Top ten: antiquated by-laws

I always enjoy a good top ten, and this week I want to share a uniquely Hogtown Crier list with you: The top ten by-laws from our city’s first 50 odd years of existence.

This is by no means a list of the most important or even necessarily useful by-laws in Toronto’s history, but rather the ones that for me evoked a particularly vivid picture of the difference between our lives now and the lives lived here 150 years ago. Unfortunately almost all of these by-laws have since been repealed, which makes sense given they were passed by city council between 1834 and 1890.

Which one is your favourite? Leave a comment below!

10. Snow days (1889)

“By-law to prohibit the practice of coasting and tobogganing on the public streets”

This one was colloquially known as the “wet blanket by-law” or the “Can we go sledding instead, you jerks?” law. Well, neither of those are true. Either way, there was still some excellent sledding to be had in High Park or Riverdale Park

High Park between 1910-1920
Look at these outlaws!

9. Reckless abandon (1872) 

“By-law to amend By-law 467, so far as the same relates to the depositing of Wood or Coal upon the Streets”

[By-law 467: “By-law for the regulation of the Streets, Sidewalks, and thoroughfares of the City of Toronto, and for the preservation of Order and suppression of Nuisances therein”]

How bold do you have to be to just dump your excess coal into the streets? I fully support this by-law.

Sidewalk display of coal samples
This is a sidewalk coal stand from the early 1900s. “Get your coal here! Great for throwing into the streets!”

8. Sheepdogs (1873)

“By-law respecting compensation to the owners of sheep destroyed by Dogs”

It’s the word “destroyed” that gets me.

Grazing sheep, Don Mills farm - [1909?]
Sheep at Don Mills farm. Watch out, guys!

7. Yours truly (1853) 

“ An act to amend the law relative to Nuisances and to authorize the appointment of a city crier”

Hey, that’s me! A nuisance and a city crier!

This picture is actually from the 1920s – that’s basically me right there!

6. Meta (1890)

“A By-law relating to the By-laws of the City of Toronto”


City council
City Hall from 1844-1899: Where all the magic happened.

5. Choo-choo-cha-ching!(1852)

“An Act to authorize the Mayor to subscribe for ten thousand Shares in the Stock of Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Union Railroad on behalf of the City of Toronto”

This one is compelling because it looks a little fishy. Turns out there is some scandal here, perhaps even the subject for a potential future post at the Crier.  To clarify, “Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Union Railroad” is a single railroad company.

Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Union Railroad
A train of the Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Union Railroad, aptly named “The Toronto”

4. Toronto Cowboy (1889) 

 “By-law to provide for paying rewards for the apprehension of horse thieves”

This would be a terrible thing – grand theft equine would be a very unfortunate event for any horse owner.  That’s like someone stealing your car and dog at the same time.  If I was alive in the 1890s I would definitely try to make my living as a vigilante horse rescuer, living off the plentiful rewards for apprehending outlaws who dared to pilfer a horse and ride it across the shores of Lake Ontario, my wide brimmed hat rippling in the wind as I made my daring chase, leaping over the Humber river, and tackling the offender into the mud as he looks over his shoulder with wide, screaming eyes.

Clearly this, coupled with number 1 on this top ten, make me imagine Toronto as if it was exactly like the Wild West, which is all kinds of false (and all kinds of historically irresponsible). But a comparison is all the more tempting when you consider this next by-law.

Bloor West & High Park
This is Bloor St. at High Park in the early 1900s. Could it be a horse thief on the horizon getting away?

3. Striken from the record (1851)

“An Act to regulate ten-pin Alleys and Bowling Saloons in the City of Toronto and liberties thereof”

As if saloons weren’t cool enough. Yeehaw.

Lawn Bowling
This isn’t the type of bowling referred to by that by-law, but these guys look like they would be very comfortable in a saloon.

2. The Hero law (1867)

“By-law to provide for rewarding those who distinguish themselves at Fires, etc.”

This is a nice, pleasant one.  It’s also nice if you mistakenly read “distinguish” as “extinguish” as I did.

Fire brigade
Fire brigade. Heroes in the making.

1. Living large (1839)

“An Act to repeal the laws now in force relative to Swine running at large in the City of Toronto and to authorize the forfeiture to the uses and benefit of the said City, of all Swine found running at large in the City of Toronto after this Act”

This is really close to the Hogtown Crier’s heart. This would probably be truly destructive to both the owner of the swine and to other property around town, but the image of a pig (or hog, if you will) gallivanting happily around, painting the town red is just quintessentially Hogtown, don’t you think?

Swine “arena” at the C.N.E. Looks like they’re all out in Hogtown living large!


If you just can’t get enough, here are a couple bonus by-laws to do with livestock gallivanting:

(1858): “An Act to provide more effectually for preventing Cattle, Horses, Swine, etc. from running at large within the city and liberties”

(1877):  “By-law to prevent Cattle, Sheep, or Pigs being driven upon or through any of the Streets of the City of Toronto upon which Boulevards have been constructed without being properly secured”

 So there you have it! Which was your favourite? Did I miss any you know of? Leave a comment below!

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