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May 2012

The War of 1812 – like all wars – was not all glory and righteousness. Not even mostly glory and righteousness.

May 22, 2012 | Jonathon Hodge | Comments (5)

It’s May 2012. In most of Canada, the birds are chirping, spring flowers are in bloom, and people across the country are gearing up to crack out the grills in anticipation of a lovely summer. Oh yes, and it’s approaching 200 years to the day since the United States ‘declared war on Britain and all its dominions’ and thus engaged what is now Canada in the War of 1812. Most Canadians can be forgiven for not knowing much about it, for not being able to name the combatants, and/or for not caring. It has, after all, been 200 years; hence, the federal government’s campaign to make us remember it as a ‘defining chapter in our history’.

And it was a defining moment. It marked the first time that self-identified ‘Canadians’ resisted a patriotic war! War resistance – the conscious refusal – for moral, religious, ethical, or political reasons – to fight for one side or the other, is a neglected part of every armed conflict of post-contact North America, and indeed of the modern world. In 1812, Mennonites, Quakers, and other religious pacifists were significant minorities in communities throughout the Lake Erie region of southern Ontario. Historian Jonathan Seiling reports, “It is widely recognized that many Upper Canadians did not demonstrate utmost loyalty toward the British Crown on the eve of the war, or even during the war. Some settlers objected to the war in communities on both sides of the border, whether on pragmatic grounds, or due to “disaffection” and political dissent. Others refused to participate on principle…” The British authorities in Upper Canada by and large understood this and so levied a tax on them in lieu of combat service, and routinely dragooned them as teamsters for the baggage trains.

Scruples of Conscience
Donald G. Anger confirms as much, citing a local example from the Sugarloaf settlement in Niagara district. “These were people of strong faith, who did not believe in taking up arms against their fellow man [sic] and usually quietly accept the consequences.” Or not so quietly in some cases, as one report indicated a Quaker in what is today Kitchener-Waterloo area took his wagon apart down to its wood and nails so as to avoid having to use it to aid the militia. Others went to jail for refusing to pay the pacifist levy, and loudly declaimed against the war all the way! Anger notes of the Quakers in Sugarloaf “During the War of 1812, all of these men [ed. – the Quaker heads-of-households who would be eligible for militia service] would remain true to their Quaker principles, would decline to pick up arms, and most would opt not to pay the required fine and instead accept the consequences.” Me thinks Anger is being unnecessarily coy :)


Don't Give Up the ShipResistance was not exclusive to religious communities either. Enthusiasm for militia service was mixed at best, with settlers on both sides of the conflict refusing call-ups as often as not. American general George McClure lamented at one such failed attempt to rouse the local militia against the British taking of Fort Niagara: “Most were more interested in taking care of their families and property by carrying them into the interior, than helping us to fight.”  Today, amidst the variety of commemorative actions, Ontario historians have created, an interactive augmented reality game that educates the players on all aspects of the war, as well as training them in the tools of historical research (more details). I know what I am doing this summer!

Resistance to war has long been a feature of modern conflict. Canadian society was done a great service by the huge influx of American draft resisters during America’s war in Vietnam. Over 50 000 Americans came across during the 1960s and 1970s, taking advantage of laxer Canadian immigration policies and a Canadian political environment that was similarly in flux – Trudeau’s government ended the covert discrimination against US draft resisters only after it was nationally exposed by five York University students who posed as American draft-card burners and recorded their experiences at the border. Many of those Americans went on to lives in the arts, law, and other endeavours, and they continue to be eternally grateful for being here.

Northern Passage                    New Exiles              Soldiers in Revolt

Before that, the resistance movements in France and Italy during the Second World War are part of our history. Resistance in these cases was by no means pacifist however. In Italy, the resistance was explicitly anti-Fascisti and anti-Nazi, and involved serious deployment of modern weaponry, and the sorts of difficult decisions and compromising on one’s ideals that often accompanies politics. Resistance too took place in even the darkest places, where prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau organized an uprising that involved smuggling gun powder in from a local factory in tablespoon-sized amounts for weeks.

                     Other Italy                                         Fighting Back

Today, resistance continues, both to historic wars and current ones. In Stouffville Ontario, the local Mennonite congregation petitioned the town council to oppose the federal government’s plans for a war commemoration while raises the question “What’s wrong with celebrating the War of 1812?” The writers end with a quotation from the legendary Pierre Burton, writing in reference to 1812: “Political and military leaders constantly used the clichés of warfare to justify bloodshed and rampage. Words like honour…liberty…independence…freedom were dragged out to rally the troops, most of whom, struggling to save their skins, knew them to be empty.” Canadians legacy of resistance to wars continues into this century, with massive national protests in the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq – protests that prompted Prime Minister Jean Chretien to renounce Canadian military involvement in that invasion. Today, dozens or hundreds of American war veterans seek refuge here, hoping to find evidence of these same threads of peace.

                                 War with No End                                 Deserters Tale


The Deserter's Tale : the story of an ordinary soldier who walked away from the war in Iraq (Key, Joshua with Lawrence Hill, 2007)
956.70443 KEY KEY - - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL

Don't Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812 (Hickey, Donald R., 2006)
971.034 HIC - Canadiana, 6th fl, NYCL

Fighting Back, a memoir of Jewish Resistance in World War II (Werner, Harold, 1992)
940.531809 W - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL

The New Exiles, American War Resisters in Canada (Williams, Roger N., 1971)
325.2730971 W - Canadiana, 6th fl, NYCL

Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada (Hagan, John, 2001)
959.70438 HAG - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL

The Other Italy, the Italian Resistance in World War II (Wilhelm, Maria, 1988)
940.5345 W - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL

'Scruples of Conscience' the War of 1812 in the Sugarloaf Settlement (Anger, Donald G., 2008)
971.33802 ANG - Canadiana, 6th fl, NYCL

Soldiers in revolt : GI resistance during the Vietnam War (Cortright, David, 2005)
959.70433 COR - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL

War with No End (Bennis, Phyllis et al., 2007)
958.1047 WAR - Society and Recreation, 3rd fl, NYCL


Over Any Distance Imaginable : The Royal Mail From York - May 16th

May 12, 2012 | Andrew | Comments (0)

Howard Photo


Join assistant curator Kate McCauley of Toronto’s First Post Office at the North York Central Library as she presents the history of the post office in Toronto from 1798 to 1851.

North York Central Library, Room 1
5120 Yonge Street, Toronto
Wednesday May 16th, 2012, 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • the arrival of the colonial Post Office
  • alternatives to the official Post
  • how the system worked
  • some of the personalities involved
  • problems faced by the Post Office and customers
  • how letters were written in the period
  • equipment, methods and examples of letter corresponding

Toronto Public Library owns a number of items related to Post Office history in Toronto including historical pictures.

The Canadiana Department holds a reference collection of Canadian genealogy, Ontario local history, North York history, and materials related to Canada. The Department also houses collections from these genealogical societies:

  • Ontario Genealogical Society
  • Jewish Genealogical Society (Toronto Branch)
  • Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants
  • York Pioneer and Historical Society
  • Société franco-ontarienne d'histoire et de généalogie

Fire Insurance Plans for Toronto

May 7, 2012 | Barbara Myrvold | Comments (2)

Updated: July, 4, 2016

Toronto Public Library has fire insurance plans for the City of Toronto dating from 1858 to 1973, and has digitized the plans up to 1910. Sometimes called Goad's atlases, after Charles E. Goad who started fire insurance mapping in 1875, these large-scale aerial drawings show locations of buildings of the time, as well as their size, shape and construction materials as those were important details for insurers. 

Fire insurance plans: why are they useful?

Researchers find fire insurance plans are an invaluable information source, using them for a variety of purposes including to:

  • narrow the date when a building was constructed.
  • determine earlier street numbers of individual buildings and previous names of streets which may have changed.
  • locate a building on the street and in relation to other buildings on the block. This is useful in resolving confusion that sometimes happens in directory research. Sometimes a directory will indicate that a building, which is now located in mid-block, as being at the corner if no closer buildings to the corner have yet been built.
  • determine the lot number, block number (if there is one), and the registered plan number of a property. These can be useful with assessment and title searches.
  • indicate buildings that may have been demolished or recently constructed.
  • track how buildings have been used and altered over time.
  • indicate a building in relationship to its neighbourhood, such as schools, churches, industries.
  • show how a neighbourhood has changed over the years.
  • indicate sites where soil may be contaminated from noxious uses.

Atlas-r-195_smallDetail of Atlas of the city of Toronto and vicinity. (Goad) 2nd ed. 1893. Plate 47

Where to find Toronto fire insurance plans at Toronto Public Library

Atlases of fire insurance plans 1858 to 1910 are available on our Digital Archive in PDF format. Warning: these files are very large (150-227 Mb) and users may experience long download times.

Hard and microform copies are available at the Toronto Reference Library.

  • Originals (1858-1973) are in the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, 5th floor. 
  • Photostats (1858-1945), microfilms (1880-1924) and microfiches (1903-1951) are in the Humanities & Social Sciences Department, 2nd floor.

Chronological list

1858  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1880  Special Collections.  Digital Archive vol. 1vol. 2

1884  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1889  Special Collections. (Note: mislabelled as 1880) Digital Archive (Note: mislabelled as 1892)

1890  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1893  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1894  Humanities and Social Sciences (microfilm).  Not digitized

1899  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1903  Special Collections (Note: transferred from North York Central Library; mislabelled as 1890.)  Not digitized

1903-1951 Humanities and Social Sciences (microfiche).  Not digitized

1904  Area of fire, wholesale district, Toronto, Canada April 19, 20. (Goad).  Special Collections (T1904/4Msm).  Digital Archive

1910  Special Collections.  Digital Archive

1912  Special Collections (Note: transferred from North York Central Library; mislabelled as 1910.)  Not digitized

1914-1918  Humanities and Social Sciences (microfilm).  Not digitized

1923  Special Collections.  Not digitized

1924  Humanities and Social Sciences (microfilm).  Not digitized

1952-1973  Special Collections.  Not digitized

Additional Sources

Nathan Ng's blog "Recursion" provides access to individual plans by plate number for fire insurance atlases published in 1880, 1884, 1889, 1890, 1893, 1899, 1903, 1910, 1913, and 1924.

City of Toronto Archive has digitized selected plates from fire insurance plans, 1880 to 1924

Library and Archives Canada has digitized the following editions:

Detailed information on all Toronto and Canadian fire insurance plans is available in Catalogue of Canadian fire insurance plans 1875-1975

War of 1812: Bicentennial Talks

May 2, 2012 | TRL Humanities and Social Sciences | Comments (0)

From 2012 to 2014, Canadians and Americans will commemorate the War of 1812 – a seminal event in our shared histories. This spring, a unique series of lectures, debates and conversations will be presented by the Toronto Public Library in partnership with Heritage Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum, Luminato and several community heritage organizations.


1812: The Big PictureBook cover Benn
Dr. Carl Benn, author of The War of 1812
Tues. May 8, 7 pm
Royal Ontario Museum, Theatre
100 Queens Park
A ROM/Heritage Toronto presentation
Free. RSVP e-mail: or call 416-586-5797

ROM History Wars Debate: The U.S. has Coveted Canada since the War of 1812ROM_bicentennial_1812
Jack Granatstein vs. Stephen Clarkson. Moderated by Michael Bliss.
Fri. June 8, 6:30 pm
Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St. W.
A Luminato/ROM presentation.
Tickets: $30 Purchase online or call 416.368.4849


The Struggle for North America Book cover Taylor
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812, in conversation with TVO’s Steve Paikin.
Wed. June 13, 7 pm
Toronto Reference Library, Appel Salon
Book free tickets starting May 16

Tecumseh and Brock
James Laxer on the two greatest heroes of the war. Luminato_logo
Sun. June 17, 2 pm
Bloor/Gladstone Branch


Discover How the War Affected Where You Live

Etobicoke and 1812
Denise Harris, President, Etobicoke Historical Society.Heritage_toronto_logo
Wed. May 16, 7 pm
Mimico Centennial Branch

York Township and 1812
Janice Nickerson, genealogist and author of York’s Sacrifice, Militia Casualties of the War of 1812.
Wed. May 23, 7 pm
North York Central Library, ConcourseJanice Nickerson image

Scarborough and 1812
Richard Schofield, Archivist, Scarborough Archives.
Wed. May 30, 7 pm
Bendale Branch


Bicentennial of the War of 1812
The Aboriginal point of view presented by the Native Canadian Centre
Thu May 31, 1:30 pm
North York Central Library, Concourse

Why the War of 1812 Still Matters
Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator for City of Toronto Museum Services, tackles this question.
Tue. June 12, 1:00 pm1812 logo_Toronto
Toronto Reference Library, Beeton




Discover the history of your family, your Toronto neighbourhood, or places in Ontario and across Canada.

Research online or at Toronto Reference Library and North York Central Library.

Learn about exciting programs and events.