Vice & Virtue

About the Exhibit

Toronto Public Library is pleased to present Vice & Virtue, a new exhibit that looks at moral reform in Toronto as it faced rapid growth and industrialization at the turn-of-the-century.

The nickname “Toronto the Good” dates back to moral crusader William Holmes Howland who was elected mayor in 1886. Howland vowed to rid the city of drinking and vice, and his campaign was perfectly timed. Journalists of the day capitalized on rising middle-class fears about the unsavory aspects of urban life, publishing salacious stories of bawdy houses, opium dens and drunken debauchery. Meanwhile, temperance, social purity and Sunday observance organizations lobbied for legal and social reforms to curb the “evils” of city life.

Vice & Virtue explores changing attitudes and increasing regulation of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, gambling, homosexuality, juvenile delinquency, and prostitution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Featuring tabloids, photographs, manuscripts, posters and pamphlets from the library's Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, the exhibit reveals a seedier side of our strait-laced city.

WCTU Toronto. Photographer unknown, 1889. From the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

Prohibition pin. Toronto: Dominion Alliance, Ontario Branch, ca. 1910

Temperance Lesson No. 4. Toronto: Dominion Scientific Temperance Committee, ca. 1920s.

Guided Tours

Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Meet inside the TD Gallery. Drop in. No registration required.

To organize group tours or class visits, please contact:

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