The Toronto Film Map: exploring the city in TV and film

Inspired by the Toronto Public Library’s maps linking Toronto neighbourhoods to the poems and books set within them, this project began in late 2014 as a collaboration between the University of Toronto’s Media Commons and Map & Data Library, to show off the city in film and to highlight the media collections of the University of Toronto Libraries. As big fans of the Degrassi franchise, we were also excited by every new post on the Degrassi Panthers project, in which artist Brian Donnelly ambitiously and painstakingly researches the locations of many classic moments in the show’s history. Thanks to the introduction of the Chief Librarian’s Innovation Grant program, we were able to bring this project to fruition in 2017-2018.

Click here to launch the Toronto Film Map

What's on the map?

In order to keep the scope of our project manageable, we established the following criteria for the titles we included on the map:

  • Titles must be full-length feature films or television shows set (not just filmed) in Toronto.

  • Experimental films and documentaries are not included.

  • Titles must be available for acquisition for the Media Commons lending collection. We have not included films and TV shows solely available on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Shows that were never given a home media release are also not present on this map, so no Street Legal, unfortunately.

    • Do you know of films that should be on the map, but aren’t? We’d be happy to add them to our collection. Please email Rachel E. Beattie with your recommendations and links to purchase them.

Links to circulating items in the University of Toronto Libraries catalogue are available for all points on the map, and we’ve identified what is available through the Toronto Public Library, as well. In some cases, Media Commons holds archival collections related to the production of these films.

Set in Toronto?

Toronto is explicitly named as the setting of many of the movies and TV shows on the map, as the city and its institutions are spoken of by characters and referenced on screen – Dead Ringers opens with a title card reading “Toronto, 1954”, then advances three decades with a second title. We appreciated seeing films that featured travel on public transit or in cars maintain their geographic continuity as they travel through neighbourhoods, from the multi-camera trip on the 300 Bloor-Danforth in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to the low-budget westbound skateboard trip from the Yonge line to Liberty Village in Sugar. Real-life institutions make prominent appearances, from the (gone, but not forgotten) Oak Leaf Steam Baths in Super 8 ½ and City in Panic to the Rivoli concert venue and Zanzibar strip club, which both appear in multiple titles.

Local newspapers and magazines publish fake editions that appear on screen, like a Toronto Star cast aside on a desk (Kids in the Hall) or cut out and framed on a wall like the Toronto Life article about the family at the centre of Chloe, lingered on long enough to be legible. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World begins with him reading Eye Weekly, but by the end of the movie, his band Sex Bob-omb makes the cover of NOW.

In other cases, the city as a whole isn’t explicitly mentioned, but the namedropping of neighbourhood and street names makes them unmistakably a product of Toronto. What other city has cops solving homicides in Rosedale one day and High Park the next? Orphan Black never actually states where it’s set, but the Toronto geography is unmistakable (plus it’s a quick drive to one of the clones’ houses in Scarborough, as mentioned in the first season). Fake businesses and schools that don’t exist in real life aren’t enough to tip the scale, nor are landmark buildings outside the city, like in Cracked, which is referred to as Toronto, but the exterior shots of police headquarters are shot at Hamilton City Hall.

We haven’t included classics like SCTV and Police Academy III: Back in Training, which both refer to wall maps of Toronto in establishing the geography of certain scenes—however, SCTV is definitely a production of Melonville, and the Police Academy cops use American money. Once clues that mark films and shows as “not Toronto” seep into the feeling of the film, we decided not to include them on the map.

Our use of maps and Geographic Information Systems

Our project was created in ArcGIS and hosted via ArcGIS Online, which all University of Toronto faculty, staff, and students have access to via the Map & Data Library. While we initially intended on using mapping software just to make the map interactive, we soon realized that it provided a means for us to identify where some of these films took place, with the help of the open and licensed datasets that we have access to through MDL. If you pause Nurse.Fighter.Boy, a film with a great amount of time spent in Toronto’s residential laneways, pausing the film during one scene when Jude calls down from her apartment window to Silence in the parking lot below allows you to read “BARBER PARKING ONLY” spraypainted on the brick wall behind him. Running an attribute query on DMTI Spatial’s historic Enhanced Points of Interest dataset to find all barbershops and hair salons operating in Toronto at the time of its production allowed us to isolate all of them located within 25 metres of a laneway, using the City of Toronto’s open Centreline dataset as a reference. Where was Margarita employed as a domestic worker in the film of the same name? By using the city’s 3D Massing Dataset and Address Points open data layers, we were able to identify three-storey houses next door to three-storey houses that have the address number 46, and the location was ultimately confirmed by the film’s director.

At the Map & Data Library, we use a large number of paper-based sources in our work researching historic landscapes. The donut shop in Blood & Donuts is adjacent to a Petro-Canada gas station, but our searches of old city directories (think the phone book, but also organized by address, not just by name) turned up fruitless. We thought: if the gas station was torn down sometime after the film came out, we might be able to see the traces of the underground fuel tanks – or the parking lots that replaced them – on historic aerial photos. Same with Paris, France, released in 1993: the one shot out a window shows the downtown core of skyscrapers in the background, with the heavily-industrial landscape of Liberty Village in the foreground, full of warehouses and factories that no longer exist. The water tower and neon Inglis billboard provided us with just enough information to get our bearings and identify the building it was shot from. The wealth of digital and historical sources we have in our collections are applicable to any kind of locational problem-solving – even those just seen on TV!

Copyright 

The University of Toronto Libraries takes its copyright obligations seriously and makes every effort to ensure that the legal rights of both copyright owners and users are respected.

The Toronto Film Map asserts no claim of copyright in the film stills included in this collection and cannot authorize any reproduction or further use of the content.
 
As stewards of Canadian film and television collections, coordinators of the Toronto Film Map have obtained permission from rights holders to include film stills in this project where possible. 
 
The Toronto Film Map project coordinators respect the decision of certain studios to decline requests to use still images in this project; while these films are featured in the map, we have used photographs of the location instead. We encourage interested parties to watch these films which are all available in the Media Commons Library collection.
 
We are grateful to the many rights holders who allowed film stills to be included in this project. If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material within this collection that you believe should be removed, please contact us and we will respond to your inquiry as soon as possible.

Credits and thanks

Rachel E. Beattie

Assistant Media Archivist
Media Commons, University of Toronto

Jordan Hale

Digital Repositories Librarian
University of Waterloo
formerly
Original Cataloguer & Reference Specialist
Map & Data Library, University of Toronto

Keith Nolwenn Bellec-Warrick

Research Assistant
Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

Brock Silversides

Director
Media Commons, University of Toronto

This project was generously funded by a Chief Librarian’s Innovation Grant at the University of Toronto Libraries, which is helping us launch this project with a conversation about Toronto on film with the Royal Canadian Movie Podcast, hosted by Becky Shrimpton and Cameron Maitland. We are exceptionally grateful to all of the rights holders who licensed their works for use in this project. David Fleischer’s Reel Toronto column at Torontoist documented many of the titles on our list over the years, and was a great resource for identifying the locations of many films shot in the city, as was Geoff Pevere’s book Toronto On Film. University of Toronto librarians Kate Johnson and Joan Links helped acquire Toronto films and make them available through the Media Commons collections, Mark Pellegrino offered superb technical assistance, and Mike Hamilton patiently attended to our circulation needs. We thank Marcel Fortin at the Map & Data Library for his assistance with ArcGIS Online and Esri Story Maps. Maureen Morin is a fabulous graphic designer and her work in promoting this project has been integral to its launch.