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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

For alternate meanings of Toronto see Toronto (disambiguation)


Toronto skyline on a summer day, including the CN Tower

Toronto is Canada's largest city and the provincial capital of Ontario. Its population is 2,482,000 (Torontonians) (2003 Statistics Canada estimate); that of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is 5,600,000 (2003). Approximately one-third of the Canadian population lives within a two-hour drive of Toronto, and about one-sixth of all Canadian jobs lie within the city limits.

The City of Toronto has a physical area of approximately 630 km² and is bounded by Lake Ontario to the south, Etobicoke Creek and Highway 427 to the west, Steeles Avenue to the north, and the Rouge River to the east.

The GTA extends beyond the city boundaries and includes the regional municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham.

The GTA is part of a larger, natural ecosystem known as the Greater Toronto Bioregion. This ecosystem is bounded by Lake Ontario, the Niagara Escarpment, and the Oak Ridges Moraine, and includes several watersheds that drain into Lake Ontario.

Up until the 1970s, Toronto was the second largest city in Canada, after Montreal. The economic growth of Toronto was greatly stimulated by the completion in 1959 of the St. Lawrence Seaway which allowed ships direct access to the Great Lakes. Further growth in the Toronto area is often attributed to the rise of the separatist movement in Quebec and the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976. The PQ enacted several French-language laws that were unfavourable towards businesses and English-speaking Montrealers, a number of which relocated to the more anglo-friendly Toronto.

The current mayor of Toronto is David Miller.


The flag of Toronto, Ontario


Map of Ontario Counties, Toronto being red

Table of contents



Located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto was originally a term of indeterminate geographical location, designating the approximate area of the future city of Toronto on maps dating to the late 17th and early 18th century. Eventually the name was anchored to the mouth of the Humber River, the end of the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail portage route from Georgian Bay; this is where the city of Toronto is located today.

The source and meaning of the name remains a matter of debate. Most common definitions claim that the origin is the Huron word toran-ten for "meeting place". However, it is much more likely that the term is from the Mohawk word referring to "the place where trees grow over the water", a reference to a specific location at the northern end of what is now Lake Simcoe, then known as Lake Toronto. The portage route up the Humber River eventually leads past this well known landmark. As the portage route grew in use, the name became more widely used and was eventually attached to a French trading fort just inland from Lake Ontario on the Humber.

Part of this confusion can be attributed to the succession of peoples who lived in the area during the 18th century: Huron, Senecas, Iroquois, and Mississaugas (the latter having lent their name to Toronto's modern-day western suburb). Until the beginning of British colonization there were no permanent settlements, though both native peoples and the French did try, including the construction of another small fort near the mouth of the Humber, currently buried on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.

European settlement

European settlement in central Canada was quite limited before 1788, amounting to only a few families, but it began growing quickly in the aftermath of the American Revolution. United Empire Loyalists, American colonists who refused to accept being divorced from the United Kingdom, or who felt unwelcome in the new republic, often came north to the unsettled lands north of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario; some had fought in the British army and were paid with land in the region. In 1788 the British negotiated the purchase of more than a quarter million acres of land in the area of Toronto. The site was then chosen by Governor John Graves Simcoe as the capital of the newly organized province of Upper Canada on July 29, 1793.

Specifically the town, then known as York, was built inland from the Toronto Islands, a chain of small islands leading into a marsh at their eastern end, with an opening at the western end. This formed a natural protected harbour, one that was defended with the construction of Fort York at the entrance on what was then a high point on the water's edge with a small river on the inland side (Garrison Creek). The town proper was formed closer to the eastern end of the harbour, near what is now Parliament Street.

Governor Simcoe was concerned with opening military communications between the settlements in the southwest of Upper Canada (notably Niagara-on-the-Lake, then known as Newark), and those to the east (Kingston, then points east to the border with Lower Canada). Dundas Street was the western route, leading to the town of the same name near Hamilton, but then continued west instead of southeast towards Niagara, and today it ends near the US border at Windsor. Kingston Road today forms the basis of the major Toronto-Montreal route. A third route, Yonge Street, was opened northward to Lake Toronto, then renamed Lake Simcoe and cut in three years. Yonge Street now forms the dividing line between east and west in Toronto, and is sometimes called "the longest street in the world" as it snakes its way for 1,896 kilometers to Rainy River, on the Minnesota border.

In 1813, as part of the War of 1812, York was attacked and partially burned. It was in retaliation for this that British forces attacked Washington, DC, the next year. Fort York was lightly manned at the time, and realizing that a defence was impossible, the troops retreated and set fire to the magazine. It exploded as the US forces were entering the fort, and many US soldiers were killed in the explosion. After the US forces left a new and much stronger fort was constructed several hundred yards to the west of the original position. Another attack in 1814 was beaten off with ease, the landing force never even being able to approach the shoreline. This newer fort now lies hundreds of yards inland due to landfill being dumped into the lake, and what was then a high point is largely invisible behind several highways.


In 1834 the town reverted to the name Toronto and this was the name the city was incorporated under on March 6 of that year, with William Lyon Mackenzie as its first mayor. Growth continued to be slow and even in the late 1800s one artist managed to paint a map of the town including every individual building.

Nevertheless modern amenities came to Toronto, including an extensive streetcar network in the city plus long-distance railways and interurban lines (called radial railways in Ontario). One radial line ran mostly along Yonge Street for about 80 km to Lake Simcoe, and allowed daytrips to its beaches. At the time Toronto's own beaches were far too polluted to use, a side effect of dumping garbage directly in the lake. The Grand Trunk Railway and the Great Northern Railway joined in the building of the first Union Station in the downtown area.

As the city grew it became naturally bounded by the Humber River to the west, and the Don River to the east. Several smaller rivers and creeks in the downtown area were routed into culverts and sewers and the land filled in above them, including both Garrison Creek and Taddle Creek, which runs through the University of Toronto. At the time they were being used as open sewers, and becoming a serious health problem.

The Don has an especially deep ravine, cutting off the east at most points north of the lakeshore. This was addressed in 1919 with the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct, better known today as the Bloor Street Viaduct, linking Bloor Street on the western side of the ravine with Danforth Avenue on the east. The designer, Edmund Burke, fought long and hard to have a second deck added to the bridge for trains, a cost the city was not willing to provide for. Nevertheless he finally got his way, and thereby saved the city millions of dollars when the TTC subway started using the deck in 1966.

The Prince Edward Viaduct represented a turning point in Toronto's history. Now linked to what were formerly separate towns, Toronto "filled out" in the first half of the 20th century, becoming a single larger city.

Recent history

Toronto's government was reorganized in 1953 to coordinate services for the city and surrounding region. The new Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto came into being on January 1, 1954 as a new level of government, encompassing East York, Etobicoke, Forest Hill, Leaside, Long Branch, Mimico, New Toronto, North York, Scarborough, Swansea, Toronto, Weston, and York. These thirteen townships, villages and cities continued to exist and provide services, with the so-called "Metro" government gradually taking over duties such as water supply, transit and expressways.

On January 1, 1967, several of the smaller municipalities were amalgamated with larger ones, reducing their number to six. Forest Hill and Swansea became part of Toronto; Long Branch, Mimico, and New Toronto joined Etobicoke; Weston merged with York; and Leaside amalgamated with East York.

This arrangement lasted until 1998, when the regional level of government was abolished and the six cities (Toronto, Etobicoke, North York, East York, York, and Scarborough) were amalgamated into a new ("megacity of") Toronto. Many people criticized this change, which came on top of a massive "downloading" of provincial services to the municipal level. The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Toronto opposed amalgamation, as proven by a referendum in that year. However, the Province of Ontario under Premier Mike Harris had the formal power to ignore this referendum, and did so.

At this point the definition of Toronto itself came into some doubt. In the 2000 Toronto municipal elections, over 88% of those voting did so for a Mayor that had discussed forming a new Province of Toronto - the second-place finisher Tooker Gomberg (8%) strongly favoured this move, while Mel Lastman (80%) also voiced his support. His statements were far more likely an attack on the provincial government, rather than a serious proposal, however, and after winning the election did nothing to advance this idea. The notion was also favoured by urban activist Jane Jacobs. In all probability such a separation is legally difficult or impossible - under the Canadian constitution the municipalities have no actual power; they are just permitted to make use of provincial authority.

This of course was one of the main problems that had concerned the activists - a few small groups, notably the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, advocated an extended campaign of property damage and resistance to Ontario's government. This led to Toronto's first large scale riots, ever, in the summer of 2000, and several smaller such events in 2001. When prominent federal politicians including Paul Martin and later Jack Layton (New Democratic Party of Canada leader and for 20 years a Toronto City Councillor) began promising a "new deal for cities", and large banks began issuing papers on it, the rhetoric in general became more muted and support for violent or radical solutions had faded. None of these deals have, however, been realized.

In 2002 Toronto hosted the Catholic World Youth Day and Pope John Paul II. Municipal unions chose this time to hold a garbage strike, and city parks were piled high with rotting trash.

In 2003 Toronto was hit by the SARS epidemic. Although the disease was primarily confined to hospitals and health-care workers, tourism in Toronto suffered because of media reports. To help recover the losses the city suffered in industries and tourism, the city held a "SARS Benefit Concert" featuring many famous bands, such as AC/DC, Rush, The Guess Who, Justin Timberlake, and headlined by The Rolling Stones. The concert attracted some 450,000 people, making it one of the largest concerts in history, second only to Woodstock in 1969 (which had 500,000 people). The city was also affected by the 2003 U.S.-Canada Blackout. The results were chaotic, with the city grinding to a halt, the streets being deserted and power not being restored for more than 12 hours in many cases.

In the 2003 Toronto election David Miller was elected to replace Mel Lastman as mayor.

City Issues

Although crime (including violent) in Toronto has been steadily decreasing over the past decade, concern over gun and gang related crimes has come to the attention of the media. Although Toronto's homicide levels are extremely low compared to similar sized American cities (in 2003 Toronto had 65 homicides, while similar sized Chicago had over 590) and per capita Toronto has lower crime rates than most cities in Canada, many are calling for something to be done now rather than wait until it is too late. American gang experts have been brought in and increased funding for programs in troubled neighbourhoods have been recently initiated.

Toronto is also struggling to come to grasps with a steadily growing homeless problem, as the former provincial Conservative government has dramatically cut spending for homeless programs. Other programs and responsibilities have been dumped onto the city as well, with little to no new revenue opertunities. The current provincial liberals have been slow to enact any new funding.

An underfunded transit system as also started to show strain from low funding from higher levels of government. The TTC has one of the lowest operating subsidies and highest farebox ratios of North American transit systems. Newer higher level governments have been more sympathetic to municipal level issues, and more funding may be on the way.

In The City


Overhead view of the SkyDome, with the roof closed, as seen from the CN Tower

Landmarks include

Important Annual Events Include


Performing arts

Toronto is home to a vibrant theater scene, where such companies as Soulpepper, the Canadian Stage, and Tarragon produce plays; as well, many Broadway theatrical hits originated in Toronto, such as Show Boat and Ragtime.

Toronto also is home to a major orchestra (the Toronto Symphony Orchestra), which performs at Roy Thomson Hall, as well as the Canadian Opera Company, and Tafelmusik, an internationally-known baroque orchestra and chamber choir.

Harbourfront Centre is a major performing arts venue, with several theaters and stages. During the summer, a series of weekend festivals brings world music to Toronto.

The National Ballet of Canada is based in Toronto and performs at the Four Seasons Centre.


A simulated colour image of Toronto, taken by Landsat 7

Toronto's Neighbourhoods

Toronto has upwards of 240 distinct neighbourhoods within its boundaries. The following is a list of its most notable ones. The list has been divided into the former municipalities, the names of which are still known and commonly used by Torontonians.

"Old" Toronto

The Old City of Toronto refers to the City of Toronto and its boundaries from 1967 to 1997. It is sometimes referred to as the "South" or "Central" District.

East York



North York


Toronto's Suburbs

The suburbs immediately surrounding Toronto are also known as the "905 belt" or simply "the 905", after their telephone area code. (Toronto is "the 416".)

For more information on the suburbs of Toronto, see Greater Toronto Area.

Educational Institutions

Toronto is the seat of three universities -- University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson University -- and many other institutes of higher learning, including the Ontario College of Art & Design, Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College, and Seneca College.


Toronto is served by the following highways: Highways 400, 401, 404, 409, and 427, as well as the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.

Public transportation needs are served by the TTC subway and streetcars. GO Transit commuter train and bus service connect the rest of the Greater Toronto Area with downtown Toronto.

Nearby Mississauga, Ontario hosts the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The Toronto City Centre Airport is a regional airport located on the Toronto Islands.

A ferry service across Lake Ontario linking Toronto to Rochester, New York is expected to launch in May of 2004.


Toronto is home to several professional sports franchises and annual sporting events, including


Toronto's nicknames include
  • T.O. (from Toronto, Ontario)
  • t-dot (short for "t-dot o-dot")
  • the Big Smoke
  • Hogtown
  • Toronto the Good (from its history as a bastion of Victorian morality in the 1940s and 1950s)

Canadians often pronounce the name as "Toronno" or even "Trono". This merely reflects general local pronunciation (for instance, "ninety" is often pronounced somewhere between "9-D" and "9-E", rather than "9-T"). It is never incorrect to pronounce distinctly the second t in Toronto, and many local people do so.

Local Media

Toronto has a wide range of media outlets in many languages. and is the centre of Canada's English language media industry.

See also: List of Toronto media outlets


Toronto skyline at night

Famous Torontonians

From (around) Toronto, or having part of their career in Toronto:

See also

External links


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