Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Map: When Toronto Was Still Just A Wee Little Town, 1818

01 Okay, so, let's start with the town itself. When this map was surveyed in 1818, it had only been 25 years since British soldiers started cutting down trees to clear space for Fort York and the very first ten blocks of our city. From Front up to Adelaide; from George over to Berkeley. Today those ten blocks are just east of the Flatiron Building and the St. Lawrence Market.

Here, they make up the eastern half of the town (that grid of more tightly packed streets on the right). Their eastern border is along Taddle Creek, which used to run all the way across the city: from near Bathurst and St. Clair, down through U of T (right along where Philosopher's Walk is now) and eventually into the lake at the Distillery District. Now it's buried underground.

The whole western half of the town was newer. As you can see in this map, they expanded along the lake to around Peter Street and the banks of Russell Creek (which met the lake near where the CN Tower is  now before we buried it too). By 1818, they'd also carved Yonge Street out of the wilderness; you can see it there heading straight north out of the town.

At this point, there were still only about a thousand people living in York. But the town was growing fast. Fifteen year later, when it was officially incorporated as the city of Toronto, it was already home to ten thousand.

02  The islands weren't always islands. Back in the day, they were connected to the mainland by a sand spit. It wasn't until 1858 that a bigass storm blew a channel through the sand and created the eastern gap. Over time, the islands continued to grow as dirt washed off the Scarborough Bluffs and floated over. Eventually, we'd also add some land ourselves, almost completely closing the western gap.

All that green area around where the "islands" met the mainland was marsh. It's where the Don River (which, as you can see, was curvier back then—we straightened it out artificially later) opened up into the lake and it was a mucky, rank, mosquito-ridden mess. People dumped their garbage in it for decades—including some nasty shit from the nearby Gooderham and Worts Distillery. Occasionally, evil fumes would waft into town. Everybody hated the marsh. Eventually, we just paved it the fuck over, added some concrete and called it the port lands.

So, believe it or not, the Sound Academy is actually a step up.

03 Oh sure, York was the tiny wee little capital of Upper Canada, but the town's real reason for existing was military. Our city was founded by people who had just fought against the Americans during the Revolution. They were deeply worried that the United States would march north and invade. Toronto is here because our harbour was easily defensible—as you can see there was only one way in before that storm opened up the eastern gap. And their fears were well-founded. Five years before this map, the Americans did invade and occupied the town for a few days. (I'll be giving that story it's own post before too long. I think it's probably my favourite Toronto history story.)

So that's why this whole area on the left-hand side of the map was a huge military reserve. (You can see its boundaries drawn with a faint red line.) It was split pretty much in half by Garrison Creek (also buried now). And at the mouth of the creek you can see Fort York, where our soldiers had made their last stand against the Americans during the invasion. It would be another fifteen years or so before we starting selling off parts of the reserve and it was gradually transformed into what we know as Parkdale and the Ex and Trinity Bellwoods and Liberty Village.

Other Stuff: If you look along the lakeshore, alllllll the way to left, you can see a little cleared area tucked right into the corner of the military reserve. That's actually the old French Fort Rouillé. They were here trading with the Native population long before the English. They built this fort, which was their third in these parts, in the mid-1700s. And they spent about a decade in it before the British started beating the French in battles around Lake Ontario and they figure it was time to get the hell of here, so they burned it to the ground. These days there's a monument to it where it once stood. On the Exhibition grounds, behind the bandstand.

 I'll also mention briefly that much of the cleared area outside of town were "park lots". Those are the tracts of free land which were given to the Protestant ruling elite (the dudes who our first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, who hated them, would nickname the Family Compact). That's people like Peter Russell and the Jarvis family, who I've already written posts about. They just had to agree to clear some of the land and help build the roads around them.

And finally, what they were clearing was the ancient forest which use to cover this entire area. In this map, you can still see plenty of it. It was full of giant, old oaks and pines hundreds of feet tall. And chock-full of wildlife: wolves and deer and foxes and moose and bear and salmon and bald eagles and flocks of passengers pigeons so thick they blocked out the sun. Amazingly, some of those trees survived the next two hundred years and are sit standing in the city today. I wrote a post about the oldest of them, with some more information about the forest, here.

I found the map here. They've also got high-res downloads 'n' shit. You can open a larger, zoomable version of this map, without my numbering, by clicking here.

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