Heritage Toronto is a charity and agency of the City of Toronto that celebrates Toronto's rich heritage and the diverse stories of its people, places, and events. Through programs, including tours, historical plaques, State of Heritage Report, and online exhibits, the organization engages the public to reflect on the past—both to make sense of our present and to inform our future.
Heritage Toronto's head office is at St. Lawrence Hall, a heritage building.
For 25 years, from April/May to October, Heritage Toronto has been offering a series of walking, bicycle and bus tours around the city as well as private tours for smaller groups interested in a more personal experience. All tours are researched, designed and led by local historians, community groups and professionals who volunteer their time.
Heritage Toronto Awards
Every October, Heritage Toronto hosts an evening of awards. Different award categories recognize the best in new books, architecture and craftsmanship, public history, and community heritage volunteer efforts. The Awards have been presented for over 40 years.
In 1996, the Kilbourn Lecture (known at the time as the William Kilbourn Memorial Lecture) was added to the Awards evening. It is named for William Kilbourn, an academic, writer, politician, mentor and champion of the arts and humanities who personified the richness of life in Toronto. The last lecture was offered in 2016.
|1996||Robert Fulford||The Invention of Toronto – A City Defined by its Artists|
|1997||John Raulston Saul||Toronto and the Idea of the Public Good|
|1998||Ursula Franklin||Citizen Politics: Advocacy in the Urban Habitat|
|1999||George Baird||Needed: An Urban Vision for Toronto, Again|
|2000||Robert Fung & Michael Kirkland||Our Last Best Chance: Realizing a Century Old Dream|
|2001||N/A||No lecture this year|
|2002||David Crombie||The Idea of Toronto|
|2003||Sean Conway||Toronto as a Capital: Fence Posts and Fingerprints, the Growth of our Democracy|
|2004||Her Excellency Adrienne Clarkson||Green Thoughts in a Green Shade: The Making of a Good City|
|2005||John Honderich||Creative Toronto: Isn't It About Time?|
|2006||Bruce Kuwabara||Toronto's Cultural Renascence: Revival or Survival|
|2007||David Mirvish||The Night of Nights: The History of Theatre in Toronto|
|2008||John Campbell||A Shore Thing: The Future of Toronto's Waterfront|
|2009||Albert Schultz||The Great Toronto Roast|
|2010||Peter Oundjian||"Notes" on Toronto|
|2011||Cameron Bailey||Toronto in Focus: A City of Festivals|
|2012||Chief Bryan Laforme||A Layered City|
|2013||Gail Dexter Lord||Building Heritage With Innovation|
|2014||Jack Diamond||Toronto 1974-2014: A Challenge from the Field|
|2015||Rahul K. Bhardwaj||On Being Nice: Turning Compassion into Our Competitive Advantage|
|2016||Steven High||Our Industrial Heritage|
For 50 years, Heritage Toronto's Plaques Program officially has been recognizing key people, places and events which have been influential to the city of Toronto (https://heritagetoronto.org/what-we-do/plaques/). There are multiple kinds of plaques situated around Toronto that represent different aspects of the city's history.
Inventory of Heritage Property Plaques: Bronze Inventory Plaques recognize properties listed or designated under the City of Toronto's Inventory of Heritage Properties. These plaques interpret Toronto's built heritage.
Commemorative Plaques: Heritage Toronto Commemorative Plaques tell the stories of important people and events in Toronto's history, where they happened.
Toronto Legacy Plaques: In 2009, Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Legacy Project inaugurated a line of historical plaques modeled on the famous "Blue Plaques" of London, England. These plaques recognize notable Toronto residents by indicating where they lived or worked. A map of plaques in the city of Toronto (including all of Heritage Toronto's) can be found here: (http://torontoplaques.com/)
State of Heritage Report: Released every four years to coincide with Toronto municipal elections, the State of Heritage Report provides a picture of the current state of heritage in Toronto, lays out goals for strengthening the heritage sector and provides recommendations to the Mayor, City Council, senior staff and decision makers to improve heritage management. Prior to the release of the State of Heritage Report, Heritage Toronto hosts the Heritage Matters Mayoral Candidates Debate.
Heritage Diversity Stories: In 2012, Heritage Toronto, with the support of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, chronicled the experience of nine different immigrant communities in Toronto.
War of 1812 Bicentennial Lectures: In 2012, in partnership with RBC, Heritage Toronto hosted a series of lectures across the city to commemorate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Building Storeys: Building Storeys was a yearly digital photography exhibit held in 2009, 2010 and 2012 that examined the architectural and cultural history of the city of Toronto.
On April 4, 1949, the Toronto Civic Historical Committee (the first of its kind in Canada) was established by City Council. Much of its early work was focused on the preservation of Fort York NHS, and the site's public programming.
Renamed the Toronto Historical Board, the organization became an arm's length agency of the City on July 1, 1960, and a registered charity in 1967.
On October 4, 1969, the Toronto Historical Board unveiled its first plaque commemorating the volunteer reserve company that later became HMCS York. Heritage plaques recognizing designated buildings were introduced in 1977. We now produce an average of 40 plaques a year, and there are over 700 plaques located throughout our city, marking subjects as varied as the 1830s Cholera Epidemics to the 1966 Muhammad Ali vs. George Chuvalo boxing match.
In 1972, the Toronto Historical Board began the city's first heritage survey, reviewing every building and street within the city's 1850 boundaries. On June 20, 1973, City Council adopted the Board's initial list of 490 buildings. Now at more than 9500 buildings, the current Inventory of Heritage Sites is dated, and excludes heritage spaces that are not buildings. A new comprehensive city-wide heritage survey is being considered by Heritage Preservation Services.
In 1974, the Board established its Award of Merit to recognize notable contributions in the heritage field in Toronto. The first awards were presented on March 6 at City Hall during the city's 140th anniversary celebrations, to Edith Firth; David Macdonald Stewart; The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Toronto Region Branch; the firm of Diamond and Myers, Architects and Planners; and to the Enoch Turner Schoolhouse Foundation. Since then, 566 recipients have been recognized at our Heritage Toronto Awards—the premier event in the sector celebrating excellence in the field.
The first walking tours occurred in the early 1980s and were organized for schoolchildren visiting the Board's historic site museums like Fort York. For the city's 150th anniversary in 1984, the Board published a series of walking tour pamphlets. Our guided walks began a decade later in 1994. The Tours program now offers over 60 tours exploring the city's diverse neighbourhoods, and subjects as varied as Toronto's architecture, our immigrant history, and our natural heritage.
On January 1, 2000, after amalgamation of the former municipalities of Metro Toronto, the functions and composition of the Toronto Historical Board changed significantly. Responsibility for the historic site museums and heritage preservation services was removed from the independent board; they became city departments. Renamed Heritage Toronto, the organization retained the agency and charity status, and responsibility for Plaques, Awards, and Tours programming.
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