Ontario Ancestors: Happy Birthday Toronto!


This week marked Toronto\’s 184th birthday. Known as \”Toronto the Good\” in world wide circles, the rest of Canada tends to have a love/hate relationship with our largest city. I myself was born in Toronto, and lived there until my early teens, Though it\’s been many years since I lived there, I still have close ties to it. My paternal side has ties to Toronto for at least 4 generations.

In honour of Toronto\’s birthday, this week\’s post highlights some Toronto genealogy resources. But first a little history.

There has been archaeological evidence that settlement here goes back to the First Nations over 1,000 years ago. The name Toronto itself has evolved from an a Mohawk word, \”tkaronto\”, which means \”where the trees are standing in the water\”.

Europeans first started inhabiting the area in the 1600\’s and 1700\’s, when fur traders started setting up posts. It wasn\’t until 1793, when John Graves Simcoe established York, that the first permanent European settlement was established. He established the naval base and garrison to keep an eye on the boundary between the province of Upper Canada and the new United States.

York was burned twice by the Americans during the War of 1812. Fort York, which still stands in the heart of Toronto, is a National Historic site.

Toronto as a city was incorporated in 1834. Through the 1800\’s and the first half of the 20th century, Toronto grew larger. It\’s location made it a gateway to both Western and Northern Ontario. As a result, it became both a financial and industrial powerhouse. By 1967, Toronto consisted of the city of Toronto, and the five boroughs of Scarborough, Etobicoke, York, North York, and East York. Each of the six areas had their own municipal governments. In 1998, it became the megacity of Toronto, and the six separate municipal governments became one.

Today the Greater Toronto Area consists of Toronto and four surrounding regions: Halton, Peel, Durham and York. According to 2016 statistics, it has a population of over 6 million. Doesn\’t seem like a lot compared to cities in other countries. But when you realize that the newly incorporated city of Toronto in 1834 had only 9,000 people, you see just how fast it grew in less than 200 years.

If you\’d like to see a more compete timeline of the city, check out these pages:

Now for the genealogy.
One of my goals the next time I get to Toronto is to visit the City of Toronto Archives. According to their website they have
  • Over 1 million photographs
  • Maps
  • City Directories
  • Assessment Rolls
  • Council Proceedings
  • Bylaws
  • Building Permits
  • Government Records
  • Non-Government Records
The search function of their holdings is fairly user friendly. They do have a very small amount of their collections online. There are some web exhibits, links to municipal sites, and some digitized photos. My absolute favourite though, is their collection of maps. In particular is the collection of fire insurance maps. The collection has the years 1880, 1884, 1890, 1894, 1899, 1903, 1913, and 1924. These maps are invaluable if you\’re trying to find a street that no longer exists. I ran into this problem myself, trying to track my great grandfather John Wellington McDonald. According to the 1932 Canada\’s Voter\’s Lists, he was living with my great mother and their children on Angus Place. That street no longer exists. By using the major streets around it, I was finally able to find it on the 1924 Insurance map. It was a small alley that is today a courtyard behind some apartment buildings. 
This very active branch of the OGS has a great website. The link above takes you their page on both online and offline research resources
If you can get to a branch, there are some great resources available. The link above will take you to their research guides on BMDs, British and Irish Genealogy, the Humber River area, and more. They also give free access to their Ancestry Library Edition. The Toronto Reference Library is part of this library system. 
Toronto Star\’s Pages of the Past and The Globe Archives
Many local libraries in Ontario offer access to these through ProQuest. Digitized editions going back to the 1800\’s are available. Some libraries even offer access through their own websites. Just enter in your library card number and you\’re good to go from the comfort of home.
Their website has some great tips and links to help you discover your Toronto Jewish ancestors. They also have contact lists to put in touch with researchers and translators.

Toronto Island Community
A web page devoted to genealogy and the history of the Toronto islands. 

The Toronto branch of the OGS worked in conjunction with FamilySearch to have the registers of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries digitized and indexed. You can read an earlier blog post I did on them here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: