The founding years of Toronto & Upper Canada:
Sources, References, & Research Tools

BOOKS and websites
Government records
      Upper Canada Land Petitions - online search tools
      Upper Canada land surrenders — aboriginal treaties
      Upper Canada Land Books
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

Lot boundaries and grant/patent information on this website are the product of my ongoing study of archival and land registry records, land grant petitions, executive council meeting minutes, the Upper Canada Land Books, diaries and journals, early maps and patent plans, and other historical sources.

Sources sometimes conflict on details, and therefore the information provided by the PARK LOT PROJECT is subject to revision during my ongoing research.

I have consulted many hundreds of sources — print, manuscript and digital — in the course of putting the TORONTO PARK LOT PROJECT together. The following are constantly at hand:

BOOKS and websites

The Town of York : a Collection of Documents of Early Toronto, Volume 1 (1793-1815), published 1962. Edited by Edith G. Firth, a librarian, historian and author. A fascinating collection of hundreds of snippets from letters, diaries and official documents from Toronto's earliest years. For many years Miss Firth (1927-2005) presided over the Baldwin Room as head of the Toronto Reference Library's manuscript collections.

The Simcoe Papers. The Correspondence of Lieut.-Governor John Graves Simcoe : with allied documents relating to his administration of the government of Upper Canada. Collected and edited by Brigadier General E.A. Cruickshank for the Ontario Historical Society, in five volumes, 1923-31.

The Russell Papers. The correspondence of the Honourable Peter Russell : with allied documents relating to his administration of the government of Upper Canada during the official term of Lieut.-Governor J. G. Simcoe, while on leave of absence. Collected and edited by Brigadier General E.A. Cruickshank and Andrew F. Hunter for the Ontario Historical Society, in three volumes, 1932-36.

Henry ScaddingHenry Scadding

Toronto of old; collections and recollections illustrative of the early settlement and social life of the capital of Ontario, by Henry Scadding, 1873.

Henry Scadding, Toronto's first historian, was the youngest son of John Scadding (Riverside Lot 15, Concession 1, east of the River Don). Henry Scadding grew up knowing many of the original Town of York settlers and their stories. His book Toronto of Old is a rambling tour through the streets and park lots of early Toronto.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, in its biography of Henry Scadding, remarks:

In a leisurely, discursive way, he presents a series of extremely vivid pictures of life in early Toronto. There is much irrelevance, pedantry, and veneration of all things British, but his eye for graphic detail is excellent. Many of these vignettes are from a child’s point of view; many of the descriptive passages, such as that on the Don valley, are almost lyrical.

Toronto of Old should be used cautiously for fact; with access to many more primary sources than Scadding had, historians now know that he could occasionally be wrong. He himself wrote that he was recording “floating folklore.” The real value of the book lies in Scadding’s ability to revitalize the minute past. Toronto of Old contains almost 600 rambling pages, but students of early 19th-century Toronto — or Ontario — ignore it at their peril.

Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto; a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York from 1792 until 1833, and of Toronto from 1834 to 1893, by John Ross Robertson, 1894.

John Ross Robertson John Ross Robertson

The link above is to the first of a six-volume series titled The Landmarks of Toronto, published between 1894 and 1914. The Landmarks series reprinted columns on early Toronto history which appeared in Robertson's Toronto Telegram newspaper. Many of the columns were actually written by a number of Telegram reporters, but the series is generally attributed to Robertson.

In the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, John Ross Robertson's biographer Minko Sotiron remarked:

"All his life, Robertson was a passionate student of history and collector of historical memorabilia. As a boy of 12, he had started a historical picture collection. He began compiling materials on masonic history as soon as he joined the order, and this activity spurred a wider interest in early Canadian history. It would lead Robertson to amass the largest collection of Canadiana in his time.

"His enthusiasm also manifested itself in the pages of the Telegram, where he assigned Thomas Edward Champion and other reporters to write on early Toronto history; the weekly articles were republished at Robertson’s expense in a massive six-volume series. Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto constitutes a detailed record of Toronto from 1792 to 1914, a 'goldmine of information,' though the work contains many errors."

A passionate student of history and collector of historical memorabilia, Robertson donated thousands of historical paintings, reproductions, original maps, and documents to the Toronto Public Library.

Following his discovery in the British Museum of the water-colours of Lt.-Gov. Simcoe's wife Elizabeth, he edited the following volume, published in 1911:

The diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe, wife of the first lieutenant-governor of the province of Upper Canada, 1792-96: with notes and a biography by John Ross Robertson, and 237 illustrations, including ninety reproductions of interesting sketches made by Mrs. Simcoe, published in 1911.

Mrs. Simcoe's Diary. Edited and with an Introduction by Mary Quayle Innis, 2007.

John Graves Simcoe, 1752-1806 : a Biography, by Mary Beacock Fryer and Christopher Dracott, 1998.

Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Toronto, 2008. A stunning full-colour collection of early maps.

Ontario's History in Maps, by R. Louis Gentilcore, 1984.

The Estates of Old Toronto, by Liz Lundell, 1997.

Toronto, 100 years of grandeur: the inside stories of Toronto's great homes and the people who lived there, by Lucy Booth Martyn, 1978.

Aristocratic Toronto, 19th century grandeur: more stories of the fascinating homes & elegant people of early Toronto, by Lucy Booth Martyn, 1980.

Spadina, a Story of Old Toronto, by Austin Seton Thompson, 1975/2000.

A Glimpse of Toronto's History: Opportunities for the Commemoration of Lost Historic Sites. Prepared by the Toronto Historical Association, Maps Project and Partners, for the City Planning Division, Urban Development Services, City of Toronto, 2001.

York, Upper Canada Minutes of Town Meetings and Lists of Inhabitants, 1797–1823, ed. Christine Mosser, 1984.

Historical Maps of Toronto, an online collection of high-resolution digitized maps collected by Toronto map enthusiast Nathan Ng. I've been searching, copying and collecting early Toronto maps for years, but Nathan has me beat. Highly recommended.

Lost River Walks, an online survey of Toronto's long-buried streams and creeks, a joint project of The Toronto Green Community, The Toronto Field Naturalists and community partners including Hike Ontario.

Simcoe’s Gentry: Toronto’s Park Lots, an online project by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. Volunteers studied earliest property records for details of some of the grants and transfers of the Town of York park lots.

Government Records

Canada Act 1791
— (division of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada).

Also known as The Constitutional act of the province of Lower Canada : anno regni Georgii III, regis Magnæ Britanniæ et Hiberniæ tricessimo primo at the Parliament begun and holden at Westminster, the twenty-fifth day of November, anno Domini reign of our late sovereign Lord George the Third, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. being the first session of the seventeenth Parliament of Great Britain.


now digitized by Library and Archives Canada.
In two steps:
1. Search for your petitioner (note the microfilm number)
2. Search the microfilm

State minute books of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, 1792-1841.

Library and Archives Canada — note from the online Finding Aid:

During the years 1792-1796, the state and land minutes were entered in a single minute book...

Thereafter, separate sets of minute books were maintained to record the deliberations of the Executive Council concerning its state and land business. The evidence does not suggest that the Executive Council met in separate meetings for its state and land work but, rather, that two separate agendas were presented at each meeting at which there were both state and land matters to be discussed. The proceedings and decisions were then recorded in different minute books. The line of distinction between "state" and "land" issues was not always clearly maintained in the two sets of minutes. Matters relating to particular land grants, leases and associated topics were documented in the land minute books. Land-related issues of a broad or policy nature, on the other hand, were generally considered to be "state" matters and are found documented in the state minute books. As a result, one finds records of land-granting policy, of the acquisition and distribution of Indian lands, of military reserves (Ordnance lands transferred to civil control), and similar topics documented in the state minute books.

All Land & State Minute Books online here:

Links to Upper Canada State Books (pdf)s.

Upper Canada Land Books

Land and State Minute Books of the Executive Council of Upper Canada
—During the years 1792-1796, the state and land minutes ("Land Committee" decisions) were entered in a single minute book. After that time separate sets of minute books were maintained to record the deliberations of the Executive Council concerning state and land matters.

Library and Archives Canada: online finding aid here.

Links to all 41 digitized reels of microfilm.

See the Upper Council Executive Council minutes for September 2-5, 1793:
the original land grant decisions for the newly-opened Township of York, including the parklots
(Upper Canada Land Book C, pages 324-)


Upper Canada Heir & Devisee Commission Records 1777-1854

The Heir and Devisee Commission was established by provincial statute in 1797 to clarify the titles to lands in Upper Canada which had been granted before the provision was made, in 1795, for the issuance of patent deeds on Crown Grants. Legislation passed in 1805 changed the composition, powers, and duties of the Commission considerably. Records can include: affidavits; bonds; location certificates; powers of attorney; orders-in-council; copies of wills; mortgages; deeds of sale; and testimonial letters.

These records, held by Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, were copied onto 21 reels of microfilm in 1981. The microfilmed records have recently been digitized and can be seen here:

A summary of Upper Canada Records 1777-1854 appears at the beginning of the first reel.

* * * * *

Archives of Ontario, summary of microfilm records of the First and Second Heir and Devisee Commission Records (RG 40).

Records documenting the review and determination of claims for land brought forward by the heirs, devisees, and assignees of individuals originally located by the Crown on land, in cases where no letters patent had been issued. The First Heir and Devisee Commission was in existence between 1797 and 1805. The majority of its records are held by Library and Archives Canada.

The Second Heir and Devisee Commission was in existence from 1805 until 1911, although it ceased meeting in 1896.

Upper Canada Sundries

(94 reels of microfilm, digitized)

Colonial Correspondence:
the Robert Prescott collection of papers

Description of the Robert Prescott collection of papers (National Archives of Canada).

Initially appointed Lieutenant-Governor of LOWER CANADA, Prescott arrived at Quebec in June 1796 and within a year he succeeded Lord Dorchester at Governor General (of Lower and UPPER CANADA). This collection of his papers includes copies of records prior to Prescott's era.

NOTE: I am still searching for a Canadian source for a copy of the records of colonial office correspondence with Upper Canada's Lieutenant-Governors and Administrators (especially Simcoe and Russell). Please drop me a line if you know where these records might be found.

Series 1: Entrybooks and registers, 1779-1801.
Volumes 3-5 Three registers of documents received record despatches received by Lord Dorchester, Alured Clarke and Robert Prescott, 1786-1799 and their transfer to R.S. Milnes.
Volume 6 copies of documents relating to Indian affairs.
Volumes 7-8, 13-15, 26 Entrybooks of despatches from and to the Secretary of State and other imperial officials

Volume 3 - General Schedule of Letters and Documents on Record in the Governor's Secretary's Office

Volume 6 - Copies and Extracts of Letters and Documents 16th September 1791 to 26 December 1794

16 Sept 1791 - Dispatch #2 new Home Secretary Dundas sends Dorchester a copy of the Canada Act, dividing Quebec into two provinces.

16 Sept 1791 - Dispatch #3 Dundas tells Dorchester about Simcoe's special corps.

Volume 7 Letters from the Secretary of State between 17th July 1793 and 3rd August 1796 (VOLUME I) (mostly letters from Dundas, and later from Portland, to Dorchester).
Robert Prescott papers, Entrybook of despatches received, 1793-1796, National Archives of Canada (154 pages) MG 23 G II 17 series 1, volume 7.

Volume 8 - Copies of Letters from the Secretary of State beginning 5th August 1796 (VOLUME II) to August 1798
(96 pages) - MG 23 G II 17 series 1, volume 8.

Upper Canada Land Surrenders — Aboriginal Treaties

Toronto Region Land Patent Records

Take a day-trip to the Ontario Land Registry Office —
located in Toronto at 20 Dundas Street West (across the street from the Eaton Centre, Dundas subway station).
TIP: to find patents or early transaction records, start your search with the bound registers that fill the shelves facing the office entry (not with the microfilm).

VISIT the Manuscript Collection in the Baldwin Room at the Toronto Reference Library

you can actually sit down at a table here and read the original letters, diaries and reports. Wonderful! A 1954 finding guide has been scanned and you can download it here (pdf).

DCBLast but definitely not least:

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, a research and publishing project launched by the University of Toronto and the Université Laval in 1959. The "DCB" (and its French edition Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, published simultaneously) is the most important sustained research and publication project on Canadian History. The first of 15 print volumes appeared in 1966, and the project went online in 2003.

Attracting over one million visitors a year online today, DCB/DBC has made available close to 8,500 biographies researched and written by hundreds of Canadian historians.

In 2012 the DCB's editors — John English, General Editor, and Réal Bélanger, Directeur général adjoint — were awarded the Pierre Berton Award (the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media), granted by Canada's History magazine.

Wendy Smith
researcher / writer / webmaster

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.