Toronto: An Illustrated History of Its First 12,000 Years

Ronald F. Williamson (Editor), Chris Andreae, Carl Benn, Peter J. Carruthers, Roger Hall, Robert MacDonald

From the final retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet to its emergence as a Canada’s leading city, this book explores the evolution of Toronto over the past 12,000 years.

Five knowledgeable historians have combined efforts to bring together beautiful illustrations and fascinating, fresh perspectives in this new, natural, archaeological and social history. The book starts with Robert MacDonald’s exploration of the characteristics of Toronto’s site, geographic and geological. Using the results of recent archaeological research, illustrated with artifacts found in the Toronto area, archaeologist Ron Williamson offers many details about the lives of the Indigenous people who made temporary camps and villages along the river valleys and lakeshore. Toronto was greatly affected by the struggles between Britain and France, then the tensions between Britain and the post-revolutionary United States in the 1700s and 1800s. The city was selected as the seat of government because of its greater distance from the border compared to rivals. Still, American forces attacked Toronto three times during the War of 1812. Carl Benn explains how Toronto grew into the most important cultural and commercial centre west of Montreal during the early nineteenth century. Chris Andreae provides a revealing account of how the 19th century railway age allowed Toronto to increase its dominance of Ontario, and become an industrial powerhouse for all of Canada. The last decades of the 20th century mark Toronto’s emergence as Canada’s largest and most influential city. Roger Hall describes how this happened, and how in the process Toronto became the vigorous, multicultural, lively community it is today.


The following endorsement for the book appeared on Christopher Moore’s Canadian History Blog

“My nomination would be Toronto: An Illustrated History of Its First 12,000 Years edited by Ronald F. Williamson (Lorimer, 2008). I suggest this book for several reasons:

It is a comprehensive popular history that fills a gap in the existing literature about Toronto. In particular, it treats, seriously, the entire history of this place on the north shore of Lake Ontario, and not just the post-1750 history of Toronto. In other words, it gives equal treatment (in terms of scholarship and pages) to Indigenous (precontact) history instead of treating it as an afterthought (or before-thought). Some important information and images relating to precontact history derived from consultant archaeology — not otherwise seen by most people — is made available.

It is written by scholars, writing in an accessible format and is well-edited to assure flow and consistent voice.

It is beautifully layed-out and well-illustrated; nicely designed to be a modestly-sized and priced book (not an expensive weighty tome) — making it even more attractive to a wider readership, including schools. Eminently giftable.

PS, despite the pitch, I had nothing to do with the book. I am simply a grateful reader — one with a serious interest in the history of Toronto who recognizes a good thing.”

(Dr. Andrew Stewart, Vice-Chair, Friends of Fort York, Editor, Ontario Archaeology)