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Toronto: Biography of a City

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"Bloody amazing, brings Toronto alive as never before. Hogtown is dead. A shining metropolis lives." -- Peter C. Newman In the last sixty years, Toronto has been transformed from a provincial town to significant urban heavyweight. Few cities have experienced such sustained growth, and the packed streets of North America’s fourth-largest city are a far cry from the origins o "Bloody amazing, brings Toronto alive as never before. Hogtown is dead. A shining metropolis lives." -- Peter C. Newman In the last sixty years, Toronto has been transformed from a provincial town to significant urban heavyweight. Few cities have experienced such sustained growth, and the packed streets of North America’s fourth-largest city are a far cry from the origins of the city as "Little York," which was comprised of the lieutenant-governor’s muddy tent --which he shared with his wife and many children -- and some barracks. Between then and now, fervent Orangemen have imposed strict morals on the growing provincial town, and an influx of immigrants changed the face of the city. Allan Levine delves into the character of a city that strives to balance urban development with the preservation of its distinct neighbourhoods, to maintain its status without losing its individuality. Its inhabitants have fought tooth and nail to prevent an expressway being built to the downtown core, have called in the army to clear the city of snow after a blizzard and consistently pack the Maple Leafs' arena every game, win or lose, making the hockey team the most valuable franchise in the NHL. The city can also claim one of the first Canadian politicians to stand up for gay rights, a store owner who almost single-handedly preserved theatre in Toronto, and then there’s Mayor Rob Ford... With the same eye for character, anecdote and circumstance that made Peter Ackroyd's London and Colin Jones's Paris so successful, Levine's captivating prose integrates the sights, sounds and feel of Toronto with a broad historical perspective, linking the city's present with its past through themes such as politics, transportation, public health, ethnic diversity and sports. Toronto invites readers to discover the city’s lively spirit over four centuries and to wander purposefully through the city's many unique neighbourhoods, where they can encounter the striking and peculiar characters who have inhabited them: the powerful and powerless, the entrepreneurs and the entertainers, and the moral and the corrupt, all of whom have contributed to Toronto's collective identity.


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"Bloody amazing, brings Toronto alive as never before. Hogtown is dead. A shining metropolis lives." -- Peter C. Newman In the last sixty years, Toronto has been transformed from a provincial town to significant urban heavyweight. Few cities have experienced such sustained growth, and the packed streets of North America’s fourth-largest city are a far cry from the origins o "Bloody amazing, brings Toronto alive as never before. Hogtown is dead. A shining metropolis lives." -- Peter C. Newman In the last sixty years, Toronto has been transformed from a provincial town to significant urban heavyweight. Few cities have experienced such sustained growth, and the packed streets of North America’s fourth-largest city are a far cry from the origins of the city as "Little York," which was comprised of the lieutenant-governor’s muddy tent --which he shared with his wife and many children -- and some barracks. Between then and now, fervent Orangemen have imposed strict morals on the growing provincial town, and an influx of immigrants changed the face of the city. Allan Levine delves into the character of a city that strives to balance urban development with the preservation of its distinct neighbourhoods, to maintain its status without losing its individuality. Its inhabitants have fought tooth and nail to prevent an expressway being built to the downtown core, have called in the army to clear the city of snow after a blizzard and consistently pack the Maple Leafs' arena every game, win or lose, making the hockey team the most valuable franchise in the NHL. The city can also claim one of the first Canadian politicians to stand up for gay rights, a store owner who almost single-handedly preserved theatre in Toronto, and then there’s Mayor Rob Ford... With the same eye for character, anecdote and circumstance that made Peter Ackroyd's London and Colin Jones's Paris so successful, Levine's captivating prose integrates the sights, sounds and feel of Toronto with a broad historical perspective, linking the city's present with its past through themes such as politics, transportation, public health, ethnic diversity and sports. Toronto invites readers to discover the city’s lively spirit over four centuries and to wander purposefully through the city's many unique neighbourhoods, where they can encounter the striking and peculiar characters who have inhabited them: the powerful and powerless, the entrepreneurs and the entertainers, and the moral and the corrupt, all of whom have contributed to Toronto's collective identity.

30 review for Toronto: Biography of a City

  1. 4 out of 5

    Teena in Toronto

    I've been living in Toronto almost 30 years and never tire of reading books about its history. This book starts us off in the early 1600s with Étienne Brûlé, who may have been the first European to explore the Toronto area in 1615. He had arrived in Quebec with Samuel de Champlain when he was about 16 as an indentured servant. The book ends with the embarrassment that is our current (but thankfully soon-to-be-ex) mayor, Rob Ford. The chapters are: * The Carrying Place * British Muddy York * The Rebel I've been living in Toronto almost 30 years and never tire of reading books about its history. This book starts us off in the early 1600s with Étienne Brûlé, who may have been the first European to explore the Toronto area in 1615. He had arrived in Quebec with Samuel de Champlain when he was about 16 as an indentured servant. The book ends with the embarrassment that is our current (but thankfully soon-to-be-ex) mayor, Rob Ford. The chapters are: * The Carrying Place * British Muddy York * The Rebellion * A City of Courage and Green * Hogtown the Good * The Ward * Toronto the Dull * Subways, Suburbia and Paesani * The Fastest-Growing City in North America * Jane's Disciples * This is Where it's at * Multiculturalism, Merger and Mel * Megacity Machinations (or Madness) The book provides a lot of information about the people and happenings over the centuries. I liked that the information was provided a high level yet there was just enough info provided. With some things, I found that I was interested enough to Google to learn more. I liked the writing style. I find that some historical books can be boring because they read like a text book ... this one didn't. Sometimes the author seemed to get gossipy about whoever he was talking about and that was fun. Some of the information was amusing. For example, back in July 1855, an American circus was in town. Some clowns got liquored up and went to a brothel. Members of the volunteer fire brigade were also there. Nasty words were exchanged and the two groups started brawling. Drunk clowns and firemen fighting ... that would have been something to see! It was appalling how racist Toronto was (I imagine most places were and unfortunately still are), especially against Jews, Blacks and Chinese. Back in the 1930s, Velma, a white woman, was dating Harry, a Chinese guy. Because of that, she was sentenced to one year in a reformatory with thieves, prostitutes and vagrants. It's a substantial book (almost 500 pages) but I didn't find it dragged. There is a section at the end of the book with a lot of pictures, plus another section with an extensive bibliography if you want to read more about a person or event. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it if you live in Toronto or if you want to learn more about our city. Blog review post: http://www.teenaintoronto.com/2014/10...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    In typical Canadian history fashion, there's little mention of any native community when they stopped being useful to the settlers. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book. While a bit of a slow read, this detailed account provides a good outline of the city's history, all of which is done through the lives of the people who lived in it. In typical Canadian history fashion, there's little mention of any native community when they stopped being useful to the settlers. But other than that, I really enjoyed this book. While a bit of a slow read, this detailed account provides a good outline of the city's history, all of which is done through the lives of the people who lived in it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristine Morris

    Took the opportunity of the Covid "pause" to read this book from cover to cover. Author Allan Levine provides the reader with a survey course on the history of Toronto. Covering each decade focusing on Toronto's Who's Who at the time (mostly men), special events and occurrences, every topic covers between 2 to 4 pages; it is fast paced as he covers a lot of ground. I found it helpful to read the decades from 1920 to 1960 very helpful as I am not as familiar with the details of that time in Toron Took the opportunity of the Covid "pause" to read this book from cover to cover. Author Allan Levine provides the reader with a survey course on the history of Toronto. Covering each decade focusing on Toronto's Who's Who at the time (mostly men), special events and occurrences, every topic covers between 2 to 4 pages; it is fast paced as he covers a lot of ground. I found it helpful to read the decades from 1920 to 1960 very helpful as I am not as familiar with the details of that time in Toronto. Reading the past 2 decades was a good reminder of some things I had forgotten about. It was fun to place myself into the retelling. He does spend an inordinate amount of time on the backstories of each of Toronto's newspapers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Madz

    I will say this book is a hard read and the author sprouts names of historical figures like it's his birth right. Regardless, I highly recommend picking up Toronto by Allan Levine. It's a brilliant history of Toronto. Did you know in 1855 there was the Great Circus Riot? Or that the Spadina Expressway would have put Spadina and Bloor under a freeway? There are so many stories buried in the fabric of the city. Five Stars. I will say this book is a hard read and the author sprouts names of historical figures like it's his birth right. Regardless, I highly recommend picking up Toronto by Allan Levine. It's a brilliant history of Toronto. Did you know in 1855 there was the Great Circus Riot? Or that the Spadina Expressway would have put Spadina and Bloor under a freeway? There are so many stories buried in the fabric of the city. Five Stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    What started off as history textbook stories cuts over to modern day Toronto is very interesting for me. As someone who tells other “I’m from Toronto”, but really only lived in the City off Toronto” in the past 6 years, this book captured a timeline of how everything came to be, with names of individuals so familiar that formed a lot of roads and public spaces in the city. I learned a lot about the city from this book and truly enjoyed the last 50+ pages of photos from the city archive.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ed Scherrer

    Irreverent takeaway: Honest Ed Mirvish was circumcised by Al Jolson's father. When Mirvish revamped the Royal Alex Theater, he recalled his bris as his first brush with the entertainment industry. Irreverent takeaway: Honest Ed Mirvish was circumcised by Al Jolson's father. When Mirvish revamped the Royal Alex Theater, he recalled his bris as his first brush with the entertainment industry.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    some street geography/spelling errors

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matteo

    Levine presents a solid account of Toronto's history: from aboriginal outpost to a mega-city (circa 2013) in the throes of grappling with a burgeoning "word-class" status. Overall, Levine provides a decent portrait of Toronto in any given decade or time period since its founding and allows the reader to get a sense of the city's history and the key individuals and moments that have shaped it. My only real gripe with Levine's account is his focus on "Old Toronto" almost exclusively until the city Levine presents a solid account of Toronto's history: from aboriginal outpost to a mega-city (circa 2013) in the throes of grappling with a burgeoning "word-class" status. Overall, Levine provides a decent portrait of Toronto in any given decade or time period since its founding and allows the reader to get a sense of the city's history and the key individuals and moments that have shaped it. My only real gripe with Levine's account is his focus on "Old Toronto" almost exclusively until the city's amalgamation. As a resident of North York, I would have appreciated a bit more historical reflection on Greater/Metro Toronto through the decades, but perhaps that results in a different text. Also, certain historical moments spurred by international events (such as 9/11 or the Financial Crash of 2008-09 and the impact of these events on Toronto's civic life) were noticeably absent from Levine's history of Canada's biggest and most important city.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    Toronto began life as a meeting place as its location made it suitable for trade routes to converge. When Lord Simcoe decided to make it a more permanent settlement it started again as a small village, and then it grew. Hundreds of years later it is a large, cosmopolitan city. I picked this book up after hearing the author speak on the CBC. He told a story of clowns, and Orange men, and "Toronto the Good" took on a new face in my mind. I finished because I live here. Learning more about the city Toronto began life as a meeting place as its location made it suitable for trade routes to converge. When Lord Simcoe decided to make it a more permanent settlement it started again as a small village, and then it grew. Hundreds of years later it is a large, cosmopolitan city. I picked this book up after hearing the author speak on the CBC. He told a story of clowns, and Orange men, and "Toronto the Good" took on a new face in my mind. I finished because I live here. Learning more about the city I call home was interesting. I would recommend this to Marc. He likes history and I'm sure he would enjoy learning more about our city.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Went back and forth between 3 and 4 stars. In places he gets a little overenthusiastic about things (I really didn't need to read pages gushing about Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman). But overall it's a solid overview of Toronto history. I really didn't know much at all about the early history of the city, so I learned a lot. Hence going ahead and giving it 4 stars. Went back and forth between 3 and 4 stars. In places he gets a little overenthusiastic about things (I really didn't need to read pages gushing about Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman). But overall it's a solid overview of Toronto history. I really didn't know much at all about the early history of the city, so I learned a lot. Hence going ahead and giving it 4 stars.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Harpham

    Great to learn about the city I live in. Toronto has come such a long way!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Fox

    Very interesting. All Torontonians should read this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    The history of people with money or power in Toronto.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Craig McNaughton

  15. 4 out of 5

    Angie C.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Archana

  17. 4 out of 5

    Harry Monk

  18. 5 out of 5

    Patty Holmes

  19. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Claridge

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aaron deVries

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gaga

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary-Beth

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sage

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Grant

  29. 5 out of 5

    Don

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

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