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History of Toronto

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History of Toronto

Part of a series on the
History of Toronto
Town of York (1793–1834)
City of Toronto (1834–1954)
Metropolitan Toronto (1954–1998)
Toronto (Amalgamated) (1998–present)
Toronto Purchase 1787
Battle of York 1813
Battle of Montgomery's Tavern 1837
First Great Fire of Toronto 1849
Second Great Fire of Toronto 1904
Hurricane Hazel (effects) 1954
First Amalgamation 1967
Second Amalgamation 1998
Toronto portal
Toronto in 1901

The history of Toronto, Ontario, Canada begins several millenia ago. Archaeological finds in the area have found artifacts of First Nations settlements dating back several thousand years. The Wyandot people were likely the first group to live in the area, followed by the Iroquois. When Europeans first came to Toronto, they found a small village known as Teiaiagon on the banks of the Humber River. Between visits by European explorers, the village was abandoned by the Iroquois, who moved south of Lake Ontario and the Mississaugas, a branch of the Ojibwa settled along the north shore of the lake.

The French first set up trading posts in the area, including Fort Rouillé in 1750, which they abandoned as the British conquered French North America. In 1788, the British negotiated the first treaty to take possession of the Toronto area from the Mississaugas. After the United States War of Independence, the area north of Lake Ontario was held by the British who set up the province of Upper Canada in 1791. In 1793, Lieutenant Governor moved the capital of Upper Canada to Toronto, which he named York, not wanting an aboriginal name. Simcoe originally planned for York to be a city and military outpost and set up a capital in the area of London, Ontario, but he abandoned the plan and York was named the permanent capital in 1796. The Mississaugas set up a settlement reserve in the area of Port Credit, Ontario to the west of York, and eventually moved further to the west.

Simcoe only lived in York for three years, but he directed its initial settlement on a gridiron layout near the mouth of the Don River. In 1797, the garrison which became Fort York was built at the entrance to Toronto Harbour. Tensions between the British and Americans persisted and war broke out in 1812. In 1813, the garrison was attacked and overrun by the Americans forcing the British to retreat. The Americans, who lost their commanding officer in the battle, sacked the town and burned down the government buildings, but did not take possession of York. Peace came after only two years of the war which ended in a stalemate. During peacetime, York steadily grew in population, although its infrastructure lagged, leading to the nickname of "Muddy York". As the village grew, tensions grew between the ruling class in York and growing merchant and worker classes who advocated for reforms. York was incorporated and renamed Toronto in 1834, leading to the first Toronto elections. Toronto's first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, a reformer, persisted in his efforts to reform Upper Canada, culminating in his organization of a rebellion in 1837. Upper Canada forces defeated the rebels, and Mackenzie and others fled to the United States.

Peace again returned to Toronto and the city steadily grew during the 19th century, a major port of distribution as Upper Canada was settled. Toronto businesses grew including the meat packing business, leading to the nickname of "Hogtown". Toronto continued to grow by annexing outlying villages up until the early 1900s. After World War II, another major influx of immigrants came to the region, leading to the growth of numerous suburban villages. However, the suburban villages did not have the tax base to build the infrastructure to support the growth in population. To support the suburban growth, the Government of Ontario set up Metropolitan Toronto, a regional government encompassing Toronto and its suburbs, in 1954. The regional government built roads, water treatment and highways in Toronto, although the central city remained the largest municipality and occasionally defeated regional projects, such as the Spadina Expressway and other expressways and the clearing of the Toronto Islands. In the second half of the 20th century, Toronto surpassed Montreal as Canada's largest city and became the economic capital of the country. In 1998, the "megacity" of Toronto was formed by the dissolution of the regional government and the amalgamation of the other regional municipalities into one municipality.

In the 21st Century, Toronto has integrated the suburbs under one government, although many bylaws enacted by the former municipalities remain in effect. A division has persisted between the interests of those who live in the former suburbs and those of the central core. The central core has seen unprecedented office growth and residential growth, particularly of condominium apartments, while the former suburbs and further outlying suburbs have seen the bulk of new industrial investment. A major metropolis of over 2.5 million persons, Toronto is also one of the most diverse ethnically in the world. All of this growth took place on the lands of the original Toronto Purchase, of which final agreement was only finally reached between the Mississaugas and the Government of Canada in 2010.


  • Pre-European period 1
  • Pre-19th-century European settlement 2
    • Town of York and earlier 2.1
    • Early Toronto 2.2
      • Irish immigrants 2.2.1
  • Late 19th century 3
    • Immigrants 3.1
  • 20th century 4
    • Environment 4.1
    • Business history 4.2
    • Modernizing the police 4.3
    • Modernizing medicine 4.4
    • Great Stork Derby 4.5
    • Metropolitan Toronto 4.6
    • Amalgamation and the end of the 20th century 4.7
  • 21st century 5
    • 2000s 5.1
    • 2010 and later 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9

Pre-European period

Davenport Road, as shown here in 1914, does not follow Toronto's standard street grid pattern, as it originated as a First Nations travel route between the Humber River and the Don Valley named Gete-Onigaming, Ojibwe for "at the old portage."[1]

Toronto is located on the northern shore of Georgian Bay; this is where the city of Toronto is located today.

The source and meaning of the name remains a matter of debate. One claim is that the origin is the Seneca word Giyando, meaning "on the other side", which was the place where the Humber River narrows at the foot of the pass to the village of Taiaiagon. However, it is much more likely that the term is from the Mohawk word tkaronto meaning "where there are trees standing in the water", a reference to a specific location at the northern end of what is now Lake Simcoe, then known as "Lake Toronto". 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 17th century and before: the Neutral, Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga and Wendat nations.[2] The Mississaugas arrived in the late 17th or early 18th century, driving out the occupying Iroquois,[3][4] and settling along the Lake Ontario shore, including the Port Credit area.

Pre-19th-century European settlement

Town of York and earlier

Front Street in 1804

European settlement in central Canada was quite limited before 1775, amounting to only a few families, but it began growing quickly in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Although he left no written record, it is believed that the first European to set foot on the shores of Lake Ontario in the vicinity of what is now Toronto was French explorer Étienne Brûlé.[5] Toronto was very crucial for its series of trails and water routes that led from northern and western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the "Toronto Passage", it followed the Humber River as an important overland shortcut between Lake Ontario and the upper Great Lakes. For this reason, Toronto became a hot spot for French fur traders. In 1710, Captain Alexandre Dagneau established a trading post on the Humber River near the Lake Ontario shore to counter British trade.[6] The French established another trading post in 1750 on the Humber River. It was successful enough to encourage the French to establish Fort Rouillé, on the current Exhibition Grounds in 1751. After the fall of Fort Frontenac and Fort Niagara, it was abandoned in 1759, and by 1760 the British had defeated the French who withdrew from what would later become Canada in 1763.[7] In 1760, Robert Rogers, with an army of two hundred men and a flotilla of fifteen whale boats came to secure Toronto for the British.[8]

From 1776 to 1783, United Empire Loyalists, American colonists who refused to accept being divorced from the United Kingdom after the American Revolution, or who felt unwelcome in the new republic of the United States of America, fled from the newly formed United States to the mostly 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 1787, the British negotiated the purchase of more than a quarter million acres (1,000 km²) of land in the area of Toronto with the Mississaugas of New Credit. After surveying the land, the Mississaugas objected to the purchase and it was declared invalid. Another agreement would be made in 1805, but this agreement too fell into dispute, and was only eventually settled two centuries later in 2010 for CA$145 million. A townsite was surveyed in 1788 by Captain Gother Mann, and laid out in a gridiron, with government and military buildings around a central square.[9]

In May 1793, Lieutenant-Colonel Upper Canada, visited Toronto for the first time. Simcoe was unhappy with the then-capital of Upper Canada Newark, and proposed moving it to the site of present-day London, Ontario but was dissuaded by the difficulty of building a road to the location. Rejecting Kingston, the choice of British Governor Lord Dorchester, the Toronto purchase site was then chosen by Simcoe on 29 July 1793, as the temporary capital of Upper Canada.[10] Simcoe and his wife set up in a large tent at the water's edge near the foot of today's Bathurst Street.[11] Toronto would remain "temporary" in status until 1796.[9]

The town, which Simcoe named "York", rejecting the aboriginal name, was built within a large protected bay formed by the Toronto Islands, which — at the time — was a long sandy peninsula, which formed a large natural harbour, featuring a great wetland marsh — fed by the Don River — at the eastern end (long since filled in), with the only opening to the lake at the western end (it was only later, in 1858, that the "Eastern Gap", was punched through the peninsula by a storm, creating the true Island). This large natural harbour was defended with the construction of a garrison (later to be known as Fort York), guarding the entrance on what was then a high point on the water's edge, with a small river on the inland side (Garrison Creek). Rejecting Mann's town plan, Simcoe had another town plan set up. This was a more compact plan, a gridiron settlement of ten square blocks, closer to the eastern end of the harbour, entirely behind the peninsula, near what is now Parliament Street.[12] The ten blocks are known today as the "Old Town" neighbourhood.

The death of Zebulon Pike at the Battle of York

During Simcoe's time in Toronto, two main roads were laid out in the city

  • Historicity - Toronto Then and Now from the Toronto Public Library
  • Toronto: A Place of Meeting from the Toronto Public Library's virtual gallery
  • Earliest Known Photos of Toronto by Armstrong, Beere & Hime ~1856, City of Toronto Archives.
  • The History of the Battle of Toronto by William Lyon MacKenzie, 1839 from the Ontario Time Machine
  • Historicist articles on Toronto History by
  • Toronto Boom Town, a 1951 National Film Board of Canada documentary covering the first half of the 20th century
  • Toronto Past, a blog devoted to links to Toronto history stories and resources

External links

  • Careless, J. M. S. Brown of the Globe (2 vols, Toronto, 1959–63). 
  • Hayes, Derek (2009). Historical Atlas of Toronto. 
  • Levine, Allan (2014). Toronto: A Biography. Douglas and McIntyre.  
  • MacFarlane, David (2008). Toronto: A City Becoming. pp. 304pp. 
  • McHugh, Patricia (1989). Toronto Architecture: A City Guide. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc.  
  • Rawlings-Way, Charles; Karneef, Natalie (2007). Toronto. 
  • City staff (2015). Bibliography of Toronto History (PDF) (pdf). City of Toronto. 
  • Robertson, J. Ross (John Ross) (1894). Landmarks of Toronto. Toronto: J. Ross Robertson. 


  • Exploring Toronto's Past
  • Archives of Ontario online exhibits
  • Post-1800 Settlement History - Toronto Islands - web video and DVD
  • Chronology of Establishment and Annexations of jurisdictions in Toronto
  • Articles on various areas by Rick Bébout
  • Lost River Walks
  • History of Toronto and County of York
  • Toronto Neighbourhoods
  • Toronto Archives Image Database
  • Scarborough Historical Society
  • Toronto Museums
  • CBC Radio feature by Al Skeoch and Mike Smee - Toronto Islands
  • CBC Radio feature by Al Skeoch and Mike Smee - The Beach
  • CBC Radio feature by Al Skeoch and Mike Smee - Sunnyside
  • CBC Radio feature by Al Skeoch and Mike Smee - Toronto's Hidden Garbage Dumps
  1. ^
  2. ^ See R. F. Williamson, ed., Toronto: An Illustrated History of its First 12,000 Years (Toronto: James Lorimer, 2008), ch. 2, with reference to the Mantle Site
  3. ^ The Ojibwa-Iroquois War: The War the Five Nations Did Not Win. Leroy V. Eid. Ethnohistory, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Autumn, 1979), Duke University Press,pp. 297-324
  4. ^ Schmalz, Peter S., The Ojibwa of Southern Ontario. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2736-9. pp 21-22
  5. ^ Levine 2014, p. 11.
  6. ^ Levine 2014, p. 13.
  7. ^ Levine 2014, pp. 14–15.
  8. ^ Levine 2014, p. 15.
  9. ^ a b Levine 2014, p. 25.
  10. ^ Levine 2014, p. 23.
  11. ^ Levine 2014, pp. 23–24.
  12. ^ Levine 2014, p. 26.
  13. ^ a b Levine 2014, p. 27.
  14. ^ Levine 2014, p. 28.
  15. ^ McHugh 1989, p. 24.
  16. ^ Firth, Edith G., ed. (1966). The Town of York: 1815—1834; A Further Collection of Documents of Early Toronto.  
  17. ^ Murray Nicholson, "The Growth of Roman Catholic Institutions in the Archdiocese of Toronto, 1841-90," in Terrence Murphy and Gerald Stortz, eds, Creed and Culture: The Place of English-Speaking Catholics in Canadian Society, 1750 – 1930 (1993) pp 152-170
  18. ^ Paula Maurutto, Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto: Catholic Archdioces, 1850-1950 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001)
  19. ^ Mark G. McGowan, Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier (2007)
  20. ^ see Orange Canada
  21. ^ Mark G. McGowan, The Waning of the Green: Catholics, the Irish, and Identity in Toronto, 1887-1922 (1999)
  22. ^ Lindstrom-Best, Varpu (1979). The Finnish immigrant community of Toronto, 1887-1913. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ G. Alan Wilson, "John Northway's Career: An Approach to Ontario's History," Ontario History, March 1964, Vol. 56 Issue 1, pp 37-44
  26. ^ Alan Wilson, "Northway, John," onlineDictionary of Canadian Biography
  27. ^ John N. H. Britton, Canada and the global economy: the geography of structural and technological change (1996) p 296
  28. ^ Bill Rawling, "Technology and Innovation in the Toronto Police Force, 1875-1925," Ontario History, Mar 1988, Vol. 80 Issue 1, pp 53-71
  29. ^ R. D. Gidney, and W. P. J. Millar, "The Reorientation of Medical Education in Late Nineteenth-Century Ontario: The Proprietary Medical Schools and the Founding of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto," Journal of the History of Medicine & Allied Sciences, Jan 1994, Vol. 49 Issue 1, pp 52-78
  30. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia"Sir Frederick Grant Banting" in
  31. ^ J. M. Fenster, "The Conquest of Diabetes," American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Jan 1999, Vol. 14 Issue 3, pp 48-55
  32. ^ "Toronto second city in the world for migrants". CBC News. July 16, 2004. 
  33. ^ "G20-related mass arrests unique in Canadian history". The Globe and Mail. June 28, 2010. 
  34. ^ Austen, Ian (2 July 2013). "A Dizzying Condo Market in Toronto".  
  35. ^ "Environment Canada answers the question: Where was Toronto’s severe thunderstorm warning?". Global Toronto. 9 July 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  36. ^ "Toronto's July storm cost insurers $850M". CBC News. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  37. ^ "Toronto’s July flood listed as Ontario’s most costly natural disaster". Toronto Star. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  38. ^ Peter Bowyer (2004). "Recovery — Evaluation". Canadian Hurricane Centre. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  39. ^ McLean, Jesse (October 28, 2014). "Voter turnout rocketed in Toronto, tepid around GTA". Toronto Star. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 


See also

In 2015, Toronto hosted the Pan Am Games and the Parapan American Games.

Toronto hosted WorldPride in 2014. Also, in 2014, the municipal election saw the election of John Tory as mayor. He defeated incumbent Rob Ford's brother Doug and former NDP MP Olivia Chow. Rob Ford, who was battling cancer prior to the election, decided not to run as mayor and stood aside so that his brother Doug could run in his place. Rob Ford ran for his old job as councillor in Ward 2 in north-central Etobicoke and was re-elected. Over 980,000 votes were cast after a record voter turnout of 60 percent.[39]

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.[35] As of August 14, the storm had cost insurers over $850 million in damages,[36] making it Ontario's most costly natural disaster[37] unadjusted for inflation or other considerations.[38] From December 20 to 23, 2013, another costly disaster struck Toronto, this time, an ice storm.

Favourable economic conditions and a high demand for housing spurred a condo boom in Toronto, with tens of thousands of upscale apartments constructed throughout the city.[34]

Toronto hosted the G-20 summit on June 26–27, 2010, but it was not without protests. The protests were met with one of the most expensive temporary security operations seen in Canada and resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.[33] Rob Ford was elected mayor in 2010.

2010 and later

According to a 2004 United Nations report, Toronto has the second-highest proportion of immigrants in the world, after Miami, Florida. Almost half of Toronto's residents were born outside Canada.[32] The resulting cultural diversity is reflected in the numerous ethnic neighbourhoods of the city. The proliferation of shops and restaurants derived from cultures around the world makes the city one of the most exciting places in the world to visit. Moreover, the relative tranquility that mediates between such diverse populations is a testament to the perceived tolerant character of Canadian society.

In the November 2003 municipal election, David Miller was elected to replace Mel Lastman as mayor, after running a successful campaign which included a promise to cancel the proposed fixed link to Toronto Island Airport.

In early 2003, Toronto was affected by the SARS epidemic. Although the disease was primarily confined to hospitals and health-care workers, tourism in Toronto suffered significantly because of media reports. To help recover the losses the city suffered in industries and tourism, the city held the SARS Benefit Concert (colloquially termed SARSStock), which was headlined by The Rolling Stones and featured acts such as AC/DC, Rush, The Guess Who, and Justin Timberlake. The concert attracted some 450,000 people in late July, making it one of the ten largest concerts in history. Two weeks later, the city was also affected by the 2003 North America blackout. In the resulting chaos, the city ground to a halt, with people taking to the streets to party and talk to their neighbours. Power was not restored for more than 12 hours; in some isolated pockets, not for up to three days.

In 2002, Toronto hosted World Youth Day 2002 and a visit by Pope John Paul II. The municipal government's two largest unions, Locals 79 and 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, went on strike several weeks before the scheduled event, meaning that certain basic services, such as day care and parks programs, were not available. Since city workers also pick up garbage and recycling, city parks became piled high with rubbish — some parks were designated official dump sites for the duration of the strike, while others were used illegally. The situation was resolved when the Ontario government tabled back-to-work legislation to end the strike, and the city was back to normal before the start of World Youth Day.

In 2001, Toronto finished second to Beijing in voting by the International Olympic Committee for the host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics.


21st century

In January 1999, a series of snowstorms brought severe snow accumulation. Snow clearing crews working around the clock could not keep up with the continuous accumulation, which reached second floor windows. So many of the city's roadways became impassable for residents and Emergency Medical Service vehicles alike that the then Federal Minister of Defence, Art Eggleton, ordered in a detachment of Canadian Armed Forces to patrol the streets to help clear the snow. This was considered an embarrassment by many in Toronto. In much of the remainder of Canada, Toronto became the butt of jokes and even scorn over the army being called in. In its defence, Toronto is one of the largest cities in Canada and has the highest percentage of commuters of any city in North America.

In 1998, the six municipalities comprising Metropolitan TorontoEast York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, York, and the former City of Toronto – and its regional government were amalgamated into a single City of Toronto (colloquially dubbed the "megacity") by an act of the provincial government. This was despite a municipal referendum in 1997 that was overwhelmingly against amalgamation. Subsequently, Mel Lastman defeated Barbara Hall to become the first elected mayor of the megacity.

Toronto's landmark "new" city hall

Amalgamation and the end of the 20th century

Toronto skyline in July 1930.

A continuous influx of newcomers from Atlantic Canada and large numbers of immigrants from around the world have contributed to the steady growth of Toronto and its surroundings since the Second World War. Today, Toronto is the primary destination for new immigrants to Canada, the vast majority from the developing world.

In 1954, the provincial government created the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, a regional government that incorporated numerous local municipalities. During that same year, the original stretch of the subway was completed from Union to Eglinton Stations on the Yonge line (later numbered as Line 1), In that year as well, Hurricane Hazel swept through Toronto, causing significant flooding; 81 people were killed and one side street was significantly destroyed as a result. During the 1970s, Toronto had a major construction boom with many of the city's skyscrapers being built at the time. This was causing havoc with the city's old television and radio towers which were simply not tall enough to serve the city, so engineers and politicians decided that something had to be built taller than any other building in the city or anything that would probably ever be built. They decided to build a super-tall massive television and radio tower (the CN Tower), which was completed in 1976.

Metropolitan Toronto

From 1926 to 1936, Toronto lawyer, financier, and practical joker Charles Vance Millar created a contest in which women had to give birth to the most babies within that ten-year-period, which was after his death, in order to qualify for an unusual bequest in a will for a residue of his significant estate.

Great Stork Derby

Once they had taken control of the practice of medicine, the doctors on the Medical Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) turned their attention to the quality of medical education in Ontario. Marginal and untrained practitioners were banned, but the question rose of the permanence and the quality of proprietary for-profit medical schools. CPSO imposed regulations in the 1860s to increase faculty size and raise matriculation standards. They required students to take Council-administered examinations. Toronto had two medical schools: Trinity Medical School and the Toronto School of Medicine (TSM). During the 1880s, the TSM added instructors, expanded its curriculum, and focused on clinical instruction. Enrollments grew at both schools. Critics found proprietary schools lacking especially for their failure to offer sufficient instruction in the basic sciences. In 1887, the TSM became the medical faculty of the University of Toronto, increasing its emphasis on research within the medical curriculum. Trinity realized that its survival depended as well on close ties to basic science, and it in 1904 it also merged into the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.[29] In 1923, two researchers there, J.J.R. Macleod (1876–1935) and Frederick Banting (1891–1941), shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their 1921 discovery of insulin, putting Toronto on the world map of avant-garde science.[30][31]

Modernizing medicine

Toronto modernized and professionalized its public services in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. No service was changed more dramatically than the police. The introduction of emergency telephone call boxes linked to a central dispatcher, plus bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles shifted the patrolman's duties from passively walking the beat to fast reaction to reported incidents, as well as handling automobile traffic. After 1930, the introduction of police radios sped up response times.[28]

Modernizing the police

Toronto displaced Montreal as the nation's premier business centre because the nationalist movement in Quebec, particularly with the success of the Parti Québécois in 1976, systematically alienated Anglophone businesses. By 1995, Toronto controlled 48% of the nation's financial assets and 44% of the non-financial corporate assets, compared to 28% and 22% by Montreal. However Calgary and other western cities based on oil have been gaining on Toronto since 2000.[27]

Poster for the 1919 Canadian National Exhibition

Entrepreneurship was exemplified by the career of John Northway (1848–1926). Beginning as a tailor in a small town, he moved to Toronto and soon developed a chain of department stores. His innovations in the sewing and marketing of ladies' wear enabled the emergence of a Canadian ladies' garment industry. Northway pioneered modern business methods and accounting methods. He innovated as well in labour relations, as a pioneer in sickness and accident compensation and profit-sharing schemes. A millionaire by 1910, he played a leading role in Toronto's civic life.[25][26]

Business history

The Don River has an especially deep ravine, cutting off the east of the city at most points north of the lakeshore. This was addressed in October 1918, when the construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct, also known as the Bloor Street Viaduct, was finalized, 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 lower 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 Toronto Transit Commission (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.

Raymore Park near Raymore Drive was one of the parks created in low-lying areas that were flooded during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

A large section of the downtown was destroyed in the Great Toronto Fire of 1904, but it was quickly rebuilt.


20th century

During the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, the Irish immigrants who had followed the British to Toronto were followed by many other immigrant groups in the late 19th century: Germans, Italians, and Jews from various parts of Eastern Europe; later Chinese, Russians, Finns,[22] Poles, and many other eastern Europeans. By the latter half of the 20th century, refugees and immigrants from many other parts of the world were the major source of immigration. It might be noted that British immigration remained strong through the latter half of the 19th century well into the 20th century, in addition to a steady influx from rural areas of Ontario, which included French-Canadians.[23] The large numbers of new Canadians helped Toronto's population swell to over one million by 1951, and double again to over two million, by 1971.[24]


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, the latter running through the University of Toronto. Much of Castle Frank Brook became covered during this time. At the time, they were being used as open sewers, and were becoming a serious health problem. The re-configuration of the Don River mouth to make a ship channel and Lakeshore reclamation project occurred in the 1888, again largely driven by sanitary concerns and establishing effective port commerce.

Toronto from the bay in 1901

Toronto grew rapidly in the late 19th century, the population increasing from 30,000 in 1851 to 56,000 in 1871, 86,400 in 1881 and 181,000 in 1891. The total urbanized population was not counted as it is today to include the greater area, those just outside the city limits made for a significantly higher population. The 1891 figure also included population counted after recent annexations of many smaller, adjacent towns such as Parkdale, Brockton Village, West Toronto, East Toronto, and others. Immigration, high birth rates and influx from the surrounding rural population accounted for much of this growth, although immigration had slowed substantially by the 1880s if compared to the generation prior. Modern amenities came to Toronto, including an extensive streetcar network in the city (still operational), plus long-distance railways and radial lines. One radial line ran mostly along Yonge Street for about 80 km to Lake Simcoe, and allowed day trips to its beaches. At the time, Toronto's own beaches were far too polluted to use, largely 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. The advent of the railway dramatically increased the numbers of immigrants arriving and commerce, as had the Lake Ontario steamers and schooners entering the port.

Gooderham Building at Front and Wellington Streets, 1890s

Late 19th century

McGowan argues that between 1890 and 1920, the city's Catholics experienced major social, ideological, and economic changes that allowed them to integrate into Toronto society and shake off their second-class status. The Irish Catholics (in contrast to the French) strongly supported Canada's role in the First World War. They broke out of the ghetto and lived in all of Toronto's neighbourhoods. Starting as unskilled labourers, they used high levels of education to move up and were well represented among the lower middle class. Most dramatically, they intermarried with Protestants at an unprecedented rate.[21]

Irish Catholics arriving in Toronto faced widespread intolerance and severe discrimination, both social and legislative, leading to several large scale riots between Catholics and Protestants from 1858–1878, culminating in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul) and House of Providence created by Irish Catholic groups strengthened the Irish identity, transforming the Irish presence in the city into one of influence and power.

By 1851, the Irish-born population became the largest single ethnic group in the city. The Orange Order, based among the Protestant Irish, became a dominant force in Toronto society, so much so that 1920s Toronto was called the "Belfast of Canada". The Orange opposed everything Catholic. They lost interest in Ireland after the establishment of Northern Ireland and the Orange influence faded after 1940.[20]

The Irish Famine (1845–1849) brought a large number of Irish into the city, a slight majority of whom were Protestant. The huge unexpected influx of very poor immigrants, brought a new challenge to the Catholic Church. Its fear was that Protestants might use their material needs as a wedge for evangelization. In response the Church built a network of charitable institutions such as hospitals, schools, boarding homes, and orphanages, to meet the need and keep people inside the faith.[17] The Catholic Church was less successful in dealing with tensions between the French and the Irish Catholic clergy; eventually the Irish took control and won the support of Rome by its unwavering ultramontane (pro-Vatican) position.[18][19]

Monument in Ireland Park commemorating the Irish immigrants who came to Toronto to escape the Great Irish Famine

Irish immigrants

The town was incorporated on 6 March 1834, reverting to the name Toronto to distinguish it from New York City, as well as about a dozen other localities named 'York' in the province (including the county in which Toronto was situated), and to disassociate itself from the negative connotation of dirty Little York,[16] a common nickname for the town by its residents. William Lyon Mackenzie was its first mayor. Toronto was the site of the key events of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837, led by Mackenzie.

Early Toronto

After the Napoleonic Wars, York experienced an influx of poor immigrants from the United Kingdom, which was in a depression. The area to the northeast of St. James' became a slum. York had a red-light district on Lombard Street and numerous taverns sprung up around St. Lawrence Market.[15]

In 1813, as part of the War of 1812, York was attacked and partially burned by American forces led by Zebulon Pike. 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, killing Pike and a contingent of his men. In return, the forces sacked the town and burned the Parliament Buildings. After the US forces departed, a new and much stronger fort was constructed several hundred yards to the west of the original position. Another American attack in 1814 was defeated, the landing force never being able to approach the shoreline. Due to land reclamation, this fort now lies hundreds of metres inland.

The Court House and Jail in 1829.

Peter Russell was named administrator by Simcoe. Between 1799 and 1800, a road was constructed east of Toronto to the mouth of the Trent River by Asa Danforth. This was the making of today's Kingston Road. Russell established the first jail. He expanded the town westward and northward and during his term, the first St. Lawrence Market was built in 1803. The first church of what was to become today's St. James Cathedral was built in 1807. When Russell died in 1808, the town's population was now up to 500.[14]

[13] Due to ill health, Simcoe returned to England in July 1796 on leave, but did not return and he gave up his position in 1799. By this time, York was estimated to have a population of 240 persons.[13]

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