What's in the Archives

Collecting Toronto: Reporting Toronto



Toronto has been a newspaper town since 1798 when the government weekly, Upper Canada Gazette, finally followed the provincial capital across Lake Ontario from Newark to York. Larry Becker's extensive collection of newspapers covers Toronto news from Georgian York when the Lieutenant Governor issued an 1811 proclamation supporting the cultivation and exportation of hemp, through the 1830s when journalist-cum-rebel William Lyon Mackenzie was railing against an elitist government, until the mid-1990s when Toronto's major dailies were complemented by a wide range of community newspapers.


A licence for Bootblacks, Vendors of Newspapers & Smallwares issued to 16 year-old Richard Jackson 

The examples displayed here suggest the diversity of approach adopted by different papers and different eras, and highlight some of the major events affecting Toronto, both very local - such as the terrible fire aboard the luxury lake liner Noronic - and distinctly international - such as the death of Queen Victoria. In several cases, Becker supplemented the newspaper report with other related materials, such as photographs, souvenir buttons, memorial ribbons, and printed ephemera.

One of the earliest papers found in Becker's collection is The Albion of November 6, 1838, which was published in New York City with accounts of Mackenzie's failed 1837 Rebellion in Toronto. Pencilled annotations by Becker highlight the items relating to the fate of participants. These include charges of treason leveled against Mackenzie and co-rebel, surveyor David Gibson, who returned to Toronto in 1848 and built what is now known as the Gibson House.

Other items were all published in York / Toronto. These include: The York Gazette's proclamation-filled issue of May 11, 1811; The Globe's densely-packed front-page account of Confederation on July 1, 1867; The Toronto News' sorrowful, black-edged account of Queen Victoria's funeral in early 1891; the satirical local tabloid Jack Canuck's coverage of World War I in January 1915, with front page editorial cartoon and inside reports on Toronto's municipal elections; the Toronto Daily Star's banner-headlined front page account of the Noronic fire in September 1949, supplemented by a news photograph of a survivor being lowered from the burning ship and a tourist pamphlet about the luxury liner in happier times; and two "pink Tely" accounts of triumph and tragedy in 1954 - Marilyn Bell's heroic cross-Lake Ontario swim in September, and Hurricane Hazel's battering of Southern Ontario in October. Banner headlines, complemented by large photographs and energetic prose, characterized The Telegram's mid-twentieth century journalism.

For much of their history, Toronto's newspapers were hawked on street corners by "newsboys" - both children and older men who continued to be called "boys." Larry Becker documented the social side of selling with the 1906 licence issued by the police department to 16 year-old Richard Jackson, who lived in the low-income district known as "The Ward" near city hall. According to regulations on the back, these licenses could not be issued to "any child under eight years of age."