Having long been used as an invaluable tool for researchers, planners, architects, insurance adjusters, and even environmental consultants, fire insurance plans can tell us a lot about the history of our cities and towns. Not only do they show us what materials a building was constructed from, but also other information such as what the street names and addresses were, property setbacks, location of openings such as doors and windows, and the purpose of the building at that time. There was one company that dominated the fire insurance plan industry in Canada between 1875 and 1917. That was the firm of Charles E. Goad, Civil Engineers of Montréal. By 1910, his firm had produced detailed fire insurance plans for over 1300 cities and towns in Canada, plus hundreds more around the world. In this week’s article, I’ll show you how to read a fire insurance plan and how you might find one useful if you live or work in an older building.
I was doing some research this week on the history of another part of Toronto by looking at Charles E. Goad’s fire insurance plans. That side tracked me a little bit into thinking about how much Toronto has changed over the past century. I’ve always been fascinated with the area around old St. John’s Ward, which now roughly comprises Nathan Phillips Square, Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, Trinity Church and the Eaton’s Centre. This area has changed dramatically since Goad recorded the area in 1884 and again in 1912. Although Goad recorded the basic information about building materials and street layouts in this area, it wasn’t until the early decades of the twentieth century which saw the area officially documented photographically for the first time. Two of the best known photographers of this area were William James and Arthur Goss. This week’s article will examine the photographs of Arthur Goss from St. John’s Ward.