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A cartographic wet dream

Nathan Ng, a 15-year resident, and professed lover of Toronto, has given Torontonians and the whole world a fantastic perspective on the history of growth in Toronto. Thanks to Nathan’s ‘Historical Maps of Toronto’, history professors, researchers, students, and enthusiasts alike can now delve into the developing world of Toronto, circa 1787-1902.

“It’s not like mapsMAPS didn’t exist before. They were here [Reference Library of Toronto]. You’d actually have to come here, go through the index and look it up. There wasn’t this aggregated site for people to look stuff up.”

Stemming, foremost, from personal interest, to find the history of a then closing rock climbing facility, Rock Oasis (a favourite haunt of his), Ng began to digitize maps of Victorian Toronto. On his journey, from archives and libraries to the World Wide Web, he realized the joy he found in the utility devotees and authorities saw in his work.

“It’s not just what I find interesting. In a way, it’s a public good; it’s available and easily accessible, and fairly easy to use. People can access it in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to before.”

In the spirit of common good, Nathan has created not only one historical map project, but three:

Industrial warehouse (1916), eventually turned rock-climbing facility, Rock Oasis.

Industrial warehouse (1916), eventually turned rock-climbing facility, Rock Oasis.

The Old Toronto Maps blog, features maps regarding the city’s establishment, expansion, boom, and emerging metropolis.

Goad’s Atlas of Toronto Online, shares a plethora of “information-rich late Victorian-era (and beyond) fire insurance maps published by Charles Goad, as well as a bonus article/photo gallery on the Toronto Fires of 1895 and 1904.”

In cooperation with the Friends of Fort York, Ng has launched the Fort York and Garrison Common Maps, a visually detailed history of the birthplace of Toronto.

Plan of Fort at York, Upper Canada, 1816 Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Plan of Fort at York, Upper Canada, 1816
Image courtesy Library and Archives Canada

In humility, Ng recognizes those public servants who keep and catalogue the maps of old:

“Full credit should be given to the archivists, and librarians, and institutional people here because they’ve done the important work of actually conserving and keeping these items of our history for the future, and they’re super friendly and helpful.”

So for those of you interested in your local history, but too intimidated by the archival stacks, hop on to one of these historical map projects and find out what your neighbourhood was up to over a century ago: you may be surprised by what you do and do not find throughout the hasty expansion of our metropolis, Toronto.

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