Toronto History

Early 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

British Colonial History

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.

Toronto 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

After Confederation

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

Post World War II  Growth

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).