Research Guide to Toronto Maps Online
The explosion of maps on the internet has been made possible, in part, by advances in Geographic information systems, or GIS: the set of tools that capture, store, analyze, manage, and present data that are linked to locations (definition adapted from the glossary of terms in Getting started with GIS: a LITA guide). Normally, GIS relies on the availability of large 'data sets'. The City of Toronto hosts map making "Open Data" on its website (see below) for anyone to use. Other institutions, like universities, grant permissions, through student number authentication, to use special subscriptions to data sets for mapping and research purposes. For those up to the challenge, Quantum GIS (QGIS) is free public domain software for map creation, editing, data viewing, and analysis. To find out more about GIS, visit Safari where you will find many excellent textbooks and reference works that explore in detail this exciting topic.
Maps are used for all sorts of purposes. This Research Guide will be of interest to those conducting both contemporary and historical research. Sometimes online maps are not easy to locate: it is hoped that this list will be of use to researchers in various subjects of enquiry, including urban planning, geography, environmental studies, local history, and interdisciplinary studies.
The following is an alphabetical list of 25 sources of Toronto maps online, freely available to anyone with an internet connection.
For sites of mostly present day or contemporary interest see: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 23, 24.
For historical interest see: 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25.
The list of sites:
This new site was recently featured in a CTV News article. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) "is calculated based on the risks of a combination of common air pollutants including ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter which are known to harm human health. Air quality is changing all the time, though daily and weekly patterns exist. Locate the nearest AQHI monitoring station near you and click to see historical measurements."
Use this site for Toporama, a GIS interactive map of Canada that includes a detailed map of Toronto. Available data sets cover topics such as environment and conservation, municipal services, roads and transportation, topography and waterfront. The Atlas archives a small number of historical maps of Toronto.
Using Toporama, I was able to enclose a map section to work out the approximate area occupied by the Toronto Island Airport
The Visual Database of the Archives of Ontario includes digitized maps for Toronto and environs that cover the early history of the area. Search tip: type "maps" into the search box, but do not include a second term (as invited) since to do so will result in zero hits (i.e. just type "Maps", not "Maps" and "Toronto"). From the results list you will need to browse to find maps.
This map shows a marsh where the Distillery Historic District is currently located
4. Aerial Photographs of Toronto (from the City of Toronto)
In these photographs, covering the periods from 1947 to 1992, "you can see buildings appearing, changing, and disappearing over the years. You can also distinguish geographic forms, such as rivers that seem to vanish, indicating that they have been channeled into sewers, and neighbourhood features such as parks, schools and community centres". (Just a little note of caution, some of the Index maps on the site are not correctly georeferenced to the maps covered).
The Maple Leaf Stadium (built in 1926) from a 1950 Aerial Photo. The stadium was home to Toronto's Maple Leafs baseball team and was demolished in 1968; the area now forms Little Norway Park.
This site maps the restaurants and stores voted "best in Toronto" in each of Toronto's Neighbourhoods.
6. The Changing Shape of Ontario (from the Archives of Ontario)
This set of pages provides very good historical political information that documents, through maps, the evolution of the Ontario boundaries, including those of York and Toronto.
Our province was once divided into four districts. In 1792 York East Riding appeared in the 'Home' District.
The City's Map page contains a treasure trove of geographic information, beginning with this Interactive Map where one can select and view 30 different map attributes (e.g. the locations of childcare centres, bike ways, traffic cameras, ravines, etc.) under 7 category headings (e.g. Administrative Boundaries, Community, Transportation). For those interested in GIS, detailed information is available through the Open Data portal, where citizens are encouraged to create apps that will enhance 'living in Toronto' - view over 700 data sets and files! The Other Maps page lists dozens and dozens of maps that will be of interest to anyone in the city: from Road Restrictions, to Tennis Courts, to Recreational Facilities.
It is easy to create a map like this which shows the location of Fire, Police, Libraries, and Public Transit. This one comes from Healthy Living Toronto.
Zoning can be a complicated matter, but this map, along with the list of amendments for any changes subsequent to the last posted update, should be current. For any zoning issues or questions prior to 1998 (the year of amalgamation), consult the former municipalities' individual zoning by-laws kept in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department of the Toronto Reference Library, 2nd Floor, and/or contact the City Clerk's Office (416-392-8016).
This collection includes over 100 maps of Toronto and the Don River Valley watershed ranging from 1780 to 1962, including city planning, environment & conservation, fire insurance plans, historic, topographic and waterfront. These images are available to view in JPEG or TIF format. The project has also compiled a number of geospatial data sets which are presented in formats that are not compatible with TPL computers.
10. Elections Canada and Elections Ontario
These websites provide political boundary maps for Federal and Ontario Provincial Electoral Districts in Toronto.
Many of us are familiar with Environment Canada Weather Radar, but Environment Canada also monitors local and regional environmental indicators using multiple accessible map and data formats.
According to Nathan Ng, this "themed collection of site-specific historical maps and images was put together in collaboration with the Friends of Fort York. The project explores the evolution of the Fort, and the surrounding 1,000 acres comprising the Military Reserve/Garrison Common, an area including the CNE, CAMH, and Liberty Village." (see Nathan's comment below).
This U.S. site catalogues over one million images of the Earth from space: the "service is provided by the International Space Station program and the JSC Earth Science & Remote Sensing Unit, ARES Division, Exploration Integration Science Directorate". An interactive map search function allows users to focus in on any area of the Earth they choose. There are thousands of pictures of Canadian cities captured from space, including many of Toronto.
In 2013, with the curiosity of a historian, Nathan Ng asked, "How did ‘Muddy York’ develop into the modern metropolis we live in?"
In the process of answering this question, Nathan assembled "these important maps from our past" that "reveal the essential tension of this city — between the quest for growth, and the heavy influence of what came before. They reflect a municipality in constant flux, and give insight into our contemporary urban identity."
This website can be a bit confusing to use, but it is important to include here because it contains a large amount of Ontario provincial public information. The LIO has a "data warehouse with more than 300 data sets that include geographic information on Ontario’s road network, trails, wetlands, lakes, river and streams, parks and protected areas, soil types, heritage sites, airports, official names, and municipal boundaries." The LIO is part of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry: for an interesting detour see, "12 pages within the topic: Natural resources maps" by MNRF.
The Ontario Open Data website will lead you to data sets that will test your mapping skills.
There are around 200 digital maps of Toronto ranging in date from 1788 to 1933 at this site. The map collection covers a variety of types and topics including aerial photographs, base maps, city planning, fire insurance plans, historic, land use & zoning, municipal services, parks & recreation, roads & transportation, and waterfront. Most digital maps are easily viewable in PDF format.
Imagine . . . Toronto might have had its own Pentagon. Above: detail from the 1833 Royal Engineer Office "Sketch of the Ground Plan of a projected Place d'armes for the position of York, Upper Canada".
Search Tip: All records in the Maps, Chart and Plans Collection are accessible using the Archives Search tool. Search for Toronto using the "Title Keyword" search option to eliminate maps published in Toronto. Beside "Type of material" select "Maps and cartographic material". Also, try searching for the term "York" in "Title Keyword", then use the operator "NOT" entering "New" to eliminate maps published in New York. The results of these searches can be narrowed to display only maps that are available online.
17. Strava (note: this is the only site in this guide that requires you to create an account)
This site is designed primarily for biking and running enthusiasts and is a good example of how big data (using GPS) can be applied to GIS mapping. Cyclists and runners can search or browse for 'segments' (stretches of timed sections on maps) and load their own timed results to compare them with others times.
But since nearly one-half of the millions of uploaded GPS activities are for travel commutes, the billions of data points collected using GPS technology "when aggregated, enable deep analysis and of understanding of real-world cycling and pedestrian route preferences"; and according to Strava Metro: using Strava in "departments of transportation and city planners, as well as advocacy groups and corporations, can make informed and effective decisions when planning, maintaining, and upgrading cycling and pedestrian corridors."
Even at this scale, you can see from this "Heatmap" by Strava Labs that the natural settings along the Don River are the most popular routes.
18. Toronto Archives
The City of Toronto Archives "has over 10,000 maps and aerial photographs in its collection". Fire Insurance Plans and Historical Maps and Atlases are available through the online maps portal. You can search the whole Toronto Archives collection, print and electronic or conduct an advanced search.
19. Toronto Fire Insurance Plans & Index (from the University of Toronto Map Library)
This large collection of public domain Fire Insurance Plans is now accessible through an index that "allows you to identify and download out-of-copyright fire insurance plans (1889-1922)". The very useful "Index Map" includes detailed information about the plans: volume number, date, and plan number.
This Plan was published only 8 years before a great fire ripped through UC and destroyed its interior. Note that the heights of towers are indicated in these plans.
Here is another excellent resource put together by Nathan Ng. This easy-to-use interactive map allows researchers to see changes across the city for select years beginning in 1818, and going forward to present times. The site is especially useful for tracking street and road changes.
From the "About" section - "About the cached maps: Data was collected from the University of Toronto Map and Data Library, Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, and City of Toronto Archives.The maps were created from digital scans of the original plat maps Charles E. Goad, James Cane, and others. Thanks to Nathan Ng for organizing these great maps into one location, via his Historical Maps of Toronto project. About the Viewer and Data: Using ArcGIS 10.2, the raw images were georeferenced and created into mosaic data sets. The data sets were then cached and published using ArcGIS Server. The viewer is built [with] ArcGIS Viewer for Flex. This is a sister project to the Pittsburgh and Cleveland historic mapping viewers."
In this detail from the 1842 map, you can see in the upper right two important city landmarks: St James Cathedral and St Lawrence Market.
Use this site to find almost a thousand digitized maps of Toronto published between 1788 and 1913. The collection includes base maps, city planning maps, fire insurance plans, historic and waterfront maps. All maps are in JPEG format.
Search tip: In the Digital Archive Search box type: "Toronto Maps", then sort by Subject, e.g. "Fire Insurance Plans", Financial District", etc.
We have organized some of the mapping resources that are part of this list, so expect to see some duplication in terms of content.
This interactive page was designed to link you to library resources on Toronto's unique neighbourhoods.
Click on the part of the Toronto map below to be linked to digitized maps and photos of your neighbourhood.
Importantly, also find references to your neighbourhood in print books held in our collections, (e.g. Tales of North Toronto) and in ebooks (e.g. North Toronto in pictures, 1889-1912) that you can read online.
This site includes dozens of interesting and useful blog posts that contain maps that have been created by various enthusiasts. If you want maps on biking, rental housing, schools, ethnic distribution, public transit, ghosts, and more - you'll find them here.
Use this site to find hundreds of maps of Toronto ranging in date from 1780 to 1990. Maps in this collection contain the following types and topics: aerial photographs, base maps, city planning, historic, land use & zoning, roads & transportation, topographical and waterfront. There are maps of Toronto neighbourhoods and suburbs. Some are ZIP files which are inaccessible on a TPL computer. Some maps and most of the large GIS data inventory of Toronto materials are restricted to University of Toronto students and faculty.
This list is a 'snapshot' of some of the sites available at this time. As you can see, there is now a wealth of mapping resources covering Toronto. Many more obvious and popular mapping websites are not even covered here, e.g. MapQuest, Google Maps (including "Street View" and Photos) & Earth, and Yellow Pages. Incidentally, did you know that Google now provides select interior views as part of "Street View", e.g. CN Tower, and even higher? We can expect to see huge developments and changes in the years ahead where it comes to these and other sites. More data and more real time mapping are sure to come (like Google Traffic and Waze). We might also see improved detailed realistic graphical displays of terrain and features - change is certain. Even in the space of three years, you can see how quickly the situation has evolved by comparing this list with Exploring Maps Online Part 1,2,&3: Major Sources of Digital Maps of Toronto.
If there are any sites that you think should be on this list but are not, please tell us about these by posting a comment and link on this blog post.
"What is it but a map of busy life,
Its fluctuations and its vast concerns?"
William Cowper - The Task (1785)
p.s. Click on most of the map examples above to be taken directly to the map featured.