Cain wrote in detail about the project here, at OpenFile.
In 1942, as losses among Canadian air crew mounted and the failed raid on Dieppe left hundreds of Toronto families with a loved one killed or in a German prison camp, officials started a formal effort to keep track of the city’s dead.
As the war ground on, a file of typed index cards at the city clerk’s office at what is now Old City Hall grew and grew, until there were thousands. Casualty lists were scoured for Toronto addresses as they appeared. After the war, the cards became the research tool for preparing the Book of Remembrance, which is now at Toronto City Hall.
Citizens answered newspaper ads asking for names that might have been missed, and the file grew larger. Eventually, the cards documented more than 3,300 people who were killed in the war and had next of kin in Toronto. They died over Germany on air raids, fighting in Normandy and Italy, or as their warships or merchant vessels were torpedoed. Many were killed in training accidents. One is buried in South Africa and one in Yukon.
In the modern city archives, the cards fill 12 boxes.
I was given access to the card file earlier this year after making an access-to-information request, and paid many visits to the city archives, entering the basic details on each card into a laptop. It turned out that I was committed to what ended up being 55 hours of data entry, working steadily through box after box. Letters and scraps of personal information were a helpful reminder that I was dealing with records of real people, and that the grief over their deaths had once been fresh, and in some cases life-destroying.
I then geocoded each address where possible and transferred the records to KML for display in an interactive map.
A map overlay joins two kinds of knowledge: our existing picture of the familiar city and some new knowledge superimposed on it. Overlays can take many forms but one of the most powerful, and sometimes disorienting, kinds has to do with history. (The author Simon Schama wrote that the attraction of history for him was in the intersection of the familiar and the unfamiliar.)
OpenFile’s map shows, where possible, the homes listed as the next-of-kin address of 3,224 Toronto residents killed in the war. The poppies designate addresses, rather than individual people, so where it is necessary to put two or more people in a household, multiple people share the poppy. Four addresses show three people each and 95 show two. This doesn't necessarily reflect a family relationship, though often it does.
The map is an exercise in recovered local memory. For example, it must have been well known in the neighbourhood west of Queen St. and Spadina Ave. that five local men had died at Dieppe but that experience is hard to reconstruct now except through this kind of project. One was from Cameron St., one from Vanauley St. and three from Augusta St., numbers 20, 26 and 44.