Here are some popular topics in Toronto’s history that the Archives is often asked about. We invite you to visit the Archives to learn more about these and many other aspects of our city’s history.
The Armouries, on University Avenue west of Osgoode Hall, were the home of the local militia regiment and included a drill yard where soldiers could practise their formation drills. They were built in around 1895 and demolished in 1963. They were replaced with the expansion of the provincial law courts at Osgoode Hall.
The park known as Allan Gardens was named after politician George William Allan, who originally owned the property. He gave part of the lands to the Toronto Horticultural Society in a series of transfers starting in 1860, and sold the rest of the lands to the society at a low cost to be used as a park and botanical gardens. The society ran into financial trouble, and deeded the lands to the City in 1889 for the same purpose.
The airport opened for business in 1938. It was improved in 1957 with a new 4,000-feet paved runway, lighting, and heated hangar. It is officially known as the “Port George VI, Toronto Island Airport.”
“The Archer,” a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, was originally known as “Three-Way Piece No. 2.” It was bought in 1966 at a cost of $120,000, paid for by a public subscription fund started by Mayor Philip Givens, and presented to the city in a ceremony on October 27, 1966.
The bridge across the ship channel on Cherry Street is known as a bascule bridge. It is a drawbridge balanced by a counterpoise which rises or falls as the bridge is lowered or raised. It was built by the City in 1916 at a cost of $149,000.
Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in Toronto on September 5, 1914. He was playing for the minor league AAA team the Providence Grays against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Island Stadium, which stood on Hanlan’s Point, near where the Island Airport is now. The ball landed in the bay.
Toronto’s first park built specifically for baseball was built in 1886 on eight acres of land south of Queen Street East, beside the eastern bank of the Don River. It had a roofed grandstand that seated 2,200, plus additional (and cheaper) wooden bleachers. In its early years it was known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, and was eventually referred to as Sunlight Park, after the Sunlight Soap factory south of it.
Construction of this massive bridge across the Don River Valley and the Rosedale Ravine started in 1915 and finished in 1919. The consulting architect was Edmund Burke, and the designing and construction engineer was Thomas Taylor. The viaduct is 86 feet wide and 5,267 feet long. It was built with a lower deck to accommodate a subway, even though Toronto would not have an east-west subway until 1966.
The first concrete bridge was a truss bridge over Etobicoke Creek. The date of construction is not known. The builder, O.L. Hicks, tried a new method of protection against freezing by packing the concrete in ice when building it.
Toronto’s very first by-law contained certain building restrictions to help prevent fires, an important consideration in a city where most houses were made of wood and heated with coal or wood fires. Several more building by-laws were passed, and then consolidated in 1869 (#503) and 1874 (#627). Building permits were required starting in 1879 (#908). Building inspectors were first employed in 1882.
Cabbagetown was apparently named after the many gardens in which its Scottish and Irish inhabitants grew cabbages. When stored properly, cabbages would last the winter without needing to be preserved, and therefore were a popular vegetable.
Colour and movement are the keys to reading the weather forecasts on the weather beacon. Green means the weather will be clear; red means cloudy; flashing red means rain; and flashing white means snow. If the lights are shown moving upwards, the temperature will get warmer, and if they’re shown moving down, the temperature will get colder. Forecasts come from the Ontario Weather Centre at the airport, and change four times per day, the last change at 10:15 p.m. The weather beacon contains 1,560 light bulbs and has been letting Torontonians know the weather forecast since August 1951.
The cenotaph was originally dedicated to those who fell in the First World War, 1914-1918. It was designed in the style of a cenotaph in London, England, and made from granite cut from the Canadian Shield. The architects were W.M. Ferguson and T.C. Pomphrey of Toronto. It was unveiled on November 11, 1925. It has since become a memorial to those killed in subsequent wars.
The City Dairy, on the north-east side of Spadina Crescent, was established by Walter Massey (son of Hart Massey) to provide a safe supply of milk for Torontonians. It opened on June 1, 1900. Massey also established a model dairy farm at Dentonia Park, named for his wife’s maiden name, Denton.
Toronto has had three purpose-built City Halls. The first was the brick building that is now the core of St. Lawrence Market at 95 Front Street East. It was designed by Henry Bowyer Lane, and its cornerstone was laid in 1844. The second City Hall, now known as Old City Hall, was designed by E.J. Lennox, and was built between 1891 and 1899. The current City Hall was designed by Viljo Revell and built between 1958 and 1965.
The first civic holiday was held on September 12, 1861. At the time, the mayor had the authority to proclaim holidays. After complaints that September was too busy a time of year, the holiday was moved to August. It has been held on the first Monday in August since 1899. In 1968, acting on a request from the Ontario Minister of Tourism and Information, Council named the August holiday Simcoe Day.
Constance E. Hamilton was the first woman elected to Toronto City Council. She sat in 1920-21.
William Peyton Hubbard, who was born in Toronto in 1842, was elected to City Council in 1894 and served on it for 15 years.
Toronto City Council decided to make this change in 1989, not to be more inclusive, but to comply with changes in the provincial Municipal Act. The change required provincial legislation.
Toronto voters approved the adoption of daylight saving time on January 1, 1917.
The ratepayers of West Toronto (also known as the Junction) voted in 1904 to outlaw the selling of alcohol within its borders. West Toronto was annexed to Toronto in 1909, but stayed dry until November, 1998.
In the former City of Toronto, up until 1904, municipal elections were held once a year, on the first Monday in January. The Municipal Act of 1903 allowed large municipalities to hold elections on January 1 (or the following day if the 1st was a Sunday). Starting in 1951, elections began to be held in December. Now they are held in November.
The first gas lights were installed in 1841.
The first two electric lights in Toronto were demonstrated in McConkey’s Restaurant in 1879. By 1881, more lights were installed in downtown stores, including Eaton’s. In 1884, the newly formed Toronto Electric Light Company (funded by, among others, Sir Henry Pellatt, builder of Casa Loma) won a contract to put 50 electric lights along King, Queen, and Yonge Streets.
Yes, in 1849 and 1904. On April 7, 1849, at 1:30 a.m., a fire (cause unknown) started in some wooden outbuildings of Post’s Tavern, east of Jarvis Street and north of King Street. It destroyed most buildings in the block bounded by King, Church, Adelaide, and Jarvis Streets, including many businesses, some houses, and a predecessor of St. James’ Cathedral. The April 19, 1904 fire, which began in the evening in E. & S. Currie’s neckwear factory on Wellington Street (again, the cause was never determined), destroyed the commercial and warehouse district between Bay, Wellington, Yonge, and Front Streets, including the land now occupied by Union Station. A virtual exhibit about the 1904 fire is online here.
Toronto’s first motor-driven firetruck entered service in 1911. Horse-drawn equipment had been used starting in 1861.
In 1842, the Metropolitan Water Company supplied the City with 12 hydrants. The system was never sufficient, and was supplemented with water barrels and underground tanks.
The wedge-shaped building at the intersection of Wellington and Front streets was formerly known as the Gooderham building. It was built in 1891-2 and designed by architect David Roberts. Before that time, the same site held a wooden hotel of the same shape, and was sometimes known as the Coffin Block, for its resemblance to a coffin.
On October 11, 1798, John Sullivan, a tailor, was hanged for cashing a forged note.
Toronto’s first water supply system was privately owned and run by Albert Furniss (or Furness) starting in 1841, who had a pumping station south of where the Skydome is now, and supplied his customers with water from the bay. Toronto bought his infrastructure from his estate in 1873 and began expanding it as a public system. The first large intake pipe extending into the lake was laid in 1881. There was an attempt to clean the water by filtering it through sand basins on the Island, but this was not successful. Chlorination began with a pilot project in 1910. Toronto’s first water filtration plant was built on the Island and began operation in 1912. Parts of it are still in operation today. Construction on the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant began in 1932; the west wing was built first, and began use in 1941. When the Metro government was formed, it took over the plants, and added the east wing in the 1950s. The Metro government also built two more treatment plants, the R.L. Clark in Etobicoke and the F.J. Horgan in Scarborough.
The City Streets Department used horses until 1946. Privately owned horses pulling delivery wagons can be seen in photographs from World War II, probably because of gasoline rationing.
Toronto General Hospital dates back to 1817, and originally stood on the north-west corner of King and John Streets. Its current location on the southeast corner of University Avenue and College Street opened on June 13, 1913.
This natural disaster started the evening of October 14, 1954. Record rainfall swelled the Humber River, which swept away bridges and roads, including one whole residential crescent, Raymore Drive, where 32 houses were destroyed. Eighty-one people in Ontario were killed. Much of the parkland along Toronto’s Don and Humber Rivers was established after the hurricane, in the floodplains where it had been proven dangerous to build houses.
Yes, City parks had to be closed on Sundays until August 1938, when they were opened providing that competitive games were forbidden (except, for some reason, tennis) and “no apparatus shall be used,” which meant that swing sets and other playground equipment were chained and locked. Movie theatres were allowed to open on Sundays as of May 23, 1961. Bars were allowed to open on Sundays starting in 1962.
William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s first mayor (1834), earned £100 per year.
The first plane landed at what was then known as the Malton Airport in August 1938 (the same year as the Island Airport). It was renamed Toronto International Airport in 1960, and in 1984 renamed again to Lester B. Pearson International Airport, in honour of Canada’s 14th prime minister.
Its construction was announced in 1929, and the building was started and completed in 1931. It opened November 12, 1931.
“Metro,” as it was known, was created when the Metropolitan Toronto Act received royal assent (that is, was passed as an act) on April 2, 1953. The first meeting of Metro Council was held April 15, 1953 in the Legislative Chamber of the Ontario Parliament Buildings. Meetings were then held in the County of York building at 67 Adelaide Street East until September 21, 1965, when Council began to meet in the Council Chamber of New City Hall.
The Metro government was a regional government, coordinating services across municipal boundaries in what is now simply the City of Toronto. The Metro government ceased to exist when the amalgamated City of Toronto was created as of January 1, 1998.
Potters Field, also known as the York General or Strangers burying ground, covered approximately six acres on the north-west corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. It was opened in the fall of 1825 and closed around 1855. Bodies were moved to the Necropolis and other cemeteries by 1875. The Necropolis, in Cabbagetown, began burials around 1855. Mount Pleasant Cemetery was opened in July 1875, because the Necropolis could not expand. St. Paul’s Cemetery existed from 1822 to 1857, when a new church was built on the site. St.Michael’s Cemetery was opened in 1855, and there was a burial there as late as 1979.
The gates were originally built in 1901 at Bloor Street and Avenue Road by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire to commemorate the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later the Prince and Princess of Wales). The letters E.A. on the gates stand for Edward and Alexandra, then King and Queen of England. When Avenue Road was widened in 1959-60, the pillars were modified and moved to the head of Philosopher’s Walk, the pedestrian walkway just west of the Royal Ontario Museum.
Toronto’s population has increased over the years, but so has the geographical area within the the city’s borders.
When it was incorporated as a city in 1834, Toronto’s population was 9,254.
In 1861, the City of Toronto’s population was 44,821. The geographic area that is now occupied by the City of Toronto had a population of 65,085.
In 1901, the City of Toronto’s population was 208,040. The geographic area that is now occupied by the City of Toronto was 238,080.
In 1951, the City of Toronto’s population was 675,754. The geographic area that is now occupied by the City of Toronto was 1,117,470.The suburban boom had started, increasing the population outside the city.
In 2001, the population of the amalgamated City of Toronto was 2,481,494.
In 2011, the population of the amalgamated City of Toronto was 2,615,060.
In 2016, the population of the amalgamated City of Toronto was 2,731,571.
Toronto’s first jail, built around 1800, was a wooden building with ten cells on the south-east corner of King and Yonge Streets. It was replaced in 1824 by a brick building designed by John George Howard on the north-east corner of King and Toronto Streets. The Home District Jail, on Front Street East, west of Parliament, started construction in 1838, and was demolished in 1887. The Don Jail, built in 1858 on Gerrard Street near the Don River, has had modern additions and is still standing. The Central Prison, in the west end, between the railway tracks and west of Strachan Avenue, opened in 1874 and closed in 1915.
The Royal York Hotel was built in 1929. It replaced the landmark Queen’s Hotel, which started its life as a row of houses built in 1838. The houses were turned into a hotel in 1859.
The Theatorium, opened in 1906 at 183 Yonge Street, was Toronto’s first permanent movie theatre. Its name was changed to the Red Mill in 1911.
St. Lawrence Market is the oldest continually operated market on the same site in North America. There has been a market on the site since 1803. The brick building that is part of the entrance is what remains of Toronto’s first city hall, built in 1844 and used until Old City Hall was finished in 1899. The current building was built around the core of the old city hall around 1900.
There are a few candidates for Toronto’s oldest house. Scadding Cabin, on the Exhibition grounds, is said to have been built east of the Don River, south of Queen Street, around 1794 and moved in 1879. The John Cox house at 469 Broadview Avenue is thought to be from 1807 or before, and is still on its original site. Drumsnab, built ca. 1830 at what is now 5 Drumsnab Road in Rosedale, is another very old home. A log cabin on the grounds of the Guild Inn in Scarborough was once thought to be from the 1700s, but a archaeological dig found evidence of it being much younger.
This amusement park was opened in 1907 near the lake between McLean and Leuty Avenues, in the Beaches neighbourhood. Thus it was actually in Toronto, not Scarborough. It stayed open until the late 1920s. It offered a boardwalk, midway games, a water chute ride, and a roller coaster, among other attractions.
Municipal sewers were probably built starting in 1840. Bylaw #46, dated June 15, 1840, authorizes the construction of a public sewer on George Street, at a cost of £150.
British Sterling currency was used until 1857, when decimal currency was adopted.
In fact, there were several.
The first “stork derby” was begun by Charles Vance Millar, an eccentric and wealthy Toronto lawyer who died on October 31, 1926. In his will, Millar left most of his estate “to the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children.” Ten years later, four women, who had each given birth to nine children in the allotted time period, shared the $750,000 prize.
Mayor Thomas Foster, who died on December 10, 1945, mimicked the first race. The prizes were $1,250 for first, $800 for second, and $450 for third. Four ten-years periods began and ended on his death date, and ran from 1945-55, 1948-58, 1951-61, and 1954-64.
The Toronto Transportation (later Transit, starting in 1953) Commission was incorporated in 1921. It purchased equipment from the Toronto Railway Company, a private company which had been created in May 1891, when the City of Toronto awarded a 30-year franchise for the operation of a street railway system to William Mackenzie and his associates. Another private company, the Toronto Street Railway, had itself been awarded a 30-year franchise in 1861.
The first two streetcar routes ran in 1861. One went along Yonge Street between Scollard (near Davenport) and King Streets, with a side trip through Yorkville, and the second went along Queen Street West from downtown to what is now Ossington Avenue. The last horse-drawn streetcar operated on McCaul Street, and was withdrawn on August 31, 1894.
The first electric line in Toronto opened on August 15, 1892. The system was fully electric by 1894.
The first subway, along Yonge Street from Union to Eglinton Stations, opened on March 30, 1954.
York Mills Station opened on March 30, 1973, and Finch Station on March 29, 1974.
The University line, from Union to St. George Stations, opened on February 28, 1963.
The Bloor-Danforth line, from Keele to Woodbine Stations, opened on February 25, 1966.
Extensions to Kipling and Kennedy Stations opened on November 21, 1980.
The Spadina line, from St. George to Wilson Stations, opened on January 27, 1978.
North York Centre Station opened on June 18, 1987.
Downsview Station opened March 31, 1996.
The Scarborough LRT opened on March 22, 1985.
The Sheppard subway opened November 22, 2002.
Tolls were common in early years, as a way to finance road building by the government or private companies. Kingston Road was a toll road, and Bloor had several toll gates. Davenport Road had five toll gates in operation from at least 1850, including one at Bathurst Street, where the tollkeepers’ cottage is being restored. The toll there was between one and six pence, depending on what vehicle or animals were passing through.
In the United States, there are Torontos in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. Australia also has a Toronto.
The Toronto Ferry Company ran the ferries until February 21, 1927, when responsibility was transferred to the TTC. On January 1, 1962, the Metro Parks Department took over the ferry service.
The Toronto Stock Exchange was formed in 1852. It merged with the Standard Stock and Mining Exchange in 1934. The official opening of its moderne-style building at 234 Bay Street took place on March 17, 1937. The Stock Exchange moved in 1983 to the corner of King and York Streets. The Bay Street building was incorporated intact into a highrise development and is now the Design Exchange, a museum of design.
The first automatic traffic signals (which replaced police officers directing traffic) were used experimentally in early 1927. They were installed at 15 locations downtown, and were successful enough that more were installed permanently the following year.
Toronto’s very first railway station was a shed on Front Street, where the current Union Station is now. It was built by the Northern Railway and was used starting on May 16, 1853, with the first-ever departure of a train from Toronto. In 1858, a large shed-like building (now referred to as the First Union Station) was built on the west side of York Street further south, and was shared by both the Northern and the Great Western Railway. In 1866, the Great Western built its own station on Yonge Street at The Esplanade. The Northern decided to build a larger station, on the northeast corner of Simcoe Street and The Esplanade. This Second Union Station opened on July 1, 1873 and was expanded in 1894.
The current, much larger Union Station opened on August 6, 1927, on empty land the City had acquired after the fire of 1904 destroyed the commercial buildings that had been on the site.
Who can vote in municipal elections is legislated by the provinces. In 1867, when Ontario entered Confederation, only males who owned a specific amount of property or earned an equal amount of income could vote. Unmarried women and widows who met the same property or income qualifications as men could vote starting in 1884. In 1888, Ontario enacted “universal manhood suffrage,” that is, all resident men aged 21 or over could vote. The 1917 Women’s Municipal Franchise Act extended the vote to all women aged 21 or over.
Women in the armed forces and women with male relatives in the forces with could vote in federal elections as of 1917. As of 1918, all women aged 21 and over could vote in federal elections. The right for women to hold office was granted in Ontario in 1919.
The bowl-shaped park was, in fact, originally a pit. The Christie Sand Pits were named after Christie Street, which was named after William Mellis Christie, one of the founders of the Mr. Christie cookie manufacturers. The City acquired the land through a tax sale in 1907, and opened the land as a park. The park was named Willowvale in 1908, and was increased in size through other land purchases up to the 1920s. It was the site of the riot of 1933, when a fight between Nazi sympathizers and Jewish and Italian immigrants after a baseball game turned into a riot involving up to 10,000 people.