Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, with a population of 2,731,571 in 2016. Current to 2016, the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), of which the majority is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), held a population of 5,928,040, making it Canada's most populous CMA. Toronto is the anchor of an urban agglomeration, known as the Golden Horseshoe in Southern Ontario, located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A global city, Toronto is a centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.
People have travelled through and inhabited the Toronto area, situated on a broad sloping plateau interspersed with rivers, deep ravines, and urban forest, for more than 10,000 years. After the broadly disputed Toronto Purchase, when the Mississauga surrendered the area to the British Crown, the British established the town of York in 1793 and later designated it as the capital of Upper Canada. During the War of 1812, the town was the site of the Battle of York and suffered heavy damage by United States troops. York was renamed and incorporated in 1834 as the city of Toronto. It was designated as the capital of the province of Ontario in 1867 during Canadian Confederation. The city proper has since expanded past its original borders through both annexation and amalgamation to its current area of 630.2 km2 (243.3 sq mi).
The diverse population of Toronto reflects its current and historical role as an important destination for immigrants to Canada. More than 50 percent of residents belong to a visible minority population group, and over 200 distinct ethnic origins are represented among its inhabitants. While the majority of Torontonians speak English as their primary language, over 160 languages are spoken in the city.
Toronto is a prominent centre for music, theatre, motion picture production, and television production, and is home to the headquarters of Canada's major national broadcast networks and media outlets. Its varied cultural institutions, which include numerous museums and galleries, festivals and public events, entertainment districts, national historic sites, and sports activities, attract over 25 million tourists each year. Toronto is known for its many skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, in particular the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, the CN Tower.
The city is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange, the headquarters of Canada's five largest banks, and the headquarters of many large Canadian and multinational corporations. Its economy is highly diversified with strengths in technology, design, financial services, life sciences, education, arts, fashion, business services, environmental innovation, food services, and tourism.
Prior to the Iroquois inhabitation of the Toronto region, the Wyandot (Huron) people inhabited the region, later moving north to the area around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. The word "toronto", meaning "plenty" appears in a French lexicon of the Huron language in 1632. Toronto however, did not appear on any map of the region before 1650. After 1650, and the destruction of Fort Sainte Marie, the Hurons left the region.
The term "Toronto" became associated with Matchedash Bay, and was recorded with various spellings in French and English, including Tarento, Tarontha, Taronto, Toranto, Torento, Toronto, and Toronton. "Taronto" later referred to "The Narrows", a channel of water through which Lake Simcoe discharges into Lake Couchiching. This narrows was called tkaronto by the Mohawk, meaning "where there are trees standing in the water," and was recorded as early as 1615 by Samuel de Champlain. Today the area is partially surrounded by trees along the water's edge with the rest with marinas and location of the historic Mnjikaning Fish Weirs.
A 1675 map in French, by Pierre Raffeix, referred to Lake Simcoe as Lac Taronto and the name Tarontos Lac appeared on a 1678 map of New France by cartographer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin. In 1680, it appeared as Lac de Taronto on a map created by French court official Abbé Claude Bernou. By 1686, Passage de Taronto referred to a canoe route tracking what is now the Humber River. The river became known as Rivière Taronto as the canoe route became more popular with French explorers, and by the 1720s a fort to the east of the delta on Lake Ontario was named by the French Fort Toronto. Rivière Taronto was renamed to Humber River by Simcoe.
During his travels in Upper Canada in 1796, Isaac Weld wrote about Simcoe's policy of assigning English names to locations in Upper Canada. He opposed the renaming scheme, stating:
When Europeans first arrived at the site of present-day Toronto, the vicinity was inhabited by the Iroquois, who had displaced the Wyandot (Huron) people, occupants of the region for centuries before c. 1500. The name Toronto is likely derived from the Iroquoian word tkaronto, meaning "place where trees stand in the water". This refers to the northern end of what is now Lake Simcoe, where the Huron had planted tree saplings to corral fish. However, the word "Toronto", meaning "plenty" also appears in a 1632 French lexicon of the Huron language, which is also an Iroquoian language. It also appears on French maps referring to various locations, including Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe, and several rivers. A portage route from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron running through this point, known as the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, led to widespread use of the name.
In the 1660s, the Iroquois established two villages within what is today Toronto, Ganatsekwyagon on the banks of the Rouge River and Teiaiagon on the banks of the Humber River. By 1701, the Mississauga had displaced the Iroquois, who abandoned the Toronto area at the end of the Beaver Wars, with most returning to their base in present-day New York.
French traders founded Fort Rouillé in 1750 (the current Exhibition grounds were later developed here), but abandoned it in 1759 during the Seven Years' War. The British defeated the French and their indigenous allies in the war, and the area became part of the British colony of Quebec in 1763.
During the American Revolutionary War, an influx of British settlers came here as United Empire Loyalists fled for the British-controlled lands north of Lake Ontario. The Crown granted them land to compensate for their losses in the Thirteen Colonies. The new province of Upper Canada was being created and needed a capital. In 1787, the British Lord Dorchester arranged for the Toronto Purchase with the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation, thereby securing more than a quarter of a million acres (1000 km2) of land in the Toronto area. Dorchester intended the location to be named Toronto.
In 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe established the town of York on the Toronto Purchase lands, naming it after Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. Simcoe decided to move the Upper Canada capital from Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) to York, believing that the new site would be less vulnerable to attack by the United States. The York garrison was constructed at the entrance of the town's natural harbour, sheltered by a long sand-bar peninsula. The town's settlement formed at the eastern end of the harbour behind the peninsula, near the present-day intersection of Parliament Street and Front Street (in the "Old Town" area).
In 1813, as part of the War of 1812, the Battle of York ended in the town's capture and plunder by United States forces. The surrender of the town was negotiated by John Strachan. American soldiers destroyed much of the garrison and set fire to the parliament buildings during their five-day occupation. Because of the sacking of York, British troops retaliated later in the war with the Burning of Washington, DC.
York was incorporated as the City of Toronto on March 6, 1834, reverting to its original native name. Reformist politician William Lyon Mackenzie became the first Mayor of Torontoand led the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 against the British colonial government.
Toronto's population of 9,000 included African-American slaves, some of whom were brought by the Loyalists, including Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, and fewer Black Loyalists, whom the Crown had freed. (Most of the latter were resettled in Nova Scotia.) By 1834 refugee slaves from America's South were also immigrating to Toronto, settling in Canada to gain freedom. Slavery was banned outright in Upper Canada (and throughout the British Empire) in 1834. Torontonians integrated people of colour into their society. In the 1840s, an eating house at Frederick and King Streets, a place of mercantile prosperity in the early city, was operated by a man of colour named Bloxom.
As a major destination for immigrants to Canada, the city grew rapidly through the remainder of the 19th century. The first significant wave of immigrants were Irish, fleeing the Great Irish Famine; most of them were Catholic. By 1851, the Irish-born population had become the largest single ethnic group in the city. Smaller numbers of Protestant Irish immigrants, some from what is now Northern Ireland, were welcomed by the existing Scottish and English population, giving the Orange Order significant and long-lasting influence over Toronto society.
For brief periods, Toronto was twice the capital of the united Province of Canada: first from 1849 to 1852, following unrest in Montreal, and later 1856–1858. After this date, Quebec was designated as the capital until 1866 (one year before Canadian Confederation). Since then, the capital of Canada has remained Ottawa, Ontario.
Toronto became the capital of the province of Ontario after its official creation in 1867. The seat of government of the Ontario Legislature is located at Queen's Park. Because of its provincial capital status, the city was also the location of Government House, the residence of the viceregal representative of the Crown in right of Ontario.
Long before the Royal Military College of Canada was established in 1876, supporters of the concept proposed military colleges in Canada. Staffed by British Regulars, adult male students underwent a three-month long military course at the School of Military Instruction in Toronto. Established by Militia General Order in 1864, the school enabled officers of militia or candidates for commission or promotion in the Militia to learn military duties, drill and discipline, to command a company at Battalion Drill, to drill a company at Company Drill, the internal economy of a company, and the duties of a company's officer. The school was retained at Confederation, in 1867. In 1868, Schools of cavalry and artillery instruction were formed in Toronto.
In the 19th century, the city built an extensive sewage system to improve sanitation, and streets were illuminated with gas lighting as a regular service. Long-distance railway lines were constructed, including a route completed in 1854 linking Toronto with the Upper Great Lakes. The Grand Trunk Railway and the Northern Railway of Canada joined in the building of the first Union Station in downtown. The advent of the railway dramatically increased the numbers of immigrants arriving, commerce and industry, as had the Lake Ontario steamers and schooners entering port before. These enabled Toronto to become a major gateway linking the world to the interior of the North American continent.
Toronto became the largest alcohol distillation (in particular, spirits) centre in North America. By the 1860s the Gooderham and Worts Distillery operations became the world's largest whiskey factory. A preserved section of this once dominant local industry remains in the Distillery District. The harbour allowed for sure access to grain and sugar imports used in processing. Expanding port and rail facilities brought in northern timber for export and imported Pennsylvania coal. Industry dominated the waterfront for the next 100 years.
Horse-drawn streetcars gave way to electric streetcars in 1891, when the city granted the operation of the transit franchise to the Toronto Railway Company. The public transit system passed into public ownership in 1921 as the Toronto Transportation Commission, later renamed the Toronto Transit Commission. The system now has the third-highest ridership of any city public transportation system in North America.
The Great Toronto Fire of 1904 destroyed a large section of downtown Toronto, but the city was quickly rebuilt. The fire caused more than $10 million in damage, and resulted in more stringent fire safety laws and expansion of the city's fire department.
The city received new European immigrant groups beginning in the late 19th century into the early 20th century, particularly Germans, French, Italians, and Jews from various parts of Eastern Europe. They were soon followed by Russians, Poles, and other Eastern European nations, in addition to Chinese entering from the West. As the Irish before them, many of these new migrants lived in overcrowded shanty-type slums, such as "the Ward" which was centred on Bay Street, now the heart of the country's Financial District. As new migrants began to prosper, they moved to better housing in other areas, in what is now understood to be succession waves of settlement. Despite its fast-paced growth, by the 1920s, Toronto's population and economic importance in Canada remained second to the much longer established Montreal, Quebec. However, by 1934, the Toronto Stock Exchange had become the largest in the country.
Following the Second World War, refugees from war-torn Europe and Chinese job-seekers arrived, as well as construction labourers, particularly from Italy and Portugal. Toronto's population grew to more than one million in 1951 when large-scale suburbanization began, and doubled to two million by 1971. Following the elimination of racially based immigration policies by the late 1960s, Toronto became a destination for immigrants from all parts of the world.
By the 1980s, Toronto had surpassed Montreal as Canada's most populous city and chief economic hub. During this time, in part owing to the political uncertainty raised by the resurgence of the Quebec sovereignty movement, many national and multinational corporations moved their head offices from Montreal to Toronto and Western Canadian cities.
In 1954, the City of Toronto and 12 surrounding municipalities were federated into a regional government known as Metropolitan Toronto. The postwar boom had resulted in rapid suburban development and it was believed that a coordinated land-use strategy and shared services would provide greater efficiency for the region. The metropolitan government began to manage services that crossed municipal boundaries, including highways, police services, water and public transit.
In that year, a half-century after the Great Fire of 1904, disaster struck the city again when Hurricane Hazel brought intense winds and flash flooding. In the Toronto area, 81 people were killed, nearly 1,900 families were left homeless, and the hurricane caused more than $25 million in damage.
In 1967, the seven smallest municipalities of Metropolitan Toronto were merged with larger neighbours, resulting in a six-municipality configuration that included the former city of Toronto and the surrounding municipalities of East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York.
In 1998, the Conservative provincial government led by Mike Harris dissolved the metropolitan government, despite vigorous opposition from the component municipalities and overwhelming rejection in a municipal plebiscite. All six municipalities were amalgamated into a single municipality, creating the current City of Toronto, the successor of the old City of Toronto. North York mayor Mel Lastman became the first "megacity" mayor and the 62nd Mayor of Toronto. John Tory is the current mayor.
The city attracted international attention in 2003 when it became the centre of a major SARS outbreak. Public health attempts to prevent the disease from spreading elsewhere temporarily dampened the local economy.
On March 6, 2009, the city celebrated the 175th anniversary of its inception as the City of Toronto in 1834. Toronto hosted the 4th G20 summit during June 26–27, 2010. This included the largest security operation in Canadian history. Following large-scale protests and rioting, law enforcement conducted the largest mass arrest (more than a thousand people) in Canadian history.
On July 8, 2013, severe flash flooding hit Toronto after an afternoon of slow-moving, intense thunderstorms. Toronto Hydro estimated that 450,000 people were without power after the storm and Toronto Pearson International Airport reported that 126 mm (5 in) of rain had fallen over five hours, more than during Hurricane Hazel. Within six months, on December 20, 2013, Toronto was brought to a halt by the worst ice storm in the city's history, rivalling the severity of the 1998 Ice Storm. Toronto hosted WorldPride in June 2014 and the Pan American Games in 2015.
The name has also sometimes been identified with Tarantou, a village marked on a 1656 map of New France by Nicolas Sanson. However, the location on this map is east of Lake Nipissing and northwest of Montreal in what is now Quebec.
Beginnings of Upper Canada
In 1786, Lord Dorchester arrived in Quebec City as Governor-in-Chief of British North America. His mission was to solve the problems of the newly landed Loyalists. At first, Dorchester suggested opening the new Canada West as districts under the Quebec government, but the British Government made known its intention to split Canada into Upper and Lower Canada. Dorchester began organizing for the new province of Upper Canada, including a capital. Dorchester's first choice was Kingston, but was aware of the number of Loyalists in the Bay of Quinte and Niagara areas, and chose instead the location north of the Bay of Toronto, midway between the settlements and 30 miles (48 km) from the US. Under the policy of the time, the British recognized aboriginal title to the land and Dorchester arranged to purchase the lands from the Mississaugas.
Dorchester intended for the location of the new capital to be named Toronto. Instead, Lieutenant Governor Simcoe ordered the name of the new settlement to be called York, after the Duke of York, who had guided a recent British victory in Holland. Simcoe is recorded as both disliking aboriginal names and disliking Dorchester. The new capital was named York on August 27, 1793. In 1804, settler Angus MacDonald petitioned the Upper Canada Legislature to restore the name Toronto but this was rejected. To differentiate from York in England and New York City, the town was known as "Little York".
Incorporation of the City of Toronto
The name was chosen in part to avoid the negative connotations that "York" had engendered in the city's residents, especially that of dirty Little York. Toronto was also considered more pleasing, as the speaker noted during the debate, "He hoped Honourable Members had the same taste for musical sounds as he had". Berczy noted that "it is the old, original name of the place, and the sound is in every respect much better". Some sources also indicate that the name Taronto and its variants was so common on maps, that it made sense to use this word. The City of Toronto was incorporated on March 6, 1834.
Toronto has garnered various nicknames throughout its history. Among the earliest of these was the disparaging Muddy York, used during the settlement's early growth. At the time, there were no sewers or storm drains, and the streets were unpaved. During rainfall, water would accumulate on the dirt roads, transforming them into often impassable muddy avenues. A more disparaging nickname used by the early residents was Little York, referring to its establishment as a collection of twelve log homes at the mouth of the Don River surrounded by wilderness, and used in comparison to New York City in the United States and York in England. This changed as new settlements and roads were established, extending from the newly established capital.
Adjectives were sometimes attached to Little York; records from the Legislative Council of the time indicate that dirty Little York and nasty Little York were used by residents.
In his book Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place Names, Alan Rayburn states that "no place in Canada has as many sobriquets as Toronto." Among them are the nicknames:
- "Centre of the Universe", as mentioned in the documentary film Let's All Hate Toronto, as the term is used derisively by residents of the rest of Canada in reference to the city. It is also infrequently used by the media. Outside Toronto, it is sometimes said to be used by residents of the city. The moniker "Center of the Universe" was originally a popular nickname for New York City, and more specifically Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. It has since been used to refer to other cities.
- "TO" or "T.O.", from Toronto, Ontario, or from Toronto; pronounced "Tee-Oh". Sometimes used as T-dot.
- "The Megacity", referring to the amalgamation of the former Metropolitan Toronto.
- "The City That Works", first mentioned in a Harper's Magazine article written by The Washington Post correspondent Anthony Astrachan in 1975. It refers to the city's reputation for successful urban planning.
- "The Big Smoke", used by Allan Fotheringham, a writer for Maclean's magazine, who had first heard the term applied by Aboriginal Australians to Australian cities. The Big Smoke was originally a popular nickname for London, England, and is now used to refer to various cities throughout the world.
- "Hogtown", said to be related to the livestock that was processed in Toronto, largely by the city's largest pork processor and packer, the William Davies Company.
- "Toronto the Good", from its history as a bastion of 19th century Victorian morality and coined by mayor William Holmes Howland. An 1898 book by C.S. Clark was titled Of Toronto the Good. A Social Study. The Queen City of Canada As It Is. The book is a facsimile of an 1898 edition. Today sometimes used ironically to imply a less-than-great or less-than-moral status.
- "Queen City", a reference now most commonly used by French Canadians ("La Ville-Reine") or speakers of Quebec English, other French-language or Franco-Ontarian newsmedia such as Le Droit or in advertising. The second part of the three-part Toronto: City of Dreams documentary about the city was titled The Queen City (1867–1939).
- "City of Churches".
- "Hollywood North", referring to the film industry.
- "Broadway North", in reference to the Broadway theatre area in Manhattan. Toronto is home to the world's third largest English-speaking theatre district after London and NYC.
- "The 416", referring to the original telephone area code for much of the city (the other area codes are 647 and 437); the surrounding GTA suburbs, now using area codes 905, 289, and 365, are similarly "the 905".
- "The Six" (also written as "The 6" or "The 6ix"), popularized in 2015 by Toronto-born musician Drake with his mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late and 2016 album Views. Drake himself credits Toronto rapper Jimmy Prime with inventing the handle, but it was used by other Toronto rappers in the early 2000s, in songs such as Baby Blue Soundcrew's "Love 'Em All". The usage of the nickname in many of Drake's songs has since brought it to global attention. While the meaning of the term was initially unclear, Drake clarified in a 2016 interview by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that it derived from the city's 416 area code and the six municipalities that amalgamated into the modern City of Toronto in 1998. This nickname is analogous to New York City's nickname of "The Five Boroughs."