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The Toronto History Lecture

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.Portrait of J. Brian Gilchrist

The 2014 Toronto History Lecture is 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 Workers’ City: Lives of Toronto’s Working People

The 2014 Toronto History Lecturer, Craig Heron

The 2014 Toronto History Lecturer, Craig Heron

6 August 2014, 7:30 pm
City of Toronto Archives, 255 Spadina Road

Admission is free, but reservation is required.

The 2014 Toronto History Lecture, titled The Workers’ City: Lives of Toronto’s Working People, will offer a rare window on the diversity of working-class experiences in Toronto’s past and highlight 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 will explore the opportunities and challenges that members of the city’s working class have faced over the past 150 years, and will share his insights into major changes and common themes during that period, through the lives of eight different Toronto workers.

SPEAKER: Craig Heron has been writing and teaching social and cultural history for more than three decades. He is the author of several books and articles on working-class history, including a major work on Hamilton’s working people, to be published in the winter of 2014, and a widely acclaimed history of drinking in Canada. He was president of the Canadian Historical Association from 2007 to 2009, and is currently Public History Co-ordinator for the York University Department of History. He has delivered dozens of lectures to heritage organizations and other community groups and has made frequent media appearances.

Composite photo including images of distillery workers, printer, garment worker, civil servant, carpenter, nurse, computer worker, and retail worker.

 [Photo credits]

Our co-sponsor, the City of Toronto Archives, holds more than 1.2 million photographs and over 5,000 maps. You can explore the records of local families or search for Toronto’s past in municipal government records, including assessment rolls, heritage assessment reports, council minutes and bylaws. The Archives also holds the records from the former townships, villages and boroughs that make up the amalgamated city of today. Start your research at

City of Toronto logo

The Archives research hall and exhibit galleries are open and accessible to everyone. Visit during the week from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. The Archives is also open on Saturdays from mid October to mid April.

The 2014 Lecture is fully booked. Registration is now closed.

View of Toronto from the roof of the Rossin House Hotel at York and King Streets (looking north-east), taken in 1856 or 1857 by Armstrong, Beere and Hime

View of Toronto from the roof of the Rossin House Hotel at York and King Streets (looking north-east), taken in 1856 or 1857 by Armstrong, Beere and Hime, as part of a panorama that accompanied the city’s submission to the Colonial Office to promote its selection as capital of Canada. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1498, Item 18

(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.

Death of Captain McNeale at the Battle of York, 27 April 1813

Death of Captain McNeale at the Battle of York, 27 April 1813 (City of Toronto, Museum Services, 2012.2.2)

 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.

William Lyon Mackenzie

William Lyon Mackenzie

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

Paul James McGrath, 1959–2008

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 9074