Fire Insurance Maps

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Fire insurance maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers.

1911 Fire Insurance Map

These maps are incredibly detailed drawings of neighbourhoods showing the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created. The original purpose of these maps was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.

Page 21 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The maps not only show the footprint of a building but also provide construction details such as the number of stories, the building materials and the use of the building.  The buildings were colour coded to indicate the materials used in their construction.  The colour red indicated that it was a brick building, whereas yellow indicated a wooden building. These maps can help researchers track the history of a certain building, learn more about growth of areas, and how construction methods have changed.

Page 6 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The Oshawa Museum’s archival collection is fortunate enough to have three of these maps in our holdings.  The earliest in our collection is from 1911.  Some of the highlights found in the 1911 map are the footprints of early industries such as Williams Piano Company, the McLaughlin Carriage Company, and a very new company by the name of McLaughlin Motor Car.  Interestingly, there is also the footprint of Oshawa’s other carriage and auto maker, Matthew Guy and Co.


Page 19 of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map; the Olive Avenue Row Houses are seen in the centre right of the image

The Olive Avenue Row houses are also included in the 1911 Fire Insurance Map.  This collection of terrace homes was constructed in 1910 by John Stacey and are considered to be architecturally significant in Oshawa.

The maps are a wonderful resource for tracking the changes to the downtown of Oshawa.  The 1911 map shows three different hotels located along King Street East.  Oshawa once again offers hotel service downtown with the opening of La Quinta just a couple of blocks east of where the American Hotel once stood at the corner of King St. East and Celina Street.

We were fortunate enough to, with the assistance of Heritage Oshawa, digitize two of the fire insurance maps in our collection.  The 1948 map had been previously digitized and now we have the 1938 and 1911 in digital versions. The digital version will be made available to researchers and the 1911 will be made available online in the near future.  Until then, all three of our fire insurance maps are available in archives for researchers to enjoy.

My Favourite Artifact – The Tackabury Map

By Sarah C., Visitor Host

In Henry House hangs an oversized map which presents an important time in the settlement of Upper Canada, which I love to show to people.

992.2.1 - 1862 Tackabury Map
992.2.1 – 1862 Tackabury Map

Tackabury’s Map of Canada West Drawn from Government and Special Local Surveys by H. F. Walling. Published by R. M. and G. N. Tackabury. 1862 Engraved on Copper Plates by D. Griffing Johnson.

Though the map has been damaged, it shows the early settlement of the province as well as sketches of different notable areas of the day. The top has seen the most damage loosing most of the sketch of the University of Toronto. Even with the limited section available the building is still recognizable as University College to people familiar with the university campus.

I find this map to be fascinating and love to show it to people who visit the museum because of people’s ability to connect with the places it depicts.  If you look closely you can see where Post Offices (P.O.s) are listed. These names are familiar to many of the present day towns and cities. I can even find the village I live near on the map!

Detail of the Tackabury Map - Can you see Port Oshawa?
Detail of the Tackabury Map – Look closely and you can see the Oshawa Post Office

This large scale map can be beneficial for gaining an understanding of how settlement developed in Ontario.  Surveys and early land grants played a significant part of shaping early growth in Ontario, which is still apparent in our landscape and roads.

The areas can be either seen as meticulously planned, appearing in a perfect gird or sprawling and disorganized – this can indicate many things including following a watercourse and the type of growth that outstrips uniform plans.  The goal was to lay everything out as a grid, though watercourses can make this difficult creating what the surveyors call ‘broken fronts’. Because of how settlement develops and because the world is not naturally square these grids can intersect at some interesting angles. In some areas you can see how lots were laid out along a road and the rest of the lots grid is based on the edge of the township. It seems like everyone received ,”100 acres more or less”.

Detail of the Tackabury Map
Detail of the Tackabury Map

An aspect which is very interesting are  the blocks of settlement in the more remote sections of the province. Townships were opened up slowly to settlement. Hence why some areas were  heavily settled and some were not fully surveyed when this map was made.

Detail of the Tackabury Map, Limerick Township
Detail of the Tackabury Map, Limerick Township

Limerick Township appears as if it has just started  being surveyed and settled  when the map was made, as there are only lots along the outer edges. Clarendon does not appear to have been surveyed in any way, yet every township around it has been. Balaclava appears as the lone surveyed township and only one of two that had been laid out on the north end of Georgian bay.

Lake Nipissing is partially visible in the damaged top edge showing that the vast majority of the province was not even fully known yet to the surveyors.

The map provides the user with a variety of additional information such as a climatological map, and geological map, a distance chart, and 1861 census information about the counties and cities.

Henry House Study
Henry House Study

I find that so much different information can be taken from an item like this map – everyone finds their own aspect that interests them and takes away a different meaning.

The Tackabury Map

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

In an earlier post, I discussed a few of the wall hangings inside the Henry House Study.  Today, I’d like to share about the largest hanging we have in the study, and my favourite artifact on tour of the museum, our Tackabury Map.


992.2.1 - 1862 Tackabury Map
992.2.1 – 1862 Tackabury Map

With the frame measuring at 6×7’ (or, 182.5 x 217cm), this hanging dominates the north wall of the Study.  It fit with the interpretation of the room because Thomas was a travelling minister for the Christian Church, who would have utilized a map when planning his travels.  It also fits with the interpretation time period as it dates from 1862.


Detail of the Tackabury Map - Can you see Port Oshawa?
Detail of the Tackabury Map – Can you see Port Oshawa?

The map is of Canada West, featuring an overall map of the province, and surrounding this, there are inset maps of the major cities, including Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, and Hamilton.  There is also an inset map of North America, and several drawn images from around Canada West (Toronto, Niagara Falls, University of Toronto, etc).  It is a detailed map of Canada West (Ontario), showing major roads, railroad and proposed railroad lines, concessions and lots, and county, township and town boundaries. Place names, post offices and telegraph stations are also identified. Census figures for 1861 and a mileage table are also shown.  Port Oshawa can be seen on the map on the very eastern edge of the County of Ontario.  Many visitors will often look for Oshawa within the boundaries of Durham County, as we are now in the Region of Durham, however, boundaries changed in the 1970s; before then, we were geographically in the County of Ontario, which stretched from Pickering in the west, to East Whitby and Oshawa in the east, and as far north as the Township of Rama, where Orillia and Casino Rama are.


Detail showing the Time Table
Detail showing the Time Table

One of my favourite features, and my favourite thing to talk about, is the ‘Time Table.’  Because there was no ‘standard time’ in 1862, it showed what time is would be across the province (Ottawa = 12pm; Whitby = 11:47; Toronto = 11:43, 8s).  Today, if it is 12 o’clock noon, that would be time across the province and the time zone, however, in 1862, 12 o’clock noon was set by the sun.  This fascinating vestige from days past always gets an interesting reaction from visitors.

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