Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, April 5, 2013

Found Toronto - the 1857 Armstrong, Beere and Hime panorama

Impressive Osgoode Hall - the neighbourhood, not so grand
Mark, a regular visitor to Ancestral Roofs, has just sent a link to an astonishing image of Toronto, the justly famous Armstrong, Beere and Hime panorama, taken in 1856/7  from the roof of the Rossin House Hotel at the SE corner of King and York streets in Toronto.

The 1856 panorama was created from 13 photos stitched together. The seams are a bit loose at times, given the limits of technology, but the series is absolutely astounding in its detail.
waterfront used to be closer 

Understandably, these photos have created a lot of excitement over time, and many websites contain much information, so I won't go on, but just to say I suggest you visit.

Rossin House Hotel 1857/8 - City of Toronto archives
The BlogTO site developed by Derek Flack is an outstanding blog of the big city's heritage; he has posted each of the photos (which are public domain). This Wikimedia link provided by Mark Wilson is a stitched together version giving the full panorama effect. Click to enlarge. Prepare to be lost in the past for a goodly time.

Derek Flack also refers to the evocative novel Consolation, by Michael Redhill. It's a modern day story about a man consumed by the past, as Toronto obliterates its early built heritage. Turns out, the novel was inspired by this compelling series of good a reason as any to reread the book (I've contacted my local library to request William Dendy's Lost Toronto as a good companion read...all in preparation for another Toronto photo journey in capture what may still be left.)

A quick Google search also yielded:
The Toronto Archives link and this Wikipedia entry.
John Ritchey's fashionable (1855) white brick terrace

My favourite Toronto book, Toronto, No Mean City(1964), by the venerable Eric Arthur, talks about this photograph. He draws attention to the obvious contrast between the haughty Ritchey's Terrace on Adelaide Street in the centre of the photo to the left (with part of Osgoode Hall peeking over its shoulder), with the humble frame structures in the foreground (on today's Pearl Street.)

Look at the tired woman standing in her doorway at the very bottom of the photo- she's stood there a long time. The streets look empty in most photos, because the long exposure necessary to get the shot would ensure that people or conveyances moving at any speed would be blurred out.


  1. Fascinating series of pics.....waaaaay too much to comment on here, but a few things stand out: nothing but wilderness, or so it seems, north of Osgoode Hall. FYI, just to the right of Osgoode Hall was one of the worst slums in all of old Toronto - what a weird juxtaposition of grandiosity and poverty !

    Also, the waterfront was incredibly interesting. Notice the larger vessel on the right side of the lakeshore.....I´m almost sure its a paddleboat, though I didn´t know paddleboats really existed so early. Also, the train near the shore ! I looked up when the Grand Trunk Railway was built, and apparently the Tor-Mtl section was built in 1856, so it could have been a part of that. Or it could simply be a local, neighbourhood type line to transfer stuff from one part of town to another. Either way, its very early for railways. So many things "happening" in this panorama.

  2. Wow! This was the first time I had ever heard of, or seen, this extraordinary panorama. History so close you feel you can reach out and touch it. Thanks for this, Lindi and Mark!