History of Toronto

spans more than 10,000 years

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History of Toronto

With a history that spans more than 10,000 years, Toronto is one of Canada’s centers of social, cultural, business, and financial life. People moved to the area to hunt for animals after the last glacial period when melting glaciers resulted in the formation of large lakes.

First Inhabitants

The first inhabitants of today’s Toronto moved in small groups and engaged in 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. The Cayuga and Neutral people also lived in the area. In fact, according to some sources, the name of the city stands for a meeting place in the language of the Wyandot or Huron people. Others claim that the name comes from the word tkaronto of the Mohawk people which means trees standing in water. Still others argue that the name of the city comes from the word giyando in the Seneca language which means on the other side.

About 8,000 years ago, the climate got warmer and milder, big game disappeared, and indigenous people moved to mouths of rivers and lakes for sustenance fishing. About 1,500 – 2,500 years ago, the population grew and reached 10,000. Indigenous people domesticated corn, and this resulted in more permanent settlement. Other foodstuffs and plants were introduced over time, including tobacco, sunflower, squash, and beans.

European Explorers and First Settlements

French explorers arrived in the area in the 17th century and built trading posts which were burnt or abandoned when the British conquered the area in 1759. The province of Upper Canada was created in 1791 and in two years, the town of York was founded by John Graves Simcoe who acted as the first governor of the new province. Laborers, craftsmen, and merchants moved to the town which grew to become a local trading hub.

19th Century Developments

The colonial government and Indigenous people concluded treaties for the purchase of land of 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, and many buildings were burned down and destroyed. After the end of the war, British immigrants flocked to the area, and the town grew in population. York established itself as the banking centre of Upper Canada, and the Toronto University first opened 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 eventually defeated and fled south of the border. Toronto steadily grew in population and in 1867, the city was proclaimed the capital of Ontario. The railway was also built to connect the area of Georgian Bay, Montreal, New York, and Toronto. This was also a period of rapid urbanization during which many businesses were in operation, including metal foundries, clothing factories, and machinery businesses.

20th Century

In the early 20th century, Toronto grew to become a financial hub and metropolis with many service and retail businesses, factories, wholesale businesses, banks, and finance offices. The manufacturing industry was the largest employer in the city, employing some 65,000 residents, followed by finance and commerce businesses. Union Station, one of Toronto’s major stations, opened in 1927, and the Ontario Museum opened doors in 1912.

The population of Toronto grew at a rapid pace from 1901 to 1921 and reached 522,000. Munitions and meat processing businesses grew in scale and importance during the First World War. 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 when hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue were lost. Unemployment also skyrocketed as many businesses shut down. Тhe 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 first subway line, the Yonge Line opened in March 1954, connecting Union Station and Eglinton. Designed by Richard Strong and Viljo Gabriel Revell, the Toronto City Hall opened doors in 1965. The Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a major shopping venue in the city, opened a year later. The Ontario Science Museum first opened doors in 1969. Found in downtown, the CN Tower, a communications and observation tower was built in 1975. The office and shopping complex Eaton Centre was completed in 1977 and today, it houses business headquarters and stores. The concert hall Roy Thomson Hall opened doors in 1982 in Downtown Toronto. Today, visitors enjoy concerts by the Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The multi-purpose stadium Rogers Centre was completed in 1981 and is used for different sports, including soccer, football, basketball, baseball, hurling, tennis, cricket, and other sports. The centre hosted soccer matches between Denmark League XI and Portugal, Canada and Portugal, Canada and Denmark League XI, and others.

The population of the city grew in 1971 and reached 2.7 million while in 1981, the population already stood at 3 million. A number of factors contributed to the steady population growth over the years, including low personal income taxes, the growing automotive industry, and an influx of immigrants from different countries in Africa and Asia. During the 1990s, the city became a major corporate and financial centre, holding a major share of the country’s corporate and financial assets. Many major banks moved their headquarters here 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 opened in 1861, is found in the financial district of the city. Many large companies became headquartered in Toronto and opened offices, including Brookfield Asset Management, Wal-Mart Canada, Magna International, Onex Corporation, and others.


Toronto Today

The city has a population of more than 2.7 million residents which makes it the largest in Canada. It encompasses the former municipalities of York, Scarborough, Old Ontario, North York, Etobicoke, and East York. The city is the home to Edwardian and Victorian-style buildings in neighborhoods such as Yorkville, The Annex, and Rosedale. The neighborhood of Casa Roma is famous for its bowling alley, secret passages, turrets, and gardens. Riverdale, Chinatown, and Kensington Market are found west and east of downtown and are known as major venues for cultural and commercial activities. Major architectural landmarks in the city are 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. They house apartment blocks and single-family homes owned and occupied by working-class residents. Upscale enclaves are found in the outer suburbia of the city, including Kingsway, Humber Valley Village, Bridge Path, and others. Affluent neighborhoods are the home to many parks, schools, churches, outdoor and indoor recreational facilities, shopping centres, 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. In fact, 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. The city is also a major finance centre, and the Toronto Stock Exchange is regarded as one of the busiest and most competitive institutions, together with exchanges in cities such as Sydney, Chicago, Tokyo, New York City, and London. In fact, it is a major hub for the listings of companies in the clean technology, gas and oil, and mining industries.


Toronto is also a major tourism destination in Canada, and millions of tourists visit the city each year. According to Tourism Toronto’s Vice President Andrew Weir, the industry is expected to experience stable growth. The number of tourists visiting the city hit the record of 43 million in 2017. This does not come as surprise as Toronto has plenty to offer, including architectural wonders, attractions, museums, and parks such as the Distillery District, Bay Street, Toronto Waterfront, Toronto Botanical Garden.

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