Living and Working with Domestic Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto

If you find yourself standing on the traffic island at the intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and Strachan Avenue in Toronto during the morning rush hour, you might be able to snap a picture of hundreds of live pigs making their way through the city (Map A). Animal rights activists call this spot, which has become a regular protest site, “Pig Island,” because when the traffic comes to a crawl in the morning, you can get a close-up look into the dozens of three-level trucks that ship live hogs to the Quality Meat Packers abattoir on Tecumseth Street every day (Map B). According to Toronto Star reporter, Catherine Porter, the trucks sometimes come to a complete stop, allowing photographers to get pictures of the vehicles “sprouting little pink pig snouts.” Shortly after their brief stop at “Pig Island” the hogs arrive at the abattoir where more than 5,000 are killed every day in the second largest pig slaughterhouse in Ontario. [1]

Located near the Liberty Village neighbourhood, a recently gentrified condominium district in downtown Toronto, the Quality Meat Packers abattoir has become a loadstone for animal rights activists and other local protest groups that have struggled for years in their efforts to combat animal cruelty and close the slaughtering facilities. Surrounded by trendy new condos, high-end restaurants, and a popular dog park, the urban abattoir, which first opened in 1914 as the Toronto municipal abattoir, seems to have out-stayed its welcome for many Torontonians, even those who continue to enjoy sizzling strips of bacon at their polished granite breakfast counters on Sunday mornings. The facility assaults the senses of many urban dwellers in the neighbourhood: the sight of hundreds of pigs crowded into the often filthy multi-level trucks; the piercing squeals of the hogs as they struggle under the oppressive heat and humidity of a Toronto summer or the bone-chilling frosts of the winter; the sometimes unbearable stench that is emitted from the meat rending facilities located on site. A pig slaughterhouse embedded within the urban core seems to be an affront to local residents and their ideas and attitudes about the place of domestic animals in the city. Activist groups, including Toronto Pig Save, seek to end what they consider inhumane and cruel processes by which animals are killed in such industrial operations. Ironically, in a city once colloquially referred to as ‘hogtown’ because of its numerous meatpacking facilities, those pigs jostling along Lakeshore Boulevard now seem somehow out of place in Toronto. To some extent, controversy over the Quality Meat Packers abattoir is the result of geography. The urban slaughterhouse brings city dwellers into uncomfortably close proximity to the animals that they kill and consume in a way that Torontonians have not commonly experienced for more than a century.

Map Points

The relationship between people and domestic animals in Toronto in the early twenty first century stands in sharp contrast to the city of the nineteenth century, a period when humans lived and worked alongside many other animal species. [2] Changes in the uses of domestic animals in cities over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which altered spatial relationships between humans and non-human animals, also influenced perceptions of urban environments. The protests against the Quality Meat Packers abattoir vividly illustrate Annabelle Sabloff’s findings in her study of contemporary urban attitudes toward animals in Toronto in which she argues that ordinary people believe that “nature is where the city is not,” and that animals are alien to urban environments, spaces intended solely for humans. This attitude, of course, was not always common. While Toronto has always been a multi-species environment, inhabited by human and non-human animals alike, cows, horses, pigs, and other domestic animals were once ubiquitous in Toronto’s urban environment, indispensable to the city-building process. Thousands of horses hauled and transported people and goods throughout the city. Cows produced litres of daily milk and other dairy products. Chickens provided eggs and meat for human consumption. And hogs tirelessly gorged themselves on refuse and other forms of marginal feed, enlarging their bodies ultimately to satisfy human appetites. This chapter seeks to take readers through some of the animal spaces of nineteenth-century Toronto, a time when people and domestic animals lived and worked in close proximity to one another in a shared habitat. [3]


Domestic Animal Encounters

Walking through the city of Toronto today an ordinary tourist is unlikely to encounter many domestic animals, other than dogs and cats, the most popular companion animals. The city has very nearly been purged of all live domestic animals used for food or labour, such as cattle and horses.  In the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century, however, Canadian cities had very substantial populations of livestock animals, roaming streets and lanes, hauling freight, and living in backyard stables. Exploring the history of domestic animals in the city of Toronto in the nineteenth century is, of course, a task circumscribed by the historical record. Animals do not produce written documents and, therefore, knowledge of their histories is limited to documents mediated by human perceptions and interests. The historical record offers only limited traces of the place of animals in the city. Nevertheless, a traveller armed with those records can still find the vestiges of once regular encounters with cows, horses, pigs and other domestic animals on the streets of Toronto.

Historical photography of Toronto reveals the extent to which domestic animals were a significant element of ordinary street landscapes of the nineteenth century. Very rarely the direct subject of photography, horses, dogs, and occasionally cattle were most often peripheral features of cityscape photographs found on the margins of the frame. For example, an 1893 photograph of a horse-drawn water cart on Adelaide Street West barely captured the head of the horse and inadvertently included a small dog running alongside the cart (Figure 1). A photograph of the streetcar that once linked St. Lawrence Market to Woodbine Avenue in 1892 also caught an unassuming cow on film on the far right of the frame (Figure 2).

Figure 1.) A horse-drawn water cart joined by a small dog on York Street looking north from Adelaide Street West, 1893. Source: Toronto Public Library (hereafter TPL) 7-49.

Figure 1.) A horse-drawn water cart joined by a small dog on York Street looking north from Adelaide Street West, 1893. Source: Toronto Public Library (hereafter TPL) 7-49.

Figure 2.) Horse-drawn streetcar with a cow alongside the tracks, 1892. Source: City of Toronto Archives (hereafter CTA), fonds 1244, item 1356.

Figure 2.) Horse-drawn streetcar with a cow alongside the tracks, 1892. Source: City of Toronto Archives (hereafter CTA), fonds 1244, item 1356.

A city engineer in the 1890s, while capturing images of Grand Trunk Railway crossings in the city, also managed to unintentionally immortalize an inconspicuous dog that had been casually standing on the sidewalk along York Street (Figure 3). The almost quotidian or unremarkable character of urban animals in nineteenth-century photography underlines the extent to which Toronto was a multi-species environment in which humans and non- human animals shared space. Encounters with large domestic animals were not uncommon.

Figure 3.) City Engineer’s Department photograph of Grand Trunk Railway crossing on York Street, 1890s. Source: CTA, fonds 200, series 376, 1B, item 7.

Figure 3.) City Engineer’s Department photograph of Grand Trunk Railway crossing on York Street, 1890s. Source: CTA, fonds 200, series 376, 1B, item 7.

Looking east down King Street at Church Street in the 1890s (Map C), Toronto residents would likely have seen a street filled with horses, the city’s most common labour animal (Figure 4). Pulling carts and streetcars throughout the city, Toronto’s horse population was central to urban transportation. Between 1861 and 1894, the street railway system for Toronto was powered by horses that stabled on King Street East (Map D). Soft street pavements, often covered with dirt and manure, were designed to accommodate hooves as much as wheels. According to census data, more than 7,400 horses lived and worked in Toronto by 1891. With such a large population of horses,  city council established rules and regulations to guide that traffic in order to avoid street obstructions and to guard public safety. The horse-ridden streets of Toronto could be a dangerous place for pedestrians. City by-laws required all horses to be harnessed and restrained from galloping. City council only permitted police to mount horses on Toronto’s streets. In spite of these regulations, however, it was common for horses to run amok down busy roadways from time to time, sometimes with tragic results. According to Clay McShane and Joel Tarr, in nineteenth-century North American cities “[r]unaways were common and vehicles frequently rolled over in turns.” For example, in February 1894 while visiting Toronto from London, Mary Panton was struck and killed by a horse that “took fright just above College street and kicking itself loose from the wagon dashed down Yonge to Queen”(Map E). The following winter, Constable Gearon of the Toronto Police was said to have saved the day when he managed to stop a team of runaway horses on Parliament Street from trampling several school children that “narrowly escaped injury.” On another occasion in September 1897, a horse drawing a market wagon loaded with fruit and vegetables“ran away on Queen street near Jones Avenue,” colliding with another wagon and“stopping traffic for some time.” Even an afternoon carriage ride in High Park in 1897 could result in tragic injury as when two Toronto women were thrown from their vehicle when their horse bolted and crashed into a railway crossing. [4]

Figure 4.) View of King Street looking east from Church Street, circa 1885-1895. Source: CTA, fonds 1478, item 33.

Figure 4.) View of King Street looking east from Church Street, circa 1885-1895. Source: CTA, fonds 1478, item 33.

By the end of the century, the horse was still the most common large domestic animal found in Toronto. But city residents had long raised many other species of animals, including cows, pigs, and even sheep, since the incorporation of the city in 1834. According to 1861 census records, city residents kept 59 sheep, 1,102 dairy cattle, and 1,368 pigs in Toronto. Over the remainder of the century, the population of horses and chickens in Toronto rose while cows, pigs, and sheep went into decline. Census enumerators documented the steady growth of chickens in the city, counting 16,714 on city lots in 1891 and 21,226 by 1911, making the chicken the most populous domestic food animal in Toronto by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. Dairy cows, on the other hand, gradually declined from 500 in 1891 to just 29 by 1911. [5]

The transformation of the domestic animal composition of Toronto by the turn of the century illustrates that urbanization was a process of the development of a multi-species habitat rather than the construction of human-exclusive space where livestock husbandry and other processes of agricultural production were driven from the city. This did not occur until later in the twentieth century. Toronto’s urban growth by the turn of the century did not simply displace the practice of animal husbandry to rural hinterlands; it altered these practices within the urban environment and reshaped the composition of domestic animals within the city and its immediate surroundings. Torontonians continued to raise animals and keep them on city lots and dwellings into the twentieth century. While fewer Toronto residents kept dairy cows in the 1910s than they had in the 1860s, more residents instead kept chickens and horses. As Stéphane Castonguay’s study of agriculture on the Montreal Plain from 1850 to 1950 argues, “when we consider the shared elements of the space and exchanges linking city and country, along with the ecology of their production and the dynamics relating to the transformation of their environment, we realize that country is not absent from the city. Rather, it is reinvented, with agricultural and urban environments coexisting side by side.”This was certainly true for livestock husbandry in Toronto. The transformation of the domestic animal population of Toronto, including the decline of dairy cows, sheep, and swine toward the end of the nineteenth century, reflected the effects of crowding, the industrialization of animal slaughter and meatpacking, and the difficulty of keeping large animals in confined spaces. In response, Toronto residents changed their patterns of livestock husbandry, focusing more on horses and chickens while continuing the practice of sharing space within the urban environment with domestic animals. As such, even into the early decades of the twentieth century, encounters with domestic animals on the streets of Toronto were far more common than they are today. [6]


Order and Animals

Just to the southeast of the former location of the Toronto Street Railway stables at the intersection of Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue was the site of one of three municipal pounds in the 1890s (Map F) where city pound-keepers held Toronto’s delinquent animals. While standing at this intersection today one would be hard-pressed to find any livestock animals at all, this site once held many hundreds of cows, pigs, horses, and other stray animals that wandered the city across property boundaries. Because urban dwellers shared space with so many different domestic animals in nineteenth-century Toronto, the city council used a series of municipal by-laws to regulate and manage the interactions between humans and non- human animals in the city.

Such efforts to manage the domestic animal population through regulation pre-date the incorporation of Toronto in 1834. Continuous Euro-American settlement at the site of present-day Toronto began in the summer of 1793 with the establishment of the town of York as a defence outpost along the north shore of Lake Ontario. Founded by the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, York was soon selected as the colonial capital by December 1793. Within four years, the population of this town grew to 241. York developed a small network of streets and buildings clustered along the lakeshore, with a population of about 625 people by 1813. Those few hundred human settlers at the town of York kept a variety of domestic animals and practiced a form of free-range animal husbandry, allowing their livestock to forage unattended throughout the town. Occasionally the presence of free-roaming domestic livestock within a growing, dense human settlement led to conflict. For example, a York resident outlined one such instance in an 1811 letter to the York Gazette in which he described the practice of retributive livestock mutilation in the town:“If a latent desire of revenge is cherished towards any person who may own cattle, by some miscreant whose mind is rendered callous by the indulgence of vicious inclinations, or if an[y] horse or cow may happen to stray on the premises of those whose breasts are devoid of feeling; the poor animal, whose only desire is the gratifying his appetite, feels the effects of their brutal rage.” The troubled York inhabitant recounted a startling case of two horses that were “accustomed to run on the Commons here,” but were found “cut in a most shocking manner with an axe, knife, or some other sharp instrument.” York residents also came into conflict over pigs found in the streets. Many town-dwellers in York considered swine to be nuisances and obstructions. These animals were often the subject of petitions and complaints to local magistrates. In May 1812, the Clerk of the Peace for the Home District publicly warned that“The owners of Swine are also cautioned against allowing them to run at large in the said Town or neighbourhood after the date hereof, otherwise prompt measures will be taken to prevent such trespassing.” [7]

Conflict over free-roaming animals persisted even after the city was formally incorporated in 1834 as both human and non-human populations of the city grew. Domestic animals were so ubiquitous within the emerging urban environment that they immediately fell under the regulatory control of the municipal government following the incorporation of the City of Toronto in 1834. In fact, the regulation of domestic animals was so central  a component of early municipal governance in Upper Canada that the provision granting this authority in the act of incorporation for Toronto appeared on the first page of the legislation. The act of incorporation granted the newly formed common council for the City of Toronto the power “to regulate or restrain Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Goats, Swine and other animals, Geese or other poultry, from running at large within the limits of the said City of Liberties thereof; and to prevent and regulate the running at large of Dogs.” Furthermore, it permitted the council to prevent riding of horses or driving of cattle on sidewalks. There were even some animal cruelty prevention provisions within the city’s act of incorporation which empowered the council “to prevent the excessive beating or other inhuman treatment of horses, cattle, or other beasts, in the Public Highways.” Non- human animals were indirectly regulated through a number of different municipal powers, which granted the council control over other aspects of the urban environment, including fishing, public markets, roads and streets, and public health. From the outset, through a broad range of powers, the municipal government in Toronto held extensive regulatory authority to mediate the interactions between people and animals. [8]

Complaints over trespass and property damage continued to be a problem for residents of the former town of York into the 1830s. The first city council for Toronto attempted to respond to these complaints by establishing nuisance and pound by-laws to restrain the practice of animal husbandry in the city in order to regulate property relations and bring order to the streets and sidewalks. Toronto’s nuisance and pound by-laws did not seek to entirely exclude non-human domestic animals from the urban environment. Instead, they created legitimate space within the city’s regulatory framework to accommodate the presence of horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, and other animals that lived and worked in the city.

The council passed its first nuisance by-law in May 1834, in part to respond to the urgent need to regulate the use of domestic animals within the urban environment. Section III of the first nuisance by-law for the City of Toronto stipulated that “no swine shall be permitted to run or be at large in any of the streets or any of the sidewalks of this city.” The by-law imposed fines for such offences, and the city appointed a man named Issac White as the first pound-keeper for Toronto to enforce the prohibition on free-running pigs. But within a year’s time the by-law seemed to be largely ineffective at controlling Toronto’s swine population. A group of city residents forwarded a petition to the council in August 1835 complaining of stray pigs roaming freely throughout Toronto, calling upon the council “to enforce the City Ordinances against Swine running at large within the City.” Such complaints continued into 1836, finally compelling the city council to address the problem. James S. Small, one of the councillors for St. David Ward, led the effort to place stricter municipal controls over domestic animals in Toronto. In 1836, he drafted and introduced a new dog licensing system which required dog owners to collar and tag their animals. Small, along with other councillors, also pressed for the passage of a more comprehensive pound by-law to limit free-range animal husbandry in Toronto. [9]

Recognizing that its previous efforts to control free-running pigs were “ineffectual,” the city council passed its first pound by-law in October 1837, empowering pound-keepers and all city constables to capture and impound any “Horses, Oxen, Bulls, Sheep, and Swine that shall be running at large within the said City.” Furthermore, the by-law granted authority to the city pound-keepers to capture any animals found trespassing on “the land of any person or persons having enclosed the same by a good and lawful fence.” The pound by-law sought to protect stationary property from free-roaming animals, a form of mobile property. [10]

If you found yourself anywhere in the city north of Queen Street, east of Parliament Street or west of Peter Street in the 1840s, you still might have come across free-roaming cows (Map). While the first pound by-law prohibited certain animals from roaming unattended in Toronto, cattle were excluded from this prohibition. The council still permitted the free-range grazing of cattle in Toronto outside of private property boundaries and city streets and alleys. Unoccupied lots and other spaces in Toronto remained permissible grazing territory within the early urban environment of the city. In 1840, however, the city council began to set limits on this practice, gradually constraining the geographic space for the grazing of cattle. The by-law itself noted that “great inconvenience is experienced in the City from the number of Horned cattle that are allowed to run at large about the principal Streets.” In particular, the council was concerned about the crowding of such animals near the city’s hay market and weigh house where farmers from outside Toronto would bring their animals for sale at the public markets (Figure 5). The by-law granted the pound-keeper the authority to impound any cow found running at large between Peter Street and Berkeley Street, south of Queen Street. Just five years later, those boundaries expanded further west to Parliament Street. [11]

Figure 5.) Cattle at Jarvis Street and Front Street near St. Lawrence Market, circa 1885.  Source: CTA, fonds 1478, item 21.

Figure 5.) Cattle at Jarvis Street and Front Street near St. Lawrence Market, circa 1885. Source: CTA, fonds 1478, item 21.

By the late 1850s, the city council had set further constraints on Toronto’s free-running cattle, making it more difficult to keep such animals in the city. In 1858, amendments to the municipal pound by-law established three city pounds and enclosed the remainder of the space within the city limits for free-range animal husbandry. The amendments in By-law 260 required city pound-keepers to capture any “Horses, Oxen, Bulls, Horned Cattle, Sheep, Goats, and Swine that shall be found running or straying at large on the Streets of said City,” except for those “being driven from or to pasture by their owners, servants or Agents.” This exception was finally eliminated in 1876 when all free-range animal husbandry was entirely banned in Toronto. [12]


Buying and Eating Animals

To the west of the former site of the Eastern Avenue pound along King Street is St. Lawrence Hall (Map G), site of the original St. Lawrence Market building, which is now south of Front Street. The colonial government of Upper Canada first designated the site as the market block for the town of York in 1803 where a small wooden building was constructed to accommodate the town’s first public market. This structure was later replaced by a brick building in 1831 and became the first city hall for Toronto in 1834. Today’s St. Lawrence Market building (Map H), where city residents and tourists now gather to purchase cheese, bread, meats, vegetables, and other fresh groceries, was built in 1968 to replace the brick building north of Front Street, which had once been the centre of the commercial and political life of Toronto in the nineteenth century. It was also one of the primary places where Torontonians bought and sold live animals in the city.

In addition to constraining the movement of domestic animals in the city  in the nineteenth century through by-law regulations, Toronto’s city council also sought to control the sale and slaughter of such animals. In May 1834, the city council passed By-law 2, “An act to regulate the Public Markets” establishing rules and regulations for public market houses, butchers, and other retailers of agricultural produce, governing the bodies of domestic animals as part of the urban food supply. While this by-law was intended to regulate trade in fresh foods, particularly meats, it was also designed to guard public health and to a lesser extent animal health. To ensure that the supply of meats to urban consumers fell under the watch of the city market clerk and health inspectors, the by-law stipulated that “Market Houses shall be the only places for selling meat.” This provided a controlled market for butchers and a source of revenue through license fees for the city, but  it also permitted a degree of quality control to prevent the sale of “any unwholesome, stale, emaciated, blown, stuffed, tainted, putrid or measly pork, meat, poultry, or other provision.” Toronto had eventually established three public market houses by the 1860s, including the St. Lawrence Market, St. Andrew Market, and St. Patrick Market (Map H, J). The city market clerk required butchers to keep their stalls “in a clean and sweet state,” and their tables “clean and free from filth or dirt.” Live animals, under this first public market by-law, could be sold at public markets, but they were to be kept out of the interior of market buildings and clear from all exterior sidewalks and other walkways. One year later, an amendment to the public market by-law restricted authority for the slaughtering of live animals within the city limits to licensed butchers. [13]

Subsequent amendments to the public market by-law for Toronto loosened municipal control over domestic animals in the urban food supply while still attempting to protect both human and animal health. In 1851, the city council liberalized its animal slaughter regulations, permitting the establishment of slaughterhouses outside of the public market buildings so long as they were kept “in such a manner as shall prevent nuisances to the adjoining premises or neighbourhood, and that no offal or impurity shall be allowed to remain in or near such slaughter house.” These new slaughterhouses were subject to inspection by city health officers at least once every two weeks. Prohibition of the sale of meats outside of the public markets in private butcher shops was finally lifted in the summer of 1858 when butchers could operate shops outside of a five-hundred-yard radius from any public market building. The effects of this change in the regulation of butcher shops were very quickly realized. For example, in 1880, the city directory listed one hundred sixty-five shops located outside of the public markets (Figure 6). The geographic distribution of butcher shops in Toronto reveals that these shops spread with the growth of the city along major streets and street railway lines (Figure 7). This change in the regulation of butcher shops reflected changing retail consumer demand as Torontonians sought places to purchase meats closer to their homes. These new butcher shops were still subject to all licensing and inspection provisions of the public market by-law, however, and the requirement to keep shops “in a clean and proper state.” [14]

Figure 6.) Advertisement for one of one hundred sixty-five butcher shops listed in the 1880 city directory for Toronto.  Source: Toronto Directory for 1880 (Toronto: Might & Taylor, 1880) p. 11.

Figure 6.) Advertisement for one of one hundred sixty-five butcher shops listed in the 1880 city directory for Toronto. Source: Toronto Directory for 1880 (Toronto: Might & Taylor, 1880) p. 11.

In 1858, the sale of large live animals at the public market was restricted to “Calves, Sheep and Swine which may be in a farmer’s wagon properly secured from being or running at large.” The city council established cattle markets for horses, cattle, and other larger domestic animals on the vacant lots adjacent to St. Andrew’s Market in the city’s west end and south of the St. Lawrence Market (Map H, I). Following the creation of the cattle markets, the council amended the public market by-law to ensure that no animals “brought into the City for Sale shall be sold in any of the Public Streets or other place in the said City before they have been at the Cattle Market and the said fees have been paid thereon.” Furthermore, to protect these animals and consumers, the by-law required sellers to fasten their animals to the market stalls “to secure them from being injured by any of the other animals or doing injury to any person or to each other.” While rudimentary, these early market by-laws provided the first regulations to manage the public health challenges associated with the sale and distribution of meats and live domestic animals in Toronto. [15]

Map of Toronto showing major street railway routes and butcher shop locations to 1880. Source: W.C. Chewett & Co., City of Toronto: Compiled from Surveys made to the present date, 1866.

Map of Toronto showing major street railway routes and butcher shop locations to 1880. Source:
W.C. Chewett & Co., City of Toronto: Compiled from Surveys made to the present date, 1866.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century it became less common for Torontonians to purchase live domestic animals at public markets for slaughter and consumption. Instead, urban consumers increasingly turned to retail grocers who sold cut and packaged meats from large industrial meatpacking facilities. One of the earliest and most prominent examples of such operations was the William Davies & Company, Toronto Pork Packing Establishment. Davies, an English immigrant, started his provisions busi- ness in Toronto in 1857 and eventually expanded to develop one of the city’s first large-scale slaughter and meatpacking facilities near Front Street East and the Don River (Map K). The enormous two-acre operation was located directly adjacent to the Grand Trunk Railway lines, which delivered live hogs for slaughter. In 1886, with state-of-the-art machinery, including special scraping and singeing machines to remove bristles from the pigs, the company killed and processed about 75,000 hogs into cured meats in a single year. William Davies & Company was one of many industrial meat- packing businesses to operate in Toronto in the late nineteenth century, establishing the ‘hogtown’ reputation for the city. In 1892, a large portion of the company was sold to Joseph Flavelle, a prominent provisions merchant who eventually took over as managing director, expanding the company’s slaughtering capacity to nearly a half million hogs per year by 1900. [16]

Small slaughterhouse facilities, which had expanded throughout the nineteenth century, eventually went into decline and drew attention from city officials over public health concerns, which inspired the decision of the city council to build and operate a municipal abattoir in 1914. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, city health inspectors had found live cattle and other animals to be living in squalid conditions at the various small slaughterhouses in Toronto (Figure 8). The Board of Health recommended that the city operate its own large-scale public industrial slaughtering facilities in order to guarantee the safety of the meat supply for Toronto residents. The City of Toronto operated its own abattoir from 1914 to 1959 before selling the facilities to private operators (Figure 9). Today the former municipal abattoir is operated by Quality Meat Packers, one of five federally regulated animal slaughtering facilities located within Toronto.

City health department photograph of a pig at an old slaughterhouse, 1914. Source: CTA, fonds 200, series 372, subseries 32, item 346.

City health department photograph of a pig at an old slaughterhouse, 1914. Source: CTA, fonds 200, series 372, subseries 32, item 346.

Toronto municipal abattoir, 1916. Source: CTA, fonds 1231, item 513.

Toronto municipal abattoir, 1916. Source: CTA, fonds 1231, item 513.



By the end of the nineteenth century, the composition of domestic animals and their geographic distribution in Toronto had changed. For a time, city residents continued to raise horses and chickens in increasing numbers while fewer people kept cows, pigs, and sheep. One could still purchase  live animals at the public markets, but it was increasingly more common for such animals to be slaughtered, processed, and repackaged for sale in large industrial meatpacking facilities. The electrification of the street railway system in 1894 and the adoption of automobiles by the 1920s and 1930s eventually made horses far less common sights on major city streets.

Over the course of the twentieth century, Toronto and other Canadian cities underwent a homogenization of the legitimate uses of domestic animals in urban environments. These processes of transformation occurred over many decades as humans gradually extirpated domestic labour and food animals from cities. By the mid-twentieth century, the most common domestic animals in Toronto were companion animals, particularly dogs and cats. The everyday encounters between humans and domestic animals on city streets and sidewalks became far less common than in the nineteenth century. Instead of passing horses, cattle, and pigs, Torontonians by the beginning of the twenty-first century were more likely to encounter the city’s growing population of wild animals, which now includes pigeons, seagulls, coyotes, foxes, skunks, squirrels, and raccoons. The homogenization of experiences with domestic animals altered human perceptions of urban space and the role of animals in cities. Humans no longer lived and worked in such intimate proximity to domestic livestock animals, used for food and labour, and they eventually came to see these uses as inappropriate in the city.

Standing on Pig Island watching thousands of live hogs roll past now seems out of place in Toronto. Livestock husbandry in the city is almost totally unknown. In recent years, groups within the city have attempted to amend municipal by-law regulations to once again permit residents to raise chickens in Toronto. While this urban chicken movement has experienced success in other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Victoria, and Guelph, Toronto’s city council has yet to welcome chickens into the backyards of its neighbourhoods. During one debate, Toronto Councillor Frances Nunziata told urban chicken advocates that “[i]f you want to have chickens, then buy a farm, go to a farm.” Her blunt response to proposals to permit city residents to keep backyard hens underlines the contemporary perception that domestic animals and people should not share space within the urban environment. It speaks to the discomfort that many Torontonians have with the domestic animals that continue to inhabit the city, including the thousands of pigs killed and processed in the Quality Meat Packers abattoir. Some are disturbed by industrial slaughtering processes, which are in part responsible for the increasing segregation of humans and domestic animals. The restricted use of domestic animals as pets in cities and prohibitions on livestock husbandry have limited human perceptions of urban environments, reinforcing the idea that cities are places devoid of nature and exclusively intended for human use, rather than habitable environments for humans and non-human creatures alike. [18]

This article first appeared in Kheraj, Sean. “Living and Working with Domestic Animals in Nineteenth-Century Toronto” in Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region, edited by L. Anders Sandberg, Stephen Bocking, Colin Coates, and Ken Cruikshank, 120-140. Hamilton: L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History, 2013.


[1] Catharine Porter, “Pigs ‘are just like dogs. They wage their tails’” Toronto Star, 10 May 2012, A23.

[2] In this article, I use the term “domestic animal” to refer to species of animals that have been tamed, bred in captivity, and whose phenotypic characteristics are dependent upon artificial selection. As such, this chapter also recognizes that the domestication of animals is both a biological and cultural process, particularly the cultural distinction of domestic animals as property as described in Nerissa Russel, “The Wild Side of Animal Domestication” Society & Animals 10 (3) 2002: 285-302.

[3] Annabelle Sabloff, Reordering the Natural World: Humans and Animals in the City (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001) 7.

[4] Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Census of Canada, 1890-91, Vol. 4 (Ottawa: 1897), 174; City of Toronto Archives (hereafter CTA), By-law 4, “An Act concerning Nuisances and the good Government of the City” 30 May 1834; Clay McShane and Joel Tarr, Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 91; Toronto Star, 17 February 1894, 8; 6 February 1895, 4; 30 September 1897, 2; 11 August 1897, 4.

[5] Bureau of Agriculture and Statistics, Census of the Canadas, 1860-61: Agricultural Produce, Mills, Manufactories, Houses, Schools, Public Buildings, Places of Worship, &c (Quebec: 1864) 90-95; Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Census of Canada, 1890-91, Vol. 4 (Ottawa: 1897), 174- 175; Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Census of Canada, 1911: Agriculture, Vol. 4 (Ottawa: 1914), 342-43.

[6] Stéphane Castonguay, “Agriculture on the Montreal Plain, 1850-1950: Urban Market and Metropolitan Hinterland” in Metropolitan Natures: Environmental Histories of Montreal, eds., Stéphane Castonguay and Michèle Dagenais (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011),187.

[7] G.P. de T. Glazebrook, The Story of Toronto (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), 13; Edith Firth, ed., The Town of York, 1793-1815: A Collection of Documents of Early Toronto (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1962), lxxvii; “Mutilation of Livestock” York Gazette, 31 August 1811 in The Town of York, 1793-1815, 105; “Public Nuisances and Swine” York Gazette, 1 May 1812 in The Town of York, 1793-1815, 108.

[8] “An act to extend the Limits of the Town of York; to erect the said Town into a City; and to Incorporate it under the name of the City of Toronto,” 6 March 1834, Statutes of His Majesty’s province of Upper Canada (Toronto: G. Tiffany, 1834) 73; 81.

[9] City of Toronto Archives (hereafter CTA). By-law 4, “An Act concerning Nuisances and the good Government of the City” 30 May 1834; CTA. Journal of the Common Council of the City of Toronto, 1834, 24 August 1835; 21 April 1836; 10 August 1836; 5 December 1836; CTA. By-law 23, “An Act the more effectually to provide for the collecting the Tax imposed on Dogs and to provide for their Destruction in certain Cases” 27 May 1836.

[10] CTA. By-law 32, “An Act to establish a Pound and appoint one or more Pound Keepers for the City of Toronto” 6 October 1837.

[11] CTA. By-law 44, “An Act to restrain Horned Cattle from running at large in certain portions of the City” 20 May 1840; By-law 101,“An Act  to reduce into on Act the several Laws now in force regulating Pounds” 8 December 1845.

[12] CTA. By-law 260, “An Act to provide more effectually for preventing Cattle, Horses, Swine &c from running at large within the City and Liberties” 14 June 1858; By-law 474, “A By-law to provide for the appointment of Pound-keepers, and to regulate the Pounds in the City of Toronto” 25 September 1876, A Second Consolidation of the By-Laws of the City of Toronto (Toronto: Hunter, Rose & Company, 1876).

[13] CTA. By-law 2, “An act to regulate the Public Markets,” 27 May 1834; By-law 10,  “An act to regulate the Public Market and to repeal an Act of the same Title,” 8 May 1835.

[14] CTA, By-law 173, “An act to amend the law relating to the Public Markets of the City of Toronto” 12 September 1851; By-law 263, “An act to regulate the Public Markets of the City of Toronto,” 13 July 1858.

[15] CTA. By-law 273, “To regulate the Public Markets of the City of Toronto” 21 February 1859; By-law 313, “Respecting the Public Markets and Weigh Houses” 22 March 1860.

[16] Michael Bliss, “William Davies” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 1921-1930, Vol. XV accessed 11 September 2012; Industries of Canada: Historical and Commercial Sketches of Toronto and Environs (Toronto: M.G. Bixby, 1886), 86.

[17] Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “List of Federally Registered Meat Establishments and their Licensed Operators” accessed 3 September 2012

[18] David Rider, “Ban on urban chickens upheld” Toronto Star 25 January 2012, p. GT1; Anthony Davis, “Running a-fowl of the Constitution: A Court Hears Why Keeping Hens in the City is Really a Charter Right” Maclean’s 125 (March 2012): 22.


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About Sean Kheraj

Sean Kheraj is an assistant professor in the Department of History at York University. He researches and teaches in the areas of environmental and Canadian history. In addition to being a co-editor of, he is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at

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