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The Toronto photographs of the City Engineer's office

Posted by Derek Flack / November 7, 2012

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsFor all the historical photos of Toronto that we've posted to the site over the last few year's, little recognition has been given to the profound contribution of the City Engineer's Office to our city's archive. Although not the earliest official city photography, the work the Engineer's Office did to track various infrastructure projects — starting in the early 1890s — offers us a thoroughgoing portrait of what Toronto looked like at the turn of the 20th century.

Cameras were anything but common at the time so there's isn't an abundance of other images that survive from this period. Although ostensibly pragmatic in nature, the office made sure to hire expert photographers to track the development of the city over a period between 1891-1911. As such, there's a keen compositional eye on display throughout the more than 600 sepia-toned images that make up this particular collection. Elevated vantage points, in particular, help to establish the relative size and density of the city at this time.

In the second half of this two decade span, the photographic output of the City Engineer's Office reached new heights on account of the presence of Charles H. Rust. As is noted in Toronto's Visual Legacy: Official City Photographs from 1856 to the Present, the presence of photo processing facilities at a then new City Hall helped pave the way for greater documentation efforts:

"In 1898 Charles H. Rust became the City Engineer. He was a photography enthusiast, and the first annual report that his department produced during his tenture included an unprecedented number of photographs. A year later, the City Engineer's Office moved to new City Hall on Queen Street West. The new location included space to set up photographic facilities and, from 1899, city employee Arthur F. Rust, the younger brother of the City Engineer, produced the photographs for the department.

Included below is only a snippet of this valuable archive. To see more images, check out the Toronto Archives' list of digitized holdings.


City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsHigh Level Pumping Station, 1906

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsWellington Street, 1900s

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsSpadina looking north 1890s

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsYonge Street Wharf, 1904

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsYonge Street Harbour, 1904

2012118-toronto-fire-1904-s0376_fl0004_it0054-enhanced.jpgAftermath of Toronto Fire, 1904

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsCity Hall before the clock, 1899

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsDon Esplanade (north of Queen St.), 1904

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsAlbany Ave, 1902

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsDigging the Garrison Creek Sewer, 1890

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsYork Street Bridge and Old Union Station, 1890s

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsLooking east across the Esplanade, 1894

City Engineer's Office Toronto PhotographsLooking west across the Esplanade, 1894

Photos from the Toronto Archives



who-rs / November 7, 2012 at 03:33 pm
Couldn't tell that was Spadina, until i opened my eyes.
brad / November 7, 2012 at 03:42 pm
That Toronto fire aftermath photo is intense.
mike in parkdale / November 7, 2012 at 04:09 pm
that raised section of Yonge street is wild - it's like the seed that grew into the Gardiner.
Fig / November 7, 2012 at 04:33 pm
These photos are a great find. Please keep up with these historic pictorials.
tablogloid / November 7, 2012 at 09:29 pm
Pretty sure the Garrison Creek dig is Bickford Park south of Christie Pits west side of Grace St. You can see the old bridge span filled in on Harbord in the background.
tablogloid / November 7, 2012 at 09:31 pm
And thank you for these great old shots.
the lemur replying to a comment from tablogloid / November 7, 2012 at 11:57 pm
The other photos in the series in the archives (along with a plan of the northwest branch of the sewer) suggest that it's south of College, between Ossington and Dovercourt.
Andrew / November 8, 2012 at 08:39 am
These pics are awesome!! Thanks Derek!
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