Toronto’s Visual Legacy

Official City Photography from 1856 to the Present

by Steve MacKinnon, Karen Teeple, and Michele Dale

A stunning look at Toronto's History from 1856 to the present.

Twenty-five fascinating images that offer a 360º panorama of the Toronto's downtown in 1856-57 mark the beginning of the use of photographs to document Toronto's growth, its achievements, its great civic works, and its citizenry. Since 1856, the City of Toronto has been commissioning photographs to document and to promote it.

This book, published to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the city's incorporation, brings together more than 100 of these images, selected by city archivists from their collection of hundreds of thousands.

Waterworks, roads, and bridges, many of them familiar landmarks today, are seen as they are being built. The Bloor Street Viaduct, the R. C. Harris water filtration plant, and the old and new city halls are all celebrated in these images.

Toronto's citizens are also captured in these photographs, going about their affairs on the street, as proud workers, or as spectators at public events. At times, in an effort to raise public concern about poverty and poor housing conditions, city photographers have documented conditions for residents in low-income neighbourhoods. Some of these photographs are included here, in an impressive series of poignant images.

In the past fifty years, as Toronto has grown into the cosmopolitan metropolis it is now, city photographers have recorded the construction of key projects like the Yonge Street subway, the new City Hall and the CN Tower while documenting major public events and celebrations.

This book offers a visual overview of Toronto's history and at the same time documents attitudes and values expressed by City officials, from 1857 to the present.

About the Authors

STEVE MACKINNON graduated from Ryerson University's Photographic Arts program in 1981. He has been an archivist at the City of Toronto Archives since 1992, where he has worked extensively with the City's archival photographs.
KAREN TEEPLE received an M.A. in Canadian Studies from Carleton University and worked at the National Archives of Canada for two years before moving to Toronto. She has worked as an archivist and manager at the City of Toronto Archives for over twenty years and became City Archivist in 2007.
MICHELE DALE has a history and drama degree from Queen's University. She is the Supervisor of Collection Management and Standards at the City of Toronto Archives. Previously she worked as a senior archivist at the Archives of Ontario, and as records manager and archivist for the Toronto Harbour Commission.


"But rarely has the city's photographic record been presented so comprehensively. With high-quality reproductions--a great many of which aren't even available through the digitized collection of the archives--the book keeps drawing the reader back to discover hitherto hidden details, like a pair of long underwear drying on windowsill, or to imagine biographies for anonymous people. The extensive notes do a particularly good job of orientating the reader to a photograph's unfamiliar terrain or context. ... Toronto's Visual Legacy will remain an essential volume of local history."

Kevin Plummer, Torontoist
"Mayor David Miller will launch the City's commemorative book entitled, Toronto's Visual Legacy: Official Photography from 1856 to the Present. Based on the extensive photographic holdings of the City's Archives, the book provides an impressive and visually rich history of 140 years of urban development, municipal initiatives and major civic events."
Neil Ross, The Arts Junction

Subjects (BISAC)


Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top