Hayes, Derek. Historical Atlas of Toronto.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Sewell, John
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 18 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Historical Atlas of Toronto (Reference work)
Persons: Reviewee: Hayes, Derek
Accession Number: 229218934
Full Text: Hayes, Derek.

Historical Atlas of Toronto.

Douglas & McIntyre, 2008.

192 pp.

ISBN: 9781553652908.

Derek Hayes must have had a lot of fun working on the Historical Atlas of Toronto. The book is lively, fresh, and leavened with good humour. There's a popular appeal both to the illustrations, which occupy about 80 per cent of the pages (many in full colour), and to the text which is wedged in between.

Hayes has considerable experience with the genre. This is his twelfth book--his comparable book on the Pacific Northwest sold more than 50,000 copies--and he's established something of a formula. He does not let maps, plans or photos speak for themselves, often because they have to be reduced in size so much to fit within the book that whatever text on them is virtually impossible to read. Instead his notes provide good pointers as to what is important.

The material is presented in a relatively chronological fashion by key themes: French Toronto, the coming of the loyalists, the railway age, airports, expressways, the waterfront, and so forth. Some themes, such as housing for the poor, are dealt with so briefly one hardly gets a sense of what happened; some, such as the Toronto waterfront, so broadly that one loses the reality that the waterfront has, for more than a century, been a place of wild schemes and proposals but little cohesive action. The theme 'Garden Suburbs' concentrates on but a single development proposal, Lawrence Park, and there's no reference to any other attempts to mimic the thinking of Ebenezer Howard.

The maps and illustrations are all well-sourced in terms of where they might be located, but no citations are provided for the text, and there is no bibliography. It leads one to question the veracity of some statements and wonder what has been left out. How, for instance, can one talk about Don Mills without even mentioning its planner Macklin Hancock leaving the reader with no inkling of how E.P. Taylor managed to find such a new kind of urban design--or then to discuss the next iteration of new design, Thorndiffe Park, again omitting Hancock?

These are not insignificant shortcomings of this work, which touches rather lightly and sporadically on a wide range of subjects. Hayes has a friendly and self-assured writing style which often makes one feel as though a final truth has been stated when there is much more to said, often something of greater interest. One would assume that one function of this book would be to point readers to areas and subjects which deserve a closer look, but without references only the most diligent of readers will look further.

Some statements are just plain wrong, such as Hayes' assertion that Mike Harris' 'Common Sense Revolution' had included a promise to examine the jurisdictional structure of the Toronto region, with the elimination of Metro in mind. In fact, the Common Sense Revolution made no mention of Metro or indeed of reshaping local governments, and the idea of the megacity did not emerge until more than a year after the Harris government was elected in June 1995. Finding one serious error like this makes one leery of other statements.

This book is pretty and alluring, and I will admit I enjoyed looking at it with care. Some of the documents were new to me, particularly those relating to the period until the creation of Toronto in 1834. As well, I am please to have at hand ready reference in one place of many other maps and documents. But I had my doubts about some of the text, and concerns that several subjects were rushed over in a way which did not do them justice, and so did not provide an adequate explanation of how or why Toronto has taken the shape it has.

John Sewell is an author and a former mayor of Toronto.
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