About Maps

Joan Winearls—the distinguished former Map Librarian at the University of Toronto Library—is a leading scholar of cartography.

For the historian of Toronto’s development, maps offer a quick, graphic summary of the evolution of the Fort York and Garrison Common sites as well as adjacent areas and institutions.

A map or plan is a representation of an area drawn to a specific scale and showing the place at a specific time. Most maps of Toronto have titles and are signed and dated by the professional or agency that made them. Scales are usually stated or indicated by a bar measuring feet or chains (1 chain=66 feet) to the inch. It must be remembered that since these maps were drawn for different purposes, they are selective in showing features of importance to that specific situation or project:

About Map-makers

Military and Government

The Royal Engineers
Military personnel, largely the Royal Engineers in this case, were interested in exact topographic mapping of rivers and hills, building shapes, boundaries of their land, and details of defences. Their hand-drawn and coloured maps are frequently found over the early decades, beginning with maps of the town and Fort York from the War of 1812 period, and ending only when the military lands were turned over to the Canadian government in 1870. Most originals are at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa or the UK National Archives.

Provincial Land Surveyors
Civilian administrators required basic surveys to lay out townships and towns and open settlement at York and then Toronto. Early plans for the survey of townships along Lake Ontario and the first plan for Toronto were done by trained provincial land surveyors under government instructions. Some surveyors later laid out lot subdivisions for real estate developers and also worked as architects or engineers. John Howard, for example, produced plans for the layout of the provincial Lunatic Asylum and also prepared a plan for beautiful landscaping of the Toronto waterfront in 1852―just as the railway boom hit. Sandford Fleming, who designed buildings such as the Crystal Palace (later moved to the Exhibition Grounds) was also involved in railway mapping.

Commercial Mapping

Goad’s Atlas
The most prominent example of commercial mapping is the splendid series of sheets from the Charles E. Goad city atlases. Since the original mapping was done for insurance companies, for fire insurance purposes, all buildings were shown in considerable detail. The smaller scale atlases were produced at 100 feet to the inch, but still show all streets, building shapes, and  building materials colour coded in red for brick or stone and yellow for wood. Other information includes names of major buildings, lot lines, house numbers, and registered subdivision plan boundaries.  Between editions of the atlases revisions were printed on large sheets to be cut up and pasted onto the appropriate plan; these can usually be detected as white additions on the atlas sheets. Goad’s are the most detailed plans available for this area and for the rest of the city from the 1880s to the 1920s.  (Plans for the whole city, easily accessible through their indexes, are available on Nathan Ng’s website Goad’s Atlas of Toronto—Online!).

Bird’s-eye Views
Combining the best features of both map and view, bird’s-eye views were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  With oblique perspective views of an area from several thousand feet above, they include three-dimensional drawings of buildings and other features. The artist would draw in all of the major buildings and sometimes those that were only being planned! Large views of the Exhibition Grounds and the smaller plans shown here were frequently issued to the public as site guides.

Surveyors and Printers
Other general maps of the city were produced from time to time by prominent local surveyors and surveying companies such as Fleming, Ridout & Schreiber, and Wadsworth & Unwin, then printed by local publishers like Hugh Scobie, John Ellis, and Copp Clark & Co. These plans showed streets, railways, and other important features such as parks, ward boundaries, and sometimes boundaries of registered subdivision plans, but were too small to show more than major buildings. Printed plans were issued in multiple copies and are usually available at local libraries and archives.

City Building and Development

Architectural Plans
Plans for the Lunatic Asylum and the Exhibition Grounds show proposed layouts for buildings, but also include features that were already built. Here the intent of the architect is paramount, but the plan was not always accepted by the client (city or province) and built as shown. Plans for new military buildings such as those for the ‘New’ Fort were drawn by military personnel. Many ‘plans’ never were put in place, which makes for interesting  comparisons with what eventually was built!

Transportation maps
As Toronto grew so did the need for transportation in and out of the city and railways became the major way to provide this in the 19th century. General maps showed proposed or actual routes for new railways from the 1850s on. Detailed plans for sections of railways were drawn at very large scales on huge linen sheets that had to be rolled or made in sections. They are actually engineering plans showing selective information―either built or proposed―such as parcels of land to be expropriated, rights of way, track details including widths, and maintenance buildings, stations, and connections to piers for shipping needs.

Aerial photos
Oblique views were taken sporadically from airplanes from the 1920s on but from the mid-1940s full-scale surveys with vertical views of the city were issued in large sheets for the use of planners and city officials. Like all the other maps and views they are now of vital importance for research on the changing reality of Toronto and Fort York.

Joan Winearls
April, 2013

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