Thomas F. McIlwraith Collection


Thomas F. McIlwraith (Jr.) (b. 1941) was born to Beulah and Thomas F. McIlwraith (Sr.) in Toronto, Canada in 1941. The son of a prominent University of Toronto anthropologist with the same name, McIlwraith (Jr.) is the sixth “Thomas McIlwraith” in his family line. He attended the University of Toronto where he obtained a B.A. in 1963 and an M.A. in 1966.

From 1966 to 1970, McIlwraith resided in Madison, Wisconsin while pursuing a PhD (1973) in Historical Geography at the University of Wisconsin. McIlwraith and his wife, Duane, who taught French in Evansville at the time, settled on South Park Street near the main line of the Chicago and North Western Railway. McIlwraith frequently shot images of the line during his walks to campus along Badger Road (prior to the construction of the Beltline Highway). His route also passed the junction of the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago and North Western on Lake Monona. McIlwraith particularly enjoyed photographing the Milwaukee Road’s ‘Varsity’ at this spot during the UW football season.

McIlwraith’s professional interests in agricultural and transport history also led him to photograph locations outside of Madison. For instance, during day trips in rural Wisconsin, McIlwraith shot the Illinois Central Railroad near Bellevue as well as at the Stewart Tunnel and the Milwaukee Road at New Lisbon, Portage, Columbus, and Wisconsin Rapids. McIlwraith also seized the opportunity to shoot photographs during his semiannual travels between Madison and Toronto, frequently varying his driving route to pass by different locations. Images captured during these trips depict rail subjects in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and other locations in the Upper-Midwest.

In 1970, McIlwraith returned to Canada and became a faculty member at Erindale College (now the University of Toronto at Mississauga), where he served as Professor of Historical Geography until his retirement in 2005. McIlwraith’s scholarship and research have focused on the cultural landscape of Ontario, and he has written and spoken extensively on the subject. In 1997, he authored Looking for Old Ontario, an assessment of how the built landscape of countryside and towns reflects the evolving culture of the province throughout two centuries. McIlwraith’s expertise in the field has also led to his participation in various Municipal and Provincial boards concerned with heritage conservation.

In retirement, McIlwrath has been researching nineteenth-century newspapers in quest of interesting stories of railroad construction and its social impact. Woven through his research career is the life of a railway enthusiast: following steam locomotives on Ontario branch lines in the 1950s, riding Peter Witt and PCC streetcars in Toronto, and spending a lifetime of travelling by train throughout Canada, Great Britain and Japan. McIlwraith and his wife, Duane, currently live in retirement in Mississauga, Ontario – skiing, gardening and cycling – and often use their Presto cards to ride GO-Transit to and from the theatrical and gastronomic pleasures of downtown Toronto.

Thomas McIlwraith
Thomas McIlwraith at Niagara Falls, February 1, 2018

McIlwraith Collection Overview

  • Gift of Thomas McIlwraith
  • 848 color slides
  • 1957 to 2006
  • United States and Canada

Reproduction Requests

  • High resolution scans from the McIlwraith Collection are available for print and electronic reproduction
  • To make requests, visit the collections page or send an email to


Finding Aid