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Finding city’s history through online maps JUSTIN SKINNER The demolition of a 120-yearold building near Front and Bathurst streets helped spawn a labour of love for downtown resident Nathan Ng. Ng’s favourite climbing gym was housed inside the building, which was being torn down to make way for condos. He decided to research the history of the venerable building and, in so doing, came across a collection of Victorian-era maps of early Toronto. “I loved looking at the old maps because there was an artistic quality to things,” he said. “It’s like when you see old buildings with that fine architectural detail people don’t include today because it’s too expensive; the earlier maps have a certain craftsmanship to them.” The maps were handcrafted without the aid of aerial views, which underscores the work that went into

the making of each. Ng loved poring over the old maps, but was frustrated over having to constantly visit the Toronto Reference Library to access them. Because the maps are in the public domain, he started a website, Historical Maps of Toronto, to give everyone access to the materials. “I originally just had a few maps I wanted to put online, but I kept adding one more map, one more map,” Ng said. The maps were initially created for a variety of purposes – topographical, military, real estate – meaning they each help shed a little more light on the city’s history. “What I found interesting was that the maps were subjective things,” Ng said. “They’re an abstraction of what was there at the time and they only show what was on the mapmakers’ minds.” The maps are categorized by era, with a focus on the establishment of the city from

In a lot of the earlier maps, you see just how small the city was. Everything north of Queen was farmland or forest... – Nathan Ng


A topographical plan of the City of Toronto, 1851, drawn, compiled and engraved on stone by Sandford A. Fleming from actual survey by J. Stoughton Dennis. Toronto’s main business and commercial section ran from Princess Street to Bay Street and extended to the water’s edge with wharves and warehouses.

1787 to 1820, expansion from 1820 to 1850, the boom era from 1850 to 1862 and the emerging metropolis from 1862 to 1902. Looking through the eras, it is possible to see the evo-

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lution of Toronto from the time the British purchased the land from First Nations people through the creation of the grid system in downtown Toronto to the beginnings of an actual city spanning from

Lake Ontario north to St. Clair Avenue. “In a lot of the earlier maps, you see just how small the city was,” Ng said. “Everything north of Queen Street was farmland or forest and all the historic lands south of Front Street were just lake before.” While some of the buildings on the later maps still exist today, they are the exception rather than the rule. Historical Maps of Toronto piqued the interest of historian Stephen Otto, with whom Ng teamed up to start a second website highlighting the history of Fort York and the lands around the since-

buried Garrison Creek. That site, dubbed Fort York and Garrison Common Maps, showcases the old fort, the waterfront, the Exhibition Grounds and the surrounding area. “When you look at history through these maps, it’s a powerful way of storytelling,” Ng said. “(Fort York) has a fairly convoluted and twisty history when you look at that site and all the lands surrounding it.” The two sites are not intended as an authoritative history of Toronto – Ng admitted Toronto historians are likely familiar with the city’s past – but they serve as an entry point for those interested in the city’s past. “I hope they’re interesting for anyone who’s interested in the history of the city,” he said. Historical Maps of Toronto can be found online at www. oldtorontomaps.blogspot. ca while Fort York and Garrison Common Maps are at www.fort


| CITY CENTRE MIRROR | Thursday, April 25, 2013


April 25  

We are a local newspaper reflecting the lives of our readers by covering what’s important to them: The people and events in their own commun...

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