The Toronto History Lecture was inaugurated in 2011 in memory of well-known local and family historian Paul McGrath and his love for telling people about Toronto and its past. Toronto Branch assumed responsibility for the lecture series in 2012, ensuring that it will continue as an annual event for years to come. It is free to attend and open to the public. The City of Toronto Archives co-sponsors the Toronto History Lecture and has provided the venue for the event since its inception. Toronto Branch is grateful to the Archives for its ongoing support.
The 2015 Lecture was held on August 5. The 2016 Toronto History Lecture will be announced in the spring.
THE 2015 TORONTO HISTORY LECTURE
(dedicated to the memory of Mary Garrett)
Returned Men: Toronto’s Veterans in the Great War’s Aftermath
Speaker: Jonathan Scotland
During the four-year centenary of the First World War, we commemorate Canada’s part in the conflict—a transformative event for modern Canada. Too often our efforts to look back at the War ignore its consequences, impact and aftermath. For the fifth annual Toronto History Lecture, historian Jonathan Scotland tackled these very themes by looking at how Toronto’s “returned men” tried to reintegrate into civilian life. He revealed how individuals, the city, and the province all played a much bigger role in assisting veterans and their families than previously recognized.
The 2015 Toronto History Lecture was dedicated to the memory of Mary Garrett, who joined the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society in its first year, 1967. Always an active and committed member, Mary was the first editor of our newsletter Toronto Tree, serving from 1968 to 1976.
THE 2014 TORONTO HISTORY LECTURE
(dedicated to the memory of J. Brian Gilchrist)
The Workers’ City: Lives of Toronto’s Working People
Speaker: Craig Heron
The 2014 Toronto History Lecture, titled The Workers’ City: Lives of Toronto’s Working People, offered a rare window on the diversity of working-class experiences in Toronto’s past and highlighted their distinctive place in its history. Generations of working people literally built the city and created the goods and services to sustain a large metropolitan population. Yet their stories are seldom told. Historian Craig Heron explored the opportunities and challenges that members of the city’s working class have faced over the past 150 years, and shared his insights into major changes and common themes during that period, through the lives of eight different Toronto workers.
The 2014 Toronto History Lecture was dedicated to the memory of J. Brian Gilchrist (1956-2014), a proud 4th generation Torontonian with a lifelong interest in family and local history, who became one of the country’s leading authorities in genealogy. Brian was a popular and entertaining speaker, who will be remembered for his dedication, generosity and humour.
THE 2013 TORONTO HISTORY LECTURE
(dedicated to the memory of Sandra Moore)
Mary Mink: The Making of a Myth
Speaker: Guylaine Pétrin
James Mink was a successful Black businessman in Toronto in the 1840s and 1850s. His story is one of the best known tales of Black Torontonians in the 19th century, told and retold many times in newspapers and books. In the 1990s, his story was made into a TV movie, Captive Heart: the James Mink Story, which was broadcast in Canada and the United States. In the screen version of events, Mink arranges for a white man to marry his daughter Mary and then stages a daring rescue when her husband whisks her off to the American South and sells her into slavery. The movie is said to be “based on historical records”, but as Guylaine Pétrin found out through her research, records can lie.
The 2013 Toronto History Lecture was dedicated to the memory of Sandra Moore (1937-2011), who inspired our speaker and many others with her tireless contributions to the pursuit of family history in Toronto. In recent years, Sandra was perhaps best known as the leader of the Branch Places of Worship Committee, coordinating the transcribing and indexing of church registers and records.
THE 2012 TORONTO HISTORY LECTURE
Stories of York’s Sacrifice: Militia Casualties of the War of 1812
Speaker: Janice Nickerson
To commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the City of Toronto Museum Services created a Book of Remembrance for the men of York who fell during the war and all the casualties of the Battle of York. This was a huge undertaking, as very little was known—not even how many lost their lives. Janice Nickerson’s research on the militia men uncovered so many fascinating stories that she decided to put them together in a book, York’s Sacrifice: Militia Casualties of the War of 1812.
THE 2011 TORONTO HISTORY LECTURE
Rebel Remembered: The Legacy of William Lyon Mackenzie, 150 Years After His Death
Speaker: Chris Raible
In 2010, Toronto’s newly elected mayor ended his inaugural acceptance speech with a reference to his predecessor, Toronto’s first mayor:
“William Lyon Mackenzie was a bit of a rebel. He was a colorful character who was not accepted by the establishment because he fought against privilege and FOR the little guy.”
Mackenzie would have been delighted, not only to be invoked, but so favourably. It was not always so. During his life, and for the century and a half since his death, Mackenzie was a figure of controversy—yet those who idolize him and those who demonize him have misunderstood him.Today Mackenzie is the only 19th-century mayor whose name anyone recognizes. What, other than his name, is worth remembering?
Paul McGrath, the historian who inspired the Toronto History Lecture, came naturally to researching, writing and speaking about Toronto history. After all, he was a 6th-generation Torontonian who loved living within the original Town of York—a stone’s throw from Toronto’s First Post Office, the Bank of Upper Canada and the sites of his Hutchinson and Pearsall ancestral homes. A local and family historian for more than 30 years, Paul was at the time of his sudden death in 2008 both the Chair of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society and staff genealogist for the TV series Ancestors in the Attic. On TV Paul was a compelling screen presence. At genealogy conferences he was a popular speaker. Yet there was a less glamorous aspect of communication that was equally valued by Paul, who wore hearing aids due to an illness. Not only did he learn American Sign Language, but also Braille so that he could communicate with both deaf and blind communities. He contributed to a section of our Constitution that deals with the rights of the disabled.
Photo credits for 2014 montage, from top left:
1. Canadian Illustrated News, 23 April 1863
2. Press Operators and Typesetters (1898), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1137, Item 1
3. Eaton’s manufacturing-factories and workrooms-sewing (ca 1912), T. Eaton Co. fonds F 229-308-0-1823, Archives of Ontario
4. Mel Starkman viewing records in the Archives of Ontario’s stacks (ca 1968), Archives of Ontario photographs RG 17-43
From lower left:
5. Construction worker Al Barnett [subway construction] (1952), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 381, File 163, Item 9144-1
6. Nursing student at Toronto General Hospital (1968), Julien LeBourdais fonds C 193-3-0-2013 68132-4, Archives of Ontario
7. Computer room, unidentified bank (1960s), City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 90740