Review: The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood edited by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor


Title: The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood

Editor: John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg, and Tatum Taylor

Publisher: Coach House Books

Source: Purchased

Check this book out on Goodreads.

Buy at: Chapters | Book Depository

4 stars

From the 1840s until the Second World War, waves of newcomers who migrated to Toronto – Irish, Jewish, Italian, African American and Chinese, among others – landed in ‘The Ward.’ Crammed with rundown housing and immigrant-owned businesses, this area, bordered by College and Queen, University and Yonge streets, was home to bootleggers, Chinese bachelors, workers from the nearby Eaton’s garment factories and hard-working peddlers. But the City considered it a slum, and bulldozed the area in the late 1950s to make way for a new civic square.

The Ward finally tells the diverse stories of this extraordinary and resilient neighbourhood through archival photos and contributions from a wide array of voices, including historians, politicians, architects, story­­tellers, journalists and descendants of Ward residents. Their perspectives on playgrounds, tuberculosis, sex workers, newsies and even bathing bring The Ward to life and, in the process, raise important questions about how contemporary cities handle immigration, poverty and the geography of difference. (Source: Goodreads)

The Ward tells the story of the, now demolished, original immigrant neighbourhood in Toronto’s downtown core. The history of this nieghbuorhood is told through a series of short essays, they vary in their length, their content, their points of view, and their arguments. There is a wide range of information and view points available to readers of The Ward. There is a lot to learn and a lot to argue about this forgotten neighbourhood.

I really enjoyed this book, it was such a smooth read, with a lot of interesting points about a city I’ve long loved and briefly lived in. A lot of the focus of this book was of course on the very immigrants that the book mentions in its title. The Irish, Jewish, Chinese, and Italian immigrants that resided in this neighbourhood until city “improvements” forced them to relocate to other parts of the city. This book really makes you consider the ghosts of the city’s past, and the things it has hidden away by the constant flux and rebuilding of Toronto.

This book has a lot to offer to readers, there are a lot of different topics being taken on with various approaches. There were several essays in this book about stuff I was interested in but written in ways that didn’t interest me. Perhaps the approach to the study was more mathematical, perhaps it was more about the map. To me these approaches weren’t interesting but I know to others they would be, while the more social approach, the intimate studies of individuals might not interest others. This is a diverse book with a lot of angles to it, which I loved.

I decided to read this after going to the Lawren Harris exhibit at the AGO. Harris did a lot of paintings in the Ward so it was interesting to learn more about the neighbourhood he worked in. Prior to the exhibit I’d never even heard of the neighbourhood before so it was kind of amazing to learna bout this place that no longer exists.

I highly recommend this book.

Ramble on,

Have you read The WardLet me know your thoughts in the comments!
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