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Braving the complexities of Toronto land records: Part 1

Plan 43, registered 26 Oct 1852. This certified copy from the Toronto LRO was made 15 Jan 1953. I’ve added the red box to show area covered by the later Plan 356.

Toronto land records are not for the faint of heart. In the city, Upper Canada’s standard 200-acre farm lots were replaced by generous town lots with space for a big garden, a few fruit trees, and a stable for the horse. Times changed and the population grew, the town lots were divided into smaller holdings and new subdivisions reflected the trend. Enterprising landowners laid out developments, registered plans, and advertised their benefits to potential buyers. Sometimes they offered what the market wanted, but sometimes the lots didn’t sell and the subdivision had to be redesigned. Or perhaps the development did hit the mark, but after a time the design was less appealing.

New plans were devised, buildings were demolished, and rebuilt in a new configuration.

All this activity resulted in hundreds of registered plans of subdivision, some overlapping, some that became obsolete, but any of them might delineate your ancestor’s lot at a particular point in time. More about registered plans another time. We’ll start with “abstract indexes”.

Abstract Indexes
Each lot on a registered plan of subdivision had a corresponding record in an abstract index book. The record was a chronological list or an “abstract” of the transactions involving the lot. The abstract index book system was implemented in 1865, so transactions before that date were reconstructed from less-than-perfect records. You may discover gaps in the story.

Plan 356, registered 8 July 1881. This certified copy from the Toronto LRO was made 8 Jan 1952.

Rather than starting with the grant from the Crown, as with most farm lots in Ontario, the list begins with the first sale after the plan of subdivision was registered. In most cases, each lot’s record was started at the top of a dedicated page. Each line in the abstract represents a transaction and lists a number that connects with a document—or “instrument” in abstract index parlance.

The abstract index books were very much working documents—used frequently and not handled with kid gloves. The thick paper is sometimes chipped or rubbed at the corners so the page numbers are missing. In the chart below, I’ve shown missing numbers in square brackets. When viewing the microfilm or digitized images, be sure you’re not looking at a page number peeking through from a previous or subsequent page. You may need to count back or forward to a page with an intact number.

The clerks that created and added to the abstract index books endeavored to keep all the information about a particular lot in the same book. (And I appreciate their efforts.) Since transactions were added as they happened and at different rates, sometimes they couldn’t continue the story on the next page. So the clerk found space on another blank page, sometimes earlier in the book where there had been fewer transactions. For example, in Volume 1, indexed below, page 441 is continued by the clerk on page 6!

LEFT: A section of the 1884 insurance map showing the minimal development some 30 years after Plan 43 was registered. RIGHT: A current map from Toronto Open Data. I have added a red box to show the approximate area covered by Plan 43.

Why am I writing about this now?
The Genealogical Society of Utah, now known as FamilySearch, microfilmed these records way back in 1959. The Archives of Ontario (AO) has also had a copy of those microfilms for many years. The AO microfilms and finding aid are only available in the Reading Room. While the records for rural areas get a lot of use—Toronto records have been a struggle.

But good news. FamilySearch has now begun to digitize the records and make them available online at no cost. The abstract index described below is one of two digitized films for Toronto abstract indexes at the time of writing.

I’ve always meant to create an easier way to access these records—but now seems like the ideal time to make an attempt. Consider the description of “Volume 1”, below, a test. I’d very much like your feedback as to whether it is helpful and how it could be more so. Please leave a comment at the end of this post.


Toronto, Volume 1 (digitized film 197251 or 8199936)

This abstract index book shows part of the 100-acre Park Lot 21 that was subdivided in 1852 by the Registered Plan of Subdivision 43, and Plan 356, which in 1881 superseded and reorganized a centre portion of Plan 43. Plan 43 covered the area bounded by today’s Plymouth Avenue (on the south), the laneway south of Clinton Street Public School (on the north), Manning Avenue (on the east), and a line projecting north from Gore Vale Avenue (on the west). The lots are designated by a number and whether they lie east, west, north or south of a street—including Clinton Street, Bellevue Place which was renamed Treford Place, and Conway Street which was renamed Mansfield Avenue. Lot numbers do not correspond to house numbers. Plan 356 replaces numbers with letters.

Notes: The initial page for each lot is shown in boldface. Page numbers noted in this table are handwritten in the top corners of the pages. You may need to adjust the contrast of the digital or film image to see them. Page numbers shown in square brackets indicate that the actual number is missing. You’ll need to count forward or back to find it.

Film Plan Street, etc. page
197251 43 Park Lot 21 (instruments before the filing of Plan 43) 1
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 1 4
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 441) 6
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 2 7
43 Bellevue Place, north side, lot 3 10
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 393) 12
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 13
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 41
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 44
43 Conway St, north side, lot 1 59
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 2 (continued from page 342) 62
43 Conway St, north side, lot 2 63
356 Conway St, north side, Block D 69
43 Conway St, north side, lot 3 71
356 Conway St, north side, Block D 76
356 Conway St, north side, Block E or C (continued from page 394) 92
43 Conway St, north side, lot 4 93
43 Conway St, north side, lot 5 97
43 Conway St, north side, lot 6 102
43 Conway St, north side, lot 4 (continued from page 96) 107
43 Conway St, north side, lot 5 (continued from page 101) 109
43 Conway St, north side, lot 6 111
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 381) 112
356 Conway St, north side, Block F 113
356 Conway St, north side, Block G 134
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 1 153
356 Clinton St, west side, Block C [160]
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 2 [177]
356 Conway St, north side, Block F (continued from page 133) 181
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B 182
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 3 (continued on page 216 and 182) [208]
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 4 214
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A 216
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 222
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 6 228
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 7 232
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 346) 234
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 8 235
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 1 236
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H 241
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 2 265
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 [283]
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 311
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 336
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 383) 338
356 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 377) 339
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 396) 340
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 390) 342
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 387) 343
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 395) 344
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 385) 347
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 221) 348
356 Map showing right of way in Block A, north of Gore St. 349
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 227) 350
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 58) 354
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 264) 356
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 362
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 349) 364
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 207) 366
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 91) 370
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 365) 374
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 40) 376
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 355) 378
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 43) 380
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 379) 381
356 Conway St, north side, Block G (continued from page 152) 382
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 363) 384
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 386
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 375) 388
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 369) 390
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 389) 391
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 353) 392
356 Clinton St, west side, Block C (continued from page 176) 394
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 391) 395
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 373) 396
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 412) 397
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 343) 398
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 234) 400
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 347) 404
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 361) 406
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 338) 408
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 6 (continued from page 112) 410
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 339) 413
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 12) 414
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 62) 416
356 Conway St, north side, Block C (continued from page 92) 418
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 341) 420
43 Clinton St, east side, lot 2 (continued from page 282) 422
356 Clinton St, west side, Block G (continued from page 409) 423
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 405) 424
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 403) 426
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 380) 428
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 403) 429
356 Conway St, Block F (continued from page 181) 430
356 Conway St, north side, Block C (continued from page 419) 431
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 399) 432
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 413) 434
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 6, 7, 8 (continued from page 433) 435
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 4 (continued from page 434) 435
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 425) 436
43 Clinton St, west side, lot 5 (continued from page 415) 438
356 Clinton St, west side, Block B (continued from page 417) 440
43 Clinton St, east side, lots 3, 4, 5 (continued from page 437) 441
356 Clinton St, west side, Block A (continued from page 427) 442
356 Conway St, north side, Block D (continued from page 421) 443
356 Clinton St, east side, Block H (continued from page 407) 444
43 Bellevue Place, south side, lot 5 (continued from page 428) 444

Taking care of their own: Ethnic benevolent societies in Ontario

Established in the 1830s and before, societies like St. Andrew’s, St. George’s, St. Patrick’s and many other ethnic-based benevolent organizations provided guidance, financial and social support for their countrymen and women arriving in Canada. The list below was compiled as I was researching a presentation for the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2017, “Welcoming Newcomers: Canada’s Patriotic Societies”.

I now know a great deal more about the subject than when I submitted the proposal some 18 months ago. I rather regret my choice of the words “patriotic societies” in the title. I think “ethnic benevolent societies” represents the groups more accurately. So we’ll go with that.

Large granite monument surrounded by a flower garden

Members of Toronto’s St. George’s Society could be buried in this plot in St. James Cemetery on Parliament Street.

I’ve attempted to limit my research to benevolent organizations that are based on an ethnic origin or nationality. I’ve excluded societies based only on religion, although many of the ethnic societies have a strong faith component. I have avoided fraternal and secret societies unless there is a strong ethnic tie. (In many cases, the lines are blurred but I had to make a choice.) All the societies covered had a role in supporting the immigration, settlement, and wellbeing of their countrymen and women.

This list is NOT comprehensive. It includes only organizations for which I found manuscript or published records—or a significant mention in a book or website. If you know of other ethnic benevolent societies with records, please add them in a comment at the end of this post.

Many of the listings came from York County Clerk of the Peace records at the Archives of Ontario: Register of benevolent societies [RG 22-5880 Register 1870-1907 Box 1, barcode D362873]. I did not find similar records for other counties. There is another long list of incorporations in the Archives of Ontario fonds RG 55-7. Most are not included in my list.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of the records collected by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Many of the textual and photographic records—a vast collection—are available at the Archives of Ontario. I have only scratched the surface in my list. Be sure to visit the Society’s website to find out more.

I found most records at archives and libraries around the province. An indispensable tool that searches many institutions in one fell swoop is the archeion.ca. If you don’t find the item I’ve noted in archeion, look for a catalogue or local history database on the institution’s website.

You’ll note the initials CIHM for some published records. This refers to the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction. Established in 1978, CIHM microfilmed many thousands of pages of early Canadian print material and made them available to public and academic libraries. Some of this material has now been digitized at eco.canadiana.ca, but it should all be available on fiche at major libraries.

For more about St. Andrew’s Societies, see: “St. Andrew’s Societies in Ontario: A look at the records.

Once more, this list is far from comprehensive. But I hope it inspires you to explore just what treasures might be out there.

SOCIETY PLACE RECORDS NOTES
Anti-Slavery Society of Canada Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Caledonian Club Peterborough Peterborough Museum and Archives: Caledonian Club fonds (includes records of St. Andrew’s Society from 1877.) Founded 1913.
Canadian Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives: material in several fonds. Note that the Gordon Mendly fonds are a rich resource for photos of Jewish benevolent societies in Toronto

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1913
Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Victoria, BC The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle (Arlene Chan, 2011) page 55

Many records of Chinese organizations are found in F 1405 Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds at Archives of Ontario

Founded 1884 to oversee clan and regional societies. Toronto branch established 1920.
Chinese Social Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Daughters of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Finnish Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-15 Finnish Canadian photographs (approx 10,000 images, includes societies from other communities)

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-62 Finnish Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Founded 1902
Franco-British Aid Society Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1517 Franco-British Aid Society Raised funds for WWI refugees
German Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG545 Alliance of German-Speaking Organizations fonds
German Society of Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Founded 1862
Hebrew Pedlars Association No 1, Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Hibernian Benevolent Society Toronto Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229, and in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477 Founded 1858. Became linked to Fenian activity
Highland Society of Hamilton Hamilton McMaster University, Mills Library, William Ready Division: Fonds RC0781 – Highland Society of Hamilton, Canada West Founded 1853
Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex London Book: The Luck of the Irish in Canada: a history of the Irish Benevolent Society of London and Middlesex (Gordon Sanderson, 2000)

irishbenevolentsociety.ca/

Founded 1877
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Ottawa Ottawa Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 355
Irish Protestant Benevolent Society of Toronto Toronto S 189 Irish Protestant Benevolent Society fonds: Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections

Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

TRL records start from founding 17 March 1870
Italian Canadian Association Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900
Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 1405-90-70 Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation publications
Italian Immigrant Aid Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: F 2117-13, IIAS program files Some material is restricted
Jewish Immigrant Aid Society Toronto
Ottawa
Ontario Jewish Archives: Fonds 9 Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Toronto

Ottawa Jewish Archives: JIAS, Ottawa Committee fonds

Founded 1920
Judean Benevolent and Friendly Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library: 50th anniversary booklet

Ontario Jewish Archives

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1905
Ladies Coloured Fugitive Association Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1191 Maltese-Canadian Society of Toronto Founded 1922
Montefiere Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Montefiere (Ladies) Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone.

Founded 1868
Old Country Club Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: The Many Rooms of this House: Diversity in Toronto’s Places of Worship Since 1840 (Roberto Perin, 2017)

Order Sons of Italy Canada Archives of Ontario: F 4378 Order Sons of Italy of Canada fonds Large fonds, full of names
Ottawa Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society Ottawa The Economical Cook Book, 1915: CIHM 79899
Polish Alliance of Canada Toronto? polishalliance.ca/ Founded 1907
Pride of Israel Mutual Benefit Society Toronto See: Landsmanshaft and Jewish mutual benefit societies of Toronto by Bill Gladstone. Founded 1905
Queen Victoria Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
Refugee Home Society Western Ontario See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017)

See: Ontario’s African-Canadian Heritage: Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967 (Dundurn, 2009)

Provided land for Black emigrants
Sons of England Benefit Society Canada Archives of Ontario: F 1155 Sons of England Benefit Society fonds

Report of the Grand Lodge Proceedings, from 1876 to 1882 at Archives of Ontario Library

1876–1970
Sons of England Benevolent Society London By-Laws, 1888, CIHM 94300 Trafalgar White Rose Degree Lodge No. 15
Sons of England Benevolent Society Ottawa and Ottawa Valley Directory of members, 1889, CIHM 13831

Directory of members, 1898, CIHM 13830

Sons of England Benevolent Society Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: 8vo Sons of England Benevolent Society fonds

Book: The early history of the Sons of England Benevolent Society (King, 1891) is at Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 28861

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

Kent Lodge No. 3 Toronto, 1921–1943
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Canada Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Published The Scottish Canadian periodical 1890-1913: Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM P06105

sonsofscotland.com/

Founded 1876

Periodical is full of bios and other names

 

Sons of Scotland Benevolent Society Goderich By-laws and rules of order: CIHM 55821 Inverness Camp, No. 54
Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association Toronto Toronto Reference Library, Special Collections: S 266 Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association fonds Women’s Lady of the Lake Lodge
St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society Hamilton Hamilton Public Library: Local History and Archives

Constitution in Archives of Ontario Library and CIHM 13140

Founded 1835, records cover 1860–1961
St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships Beaverton Archives of Ontario: F 1168 St. Andrew’s Society of Thorah and Adjacent Townships fonds 1868–1880
St. Andrew’s Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1900

City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1329 St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Andrew’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG110-SASO St. Andrew’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

Founded 1846
St. Andrew’s Society of the Town of Kingston and Midland District Kingston Constitution and list of officers, 1841: CIHM 21838 Founded 1840
St. George’s Benevolent Society Galt Constitution: CIHM 42731 Founded 1850
St. George’s Benevolent Society Hamilton By-Laws in Archives of Ontario Library

Annual reports: CIHM A03025 and 84029

Founded 1843
St. George’s Society of Ottawa Ottawa City of Ottawa Archives: MG556 St. George’s Society fonds

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 354

St. George’s Society of Toronto Toronto City of Toronto Archives: Fonds 1575 St. George’s Society of Toronto

Acts of incorporation and by-laws: CIHM 66319

Reports of district visiting society for 1840–1871 (some gaps): CIHM A02323

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 227

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

St. Jean Baptiste de la Cité de Toronto Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Mentioned in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 229

St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society Toronto Rules and regulations: CIHM 61785

Toronto Reference Library: The St Patrick’s Benevolent Society of Toronto: a history. 1995

Described in Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, (Timperlake, 1877) page 228

Executive listed in The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory (Anderson, 1869), page 477

Founded 1841
Toronto Hebrew Benevolent Society Toronto Ontario Jewish Archives Founded 1899
Toronto Jewish Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Jewish Mission Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907
Toronto Swiss Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

Archives of Ontario: F 1405-81 Swiss Canadian textual records (includes societies from other communities)

Umberto Primo Italian Benevolent Society Toronto Archives of Ontario: RG 22-5880 Register of Benevolent Societies 1870-1907

See: Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935 (John E. Zucchi, 1988)

Founded 1888
Union Benevolent Society Toronto See: Steal Away Home (Karolyn Smardz Frost, 2017) Provided support for Black emigrants
United Macedonians Toronto unitedmacedonians.org/
heritagetoronto.org/the-macedonians-in-toronto/
Founded 1959

 

The Other Directories: Society Blue Books

My ancestors were not listed in anybody’s “blue book.” Nevertheless, blue books or society registers provide a fascinating glimpse into the way the other half lived, and to which my relatives may have aspired.

Selected blue books in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at Toronto Reference Library

Why blue? Blue seems to have been the colour of choice for many official lists for more than 400 years in the UK and North America. Perhaps it was the permanence of the blue dye that made the books feel authoritative? The topics were diverse, so the connection to “blue blood” is probably a red herring. Whatever the reason, the name “blue book” stuck.

The Royal Blue Book from London, England, began publication in about 1820. The 1911 edition claimed to give the “names and addresses of the better class private residents”. It was issued twice a year, at Christmas and in May. The book was aimed at the audience it represented—and would have been an essential reference for hostesses and for guests at the grand houses. The pages were also full of information about government departments, banks, insurance companies, sporting events, and clubs. Advertisements were tasteful and tailored to the clientele—no butchers, but “diamond and pearl merchants.”

The first blue books in North America were published in the US in the 1880s, and really seemed to hit their stride around the turn of the century.

The Élite Directory and Club List of Toronto was published by James Bain, a bookstore owner, in 1894. Like most North American blue books it also took on the task of gently informing the new élite about etiquette—what stationery to use, when one could pay a visit, how to reply to an invitation, and how guests ought to be introduced. The Élite Directory included street listings—but of course not just any streets. It listed the members of twelve “worthy” clubs, and the officers of military regiments.

A sample of families listed in Tyrrell’s 1903/4 Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London

A new edition of The Elite Directory was published in 1898 along with Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. A New York company also produced Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto the same year. Annual or biennial blue books for Toronto were produced by a number of different publishers—Foster’s, Wm. Tyrrell, and Dau’s—from 1900 to about 1912.

pages showing advertisements

Services for the well-heeled in Tyrrell’s 1904/4 blue book

The books came back in full force in 1921 with William J. Covington’s The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. It was a bigger, more appealing book with photos of society events and club facilities. It was published regularly until 1946.

For a family historian, blue books can add details to your ancestor’s story—their address, summer residence, what days they were willing to receive visitors, and to what clubs and organizations they belonged. Maiden names were usually supplied for married women, and if adult children were living apart, their residences might also be listed. Some blue books supplied brief biographies for some individuals—presumably for a fee.

It is very interesting to see the goods and services offered by advertisers to the well-heeled readers—everything from insurance, fine furniture, fashion, to medical services and finishing schools.

Most of the Toronto blue books can be found at the Toronto Reference Library. Some have been digitized by the Library and other organizations. You’ll find a list of titles, locations and available links below.


Toronto Blue Books

This chronological list includes locations where you can find each blue book in Toronto (in parentheses) as well as links to online versions when available. Libraries are abbreviated as follows:

  • TRL = Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street
  • OGS = Library of the Ontario Genealogical Society, housed at TRL (see above)
  • CIHM = Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (a fiche collection available at TRL and most Canadian university libraries)

1894: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1894-5. (TRL)

1898: The élite directory and club list of Toronto. Toronto: James Bain & Son, 1898. (TRL)

1898: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1898: Foster’s Toronto Blue Book and Home Directory. Toronto: J.G. Foster, 1898 (CIHM)

1900: Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1900 (TRL and CIHM)

1900: Foster’s Blue Book or Ladies’ Directory of Toronto, 1900, 2nd edition. Toronto: J.G. Foster & Co., 1900 (TRL)

1902: [Tyrrell’s] The Toronto and Hamilton Society Blue Book: A Social Directory. Toronto: W. Tyrrell & Co., 1902. A second online version here: http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.74510/1?r=0&s=1 (TRL)

1903: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1903-4.  (TRL)

1904: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London, etc.: A Social Directory. Toronto: Wm. Tyrrell & Co., 1904-5.  (TRL)

1906: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1906. (TRL)

1908: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1908. (TRL)

1910: The Society Blue Book of Toronto, Hamilton and London: A Social Directory. Toronto: Dau Publishing Co., 1910.  (TRL)

1911: The Society Blue Book of Toronto and Hamilton: A Social Directory. [for 1912] New York City: Dau Publishing Co., 1911.  A second online version here: http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/bluebook191100dauuoft.pdf (TRL)

1913: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1913  (TRL)

1920: Dau’s Official Blue-book for Toronto: Society Directory, Club Membership. Buffalo: Dau Publishing Co. (TRL)

1920: The Society Blue Book, Toronto: A Social Directory. New York: Dau’s Blue Books Inc., 1920  (TRL)

The Torontonian Society Blue Book and Club List. Toronto: William J. Covington.

My accidental encounter with Reverend John Saltkill Carroll

I feel a little guilty using John Carroll’s colourful middle name, because I know he didn’t like it. But it makes him easy to identify and there’s a good story behind it, so I’m confident that he’d understand. More about that later.

In November 2016, I became part owner of an oil painting of Rev. Carroll. Three friends and I acquired it at an online auction of the contents of the closed and soon-to-be-demolished Woodgreen United Church in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto.

What first drew our attention to the auction were the war memorials listed for sale. They deserved better treatment. We combed through the rest of the 315 lots up for bid, and noticed the painting, described as “Picture A, 39 x 54”. The digital images included one of the name plaque which read “Rev. J. Carroll”.

Portrait from the Woodgreen United Church auction.

That name meant nothing to me. Time was short to determine whether the portrait, or the man it depicted, were historically or artistically significant. There were 48 hours left to the close of bidding.

A Google search for the combination of words “rev j carroll toronto” showed me an assortment of documents that connected Methodism, Toronto, and Leslieville. Taken together, they convinced me that the subject of the painting at Woodgreen United Church (originally Woodgreen Methodist Tabernacle) was Reverend John Saltkill Carroll.

There was a Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for him! (It begins by stating that he never used his middle name.) But the DCB is a great place to start.

John’s father, Joseph Carroll, had served for the British in the American Revolutionary War. After his corps was disbanded in the West Indies, he settled in New Brunswick. “Settled” may not be the right word. His time in the army and at sea had made him restless and intemperate. Joseph married Molly Ridout, twenty years his junior. John and his twin brother were the last of twelve children. They were born in 1809 on an island in Passamaquoddy Bay, called Saltkill’s. John was named for the island’s Quaker owner, John Saltkill, and his twin for the island’s other resident Isaac Clarke.

Joseph and Molly were on their way to Upper Canada at the time of the twins’ birth, apparently with the promise of a 1,000-acre land grant. (This remains to be proven and impresses me as very optimistic.) The family settled on the Grand River near Brantford. They moved to Niagara while Joseph, a skilled harness maker, served during the War of 1812, and the family was forced to seek shelter several times. The regimental harness-maker’s shop was relocated to Hamilton, then Queenston, then finally to York in 1814. The rest of John Saltkill Carroll’s childhood was spent in York and surrounding townships.

Photo from the Topley Studio collection at Library and Archives Canada. Identified only as Rev. John Carroll. Dated 1877, when our Rev. Carroll was 68.

John’s education was limited, although apparently his family recognized his readiness to learn. He figured out reading by five, likely with the help of his Quaker mother and older brothers. From age six to about eleven, he attended schools when they were available. Teaching was not government funded or regulated, and schools typically didn’t last long.

John attended Methodist Sunday School as soon as it became available in York, about 1818. He joined the church in 1823 at the age of 15 and became a probationary preacher in 1827. He was ordained in 1833. From 1831, he was assigned to charges based in Perth, Matilda, Brockville, Bytown, Johnstown, London, Hamilton, Montreal, Belleville, Ottawa, Monaghan, Guelph, Puslinch, Grantham, St. Catharines, and Leslieville.

Reverend Carroll was tireless preacher and leader in the Ontario Methodist community for some 40 years—a tumultuous time in the church’s organization. But his most important contribution was in recording its history.

The mostly self-educated Carroll was a prolific writer. A great storyteller and collector of stories, he tended to write in “anecdotes”—chapter length pieces that may have been published as articles in Methodist newspapers before compilation as a book. The five-volume Case and His Cotemporaries is probably his most significant work.

Today, when Methodism is largely absent from Ontario, it is easy to forget how important, even dominant, it was in the settlement period. A familiar denomination to Loyalists, Methodist preachers worked hard to reach out to isolated communities. The history of Methodism reflects Ontario’s history. John Carroll spoke to and recorded the stories of those “saddlebag preachers” in several books.

Portrait of John Saltkill Carroll from his book, “My Boy Life”

But my favourite book, by far, is the wonderful My Boy Life: Presented in a Succession of True Stories. Covering his family’s early life in New Brunswick, the arduous journey to Upper Canada, life during the War of 1812, the detail is richest after the Carrolls’ arrival in York. Every Toronto historian should read it!

Lucky for us, My Boy Life, and virtually all John Carroll’s books are available through archive.org, making them easily and quite reliably searchable. A list follows this article.

In 1882, in the opening chapter of My Boy Life, John Saltkill Carroll writes about his name: “My [twin] brother did not live long enough to assert his middle name; and I threw Saltkill away, and kept to John alone, when I came to choose for myself.”

Reverend Carroll died on December 13, 1884, at his home near Woodgreen Methodist Church. He was survived by his widow Beulah Adams, daughter Mary Elizabeth, wife of William Hugh McClive, barrister, of St. Catharines, and son John Adams Carroll, MD, of Toronto.


The portrait of this remarkable historian is now with the City of Toronto Museums Services, while they decide whether to accept the painting as a donation.


BOOKS BY JOHN SALTKILL CARROLL

Case and His Cotemporaries, Or, The Canadian Itinerants’ Memorial: constituting a biographical history of Methodism in Canada, from its introduction into the province, till the death of the Rev. Wm. Case in 1855. Toronto: Wesleyan Printing Establishment, 1867–1877. Five volumes.
Vol 1: [https://archive.org/details/cihm_05316]
Vol 2: [https://archive.org/details/casehiscontempor02carr]
Vol 3: [https://archive.org/details/casehiscotempora03carruoft]
Vol 4: [https://archive.org/details/cihm_05319]
Vol 5: [https://archive.org/details/03134132.emory.edu]

“Father Corson,” Or, The Old Style Canadian Itinerant: Embracing the Life and Gospel Labours of the Rev. Robert Corson, Fifty-six years a minister in connection with the central Methodism of Upper Canada. Toronto: Methodist Book Room, 1879. [https://archive.org/details/fathercorsonorol00carr]

My Boy Life: Presented in a Succession of True Stories. Toronto: William Briggs, 1882. [https://archive.org/details/cihm_00485]

A needed exposition, or, The claims and allegations of the Canada episcopals calmly considered. Toronto: Methodist Book Room, 1877 [https://archive.org/details/cihm_24163]

The “Exposition” expounded, defended, and supplemented. Toronto: Methodist Book and Publishing House, 1881 [https://archive.org/details/expositionexpoun00carruoft]

The school of the prophets; or, Father McRorey’s class, and Squire Firstman’s kitchen fire : a fiction founded on facts. Toronto: Burrage and Magurn, 1876. [https://archive.org/details/cihm_00489]

The Stripling Preacher, or a sketch of the life and character, with the theological remains of the Rev. Alexander S. Byrne. Toronto: Anson Green, 1852 [https://archive.org/details/cihm_48062]

Thoughts and conclusions of a man of years concerning churches and church connection. Toronto: William Briggs, 1879. [https://archive.org/details/cihm_00491]

The Besiegers’ Prayer or a Christian Nation’s Appeal to the God of battles. Toronto: Christian Guardian Office, 1855. [sermon at the time of the Crimean War] [https://archive.org/details/besiegersprayero00carr]

Past and present; or, A description of persons and events connected with Canadian Methodism for the last forty years. Toronto: Alfred Dredge, 1860. [https://archive.org/details/adescription00carruoft]

Reasons for Wesleyan belief and practice, relative to water baptism: expressed in plain words and arranged in a summary manner. Peterborough: R. White, 1862. [https://archive.org/details/cihm_55460]

A Humble Overture for Methodist Unification in the Dominion of Canada. Toronto: Burrage and Magurn, 1876. [Bound with The school of the prophets. https://archive.org/details/cihm_00489]

Exploring the Lennox and Addington Archives

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the new Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee. I’d been asked to do a presentation for the local historical society there, and well, who can resist an archives!

I have no ancestry in the area, and although my interests in Ontario history are broad, I can’t claim to have any current research projects from that neck of the woods.

Steps and ramp to a limestone archway in the courtyard wall.

Entrance and courtyard of the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives, Napanee. ©Jane E MacNamara

I looked at the Archives website about a week before my trip so I could contact the staff ahead of time to let them know I was coming. (Always a good idea for a small archives.) I also asked if a tour was possible—since I’d planned to write this article.

The website noted above lists 14 finding aids for the collection. These are pdf scans of collection inventories done mainly in the late 1980s, but searchable. The inventories, in many cases, briefly describe fonds of a similar nature or creator.1 So the 14 finding aids represent a much larger number of fonds. For instance the “Municipal Records” finding aid encompasses school, jail, law enforcement, court, and assessment records, licenses, minutes, bylaws, voters lists, and public utilities—for all levels of local government—towns, townships, county, and the Midland District.2

As a sample fonds for this article, I looked at the “Private Papers” finding aid and selected the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The inventory for this fonds ran to just over two pages, and showed that the collection was divided into to six files. More about Elsie and her papers later.

Archivist stands between rows of compact shelving with large bound ledgers and archival boxes of various sizes.

Archivist Shelley Respondek showing the wide variety of material in the Lennox and Addington Archives records vault. ©Jane E MacNamara

The Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives have been located in the old limestone county gaol since 1976. To celebrate the County’s sesquicentennial in 2014, a beautiful new archives wing was added, and the doors were opened last August.

Archivist Shelley Respondek was my guide. We started in the records vault where compact shelving units now allow proper storage of just about every shape and size of document and register book. Efforts are ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) to get new acquisitions housed and organized.

The reading room is bright and airy, with lots of table space and wifi. One glass wall separating the reading room from the corridor, provides a view of the museum’s limestone wall, currently with a colourful display of WWI posters. Out the windows opposite, trains go by at regular intervals.

A third long wall houses the extensive research library—local and family histories and lots of Loyalist material, as well as more than 2,000 unique family files.

These family files have been compiled over the years from researchers’ donations and correspondence with researchers. For example there are three files for “Parks” families including pedigree charts, typed biographies, and photocopies of original documents.

The fourth and final wall of the reading room houses the microfilm area—three readers/scanners and cabinets—and the archivist’s work area. There is also a card index to several local newspapers.

Tables and chairs with bookcases in the background.

Reading room at the Lennox and Addington Archives showing the local history books and file drawers for more than 2,000 family files. ©Jane E MacNamara

Back to the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The finding aid provides no biography of Elsie, but the fonds includes documents about her training and employment as a teacher in Napanee. There is much correspondence—with family members in California and St. Catharines, and a series of letters about “black Minorca chickens” with various parties in Ontario and eastern Canada.

Elsie’s files include letters, certificates, and ephemera from several generations of her family mostly from the Napanee area. There is a business journal from A.C. Parks of Hay Bay. Most material dates from the mid 19th century up to about 1930, the most recent being about 1960.

But I was really surprised and excited to find an original surveyor’s diary covering the dates April 1796 to May 1797. The diarist didn’t write his name in the book, so his identity or connection to Elsie Parks is unknown. He wasn’t working in Lennox and Addington, but in York and the Home District, east along Lake Ontario to Burlington Bay, and on the Grand River. He specifically mentions investigating locations for a bridge over the Credit River and working in the area around Castle Frank.

Handwritten book with archival weight holding it open.

The 1796-1797 surveyor’s diary from the Elsie Parks Papers at the Lennox and Addington Archives. The right-hand page records work at Castle Frank. ©Jane E MacNamara

Now, for those not immersed in Toronto history, Castle Frank was the summer home of Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe and his family. Named for their young son, Francis, and sketched by Elizabeth Simcoe, its exact location on the Don River has always been a contentious matter for historians.

Perhaps there is a clue in this precious surveyor’s diary, kept safe by Napanee schoolteacher Elsie Parks during her life, and now by the Lennox and Addington Archives.

 


NOTES

1. For an explanation of archives terminology, see The Archives of Ontario: How do I find what’s in it for me?

2. The Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives website has a good listing of holdings in its “Genealogy” section including links to other resources of interest. Some 57 fonds have also been listed on Archeion.

Genealogy “Summer Camp” 2015

I’m pleased to announce that after a one-year hiatus, “Summer Camp” will return this year, starting with a get-together on Sunday evening, June 7, and running until Friday, June 12.

Genealogy Summer Campers are on the move every day of this innovative week long program. Each day, participants will travel as a group on public transit to an archives or library—where you’ll be met with a tour or a tutorial on the records available at that institution. Some days there will be a second tutorial during the afternoon. The balance of the day will be devoted to your own hands-on research, with lots of help from local experts.

We’re very lucky to have a wonderful cluster of archives and libraries in Toronto that welcomes our Summer Camp groups. Participants will have the opportunity to visit the Toronto Reference Library, Canadiana Department of North York Central Library, Archives of Ontario, City of Toronto Archives, and a choice of the archives of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the United Church of Canada’s Central Ontario Conferences.

Genealogy Summer Camp buttonSpace is limited. We keep the number of Campers small so we can provide individual help with your research.

You can help us plan and move forward by registering early. We already have several people signed up.

You’ll find more information about the program and accommodation, and the online registration form here.

Toronto Customs House Records

As mentioned in the previous post, the Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 collections or fonds of private documents—some amazing, fascinating things that I love to dip into from time to time.

The Toronto Customs House fonds (F 214) is one of these private fonds. The Archives Descriptive Database tells us that the Lt.-Gov. of Upper Canada authorized the building of customs houses in designated ports in 1803, although William Allan [1] had served as Collector of Customs at York from August of 1801 until 1828. The York (later Toronto) Customs House concerned itself only with shipments from the USA. European goods would have cleared customs at Quebec or Montreal.[2]

Worn hardback register books

The two registers that comprise the Toronto Customs House fonds F 214 at the Archives of Ontario

The Toronto Customs House fonds consists of two bound registers of manifests of goods arriving in Toronto by ship from April 17, 1836 to July 8, 1841. This covers, approximately, the period that the Collector’s job belonged to Thomas Carfrae, Jr.[3] Each record gives the name of the vessel, the date and wharf of arrival, the name of the importer, and a detailed list of what was being imported.

I’ve transcribed a portion of one particularly interesting manifest from June 1, 1836[4] that sheds light on the business activities of a Toronto merchant named Silas Burnham, and on the goods that were available for purchase in 1830s Toronto—somewhat more exotic then we might expect. The list (below) appears in the order in which it was originally written. Does the mention of some items, like raisins, several times on the list reflect the fact that the items were being fished out of the nooks and crannies in the hold where they had been stowed for the voyage?

Watercolour of a one-storey brick house

Artist Frederic Victor Poole’s impression of the Toronto Custom House, painted in 1912 from a drawing published in January 1889 in the Evening Telegram. (Toronto Reference Library, JRR 510)

The customs register book for 1836 began on April 17 (presumably when the lake was clear of ice) and continued until December 1. The Customs House at this time was a small one-storey building on the north side of Front Street east of Scott Street.[5] The register shows that virtually all goods were brought ashore at either Brown’s wharf or McDonnell’s/McDonald’s wharf. The vessel that brought Silas Burnham’s goods, the Robert Burns, appears to have come to Toronto only once that season, but Silas received about a dozen shipments from the USA on various ships, including a “thrashing machine” on August 12.

The importer, merchant Silas Burnham, may have started his retail life with a market stall,[6] but by 1836 he was operating a general store at 67 King Street East. At that time, King, Toronto’s principal commercial street, was numbered from east to west; 67 was on the south side between George and New (Jarvis) streets. He appears there in the 1833/4 and 1837 directories,[7] and in the assessment rolls[8] from 1834 to 1839. However, in the assessment rolls for 1840, the building is empty. Has Silas moved to a different Toronto location, or has he left the city? A thorough search of the 1840 and later assessment rolls should provide the answer.

Handwritten list, transcribed below

Detail of the list of goods shipped for Silas Burnham, 1 June 1836

We do know that he eventually left Toronto—and Upper Canada. In an intriguing letter written May 22, 1843, in Kingston, to his wife in Toronto, Samuel Peters Jarvis expresses surprise at a rumour that Silas Burnham has committed fraud and fled the country. Jarvis writes, “If the report should prove true it will cause quite a panic among the Good Citizens of Toronto.”[9] Not having consulted court records, I won’t hazard a guess about when or why Silas moved across the border. However, his estate file, proved in the Court of Probate on July 20, 1849, reveals that he died on May 7, 1848, in Centreville, Wayne County, Indiana. He left a son Erastus, aged 13, a daughter, Mary Louisa, aged 5. His widow Clarissa Jane Burnham returned to Upper Canada, and was living in Port Hope, shortly after Silas’ death.[10]

Should you consult the Toronto Customs House fonds? If your family lived in or near Toronto during 1836 to 1841, the registers will give you, at least, a glimpse of the activity at the harbour. Many individuals—not just merchants—received goods that are listed. On the same day that Silas Burnham’s shipment arrived, the Robert Burns also brought cargo for Messrs Rigney and Brent, Rev. D. McAuley, and three bales of hides for tanner Jesse Ketchum. We see William Lyon Mackenzie importing type and a printing press later that summer. [11] While the Toronto Customs House registers are not indexed, they are very legible, and a fascinating read.

June 1, 1836 / Importer: S Burnham / Wharf: McDonnel / Vessel: Robt Burns
3 boxes of ware
1 box medicine
1 box paper
3 bags of spice
4 tierces of rice[12]
4 casks of mittens[13]
29 kegs of tobacco
20 dry barrels
6 boxes of chocolate
4 dry kegs
18 1/2 boxes of raisins
6 boxes of pipes
3 boxes of ware
1 case
1 box of [goods]
2 boxes of bitters
1 basket of oil
1 rocket
20 drums of raisins
20 drums of figs
4 boxes of ware
4 bags of nuts
2 boxes of prunes
1 box cocoa
1 box capers
1 box syrup
2 small boxes
10 bales of goods
40 boxes of raisins
21 kegs of tobacco
1 box of goods
11 boxes of candy
2 boxes of pepper sauce
2 boxes ware
4 bags of nuts
16 boxes of scythe stones[14]

NOTES

[1] Two customs account books created by William Allan during his tenure survive in the William Allan fonds, S 123, Series 1, Vols 1 and 2, Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library. They cover the period 1815 to 1830.

[2] Armstrong, Frederick H. Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, revised edition. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1985. pp 217, 225.

[3] ibid. p 225.

[4] Register entry for S. Burnham, June 1, 1836, Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario.

[5] Martyn, Lucy Booth. The face of early Toronto. Sutton West, ON, and Santa Barbara, CA: The Paget Press, 1982. p 31. The Customs House is also marked on the 1834 Alpheus Todd Engraved Plan of the City of Toronto.

[6] Silas Burnham appears in a list of vendors who rented market stalls in York in 1831 in Appendix to Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada 1831. p 172 (available at http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_00942_7)

[7] York commercial directory, street guide and register, 1833-34. York, U.C.: Walton/Dalton.
City of Toronto and the Home District commercial directory for 1837. Toronto: Walton/ Dalton & Coates.

[8] City of Toronto assessment rolls are at the City of Toronto Archives, and available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and through FamilySearch.org.

[9] Letter from Samuel P. Jarvis (Kingston) to Mary Jarvis (Toronto), 22 May 1843, Samuel Peters Jarvis and William Dummer Powell fonds, F 31, item 362, microfilm MS 787, reel 2, Archives of Ontario.

[10] Estate file for Silas Burnham, merchant, Toronto, 20 July 1849, Court of Probate, RG 22-155, microfilm MS 638, reel 41, Archives of Ontario.

[11] Mackenzie received printing equipment on June 17, 26, and July 12, 1836. (Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario)

[12] A tierce was a cask that held 42 US gallons of liquid or about 159 litres.

[13] I have found several instances of mittens and gloves shipped in casks. Here is one from a manifest of goods shipped to Boston on the Renown in 1776.

[14] More about scythe stones.

The Neglected Gooseberry

It is the middle of July, and in Ontario that means just about everything is ripe. Saturday morning at the market there were flats of perfect strawberries, early raspberries, glossy red, black and yellow cherries, translucent red currants, and tucked away on just a couple of farmer’s tables, a few pints of unassuming green gooseberries.

Gooseberries in pressed paper pint container.

Tiny green gooseberries at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara

Unloved, or just forgotten? Certainly out of fashion.[1]

It wasn’t so for our ancestors. There are gooseberries native to Ontario. Catharine Parr Traill, who settled near Lakefield, mentions wild gooseberries in several of her books, and describes three varieties—wild smooth, thornberry or prickly, and small swamp gooseberry—in her 1885 Studies of Plant Life in Canada. In the 1857 Canadian Settler’s Guide (7th edition), she advises transplanting some wild varieties to a cool shady spot in the garden.

In his 1873, Toronto of Old: Collections and Recollections, Henry Scadding remembers dense thickets of “wild gooseberry bushes and wild black-currant bushes” in the lower Don Valley. In a Toronto horticultural exhibition described in the Globe in July 1849, Mr. Turner won first place for his gooseberries.[2]

Gooseberries were an essential part of a northern household garden. Like currants (a close relative), gooseberries are very high in natural pectin, the ingredient that thickens jam and jelly. They could be mixed with fruit like strawberries or rhubarb which won’t set on their own. They could also be the featured ingredient in gooseberry jam or a tangy relish to eat with meat.

But back to the meager offerings of gooseberries this weekend at the market. There were two varieties, both un-named as far as the growers could tell me. The bushes had been fending for themselves for as long as they could remember.

Pint basket of gooseberries beside a pint of currants.

Larger, bulbous green gooseberries and red currants at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto in July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara

But that was certainly not the case in 1876, when the Ontario government sent displays of the province’s products to the “Centennial Exposition” in Philadelphia celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

One of the displays was the “Fruits of Ontario.” This was, apparently a massive exhibit, occupying 200 feet of table space.[3] Secretary of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario D.W. Beadle wrote a fascinating report[4] about how the samples were gathered and the quantities involved—well worth a read if your ancestor was a fruit grower. Beadle’s closing words explain that the aim of the exhibit was to “dissipate a very prevalent impression that we dwell in a cold, frozen, most inhospitable region of snow and ice”. He felt that the effort had done more to “break down unfounded prejudices” then could have been done by “an army of Emigration Agents, or a whole circulating library of books of information on the climate and productions of Ontario.”

Part of this impressive 1876 exhibit, were samples of 25 varieties of gooseberries!

VARIETY GROWER(S)
American Seedling Wm. Saunders of London
Arnold’s Seedling Charles Arnold of Paris
Black Naples P.E. Buck of Ottawa, J. McMullen of Ottawa
Downing Allen Moyer of Indian Station, Charles Arnold of Paris, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London,
Early Red R. Kettlewell of London
Early Yellow John Arnold of Paris
English D. Arnott of Arva, H. Beltz of London
Hart’s Seedling Charles Arnold of Paris
Houghton’s Allen Moyer of Indian Station, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London, M. Kelly of London
Hybrid Wm. Saunders of London
Phoenix John Carnie of Paris
Ploughboy J. Lamb of London
Read’s Canada W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Gem W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Pear-shaped W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Purple W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Yellow W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Roaring Lion R. Kettlewell of London
Sulphur Yellow J. McMullen of Ottawa
Warrington R. Kettlewell of London, J. McMullen of Ottawa
White Smooth John Carnie of Paris, J. McMullen of Ottawa
Whitesmith R. Kettlewell of London, J. Lamb of London
Wild Prickly Wm. Saunders of London
Wild Smooth Wm. Saunders of London
Yellow Jacket Charles Arnold of Paris

Mr. Beadle noted that the summer of 1876 had been particularly hot and dry. This had damaged or diminished crops in some part of the province—accounting for the dominance of places like London on the gooseberry list.

So what happened to all this diversity of gooseberries[5] in Ontario? Why did their popularity wane? Was it a change in culinary styles? Did another fruit or product take their place?

Do some of these varieties survive on family farms? Does a descendant of grower R. Kettlewell of London still have some Roaring Lion bushes?


[1] Well maybe they’re not completely out of fashion. Martha Stewart grows gooseberries on her farm and you’ll find several recipes on her web site. Be wary that she’s not referring to “cape” gooseberries with a papery covering, which in Ontario we’d call ground cherries.

[2] The Globe, 21 July 1849, page 4.

[3] Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture (Chairman of the Advisory Board of Ontario,) on the Products, Manufacturers, etc., of Ontario, exhibited at the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876. Sessional Papers No. 33. Legislative Assembly: Toronto, 1877. (The Google Book version starts on digital page 187.)

[4] Beadle’s report to the Commissioner of Agriculture starts on page 85.

[5] Charles Darwin wrote about the varieties of gooseberries developed in England by examining lists published in horticultural show catalogues from 1573. He credits the close to 300 varieties and increase in berry size to the existence of a network of “fanciers” from the late 1700s that held many annual gooseberry shows. Darwin himself grew some 54 varieties of gooseberry. The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, 2nd edition, Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton, 1876. pages 376–378

Dear Diddles: Eliza Mathews writes to her friend Ann Smith

This is my third post about the David William Smith papers at the Toronto Reference Library. The first two posts, A Toronto farm, 1799–1800 and A tale of two Isaac Gilberts, drew from Smith’s service as Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General and his personal land ownership.

1764 letter from Eliza Mathews to Ann Smith

First page of a three-page letter from Eliza Mathews to her friend Ann Smith (mother of David William Smith), written in 1764 in Kilkenny, Ireland.

In addition to the documents created and received while in Upper Canada, there is considerable correspondence received by Smith while he was on leave in England, and after 1802 when he returned there for good.

The David William Smith papers also include some selected correspondence of his father John Smith, Commander of the 5th of Foot at Detroit and Niagara, and letters to D.W. Smith’s mother, the former Ann Waylen.

It is one of these letters to Mrs. Ann Smith from her friend Eliza Mathews that caught my eye and then my imagination. It was written in September 1764, just three weeks after the birth of her son David in Wiltshire, England. Eliza, having recently moved to Kilkenny, Ireland, is also expecting a baby very soon and is missing her companion. Eliza writes, as she says, “just as I used to talk to you”. It is honest, enlightening, and endearing. I hope you enjoy the transcription that follows.

You can find the original letter in the Toronto Reference Library’s Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Fonds S126, Series A10, folder 4, pages 251–254.

Kilkenny September the 24th 1764

I am rejoiced to hear of my D’r[1] Diddles recovery, and the Diddles Diddle being well and hearty; tell [Tacky] I congratulate him upon his Papa-ship, and wish sincerely I could see you both to tell you what pleasure the news gave me when I heard it. You may imagine that a few month’s absense made me indifferent about you, but indeed you mistake, my regard is not less than at the time of our greatest intimacy. Fy! I abhor the suspicion nor do I think my D’r Smith w’d harbor it of me, therefore shall say no more of it.

Achs and pains, such as you have had yourself, prevented my writing as expeditiously as I ought to you, and even this you may look upon as a farewell, for [so]me time, for I don’t know how soon I may be confined; [d]ont you pity me, is it not dreadful; what but the highest love for your husband can make it [toler]able, nor nothing in my opinion but a return of love from him, can compensate for what we suffer; I know the generality of them only laugh at this, but that is miserable comfort to us, who experience the hardship of having children.

Good God how I pity some women, who I know heartily hate their husbands, and I am certain are as sincerely despised by them, and yet breed as fast as rabbits, what lives of misery they have, you can’t but have known some such couples—but I fear I am going on too rashly in declaring my sentiments, I forgot you have an unmarried sister with you who may perhaps come to the knowledge of this letter, and we sh’d be cautious not to say anything that would be likely to be a detriments to the matrimonial scheme; if she sh’d happen to see this, tell I spoke in general terms, for that I can assure her there are some particular people in the world, who never knew what happiness was, till the knot was tyed. I myself am one instance of it, among the many others to be found in the world.

My D’r Sam and I often wish you w’d take it into your head to come down and see our new house; there is a bed and room at your service as much, or more, than ever Mrs Robinsons was, and another for your Sister, perhaps not quite so good, but such a one as I believe she w’d dispense with for the sake of being in the house with you; I dont ask you, that there are the least public amusements going forward here for you, for in your life you never knew a place more barren of entertainment in that way; its all confined to domestic chearfulness and peace, if you have it not at home you have no other resource to fly to; do D’r Smith come down and see how we live, we can give you a Quadrille, a good fire, and a hearty welcome, whenever you please to accept it, and the sooner the more agreeable to us.

I have scarce looked at my paper since I began, so that I write just as I used to talk to you, that was with very little consideration and less coherency, so I fear you’ll find this letter, all I shall answer for it is, that it has truth to recommend it from first to last for that Diddle is my D’r Diddle and that I am hers and Mr Smiths sincere Friend is what I hope they will both believe. I am likewise [____] in the request, and assure yourself that I am your affectionate

Eliza Mathews

Compliments to your Sister

Willy is [purely] and often drinks your health remember me to the gentleman of Reg’t [D___] for me at the Parade[2]


[1] Eliza used abbreviations lavishly. This one is “dear”.

[2] Spelling and punctuation are Eliza’s. I’ve broken her letter into paragraphs for ease of reading.

A Toronto farm, 1799-1800

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been digging into the papers of the Honourable David William Smith, Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General, part of the amazing manuscript holdings of the Toronto Reference Library.[1] I’ve dipped into this intriguing collection several times before, but this time I’ve systematically opened every Hollinger box and file folder to discover the treasures they hold. I’ll be speaking about it at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference on Sunday, May 4.

I confess that I love looking at manuscripts. David William Smith was an interesting (and blessedly organized) fellow, but the value of his collection of papers goes way beyond what he was all about. As with most manuscript collections, we learn just as much about the people and society around the central figure—the “little” people and the mundane events that don’t make the pages of history books.

Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library

Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library (photo by Jane E. MacNamara)

The document[2] below (front and back) is an account of expenditures made by neighbour and friend John McGill to maintain Smith’s home and farm in the Town of York. Smith’s home, Maryville, was located at the corner of today’s King Street and Ontario Street, and the farm was Park Lot 5—a narrow 100-acre lot from Sherbourne Street to George Street between Queen Street and Bloor Street. (Smith, at the time held many other parcels of land, but it makes sense to me that at this time agriculture would be focused on these two.)

McGill was paying the bills because Smith was on leave in England. He departed in late July 1799—after leaving precise instructions for his assistants in the Surveyor General’s Office, instructions which are also preserved in his papers.[3]

We can see from the document, that Smith had sheep to be shorn, and hogs and poultry to be fed. He grew potatoes and turnips (the latter likely as livestock feed), and a portion of the hay required to feed his animals over the winter.

DW Smith farm account

DW Smith farm account, S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59 and 60, Toronto Reference Library

Smith had help. I don’t think he was ever the actual “man behind the plough”. He seems to have maintained a Richard Hide as manager, supplying him with barrels of flour and salt pork. The account notes that Hide was sick in August 1799 and John Connelly stepped in to assist.

The other expenditures are for casual and skilled labour, cartage and for materials—like stone needed for a new well. They tell us about Smith’s home and farm, but they also give us solid if brief information about the workers and suppliers—specifics for an era when York was a scant six years old, and information is very scarce.

Names listed in account for David William Smith’s farm, 1799–1800
Tivy, Thomas labour 1799 July
Connelly, John labour 1799 July, August
Darby, William digging well 1799 August
Bell, Alexander carpentry 1799 July, August, September
Young, Robert stone 1799 August
Lamb, Henry cartage of stone 1799 August
Turner labour 1799 August
_____, Dick clear turnip ground 1799 August
Badger, Gideon cartage of stone for well 1799 September
Phelps, Joseph cartage of hay 1799 September
Gilbert, W. Pitt stone 1799 September
Thomas, James hay 1799 September
Jackson, Henry hay 1799 September
Hamilton, Robert 55 barrels of lime 1799 September
Hunter, William blacksmith’s work 1799 October
Hide, Richard pork and flour for his use 1799 October, 1800 May
McBride, John Indian corn for hogs and poultry 1799 December
Buman, E barrel of flour 1800 May
Heron, Samuel seed potatoes 1800 June
Willies, William shearing sheep 1800 June
Parker mowing 1800 July
Edgell, John hauling and stacking hay 1800 August

[1] The manuscript collections can be viewed in the new Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, on the Toronto Reference Library’s fifth floor.

[2] From the David William Smith papers S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59–60, Toronto Reference Library

[3] David William Smith papers S126, box 4, folder B7-1, pages 1–28, Toronto Reference Library