Online flipbooks: U of T Libraries Preserves Toronto’s Past by Digitizing Municipal Handbooks

May 23, 2017 by 1

By Debbie GreenReference and Research Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto Libraries.

Many of us are fascinated but bewildered by the financial workings of the City of Toronto. We cannot connect the amounts of money under discussion with what we see happening in the city around us. Taking a peek at previously inaccessible city documents from the past can give us a taste of how that work is done.

Imagine yourself as City Treasurer R.T. Coady using his City of Toronto Municipal Handbook as an essential tool to providing knowledgeable administration of Toronto in the 1910s. Items like the Municipal Handbooks are the kind of working manuals which are typically discarded or lost as cities develop and the needs of city bureaucrats change. They provide an invaluable glimpse into the day to day business of running the city and offer rich material for research and general interest.

For instance:

  • The total cost of building what we now refer to as Old City Hall was $2,500,000, including furniture
  • In 1905, the value of property and assets owned by the City was $15,000,000
  • There were 265 ¼ miles of streets in Toronto, most of which were built using Macadam, Cedar Block or Asphalt

Births, marriages, deaths and the protocols for citizens to report these milestones are also included.

In cooperation with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library, the University of Toronto Libraries compiled the out-of-copyright run of these yearly publications for 1905 to 1920. The small, concise books were then digitized by Robarts Library and presented in flipbook form for use by urban researchers, city staffers and members of the public. All our libraries’ digitization projects make material freely available online, to anyone in the world.

Interest in research about our city by students and researchers continues to grow, and the library is excited to work with city partners to preserve and make accessible these snapshots of the Toronto’s past.

For more information or to propose other projects, please contact Debbie Green,

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