City directories give the name and occupation of the "head of the household" (usually male, although women appear when widowed or single) at a given address. By finding the first year your home appears in the city directories, you can arrive at a probable date of construction. By then working forward, you can compile a list of property owners and/or tenants.
In most city directories, street names and family surnames are listed in separate sections of each directory, in alphabetical order. Some early directories have either street names or family surnames, but not both. Many directories also include a list of businesses by type. Abbreviations used in the directories are explained in an index near the front of each directory.
This directory entry reveals details about Toronto citizens' lives. For example, Lotty Brown, a paper maker, was a boarder at 131 Jarvis Street. Mary Brown, widow of Thomas, owned a house ("h") on St. Charles Street. This entry illustrates the complications that arise with common names, as well as an intriguing number of occupations held by women. The Toronto City Directory 1884
This directory entry shows only the "head of household" (usually male) at an address, rather than all members of a family. Later directories list the head of household's occupation as well. You can use the intersecting streets (here in italics) to find your property, even if the street numbers have changed since the year the directory was published. The Toronto City Directory 1884
The earliest directories contain information on only the original City of Toronto. Starting in 1873, outlying "suburban" (now urban) areas, such as Parkdale, are listed in appendices. Beginning in 1930, suburban areas are part of the main listings. After 1983, the directories are published in separate "central," "east," and "west" volumes, though not every volume is published in every year. Information in a directory is gathered the year before the directory's date (i.e., the 1910 directory shows information gathered in 1909).
The Archives has directories for every year from 1834 to 2001, with the exception of a few years in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, and in 1987, when directories were not published. Directories are available on microfilm in the Research Hall.