One Book: Hallam of Toronto


Hallam had never really seriously contemplated failure. He’d always thought he had been chosen over his older brother to bring the family name to Canada because his father had more confidence in him. Now he thought perhaps has was Isaac sent up the Lord’s mountain.
— from Consolation, by Michael Redhill, page 86 (Anchor Canada paperback edition, 2007)

Michael Redhill makes use of a few familiar Toronto surnames for characters in Consolation. Perhaps most prominent of these is J.G Hallam, late of Camden Town, sent to Toronto by his father to open the first New World branch of his family’s apothecary business.

The real Hallam, the one for whom the street in the west end is named, was the man who led the campaign for the creation of the Toronto Public Library. John Hallam was born in 1833, and came to Toronto from Chorley, Lancashire, England in September of 1856. He started a business as a hide, wool, and leather merchant, and eventually became an alderman.

A literacy advocate who taught himself how to read, Hallam was responsible for Ontario’s Free Library Act of 1882, campaigned for the city’s 1883 Free Library Bylaw, and served as the first chairman of the board of the Toronto Public Library when it opened the following year. He presided over the opening ceremonies of the library’s first branch, in the Mechanics’ Institute building on the corner of Church and Adelaide streets.

Hallam died on June 21, 1900 due to complications of an asthma attack. He is buried, with five other members of his family, in an underground vault in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Image courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

5 comments

  1. Thanks for the extra background; I read the book last year and loved it!

  2. Oh, I never thought of that – Hallam being a street in the west end. I’ve been to that
    street – my daughter once rented a terrible apartment there – it was a roach haven.

    Sorry to give the street a bad name, if anyone happens to live on it.

  3. I enjoyed this book – finished it up in time for the monthly discussion at High Park Library last night.

    Not the be-all-end-all book of Toronto’s history in fiction form, mind you . . . other books who give a lot of the city’s history are:

    In The Skin of a Lion
    The Piano Man’s Daughter
    Fugitive Pieces

    I’d like to see more books like this.

  4. I love this street more than anything!

    Thanks for the backgrounder.

  5. I will certainly search out this material. I am John Hallam’s great granddaughter. Daughter of Joseph Garth Worden, son of Julia Exia Hallam whose father was John. Since John, it is the tradition to middle name each first born with the Hallam name. It is still carrying on. Thanks so much. Val Courneyea

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