Toronto: Stories from the Life of a City.
Part I: York.
Produced by Russell
Directed by Barbara Chisholm and Andrea Gutsche.
Lynx Images Productions,
1994. VHS, 23 min., $99.95 (for school boards); $39.95 (for individual schools).
Distributed by Lynx Images Releasing.
174 Spadina Ave, #606. Toronto, ON,
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Kathleen Kellett-Betsos.
Beginning with the sale of Toronto by the Mississauga Indians to the
English for seventeen-hundred pounds and sundry articles, this film narrates
Toronto's history from the initial English settlement in 1793 -- given the
"dutiful colonial name"; of York -- to its incorporation in 1834 --
with a return to the Indian name, Toronto.
Narration from contemporary writings, such as Mrs. Simcoe's
diaries, an inspector's report of unsanitary conditions on Adelaide Street,
and an eyewitness account of the cholera epidemic of 1832, enliven the film.
As a disgruntled settler complains about the monopoly of the Family Compact,
the film-makers introduce men such as William Allan, President of the Bank
of Upper Canada; William Jarvis, first Grand Master of the Masons in Canada
(although he'd only joined them a month before leaving England); and Reverend
Strachan, suspected of converting from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism to
increase his chances for success in "this English-centered town."
Students may be taken aback by the popularity of "spirits" of
the time: nine busy taverns for four hundred adults in 1812; drunkenness
punished by the imposed task of having to remove two stumps from the public
roadways (the Stump Act).
As the film introduces some of York's most prominent citizens through
their portraits, their homes and their deeds, the scene shifts to views
of modern Toronto and its streets named after individuals such as customs
officer William Jarvis, or merchant Quentin St. George. As William Baldwin
describes his new home on Davenport Hill, Spadina House (from the Indian
word for "hill"), a modern image of the Baldwin Steps appears. Old
maps of York and sketches and paintings fade into scenes of today's Toronto.
The result is a film to catch and hold the student's attention -- although
the images of modern Toronto could have been brought into sharper focus.
I would recommend this film as a supplement to Canadian
history classes from grade eight onward. Teachers at that level will be
able to develop the film's relatively brief references to John Graves Simcoe,
the Family Compact, William Lyon Mackenzie and the Colonial Advocate, American
raids in 1813, and so on. At a very reasonable cost, the film-makers have
done a good job in bringing archival material to life as an educational
Katherine Matthews is a Teacher/Librarian at the Centre for Urban and
Community Studies, University of Toronto.
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