Alexander Aitken's 1793 map: Toronto's first official plan

Revised March 18, 2014

Why is this key artifact of early Canadian history buried in the London, England archives?

The beautiful bit of map below is a small section of Alexander Aitken's 1793 map Plan of York Harbour, Toronto's first official plan. Note the tiny Town of York, just a 10-block rectangle, and the array of streams and creeks running into the bay.

  <-- park lot #s

<-- township lots, before they were split into the park lots
  1st Concession
<--  Line
(today's Queen Street)

  <-- the new
Town of York
  <-- Toronto Bay 

Above: detail from Plan of York Harbour surveyed by order of Lt. Govr. Simcoe signed by Alexander Aitken, Deputy Surveyor, 1793. U.K. National Archives (CO 700 Canada no.60).

Digital scan of this original map, rarely seen, is courtesy of Nathan Ng, Historical Maps of Toronto. The full map is below — click to view a high resolution copy.

The horizontal line through the middle of the map is the first concession line (Lot Street) — today's Queen Street.

If the numbering of the park lots on this map seems odd, that's because the initial idea was to survey 200-acre township-style lots throughout. However, at some point Lt.-Gov. Simcoe decided to split the 16 most desirable of them (the range from today's Parliament to Lansdowne Streets) down the middle and call them park lots. I've added the park lot numbers in green above the map.


Aitken's lovely map was included by Simcoe with a letter he sent from the Town of York back to England addressed to Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for War (and the Colonies), dated September 20, 1793:

I also inclose for your inspection an actual survey of the harbour of York, late Toronto, the proper naval and military arsenal of Lake Ontario, and in a great measure, of Upper Canada. I propose therefore that the winter station of the fleet and the refilling port and such naval buildings as may be wanting be at York. This port is at a great distance from the foreign shore, is capable of being easily defended, and the grants of lands having been made by the present Government, sufficient care has been taken that great reservation of timber should be made for naval purposes.

Aitken's 1793 map was based on an initial survey of York Harbour prepared in 1788 on the instructions of the then-Governor-in-Chief, Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton).

In 1793, Aitken was asked by Lt.-Gov. Simcoe for an updated survey to include Simcoe's proposed location of a blockhouse to command the entrance of the harbour, as well as a battery and barracks for the Queen’s Rangers. 

This map, sent to England in 1793, remained there, and is housed today in London in the National Archives of England. (Archive ID: CO 700/CANADA60.)

Many reproductions

The original Aitken map has rarely been seen by the public but there have been many reproductions.

Left: a black and white copy of the 1793 Aitken map appeared in Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, Vol.5, circa 1905. Wikipedia has a copy of that version of the map here.

A hand-drawn copy of the Aitken map is held in the Baldwin Room at the Toronto Reference Library (date and artist unknown). Below is a photo of the Baldwin Room's index card file, showing the card for the Aitken map, "original ms. [manuscript] is in the Record office, London, England."

The TORONTO PARK LOT PROJECT — an exploration of the earliest days of the TOWN OF YORK, founded in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Copyright © Wendy Smith 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.