Toronto - Island Airport view of Downtown Skyline -sliver (Patrick Stieber)

Toronto – Island Airport view of Downtown Skyline -sliver (Patrick Stieber)

Why Visit Toronto?

This is Canada’s biggest city, but we’ll focus on the middle here: The city is cross-crossed with deep forested ravines from High Park in the west to the Don Valley in the east, and has a number of hopping shopping districts, including Yonge Street and, Bloor, and the hip Queen Street West and The Danforth to the east. There is lots of live theatre, tons of attractions and museums, and there is great architecture to be found on every neighbourhood. And you can get almost everywhere quickly by subway or by streetcar.

Toronto, recently amalgamated from five municipalities, is Canada’s largest city with a population of 4.3 million, and is the capital of the province of Ontario. “Toronto” is the Huron Indian word that means “place of meeting” Toronto is the head office capital of Canada, the financial centre of he country, home of the second largest stock exchange in North America, and home to the country’s busiest airport. Toronto is also home to the world’s tallest building, the CN Tower (which dominates the skyline). If that isn’t BIG enough, a recent Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman, had voiced an interest in making Toronto a province.
BBlue Jays Baseball at the Skydome
Residents have plenty to do! The city has plenty of major league sports with teams that include the Blue Jays, Leafs, Raptors, and Argonauts. The city has over 5,000 restaurants and eateries and nightlife to match. The city is a multicultural mecca, and has more than 100 ethnic groups speaking approximately 100 languages. Yonge Street, the main north-south thoroughfare, is the longest street in the world (about 1,200 miles/ 1,800 km long). You can also head underground for shopping in the world’s biggest underground city, which is connected to train stations and subways stations. At any one time, there are some 40 productions playing – including Broadway musicals, classical concerts, ballet and opera, plus a range of “leading edge” productions!

The Greater Toronto Area

Oshawa-Durham RegionScarborough (including Victoria Park)North York (above Eglinton)Toronto (up to Eglinton)Etobicoke (except Airport)Mississauga-Brampton (including Pearson Airport)Oakville-BurlingtonYork Region (Vaughan, Markham and northwards)

Toronto History

The area was first settled by natives called the Torontos, of the Ojibwa group, which had moved from around Lake Huron. The Torontos are named for a “river of the north of many mouths,” which is in Northern Ontario draining into Lake Huron. The first Europeans were French explorer and fur trader Cavelier de la Salle and Louis Joliet, who arrived at nearby Burlington Bay in 1669 via the Grand River from Lake Erie on their return from Lake Superior. By the 1720s, the French established trading posts around Lake Ontario, including one near the mouth of the Credit River, named for the custom of trading with the Torontos on credit.

Old Fort York

The city and Fort York were attacked by Americans during the War of 1812, but was rebuilt and thrived. By 1834, the community of York had 9,000 residents and was renamed to its original native name when incorporated as a city. Reformist politician William Lyon Mackenzie became the first Mayor of Toronto, and in 1837 led the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion against a corrupt and ineffective British colonial government. The city grew rapidly over the 1800s , especially attracting Irish following their potato famine. Toronto has been the capital of Upper Canada from 1793, and became the capital of the new Province of Ontario after Canada’s Confederation in 1867.

Toronts Islands are the result of accumulated sediment eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs which created a natural harbour. The current shoreline was a result of landfill pushed out from Front Street over the years, and a storm in the 1850s provided an eastern channel into the harbour. The Don River attracted a variety of industry including brewers, distillers, brickworks, and textile manufacturers. By the end of the 1800s, Toronto had grown to about 200,000 residents.
Queen's Park, the Ontario Legislature

By 1854, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Great Northern Railway extended to the upper Great Lakes, and by the late 1880s the line was extended to the Pacific Ocean. The Toronto Railway Company added electric streetcars in 1891, which in 1921 became the Toronto Transportation Commission (the “TTC”). In the 1931, the city had the world’s first concrete 4 lane limited-access highway, the Queen Elizabeth Way, connecting Mississauga with Hamilton, and later extended east of Highway 27 with the Gardiner Expressway into downtown Toronto, and south to Niagara Falls, and then to Fort Erie (across the Niagara River from Buffalo).

The city received large groups of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and China, as well as Jews from all over Eastern Europe. By the 1920s, Toronto’s population and economic importance was second only to the much more established Montreal, though by 1934 the Toronto Stock Exchange (the “TSE”) had become the largest in the country helping make Toronto the financial centre of the country. Downtown became home to ever-higher buildings, culminating in the CIBC building which was for a time the tallest building in the British Commonwealth.
Toronto's New City Hall

Following the Second World War, refugees from war-torn Europe, poor areas of Italy and Portugal, and Chinese fleeing the unrest there came to Toronto. When race-based immigration policies were reformed in the late 1960s, immigration grew from all parts of the world. Toronto’s population was 1 million in 1951, when Toronto began expanding into the suburbs in all directions. The city doubled to two million by 1971, and by the 1980s, Toronto had outgrown Montreal to become Canada’s most populous city. During this time political uncertainty and onerous French language laws prompted many national and multinational corporations to move their head offices from Montreal to Toronto.

The need for a coordinated land use strategy and efficiencies from shared municipal services led to the 1954 creation of a regional government known as Metropolitan Toronto, which included Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scarborough. The metro government managed cross-boundary services such as highways, water and public transit. In 1998, by the authority of the Province of Ontario, the 6 metropolitan municipal governments were dissolved and amalgamated into a single one, the current City of Toronto (colloquially, the “megacity”).

Roy Thompson Concert HallIn the 1950s and 1960s, the city’s downtown replaced stone skyscrapers with glass towers, and underground, Toronto added the subway system to speed commuters into the downtown and across the city. To the north, in North York, Highway 401 was built with 16 lanes of traffic to speed cross-town automobile traffic. In the early 1970s, the CN Tower was built to handle telecommunications, becoming a popular tourist attraction as the world’s second tallest free standing structure (it lost this distinction in 2007).

Toronto - Toronto Island Ferry And City -sliver (Patrick Stieber).jpg1 copy

Toronto – Toronto Island Ferry And City -sliver (Patrick Stieber)

Highway Notes

Highway 401 running past Don Mills

Despite many residents’ thoughts to the contrary, Canada’s largest city, Toronto is NOT on the Trans-Canada Highway! While the very busy Highway 401 (in parts, over 8 lanes wide!) bisects the metropolitan area, this highway known as the “Macdonald Cartier Freeway” connects Detroit & Windsor, Toronto and (as highway 20 in Quebec) Montreal and Quebec City.

The closest the Trans-Canada gets to Toronto is a corner on Highway 7 east of Lake Simcoe, closer to Peterborough, which is on the “Southern Route”. You can’t even see the CN Tower from there, that’s how far away it is. Nevertheless, Toronto is both a popular Canadian arrival & departure point for international and American visitors, and is home to millions of Canadian who want to see the rest of their country, so we’ve included route itineraries for getting to & from Toronto and the Trans-Canada Highway. We’ve identified two key connection points: Montreal for points east, and Sudbury for all points west.


ll roadways in and around Toronto are busy, given the population density. Cyclists may not travel on any of the 400 series highways in Ontario, which limits options heading north/west. For cyclists, the best way to get out of Toronto NORTHBOUND is to head up Yonge Street, which runs through several communities including Richmond Hill, Aurora and Newmarket and Barrie and continues as Highway 11 to North Bay.

From Barrie, many sources recommend taking route 26 west to Owen Sound, then up to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, and catching the ferry to Manitoulin Island, and from there north to Espanola on Highway 17 westbound. Cyclists heading EASTBOUND toward Montreal, can take the old Highway 2, which runs along the north shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston and hen along the St Lawrence, and was the main route since the days of horse-drawn coaches in colonial days, until the 401 was built.

Greater Toronto Area Map