Every Saturday at noon, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
How we imagine a tourist magazine might have looked in 1867. Assembled by Jamie Bradburn.
In June 1867, Toronto was weeks away from becoming the capital city of the province of Ontario in the newly formed Dominion of Canada. Then, as now, the summer tourist season was underway, though the preferred methods of arrival were train or steamship. We recently thumbed through a travel guide published that year, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, which provides both brief highlights for visitors to our fair city and criticizes the lack of natural wonders. Which got us thinking…what would tourist literature akin to modern publications like Where Toronto have looked like 144 years ago?
Here’s our attempt.
Normal School building, Gould Street, north-side east of Yonge, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 8.
Summer is upon us and there are few better times to take a day’s visit or a week’s excursion to Toronto. Pay no heed to the authors of a recent travel guide who contend that our city has too many brick buildings (due to the absence of local stone quarries) and utterly lacks beautiful scenery and scenic drives. A city like ours has many aspects to appeal to any traveller, with which we hope to enlighten you.
St. James Cathedral, between 1885 and 1895. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 23.
Toronto treats piety with the utmost seriousness. If your visit coincides with the Lord’s Day, there are many handsome churches that will satisfy your spiritual needs. If you are of the Anglican persuasion, attend a service at St. James Cathedral at the corner of King and Church streets. If you are a devotee of the papacy (which we generally do not advise visitors to openly display on Toronto’s streets, especially those of Irish extraction, unless brawling is on your itinerary), then slip into a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Michael. Though both of these buildings of high worship have yet to be completed, we are assured that once their spires are finished they will provide much to the city’s appearance from a distance.
University of Toronto, 1859. Painted by Sir Edmund Walker. Wikimedia Commons.
The city’s institutes of higher learning provide more than space to train the nation’s future leaders—these are sites for tourists who wish a sense of Toronto’s philosophy, the city’s aesthetics. Deep thought has gone into their architecture and aesthetic surroundings which make them ideal locations to spend an afternoon. The University of Toronto offers a beautiful botanical garden on its grounds, along with a main Norman-styled building made of the finest white stone from Ohio. On Queen Street, Trinity College offers 20 acres of lush parkland that we are certain future generations will enjoy on days resplendent with sun. The Normal School at St. James Square is said to the largest building in America designed to train future educators.
Right wing of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, 1868. Photo by William Notman. McCord Museum, Item I-34480.1.
A recently published guidebook, The Canadian Handbook and Tourist’s Guide, highlights one of the most enlightening experiences in which any visitor to Toronto can partake, one that reinforces the frailty of human existence:
The Provincial Lunatic Asylum, at the western extremity of the city, is well worthy of a visit by the curious in such matters. It is kept in admirable order; and though it is a painful sight at all times to be brought in contact with “humanity so fallen,” it is pleasing to see the degree of comfort many of the patients seem to enjoy. There is no difficulty in obtaining permission to view it.
Advertisement, the Globe, June 12, 1867.
Were a carnival of “fallen humanity” not diversion enough, visitors in July will have the opportunity to enjoy one of America’s finest travelling circuses, operated by veteran showman L.B. Lent.
Travellers arriving from the north have a new train station to disembark from in the vicinity of City Hall and St. Lawrence Market. Operated by the Northern Railway, this wonderful new facility on the Esplanade west of Jarvis Street was recently described in one of the city’s finest newspapers, the Globe, as being “a much more ornamental and commodious structure than is generally imagined…It is in the Italian style, with heavy bracketed cornice, circular-headed windows and doors, glazed with ornamental ground glass.” No less a figure than John A. Macdonald (who we suspect will become leader of the new Dominion next month) was on hand for the opening ceremony to praise the future possibilities of extending the line beyond Barrie into Grey County and other points north.
King Street East, south side looking west, 1856. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 1.
For the finest in dry goods and seasonal fashions, King Street east of Yonge offers high class shopping to rival that found in older cities. It is a district for the chattering class, as one writer has noted:
The buildings on King Street are greater and grander than their neighbours on Yonge; the shops are larger and dearer; and last but not least King Street is honoured by the daily presence of the aristocracy while Yonge Street is given over to the business man, the middle-class and the beggar. Amid the upper classes there is a performance that goes on daily that is known among the habitués as ‘doing King.’ It consists principally of marching up and down a certain part of the street at a certain hour, performing, as it were, ko-tou [sic] to the goddess of Fashion, and sacrificing to her sister divinity of Society.
At three o’clock in the afternoon the first stragglers appear on the scene, which extends perhaps a quarter of a mile. These consist primarily of young ladies, whose proper place should be at school, and young men attired in the height of fashion. By the time these ardent devotees have paraded a few times, the regular habitués make their appearance, and till six o’clock in the evening one side—for one side only is patronized—is crowded to excess.
Advertisement spotlighting the Golden Lion, 1872. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1662, Item 14.
Among the finest of King Street’s merchants is the establishment of Robert Walker and Sons, colloquially known as the “Golden Lion” due to the jungle lord that gazes down upon patrons entering the store. Founded around 1836, the business has been in its present location for the past two decades. Current renovations to the handsome cast-iron building will make it the largest retailer in Canada West/Ontario. When finished, the store will consist of a four-storey frontage along King Street and a two-storey section stretching back to Colborne Street that will include a large dome to provide beautiful natural lighting to heighten customer appreciation of the goods for sale.
Additional information from The Canadian Handbook and Tourists Guide (Montreal: M. Longmoore & Co., 1867), Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1978), Toronto by Bruce West (Toronto: Doubleday, 1967), and the June 11, 1867 edition of the Globe.