<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1788-mann-plan-of-torento-harbour-with.html">Plan of Torento Harbour with the proposed Town and part of the Settlement</a></strong>. Signed 6th Dec. 1788, Gother Mann Captain of Command, Royal Engineers. Library and Archives Canada: NMC4435.<br />
Produced by Gother Mann in December 1788, this map presents the earliest detailed proposal for what would become York. Featuring neat residential squares and a large central common, the plan proved too grand for the early settlement. Note the early spelling of the harbour as “Torento.”
<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1797-smith-plan-for-enlargement-of-york.html">Plan for the enlargement of York, as amended by Order of His Honor the President projected in lots containing an acre more or less</a></strong>. Signed: D.W. Smith A.S.G. 10 June 1797: In council at York, June 10th, 1797, Peter Russell [Endorsed title on verso]: His Honor the Prest 10th June 1797 approval of the Town plot of York – addition. Toronto Public Library: Ms1889.1.3.<br />
By 1797, downtown Toronto’s grid had begun to take shape. Though many of the street names have changed, their basic configuration remains the same today. This map shows the assignment of lots during an expansion of York.
<strong><a href="http://fortyorkmaps.blogspot.ca/2013/02/1842-biscoe-plan-of-fort-york.htm">Fort York in 1842 from a British Army map by Capt. Vincent Biscoe, Royal Engineers</a></strong>. Library and Archives Canada: C-137340.<br />
Captain Vincent Biscoe produced this map of Fort York in 1842, after the reconstruction following the rebellions of 1837-38.
<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1851-s-fleming-topographical-plan-of.html">Topographical plan of the city of Toronto, in the province of Canada, from actual survey, by J Stoughton Dennis, Provin'l. Land Surveyor. Drawn and Compiled by Sandford A. Fleming, Provin'l. Land Surveyor. 1851</a></strong>. Published by Hugh Scobie, Toronto. Lithograph, colour; backed with linen. 12 chains to one inch. Toronto Public Library: T1851/4Mlrg.<br />
Besides championing standard time and designing Canada’s first postage stamp, <a href="http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7370">Sandford Fleming</a> worked as a land surveyor and prepared maps, such as this one of Toronto in 1851. Note the ring of building sketches surrounding the street plan.
<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1876-pa-gross-birds-eye-view-of-toronto.html">Bird’s Eye View of Toronto, by P.A. Gross, 1876</a></strong>. University of Toronto Map & Data Library: G 3524 .T61 A3 1876.<br />
The result of a three-year effort by P.A. Gross to walk down every street in the city, 1876’s Lithographic Bird’s Eye View of Toronto is a stunning work which Torontoist’s Kevin Plummer <a href="http://torontoist.com/2010/04/historicist_cartographic_civic_pride/">investigated in a Historicist column</a>. The actual size of this map is 60 inches by 39 inches.
<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1892-toronto-street-railway-lines.html">Toronto Railway Company’s Map Showing Street Railway Lines, 1892</a></strong>. Lithograph. Toronto Public Library: TRL, 970-16.<br />
Here’s one for transit geeks: a bird’s-eye colour map of the <a href="http://torontoist.com/2011/09/historicist-birth-of-a-public-transit-provider/">Toronto Railway Company’s</a> streetcar lines, published shortly after it took over the city’s transit franchise from the Toronto Street Railway in 1891.
<strong><a href="http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.ca/2013/01/1834-alpheus-todd-engraved-plan-of-city.html">City of Toronto in 1834 by E.G.A. Foster circa 1934</a></strong>. City of Toronto Archives: MT 00063.<br />
A colourful sketch of York created in 1934, likely to celebrate Toronto’s 100th anniversary. Ng places it on a page with an authentic 1834 engraved map drawn by a 13-year-old!
For as long as I can recall, I’ve been fascinated by maps. As a kid, getting the latest edition of the provincial road map was like receiving an early birthday present, a gateway to endless hours of studying highway and provincial-park details, imagining the adventures that lay beyond the colourful lines. Based on the number of maps I drew during childhood, an observer might have predicted a career in cartography.
Now, instead of drawing maps, I study them for the historical information they reveal about our city. Beyond providing a sense of how Toronto has evolved from First Nation footpath stop to sprawling metropolis, old maps reveal tidbits that hours of pouring through books fail to uncover. Vague references to long-gone roads are pinpointed. Building locations are verified. Odd landforms or street patterns make more sense. Grand urban planning schemes that never escaped the drawing board live on as the seeds of an alternate reality.
Old maps are also a type of artwork, demonstrating the skills of surveyors and graphic designers. The visual appearance of a map reveals much about the styles and thoughts of an era. Expertly drawn lines may be whimsical, ornate, or simple and plain. They can even camouflage the sins of the past. As Derek Hayes notes in his introduction to The Historical Atlas of Toronto, “Sometimes the maps illustrate a way of thinking different from what we consider proper today; to some, maps are instruments of imperialism, colonization, and the imposition of control, especially by Europeans over Native peoples. But all are products of their period in history and can give us important insights into the thinking of the time.”
Many of those insights are displayed in the maps Nathan Ng has collected for his new website, Historical Maps of Toronto. The site grew out of Ng’s research into the history of the building that housed his favourite climbing gym, Rock Oasis, whose location at Front and Bathurst Streets was slated for demolition. (The gym has since moved east.) Along the way, he discovered the Charles Goad Company’s Atlas of the City of Toronto, a series of fire-insurance maps. Frustrated by the arcane file format the City of Toronto Archives employed for the digitized version, Ng posted user-friendly versions of the maps, which other researchers found useful.
“I love old maps of Toronto,” Ng notes on his website, “and I’ve come across many that ought to be aggregated someplace. My subjective issue with a lot of the institutional sources is that browsing their catalogues for maps can be…a balky experience for novices, due to interface and system constraints. What if there was a tidy, easy to use list?” Several browsing methods are included on the site, from a chronological listing to thumbnails, making it easy to find what you’re looking for. There’s even a “view random map” link for those who like surprises.
Ng intends his site to complement the efforts of institutions like the Archives, the Toronto Public Library, and the University of Toronto, who are posting their map collections online. “I want people to discover that these artifacts exist,” he recently told the Canadian Encyclopedia, “and then if they want to learn more, if their curiosity has been piqued, they can research the item or the period in full at the corresponding institution.”