Mayors of Toronto: Volume 1, 1834-1899


158 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919822-77-0





Reviewed by Adele Ashby

Adele Ashby was the former editor of Canadian Materials for Schools and Libraries.


In March 1834, the Town of York was incorporated as the City of Toronto. Three weeks later, the inhabitants of the new city voted in their first election. The first city council chose from among its members the first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. This book, the beginning of a series, is a compilation of biographies of Toronto’s first magistrates during the nineteenth century, from Mackenzie, who administered an outpost with a population of less than ten thousand, to John Shaw, who presided over a population twenty times the size.

Each mayor is given approximately two pages of text, written in dull, flat prose which, fortunately for the reader, fails to totally depress the liveliness of the period. We learn, for example, that John Powell (1838-40) once “fired point blank into Mackenzie’s face” after the latter had vacated the mayor’s seat to become the leader of a rebellion, and that Henry Sherwood (1842-44) had been one of the Tory youths who wrecked Mackenzie’s newspaper office. Each vignette is accompanied by a photograph of the biographee, there are some other period illustrations and maps, and an appendix lists the city councils. The book assumes a great deal of prior knowledge on the part of its readers — unexplained references to, for example, “Allen Napier McNab’s contemptible behaviour” — so it probably cannot be used alone, but it is nevertheless an essential contribution to early Toronto history.


Russell, Victor Loring, “Mayors of Toronto: Volume 1, 1834-1899,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,