Vice & Virtue: Policing Morality in Toronto

April 24, 2017 | Nicole

Comments (0)

This weekend will be your last chance to visit our free Vice & Virtue exhibit on display at the Toronto Reference Library's TD Gallery. The exhibit runs until April 30, 2017. 


Vice & Virtue examines a period of moral reform in "Toronto the Good" as it faced rapid growth and industrialization at the turn-of-the-century. The exhibit explores changing attitudes and increasing regulation of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, gambling, homosexuality, juvenile delinquency and sex work


A police officer directs traffic at the intersection of Adelaide Street West and Bay Street. Photograph by Peak & Whittingham, 1925.

The nickname “Toronto the Good” dates back to moral crusader William Holmes Howland who was elected mayor in 1886. One of his first acts as mayor was to establish a police unit dedicated to cracking down on vice. The department was tasked with policing drunkenness, gambling, prostitution, trade of illicit drugs and the observance of Sunday laws. In 1913, the vice squad added the city’s first two female officers. They were hired to patrol parks, theatres and dancehalls – places where young, single women were deemed at risk of succumbing to the temptations of immorality. 


Moral reformer William Holmes Howland, 1880.

Crime Stats in Toronto (1879-1926)

Interested in learning more about how morality-related crimes were policed in turn-of-the-century Toronto? The Annual Reports of the Toronto City Constable are a rich and fascinating resource. You can access the reports from 1879-1926 through Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive.   


In addition to including statements of expenditures, licenses and other details about the activities of the police force, the reports include statistics on the number of offenders apprehended or summoned by the City Police each year. 

For the Vice & Virtue exhibit, we combed through these reports and other primary sources and created some simple infographics capturing some of the fascinating facts and figures related to alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, gambling, homosexuality, juvenile delinquency and sex work in Toronto during this period. 

 You can explore the infographics we produced below. 

Drunk or Disorderly and Temperance in Toronto


Download a higher-resolution PDF here: Download VV_crimestats_DDTT

Causes of arrest in Toronto in 1865 (when the Don Jail was first in operation).


Opium Joints and Gambling


Download a higher-resolution PDF here:  Download VV_crimestats_OG


Arrests for opium-related offences in Toronto (1908-1926) - Includes charges for Frequenting an Opium Joint; Keeping an Opium Joint; Manufacturing Opium; Selling Opium; Smoking Opium; and Breach of Opium and Drug Act


The "Social Evils" 


Download a higher-resolution PDF here:   Download VV_crimestats_SE


Arrests for homosexuality-related offences in Toronto, 1890-1923


Lord's Day Act and Juvenile Delinquency 


Download a higher-resolution PDF here:  Download VV_crimestats_LDA_JD


Outcome of 1,149 juvenile offenders from Toronto sentenced in 1926

 Don't miss your chance to discover more stories about Toronto's history of moral reform. The Vice & Virtue exhibit runs until April 30, 2017. Admission as always is free and the gallery is open to the public during regular library hours