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psychogeography portrait... 32. first ten blocks - toronto 1793-2021  
  Toronto, map, 1793  

In 1793 first map
was drawn by
Alexander Aitken


In the year 1793 first hint that there will be a serious city here is drawn by Alexander Aitken. He prepared one of the first proposals for a town at Toronto, for Lord Dorchester and later did many general surveys and maps, including the survey of at that time named Town of York [above is a first saved map] as ordered by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe.

The 10-block "Old" town was laid out in 1793 on a site selected by Simcoe in the eastern part of the lands reserved for government and military use. Part of the first concession of York Township north of the township baseline (Queen Street) is also shown in its original form, before creation of the park lots. This map was sent by John Simcoe to Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for War (and the Colonies) in 1793.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

By the March 2021 Toronto population grew from 240 persons?!? to over 3 million in the city [blue line on the map right]. The city is the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of 10 million people. Tiny red rectangle on the map above right, is the area that we will talk about here. We will come back to these maps as we talk about this area later.

On the left portion of the map above blocks are numbered from one to ten and two more are added, A and B, natural extent in of these 10 blocks existed even in 1800, where St. Lawrence Market and St. Lawrence Hall, two historic building are still standing. Images bellow are decorating for the map from 1851 and the drawing of the St. Michael's Cathedral, another historic building just north from St. Lawrence hall is added too.


In 1793 there was
240 persons living
in the Town of York

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

So, lets check that map and few others. Just to remind you at at the very top of this page is very first map, from 1793.

Bellow are two maps, one from 1818 and the other one from 1827. Click on any of them to open high resolution complete map in PDF format.

  Toronto, Map, 1818  

City changed its name
from York Township
to Toronto


As the city grows around these first ten blocks, and as the city changed its name from York Township to city of Toronto, maps are becoming much more exciting and complex.

Click on any of maps bellow to open complete map, they are showing much wider area then visible here.


Now is time to go back to present and explore what is today in April 2021 in those ten blocks, what changed in those 328 years.

First lets list original street names. From left to right: Market Street, obvious choice since it is bordering both St. Lawrence Market North and South. Next one is New Street, then George Street [King George III was the ruler from 1760 to 1820], next Frederick Street [after King George son], Caroline Street [maybe after Princess Sophie Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel ] and Princess Streets [most probably after Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, King George wife]. Last one is Berkeley Street, or Parliament Street depending what part we are talking about. Street along the lake Ontario was initially called Palace Street, next one to the north King Street and one forming the northern edge Duke Street.


First lets list original
street names


Experience the 360˚
view from block #01
in full screen


View point for the VR panorama above is on the top of the building in block #01, and blocks #01, #02, #06, #07, #08, #09, #10 and B are all visible. View is expanded to the south towards the Lake on Ontario, some 300 meters away. That is situation now, notice that back in 1793 or even 1851 these first blocks were on the very edge of the lake.

Existing heritage objects still standing are red shapes on our map and years when they were built are marked. Gray rectangles are building under construction at this point of time.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Most important
building is in this area is
St. Lawrence Market


Most important building, defining whole area, St. Lawrence Market is in block A. Existing building was constructed in 1902 over old City Hall, standing on this spot since 1845.

Block B was for a long time open air market, then in 1850 new structure replaced the old one surrounding the market, and St. Lawrence Hall occupying north part of the block was built. Next building replacing this one is built in 1956 but that was also demolished in 2016. Right now north market is under construction and it should be finished by 2022.

More about history of this area is on our two Neighbourhood Portraits, Nicholson Lane, from March 2020, going true the middle of block 5, and Taylor's Wharf Lane from November 2020, in block #02, and additional information on these two squares in our collection: Berczy Park and St. Lawrence Market.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

By April 2021 only few streets changed names. First one Market Street, is still unchanged. Next one with new name is Jarvis Street [of course after Samuel Jarvis, member of Toronto founders family slave owners, rigorously opposing making slavery illegal]], next is George Street and than Frederick Street are also the same.

Caroline Street was renamed to Sherbourne Street [named by Samuel Ridout in 1845 after the Sherbourne, town in Dorset, England, where Ridout family emigrated from].

Princess Street is still keeping its name. Berkeley Street is last one, called that way now in its whole length. Street along the lake Ontario initially called Palace Street, was renamed The Esplanade, imagined to be promenade along the lake, next one to the north is now Front Street and one forming the northern edge is King Street.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Reflexivity journal
is essential part of the
creative process


Now is time to go out and walk around. Reflexivity journal created after the dérive - walk true the actual space, are essential part of the creative process. In my case and for my purpose it requires something that calls a memory or thought to the mind, reminders, of what is important and the best way to notice/observe, most of the time lost or neglected, urban symbols.

City of Toronto posted this plaque on the corner of Front and George Streets [blocks 1, 2 6 and 7 on our map] and that is where we are starting or exploratory walk. It is not performed at once, as I mentioned before I am overlooking this spot from my studio window, so we are passing here absolutely every day.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

First let's take a look left and right along Front Street, we will come back here later. Raw of the buildings to the left is probably the most expertly preserved, used for several restaurants with popular patios on the ground floors, and offices above. One of those offices was used in the past for Microsoft, it looks that they are expensive, being on the best possible location in the city.


Left and right
along Front Street

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

George Street is full of preserved old buildings


We will start our walk to the north. This stretch of George Street is full of preserved old buildings both left and right. They were for long time in danger for being demolished or built over. That is something that already happened with several heritage structures on King Street, we'll talk about that when we arrive there.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Really nice building on the corner of George and King Street was Little York Hotel built by Langelay, Langelay and Burke Architects in 1890, and next one south, equally precious, is used as a stable and coach house for the same hotel. Exceptional historic building worth the second look, for sure. Unfortunately it looks that one of them will be demolished and replaced by 17-story residential building surrounding the one on the corner. Some of the other existing buildings are under reconstruction, some of them even closed under strict "stay at home" restrictions implemented after Covid19 rise of new cases in the city.


I just found out that on this same corner there was a first Toronto School, established in June 1, 1807. That building was demolished and replaced by Little York Hotel. Nice view towards the St. James Cathedral and some very shy signs that life is returning to the neighbourhood is completing impression on this May 6, 2021.


Lets continue westward observing fine details everywhere, here is impressive entrance, there is a window, or even bust of Beethoven above the, unfortunately now closed Beethoven Hall.


Now we are in King Street, previously named Duke Street, probably after Prince Edward, (Edward Augustus; 2 November 1767 – 23 January 1820), fourth son and fifth child of King George III. His only child later became Queen Victoria.

All six blocks along King Street are full of, more or less successfully preserved heritage buildings, all from the period between 1850 and 1890. Further you go to the west less old and more new structures are visible.


Now we are in the
King Street, previously
named Duke Street


This is absolutely not acceptable preservation
of heritage


New trend from the last decade or so, is that old building are actually demolished, only outside walls, facade, is left pretending to be preserved heritage object. Specially noticeable is example on the corner of King and Sherbourne Street. Over towering, extremely tall glass building are taking over the character of the whole neighbourhood. This is absolutely not acceptable preservation of heritage.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Lets walk back to the south. Few years ago I wanted to post something about attractive tourist spots in Toronto on Trip Advisor. Most attractive spot at that time didn't have a name. From then on name "The Esplanade Walk" I made up, become "the city attraction" in this part of the city. Here it is.

The Esplanade, previously called the Palace Street, was created around 1850 with the idea to become pleasant promenade along lake Ontario replacing dirt road connecting industrial facilities with wharfs stretching to the lake. Very soon after, need for more industrial place, need for the railway and later highway, expanded the area to the south of the Esplanade by filling up the lake with all kind of rubbish and materials from demolitions and moved edge of the lake some 300 meters away.

  The Esplanade Walk
become "the city attraction"



Toronto was very lucky that in 1968, Jane Jacobs was forced by US authorities to emigrate to the north, escaping her son being recruited for Vietnam War. She was already by that time well known for organizing grass roots efforts to protect neighborhoods from "urban renewal".

In 1980s she was essential force in renewing area now called David Crombie Park, after mayor of Toronto at that time. Railway yard with trucks was removed, industrial facilities and huge oil tanks were remediated and space along The Esplanade was prepared for beautiful park, and combined affordable and condominium living. I had very pleasant opportunity to meet David Crombie when he presented me first prize for the "Toronto Bay Initiative" logo competition back in 1994.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Our granddaughter
was born here


We moved into this community 15 years ago, first to the Esplanade and afterward when our granddaughter was born to the Front Street. Initially area was not fully completed, further to the west it was even dangerous to walk over night, Distillery District was abandoned fenced industrial site, even park and whole Toronto Bay area was still under development. Especially after development of Distillery district was finished and further residential community was built along extension of Front Street, this Esplanade walk connecting St. Lawrence Market and Distillery was reaching its full potential. Check this space developed very recently, just steps behind Distillery District, continuation of Front Street.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Unfortunately this situation with 14 months long covid19 pandemic is badly affecting community life. Calming zone was tried to restrict motorized traffic, some talented Urban Artists were engaged in improving our mental state, but closed stores and restaurants are not beneficial to the community social life.


Community social
life is affected

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

Walking back toward
the starting point
along Front Street


We are now walking back toward the starting point along Front Street. Both side of the street are under construction, tall residential buildings are not fitting in any way, we are all concerned about traffic congestion, same size streets suppose to carry much more traffic. Some already finished office building like Globe and Mail, looked separately outside of the community might appear OK, here they simply don't fit.


On careful inspection initiatives to improve some aspects of "First 10 Blocks" are noticeable, like Initiative by the Laneway Project and generous support by Kristyn Wong-Tam city councillor for this area [we were voting for her and as you can see we are quite happy for that decision]. Her initiative led to this magnificent mural created by artists Monica Wickeler or monica on the moon and Miigizi or Wiishkoonseh Miigizi'enh meaning Whistling White Headed Eagle on Chippewas language. More about this specific case is on our Neighbourhood Portrait of Nicholson Lane, from March 2020, going true the middle of block 5, and some additional historic information in Taylor's Wharf Lane Neighbourhood Portrait from November 2020, in block #02.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021  

I starting numbering the shots for 78 images used here but discovered immediately that is will be extremely confusing so I gave up the idea. So red dots are marking just spots where they were taken. Few weeks ago two walks true the alleyways in the area are performed and reports created, find the links to them on the map bellow.


These few images bellow are from 2019 when our neighbourhood was used for filming some disturbing scenes from the Handmaid Tale show. Not as scary in reality as in the show itself.

  Urbansquares Studio, Toronto, 2021, people  



But let me not finish with "scary stuff". This wonderful panoramic image of 1879, almost exactly 100 years after first map of "10 blocks" is showing how city changed. Bluish is the area we were talking about and make sure to notice that first railway truck is already south of "promenade" – The Esplanade.

Most important issue after this walk is impression that after 28 years of living in various areas of Toronto there is a noticable feeling that this is the only area with strong Genius Loci [spirit of the place]. In contemporary usage, genius loci usually refers to a location's distinctive atmosphere, location with its own intelligence. I am strongly recommending to try it, walk leisurely without any prejudice and later try walking true your own community, or anywhere else in Toronto, compare impression and you'll see. Next step is to go to any historic location anywhere in the world and compare your mental reaction, to the neighbourhood behaviours related to the geographic location [pure psychogeography]. Check this location for example. Don't forget to ENJOY!

See you soon again for some other exploratory psychogeography walk.

  Click on the image
bellow for the complete
panoramic image
of 1879 Toronto
  ~ 21 Praça des Flores, Lisbon, Portugal, 2017 ~ 26Funchal City Centre, Madeira, Portugal, 2019 ~
~ Bascarsija, Sarajevo, BiH, 2018 ~ 27 Nicholson Lane, Toronto - February 2020 ~ 30 Taylor's Wharf Lane, Toronto, 2021 ~
  urban squares urbansquares copyright initiative is licensed under a creative commons attribution-share alike 2.5 canada license. May 7, 2021  
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  Last time updated on May 7, 2021  
Toronto, Map, 1818 Tornto, map, 1827 Toronto, Map, 1834 Toronto, Map. 1851 Nicholson Lane, Toronto - Talor's Warf lane, Toronto, -