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Book Reviews 663 Unplanned Suburbs: Toronto's American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950. RICHARD HARRIS. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1996. Pp. xvi, 356, illus. $39·95 A welcome addition to the growing corpus of works dealing with how North American cities came to be built, Unplanned Suburbs by McMaster University geographer Richard Harris is an imaginative and well-structured account of residential construction by individuals in early twentieth-century Toronto. Although Harris rounds up the usual suspects in terms of his primary data sources - assessment rolls, insurance atlases, the census, building permits, newspaper accounts, council minutes, personal papers, and interviews - he does so in interesting and useful combinations. The end result is a work that displays a geographer's keen sense of place and, simultaneously, sheds light on Toronto and how parts of it were developed. Even Toronto experts should learn something from reading this book. Harris is at his best in his attempts to estimate the amount of selfbuilding that occurred in Toronto and its suburbs in the early part of this century. It is here that he really seems to extract an impressive amount from his many samples painstakingly drawn from Toronto's assessment records. His estimate that owner building accounted for about 40 per cent of all new housing construction in Toronto and its suburbs between 1901 and 1913 is believable. This meant that as many as 15,000 homes were constructed by owners for their own use in the region during this period, a forceful reminder ofthe importance ofthis element in the city-building process at that time. According to Harris, owner-building was a phenomenon that rose quickly during the early years of this century, and then trailed away. Much of the book is devoted to exploring this rise and fall. Harris is careful both to identify the occupations of the largely working-class individuals who were associated with it, and to document the contributions of women in the process. 'Most of the owner-building took place in unregulated suburban areas. As Harris argues: 'The lack of regulation was in part the result of rapid urban growth, which overwhelmed .fringe areas before either the city or suburban municipalities could take stock of the situation' (274). Many people dug a basement, covered it over for a first accommodation, and gradually added rooms and other features to make a finished house. The era ended when more stringent building codes and infrastructure requirements made it too expensive and annoying for people to build their own homes. Unplanned Suburbs is a richly illustrated book. Its fifty-two figures 664 The Canadian Historical Review include reproductions of Lawren Harris paintings, cartoons, archival photographs, and recent photographs taken by the author. In addition, twenty-eight maps are included. While these are welcome and often helpful, many could have been better designed. Too many are drawn at the same regional scale and contain far too much ·white space. The type-face for the legends is much too small to be easily read. Dot maps do not always present a total for the number of objects contained on the map. Finally, some neighbourhoods mentioned in the text are not identified on any map. For all its strengths, Unplanned Suburbs is not without some flaws. For one thing, there are far too many typographical errors in the book. Appendix A, which deals with the use of property assessment records, contains six such errors in just over five pages. More significantly, the text is not without some factual errors. Harris constantly refers to the rrc as the Toronto Transit Commission. That organization did not come into being until 1954; from 1921 until that date it was known as the Toronto Transportation Commission. Figure 2-4, an aerial view of downtown Toronto, is dated at 1925. This photograph clearly shows Union Station and the Royal York Hotel as completed structures. The former opened in 1927, the latter in 1929. In table 2.2, the figure given for the 1951 population of Scarborough, 6292, is incorrect by exactly 50,000. Figures given in table 3.3 for commuting distances for residents of New Toronto and The Junction do not correspond to those found in the text. I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 663-664
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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