Bound by College Street to the North, Queen Street to the South, University Avenue to the West and Yonge Street to the East, The Ward was an area where many of the city's immigrants from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century first settled. 

It was an attractive area for newcomers as they could find affordable housing that was often located close to work. The majority of people who settled in the Ward were working class. The living conditions were poor, homes were overcrowded and often lacked proper heating and sanitation. Infant mortality was high. Families often left as soon as they were able to afford to move, typically staying no longer than five years. 

In 1911 an investigation by the City of Toronto's Department of Health documented in detail the poor living conditions in the Ward. These reports sparked heated political debates that eventually led to the demise of the area. Slowly by slowly, in the name of progress, individuals and communities were pushed out. Buildings, churches, synagogues, theatres, shops, dwellings, Toronto's first Chinatown and much more were demolished to make way for hospitals, government buildings, Eaton's Department Store, a bus terminal, New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. While few physical traces of The Ward remain, the stories of its former residents and the challenges they faced as newcomers continues to resonate. Through the sharing of these stories we can begin to realize the indelible mark this neighbourhood has left on our city.

Former residents of the area included: Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, escaped slaves who became wealthy landowners and owners of Toronto's first taxi company; Francis G. Simpson Sr., a shoemaker who lived at 31 Centre Street (7 Centre Avenue) and was a reputed conductor of the Underground Railroad; Edward Lye (90 Sayer/Chestnut Street), a famous organ maker and founder of Edward Lye and Sons Organ Company; Rev. Thomas Jackson, the last Minister of the British Methodist Episcopal church on 94 Chestnut Street; Edward Pasquale, a grocer and the founder of the Unico and Gallo brands; and many more.



Picturing the Ward invites you to discover this historic neighbourhood through the words and life stories of former Ward residents and their descendants. Through their testimony and images taken from their family albums, uncover aspects of Ward life, experiences that, although rooted in the past, still resonate today. With so few buildings and objects remaining from the era, the legacy of this neighbourhood lies not in the buildings that once stood, now ghostly impressions of the past, but lives on in the lives of those who remain.

Through the themes of LIFE, LABOUR & LOSS; LOVE AND FAMILY; CITIZENSHIP AND THE RIGHT TO BELONG; HUNGERING FOR SUCCESS; ON THE MOVE; and COMMUNITY: SAFE, SUPPORTIVE AND INCLUSIVE SPACES this exhibition aims to celebrate the diversity and raise questions about: individual agency; the importance of family and community for survival and a sense of belonging; and the daily struggle undertaken by so many newcomers who came to Toronto, either by choice or by chance, and were compelled to make a home and livelihood in a new place. 

PICTURING THE WARD curation and research provided by The Toronto Ward Museum.


Brian Banks
Nicole Chodos
Lynda Holm Franklin
Mavis Garland
Anna Marie Kalcevich
Patte Rosebank
Rosemary Sadlier
Nelson Wong

Key details about the artwork:

  • The artwork draws its inspiration from the archaeological discoveries that have been made on the site, most of which date from the mid- to late-1800s, and includes textual stories and imagery provided by contributors with personal connections to the site.
  • A turn-of-the-century photographic printing process called cyanotype was used to create this work. It is visually reminiscent of an X-ray and suggests the notion of seeing a Toronto that you cannot otherwise see and a history that many Torontonians and visitors alike may not be familiar with. 
  • The modern-day objects featured in the artwork convey that these families' stories are ongoing, a legacy first established in The Ward that tangibly lives on in the present.
  • Hand-painted elements by P.A. System were added to the artwork after the final panels were installed. These elements will add whimsy and playfulness to the objects, reminding viewers of the life these objects once had. 

Media contact:

Cary Mignault
Infrastructure Ontario