Toronto, Canada

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Toronto is Canada’s largest city and the fifth largest in North America.

The capital of Ontario, Toronto is the economic and cultural focus of English-speaking Canada.

What was once a largely Anglophone city has been swollen by immigration from across the globe and now offers a cosmopolitan mix of styles and cultures. The three most frequently spoken languages are English, Cantonese and Italian.


Situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, what is now Toronto was first inhabited by the Seneca and later Mississauga Indians. The name Toronto, taken from the Huron for “place of meeting”, derives from one of three small forts built between 1720–50 by the French to defend their trade with the Indians against European competitors. After the defeat of the French in 1759, the settlement survived as a trading post.

Loyalist Americans came to the area after the US War of Independence, preferring British rule to that of the new Republic. Some 40,000 are believed to have settled around the Great Lakes and St Lawrence River. Settlement continued throughout the nineteenth century as large numbers of British immigrants sought new lives abroad.

In 1781 negotiations were opened by the Governor of Canada, Lord Dorchester, to purchase from the Indians a site for the new capital of Ontario. Around 250,000 acres were bought for 1,700.

In 1793 Colonel John Graves Simcoe, lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, chose a site for Toronto that was far enough away from the US border to make it easy to defend. Changing its name from Toronto to York, the city consisted of 12 cottages and a military garrison by 1795. The United States took advantage of the Napoleonic Wars to declare war on Britain and in 1813 US forces entered a practically defenceless York, occupying and pillaging it for 11 days before British forces were able to recapture it. The speaker’s mace, taken during the occupation, was not returned to the city until 1934 and the city’s Royal Standard is still held in the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The city’s population reached 9,000 by 1834 when its original name, Toronto, was restored. Three years later the former mayor William Lyon Mackenzie led a badly organized uprising. Although Mackenzie was forced to flee to America, his action led to the liberalising of the government of Upper Canada.

Fire in 1849 destroyed much of the downtown area, including St James’ Cathedral. The arrival of the Grand Trunk and Great Western railways in the 1850s brought prosperity. The city industrialized quickly with the population growing from 45,000 in 1861 to 208,000 in 1901. Many of the city’s finest buildings were constructed at this time including a new St James’ Cathedral, St Lawrence Hall and University college. Badly hit by the Depression of the 1930s, Toronto was left with a shortage of public services, a problem compounded by the Second World War.

In 1954 the Council of Metropolitan Toronto was established to ease the municipal burden and solve the city’s severe sewage and water problems. The council oversaw a series of urban improvements including the city’s underground system, a new airport terminal and the construction of roads and expressways.

Modern City

Toronto became one of the fastest growing cities in North America, with an influx of European immigrants altering the cultural makeup. By 1961 less than half the population of the inner city were of British extraction. Immigration has continued with large numbers from the West Indies and Asia adding to the mix.

Places of Interest

Toronto is an important cultural centre with three theatres, a number of internationally renowned orchestras and musical groups and a series of museums and galleries, of which the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum are the best known.

Amongst the city’s celebrated sights is the CN Tower, the world’s largest freestanding structure, which dominates the skyline.

Sport is an essential part of Toronto life with the city supporting the Maple Leafs ice hockey team and the Blue Jays, the only non-US baseball team to win the World Series. The Toronto Stock Exchange is one of the largest in North America by value of trading.

The Canadian National Exhibition was first launched in 1879 as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and is reputed to be the world’s largest annual exhibition.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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