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Exhibition at the City of Toronto Archives

September - December 2017  |  March - August 2018

Can Slums be abolished or must we continue to pay the penalty?

At the time, the central neighbourhood of St John’s Ward (The Ward), an area of mostly immigrants, was targeted as a ‘slum’. Charles Hastings (1858-1931), the head of the Health Department, opted for a scientific approach and sent inspectors to systematically survey the quality of the housing materials and the housing conditions (housing density, levels of crowding, and sanitary condition, including access to clean water, clean air, sewage, privies). Back lanes and rear buildings were particularly targeted. The Ward posed a medical threat of disease and mortality, and a moral threat of a city wide slum contagion. Numerous photos of children appeared in these reports, suggesting a call to abolish the slum for the sake of the children. Drawing upon these reports, the city and its influential leaders mobilized to establish standards, urge reform, and demolish significant parts of the neighbourhood, displacing many of its residents. Today we face the same choices: every increase in housing standards, intended to improve safety and living conditions for residents, results in increased costs (and rents), and subsequent dehousing of those unable to pay the new, higher rents.


In March 2016, I embarked on a journey to visit Ottawa’s Library and Archives Canada to conduct research and re-photograph archival materials. One of my tasks was to document the original photographs of William James. When I came across his work, I also found duplicates that had been carefully altered with what appeared to be a paint-like substance. In these shots, James chose to highlight a group of children, or a particular child, and even went as far as fabricating a landscape within a street scene–all to construct or re-construct rather, a new kind of photography. 

This effect creates a surreal, dream-like quality, especially when viewed in relation to his originals. James’ technique also emphasizes photography’s relationship to painting and the Pictorial Movement, as well.

- Mary Anderson


These photographs were discovered while researching Central Neighbourhood House publications at the City of Toronto Archives. Little information is known about the images; they were captured by an unknown photographer between 1911–1920, and portray street scenes of children in The Ward neighbourhood of Toronto.

The amateur quality however, reflects a particular perspective of what life in The Ward may have looked like–one that is arguably a lot more open and visually interesting to look at. In this case, instructional texts on “how-to” document street scenes, architecture, or figures in landscape, i.e. children, for example, may have been referenced. These guidelines were influential for many amateur photographers at the time.

- Mary Anderson







1880 - 1910 Transformation of ‘The Ward’ and its’ communal dwellings to public land use and architecture


1888 - 1923 “Children were everywhere” – the regulation of children’s lives increases over this period


1891 Hospital for Sick Kids moves to Elizabeth Street and College Street


1900 - 1920 Jewish and Italian immigration peak in The Ward


1905 - 1915 Emergence of the supervised playground movement


1908 - 1911 Toronto Playground Association established


1909 Cherry Street playground opens to the public


1909 - 1911 University Settlement House movement


1910 Charles Hastings appointed Head of Health Commission 


1910 Typhoid epidemic


1911 Central Neighbourhood House opens its’ doors


1911 The Hastings Slum Report addresses the growing health and housing concerns in downtown Toronto


1911 The common Jack Canuck weekly begins publication


1912 The Toronto Fly Swatting Campaign


1912 The article Supervised Playground appears in The Globe


1913 Bureau of Municipal Research founded


1913 Commission to regulate roads, safety and protection


1913 Elizabeth Street Playground Demonstration Day (August 21)


1913 Toronto General Hospital moves to College Street


1913 Toronto Playground Association releases its first Annual Report


1913 Toronto Playground Association requests social workers to train as playground supervisors


1914 The Bureau Report asks, What is ‘the Ward’ going to do with Toronto?


1914 - 1918 World War I


1920 The Ward becomes Chinatown, with fewer children


1929 - 1939 The Great Depression



City of Toronto Archives

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