Heritage Research

Heritage Research Tips

When Was It Built?

For late 19th century buildings, the most expedient way to narrow down the date of construction is by consulting the Goad's Fire Insurance Atlases at the various libraries and archives listed under Places to research Toronto History and Architecture. First published in 1880 and updated at regular intervals, Goad's Atlases (superseded by Underwriters Insurance Company) contain street maps showing the shape, size and materials of buildings.

To confirm the date of construction, next consult the City of Toronto Directories, available in book form at the Toronto Reference Library and on microfilm at the City of Toronto Archives. Published from 1834 to present day, the directories are organized alphabetically by both street name and surname. A year-by-year check of the directories may indicate when a site was developed. When dating a property this way, be aware that the information in any volume was usually compiled the previous year (for example, the directory for 1900 reflects the status of the site in 1899). Also, a directory lists the occupant of the property who may or may not be the owner.

Once you have established a date through the directories, more detailed information is found in Property Tax Assessment Rolls, available on microfilm at the City of Toronto Archives. Unless otherwise noted, information was compiled each year for tax collection the following year. Organized by city ward, the roll indicates the name, age, occupation, religion, and number of family members of the occupant, the name and address of the owner (where different), the status of the property (vacant or built upon), and the assessed value of the land and buildings. Until 1892, the rolls noted the number of stories and construction materials of the main structure and its additions. Assessment Rolls to 1915 are found at City Archives; post-1915 rolls are consulted on microfilm at Central Records at Toronto City Hall.

Who Was the Architect/Builder?

If you have determined that your property was developed after 1881, the index of building permits for the City of Toronto may be consulted. Where a permit exists, it may list the name of an architect or builder. Indices are found at City Archives; permits may be examined on microfilm at City Archives. Plans produced in connection with building permits or plumbing permits, which may indicate activity on a property in the absence of other records, are also found at Central Records.

When looking for an architect, another source is Archindont, an index of late 19th and early 20th century architectural and engineering journals. Available on microfiche (and partly available on the web) at the Toronto Reference Library, properties are listed alphabetically by street name, then street number. If a property is included in Archindont, the name of the architect and/or builder (if known) is listed, as well as the source of the information, such as an article from The Canadian Architect and Builder (1888-1908).

When searching for an architect, indices of architectural drawings can be checked at the Toronto Reference Library (Baldwin Room/Special Collections) and at the Archives of Ontario. The Horwood Collection at the Archives of Ontario is one of the most extensive collections of architectural drawings in Canada, in which Toronto-based architects and architectural firms are well represented.

Were There Significant Persons Or Events Associated With The Property?

In addition to primary sources, including the ones listed above, a number of historical and contemporary reference books on Toronto's history and architecture are available, ranging from J. R. Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto (published in 6 volumes in 1894) to Dendy and Kilbourn's Toronto Observed (1986). Heritage Preservation Services has a book list to assist you.

Next Steps?

More detailed research can be done by consulting land records at the Registry Office. Operated by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations, the Registry Office is located in the Atrium on Bay. Using the description of the property (plan and lot numbers), the Abstract Index of Deeds for a given property records chronologically the transfer of the property from one owner to the next, beginning with the Crown Patent and continuing to present day. Land records are particularly helpful when researching properties developed prior to the annexation of an area by the City.


Archives of Ontario, 77 Grenville Street, Toronto M7A 2R9, 416-327-1600; reference@archives.gov.on.ca; www.archives.gov.on.ca/; hours Monday to Friday, 8:15 am to 10:30 pm; Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm (reading room only)

City of Toronto Archives, 255 Spadina Road, Toronto M5R 2V3, (416-397-5000; e-mail: archives@toronto.ca; hours Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Metropolitan Toronto Land Registry Office, Atrium on Bay, 20 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Toronto M5G 2C2, 416-314-4400; hours Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm

Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street (one block north of Bloor Street), Toronto M4W 2G8, 416-393-7196; www.torontopubliclibrary.ca (e-mail reference service on web page); Archindont database, 19th century City of Toronto Directories available through the Virtual Reference Library: http://vrl.torontopubliclibrary.ca; hours Monday to Thursday, 10 am to 8 pm; Friday and Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm; Sunday 1:30 to 5 pm (note: seasonal changes to hours)

Places to research
Book list for Toronto history and architecture