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.


  1. Hello:

    Is there a repository for these photographs done by Armstrong & Beere? I am conducting family history research and have placed my husband's Irish Catholic family on west William Street in St. Patrick's Ward in censuses between 1861 and 1911. I would love to put a visual context to their lives.

    Thank you,

    Kelly Hayes

  2. Hi Kelly

    I'm afraid that although Armstrong and Beere blessed St Patrick's Ward with their presence, all the retained photos that I know of are of downtown locations. A lot of the photographs are reproduced on various websites from time to time. the photographs certainly illustrate why Toronto was known as muddy York. City of Toronto Archives have the group of them as a permanent exhibition on their website,

    William Street had the reputation of being Toronto's "Little Ireland"--almost more than Corktown. Amongst the books from the University of Toronto library that have been digitized on are some histories of Toronto written late in the 19th century. I recall reading one this summer that mentioned William Street and the goings on that took place there. John Ross Robertson's "Landmarks of Toronto" which is sure to be in is bound to have some references.