Despite their value as urban property, Toronto’s workers’ cottages are often characterized as being small, cramped, poorly built, and in need of modernization or even demolition. But for the workers and their families who originally lived in them from the 1820s to the 1920s, these houses were far from modest. Many had been driven off their ancestral farms or had left the crowded conditions of tenements in their home cities abroad. Once in Toronto, many lived in unsanitary conditions in makeshift shantytowns or cramped shared houses in downtown neighbourhoods such as the Ward. To then move to a self-contained cottage or rowhouse was the result of an unimaginably strong hope for the future and a commitment to family life.
Through the stories of eight families who lived in these “Modest Hopes,” authors Don Loucks and Leslie Valpy bring an important but forgotten part of the Toronto narrative to life. They illuminate the development of Toronto’s working-class neighbourhoods, such as Leslieville, Corktown, and others, and explain the designs and architectural antecedents of these undervalued heritage properties.
Download Modest Hopes: Homes and Stories of Toronto’s Workers from the 1820s to the 1920s