Toronto is the largest city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. Toronto is a relatively modern city. Its history begins in the late 18th century, when the British Crown purchased its land from the Mississaugas of the New Credit. The British established a settlement there, called the Town of York, which its lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe, designated as the capital of Upper Canada. The city was ransacked in the Battle of York during the War of 1812. In 1834, York was incorporated as a city and renamed Toronto. It was damaged in two huge fires, in 1849 and 1904. Over the years, Toronto has several times expanded its borders through amalgamation with surrounding municipalities, most recently in 1998.
The city has 2.6 million residents, according to the 2011 Census. It is currently the fifth most populous city in North America. The census metropolitan area (CMA) had a population of 5,583,064,and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) had a population of 6,054,191 in the 2011 Census. Toronto is at the heart of the Greater Toronto Area, and of the densely populated region in Southern Ontario known as the Golden Horseshoe. Its cosmopolitan and international population reflects its role as an important destination for immigrants to Canada. Toronto is one of the world’s most diverse cities by percentage of non-native-born residents, with about 49% of the population born outside Canada.
As Canada’s commercial capital, it is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange and some of the nation’s largest banks.
When Metropolitan Toronto amalgamated its six internal cities into one in 1998, it created a new “mega-city” known simply as Toronto, now made up of varied and unique neighbourhoods. Covering more than 600 square kilometres, Toronto stretches some 32 kilometres along the shores of Lake Ontario, and includes a dense, urban core surrounded by an inner ring of older suburbs followed by an outer ring of post-war suburbs. The city is laid out on a very straightforward grid pattern and streets rarely deviate from the grid, except in cases where topography interferes such as the indented, curved Don River Valley and to a lesser degree the Humber and Rouge valleys at opposite ends of the city. Some main thoroughfares do intersect the grid at angles. The six Toronto districts are:
Old Toronto (Downtown, West End, East End, Midtown, Islands)
Downtown Toronto is the heart of this urban core, with Yonge Street running almost directly in the middle of this district.
Etobicoke is largely composed of industrial factories and suburban homes. The area is home to Sherway Gardens, Woodbine Racetrack, and St George’s Golf Course.
York is formerly a separate city, the second smallest of the six former municipalities, yet it is one of the most ethnically diverse.
East York was formerly a semi-autonomous borough within the overall municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. One of East York’s claims to fame was that, before the amalgamation, it was Canada’s only borough.
North York is home to Parc Downsview Park, Canada’s first national urban park, Downsview Airport and the North York Performing Arts Centre.
Scarborough has characteristics of a suburb of old Toronto, but retains much of its own character and flavour. Because of the topography of the Bluffs, the Rouge Valley, and other creeks and minor tributaries, Scarborough is said to be the greenest and leafiest part of Toronto.
In 1998, the cities of Toronto, Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, and York and the Borough of East York amalgamated to form the current City of Toronto. This is also known as Metropolitan Toronto or “the 416” after its area code (although now there are some new area codes, the overwhelming number of landline phone numbers in the Toronto area are still “416”) and has a population of over 2.6 million people. More than half of these were born in some country other than Canada: a fact obvious to any visitor immediately, as the city has many vibrant bustling neighbourhoods with street signs in several languages.
Toronto and its surrounding suburbs are collectively known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Outlying suburbs are also known as “the 905” after their area code, although technically this code is also used in both Hamilton and the Niagara Region, stretching to the border in Niagara Falls. The entire area including Toronto is known as the “Golden Horseshoe” and has a population of over 8 million people. Distances between cities in the area can be great as it sprawls along, outward and even wraps around the western end of Lake Ontario; public transit is not always effective enough to make it a quick or seamless trip. Many suburban residents rely on motor vehicles to get around.
A popular urban myth has it that the United Nations rated Toronto as “the most multicultural city in the world”. While the UN and its agencies are not in the habit of rating cities, it remains a fact that Canada is a nation of immigrants, and Toronto demonstrates this abundantly. A UN agency lists Toronto as second only to Miami as the city with the most foreign-born residents, but Toronto’s residents represent far more cultural and language groups, which is arguably a better measure of multi-culturalism. Most immigrants either pass through Toronto on their way to other parts of the country or stay in Toronto permanently. Many people born abroad consider themselves, and are considered, to be as Canadian as born Canadians, and behaving or asserting otherwise is considered offensive, especially so in Toronto. This contributes to the overall cultural mosaic that is Toronto today. Within Toronto, most ethnic groups will work their way into the fabric of Canadian society but some still retain their distinct ways such as language, dress (if only for special occasions), customs, and food.
As a result of this cultural mosaic, Toronto is home to many ethnic festivals throughout the year. Toronto also boasts several radio stations which broadcast in various languages as well as at least two multicultural television channels. The City of Toronto officially deals in 16 different languages while the Toronto Transit Commission (public transit) has a helpline that deals in 70 languages. Even large department stores such as The Bay in downtown Toronto proudly advertise service in 9 languages. The lingua franca of Toronto, however, remains English.