The City of Toronto is the largest city in Canada
and is the provincial capital of Ontario
. It is also the country’s largest economic centre and the 31st largest city in the world. It is often lauded for its cultural and ethnic diversity, high standards of education
and health care
and its artistic venues and events, but is also frequently criticized for what some consider an air of unfounded superiority
Toronto covers just over 640 km2 of land and is situated along the coast of Lake Ontario, in the province’s southwest region. While the city’s downtown core is among its most populated areas, the city limits extend 43 kilometers east-west and 21 kilometers north-south. After “megacity” legislation was passed in 1998, the regional municipalities of York, Etobicoke and Toronto became one city; this further extended the city’s surface area and population.
The city is home to four major league sports teams, the National Ballet of Canada, several major art galleries, the Ontario provincial legislature, a major branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, three major universities, several colleges, the world’s tallest freestanding structure and some other, equally nice things. The Toronto Transit Commission connects the city with its suburban neighbours and allows for easy travel within its own limits through the use of buses, streetcars and a subway system.
Toronto’s sheer size and immense population means it gets a great deal of attention and funding from provincial and federal levels of government. While many agree that its sheer size and immense population merit such attention and funding, other cities and regions argue that too much emphasis is placed on this one city. This is what led to the rather sarcastic dubbing of it as the “centre of the universe” by some.
The current mayor of Toronto is David Miller, a former city councillor. Most agree that he is substantially different from his predecessor, Mel Lastman. Though Miller’s popularity is not universal and he is not immune to criticism from political rivals and citizens alike, he doesn’t suffer from Lastman’s foot-in-mouth syndrome and usually comes across as a fairly down-to-earth guy.
From “Tkaronto” to York…
Toronto’s historical background is rich and varied, having been the setting for several events in Canadian history. Various Native groups in the 18th century originally settled there but no one group claimed the land as its home for any substantial periods of time. Because of this, as well as some degree of similarity between certain terms in several Native languages, the origin of the city’s name is the subject of much dispute. It bears a great deal of resemblance to both the Huron word for “meeting place” and the Mohawk phrase meaning “place with trees in water.” Historian Paul Court has indicated that the place referred to by the Mohawk was actually further north of Toronto, closer to present-day Lake Simcoe, and did not necessarily refer to the city itself. French cartographers, Court says, transcribed the Mohawk word “tkaronto” (which means “place with trees in water”) as “Toronteau” (which also suggests the presence of water). The lake became known as Lake Toronteau, then Lake Toronto, and the rest was allegedly history. Some people insist on asserting that the Huron term was the more accurate origin, however, since it has been suggested that “tkaronto” can also translate to “stick in the mud.”
Both the British and the French attempted to create permanent settlements in the general Toronto area but were unsuccessful. The American Revolution prompted many unsatisfied British loyalists to relocate to what would be declared Upper Canada roughly 20 years later; many of them settled in what is now Toronto. The British government provided land and other incentives to encourage those dissatisfied with a total break from Great Britain to leave the newly created United States of America for the somewhat more Brit-friendly territory up north. The British purchased the area in 1788 and Governor John Graves Simcoe declared the settlement the new capital of Upper Canada in 1796. Until this point, the capital had been located in the town of Newark (which is presently Niagara-on-the-Lake); Simcoe believed that this settlement was less susceptible to attack by the Americans. In order to emphasize the British entry into the area, Simcoe also took the liberty of renaming many of the settlements and landmarks that had previously carried Native names. The Toronto River was renamed the Humber River and the influence of the British on the general settlement area became incredibly clear after it was renamed York. (Lake Toronto would later be renamed Lake Simcoe, as well).
The town of York technically began on what are today known as the Toronto Islands and moved outward onto the mainland. Fort York was built near the harbour; most of the residential areas were further east. Roads and streets were built in order to create a better and more efficient means of transportation and communication with other military presences in Lower Canada. One of these was Yonge Street, the street that divides Toronto into east and west sections. It has been widely speculated that Simcoe chose the area for the settlement because the street had already existed, in part, as a trail used by the Hurons.
Simcoe had spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to avoid any military interaction with American troops; as mentioned, he believed the York site was too far out of the way to be forcefully attacked and he attempted to make transportation between other military centres (such as Kingston and Montreal) easier. These attempts did not prevent an attack on York by American troops in 1813; since it came as somewhat of a surprise (given Simcoe’s insistence at safeguarding the town and its fort) and because York’s military power was relatively weak compared to that of the Americans, American forces were successful in burning at least part of the town to the ground. Fort York was also not strong enough to fully stave off an attack, though the “retreat” plan (Loyalist soldiers torched the magazine and took off, leaving many American soldiers to be killed by the explosion) prevented even more of an all-out massacre. British forces remembered this when they had the opportunity to burn sections of Washington, DC to the ground the next year – and so they did, bringing down parts of the White House in the process. This string of incidents alerted officials to the need for stronger military presence in York, as well as a stronger fort; once these had been established, the British were able to successfully hold off an American attack in 1814.
… And from York to Toronto
The reasons for the town’s name change from York to Toronto are varied. Court suggests that the more ‘middle class’ citizens associated names so obviously British as York with aristocracy and were more accepting of the Native names. He also says that various petitions requesting such a name change were drafted and presented to the appropriate authorities. Another possible cause may have been the prominence and frequent use of ‘York’ as a place name in other parts of the province, as well as in other British colonies. In any case, the Town of York became the City of Toronto on March 6, 1834; its first mayor was William Lyon Mackenzie.
Mackenzie was an extremely prominent figure and spearhead of the Upper Canadian Rebellion of 1837. His rank and prominence within the community most likely allowed him to generate so much support among farmers and other “common” citizens against the Family Compact and the lack of responsible government exercised within the colony. Several of Mackenzie’s organized attempts at challenging the Family Compact revolve directly around the city’s landmarks (some of which, like Montgomery’s Tavern, no longer exist). The confrontations themselves were brief and largely unorganized but they, along with the Lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837, prompted the release of the Durham Report, the implementation of responsible government and the union of Upper and Lower Canada.
The city grew as the 19th century progressed; the number of Irish immigrants increased during the potato famine (1846-1849) and religious issues became prevalent. The general religious makeup of the Toronto area had been largely Protestant, since the majority of its earliest settlers were Anglican. Irish Protestants were generally welcomed into the community, despite the historical and cultural differences between Britain and Ireland. Catholics, on the other hand, were usually not welcomed in the least and were even the targets of discriminatory laws. The result was an extremely tight-knit Catholic community in the Toronto area (Irish Catholics eventually generally welcomed Catholics from other cultural backgrounds with open arms). The Irish presence in the community increased greatly throughout the subsequent decades. Changes in the area’s religious makeup led to an eventual move towards secularization in terms of schooling and education. Secularization was one of the key reforms pushed for by Egerton Ryerson, a minister from the general area. Ryerson’s insistence on secular education eventually led to the creation of Ontario’s public school system and the founding of the Toronto Normal School in 1852.
By 1851, Toronto’s population had risen to 30,000 people. This had increased six fold 40 years later. Electricity and large-scale transportation systems (including streetcars) became increasingly popular in the early 20th century. The increase in population and modernization led to rather substantial (though gradual) changes on the city’s recreational scene. A 1996 Globe and Mail article citied on the city's official website indicates that Yonge Street had developed a reputation for its high number of taverns by 1939.
In 1904, a fire began in a necktie factory near Bay Street and eventually spread, destroying a large part of downtown Toronto. Though most sources don’t detail exactly how much damage was done (and instead prefer to say that the damage was “quickly repaired” before jumping into other topics), it is estimated that the economic cost was somewhere around $10 million. Thousands of jobs were also lost, putting a hefty strain on the city’s economy. The fire itself took nearly a day to extinguish and Toronto’s fire department even required the aid of departments from neighbouring cities as far away as Buffalo. No one was killed, but the actual cause of the fire remains a mystery to this day.
The Toronto Transit Commission opened its first subway line (Canada’s first) in 1954, after having run buses and streetcars since the late 19th century. The original line ran from Union Station on Front Street along Yonge to Eglinton Avenue. Additions and other lines came later: the Yonge line was officially opened in 1954, a parallel line moving up University and Spadina Avenues opened in 1963, and completely different lines branching out to the furthest corners of the city were also eventually opened.
More population growth
Immigration to Canada increased throughout the 20th century, and since Toronto had already developed a reputation for being diverse and multicultural, many of those entering the country chose to live there. By this point, the city’s ethnic makeup was comprised mainly of people of Irish, Jewish, Italian and Chinese descent. The post-World War II baby boom sped up the creation and development of suburbs that neighboured the city; this eventually led to a “semi-amalgamation” of various townships and municipalities that surrounded Toronto. Smaller cities, villages and towns such as Weston and York (not to be confused with the town’s original name) kept their municipal responsibilities and privileges but were considered part of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto as of 1954. Though the retention of their municipal rights was technical, they were gradually phased out in practice. Originally, 13 municipalities came together to form the larger Metropolitan municipality, but several of the 13 merged during the 1960s; the MMT consisted of six somewhat larger municipalities from that point on.
The relationship between the governing powers of the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario has been generally incident-free for most of the 20th century, but the issues of funds for the city and how much power it has over its own dealings have long been contentious ones. The municipality issue was raised again in 1998 when the provincial government announced it wished to merge the remaining six municipalities of the MMT into one “megacity.” This was a political fire starter because the provincial government, under premier Mike Harris, had announced it would amalgamate the municipalities regardless of the result of a citywide referendum on the very subject. The referendum was held anyway, the people voted against amalgamation, and the government held to its vow to amalgamate the municipalities anyway. This basically turned into a political pillow fight complete with advocacy groups and concerned citizens assembling at Queen’s Park, chanting, “We said no.” No one could really say they didn’t see it coming, though. The new city was officially incorporated on January 1, 1999. A mayoral/council election was held in 1998 for the new city, and North York mayor Mel Lastman soundly defeated former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall.
Despite the fact that Lastman considered himself to be relatively conservative, he frequently clashed with members of the provincial government’s reigning Progressive Conservative Party (premier Harris in particular). This was generally over non-starter issues such as funding (which are almost always huge conflicts between municipal and provincial governments anyway, but especially when the municipal government is the largest in Canada). Harris’ main support came largely from rural areas (though the provincial Tories did win a huge majority) and he understood that in order to maintain that support, he would need to put money in places other than Toronto. On the other hand, Toronto is a massive city and requires a great deal of funding. Some councillors even suggested that Toronto split from Ontario and become its own province so that it would be able to receive money directly from the federal government and subsequently not have to deal with another “buffer” government at the provincial level. This, of course, never got off the ground and some have speculated as to whether or not the plan was even technically legal. Political plans generally supported by the Liberal and New Democratic Parties that offer “new deals for cities” are likely catered directly towards voters in Toronto.
Lastman’s tenure as mayor of North York had been lengthy and his approval rating was reasonably high. He was frequently criticized, however, during his period as mayor of Toronto for appearing unpolished and sometimes uncouth. Some critics even connected his past as a salesman to his political career (hence the “Madman Mel” label) and used it to explain his apparent lack of talent for diplomacy. He came under a great deal of fire during his term for shaking hands with and accepting a t-shirt from a Hell’s Angels member – and then staging a photo shoot in which he was seen throwing the shirt out. He also made comments that were seen to have significantly damaged the city’s chances at hosting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Lastman opted not to run for re-election in the 2003 municipal election; his decision meant that the city didn’t really have a “guaranteed winner” for the first time since the “megacity” was created.
Toronto also hosted World Youth Day 2002, a rather large gathering of Catholic “youth” (which encompasses people from the ages of 16 to 35, apparently). Pope John Paul II came to the city for the week-long event, which culminated with thousands of people sleeping at Downsview Park (a former air base) in the rain.
Toronto was one of the cities hit by the SARS outbreak in 2003. A woman who had contracted the syndrome while traveling in China brought it back to the city upon her return. In total, 38 Canadians died from SARS or from complications arising from it. Roughly 250 cases were reported. The heavy media attention given to the outbreak and the pandemonium regarding its spread resulted in a drop in the city’s tourism revenue. It appeared, for a time, that any hopes of complete recovery were slim. It almost certainly didn’t help when Lastman appeared on CNN in order to assure potential visitors that the city was safe and, upon being asked something, announced that he didn’t know what the World Health Organization was.
The Rolling Stones helped to organize and headlined a benefit concert intended on bringing tourists back into the Toronto area. People threw water bottles at Justin Timberlake. A lot of people are still talking about AC/DC for some reason. It was one of the largest concerts of all time and only attracted 50,000 fewer people than Woodstock did. It was dubbed SARSstock for some peculiar reason.
Though unrelated to the SARS epidemic, the Eastern Blackout of 2003 also affected Toronto. I was downtown when it happened. That wasn’t cool.
Another election and a changing of the provincial guard
The relationship between provincial and municipal government was widely believed to have suffered greatly during the Bob Rae years and especially during Mike Harris’ terms as premier. Weeks after Ontario voters ceremoniously removed the Tories from power and ushered in the Liberals, David Miller (a long-time city councillor and New Democrat) won the mayoral election. Both Miller and newly elected premier Dalton McGuinty said they were willing to work together to work out new deals for the city (with particular regards to gas tax revenues). There have been minor setbacks and disagreements, but nothing quite like the tension of the Lastman/Harris years. So far, the provincial government has allotted more money for the TTC and such – it still wasn’t enough to stave off threats of a strike in early 2005, but talks continue.
The city has undergone several staffing changes as of late, including the retirement of longtime police chief Julian Fantino. There has been widespread speculation that Miller was behind the decision not to extend Fantino’s contract because of personal disagreements with him. The provincial government quickly offered the former chief a position with a special safety commission; some suggested that this appointment was made quickly to prevent him from running for the provincial Conservatives in the 2007 provincial election. Fantino denied even thinking about it. 2010 UPDATE: Fantino is running for the Conservative Party of Canada in neighbouring Vaughan.
Miller opted not to run for reelection in 2010 after a controversial second term that included a garbage strike. Councillor Rob Ford was elected mayor on October 25, 2010, defeating his closest competitor, former cabinet minister George Smitherman, by nearly 100,000 votes. Voter turnout was, at 52%, higher than it had been in some time. Ford was sworn in December 1, 2010.
Mr. Ford brought the city a lot of unflattering attention in 2013 when the U.S. gossip site Gawker reported the existence of a video showing him appearing to smoke crack cocaine. Two reporters from the Toronto Star said they had also seen the video. Ford denied the allegation for months; in October, the chief of police confirmed that the video existed, was in the possession of the police, that he had seen it, that Ford was in it, and that he was "disappointed." Ford has now admitted to smoking crack cocaine while mayor but as of November 5, 2013, was vehemently refusing to step down.
Toronto’s most famous landmark is the CN Tower
, the world’s tallest freestanding structure. It is located next to the “Rogers Centre” (which used to be called the Skydome
and is the home to the Toronto Blue Jays
and Toronto Argonauts
as well as a fair number of large concerts), within walking distance from Union Station. The Air Canada Centre
, the city’s main arena, is also located in this general area. The ACC is home to the Toronto Maple Leafs
, the Toronto Raptors
, and most of the major concerts that take place in the city. The Leafs played at Maple Leaf Gardens
until 1999; it’s supposedly going to be turned into a grocery store. UPDATE (2010)
: The Gardens were purchased by Ryerson University
with the financial assistance of Loblaw and will contain a grocery store as well as the university's athletic complex.
Ontario’s provincial legislature is located at Queen’s Park, a large public park named after Queen Victoria. Its building is located on the grounds of the park; many of the MPPs and government officials have their offices here as well. Members of the public can take guided tours and view parliamentary proceedings from the gallery. Dundas Square was built with the intention of becoming Canada’s Times Square. Small events are often staged there, but it has drawn criticism for its appearance, which resembles that of a reasonably large parking lot. The Eaton Centre (so still named, despite the fact that Eaton’s department stores folded some years back) is reasonably large mall (but not Ontario’s largest!) located in the heart of the city’s downtown core.
The Hockey Hall of Fame is the semi-permanent home of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup. It, along with most of the game’s other trophies, is on display at most times of the year (ie. When it’s not in whatever city won). The city’s art and scientific museums (specifically the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario) are also fairly renowned. Various parts of the city’s universities (York, Ryerson and the University of Toronto) have also been designated as historical landmarks.
Toronto’s city hall is a sight to be seen. It has its own node so I won’t go overboard on the detail, but it has a bizarre sci-fi-esque thing going on and it makes me feel better about Torontonians who make fun of Mississauga’s city hall. Old City Hall (also detailed in the same node) is home to various municipal and provincial court proceedings, since it is generally no longer used for municipal government purposes. Nathan Phillips Square, the public space adjoining to both New and Old City Halls, contains a pond that can be skated on in winter.
The Canadian National Exhibition Grounds are located just west of Union Station. The CNE (more commonly known as “The Ex”) are held there yearly and its buildings are often used throughout the rest of the year for special interest shows and conventions. Union Station itself is a reasonably popular tourist attraction (not because it’s where tourists arrive, seriously) because of its history and architecture. It’s a hub for the city’s subway system as well as for GO Transit, the provincial government’s mass transit system that moves thousands of commuters to and from the suburbs on a daily basis. Toronto’s CBC headquarters are on Front Street and are the home of the local CBC newscasts, The National (most of the time) and popular shows such as Royal Canadian Air Farce and Monday Report. (This Hour Has 22 Minutes is filmed in Halifax).
Economically, Toronto is home to hundreds of businesses (large and small) and is one of Canada’s two film centres (the other being Vancouver). Production companies often opt to shoot in Toronto because they can get decent deals with the exchange rate and because Toronto can easily pass for other metropolitan cities on film. (That “Cinderella Man” movie was filmed downtown – they shot the Madison Square Garden exterior shots outside the Bay on Queen Street. Yes, it is a department store).
According to other writeups in this node, the World’s Biggest Bookstore is also a worthy city landmark. It’s a bookstore and it’s bloody huge. Enough said. The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the year’s main events and attracts film personalities from all over the world, including the United States.
Toronto is home to three universities (one of which has other campuses in other nearby cities) and a handful of colleges. The Wikipedia article estimates the city’s student population (that includes commuters and those who live in the city) at around 60,000. That said, the cost of living in most parts of the city is not necessarily friendly to students, as it’s reasonably expensive – hence all the commuting. The St. George subway station services the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. Ryerson University (go Rams! Oh dear…) is most easily accessible by either Dundas or College stations, and York University is probably best accessed by the Keele subway station or the recently developed GO station.
The city’s four professional sports teams (the Blue Jays, the Maple Leafs, the Argonauts and the Raptors) represent Toronto in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the Canadian Football League and the National Basketball Association (respectively). The Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993. The Argos won the Grey Cup in 2004 and currently hold the record for the most championship victories in the CFL. The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. (If I were a Leafs fan, I’d be sad.) The only Raptors banner hanging in the Air Canada Centre says “Inaugural Season” on it. UPDATE: There was a division title at some poitn. All four teams have solid fan bases – the loss of revenue from parking alone due to the cancellation of the 2004-2005 NHL season is believed to be costing the city tens of thousands of dollars.
The city is often known as “TO” or “T-Dot.” Shirts reading “I ♥
TO” became increasingly popular during the attempt to rekindle tourism after the SARS scare. Someone came up with the cute idea of replacing the ♥ with a maple leaf. This worked out well until someone who wasn’t in the know
tried to read the shirt’s words out loud and it came out more like “I leave TO.” This was precisely the message from which organizers wanted to get away, but it didn’t do any real damage.
The city’s flag is royal blue with the outlines of the two “new” city hall buildings in white. A red maple leaf is at the base in the centre. The outlines can either be interpreted to represent city hall or can be seen as a ‘T,’ the city’s initial. The city’s crest consists of a beaver and a bear holding a shield, on top of which is an eagle. Its official motto is “Diversity our strength,” a reference to its multicultural and ethnic diversity. It has been estimated that over 100 languages are spoken in Toronto and that the city has over 200 neighbourhoods, many of which are culturally based.
Toronto made an extremely brief cameo in an episode of The Simpsons (and I say extremely brief because this thing was hyped up to the point of hysteria and when it aired it turned out that they were in the city for all of five minutes). The episode included real Toronto landmarks like the Skydome and the CN Tower (though they were erroneously depicted as being in two separate locations – but we know it was all a joke) and fake ones, such as the museum devoted to “Dodgers of Foreign Wars.” Conan O’Brien also filmed three episodes of his talk show at the Elgin Theatre as part of the attempt to increase American tourism to Canada following the SARS outbreak.
The current population of Toronto is just over 2.5 million people.
Toronto -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto 05 May 2005
Grey Cup -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Cup 05 May 2005
Toronto’s Name -- http://www.usitt.org/sightlines/v44/n07/stories/Toronto.html 05 May 2005
City of Toronto, Arts Heritage & Culture -- http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/culture/to_past_present.htm 05 May 2005
SARS -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SARS 05 May 2005
World Cities Population -- http://www.mongabay.com/cities_pop_01.htm 05 May 2005
A lot of this is also common knowledge; when you live in Mississauga you're sleeping with the elephant.
You might also find it interesting that the city of Toronto is home to a lot of redundant signs, including some that tell pedestrians to obey other signs. Really.