About this Project—Welcome!

Simple, free, online access to a selection of notable historical maps of Toronto.
Please share these maps with other history enthusiasts!

I encourage you to download any posted map for your own use and examination. The maps are generally in the public domain, except where otherwise noted. If you’d like to help support the site, you can buy me a coffee. I’m also open to broader sponsorship discussions. :) Larger donations will be earmarked to fund scans of new maps.

If you’d like to contact me, you can ferret out my information at the link below.

Nathan Ng, April 2013

Media Coverage

Find out what people have to say about Historical Maps of Toronto: here.

Motivation & Context

My Goad’s Atlas site proved quite popular
Sharing historical information online is a genuine pleasure. You never know who might benefit from what you’ve posted.
During 2012, I cobbled together Goad’s Atlas of Toronto—Online!, a website providing easy access to multiple editions of certain Victorian-era fire insurance maps of Toronto. It was originally intended as a personal tool, that turned out to be salutary for many casual researchers.

As a followup, I wanted to add the 1858 Boulton Atlas (because Boulton similarly shows building outlines and construction materials), which had been recently scanned by the Toronto Public Library—but the Atlas isn’t a Goad map, technically speaking. It also frustrated me that there wasn’t a key map to the Boulton Atlas, which made it clumsy to access online.

Secondly, I wanted to replicate six Toronto maps previously posted by the City of Toronto Archives. I was irritated that they were mired inside an obscure file format that doesn’t work on several major platforms, and that requires arcane third-party software to view. To my delight, I discovered that the six maps had already been liberated by W. Xavier Snelgrove (Thank you to Snelgrove for putting in the labour to free them!). I wanted to ensure my own access to those particular maps for the future, so I decided to duplicate the maps, the idea being the more online sources for these public domain maps, the better.

Thirdly, I love old maps of Toronto (who doesn’t?), and I realized that they ought to be aggregated someplace. My subjective issue with a lot of the institutional sources is that browsing their catalogues for maps can be... a balky experience for novices, due to interface and system constraints. What if there was a tidy, easy to use list?

The result of that question is this site, Historical Maps of Toronto.

Partial Ganton & Winearls Remix and Extension

I’ve attempted to insert relevant commentary and information where I can. I have also quoted liberally from Isobel Ganton and Joan Winearl’s 1984 ROM exhibit text, Mapping Toronto’s First Century 1787-1884. This behaviour is slightly brazen, but I’ve taken care to credit them appropriately, wherever I’ve leveraged their toil.

Buried treasure: Mapping Toronto’s First Century 1787-1884
Their scholarship deserves proliferation. Created for an ephemeral display over a quarter century ago, the text survives, without any accompanying maps, in a 'stack request required' typewriter transcription at the TRL—where hardly anyone is going to gain from it.

From a certain perspective, this site is a partial digital remix of certain sections from that exhibit, though it goes further afield in terms of the map selection. So call this an appreciative tribute—or an impudent plundering.

The compilation is far from comprehensive: many fascinating maps are not available digitally, or aren’t in a format I can extract. Or, I am ignorant of their existence and missed them entirely. Whole swathes of history are blissfully elided [No mention of the 1837 rebellion!?]. I tend to favour ‘major’ views of the whole city rather than detailed area maps. Also, my cutoff is arbitrarily about a century into the past. I’m just not that interested in more contemporary maps—at the moment (this also provides operating freedom from obnoxious copyright concerns).

Winearls Mapping Upper Canada Cross-referencing
To facilitate deeper investigation, pre-1867 maps have been annotated (where applicable) with their ‘Winearls no.’ This refers to the corresponding entry number listed in:

What’s the Value-Add?

‘Aren’t these maps available elsewhere? What’s the point of this compilation?’

My intent is to provide a 'stepping stone' resource rather than an authoritative one.

These maps merit wide-spread sharing. They connect us with the history of our city, and everything that has shaped it. They allow us to imagine the past in vivid detail. To the extent that readers serendipitously discover a map they might not have otherwise known about, I’m happy. And, selfishly, it’s convenient for me to have them accessible in one place, online—and at a decent resolution. Hopefully they’ll also be of use to others.

On the novel contribution front, the Boulton key map, and the detail shots for the 1851 Fleming Topographical Plan are two maps that required actual exertion to present as posted—if you need to access these items using a computer, I’ve tangibly improved your experience over what is available elsewhere. The 1793 Aitken Plan of York Harbour is presented in its original form for the first time [up till now, only transcript copies were locally available]. I’m also pleased with my Belt Line Railway post, which gathers several related maps to form a compelling story. Lastly I am chuffed to bring to light the oft-overlooked Alpheus Todd map of 1834, of which only a single physical copy remains extant (to our knowledge).

For serious examination and academic research, always investigate the original map at the sourced repository institution. I welcome any suggestions (and particularly quality scans!) of old maps of pre-1900 Toronto that ought to be featured. You are also invited to e-mail me civil comments, factual or typographic corrections, or to share anything of note about particular maps or surveyors. Yes, I know my citation style is lazy. Yes, I know the site template is ugly. I’d appreciate being informed of any linking errors.


Thanks and Acknowledgements

I would be remiss if I failed to extend my gratitude to the faceless scanners and digitizers out there whose work I am leveraging. You’re stupendous. Thank you for helping these maps truly enter the public domain.

This site would not be possible without the publicly accessible resources of the Toronto Public Library, the University of Toronto Map and Data Library, the City of Toronto Archives, Library and Archives Canada, McGill University, the Office of the Surveyor General: Ministry of Natural Resources, The National Archives of the UK, University of Toronto Archives, The Friends of Fort York, Acadia University–William Inglis Morse Collection, and the University of Alabama Map Library — Go Bama! These institutions are key, but woefully under-resourced guardians of our culture. Much as I like to groan about their awkward, vexing catalogues, I wouldn’t be able to put this site up without them.

As mentioned, I have leveraged work done by Isobel Ganton and Joan Winearls. They and other cited online sources of information provide precious contextual value. It’s easy to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Stephen Otto counselled me to visit the Baldwin Room and the TRL, to look at the Boulton Atlas in the first place. This project in many ways has been an inadvertent, unplanned side effect of his serendipitous prompting. His humour and patience have been invaluable. He and The Friends of Fort York have generously assisted in tracking down and acquiring several map scans which would otherwise be unavailable.

Thanks to Angie and Jeff Hocking for their generous support and assistance in helping me obtain a scan of the heretofore undigitized 1793 Aitken Plan of York Harbour. I also thank the many other munificent supporters who have bought me coffee.

Thanks to my friends Cazza and Jean-Marc Robin for the aesthetic input. Precious little of it was reflected in the actual site, but I nevertheless appreciate the feedback.

Thanks to Elise Paradis for the inspiration.

Lastly, I thank you, the reader! Your support for preserving and spreading our history is important. It matters. Spread the word.


This site is dedicated to my father, David Ng.

See Also

My other historical mapping projects:
recursion — my personal blog
External map resources — Need to see even more maps? Here’s a list of useful third-party map sources I’ve come across...

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