Abstract: The City of Toronto Building Code and the Limits of Urban Progressivism

James Hull


Like other late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century reform movements, urban reform was largely a phenomenon of middle-class, Anglophone, big-city dwellers. The cast of characters included business people, professionals, social gospellers, planners, journalists, and some civic politicians. They wanted a more activist city government but not more democracy. Reformers tried to restrict the power of the Council while expanding the scope of city governance. The rebuilding of Toronto after its Great Fire of 1904 had been in part shaped by the municipal Building By-Law overseen by the City Architect's office. By 1914, however, that office was under assault both from builders and reformist members of Toronto's City Council and finally the subject of a judicial inquiry. The outcome of that inquiry would include a reorganized office of the City Architect, a new City Architect with stronger academic and professional credentials, a solemn promise from the City Council to avoid interfering in his work, and a building code that caught up with new practices in reinforced concrete construction. An examination of this particular episode in part confirms existing understandings of the strategies of progressive reforms but also deepens our understanding of the limitations of their success in shaping both urban spaces and professional hegemonies.