Web exhibits

The earliest known photographs of Toronto

Title graphic: The earliest known photographs of Toronto.

Title graphic: The earliest known photographs of Toronto.

When the Province of Canada was formed in 1840 by the Act of Union, the fledgling country did not have a permanent seat of government. Several cities, including Toronto, provided a temporary home for the parliament. There were obvious advantages in being the capital of Canada and competition to win this prize was fierce. The issue came to a head in 1857 when Toronto, Montreal, Kingston, Quebec City and Ottawa each submitted a report to the Colonial Office stating why it should be chosen as the capital.

view of Toronto from lake
Toronto, Canada West 1856
William Armstrong (1822-1914)
City of Toronto Art Collection, Culture Division

As part of its report, the City of Toronto included a set of photographs championing the advantages of its streets, buildings and its physical situation on Lake Ontario. These photographs are the earliest known images taken in Toronto. They give us a fascinating glimpse into our past, clearly showing the street grid that still exists, but also showing how much has changed. These photos proved to be an inspiration for author Michael Redhill when he wrote his book Consolation, which won the Toronto Book Award in 2007.

Provincial Legislature building, Front Street
Parliament Buildings: Front Street West
[1856 or 1857]
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1498, Item 10

Click to see larger version of picture

Second United Presbyterian Church under construction
Second United Presbyterian Church under construction
[1856 or 1857]
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1498, Item 7

The Toronto Public Library chose Consolationto be its “One Book” for February 2008. The aim is to have everyone in Toronto reading, enjoying and discussing the same book at the same time. We think that you will enjoy Consolationeven more if you know the “archival” story behind the story. This exhibit will inform you about Toronto’s bid to be Canada’s capital, show you the photographs, and tell you about the photographers who actually took the pictures.

King Street East, south side looking wast
King Street East: south side, looking west
[1856 or 1857]
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1498, Item 1

Trinity College, Queen Street West
Trinity College: Queen Street West, north side
[1856 or 1857]
City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 1498, Item 11

The earliest known photographs of Toronto
Toronto's bid to be the capital of Canada
The photographs of Armstrong, Beere and Hime
Who were the photographers?
Hiding in plain sight


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