toronto Archives, which span the period from the 1840s to the present. These records are a rich and fascinating resource since they document many facets of architectural design and implementation. The drawings, specifications, contracts and correspondence are of interest to anyone exploring the historical evolution of Toronto's buildings, and add to our understanding of the development of our city and its urban fabric.”
Don Valley Historical Mapping Project
“This project documents historical changes in the landscape of the Don River Valley. Drawing from the wide range of geographical information available for the Don River watershed (and the Lower Don in particular), including historical maps, geological maps, fire insurance plans, planning documents, and city directories, the project uses Geographic Information Systems software to place, compile, synthesize and interpret this information and make it more accessible as geospatial data and maps.”
Sketches of Toronto
This exhibit produced by the Toronto Public Library turns a single book into an interactive experience. As you turn the pages of Alfred Sylvester’s 1858 Sketches of Toronto, you can click the indicated areas of text to obtain more information about the featured topic. You can also zoom in to inspect this archival volume very closely.
Panorama of the City
Toronto Public Library here presents its own contribution to exhibiting the photographs taken in 1856-7 as part of Toronto’s candidacy for the capital of Canada. One set of these photographs was intended to be assembled into a panorama of the city at the time; this exhibit stitches them together to reveal a bird’s-eye view of Toronto’s Old Town in the mid-1850s taken from the roof of the Rossin House Hotel. You can pan through the skyline and read more about the architectural features revealed.
Booze in Old Town Toronto
The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse Foundation has produced this exhibit on the VMC (vitualmuseum.ca) platform. It “explores how society attempted to find a balanced approach to booze, while the industrialized manufacture of it spurred significant developments in banking, railroads, shipping and more, with fiscal stability for its many employees.” The exhibit benefits from a diverse selection of items, from photographs and engravings to advertisements, posters, invoices, labels and artifacts. This exhibit is a goldmine for documentary evidence on the Old Town’s breweries and taverns.
Toronto in Time
Take a tour guide with you on your phone using this free mobile app for iOS and Android that “highlights the history of Toronto through ‘then and now’ photos, slideshows, trails, and historical stories for more than 150 sites.” You can explore the city by themes (like “fighting for Toronto,” “law and order,” or “industry and commerce”), by area, or by themed walking trails. The Old Town is covered particularly well under the “Toronto's Commercial Heartland” trail and the “Industry & Commerce” theme. The material on the site can also be enjoyed on your personal computer.
Online Maps and Public Records
Historical Maps of Toronto
History, map, and Toronto enthusiast Nathan Ng has assembled what is fast becoming a go-to source on the web for accessing the key early maps of York and Toronto. Although the digitized maps are largely available via the websites of various archives, Ng has collected these scans on a basic but user-friendly interface. Maps are conveniently grouped under four historical periods ranging from 1787 to 1902, and, importantly, source information is provided for each map.
Fire Insurance Maps
Another production by Nathan Ng, this site makes available good scans of Goad’s Fire Insurance Plans (maps) for 1884, 1890, 1893, 1899, 1903, 1910, 1913, and 1924, as well as the Insurance Plan of the City of Toronto for the years 1880 and 1889. As Ng indicates, these digitized maps are also available via the City of Toronto Archives, but through a vexing interface.
Toronto genealogist and speaker Jane MacNamara has assembled this helpful chart with links to digitized Toronto City Directories at the Toronto Public Library. Online PDFs of the directories are currently available for most years prior to 1923. MacNamara also provides useful advice for searching these illuminating documents.
City Tax Assessment Rolls
A joint project of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, the City of Toronto Archives, and OntarioRoots.com, this website makes available the city tax rolls for 1853. The project will be expanded to include the Census returns for 1852 Township of York.
There are two main web map websites:
1) "Historical Maps of Toronto" (doesn't include fire insurance maps) ranging from 1787 to 1902
2) "Goad's Atlas of Toronto Online" from 1884-1924 (fire insurance maps)
To use these resources:
"Historical Maps of Toronto" website:
--Go to the full listing of maps at http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/p/index-of-maps.html (note, maps are divided up by historical period of the city, "Establishment" etc.)
-- To view a map, click on the link of its title. You will get a page with some historical background of the map, as well as the map itself .
--to save a map, right click and select "Save this image as..."
"Goad's Atlas" website:
--Go to the full listing of atlases at http://skritch.blogspot.ca/2012/04/goads-atlas-of-toronto-online.html (note, atlases are listed according to date)
--click on a dated atlas to view the full atlas for that year--all the maps from that atlas are shown on one web page
--Note: until 1903, each atlas contains four maps, shown together on the web page, representing four districts of Toronto--the Old Town is covered in theCENTRAL DISTRICT map from each atlas, which is usually the first map on the page
--from 1910 onwards, the atlases got larger and you'll have to look over the maps to find the one covering the Old Town streets--it may be covered by more than one map
Research Guides (City of Toronto Archives)
This webpage is the portal for the City of Toronto Archives’ set of guides to Toronto-related research. The guides cover sources available at the Archives and from other repositories.
Researching Toronto Ancestors: Resources
Although the numerous sources listed in this helpful guide are meant to aid genealogical researchers, they also can provide valuable snapshots of Toronto in particular historical periods. The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society here provides detailed information on the location, accessibility, scope, and usefulness of these resources, which include census records, newspapers, street names, land records, and estate files, among others.
Toronto Local History (Toronto Public Library)
This webpage is a gateway to several Toronto-related research guides. They include Toronto Neighbourhoods, Toronto City Directories, Toronto Buildings and Architecture, and Toronto Buildings and Maps. The Toronto Neighbourhoods section features an interactive map that automatically searches the library’s catalogue for materials related to the neighbourhood you click on.
Decoding City Directories (Toronto Public Library)
This is TPL’s handy guide to interpreting the many cryptic abbreviations found in the city’s directories, which were published from 1833 to 2001.
Websites of Historical Sites
Following are the official web addresses of historically important sites open to visitors; interesting facts about and directions to the location are usually featured. The “history” pages of these websites are particularly worth checking out if available.
Note that only those sites that are open to the public are noted here. Many significant Toronto buildings now have commercial or private owners. The street addresses of such sites are conveniently summarized in the Heritage Landscape Guide. The listing in the Guide could be adapted to web format if visitors wanted to view facades. Google maps could be added.
St Lawrence Neighbourhood HCD
http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=dd08727e05c79410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRDThe City of Toronto recently completed a Heritage Conservation District Study for the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood with Fournier Gersovitz Moss Drolet et associés architects, recommending the area to be designated as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD).
Old Town Toronto
Note: This is the website of the St. Lawrence Market Business Improvement Area and not a heritage website per se. It concentrates on promoting contemporary business and culture in the Old Town area, but also promotes its roots by providing basic historical information on some sites.
Toronto’s Historic Museums
This general website lists and describes City-run museums along with contact information. Only a few are located in the Old Town, but virtually all have some connection to its history and help to illuminate it.
Campbell House Museum
Enoch Turner Schoolhouse Foundation and Schoolhouse
Lost River Walks
The Distillery Historic District
Little Trinity Anglican Church
Cathedral Church of St. James
St. Lawrence Market
Toronto’s First Post Office
Parliament Interpretive Centre
Bruce Bell Tours
Bruce Bell is a popular local historian of the Old Town. He leads entertaining and informative walking tours of its sites, especially the St. Lawrence area. You can get an idea of how Bruce's storytelling brings Toronto's history to life athttp://www.cestwhat.ca/history/frontandchurch.html.
b. Digitized Images
As mentioned above, archives and libraries are making scans of historical images available for searching and viewing through their online catalogues. This section describes selected Old Town images digitized by various repositories. This search was carried out according to the sites and buildings mentioned in the Heritage Landscape Guide’s Field Trip Sites.
The following tables comprise data related to the images. The images themselves are contained on the CD accompanying this report as jpeg files. Images listed below that were obtained from the City of Toronto Archives are low resolution. High resolution digital images or hard-copy prints are available from the Archives, but at significant cost.
Note that the following Heritage Guide sites have been left out, either because no buildings or historical images were extant, or because (in the case of the Parliament Site) images are well documented by Balen Grillo’s clients: Site 1 (First Parliament Building Site); Site 4 (Lucie and Thorton Blackburn Site); Site 5 (Original Town of York); Site 12 (Site of Colonial Advocate Office); Site 14 (Modern Development in the Old Town); Site 16 (Queen Street, Brewery).
If desired, public domain modern images of the represented buildings can also be obtained.
There is no authoritative bibliography of Old Town Toronto per se. Carl Benn’s detailed bibliography of works published between 1990 and 2007 on the history of Toronto can be found at on the City of Toronto’s website. Another relatively substantive bibliography with a closer relationship to the Old Town has been compiled by the Town of York Historical Society. These bibliographies are available at the links noted below.
Town of York Historical Society Bibliography
Carl Benn, Bibliography of Toronto History Published Since 1990,
Seventh revised and expanded edition, November 2007
City of Toronto
Neither of these offerings is current enough to list what has swiftly become a standard reference work for early Toronto, Hayes’ Historical Atlas of Toronto (Douglas & Mcintyre, 2008). This lavishly illustrated atlas gathers important and fascinating maps of early Toronto and documents the growth of the city from its earliest days to the modern metropolis.
In general, however, to assemble a bibliography here would be to needlessly reproduce the work already done in numerous books about the history of the city. However, a website devoted to guiding Old Town researchers could well benefit from a selective annotated bibliography of the most accessible and authoritative works.
E-books of primary sources
As historical books fall into the public domain, many are being digitized and made available through libraries and online repositories such as archive.org.
Here are a few of the most referenced early works on Toronto. Not only do they give us a glimpse of Toronto’s self-understanding in an earlier age, but they also provide some early illustrations of landmarks.
Robertson, John Ross. Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto: A Collection of Historical Sketches of the Old Town of York, from 1792 until 1837, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1908. (Toronto: 1908)
J. Timperlake. Illustrated Toronto, past and present being an historical and descriptive guide-book, comprising its architecture, manufacture, trade, its social, literary, scientific, and charitable institutions, its churches, schools, and colleges, and other principal points of interest to the visitor and resident, together with a key to the publisher's bird's-eye view of the city. (Toronto: Peter A. Gross, 1877).
Mercer, G. A. Toronto, Old and New: A memorial volume, historical, descriptive and pictorial, designed to mark the hundredth anniversary of the passing of the Constitutional act of 1791 Toronto Old and New. (Toronto: The Mail Printing Company, 1891).
York, Upper Canada minutes of town meetings and lists of inhabitants 1797-1823 (Toronto: Metropolitan Toronto Library Board, 1984)
Heritage Landscape Guide
Few specific references were identified in the text of the Heritage Landscape Field Guide . The following is a list of some of the major sources that were consulted in the development of the Field Guide.
Old Town Toronto. A Heritage Landscape Guide (PDF)