Toronto 1870s

Toronto of the 1870s

Toronto of the 1870s is a surprisingly well documented decade. Thanks in large part to the photography firm of Notman & Fraser, much of the city's business district - which was then located to the east of Yonge Street - was captured in a series of 1872 photographs called "The Commercial Houses of Toronto." Consisting of 34 images, this collection is quite the reminder of our town's rather humble roots.

Perhaps equally as important from an archival standpoint is a Bird's Eye Map from the decade (specific date unknown). It offers one the ability to rather quickly pick out some of the structures that remain in the city to this day, including Knox and University College, St. Michael's Cathedral and the Metropolitan Church, Osgoode Hall, and what is now known as the Distillery District. Particularly interesting in the case of the latter is the explanation the map offers as to why the "Stone Distillery Complex" sits on an angle in relation to the other buildings: it originally hugged the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

I tend to find little discoveries like this fascinating, and there's even more to be had when looking at this detailed map. Case in point: if you've ever wondered just how prominent the Garrison Creek/Ravine was, this'll give you a good indication. It's even possible to spot a bridge over the now buried river (note: the Crawford Street Bridge was not built until 1915).

The Bird's Eye Map does, of course, also allow one to take a look at some of the structures that have been lost over the years. I think in particular here of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, Trinity College, Old Union Station and the Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women (although the list could go on).

What was Toronto like in the 1870s? Well, the streets were indeed muddy, horse-drawn streetcars were in short supply but common enough, and electric lamps and telephone poles were yet to be a feature on city streets. Toronto's population was primarily Protestant (70 per cent or so), the "Nine Hour" movement took place (to cut an hour off each day of the work week), and St. James Cathedral was the tallest building on the skyline.

Here's a glimpse at what it looked like (lead photo of King Street, looking east from Yonge).

Bird's Eye Map


View high res image

Assorted photos

Bank of Upper Canada


The Crystal Palace


Front Street in 1876


The (then) New Grand Opera House


Rossin House Hotel promotional pamphlet


Toronto from the Island in 1875


Looking North from Union Station


Toronto Stock Exchange


Notman & Fraser's "Commercial Houses of Toronto"

Here is a selection of some of the 34 images in this fascinating collection.


Survey Maps

Some have been asking for more images of the areas outside of the core, like Scarborough. Unfortunately, there just aren't many available. But, here are two detailed survey maps that are interesting to pore over.


View high res image


View high res image

Check out the rest of the series below:

Images from the Wikimedia Commons and the Toronto Archives.

Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

Air Canada plane makes dramatic emergency landing in Toronto

Toronto subway riders furious after TTC problems add hours to commute

No more cases of coronavirus are being investigated in Ontario

Opening of Eglinton Crosstown LRT delayed until 2022

Toronto's colourful streetcar has found a new home

Thousands shut down Bloor Street for Wet'suwet'en solidarity march in Toronto

There's already a major problem with Ontario's new licence plates

TTC fares are officially going up next month