Toronto, the capital city of ONTARIO, is situated on the southern margin of the province, fronting LAKE ONTARIO. The city, Canada's largest municipality, comprises the former cities of Toronto, NORTH YORK, SCARBOROUGH, YORK and Etobicoke, and the former borough of EAST YORK. Its economic hinterland lies basically in Ontario, but in financial terms it extends across Canada. The city is well placed to control the populous industrial and agricultural region of southern Ontario and, being located on the neck of the Ontario peninsula which juts into the GREAT LAKES system, has ready access both to the Upper Lakes basin and to American territory south of the Lower Lakes.

The city has been able to spread its influence through the Canadian Great Lakes area and far beyond. Toronto's physical features include a natural harbour sheltered by sandy islands (originally one long peninsula), backed by gently rolling, well-watered, fertile country. The area has a fairly mild and humid average climate, by Canadian standards, though with some changeable extremes.

  Toronto, from the Huron language, has several possible meanings including "trees in the water," but among these, "place of meeting" seems well suited, since long before settlement, native peoples went there to follow a trail and canoe route that gave a shortcut overland between Lakes Ontario and HURON. Other, less flattering names such as "Muddy York" and "Hogtown" have been used to describe the city. The Toronto Passage, used as early as 1615 by Étienne BRÛLÉ, became well known to French fur traders. They set a small store by its entry (1720-30) and a larger, fortified post (1750-51). This Fort Rouillé, whose remains have been excavated in Toronto's present Exhibition Grounds, was burned in 1759 by its French garrison, retreating from British forces.

Following the British Conquest, the Toronto site again saw only 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 (1791), and to plans for a town at centrally located Toronto, which were effected by Upper Canada's first governor, John Graves SIMCOE.

He mainly viewed the site as a commanding position for a naval and garrison base to guard a troubled American boundary. But, in 1793 he had a little town laid out by the harbour, naming it York, and soon he was using it as a capital of Upper Canada, erecting parliament buildings and cutting roads inland. Thus, in 1796 Yonge Street, named by Simcoe for then British secretary of state for war Sir George Yonge, was opened northward to the Holland River, which gave access to Lake Simcoe as the first stage in a route to GEORGIAN BAY on Lake Huron.

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 the rough roads inward gave it initial 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. Afterwards, it felt the rising wave of British immigration to Upper Canada. Its hinterland trade mounted with expanding farm frontiers, as its merchants supplied country dealers as wholesalers, and it became the province's banking centre. By 1834 the fast-growing town of over 9000 inhabitants was incorporated as the city of Toronto, with an elected civic government led by William Lyon MACKENZIE as first mayor. 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 in confusion than bloodshed, strengthening Toronto's conservative tendencies.

In the 1840s Toronto increased its commercial lead, as steamboat port activity and gaslit, sewered main streets marked its urban rise. In the 1850s railway building brought the city a radiating web of tracks connecting it to New York and Montréal, the upper lakes at Georgian Bay, and across western Upper Canada to Detroit and Chicago. Hence its own regional grasp was widely extended; wholesaling, banking and railway entrepreneurship grew accordingly.

The city was made capital of the new province of Ontario at Confederation in 1867, and by the 1870s it was becoming markedly industrialized. Hart MASSEY'S agricultural machinery firm, clothing factories, publishing plants and metal foundries grew large in the 1880s. A city of 30 000 in 1851 was over 5 times bigger by 1891, 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.

From the later 1890s into a booming early 20th century, the settlement of the Canadian West and the tapping of northern Ontario's forests and mines opened further markets and resources to Toronto. Commerce with the North and West flowed into the city, while it 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) gave cheap energy for more factory growth. Above all, the city's banks, investment and insurance companies invaded regions well beyond Ontario.

By 1914, although older and larger Montréal still held the lead, Toronto's financial head offices, factories and stores had made it a second national metropolis. World War I expanded its investment and manufacturing scope, the latter ranging from large-scale meat processing to munitions, both forwarded by businessman Sir Joseph FLAVELLE.

In the prosperous 1920s development continued as new suburban municipalities rose around an overflowing city of some half million. It was checked by the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s, yet Toronto was proportionately less hard hit than many other Canadian centres. Its well-developed, more varied hinterland sustained business better than regions heavily dependent on staples such as wheat or lumber. World War II revived growth, shaping electronic, aircraft and precision-machine industries. And in the postwar era Toronto boomed, as a ravaged Europe renewed its material stock. Population swelled further, to over a million in Greater Toronto by 1951.

The service needs of this urban complex and the inadequate revenue in 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. The subway system begun by the city in 1949 was built up, parks and drainage projects were effected and arterial through roads constructed. In 1967 small suburbs were amalgamated, leaving a Metro structure of the city of Toronto and 5 boroughs, of which all but East York had also become cities by 1991, as their populations soared.

All lost their individual municipal structures in 1998 when the new "megacity" of Toronto came into existence. Toronto then became the 5th largest city in North America at 2.4 million, which is more people than the populations of most of the provinces and territories in Canada (excluding Ontario, 10.8 million; Québec, 7.1 million; British Columbia, 3.7 million; and Alberta, 2.7 million). Toronto has gained priority over Montréal as a national (and international) financial focus. It also leads Canada in its concentration of specialized services, including professional facilities and advertising, and has a major hold on information media.

  Toronto emerged on the shore plain beside its harbour, beyond which, some 4 km inland, is a fairly abrupt rise, the shoreline of prehistoric Lake Iroquois. This rise led to higher plains, then to rounded lines of hills. The courses of rivers and creek ravines offered ways up from the plain even for fur canoes, and practicable grades for later roads and railways. 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 (630.09 km2).

The present Toronto-region conurbation of over 4.6 million reaches to near-suburban Richmond Hill on the north, east to OSHAWA, and west approximately to OAKVILLE - from where the urbanized "Golden Horseshoe" still runs on through HAMILTON to the NIAGARA PENINSULA.

The shore plain by the harbour has remained Toronto's downtown core, first shaped by its waterfront relationship. Governor Simcoe's layout of 1793 was a small-town plot with a plain grid of straight streets along the eastern end of the harbour and with a military reserve for a garrison post westward by its entry. As the town grew, the basic straight-line grid pattern was essentially extended; but under municipal self-government from 1834, planning was replaced by uncoordinated private developments.

Nevertheless, the cityscape began to sort itself out. King Street was a main commercial east-west artery by the 1840s, Yonge Street a north-south axis, leading to the northern highway into the hinterland. 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. Larger residences spread more above the central downtown, and homes of the wealthy on the rise behind the shore plain.

Streetcars advanced the sorting out. Horsedrawn cars in the 1860s and electric cars in the 1890s fostered the middle-class movement to roomier suburban fringes and promoted annexations of suburban communities, beginning with Yorkville (1883) and ending with North Toronto (1912). In another fashion, electric elevators, larger iron-framed buildings, and telephones from the 1880s facilitated greater business concentration on expensive downtown property. During the early 1900s steel skyscrapers climbed in this central district, which had further sorted out in land use: wholesaling around Yonge below King, major retailing along Yonge near Queen, and finance down Bay and along King.

From World War I the massing inward and spreading outward continued, aided by the automobile, until the GREAT DEPRESSION and a second war intervened. Since the late 1940s it has surged on, with only short downturns. Public planning revived in the 1940s, but its fuller impact grew from the 1950s and with Metro, 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 - 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), Osgoode Hall (rebuilt 1857-60), UNIVERSITY COLLEGE (1859), 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, though the new City Hall (1965) is striking in design and setting. Boldly original, too, is Roy Thomson Hall (1982). 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 new SkyDome stadium, which is home to the Toronto Blue Jays, was completed. While the building systems have chiefly been imported throughout, Toronto designers have set their stamps on them. The lines of high-peaked Victorian brick homes in the older city have a unique Toronto character only lately appreciated.


From its start as a seat of colonial officialdom, Toronto had a markedly British population compared to the far more American rural society of early Upper Canada. British immigrants 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, wielding power in civic politics.

In the later 19th century, British immigrants, largely English, continued arriving, though Canadian-born (of British stock) were a majority by 1871. Toronto stayed remarkably homogeneous, strong on church life, Sunday observance and morality.

Movement from the countryside to an expanding industrial city became a mounting factor from the 1870s, as did natural increase, especially as public-health measures improved. Immigration rose again by the 1900s and increasingly brought continental Europeans as well, including JEWS, ITALIANS and Ukrainians. Clustering first in poor inner-city areas, the new ethnic elements were a small (13%) but compact segment in an Anglo-Celtic, mainly Protestant, community by 1920. Their influx continued over the next decade.

After depression and war, another far bigger inflow developed, to continue on with minor fluctuations to the 1990s. 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 segment.

In the 1970s and 1980s, West Indian, South Asian and East Asian migrants added "visible minorities" to Toronto increasingly. Figures from the 1991 census show 19% of British origin, 8% Italian, 6% Chinese and 5% South Asian. Older "Anglo" elements continued sizably in Metro's suburban units, and they still dominate its business elite and chief social institutions. Yet in the original city, a powerful ethnic press and politics, expanded Catholicism, many languages and cultures, racial concerns and, above all, a much livelier, multifaceted community indicate how greatly Toronto's population patterns have changed.

  Economy and Labour Force
  Toronto grew through the stages of commercial lake port, railway and industrial focus, 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, modified by air and automotive transport; its industry has lost ground to foreign competition and Canadian decentralization, but remains high in value; and its financial power continues to increase and its office-service sector stays pre-eminent in Canada. Advanced technology, particularly biotechnology, will likely reinforce its service and industrial sectors, while Toronto's money market keeps a national role and the city becomes more reliant on its regional Ontario domain.

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. 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 ABITIBI CONSOLIDATED 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 city's labour force by now 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 World War I the union movement was firmly emplaced, and though its fortunes have varied, as in the grim 1930s, from World War II 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.

  Water traffic, once Toronto's vital link outward, still brings bulk goods by lake and direct overseas shipments. From 1911, under the Toronto Harbour Commission, port facilities have been repeatedly improved, notably after the ST LAWRENCE SEAWAY (1959) opened it to ocean shipping. Docks for ocean vessels, new harbour areas behind artificial islands and large recreational and residential waterside developments (especially that called the "Harbourfront") mark the port today. Though ice closes navigation each winter, Toronto benefits by having both water and land transportation systems.

On land, the railway net supplies the city and distributes its products by both CN and CP Rail, while the government of Ontario "GO" trains provide essential commuter services. Bus, truck and car traffic use a similar main road net, especially Highway 401, a many-laned crosstown throughway, and Highway 400, now the prime route north. By air, Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport (Canada's busiest), though congested, offers national and world communications, while the small Island Airport by the harbour is being redeveloped for short-leg business airflights.

This substantial external transport is complemented by good internal transit. Though automobile routes such as the Gardiner Expressway along the southern edge of the downtown, or the Don Valley Parkway running northward, bear heavy loads, 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 is the headquarters for national newspaper chains such as SOUTHAM and the THOMSON GROUP. The latter includes Canada's national newspaper, the GLOBE AND MAIL, which has its roots in Toronto's early most influential newspaper, the Globe (1844). The city has 3 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 periodicals. Three general-interest periodicals of countrywide importance are SATURDAY NIGHT (1887), 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 then was 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. Bell Telephone Company of Canada (1881, now BELL CANADA) set up exchanges and switchboards in Toronto and throughout Canada. During the 1920s early radio stations appeared. 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 television services within Canada began in Toronto by the CBC (seeTELEVISION 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, etc.

  Government and Politics
  At its first civic incorporation (1834), Toronto had a mayor and a city council elected by wards. The mayor, originally chosen from and by council, became directly elected by the voters in the 1870s; 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. The city proper and the other member municipalities kept more local service tasks. Yet the bigger duties and expenditures lay with Metro. As the populations of the surrounding municipalities mounted, the Metro chairman, elected by his 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 to do away with Toronto's existing metropolitan structure and amalgamate its member municipalities in one huge "megacity "under a single administration. This system came into effect on 1 January 1998. The new civic structure consists of a mayor and 57 councillors. Each of the 6 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.

This whole project of thus remaking and reducing Toronto's governmental machinery offers real gains in economy and efficiency in the eyes of the deficit-cutting Harris regime. Yet defenders of Metro Toronto held that the changes would destroy local neighbourhood responsibilities and flexibilities - creating instead an overloaded, unwieldy and remote civic administration which, far from cutting bureaucracy and tax loads, would add to both - while increasing problems of inner-city decay, poverty and crime, as in similar American megacities. As yet, it is too soon to judge how the projected political restructuring of Toronto might turn out. But of its high potential significance, there is little doubt.

Civic politics have ostensibly not operated on party lines, though Conservative partisans have usually been dominant (backed through the 19th century by the then-influential Orange Order). The 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 World War I and after, or Nathan Phillips from the 1950s into the 1960s, who led in promoting the new City Hall.

Still, some others were more associated with change, such as Horatio Hocken, who faced the needs of expanding city services before World War I, 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. Thereafter, Metro chairmen more largely gained top political significance. Moreover, the Metro entity, so populous and financially demanding, inevitably bulked large for the Ontario government also, while federally, Toronto's considerable "clout" could certainly affect national election and cabinet-making strategies.

  Cultural Life
  Toronto is the main urban cultural focus in English Canada. It is the home of the big UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO (1827), RYERSON POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY (1948), and the more recent YORK UNIVERSITY (1959); the ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO and ONTARIO COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN, the world-renowned ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM and the innovative ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE; the TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA and 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 Metro Zoo. Toronto is English Canada's leading theatre town; and now 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 to 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 THOMSON and numerous more recent painters such as Harold TOWN as 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 1812 days), Casa Loma (the grandiose castle home of a 1900s financial magnate), the CN Tower and TORONTO ISLANDS, a harbour park preserve.

In professional sports, major Toronto teams are the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (hockey), TORONTO BLUE JAYS (baseball), TORONTO ARGONAUTS (football) and TORONTO RAPTORS (basketball). Amateur sports range from yachting to curling, Olympic-level skating, swimming and rowing. Soccer is keenly popular among the immigrant community. Facilities from the Air Canada Centre to local rinks, the Hummingbird (formerly O'Keefe) Centre and Roy Thomson Hall, to community dramatic and music stages, public swimming pools and park athletic fields serve a recreation-minded citizenry year-round.

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).


The Canadian Encyclopedia 2006 Historica Foundation of Canada