CM January 12, 1996. Vol II, Number 13

image Toronto: Stories from the Life of a City.
Part I: York.

Produced by Russell Floren.
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, M5T 2C2.

Subject Heading:
Toronto (Ont.)-History.

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.

screen shot
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 tool.


Katherine Matthews is a Teacher/Librarian at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto.

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Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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