Tuesday, 7 April 2009

St David’s Ward—Chapter Three

Having strayed more into the realms of geography for the past two blogs, I am now going to try and get back to a topic more closely related to genealogy. Where did the people of St David’s Ward come from?

When transcribing, most of the birthplaces were entered as found, though I tended to use a uniform abbreviation for Upper Canada or Canada West. If someone was specific down to the town or county of Ireland or England, I put it in—so long as I could read it. For the purposes of this analysis, however, I separated the birthplaces into 23 categories spreading out from Toronto, first to the rest of the North American continent, then to the British Isles, and then to the remainder of the world.

Within the province of Canada West there were four categories: Toronto, elsewhere in York County, Canada West outside York County, and simply, Canada West. The volume of “Canada West” and “Upper Canada” responses lead me to assume that this category was the one that enumerators were expected to advise to householders, and the one they would use if they had to fill in the forms themselves.

The birthplace claimed by the greatest number of people was Ireland with 31.9 percent of the total. The next place was Canada West with 26.9 percent. When Toronto and the two intervening categories were added to it, the proportion bumped up to 35 percent, quite a bit more than Ireland. Needless to say, the locally born were the younger section of the population and St David’s had 40 percent under age 16. When the ages of the population are presented against their birthplaces, the Irish markedly outweigh the locally born from age 16 upward. The census took place less than 15 years after the potato famine. It shows.

There is no distinction made between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic either in the census or in my analysis. The border that exists today was not put in place until the 1920s.

The third most commonly given birthplace was England with 13.6 percent of the total. “Canada” came in next at 6.8 percent. In fourth position was Scotland with 5 percent and the United States was fifth with 2.3 percent.

We must remember that at the time Canada only comprised what we know as Ontario and Quebec. The maritime provinces were still separate entities. It is possible that some enumerators suggested Canada instead of Canada West. In Divisions 5 and 6 there were many more people born in “Canada” than in “Canada West”, although the number born in Canada East (or Lower Canada) did not drop significantly in those two divisions.

Although the first Toronto General Hospital was built on Gerrard St East between Sackville and Sumach and opened in 1856, there is nothing to indicate its presence in the census. The staff and patients are probably to be found in a separate section titled “Institutions” which I have yet to see. The inmates of the Don Jail are probably there as well.

If you want to see what St David’s Ward looked like, I suggest you spend a while browsing through the old photographs in the Toronto Public Libraries collection online. The link is
http://historicity.torontopubliclibrary.ca/ where it is best to put “Cabbagetown, pictures” or “Regent Park, pictures” into the keywords box. If you live in Toronto there is another collection, analysed street by street, at City of Toronto Archives just north of the Dupont subway station at 255 Spadina Road.


  1. I enjoyed the information about St. David's Ward. It's too bad that the Library website isn't working. I would love to have seen the photos. Was St. David's ward called Cabbagetown? Thanks for posting the information. If you are interested in my family who lived there, they are described in my website www.anamericanfamilyhistory.com Click on Treahy/Thomas families and then on Barthomew and Bridget Treahy.
    Woodland Hills, California

  2. Part of St David's Ward, the section east of Parliament Street, became Cabbagetown. This was never an official name but a slang way of speaking of a very poor part of Toronto during the first half of the 20th century. After World War II the worst of the slums were replaced by apartment blocks of social housing. Now they want to replace the social housing.

  3. I think my grandmother lived in an orphanage in St Davids ward in 1891, but the census doesn't list the name of itself. Do you know of any orphanages in this area in this time period?

  4. Hi Kate

    Please remember my work has taught me about Toronto in 1861, not 1891. Orphanages could have been added in the 30-year period.

    From what I know, however, the big orphanage in St David's was St Joseph's Convent on Power Street by St Paul's Roman Catholic Church. In 1861 there were also two single sex protestant children's homes on Queen Street East. Whether these still existed in 1891, I can't tell you.

    Hope this helps.