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Remembering the December 20-23, 2013 Ice Storm: Snapshots in History

December 28, 2016 | John P. | Comments (0)



December is a good time to reflect back upon the 2013 North American Ice Storm that plagued much of central and eastern Canada, parts of the Central Great Plains and the northeastern United States from December 20-23, 2013 with large amounts of freezing rain and snow that damaged electrical power transmission capability as well as much of the tree canopy. In Ontario, over 600,000 customers were without electrical power at the height of the storm. In the case of Toronto, over 300,000 Toronto Hydro customers were lacking electrical power or heat at the storm’s zenith.  The City of Toronto responded with temporary community reception centres as well as Toronto Police Service facility community warming centres to offer people without electricity and heat a place at which to eat and sleep. By December 24, 2013, almost 70,000 Toronto Hydro customers were still without electrical power will 1,000 people spending Christmas Eve 2013 in the warming centres. Crews from Hydro One, Manitoba Hydro, and other electrical utilities assisted Toronto Hydro crews in connecting up the remaining 6,000 customers still without electrical power on December 29, 2013. Regrettably, at least 27 deaths were as a result of the storm, particularly from carbon monoxide poisoning in enclosed and not well ventilated areas as people attempted to keep warm and cook with gas generators and charcoal stoves.

When looking back to remember the ice storm of 2013, consider the following title for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


Ice storm, Ontario 2013 the beauty, the devastation, the aftermath


This book visually captures the effects of a devastating ice storm that brought power outages to central and eastern Ontario, parts of southern Québec, and New Brunswick. 40% of power transmission lines in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) were affected on account of the 2013 ice storm, while more than 20% of the City of Toronto’s tree canopy was destroyed. Transportation chaos reigned with the airlines, on trains, on the roads, and with public transit. A new challenge emerged in the aftermath with the cost and logistics of the storm clean-up and repair.  


ICESTORM1 Photograph by Shelley Savor December 2013

(A portion of the downed tree canopy somewhere in Toronto, December 2013 – Photograph and Copyright © by Shelley Savor – Permission was given to use this photograph.)


Let us not forgot about the North American ice storm of January 1998 and its devastating effect upon the power grid and people’s lives in eastern Ontario, southern Québec, parts of the Maritimes and the northeastern United States. Consider the following title for comparative purposes from Toronto Public Library collections:


The ice storm an historic record in photographs of January 1998

Up to 100 millimetres of freezing rain fell over five days in sections of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States in early January 1998. Over five million people living in two million homes languished in the cold darkness of winter without power for up to a month in some instances. Various newspapers in eastern Ontario and southern Québec collaborated on producing this book.


Aussi disponible en français comme:


Le grand verglas récit en images de la tempête de janvier 1998

Remembering Hurricane Hazel: October 15: Snapshots in History

October 15, 2016 | John P. | Comments (0)

On October 15 and beyond, take a moment to reflect upon the destructive power and aftermath of Hurricane Hazel which struck southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area on October 15, 1954 after affecting various Caribbean countries and several American states along the eastern seaboard. Hurricane Hazel merged with a strong cold front over the state of Pennsylvania and turned northwest towards Ontario. Ninety five people in the United States lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Hazel. Consequently, Hurricane Hazel (a category 1 hurricane) hit southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area as an extra-tropical storm, resulting in major flooding from overflowing rivers and streams and an already saturated water table. Eighty-one people in Canada died from Hurricane Hazel, including 35 individuals who lost their lives when much of Raymore Drive and 32 adjacent houses in Etobicoke were swept away. More than 1,800 families in Toronto were left homeless due to Hurricane Hazel out of a total of 4,000 families affected in southern Ontario.

One of the lasting legacies from Hurricane Hazel was the creation of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) in 1957. TRCA used land use planning and regulations to encourage the creation of parkland and dam construction along floodplains to avoid future occurrences of the damage and loss of life that resulted from Hurricane Hazel. For example, the Scouts’ Camp of the Crooked Creek in Scarborough closed down in June 1968 and was taken over by the then-Metropolitan Toronto Conservation Authority, which did not permit people to inhabit flood-prone areas. This area is now the Morningside Park area of the Highland Creek Park.  

Consider the following non-fiction titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


Rain tonight a story of Hurricane Hazel

(Children's Non-Fiction Book)

The author was born the evening that Hurricane Hazel struck and parlayed his fascination with the subject into this book. Follow the account of eight-year-old Penny Doucette, her family and their elderly neighbour clinging to a house roof as the neighbouring house floated away on the Humber River.


  Hurricane Hazel Canada's storm of the century        Hurricane Hazel Canada's storm of the century

(Adult Non-Fiction Book)                        (Adult Non-Fiction eBook)

Read a fiftieth anniversary account of the destruction and loss of life wrought by Hurricane Hazel. Eighty-one people died in southern Ontario, including 32 residents of Raymore Drive in Etobicoke. The latter had to contend with an eight-foot rise in the Humber River in the span of one hour, and five volunteer firefighters who drowned attempting to reach motorists trapped in their automobiles.


Hurricane Hazel Betty Kennedy

(Adult Non-Fiction Book)

Broadcaster and journalist Kennedy authored this book to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hazel striking southern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area.

Consider the following novel which encompasses Hurricane Hazel in the storyline:


The carnivore a novel

 (Adult Fiction Book)

 A young police officer named Ray Townes emerges as a hero in saving trapped Humber River residents from the wrath of Hurricane Hazel. Meanwhile, Ray’s wife Mary, a nurse, is wracked with doubts about Ray’s heroism when she meets a disoriented woman near death in the emergency room at the hospital whose recollection of events differ from Ray’s story.

Children wishing to read a story including Hurricane Hazel can try the following easy-to-read title:

Written on the wind / Anne Dublin and Avril Woodend, 2001.

(Children’s Easy-to-Read Book)

This story is set in the 1950s around the time of Hurricane Hazel. Sarah is afraid when her Ouija board forecasts that terrible things are going to happen.

Please visit the TPL History: Hurricane Hazel hits Toronto (October, 1954) page to view additional images about Hurricane Hazel.




Remembering the T. Eaton Company on August 20: Snapshots in History

August 20, 2016 | John P. | Comments (2)


Timothy Eaton and his son John Craig Eaton, Eaton's department store, Toronto, Canada, 1899.

Credit: Archives of Ontario, Item Reference Code F 229-308-0-2209



Eaton's store façade, 190 Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada, 1918.

Credit: Archives of Ontario, Item Reference Code F 229-308-0-1700


On August 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the passing of a Canadian business institution, the T. Eaton Company, which filed for bankruptcy protection on the evening of August 20, 1999, 130 years after it had been founded in 1869 in Toronto by Timothy Eaton (1834-1907). Eaton introduced the then-revolutionary practice of cash sales at one fixed price rather than the traditional credit, bargain and barter method. Many Canadians and Torontonians grew up with the famed Eaton’s catalogue. Introduced in 1884 with a mail-order process to facilitate access by rural and farming communities as well to a wide range of products, the Eaton’s catalogue remained a mainstay of the T. Eaton Company until it was discontinued in 1976.

Upon Timothy Eaton’s death in 1907, Eaton’s third son, John Craig Eaton (1876-1922) became president of the company. Knighted in 1915 for philanthropy, it was under Sir J.C. Eaton’s stewardship that Eaton’s employees on active war service received full pay, as well as establishing Saturday holidays and 5:00 p.m. evening closures at Eaton’s stores, mail-order offices, and factories in 1919. Additionally, the Eaton Boys and Girls clubs offered recreational and educational facilities for Eaton’s employees and their families. Following J.C. Eaton’s death, his cousin Robert Young Eaton assumed the company presidency, followed by J.C. Eaton’s son, John David Eaton, in 1942. Under the presidency of J.D. Eaton, the T. Eaton Company expanded into northern and western Canada as well as introducing a contributory medical insurance plan and a retirement plan for employees. J.D. Eaton personally contributed $50 million to the retirement plan in 1948. During the Second World War, Eaton’s was the first Canadian company to pay employees who joined the armed forces.  Son John Craig Eaton ll became Chairman of the Board of the T. Eaton Company in 1969. Another son, Fredrik Stefan Eaton, served as Chairman, President and CEO of the company from 1977 to 1988.  George Ross Eaton, the youngest son of J.D. Eaton, was the last member of the Eaton family to assume the presidency of the T. Eaton Company until June 1997.

The T. Eaton Company had some ups and downs. It established the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade in Toronto in 1905 and continued its sponsorship until August 1982, when it pulled out citing increasing costs. Other sponsors came in to sustain the annual parade which continues to this day as the Toronto Santa Claus Parade. The company had resisted attempts of some employees to unionize during the days of Timothy Eaton, during the early 1950s, and even during the mid-1980s when some stores were unionized but an unsuccessful strike resulted in a decertification vote. The company had tried to broaden its position in the Canadian retail universe in the 1970s by establishing a discount chain called Horizon which was closed in 1978. The company also had to deal with stiff competition from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), Sears Canada, Zellers, and Walmart Canada and the trend towards big-box retailing stores. Eaton’s attempts to compete included hiring HBC’s chief executive officer George Kosich in 1997 as president to develop a higher-end retailing strategy similar to that used at HBC. This initiative resulted in legal wrangling between Eaton’s and HBC. Kosich resigned in 1998 and was replaced by then-chairman Brent Ballantyne. Ballantyne took the company public and shares were sold for the first time in the company’s history with the Eaton family retaining a 51% controlling interest.

Following the declaration of bankruptcy in 1999, Sears Canada purchased Eaton’s corporate assets (name, trademarks, brands etc.) for $50 million and attempted to launch Eaton as a brand name under its auspices. However, the attempted juxtaposition of the then-Sears Canada with its lower prices and merchandise quality with that of the higher-end Eaton’s ultimately ended with the retirement of the Eaton’s name in 2002.

A landmark symbolic of Eaton’s, the Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall which opened in 1977, continues to be one of the City of Toronto’s top tourist attractions.

Consider the following titles for borrowing and review from Toronto Public Library collections:




The Eatons The rise and fall of Canada's royal family   Timothy Eaton and the rise of his department store  


Eaton's the trans-Canada store   Eatonians the story of the family behind the family  




Eaton's the trans-Canada store


Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue 1920-21

Fall and Winter Catalogue 1920-21


Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue 1917

Spring & Summer Catalogue No. 122 1917


Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue 1907

Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue 1907


Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue 1899-1900

Fall and Winter Catalogue No. 43 1899-1900


Spring and Summer Catalogue No. 27 1894

Spring and Summer Catalogue No. 27, 1894




Eaton, T., Company, shop, Yonge St., w. side, between Queen & Albert Sts 1923 Lifting a Seven Ton Motor

Eaton, T., Company, shop, Yonge St., w. side, between Queen & Albert Sts., 1923.

Lifting a Seven-Ton Motor - Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library


Eaton, T., Company, shop, Yonge St., w. side, between Queen & Albert Sts

Eaton, T., Company, shop, Yonge St., w. side, between Queen & Albert Sts., 1910? 

- Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library


Eaton, T., Company, Louisa St., n.e. cor. Downey's Lane; Interior Cutting Men's Clothing 1909

Eaton, T., Company, Louisa St., n.e. cor. Downey's Lane; Interior., 1909?

Cutting Men’s Clothing - Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library


Eaton, T., Company, Louisa St., n.e. cor. Downey's Lane; Interior 1909 Designing and Cutting Room

Eaton, T., Company, Louisa St., n.e. cor. Downey's Lane; Interior, 1909?

Designing and Cutting Room - Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library


Eaton, T., Co., warehouse, Louisa St. 1910

Eaton, T., Co., warehouse, Louisa St.?, 1910? - Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library


7 yr. old bay mare, T. Eaton Co., Toronto November 24 1910

7 yr. old bay mare, T. Eaton Co., Toronto, November 24, 1910. 

- Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library

(Credit: Reginald Symonds Timmis)


Highway 427, looking n. from n. of Bloor St. W., during construction, showing T. Eaton Co. farm at left 1953

Highway 427, looking n. from n. of Bloor St. W., during construction, showing T. Eaton Co. farm at left., 1953 - Credit: Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library

(Credit: James Victor Salmon)

Remembering William Lyon Mackenzie King: July 26: Snapshots in History

July 28, 2016 | John P. | Comments (0)


Credit: Paul Joseph - Vancouver, BC, Canada


On July 26 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King (Born: December 17, 1874 at Kitchener (previously Berlin), Ontario; Died: July 22, 1950 at Kingsmere, Québec; Buried: July 26, 1950 at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario), who was Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister (for approximately 22 years and 5 months) from December 29, 1921 - June 28, 1926, September 25, 1926 - August 7, 1930, and October 23, 1935 - November 15, 1948.

The grandson of former Mayor of Toronto and 1837 Rebellion leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, W.L.M. King served as the Member of Parliament for York North in the early 1920s during his inaugural term as Prime Minister of Canada. In another connection to Toronto, he also influenced the outcome of the York South by-election of February 9, 1942 by declining to let a Liberal Party candidate stand as former Prime Minister and political rival Arthur Meighen (who was in favour of conscription) was seeking to return to the House of Commons as leader of the Conservative Party once again. Liberal supporters divided between supporting the winning Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) candidate Joseph W. Noseworthy (some federal Liberals supported the CCF campaign) and Arthur Meighen (Ontario Liberal premier Mitchell Hepburn, a critic of Prime Minister King, supported Meighen).

King’s governments implemented a variety of social programs including old age pensions in 1926, unemployment insurance in 1940, and family allowances in 1944. King was Prime Minister during World War Two. Canada declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939, fully one week after Great Britain and France had done so as Prime Minister King wanted a vote of war declaration from Canada’s Parliament on its own timetable as a means of asserting Canada’s independence. Canada’s role in the war is well-known through its military participation in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and through the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942 and the invasion of Hong Kong in 1941. Arguably, less known might be the important role that Canada played in the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in which some 131,500 Canadian and Allied air personnel received flying, navigational, bomb aiming, air gunning, and wireless operator training across Canada during the Second World War. Canada was also a major player in nuclear research with the establishment of the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario in 1944 and the subsequent operation of the NRX reactor in 1947.

Prime Minister King and his government had to weather the Conscription Crisis of 1944 that followed up on a 1942 plebiscite asking Canadians to release the Canadian government from its pledge not to send any troops overseas (that was made in the 1940 Canadian general election campaign). The country was divided at that time with English-speaking Canada voting 83% in favour of sending troops overseas as needed and French-speaking Canada voting 73% against sending troops overseas with 63% of Canadians in favour overall of instituting conscription. Mr. King had a penchant for getting out of tough spots politically and rebounding from political defeats as in the elections of 1917, 1925 and 1930. The government also imposed the internment of Japanese-Canadians (and seizure of their property) in 1942 following the air attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941. (The government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized for this injustice carried out against the Japanese-Canadian people in September 1988 and instituted a compensation package.) On a happier note, Canada was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 with Prime Minister King (who also served as his own Secretary of State for External Affairs for many years) in attendance.

William Lyon Mackenzie King has served as a puzzle to many Canadians with some familiarity of Canadian history. Arguably, he is the best educated Prime Minister to date with a total of five university degrees (B.A., M.A. (University of Toronto); LL.B (Osgoode Hall Law School); M.A., Ph.D (Harvard University), and the only Prime Minister to date to have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. On the other hand, some have learned of Mr. King’s connection with the occult and communing with spirits of dead individuals from his past, including his mother and former Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and his use of an ouija board and a crystal ball.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


Prime Ministers ranking Canada's leaders

This book by historians Granatstein and Hillmer was a result of a Maclean’s magazine study that consulted 25 Canadian historians and political scientists on ranking all of Canada’s Prime Ministers up to the late 1990s but listed in chronological order of service. Despite perceived personal peculiarities, William Lyon Mackenzie King was ranked first as the best Prime Minister in the “Great” category. Kim Campbell was evaluated to be the worst Prime Minister. Brian Mulroney placed eighth in the “Average” category whilst Joe Clark finished fifteenth in the “Below Average” category.


Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King so similar so different

Winston S. Churchill and W.L. Mackenzie King were contemporaries as they were born about two weeks apart in 1874. However, each took a different path into politics, viz.: King through academics and Churchill through military adventure. In the 1930s, Churchill, an isolated backbencher, was extremely prescient about the dangers of fascism and Nazism while King tended towards appeasement of the Nazis. Nonetheless, King came around to the dangers of the fascists and gave full support to Great Britain’s war effort once Canada’s Parliament had declared war first, one week after Great Britain and France had. 

Also available in eBook format.


Consider watching the following interview with author Terry Reardon:



King William Lyon Mackenzie King a life guided by the hand of destiny

Levine offered the reader the first biographical review of Canada’s best educated (Ph.D, Harvard University) and longest-serving (and arguably the most unusual) Prime Minister in many years. On the one hand, King consulted mediums to gain contact with deceased family members and political mentors. On the other hand, he showed great political foresight in outmanoeuvring political opponents and keeping the country together. 

Also available in eBook and Talking Book (Restricted to Print Disabled Patrons) formats.


Warlords Borden Mackenzie King and Canada's World Wars  

Read historian Tim Cook’s dual biography of Canada’s two world war Prime Ministers: Robert Laird Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King. Despite a lack of charisma, the author contended that both leaders were “warlords” in a Canadian way and had to navigate a number of similar issues: developing armed forces from a civilian base, conscription, mobilizing war finances and production, and keeping labour peace. On the issue of conscription, Borden was prepared to divide the country to achieve victory while King was very much concerned with keeping the country together. Both Prime Ministers’ governments used internment of people as an instrument during wartime: King’s government interned Japanese-Canadian people while Borden’s government interned the Ukrainian-Canadians under the pretext of being “enemy aliens”. 

Also available in eBook format. Read the review from Quill and Quire. Read the review from Digital Journal.


Consider watching this video of author Tim Cook discussing this book:



Consider borrowing the following public performance rights DVD from Toronto Public Library collections:

Mackenzie King and the conscription crisis

This documentary combined archival footage with excerpts from The King Chronicles, a dramatic series written and directed by Donald Brittain. Faced with a divided country on the conscription issue during the Second World War, W.L. Mackenzie King could only put off the decision for so long even though he was deeply concerned about the potential fracturing of the country. Some scenes included graphic language.




Guide to Census Records

June 29, 2016 | TRL Humanities and Social Sciences | Comments (0)

Getting Started

Census: an official enumeration of populations that can help you discover birth dates, the names of parents and siblings, immigration details and much more.

Searching the Library website 

 Suggested Titles:

    Additional material on Great Britain census handbooks

    Additional material on the American censuses

    Additional material for 1871 census of Ontario

Online Resources

Recommended Websites


Canadian Census Records Online

Electoral Atlas of the Dominion of Canada
Provides access to a set of detailed maps showing federal electoral boundaries. Most of the electoral districts described in this 1895 atlas are identical to the 1901 census districts. Detailed ward maps for cities are also available.

All  Canadian census returns from 1825 to 1921 have been digitized and are currently available on multiple websites as well as Ancestry Library Edition. Ancestry Library Edition can be used in any Toronto Public Library branch and has all Canadian censuses from 1851 to 1921. It also has Canada East/Lower Canada censuses for 1825 and 1842, though not 1831, nor the 1842 Canada West/Ontario census.

There is FREE access on to the 1921 Census of Canada only, for those with a Canadian IP address. Free account must be set up at

Below are websites that have census information. Note: some are indexes, some have images, some are only searchable geographically.

Library and Archives Canada: CensusesGives an overview of the complete (1825-1916) census collection with links to LAC census databases and finding aids. Searchable by names and with images. There is also digitized microfilm for the 1871 and 1916 censuses. Note: 1906 and 1916 censuses are of western Canada only.

Canadian Censuses on FamilySearch Includes provincial censuses prior to 1842, and censuses 1851-1916. The 1861 census is listed by individual province. Early censuses 1825-1842 have images. FamilySearch is provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Automated Genealogy has indexed the 1852 (Ontario and Quebec and New Brunswick), 1901, 1906, and 1911 censuses. Select "split view" to view the original census page from Library and Archives Canada along with the transcriptions.

The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) has the 1851/2 and 1881 census data.

Alberta Genealogical Society, Edmonton Branch has indexed the 1901 census for Alberta and Saskatchewan.

 Newfoundland (prior to entering Confederation in 1949)

Transcriptions for various years (Newfoundland's Grand Banks Genealogical and Historical Data). Some are incomplete. Censuses for 1921, 1935, 1945 are also on microfilm in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, Toronto Reference Library. Consult the finding aid in the branch or go online to LAC to search the place name index to determine which microfilm reels to consult.


US Census Records Online

1790-1940 US censuses (FamilySearch): Indexed and usually linked to images. Free.

Digitized microfilm of 1790-1930 US census on Internet Archive. For help in using the microfilm try Donslist Finding Guides

Note: 1890 US census largely destroyed by fire.


British and Irish Census Records Online

1841-1911 Census for England,Wales and Channel Islands (FamilySearch)
Indexed. Access to images is not available to home or library users

1901 Census of England, Scotland and Wales
Free to search, pay to view records

1911 census of England and Wales
Free to search, pay to view records


Scotlands People
Census records for 1841-1911. Free surname searches; pay to view records.

1841-1891 censuses, free on Family Search. No images.



Tithe Applotment Books 1823-1837
The tithe applotment books were compiled to determine the amount which occupiers of agricultural holdings over one acre should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland (main Protestant church).  Names of occupiers of each townland - head of household only. Information is for rural areas, not towns.

Griffith's Valuation 1847 -1864
First full-scale valuation of property in Ireland.

Census of Ireland 1901/1911  and census fragments 1821-1851
Includes images.

Census fragments 1821-1851 (FamilySearch)
Includes images.


In Library Resources

The Toronto Reference Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Department has all the available Canadian census records on microfilm. To identify which microfilm reel to search, consult the Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1901. The department also houses many CD-ROMs and materials for U.S., and British and Irish census resources, as well as early Quebec censuses (1660s) and the 1681 census of New France.

Ancestry Library Edition can be used on any computer in a Toronto Public Library branch, but is not available from home.  It allows individual name searches, often with original images to: Canadian censuses 1825-1921 [except 1831 for Lower Canada and the 1842 census for Canada West, i.e.,Ontario]; UK Census Collection for 1841-1911; American Census Records 1790-1940 and some European census records.

Quebec  (available at North York Central and Toronto Reference Library)
French Canadian genealogy resource includes census information for Quebec and Ontario in 1881 and for Quebec in 1901.  


Additional Library Collections

The Ontario Genealogical Society Deposit Collection at the Toronto Reference Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, has an excellent collection of materials on British, American and Canadian censuses.


Toronto Public Library contacts:

Answerline, 416-393-7131

Toronto Reference Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, 416-393-7175

Snapshots in History: March 19: Remembering the Royal Ontario Museum

March 19, 2016 | John P. | Comments (0)

Royal Ontario Museum,Queen's Park Road, s.w. corner Bloor St. W.


On March 19 and beyond, take a moment to celebrate and remember a treasure in Toronto: the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the largest museum in Canada. Although the ROM was established on April 16, 1912 by the ROM Act of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the museum officially opened its doors to the public on March 19, 1914 at 3:00 pm with Canada’s then-Governor General, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, officiating.

The ROM has close ties to the University of Toronto and was directly under the university’s control until 1968 when it began an independent agency of the Ontario government. The ROM is Canada’s largest field-research institution with conservation and research initiatives all around the world. Originally, the ROM location housed five separate museums of archaeology, paleontology, mineralogy, zoology and geology. Expansion of the museum’s collections and staff resulted in overcrowding that necessitated a physical expansion into a new wing facing Queen’s Park that opened on October 12, 1933. The ROM was consolidated into a single museum entity in 1955. In the late 1970s, the ROM began a $55 million renovation to facilitate increased collection and research activities, including the addition of a curatorial centre and a new library. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2 opened the Terrace Galleries, the new exhibition and gallery space, in 1984. On June 3, 2007, the ROM opened the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (named after Jamaican-Canadian billionaire and philanthropist Michael Lee-Chin) to symbolize the museum and Toronto’s place in the 21st century as a cultural attraction and destination.

The ROM has 40 galleries and holds greater than 6,000,000 items divided into diverse collections promoting natural history and world cultures. Visitors enjoy viewing collections of dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites, the world’s largest fossil collection from the Burgess Shale (150,000-plus specimens), Near Eastern and African art, European history and Canadian history. The museum also has strong collections of design and fine arts, including clothing and Art Deco.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


The entire city project Royal Ontario Museum Every object has a story extraordinary Canadians celebrate the Royal Ontario Museum Gems & minerals earth treasures from the Royal Ontario Museum Iconic the must-see treasures of the ROM Position as desired exploring African Canadian identity photographs from the Wedge Collection Bold visions the architecture of the Royal Ontario Museum Glass worlds paperweights from the ROM's collection Déco Lalique creator to consumer High style masterworks from the Bernard and Sylvia Ostry Collection in the Royal Ontario Museum Journey to the Ice Age discovering an ancient world Rococo to rustique early French-Canadian furniture in the Royal Ontario Museum The museum makers the story of the Royal Ontario Museum


Click here for a list of the 50 Toronto Public Library branches from which one-time use Sun Life Financial Museum & Arts family passes for the Royal Ontario Museum are available for borrowing. Five ROM passes per week are available for borrowing from each of those 50 branches, which are valid anytime excluding the Family Day weekend, March Break, ROM for the Holidays and for separately priced exhibits.

Click here for frequently asked questions and answers about the Sun Life Financial Museum & Arts Pass program.

Making Historical Photographs Accessible Online

March 25, 2015 | TRL Humanities and Social Sciences | Comments (1)

The Toronto Public Library Digital Archive is a rich source of Toronto history. From the time an item in the collection is selected for digitization to when it is available in the Toronto Public Library Digital Archive, it undergoes an in-depth process to ensure it is accessible to everyone searching the Digital Archive. As a student at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information, I had the opportunity to be part of the initial steps in this process while working on a project for the North York Central Library Canadiana Department. The objective of the project was to create metadata records for a collection of historical photographs that were recently donated to the library by the North York Historical Society (NYHS).

If you’re not familiar with the concept of metadata it is broadly defined as data about data. In this project metadata was any details about a photograph gathered from a NYHS database and NYHS scrapbooks: date, description, size, format, spatial location and subject headings. The metadata is attached to each photograph on Digital Archive. These metadata records are also what leads to the discovery of a photograph when you search the Digital Archive.

In working with a historical photographic collection there are challenges in gathering descriptive information. For example, in trying to determine the subject(s) of a photograph I had to look closely at them and think creatively. This is where my role in the process got interesting.    

While many photographs in the NYHS photograph collection showcase important landmarks in North York like Gibson House and the Golden Lion Hotel, images of uncommon historical scenes posed an interesting challenge. When creating these metadata records it was important to consider which subjects headings would make scenes like plane crashes and children playing on a farm findable for anyone searching the Digital Archive. 

Golden Lion Hotel when residence of Rev. Pickett
Golden Lion Hotel when residence of Rev. Pickett

Plane that came down during WW1
Plane that came down during WW1

Arlington Tomlinson holding Freddie Wicks on a pig
Arlington Tomlinson holding Freddie Wicks on a pig 

Another challenge was photographs in NYHS collection that had too little or incomplete information and required outside research. The collection includes a photograph of the Weston Foundry and Machine Shop, but no date or location information about it. When I came across this photo, I needed to fill in these gaps with further research in the Canadiana Department. With the help of the Canadiana Department staff, I finally found this information in a Directory of North York from the 1920’s. This type of additional research ensures complete metadata records for NYHS photographs that can be searched to find photographs in the Digital Archive.

Weston Foundry and Machine Shop
Weston Foundry and Machine Shop

Working through the challenges of creating good metadata records is an initial step in the process, but all together this digitization project will help make the collection of the Canadiana Department more accessible to you. While working on this project I also learned about the many historical materials already available through the Digital Archive. Even more, there are lots of easy ways to access these materials like the interactive Toronto Neighbourhoods map, to which the NYHS photograph collection will be added. The North York Central Library Canadiana Department has a great collection of North York history to be discovered online and in the library.

Toronto Parks: the aspiration of the ‘Commons’

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

I live near Dufferin Grove Park. I take my wee lad there at least twice a week. I’ve met friends for coffee on its benches, enjoyed camp fires at its fire circles, seen live theatre and summer dance shows, watched bicycle polo(!) last summer, and most recently, witnessed the community’s outpouring of support for other people in Canada engaged in social struggle. It’s got me thinking about the place parks in Toronto enjoy in people’s lives and about their history as the ‘third’ place.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg argues that societies need ‘third’ places – distinct from one’s home and one’s work. Such places provide a neutral ground where people can gather and interact, and “promote social equality by levelling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.” (further details)

As a setting for recreation, public association and grassroots politics, Toronto parks have a long and colourful history. In the late 19th century, parks were for the moneyed classes to stroll through in their finery. They were certainly not for athletic endeavours or children’s play. Children were fined and put in jail for doing so! (Yesterday’s Toronto 1870-1910, p.85)

Diving HorseBy the early 20th century, authorities had perhaps decided that jailing ten year olds was not in the best interests of their education and sociability, and parks in Toronto had become places of sport, recreation and entertainment, including diving horses on Toronto Island (no kidding!), and horse racing at Dufferin race track across the street from my neighbourhood park. The Dufferin race track was the first track in Canada to use a starting gate, as well as the first to implement finish line cameras. The things you learn, eh?


By the 1930s, parks in Toronto would feel the weight of the world’s problems much like the rest of the city, becoming staging grounds for exactly the ‘grassroots politics’ (read: opposition) that Oldenburg envisioned decades later. The Toronto Star reports on August 16, 1933 (in this excellent database available with your library card): “Charging mounted policemen, motorcycle exhausts belching oily fumes and scores of constables on foot put a stop to speech making, but failed to disperse thousands of persons gathered in Allan Gardens last night at a meeting announced by the Worker’s ex-Service Men’s League.” The meeting – call it a demonstration – was called to “protest against treatment accorded war veterans,” and drew crowds of men, women, children, including one “young woman [who] was seen to strike a motorcycle officer across the face with a folded newspaper as she was bumped by a wheel of his machine.” Allan Gardens has since been the site of many demonstrations and political gatherings, oft focussed on problems of urban poverty and homelessness.

The date of that action is significant. I was perusing the Toronto Star’s Pages of the Past to find reportage of the famous ‘Riot of Christie Pits’, another (much larger) political action that is inextricably bound up in another Toronto park.

The Riot was unplanned, unorganized, but in no ways un-political. It was also the largest such action in Toronto’s history before or since. Reflecting the tensions of the depression and the xenophobic prejudice that was dominating European politics, the riot brought the politics of the old world to the new, and in so doing, galvanized the immigrant communities in the city and paved the way for the multi-culturalism we take for granted today.

RiotChristiePitsA baseball game between teams that were primarily Anglo-Protestant on one side and Jewish on the other spilled into a punch-up when young Anglo-Saxon fans unfurled a large white banner of a Swastika in the stands. The fight ranged across the park for possession of the banner, and left at least one Jewish youth with substantial injuries. Boys on bicycles then zipped to the immigrant neighbourhoods south of Bloor with the story that a Jew had been killed. Thousands of young men (mostly) responded and a post-game dust-up morphed into a full-scale street fight.  It was the ‘culmination of a summer of conflict, and remains a disturbing, even legendary, part of the city’s history.’ You can read all the details in Levitt and Shaffir’s The Riot at Christie Pits. Or, for the Youtube generation, watch this:

You will note the showcasing of a Toronto library. ;)

With so much of any city’s space occupied by private property – whether for residence, commerce, finance, education, or governance, public space becomes more and more important to the vibrancy (even the existence) of civic life. Toronto parks have a long and proud tradition of stepping into that role; a tradition built on circumstance and perhaps chance, but also on people’s willingness to fight for it. Dufferin Grove comes by its community feistiness honestly.

GreatGoodPlace                   Yesterday'sToronto                    OldToronto



The Great Good Place: cafés, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. (Oldenburg, Ray, 1989)
307.0973 O47  - Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd Fl., Toronto Reference Library

Old Toronto: a selection of excerpts from Landmarks of Toronto, by John Ross Robertson (Robertson, J. Ross, 1954)
971.3541 R - Canadiana, 6th Fl., North York Central Library

Riot at Christie Pits. (Levitt, Cyril et. al., 1987)
971.3541 L - Canadiana, 6th Fl., North York Central Library

Toronto Star's Pages of the Past - online archive includes over 30,000 complete issues. The digitized full-image version of the complete contents of the Toronto Star newspaper since 1894. Available at any Toronto Public Library branch (with valid library card)

Yesterday's Toronto 1870 - 1910. (Shapiro, Linda, 1997)
971.3541 SHA - Canadiana, 6th Fl., North York Central Library




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




Adoption Records

March 12, 2012 | TRL Humanities and Social Sciences | Comments (3)

Getting Started

This guide has had minor revisions January 2014 and August 2015.

With recent changes in provincial legislation across Canada, it is now possible for adoptees to often obtain health related information, adoption orders and even their own birth information form.  They can also register that they do, or do not, wish to be contacted by their birth parents.  Similarly, birth parents can register their wishes about being contacted.  If these avenues are insufficient or for more general resources on searching for lost kin, including high school yearbooks, the genealogical collections at the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Toronto Reference Library can be of assistance.


Searching the library website

Suggested subject and keywords:

  Suggested Titles

                Ontario specific       



Using online resources

Recommended websites:

Genealogy - adoption
Genealogy - directories

For digitized early city directories try Internet Archive

For persons born in Ontario, the government website, Search for adoption records [in Ontario] is especially useful.

Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid

Toronto Star: Historical Newspaper Archive  (Toronto Public Library (TPL) card required)

Globe and Mail: Historical Newspaper Archive (TPL library card required)

Guide to birth, marriage and death records  (research guide)


In Library resources

Ancestry Library Edition database has Ontario births (to 1913), marriages (to 1928), and deaths (to 1938) as well as some databases for other provinces.

Microfilms of (note: may not be listed in the catalogue):

  • city directories
  • voters lists
  • community newspapers

Additional resources:

 The Ontario Genealogical Society collection is housed at the Toronto Reference Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Department.

For further assistance contact

Answerline: 416-393-7131

Humanities and Social Sciences Department, Toronto Reference Library, 416-393-7175



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.