Thursday, 8 January 2009

Toronto’s Early History

Toronto was established as The Town of York in 1793 by Lt Gov John Graves Simcoe. His engineers and surveyors planned out the central section in the grid pattern that still exists today. With its natural harbour and a rural community beyond requiring imported goods to establish farms, it grew steadily. In 1834 it was established as a city and renamed Toronto. At that point it had a population of about 9000.
By the 1850s, the population had expanded to more than 30,000. The railway was completed from Montreal to Niagara within that decade. The railway infrastructure to the north and the west continued for the next two decades. Toronto was also the seat of government for Canada West, the western province of the United Province of Canada, established in 1841. In 1867, with Confereration, Canada West became Ontario.
Up until 1861, we must depend on history books and privately published local directories for any details of Toronto’s citizens. These are occasionally supplemented by church records and gravestones which have survived, but in the case of ordinary citizens we can only obtain information through assessment rolls (reference 1) and marriage records (reference 2).
The original population of Toronto was comprised of people newly arrived either from Great Britain or loyalists previously resident in the United States. Parts of continental Europe were also represented. In the 1850s the population expanded with a great influx of Irish people who could no longer sustain themselves in their own country after the potato famine of the mid-1840s. In 1861 27 per cent of the population claimed their birthplace to be Ireland.
The census of January 1861 was the first official government census of the city of Toronto which still exists today. The Canadian census of 1851 included Toronto, but somewhere along the line, the data was lost, as it was for many other places that were covered by that census.
This is a list of books from my own bookshelf. Included are some histories of Toronto of this period and lists of individuals, usually only heads of households, living in Toronto in various years.

  1. Toronto in the 1850s: A transcription of the 1853 tax assessment rolls and guide to family history research by Paul J McGrath and Jane E MacNamara, published by the Ontario Genealogy Society, Toronto Branch, 2005
  2. The Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West, Home District, Volume 11, Parts 1 to 4 compiled by Dan Walker, Ruth Burkholder & Fawne Stratford-Devai published by Global Heritage Press, 1963
  3. Inhabitants of Toronto, Ontario 1850 compiled by Norman Crowder from the Toronto portion of Rowsell’s City of Toronto and County of York directory for 1850-51, published by Henry Rowsell in 1850; and published by the Ontario Genealogy Society, Toronto Branch, 1993. A second volume is entitled Inhabitants of York County, Ontario 1850.
  4. Researching Yonge Street edited by Sheila Jean Brown, published by the Ontario Genealogy Society, Toronto Branch, 1996
  5. A Mill Should be Built Thereon, an early history of Todmorden Mills by Eleanor Darke and published by Natural History/Natural Heritage Inc, 1995

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