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Toronto of the 1860s

Posted by Derek Flack / January 25, 2011

Toronto 1860sToronto of the 1860s was a burgeoning industrial and commercial hub thanks mostly to the construction of major railway lines in and out of the city, which got underway on a grand scale the previous decade. With connections to Montreal, the Atlantic colonies/provinces and various U.S. cities completed or well underway, what had been the modestly populated town of York just 30 years before was now a rapidly growing industrial city.

With the rise of industry in Toronto, there was a pronounced shift in class structure. As historian Carl Benn explains, "Toronto's rise as an industrial city saw the accompanying emergence of industrial classes in place of the older hierarchies that had divided society. Families like the Gooderhams, Masseys, and Eatons formed a commercial-industrial elite. Below them a large middle class developed, as did a significant working class and a smaller underclass. Much of the working and underclass lived in marginal conditions because of unemployment, infirmity, age, or other affliction at a time when social services were in their infancy."

Architecturally speaking the city was still very much Georgian, though the style was no longer in fashion for new construction. Notable additions to the city included (but were not limited to): the Gooderham Worts Malt House, the Don Jail, St. Peter's Church, Spadina House and Euclid Hall (now the Keg Mansion). As was the case a decade later, the commercial and political centre of the city was located to the east of Yonge Street, in the Market District.

With Confederation in 1867, Toronto became the capital of the province with the highest population in the country, a mantle it obviously still holds. And though it doesn't much look the part in the pictures below, Toronto had taken the first steps toward becoming the international city it is today.

Here what it looked like back then (captions above each image).

Gooderam and Worts (painted 1890s, depicts a scene circa 1860)
Gooderham and Worts Toronto

Agricultural Hall

Provincial Lunatic Asylum Right Wing

Bank of British North America

Bank of Toronto

College Avenue (Now University Ave.)

The Don Jail

View from St. Lawrence Hall, looking east

Great Western Railway Station

Mechanics Institute

Ontario Bank

Osgoode Hall

Looking north from the St. Lawrence Market

Post Office, Toronto Street

Queen Street Bridge (over the Don River)

Rossin House Hotel

Shakespeare Hotel

Taddle Creek?

Toronto City Hall (1868)

Toronto General Hospital

Toronto Normal School

Davenport Station (on what is now Caledonia Rd.)

Rolling Mills

Check out the rest of the series here:

Images from the Wikimedia Commons, Toronto Archives and the Toronto Public Library.



skeeter / January 25, 2011 at 11:20 am
look at all those hippies.
iSkyscraper / January 25, 2011 at 11:31 am
For comparison, some images of one of Toronto's chief peers, rival colonial centre, and future streetcar sibling, Melbourne:

Sami / January 25, 2011 at 11:35 am
Fascinating. I believe the facade of the Normal School is now the entrance to Ryerson's underground gym.
Jeremy / January 25, 2011 at 11:41 am
They had a lunatic asylum for right wingers? Sounds reasonable.
gadfly replying to a comment from Jeremy / January 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm
That's because the left wingers were waiting for the right wingers to pay for theirs...
oni / January 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm
St. James without its steeple looks so ... stumpy.
the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 01:00 pm
Oh man, there's nothign worse than the comment boards on websites. Universally the biggest argument for society steadily becoming dumber over the decades. Really, the best any of you can come up with is some off-hand, ridioculosu remarks about elft and right wing politics and hippies? Pathetic.
skeeter replying to a comment from the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 01:14 pm
nice sense of humour you have there. but you're right. the internet must be SERIOUS TALK, 100% OF THE TIME. let's turn blogto into an online version of the Michael Coren Show or The McLaughlin Group. let's keep things intellectual here, folks. right, Henry Kissinger? he agrees with me.
the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 01:27 pm
Except none of what was said is funny, nor do I believe it was meant to be funny. People liek to say that when their comment is weak; "oh it's a joke, get a sense of humour". That's a cop out. If you want people to take what you said as a joke, be funnier.
Enrico Pallazzo replying to a comment from the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 01:44 pm
I find the comments section on websites fascinating. People will post things in a comment board they would, in all likelihood, never say to someone face to face. Yes, the majority of it is childish nonsense, but sometimes it's shocking (and admittedly frightening) how brutally honest people will be when they know there are no repercussions to their actions. Just my 2 cents.

Love this series of TO history articles though!
Katrina Broughton / January 25, 2011 at 01:44 pm
I've been following many of your historical posts and I want to thank you for the work you've put it. I'm currently researching my genealogy (Dowling branch immigrated to Toronto in 1894ish), so your posts are particularly interesting to understand more about what the City looked like when they lived here.

Anyone interested in family history should check out:

Not sure if this has been posted here before, but on their main page, check out the Simcoe's Gentry project. Very interesting project on how lots btw queen and bloor were subdivided.
bam / January 25, 2011 at 02:43 pm
Love the pic of the old City Hall/St Lawrence market..
Keep up the good work!
Jeremy replying to a comment from Enrico Pallazzo / January 25, 2011 at 02:52 pm
For the record, I would have made my comment in real life too. But I'm sorry for having thrown half the thread off topic (I figured people on the internet who didn't get jokes had learned to do the sensible thing and ignore them by now). But in an attempt to be more on topic:

This is a pretty impressive set for such an old decade. Iirc, some of the others in this period haven't had nearly as many and the plan hadn't been to go so far back. It's kind of funny to think of all that development and trade in what was not really part of any country (sure, it was ruled by England but that wasn't quite the same).
Bibi / January 25, 2011 at 03:13 pm
I love these pics. But please ... some modern context for them as well?
the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 03:17 pm
Oh, i understand what the joke's supposed to mean, it certainly didn't fly over my head, it's just not funny. Given the subject matter of the article I was really hoping people would have something worthwhile to say, or at least something on topic. Since I made my comment there have been comments made that actually say something. On average, comment boards are terrible and I've noticed a huge disparity between the discussions on BlogTO and the Torontoist, the latter normally offers arguments that would make one think. BlogTO is a step away from YouTube's horrid comments, as of late. It speaks volumes about the type of person commenting, which is sad because the articles are of no less quality than the Torontoists (as an example). That being said, I don't normally comment on lame comments, as I value my sanity, but this article above all else struck em as one that would draw a crowd that enjoys discussion and could post with interesting comments.
Derek replying to a comment from Bibi / January 25, 2011 at 03:24 pm
Hey, Bibi -- thanks! I'm glad you like them. As far as providing modern context, that'll come in a few future posts (and has been done in a few from the past --> e.g. With this series, we just wanted to focus on the decade-specific photos.
Fig / January 25, 2011 at 03:58 pm
Great addition to the series Derek.
David / January 25, 2011 at 05:25 pm

I would have appreciated some indication of the location of many of these photos. I knew some of them (the Mechanics Institute on the NW corner of Church and Adelaide, the Toronto General Hospital on the north side of Gerrard between Sackville and Sumach and the Post Office at 10 Toronto St), but many others such as the Shakespeare Hotel or the Ontario Bank are unknown to me.

Where was the first phot in the series taken? It is unlabelled.

I have very much enjoyed this series, thank you.
mindvinyl / January 25, 2011 at 05:48 pm
great post! i feel like i went into a time machine.
seanm / January 25, 2011 at 06:30 pm
Great series. One minor correction, the photo from St. Lawrence Hall looking towards St. James Cathedral should be labelled "looking west", as the cathedral is west of the St. Lawrence Hall.

Interesting to note the fact that the tower and spire were completed some time after the main structure (I believe not until later in the 1870s). It certainly does look stumpy.
Bruce / January 25, 2011 at 06:38 pm
Goddamn hippies
belvedere replying to a comment from the_weight / January 25, 2011 at 07:24 pm
oh please just shut up. and see a therapist for elitist personality disorder.
Elizabeth / January 25, 2011 at 07:56 pm
Replying to the_weight,

I totally agree with you. Way, way too much hatred on this blog. The articles and the pictures are fantastic and they keep me coming back, but the comments are too often pure nastiness. I suppose that make me an elitist with a personality disorder? Get real... that is exactly the kind of comment I am talking about.
Jordan / January 25, 2011 at 08:09 pm
Taddle Creek? Another once scenic, now buried waterway. Take a look at University College in the background. Can you imagine UofT with a river through it?
Johnny Cash 2.0 / January 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm
I enjoyed looking at "view from St. Lawrence Hall looking East"... I was just there at King and Church earlier waiting for the 504 streetcar. St. James church looks only half built in that photo... cool set.
belvedere replying to a comment from Elizabeth / January 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm
user-pic i know who the therapist is. therapist, heal thyself.

and stop taking urself and this blog so damned seriously!
Diglet replying to a comment from Jordan / January 25, 2011 at 10:34 pm
Hey Jordan, you can still see part of Taddle Creek on the surface up at Wychwood Park, albeit in pond form.
Ed replying to a comment from seanm / January 26, 2011 at 08:49 am
The "looking north from St. Lawrence" shot puzzled me for a bit. What's that big church? Seems pretty clearly to be St. Mike's--the shape is identifiable today. But it sure stood out a lot more 150 years ago!

The shot couldn't be "looking west from St. Lawrence Market" because the left hand side of the photo would be the harbour.
oni replying to a comment from Ed / January 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm
That's actually St. James, and the caption should read 'North-West', not 'East'. The photo is being taken from St. Lawrence Hall on King St., not the market down on Front.

Love this series, btw!
bob / January 26, 2011 at 01:02 pm
Wasn't it Toronto Town Hall (and not City Hall)?
Ed replying to a comment from oni / January 26, 2011 at 01:53 pm
That can't be St. James from St. Lawrence Hall. Both the direction and distance are quite wrong. The caption doesn't read East, it reads North.

If that's really St. James, the picture would have been taken from somewhere like Richmond or Adelaide (whatever Richmond and Adelaide would have been called back then) or even Queen at Sherbourne or Parliament.

On the other hand, St. Mike's is oriented east-west, and has the little extrusions on the side (transepts?). The distance and bearing (Front and Jarvis to Shuter and Church) looks about right. I wonder if the two-spired smaller church was the predecessor to Metropolitan which was built in the 1870s.

oni replying to a comment from Ed / January 26, 2011 at 03:57 pm
My bad! I thought you were referring to a different photograph. (photo #8)

It's an interesting photo - the churches you're referring to look like they've been painted in, as do the signs on the brick walls of the various buildings.
Janice / January 27, 2011 at 11:17 am
Wow awesome Toronto back in 1860s.
Deanna / June 27, 2011 at 03:10 pm
This whole series of comments and pictures from the 1860s through 1960s is many new pictures that I have not seen before. As a genealogist whose family arrived in Toronto between 1880's and 1910, the site has been illuminating and helpful.
Thank you!
Gerry Burnie / October 30, 2013 at 11:38 am
What a treasure house of memorabilia! Thank you for putting this together.
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