Toronto, Ontario's capital city, has a vibrant history of change and growth, ranging from its early occupation over 1,000 years ago to its current status as North America’s fourth largest city.
Toronto, Ontario's capital city, has a vibrant history of change and growth, ranging from its early occupation over 1,000 years ago to its current status as North America’s fourth largest city. Toronto is Canada's largest municipality and is made up of the former cities of Toronto, North York, Scarborough, York and Etobicoke, and the former borough of East York. The city is home to a large immigrant population, and is a national and international hub for finance, communications and cultural life.
Approximately 12,500 years ago the Laurentide Ice Sheet, a continental glacier that covered northeastern North America, retreated from the area of present-day Toronto. Soon afterward small groups of Aboriginal people moved into the area to hunt animals such as caribou. Around 5,000 years ago, settlements in hunting territories began to form, and people congregated in large spring or summer gatherings at the mouths of rivers to fish, trade and bury their dead. By 500 CE the population of Southern Ontario had reached 10,000, and was made up mostly of Algonkian-speaking peoples.
The introduction of maize, or corn, 1,400 years ago led to the adoption of farming and of permanent settlement. By 1000 CE Iroquoian speaking peoples had moved into the region of present-day Toronto, and by 1300 had established villages there. By 1400 Iroquoian peoples lived in fortified villages that typically included longhouses and stockades that overlooked fields of crops.
For a variety of reasons, including better soil and warfare with the Haudenosaunee (Five Nations Iroquois) of New York State, Iroquoians in the Toronto area began to slowly move north to join the Wendat (Huron) Confederacy in Huronia. In 1650 intertribal warfare and the diseases brought by Europeans led to the collapse and dispersal of the Wendat Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee established a series of settlements in Ontario, including two Seneca villages in present-day Toronto.
Around this time Algonkian speakers began to move south from the Canadian Shield into the Toronto area. Through a process of negotiation the Algonkian-speaking Anishnabe entered into an alliance with the Haudenosaunee. The Anishnabe established settlements in Toronto while the Haudenosaunee withdrew to New York State. Some members of the Anishinaabe became known as the Mississauga, and dominated the area until the end of the 1700s.
The name Toronto is derived from the Mohawk word tkaronto, which means “where there are trees standing in the water.” The word originally referred to The Narrows, near present-day Orillia, where Hurons and other groups drove stakes into the water to create fish weirs. French maps from the 1680s to 1760s identify present-day Lake Simcoe as Lac de Taronto. The spelling changed to Toronto during the 18th century, and the term gradually came to refer to a large region that included the location of the present-day city of Toronto.
At some point between 7,000 and 2,000 years ago, Aboriginal peoples discovered an overland shortcut between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. Later known as the “Toronto Passage,” this trail was an important north-south route for both Aboriginal peoples and Europeans.
French fur traders had known about the Toronto Passage since the early 1600s, and in 1720 they built a small store on the Humber River. This post failed financially and was abandoned in 1730. In 1750 the French built another small trading post. Fort Rouillé (or Fort Toronto), located in Toronto’s present-day Exhibition Grounds, was burned in 1759 by its French garrison during a retreat from British forces.
Following the British Conquest in 1759 the Toronto site saw minor traders and Mississauga encampments. The American Revolution, however, sent Loyalists northward to remaining British territory. Their settlements along the upper St. Lawrence and lower lakes led to the creation of the province of Upper Canada in 1791. The province’s first governor, John Graves Simcoe, planned a centrally located town at Toronto. Simcoe saw the site as a commanding position for a naval and garrison base to guard a troubled American boundary. In 1793 he had a little town laid out by the harbour, which he named York in honour of the Duke of York, son of King George III. Soon he was using York as a capital of Upper Canada, erecting parliament buildings and cutting roads inland. In 1796 Yonge Street, named by Simcoe for then-British Secretary of State for War Sir George Yonge, was opened. It ran northward to the Holland River, which gave access to Lake Simcoe and was the first stage in a route to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, which had its origins in the Toronto Passage.
York's officialdom and garrison attracted merchants, craftsmen and labourers, while the spreading rural settlement beyond made it a local market centre. By 1812 this frontier village still had only 700 residents, yet its governing role, its harbour and its rough roads to the interior of Upper Canada gave it an initial economic advantage in the Lake Ontario area.
During the War of 1812 York was twice raided and pillaged by US forces (1813), leaving a British-minded populace with keen anti-American memories. After the war, the village was one recipient of the rising wave of British immigration to Upper Canada. By pursuing trade with expanding farming frontiers, York became the province’s banking centre. By 1834 the fast-growing town of over 9,000 inhabitants was incorporated as the city of Toronto, with an elected civic government led by the city’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie. This prominent Reform journalist and politician tried to seize the city by force in the Upper Canada Rebellions of 1837, but his attempt collapsed more from confusion than bloodshed and strengthened Toronto's conservative tendencies.
In the 1840s Toronto increased its commercial lead. Gas lighting and sewers on main streets and steamboat port activity marked its urban rise. In the 1850s railway building connected Toronto to New York and Montréal, the upper lakes at Georgian Bay, and across western Upper Canada to Detroit and Chicago. Toronto was made capital of the new province of Ontario at Confederation in 1867, and by the 1870s it was becoming markedly industrialized. The city’s population grew by five times between 1831 and 1891. In the 1880s Hart Massey's agricultural machinery firm, clothing factories, publishing plants and metal foundries grew large. The city’s growth was aided by industrial tariff protection after 1879 and the promotional drive of leaders such as railway builder Casimir Gzowski and department store builder Timothy Eaton.
The settlement of the Canadian West and the tapping of Northern Ontario's forests and mines in the 1890s and 1900s opened further markets and resources to Toronto. Commerce with the North and West flowed into the city, which in turn dealt with either Montréal or New York as outlets or suppliers. Major firms such as Eaton's spread their mail-order business into the West. Hydroelectric power provided by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario from Niagara Falls (1911) provided cheap energy that spurred more factory growth. The influence of the city's banks, investment and insurance companies spread to regions well beyond Ontario.
By 1914, although the older and larger Montréal still held the lead, Toronto's financial head offices, factories and stores had made it a second national metropolis. The First World War expanded its investment and manufacturing scope. Manufacturing ranged from large-scale meat processing to munitions, both industries were forwarded by businessman Sir Joseph Flavelle.
In the prosperous 1920s development continued as new suburban municipalities rose around an overflowing city of approximately half a million people. This growth was checked by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Gold and silver mining in Northern Ontario helped some financial sectors stay in above-average health, but overall the city was hard-hit as construction slowed considerably and unemployment skyrocketed. Although the employment rate began to improve slowly in 1934, high unemployment was only ended by the coming of the Second World War. The war revived growth, shaping electronic, aircraft and precision-machine industries. In the postwar era Toronto’s economy boomed, fuelled by consumer spending, the baby boom, house construction, and the Korean War of 1950-53. The city’s population swelled further, to over a million in Greater Toronto by 1951.
The service needs of this urban complex and its suburbs led to metropolitan government. Set up in 1953 under a vigorous first chairman, Frederick Gardiner, the Metropolitan Toronto Authority handled area-wide requirements while the old jurisdictions attended to local concerns. The subway system, begun by the city in 1949, was built up, parks and drainage projects were undertaken, and arterial through roads constructed. In 1967 small suburbs were amalgamated, leaving a Metro structure of the city of Toronto and five boroughs, of which all but East York had also become cities by 1991.
All lost their individual municipal structures in 1998 when the new "megacity" of Toronto came into existence. Toronto eventually gained priority over Montréal as a national (and international) financial hub. It also now leads Canada in its concentration of specialized services, including professional facilities and advertising, and has a major hold on information media.
Toronto is located on the shore plain beside its harbour. There is a fairly abrupt rise 4 km inland which marks the shoreline of Lake Iroquois, a lake formed by glaciers 12,500 years ago that had a much higher water level than Lake Ontario. This rise led to higher plains, then to rounded lines of hills. Though the low-lying waterside area gave early York dank marshes and mud-filled streets, and the rise behind impeded road lines, these were not long-term barriers to the steady spread of the cityscape. Today, Toronto extends far east and west of the harbour stretch and well inland. The Greater Toronto Area of over 5.6 million (2011 census) reaches north to Barrie, east to Oshawa and west to Hamilton.
The shore plain by the harbour has remained Toronto's downtown core. Governor Simcoe's 1793 layout was a small-town plot with a plain grid of straight streets along the eastern end of the harbour with a military reserve for a garrison post by the settlement’s westward entry. As the town grew the basic straight-line grid pattern was essentially extended; however, under municipal self-government from 1834, planning was replaced by uncoordinated private developments.
Nevertheless, the cityscape began to take shape. By the 1840s King Street was a main commercial east-west artery, and Yonge Street a north-south axis, leading to the northern highway the interior of the province. As railways arrived on the waterfront in the 1850s, they built up a transport zone between the city and the lake. Thereafter, industrial areas emerged at either end of the harbour along rail lines, and to the north close-built, working-class districts arose. Larger residences spread above the central downtown, and the homes of the wealthy were on the rise behind the shore plain.
Horse-drawn cars in the 1860s and electric cars in the 1890s encouraged a middle-class movement to roomier suburban fringes, beginning with Yorkville (1883) and ending with North Toronto (1912). Beginning in the 1880s electric elevators, larger iron-framed buildings and telephones facilitated greater business concentration on expensive downtown property. During the early 1900s steel skyscrapers climbed in this central district, where economic land use was roughly divided into wholesaling around Yonge below King, major retailing along Yonge near Queen, and finance down Bay and along King.
Aided by the automobile, the massing inward and spreading outward continued after the First World War until the Great Depression and the Second World War intervened. Public planning revived in the 1940s, and since the late 1940s the city’s growth has surged on, with only short downturns. Public planning’s impact grew beginning in the 1950s with the Metro structure, and still further with the onset of environmental reformers (or conservers) in the 1960s and 1970s. The balance between the "move traffic" and "save life quality" kinds of planning remains a shifting one. The high-rise now dominates Toronto and can be found in the central business district, in residential apartment masses, and in office towers around main intersections and subway stations.
Despite its modest natural setting and largely plain street layout, Toronto has an interesting building stock and some noteworthy heritage structures. These include the original Fort York complex (rebuilt 1813-15), the Grange, a gentry mansion built about 1817, St Lawrence Hall (1850), originally a public building containing a hall and shops, Osgoode Hall (rebuilt 1857-60), headquarters of the Law Society of Upper Canada, University College (1859), the University of Toronto’s teaching arm, the Ontario Parliament Buildings (1892), the City Hall (designed 1890, completed 1899), the Royal Alexandra Theatre (1907) and Union Station (opened 1927), a prime North American survivor of classical railway grandeur.
Later eras have largely produced more and bigger office buildings, hotels and shopping centres, although a few structures stand out. The new City Hall (1965) is striking in design and setting, and Roy Thomson Hall (1982) is boldly original. Though controversial, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal extension to the Royal Ontario Museum opened in 2007 is a striking addition to the original building. The central city skyline soars in mass and height, topped by the 290 m First Canadian Place and still taller CN Tower (1976), a 553 m telecommunications spire. In 1989 the SkyDome stadium was completed. It was purchased in 2005 by Rogers Communications and renamed the Rogers Centre. The building is home to the Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts. While the building systems have mostly been imported, Toronto designers have made their marks on them. The lines of high-peaked Victorian brick homes in the older city, for example, have a distinctly Toronto character.
From its start as a seat of colonial officialdom, Toronto had a markedly British population compared to early Upper Canada’s more American rural society. British immigration after the 1820s increased this predominance, also bringing a large strain of Protestant Ulster Irish. Late in the 1840s the exodus from famine-stricken Ireland added a sizable Catholic Irish minority as well, leading to religious discord in the city. The Ulstermen's Orange Order became a guardian of British Protestant ascendancy and wielded power in civic politics.
In the later 19th century, British immigrants, mostly from England, continued arriving. However, those born in Canada to British parents were a majority by 1871. Toronto stayed remarkably homogeneous, and many residents were devoted to church life and Sunday observance.
Both the natural increase in population and movement from the countryside to an expanding industrial city became a mounting factor from the 1870s, especially as public health measures improved. Immigration rose again by the 1900s and increasingly brought continental Europeans including Jews, Italians and Ukrainians. Clustering first in poor inner-city areas, by 1920 the new ethnic elements were a small (13 per cent) but compact segment in an Anglo-Celtic, mainly Protestant, community. Their influx continued over the next decade.
After depression and war, another far bigger population inflow developed. British newcomers still led at first, but Italians became a chief component by the 1960s, while Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Balkan Slavs, Greeks and Portuguese steadily widened the non-Anglo-Celtic population segment.
In the 1970s and 1980s, West Indian, South Asian and East Asian migrants contributed to Toronto’s increasingly strong immigrant population. Figures from the 2011 census show that 49 per cent of people living in the city are immigrants, 26 per cent of whom were born in Europe, 11 per cent in China and eight per cent in the Philippines. This vibrant immigrant population makes Toronto one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
Economy and Labour Force
Toronto’s economy has gone through the stages of commercial lake port, railway and industrial hub, financial nexus, and high-level service and information centre. At present its port and commercial functions remain important, though relatively less so, apart from heavy retail activity. Its railway role persists, but has been modified by air and automotive transport. Although its industry has lost ground to foreign competition and Canadian decentralization it remains high in value; and its financial power continues to increase and its office-service sector stays pre-eminent in Canada. Toronto has a mixed economy not dominated by one single industry or sector. The city’s three largest industries are financial services, real estate, and wholesale and retail trade.
Banking head offices in Toronto include the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of Nova Scotia and the Toronto Dominion Bank. Principal Canadian insurance and investment companies are centered in the city, and the Toronto Stock Exchange is one of the leaders in North America outside New York.
There is a close concentration of Canadian head offices of industrial, resource and retail corporations and of American or multinational giants ̶ from Avalon Rare Metals through to Xerox. Despite its diversity, however, Toronto was hit hard by the combined effects of the Free Trade Agreement with the US and by the recession of the early 1990s, resulting in high unemployment. The global financial crisis of 2008 also hit the Ontario economy hard, leading to a four per cent drop in employment between September 2008 and the recession’s lowest point in June 2009. Since then the economy has slowly improved, although Toronto’s July 2013 unemployment rate remained high at 8.5 per cent.
The city's labour force is chiefly massed in professional, clerical, manufacturing, retail and service work, in that order. It is widely unionized in public sectors, large private enterprises and skilled trades.
From the York printer's union of 1832, Toronto has been a centre of labour organization, though this did not become broadly based until the growth of industrialism from the 1870s. By the close of the First World War, the union movement was firmly established, and though its fortunes have varied, as in the grim 1930s, since the Second World War organized labour has been an influential economic and political factor in the city. To the present, Toronto labour has been largely stable and fairly conservative in character compared with other cities.
Once Toronto's vital link outward, water traffic still brings bulk goods by lake and direct overseas shipments. Since 1911, port facilities have been repeatedly improved under the Toronto Harbour Commission, notably after the St Lawrence Seaway (1959) opened Toronto’s port to ocean shipping. Docks for ocean vessels, new harbour areas behind artificial islands, and large recreational and residential waterside developments mark the port today. Though ice closes navigation each winter, Toronto benefits by having both water and land transportation systems.
On land, the railways both supply the city and distribute its products through both CN and CP Rail, while Metrolinx "GO" trains provide essential commuter services. Bus, truck and car traffic use a similar main road net, especially Highway 401, a multi-laned crosstown throughway, and Highway 400, now the prime route north. By air, Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport is Canada's busiest, and offers national and world-wide travel, while the smaller Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport offers short haul flights to northeastern Canada and the United States. This substantial external transport is complemented by internal transit. Automobile routes such as the Gardiner Expressway along the southern edge of the downtown, or the Don Valley Parkway running northward, bear heavy loads. However, the city has successfully maintained its public streetcar, bus and subway systems. Amid all the metropolitan intensity, there are bicycle paths and quiet walking routes through wooded ravine parklands.
Toronto is well-termed the hub of English-language communications in Canada. It was the headquarters for national newspaper chains such as Southam and the Thomson Group. Canada's national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, has its roots in Toronto's early most influential newspaper, the Globe (1844). The city has three other daily newspapers: the Toronto Star (1892), which has the largest daily circulation in Canada, the tabloid Toronto Sun (since 1971; see Sun newspapers and another national daily, the National Post (1998). The Canadian Press news agency (1917) is headquartered in Toronto and feeds news reports to member journals all across Canada.
The city produces a wide variety of magazines. Three general-interest magazines of countrywide importance are The Walrus (2003), Maclean's (1896) and the women's magazine Chatelaine (1928). Book publishing goes back to the Methodist Book Company (1829, later the Ryerson Press) in what was then the town of York. Other important book publishers such as Macmillan of Canada, Clarke Irwin and McClelland & Stewart have greatly contributed to Canada's literary life and Toronto's prominent place within it.
Canada's first telegraph company was established in Toronto in 1846, and one year later Toronto was connected by telegraph wire to Montréal, Québec City and the American system at Buffalo, New York. The first Toronto telephone exchange was installed in 1879 and a year later, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (now Bell Canada) was founded and began to build on this infrastructure. During the 1920s early radio stations appeared, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (1936) made the city the chief base for English-language programming. Private stations such as CFRB, CHUM, CJRT and the multicultural CHIN still have wide followings.
In 1952 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation began television services within Canada based in Toronto (see television programming). At present the city has the CBC's key television station, CBLT; the Ontario government's educational station, TVO; and on the private side, the CTV network's premier outlet, CFTO, along with outlets for Global and City chains, for specialty channels such as Vision TV (religious) and for information, sports, entertainment, and so on.
Government and Politics
At its first civic incorporation in 1834 Toronto had a mayor and a city council elected by wards. The mayor was originally chosen from and by council, but in the 1870s became directly elected by the voters. A board of control was added in the 1890s, arising from an urban reform wave for "clean," efficient government, but was abolished in the 1960s. Sizable civic departments grew for services such as roads, water, police and health, while the separately elected board of education became a powerful municipal body in its own right.
Canada's first Metropolitan Government was formed in Toronto in 1953 when 13 municipalities, including the city of Toronto, were reorganized to form the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. The Metro Council, under a chairman, had prime responsibility for overall concerns such as finance, education, transport, welfare and water supply, to which police and housing were later added. Although the city proper and the other member municipalities kept more local service tasks, the bigger duties and expenditures lay with Metro. As the populations of the surrounding municipalities increased, the Metro chairman, elected by their council, came to replace Toronto's mayor as the chief figure in municipal operations.
In 1996 the provincial Conservative government, led by Mike Harris, proposed doing away with Toronto's existing metropolitan structure and amalgamating its member municipalities in one huge "megacity" under a single administration. This project was controversial. Supporters of Metro Toronto worried that these changes would destroy local neighbourhoods, while the Harris government and its supporters wanted to cut costs. This system came into effect on 1 January 1998, and consists of a mayor and 57 councillors. Each of the six previous municipalities is represented by a community council that elects a chair. The chairs for each of the community councils and the mayor make up the executive committee. The Toronto Community Council is the largest, electing 16 councillors.
Civic politics have ostensibly not operated on party lines, though Conservative partisans have usually been dominant. In the 19th century these partisans were backed by the then-influential protestant Orange Order. Radical first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, was a scarce exception, as was the moral reformer, Mayor William Howland, in the 1880s. Far more typical were respectably cautious guardians who gave fairly competent government but took few chances. Some pragmatic mayors also lasted as sympathetically popular, like Tommy Church through the First World War and after, or Nathan Phillips from the 1950s into the 1960s, who led in promoting the new City Hall.
Some other Mayors were more associated with change, such as Horatio Hocken, who faced the needs of expanding city services before the First World War, or David Crombie and John Sewell in the 1970s, who worked with a newer breed of civic reformers to save the quality of city life from uncontrolled development. Arthur “Art” Eggleton defeated John Sewell in the city’s 1980 election. Eggleton was the city’s longest serving mayor, and was replaced by Toronto’s first female mayor, June Rowlands, in 1991. Rowlands worked to reduce property taxes, but is often remembered for supposedly banning the Barenaked Ladies from performing at City Hall. However, Rowlands only lasted one term and was defeated in 1994 by the left-leaning Barbara Hall, who lost her bid for re-election after amalgamation in 1998.
Drawing on the suburbs’ new voting power, North York Mayor Mel Lastman became the first post-amalgamation mayor of Toronto. Lastman undertook several popular initiatives such as improving waste removal and spearheading the development of the city’s waterfront, but was a controversial figure and his later years in office saw several public gaffes and scandals.
Lastman withdrew from politics in 2003 and was replaced in the mayor’s office by Toronto lawyer David Miller, who undertook a number of environmental initiatives, and expanded transit and social housing programs. Miller was reelected in 2006, but a 39-day city workers strike in 2009 had a negative effect on Miller’s popularity, and he chose not to seek reelection in 2010.
That year Torontonians elected Rob Ford, who campaigned for mayor promising to end wasteful spending and government perks, cut taxes and reduce the size of the city’s government. Ford is a polarizing figure and city council has effectively been split into two camps, leading to prolonged and at times bitter debates about a variety of issues such as union negotiations and the future of the city’s transit system. Although Ford successfully kept his promise to eliminate the city’s vehicle registration tax and cut spending, a series of scandals, including conflict of interest cases and allegations of public intoxication, have plagued the Ford administration.
Toronto is the main urban cultural centre in English Canada. It is the home of the large University of Toronto (1827), Ryerson University (1948), the more recent York University (1959), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ontario College of Art And Design, the world-renowned Royal Ontario Museum, the innovative Ontario Science Centre, the Toronto Symphony Orchestraand the National Ballet of Canada. Other nationally eminent artistic, musical and library institutions are found here along with top Canadian centres of medical and scientific research, and the world-class Toronto Zoo. Toronto is English Canada's leading theatre town and its rich multicultural variety is reflected in the performing arts, as well as in ethnic journals and restaurants.
The city has long been a potent factor in Anglo-Canadian literature as a national base for literary periodicals, publishing houses and successions of noted authors from Goldwin Smith and Sir Charles G.D. Roberts ,E.J. Pratt, Morley Callaghan, Marshall Mcluhan, Northrop Frye, Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies. Similarly, in art, it has been the base for Paul Kane, the Group of Seven, Tom Thomsonand numerous more recent painters such as Harold Townas well as musicians such as Glenn Gould.
Popular concerts attract large crowds, notably at Ontario Place, a lakeside recreational area, or the Canadian National Exhibition, Canada's largest annual exposition. Other leading public draws include hilly High Park, Fort York(restored to the days of 1812), Casa Loma (the grandiose castle home of a 1900s financial magnate), the CN Tower andToronto Islands, a harbour park preserve.
Major Toronto professional sports teams are the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey), Toronto Blue Jays (baseball), Toronto Argonauts (football), Toronto Raptors (basketball), Toronto FC (soccer) and Toronto Rock (lacrosse). Amateur sports range from yachting to curling, Olympic-level skating, swimming and rowing. Soccer and cricket are keenly popular among the immigrant community. The city has a wide variety of recreational facilities, ranging from the Air Canada Centre to local rinks, public swimming pools and park athletic fields.
Suggested Reading: E. Arthur, No Mean City (1964; rev, S. Otto, ed., 1986); J.M.S. Careless, Toronto to 1918 (1984); Robert Fulford, Accidental City: The Transformation of Toronto (1995); G.P. Glazebrook, The Story of Toronto (1971); W. Kilbourn and R. Christl, Toronto in Words and Pictures (1977); J.T. Lemon, Toronto, The English-Speaking Metropolis Since 1918 (1984); H. Scadding, Toronto of Old (F.H. Armstrong, ed., 1966); John Sewell, The Shape of the City: Toronto Struggles with Modern Planning (1993); J. Spelt, Toronto (1973). Toronto: An Illustrated History of its First 12,000 years, ed. Ron Williamson (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 2008); Stuart Henderson, Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s (2011).