History of Toronto

Toronto has a history that extends over 10,000 years, during which time it has become one of Canada’s most significant centres of social, cultural, business, and financial activity. The area was first settled by humans following the last glacial period, when the melting of glaciers resulted in the formation of large lakes.

First Inhabitants

The first inhabitants of the area that would become Toronto moved in small groups and engaged in the gathering, fishing, and hunting of mastodons, mammoths, caribou, and other animals. The area was mostly covered by boreal forest and tundra and was the home of small and big game. According to archeologists, the area of present-day Toronto was inhabited by a number of indigenous groups, including the Huron, Mississauga, Seneca, and Iroquois. Additionally, the Cayuga and Neutral peoples inhabited the area. Some sources posit that the name of the city is derived from a meeting place in the language of the Wyandot or Huron peoples. Conversely, others suggest that the name derives from the Mohawk word “tkaronto,” which means “trees standing in water.” Finally, some argue that the name of the city is derived from the Seneca word “giyando,” which means “on the other side.”

Approximately 8,000 years ago, the climate became warmer and more temperate, leading to the extinction of large mammals and the relocation of indigenous populations to river and lake shores for sustenance fishing. Approximately 1,500–2,500 years ago, the population grew to 10,000 individuals. The domestication of corn by indigenous populations led to the establishment of more permanent settlements. Over time, other foodstuffs and plants were introduced, including tobacco, sunflower, squash, and beans.

European Explorers and First Settlements

French explorers arrived in the area in the 17th century and constructed trading posts, which were subsequently destroyed or abandoned when the British conquered the region in 1759. In 1791, the province of Upper Canada was established, and two years later, the town of York was founded by John Graves Simcoe, who served as the inaugural governor of the newly formed province. The town’s population grew rapidly, attracting laborers, craftsmen, and merchants, who established it as a prominent local trading hub.

19th Century Developments

The colonial government and Indigenous people concluded treaties for the purchase of land that would become the present-day cities and administrative districts of Etobicoke, North York, Toronto, Vaughan, and York. York was captured by the American forces during the War of 1812, resulting in the destruction of numerous buildings. Following the end of the war, British immigrants flocked to the area, contributing to the growth of the town’s population. York established itself as the banking center of Upper Canada, and the Toronto University first opened its doors in 1827. The city of Toronto was incorporated in 1834, and its population grew to 9,000 residents. The first mayor to govern Toronto was politician and journalist William Lyon Mackenzie. In 1837, he plotted and organized a rebellion which resulted in the creation of an enclave that was declared the Republic of Canada. The rebels were ultimately vanquished and fled to the south of the border. Toronto continued to grow in population, and in 1867, the city was designated as the capital of Ontario. The railway was also constructed to connect the area of Georgian Bay, Montreal, New York, and Toronto. This was also a period of rapid urbanization during which numerous businesses were operational, including metal foundries, clothing factories, and machinery businesses.

20th Century

In the early 20th century, Toronto underwent a significant transformation, becoming a prominent financial hub and metropolis. The city’s economy was largely driven by the service and retail sectors, with numerous factories, wholesale businesses, banks, and finance offices also playing a crucial role. The manufacturing industry was the largest employer in the city, employing approximately 65,000 residents. This was followed by finance and commerce businesses.
Union Station, one of Toronto’s major railway stations, was constructed in 1927, while the Ontario Museum opened its doors in 1912.

The population of Toronto grew at a rapid pace from 1901 to 1921, reaching 522,000. During the First World War, the scale and importance of munitions and meat processing businesses increased significantly. Sir Joseph Wesley Flavelle acted as the president of the William Davies Company, a Toronto-based meat packaging and processing company owned by William Davis. He became a shareholder and made a fortune by exporting meat to Great Britain. Joseph Flavelle was also the Chairman of the Imperial Munitions Board during the First World War. The city enjoyed a prosperous period during the 1920s, which ended with the Great Depression, a global economic downturn that resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Unemployment also skyrocketed as many businesses shut down. The unemployment rate declined in the 1940s, and the economy experienced a considerable growth during the Second World War, mainly fueled by the precision-machine, aircraft, and electronic businesses. After the end of the war, the city enjoyed a prosperous period associated with the Korean War, large-scale residential construction, the baby boom, and increased consumer spending. In the early 1950s, the population of the Greater Toronto Area reached over a million residents. The inaugural subway line, the Yonge Line, commenced operations in March 1954, connecting Union Station and Eglinton. The Toronto City Hall, designed by Richard Strong and Viljo Gabriel Revell, opened its doors in 1965. The Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a significant shopping venue in the city, opened the following year. The Ontario Science Museum first opened its doors in 1969. The CN Tower, a communications and observation tower situated in the downtown area, was constructed in 1975. The Eaton Centre, an office and shopping complex, was completed in 1977 and currently houses business headquarters and stores. The Roy Thomson Hall, a concert hall, opened its doors in 1982 in the downtown area. It currently plays host to concerts by the Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The multi-purpose stadium, Rogers Centre, was completed in 1981 and is used for a variety of sports, including soccer, football, basketball, baseball, hurling, tennis, cricket, and other sports. The centre has hosted numerous soccer matches, including those between Denmark League XI and Portugal, Canada and Portugal, Canada and Denmark League XI, and others.

The population of the city exhibited a consistent increase from 1971 to 1981, reaching 2.7 million in 1971 and 3 million in 1981. A number of factors contributed to this steady population growth, including low personal income taxes, the expansion of the automotive industry, and an influx of immigrants from various countries in Africa and Asia. During the 1990s, the city emerged as a significant corporate and financial center, accounting for a substantial portion of the country’s corporate and financial assets. A number of prominent banks relocated their headquarters to the city during this period, including CIBC, Toronto-Dominion, and the Royal Bank of Canada. Other financial institutions in the city include Sun Life Financial and the Manulife Financial Corporation. The Toronto Stock Exchange, which commenced operations in 1861, is situated within the financial district of the city. A considerable number of large companies established their headquarters in Toronto and opened offices, including Brookfield Asset Management, Wal-Mart Canada, Magna International, Onex Corporation, and others.

Toronto Today

Toronto, the largest city in Canada, has a population of over 2.7 million residents. It encompasses the former municipalities of York, Scarborough, Old Ontario, North York, Etobicoke, and East York. The city is home to numerous Edwardian and Victorian-style buildings, including those found in neighborhoods such as Yorkville, The Annex, and Rosedale. The neighborhood of Casa Roma is notable for its bowling alley, secret passages, turrets, and gardens. Riverdale, Chinatown, and Kensington Market are located west and east of downtown and serve as major venues for cultural and commercial activities. Major architectural landmarks in the city include the Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario Legislative Building, Convocation Hall, and Hockey Hall of Fame.
The suburbs include neighborhoods such as Weston, Thorncliffe Park, and Crescent Town. These neighborhoods are home to apartment blocks and single-family homes owned and occupied by working-class residents. The city’s outer suburbs, including Kingsway, Humber Valley Village, Bridge Path, and others, are home to affluent neighborhoods that offer a plethora of amenities. These enclaves are characterized by their proximity to parks, schools, churches, recreational facilities, shopping centers, and restaurants.

Business and Finance

A number of major businesses are also based in Toronto, including Rogers Communications, The Woodbridge Company, Bank of Nova Scotia, Shoppers Drug Mart, and many others. Indeed, the economy of the city accounts for 20 percent of the country’s GDP. This is not surprising in light of the fact that Toronto is a major industrial, business, retail, finance, and distribution hub. Additionally, the city is a significant financial center, with the Toronto Stock Exchange regarded as one of the busiest and most competitive institutions, along with exchanges in other major cities such as Sydney, Chicago, Tokyo, New York City, and London. It is a major hub for the listings of companies in the clean technology, gas and oil, and mining industries.


Toronto is also a significant tourist destination in Canada, with millions of tourists visiting the city each year. According to Andrew Weir, Vice President of Tourism Toronto, the industry is expected to experience stable growth. The number of tourists visiting the city reached a record high of 43 million in 2017. This is not unexpected, given that Toronto offers a plethora of attractions, including architectural marvels, entertainment venues, museums, and green spaces such as the Distillery District, Bay Street, Toronto Waterfront, and Toronto Botanical Garden.