Toronto City Clerk, Ulli Watkiss

In 2016 the City Clerk’s Office continued on the path of transformation that is underway throughout City government. Within our office, change is built on a solid foundation of shared values and strategic directions that support us in our mission of building public trust and confidence in local government. We understand that we need more than small improvements and adaptations to meet the evolving expectations and increasing demands of an ever-changing city.

Archival Services is an important contributor to the success of the City Clerk’s Office. When it comes to transformation, the Archives provided a highly visible example with its first floor renovations in 2016. The staff at the Archives listened to their stakeholders, and made a commitment to respond to their clearly expressed needs and wants. Thus, the Archives atrium and theatre have been altered and enhanced to present a more welcoming and accessible environment for visitors, and to provide an improved capacity for exhibits and events. I am particularly pleased with the fact that a community engagement wall has been added to the space. In addition, the completely renovated theatre allows us to enhance our educational programs and will provide opportunities for community use.

The Archives has taken a leadership role in creating an environment which fosters partnerships and collaboration with the community. If you can, drop by the Archives some time, and see how dramatic the changes there have been!

Toronto City Archivist, Carol Radford-Grant

Partnerships and collaborations are essential components that enable the Archives to deliver its mandate. In 2016 we worked with other organizations and teams on construction, exhibits, and programming. We are continuing the collaboration theme with our annual report. For the first time, all of our articles are from people or groups we worked with this year. We hope you enjoy reading their contributions.

Our largest project in 2016 was the transformation of the existing theatre into a multi-purpose classroom. Our new space, the Spadina Room, equips our staff with tools to deliver more effective and relevant educational sessions and public programming. The construction lasted several months, and the Archives remained open to the public throughout. So many people contributed to this project: Gow Hastings Architects, MJ Dixon contractors and the City-wide Strategic Initiatives Unit. All staff at the Archives gave input into the design, and their input made all the difference. In addition, I appreciate the Archives’ staff’s support and patience throughout the construction. Thanks also to our Security staffer, who continued to manage during a transition of his workspace, and to on-site Facilities staff, who battled dust and liaised with contractors.

Renovations in progress in Archives' former theatre
Renovations in progress in Archives’ former theatre

As a result of our renovation, we will be able to provide exciting enhanced programming. Before construction, grade three students sat on the floor of the atrium as they studied maps of their neighbourhoods – now they sit comfortably at tables as they work, and can view presentations on large screens. Before, some adults had difficulty hearing at lectures – now we have hearing assists for them to use. Grade twelve students used to sit in a dark theatre, with no place to plug in their laptops and devices – now they have easy access to outlets and a bright, wi-fi-enabled room where they can search our on-line tools.

We will be expanding some of our programs in 2017 to contribute to Canada 150 celebrations, including expanded Toronto History Lectures in partnership with the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, family-friendly activities in the Spadina Room for Doors Open, and new community and student exhibits in the atrium.

Now that the Spadina Room is open, we are looking forward to new programming options and new partnerships which will bring to life the records of the past. We hope you will visit our new space soon.

The Archives began working with Gow Hastings Architects during the summer of 2015 to develop plans to transform our theatre and first floor atrium. We had an excellent working relationship with the architectural team, and believe they really understood what we wanted to achieve. Here, in Gow Hastings’ own words, is a description of what was accomplished by the project:

The Archives has completed a major interior renovation to upgrade its facilities, creating a more welcoming and engaging environment for visitors. The objectives of the project were to deliver an improved user experience, increase the Archives’ capacity to accommodate programming and broaden engagement with the larger community. Gow Hastings Architects worked closely with Archives staff to develop the plans to modernize the atrium space and convert the old theatre into a new multipurpose space named “The Spadina Room,” which will be used for public meetings, lectures, receptions, and educational programming.

The project presented an interesting architectural challenge for the Design Team, led by Partner in Charge, Philip Hastings and Project Architect, Allan Banina. Having to work within the functional and aesthetic constraints of the Archives building (opened in 1991), they employed strategic design moves to enhance the performance and experiential quality of the spaces while maintaining the architectural integrity of the existing structure.

The entrance to the building was enhanced with modifications to the greeting area and reception desk for a better arrival sequence, easier orientation and wayfinding. The atrium was enlivened with new lighting, carpeting, paint, furnishings, and audiovisual equipment, to be a museum-quality space for temporary exhibitions and large gatherings. Ring-shaped pendant lights act as a soft counterpoint to the atrium’s dramatic vaulted space. Exhibition space dedicated to community displays runs the length of the atrium’s east wall to provide a showcase zone for local groups.

Security desk and pivot doors in new Archives renovation
Archives’ newly renovated entrance and greeting area

The previously underutilized theatre has been transformed for increased functionality to host events, conferences, classes, and presentations. The Spadina Room, with a capacity for 60 people, will better serve the needs of Archives educators and the hundreds of students who visit for programming each year. When not being used by students, the space will be available for booking by city groups and the public.

The Spadina Room is outfitted with the latest in technology and classroom standards, including an integrated AV system with plug-and-play ability; refined acoustics from bulletin boards made of compressed felt and a ceiling of high-performance fabric panels; and sliding bulletin boards, oversized writing surfaces, and large presentation monitors.

The Archives' new Spadina Room
The Spadina Room, the Archives’ new presentation space

With a focus on sustainability, materials, paints and finishes were chosen for their low environmental impact and recycled content. The carpet tile was selected for its rich color and texture but is also made from 100% recycled content yarn – manufactured from the nylon of unusable fishing nets. Corian, a non-toxic polymer with a long lifecycle, contains pre-consumer recycled content and was used throughout for its durability and versatility on surfaces such as desktops and counters. Other sustainable strategies included the selection of energy efficient lighting systems incorporating LED and adjustable track lighting on occupancy sensors.

Flexibility was a key design driver: moveable furniture and multi-functional cabinets with concealed compartments facilitate easy transition from lessons to social functions. The inside surfaces of the cabinets are finished in a vibrant blue colour that provides a graphic punch when the cabinets are in the open position against the room’s warm palette of whites and walnut veneer. When needed, large glass pivot doors allow the room to scale up for events that require overflow into the atrium space. The room is adaptable for student activities, business meetings, and public receptions alike

Newly restored Archives' atrium
The newly restored Archives’ atrium

Through these small interventions that worked within the Archives’ strong architectural style, the architects have delivered a contemporary space that allows the Toronto Archives to meet its current needs and continue to grow within the building.

Submitted by Jane MacNamara, Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society

The Toronto History Lecture was inaugurated in 2011 in memory of well-known local and family historian Paul McGrath and his love for telling people about Toronto and its past. Paul was chair of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, a cast member of the History Channel series “Ancestors in the Attic,” and an avid user of the City of Toronto Archives—so it was very appropriate that the Archives was willing to host the annual event. The lectures are free to attend and open to the public. Our relationship with the Archives has helped us reach a much broader, more diverse audience and, I think, added credibility to the event.

The very first lecture took place on a hot and sunny Thursday evening in August. It featured writer and historian, Chris Raible who spoke on the legacy of Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie and noted interesting comparisons to the Ford administration. Perhaps surprisingly, the event attracted over 100 attendees and has continued to go from strength to strength each year.

Based on the responses made to a Call for Proposals, subsequent speakers have included professional genealogist and writer, Janice Nickerson, who spoke passionately about the stories she had discovered about the men and their families who died in the War of 1812; librarian, genealogist, historian and writer, Guylaine Pétrin who dispelled the myths around the fascinating life of Mary Mink and her father the enterprising African-Canadian James Mink, and Professor Craig Heron’s 2014 presentation “The Workers’ City” in which he illustrated the challenges and changes in the lives of Toronto’s working people.

More recently, Jonathan Scotland drew on a very unusual source—the records of the Ontario Canteen Fund to describe the impact of the First World War on the demobilized soldiers who returned to Toronto, while in 2016, noted historian Arlene Chan referenced her own family’s experience, to provide a moving account of the story of the development of the Chinese community in Toronto.

Looking ahead, August 2017 will see a series of three Toronto History Lectures, expanded to mark the sesquicentennial of Confederation. The series includes:

  • Wednesday August 9 — Reconstructing a Lost World from a Photograph: Agnes and Terauley, ca. 1910, Speaker Bill Gladstone
  • Wednesday August 16 – Forgetting and Remembering the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery, Speaker Gregory Klages
  • Wednesday August 23 – Yorkville through a House’s Eyes, Speaker Joyce Munro

See the Ontario Genealogical Society website for more information on the 2017 Toronto History Lectures.


Chicken warehouse, Agnes Street, ca. 1911
Chicken warehouse, Agnes Street
Photographer: William James
ca. 1911
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1244, Item 291

Submitted by Ryan Van Der Hout, Artist

I have been using the City of Toronto Archives collection regularly to build a body of photo-based art. In fact, ever since finding the collection, I had become increasingly excited about the photos, as well as the space itself. It seemed natural therefore that once I had developed a related series of work using archival images, I approach the Archives about the potential of doing an exhibition in the building.

The timing was good and the Archives invited me to present my work as part of the programming for Doors Open Toronto. An area that seemed an ideal but unexpected location for my work was the Record Centre. This dramatic space, with its aisles of 40-foot shelving and rows and rows of boxes seemed a perfect venue in which I could suspend a large piece amongst the stacks. This proved to be less straightforward however, than I had initially imagined. I had to figure out a way to suspend the oversize work from wires strung across the centre aisle. Lifting up the fragile piece using the fork lift truck was probably a first, but everyone at the Archives patiently worked to help make this vision come to life.


Ryan Van Der Hoost's pop-up art studio at Archives' Doors Open
Ryan Van Der Hout’s pop-up art studio at Archives’ Doors Open event

In addition to the photo display, Doors Open also seemed a good opportunity to provide visitors with a hands-on experience; which was fantastic. We set up a pop-up art studio where people could interact directly with copies of photos from the collection to create artwork of their own. Using markers, crayons, scissors and glue, many new works and collages were created from the images. The participation was lively and the activity really well received. Some people worked on their pieces for hours.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone from the Archives for making this happen and I look forward to many future collaborations!

See Ryan’s website to learn more about his work with archival photographs.

Submitted by Vid Ingelevics, Exhibition Co-ordinator

From Streets to Playgrounds: Representing Children in Early 20th Century Toronto

Elizabeth Street playground, 1913
Elizabeth Street Playground
Photographer: Arthur Goss
City of Toronto Archives
Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 72

The From Streets to Playgrounds exhibition was initiated as a hybrid collaboration between artists and academics from Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and the University of Brighton (UK), and originally supported through a multi-year grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC). From very early on, the City of Toronto Archives was seen as a most desirable venue to exhibit the fruits of our research as our focus was so specifically Toronto. The Archives has an excellent reputation for producing incisive exhibitions about our city using their vast collection of materials. To our great pleasure the Archives was most receptive to our project and this enthusiasm continued throughout what became an extended collaboration, not just between members of our own team but also with staff at the Archives. Our main contacts at the Archives were Gillian Reddyhoff, Paul Sharkey and Jessica Ehrenworth, though we are sure many others also contributed their expertise.

While we were working with funding from SSHRC, that funding had its limits and the Archives was able to provide essential services such as scanning, printing, mounting, installation labour, poster design and printing, and, as well, helped to facilitate inter-institutional artifact loans that allowed us to stretch our budget. We conferred regularly with staff as our exhibition ideas developed and really enjoyed the discussions that ensued. We always received positive but realistic assessments of exhibition ideas we put forward. We gathered images from a variety of sources but the most substantial number came, not surprisingly, from the Archives’ collections thus showcasing the Archives’ strengths.

Public viewing archival exhibit
Members of the public viewing From Streets to Playgrounds exhibit in the Archives’ atrium
Photographer: Vid Ingelevics

Probably the most difficult thing we all had to navigate was the fact that a substantial renovation of the former theatre and the building’s Atrium where our exhibit was installed had to occur in the winter of 2016-17. Archives staff made sure that this didn’t undermine the exhibition through their careful planning. The process of striking the exhibition for a few months and then putting it all back up was made as painless as possible through such professionalism and forethought.

Our exhibition also marked the first time that large-scale monitors and other moving image technology was used in the exhibition space. Staff were able to reinforce certain walls during the renovation to allow for heavy monitors to be hung without fear, thus expanding the ways by which archival materials can be displayed and made available to the public in their exhibition space in the future.

Our exhibition team found the Archives site an ideal context for our show and the Archives staff were such a pleasure to work with. To their credit it felt like we were all on the same team during the planning, implementation and exhibition stages. I’m sure that none of us would hesitate to propose future projects.