Exploring the Geography of Urban Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto

This summer I have been busy wading into some very rudimentary historical geography for my current research project on the history of animals in Canadian urban environments. Like all historical geography research, I think, my intent has been to see whether or not spatial patterns emerge when looking at the place of domestic animals in nineteenth century cities. My case study this summer has been Toronto.

On the map below, I have charted the following data:

  1. The locations of the city’s public markets and cattle markets.
  2. The boundaries for the prohibition of free running cattle.
  3. The locations of all butcher shops listed in the 1880 business directory for Toronto.

Please click through on the map to see a very high resolution version.

I won’t make too many remarks at this point about this map except for a few preliminary observations. The public markets of Toronto were the centre of urban life in the early to mid-nineteenth century. St. Lawrence Market was built on the market block established by the colonial administration of Upper Canada in 1803 roughly around its current location. The brick structure constructed in 1831 soon became the political home of the first Common Council for the City of Toronto in 1834 and later the first city hall. Like many other North American cities, the political and commercial districts were centred on public markets. Later, public markets were opened on Queen Street (St. Patrick Market) and between Richmond and Adelaide Streets (St. Andrew Market) to accommodate the expanding population of Toronto, which tripled between 1834 and 1844. The liberalization of the public market by-law in 1858 permitted butchers to open shops outside of the market houses where they could slaughter animals and sell meats. By 1880, the business directory listed 165 butcher shops located outside of public markets. When plotted on a map, it is clear that butchers followed the expanding population along major streets, especially those with street railway lines.

I find it interesting that the geographic distribution of public markets can be read as a reflection of the “walking city,” that is to say, the city before the advent of street railway when most urban dwellers traveled by foot. By 1880, street railway technology had transformed the geography of Toronto, the effects of which are observable in the distribution of the slaughter and sale of domestic animal bodies for human consumption through butcher shops.

The boundaries that delineated areas where the free running of cattle was prohibited reveal how rapidly land in Toronto became enclosed, preventing free-range animal husbandry within the city. Very soon after incorporation, the city council passed by-laws prohibiting free-range animal husbandry of all animals, except cattle. The practice had been common prior to 1834 when residents of the town of York enjoyed access to common lands and unoccupied lands where their animals could graze. After 1840,  Toronto cattle owners were prevented from running cattle at large within a specific area of the city near the cattle markets. Those boundaries quickly expanded encompassing most of the city by 1858. By the 1870s, all animals were prohibited from running at large within the city limits. For the most part, these restrictions on free-range animal husbandry within the city were intended to manage the property rights between owners of stationary property (buildings, fences, etc…) and owners of mobile property (cows, horses, pigs, chickens, etc…). To some extent, these regulations were also intended to facilitate better transportation and communication in the city by preventing street obstructions.

These are just some of my preliminary thoughts. There are a few more points I would like to plot on this map, including the location of the Toronto Street Railway Company stables, the locations of a number of runaway horse accidents, and perhaps even blacksmith shops. Please take a closer look at the map and let me know what you think in the comments section.

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