Monday, 25 January 2010

Hidden Worthies in St Patrick's Ward

The snow has cleared and I am gradually getting a better grip on the new computer. The transcribing progress on St Patrick's Ward has picked up. Not only have I been able to get to the FHC for the last three sessions, but Ancestry has finally made the ward available on their website. Some of the folios are so pale that it takes both their transcription and mine to make any sense out of what was originally written down.

I am now working on District 3, a huge area which starts at Spadina and progresses west. I haven't seen Hope Street (which turned into Manning Avenue), so either it is in District 4 or in the 150 folios of District 3 that I have yet to see. On the south-north axis, all the districts started at Queen Street West and stretched all the way up to Bloor, but there weren't many people living north of College Street.

While transcribing the other day I came across a civil engineer named William Armstrong. He had a wife and 7 children and 3 boarders. He lived on Queen Street and he had named his house Toronto Priory. I had come across the name of the house before in Caverhill's Directory, along with his business address at 46 King Street East. At that point bells began to ring. One of Mr Armstrong's boarders was D Beere, another civil engineer. Armstrong, Beere & Hime were the photographers who took the series of photographs from the roof of Rossin House (later the Prince George Hotel) in 1856.

The facts coming together from the census and both city directories (Mitchell placed Toronto Priory between Vanauley and Esther Streets) weren't enough for me. I had to find another reference to William Armstrong. Sadly, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography did not see fit to mention him, nor did Eric Arthur's book, Toronto, No Mean City. Time to do a search in Google where I found Greater Toronto Archives to have a special section on the firm at . I am still not clear about Armstrong and Beere's contributions to civil engineering, but their contribution to memorializing 19th century Toronto through photography was truly worthwhile.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A New Year with Changes

I just caught a glance at my signature photo as I came to write this note.

The desk is the same, the sweater was the one I was wearing yesterday, but the lamp is gone and, the really big thing, the computer is different. For Christmas my son gave me a new huge machine which he put together himself. Two disk drives, two DVD drives, Windows 7, and masses of memory into which I can put the whole of the Toronto census and all the links to other information about the people I find there. The only thing it didn't come equipped with was more human brain empowerment to figure out how to move all my data and photographs from the old machine. Gradually I am figuring things out. Yesterday I managed to install the two extra buttons on my mouse, the ones titled "copy" and "paste" which are a vast improvement on ctrl+c and ctrl+v. The mouse is long out of date and finding the driver online took an age. Today the printer must get installed. . . .

You may have heard that the UK has been swaddled in snow. We didn't have a white Christmas (i.e., it didn't snow on Christmas Day), but we did have two big snowfalls in the week before and more since the New Year. It is snowing as I write and two lads off school because of it have just knocked on our door offering to clear our drive. They were armed with homemade snow shovels--not the garden spades that most of us use. The past week has also been very cold and only main roads are clear to drive on.

The transcribing of St Patrick's Ward has been limited by the weather. We have lost three sessions at LDS so far and the one tomorrow will probably be cancelled too. I hear a thaw is on the way for which I am thankful. With the cold weather outside and the powerful fans of the new computer blowing cold air through the keyhole of my desk, I have had to wrap my legs in a duvet.

The 1861 census was taken on the night of 13th January 1861, 149 years ago tonight. There were people living on the wharves at the bottom of St Lawrence Ward! I hope they managed to get a good fire going without burning their shanties down.