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. A relatively modern city, Toronto’s history dates back to the late 18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British Crown from the Mississaugas of the New Credit. The settlement was later established as the Town of York and proclaimed as the new capital of Upper Canada by its lieutenant governor, John Graves Simcoe. In 1834, York was incorporated as a city and renamed to its present name. The city was ransacked in the Battle of York during the War of 1812 and damaged in two great fires in 1849 and in 1904. Since its incorporation, Toronto has repeatedly expanded its borders through amalgamation with surrounding municipalities, most recently in 1998. Toronto Wallpaper.
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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 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. Toronto is also consistently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.
As Canada’s commercial capital, it is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange and the nation’s five largest banks. Toronto is considered an alpha world city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) study group. Toronto’s leading economic sectors include finance, business services, telecommunications, aerospace, transportation, media, arts, publishing, software production, medical research, education, tourism, and engineering.
When Europeans first arrived at the site of present-day Toronto, the vicinity was inhabited by the Huron tribes, who by then had displaced the Iroquois tribes that had occupied the region for centuries before c. 1500. The name Toronto is likely derived from the Iroquois word tkaronto, meaning “place where trees stand in the water”. It refers to the northern end of what is now Lake Simcoe, where the Huron had planted tree saplings to corral fish. A portage route from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron running through this point, the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, led to widespread use of the name.
French traders founded Fort Rouillé on the current Exhibition grounds in 1750, but abandoned it in 1759. During the American Revolutionary War, the region saw an influx of British settlers as United Empire Loyalists fled for the unsettled lands north of Lake Ontario. In 1787, the British negotiated the Toronto Purchase with the Mississaugas of New Credit, thereby securing more than a quarter million acres (1000 km2) of land in the Toronto area.
In 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe established the town of York on the existing settlement, naming it after Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. Simcoe chose the town to replace Newark as the capital of Upper Canada, believing the new site would be less vulnerable to attack by the Americans. Fort York was constructed at the entrance of the town’s natural harbour, sheltered by a long sand-bar peninsula. The town’s settlement formed at the eastern end of the harbour behind the peninsula, near the present-day intersection of Parliament Street and Front Street (in the Corktown–St. Lawrence area).
In 1813, as part of the War of 1812, the Battle of York ended in the town’s capture and plunder by American forces. The surrender of the town was negotiated by John Strachan. American soldiers destroyed much of Fort York and set fire to the parliament buildings during their five-day occupation. The sacking of York was a primary motivation for the Burning of Washington by British troops later in the war. York was incorporated as the City of Toronto on March 6, 1834, reverting to its original native name. The population of only 9,000 included escaped African American slaves. Slavery was banned outright in Upper Canada in 1834. Reformist politician William Lyon Mackenzie became the first Mayor of Toronto and led the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 against the British colonial government. The city grew rapidly through the remainder of the 19th century, as a major destination for immigrants to Canada. The first significant population influx occurred when the Great Irish Famine brought a large number of Irish to the city, some of them transient and most of them Catholic. By 1851, the Irish-born population had become the largest single ethnic group in the city. Smaller numbers of Protestant Irish immigrants were welcomed by the existing Scottish and English population, giving the Orange Order significant and long lasting influence over Toronto society.
Toronto was twice for brief periods the capital of the united Province of Canada: first from 1849 to 1852, following unrest in Montreal, and later 1856–1858 after which Quebec became capital until 1866 (one year before Confederation); since then, the capital of Canada has remained Ottawa. As it had been for Upper Canada from 1793, Toronto became the capital of the province of Ontario after its official creation in 1867, the seat of government located at the Ontario Legislature located at Queen’s Park. Because of its provincial capital status, the city was also the location of Government House, the residence of the vice-regal representative of the Crown in right of Ontario.
In the 19th century, an extensive sewage system was built, and streets became illuminated with gas lighting as a regular service. Long-distance railway lines were constructed, including a route completed in 1854 linking Toronto with the Upper Great Lakes. The Grand Trunk Railway and the Northern Railway of Canada joined in the building of the first Union Station in downtown. The advent of the railway dramatically increased the numbers of immigrants arriving, commerce and industry, as had the Lake Ontario steamers and schooners entering port before which enabled Toronto to become a major gateway linking the world to the interior of the North American continent.
Toronto became the largest alcohol distillation (in particular spirits) centre in North America; the Gooderham and Worts Distillery operations became the world’s largest whiskey factory by the 1860s. A preserved section of this once dominant local industry remains in the Distillery District, the harbour allowed for sure access of grain and sugar imports used in processing. Expanding port and rail facilities brought in Northern Timber for export and imported Pennsylvania coal, industry dominated the waterfront for the next 100 years.
Horse-drawn streetcars gave way to electric streetcars in 1891, when the city granted the operation of the transit franchise to the Toronto Railway Company. The public transit system passed into public ownership in 1921 as the Toronto Transportation Commission, later renamed the Toronto Transit Commission. The system now has the third-highest ridership of any city public transportation system in North America.
The Great Toronto Fire of 1904 destroyed a large section of downtown Toronto, but the city was quickly rebuilt. The fire caused more than $10 million in damage, and resulted in more stringent fire safety laws and expansion of the city’s fire department.
The city received new immigrant groups beginning in the late 19th century into early 20th century, particularly Germans, French, Italians, and Jews from various parts of Eastern Europe. They were soon followed by Chinese, Russians, Poles and immigrants from other Eastern European nations, as the Irish before them, many of these new migrants lived in overcrowded shanty type slums, such as “the Ward” which was centred on Bay Street, now the heart of the country’s finances. Despite its fast paced growth, by the 1920s, Toronto’s population and economic importance in Canada remained second to the much longer established Montreal. However, by 1934, the Toronto Stock Exchange had become the largest in the country.
Following the Second World War refugees from war-torn Europe and Chinese job-seekers arrived, as well as construction labourers, particularly from Italy and Portugal. Following elimination of racially based immigration policies by the late 1960s, immigration began from all parts of the world. Toronto’s population grew to more than one million in 1951 when large-scale suburbanization began, and doubled to two million by 1971. By the 1980s, Toronto had surpassed Montreal as Canada’s most populous city and the chief economic hub. During this time, in part owing to the political uncertainty raised by the resurgence of the Quebec sovereignty movement, many national and multinational corporations moved their head offices from Montreal to Toronto and Western Canadian cities.
In 1954, the City of Toronto and 12 surrounding municipalities were federated into a regional government known as Metropolitan Toronto. The postwar boom had resulted in rapid suburban development, and it was believed that a coordinated land use strategy and shared services would provide greater efficiency for the region. The metropolitan government began to manage services that crossed municipal boundaries, including highways, police services, water and public transit. In that year, a half-century after the Great Fire of 1904, disaster struck the city again when Hurricane Hazel brought intense winds and flash flooding. In the Toronto area, 81 people were killed, nearly 1,900 families were left homeless, and the hurricane caused more than $25 million in damage.
In 1967, the seven smallest municipalities of Metropolitan Toronto were merged into their larger neighbours, resulting in a six-municipality configuration that included the old City of Toronto and the surrounding municipalities of East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York. In 1998, the metropolitan government was dissolved by the Provincial Government in the face of vigorous opposition from the smaller component municipalities and all six municipalities were amalgamated into a single municipality, creating the current City of Toronto, with Mel Lastman as its first mayor (after being mayor of North York). David Miller was the second mayor and Rob Ford is the third and current mayor.
The city celebrated its 175th anniversary on March 6, 2009, since its inception as the City of Toronto in 1834. Toronto hosted the 4th G-20 summit during June 26–27, 2010, for which the largest security operation in Canadian history took place amidst large-scale protests. Toronto will host the Pan American Games in 2015.
Toronto covers an area of 630 square kilometres (243 sq mi), with a maximum north-south distance of 21 kilometres (13 mi) and a maximum east-west distance of 43 km (27 mi). It has a 46-kilometre (29 mi) long waterfront shoreline, on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. The Toronto Islands and Port Lands extend out into the lake, allowing for a somewhat sheltered Toronto Harbour south of the downtown core. The city’s borders are formed by Lake Ontario to the south, Etobicoke Creek and Highway 427 to the west, Steeles Avenue to the north and the Rouge River and the Scarborough-Pickering Townline to the east.
The city is intersected by three rivers and numerous tributaries: the Humber River in the west end and the Don River east of downtown at opposite ends of the Toronto Harbour, and the Rouge River at the city’s eastern limits. The harbour was naturally created by sediment build-up from lake currents that created the Toronto Islands. The many creeks and rivers cutting from north toward the lake created large tracts of densely forested ravines, and provide ideal sites for parks and recreational trails. However, the ravines also interfere with the city’s grid plan, and this results in major thoroughfares such as Finch Avenue, Leslie Street, Lawrence Avenue, and St. Clair Avenue terminating on one side of ravines and continuing on the other side. Other thoroughfares such as the Prince Edward Viaduct are required to span above the ravines. These deep ravines prove useful for draining the city’s storm sewer system during heavy rains, but some sections, particularly near the Don River are prone to sudden, heavy floods.
During the last ice age, the lower part of Toronto was beneath Glacial Lake Iroquois. Today, a series of escarpments mark the lake’s former boundary, known as the Iroquois Shoreline. The escarpments are most prominent from Victoria Park Avenue to the mouth of Highland Creek, where they form the Scarborough Bluffs. Other observable sections include the area near St. Clair Avenue West between Bathurst Street and the Don River, and north of Davenport Road from Caledonia to Spadina Road; the Casa Loma grounds sit above this escarpment. Despite its deep ravines, Toronto is not remarkably hilly, but does increase in elevation steadily away from the lake. Elevation differences range from 75 metres (246 ft) above-sea-level at the Lake Ontario shore to 209 m (686 ft) ASL near the York University grounds in the city’s north end at the intersection of Keele Street and Steeles Avenue. There are occasional hilly areas, in particular midtown Toronto has a number of rolling hills. Lake Ontario remains occasionally visible from the peaks of these ridges as far north as Eglinton Avenue, 7 to 8 kilometres (4.3 to 5.0 mi) inland.
Much of the current lakeshore land area fronting the Toronto Harbour is artificial landfill filled during the late 19th century. Until then, the lakefront docks (then known as wharves) were set back further inland than today. Much of the adjacent Port Lands are also fill. The Toronto Islands were a natural landspit until a storm in 1858 severed their connection to the mainland, creating a channel later used by shipping interests to access the docks.
Toronto has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa), with warm, humid summers and cold winters. The city experiences four distinct seasons, with considerable variance in day to day temperature, particularly during the colder weather season. Owing to urbanization and its proximity to water, Toronto has a fairly low diurnal temperature range (day-night temperature difference). The denser urban scape makes for warmer nights year around and is not as cold throughout the winter than surrounding areas (particularly north of the city); however, it can be noticeably cooler on many spring and early summer afternoons under the influence of a lake breeze. Other low-scale maritime effects on the climate include lake-effect snow, fog and delaying of spring- and fall-like conditions, known as seasonal lag.
Toronto winters sometimes feature short cold snaps where maximum temperatures remain below −10 °C (14 °F), often made to feel colder by wind chill. Snowstorms, sometimes mixed with ice and rain can disrupt work and travel schedules, accumulating snow can fall any time from November until mid-April. However, mild stretches with temperatures in the 5 to 12 °C (41 to 54 °F) range and infrequently higher also occur in most winters melting accumulated snow. The summer months are characterized by long stretches of humid weather. Usually in the range from 23 °C (73 °F) to 31 °C (88 °F), daytime temperatures occasionally surpass 35 °C (95 °F) accompanied by high humidity making it feel oppressive during these brief periods of hot weather. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons with generally mild or cool temperatures with alternating dry and wet periods.
Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, but summer is usually the wettest season, the bulk falling during thunderstorms. There can be periods of dry weather, but drought-like conditions are rare. The average yearly precipitation is about 830 mm (32.7 in), with an average annual snowfall of about 133 cm (52 in). Toronto experiences an average of 2,038 sunshine hours, or 44% of daylight hours, varying between a low of 27% in December to 59% in July.
Lawrence Richards, a member of the faculty of architecture at the University of Toronto, has said “Toronto is a new, brash, rag-tag place—a big mix of periods and styles.” Toronto buildings vary in design and age with many structures dating back to the mid-19th century, while other prominent buildings were just newly built in the first decade of the 21st century.
Defining the Toronto skyline is the CN Tower, a telecommunications and tourism hub. Completed in 1976 at a height of 553.33 metres (1,815 ft 5 in), it was the world’s tallest freestanding structure until 2007 when it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa.
Toronto is a city of high-rises, having 1,800 buildings over 30 metres (98 ft). Most of these buildings are residential, whereas the central business district contains commercial office towers. There has been recent attention given for the need to retrofit many of these buildings, which were constructed beginning in the 1950s as residential apartment blocks to accommodate a quickly growing population. As of December 2011, Toronto had 132 high-rise buildings under-construction.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, significant pieces of Toronto’s architectural heritage were demolished to make way for redevelopment or, simply, parking. In contrast, since the 2000s, Toronto is experiencing a period of architectural revival, with several buildings by world-renowned architects having opened in the last five years. Daniel Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum addition, Frank Gehry’s remake of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Will Alsop’s distinctive Ontario College of Art & Design expansion are among the city’s new showpieces. The historic Distillery District, located on the eastern edge of downtown has been redeveloped into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture and entertainment neighbourhood.
The many residential communities of Toronto express a character distinct from that of the skyscrapers in the commercial core. Victorian and Edwardian-era residential buildings can be found in enclaves such as Rosedale, Cabbagetown, The Annex, and Yorkville. Wychwood Park is historically significant for the architecture of its homes, and for being one of Toronto’s earliest planned communities. The Wychwood Park neighbourhood was designated as an Ontario Heritage Conservation district in 1985. The Casa Loma neighbourhood is named after Casa Loma, a storybook castle built in 1911 complete with gardens, turrets, stables, an elevator, secret passages, and a bowling alley. Spadina House is a 19th century manor that is now a museum.
The City of Toronto encompasses a geographical area formerly administered by six separate municipalities. These municipalities have each developed a distinct history and identity over the years, and their names remain in common use among Torontonians. Throughout the city there exist hundreds of small neighbourhoods and some larger neighbourhoods covering a few square kilometres. Former municipalities include East York, Etobicoke, North York, Old Toronto, Scarborough, and York.
The Old City of Toronto covers the area generally known as downtown, but also older neighbourhoods to the east, west, and north of downtown. It includes the historic core of Toronto and remains the most densely populated part of the city. The Financial District contains the First Canadian Place, Toronto-Dominion Centre, Scotia Plaza, Royal Bank Plaza, Commerce Court and Brookfield Place. This area includes, among others, the neighbourhoods of St. James (not to be confused with St. James Town to the north), Garden District, St. Lawrence, Corktown, and Church and Wellesley. From that point, the Toronto skyline extends northward along Yonge Street. Old Toronto is also home to many historically wealthy residential enclaves, such as Yorkville, Rosedale, The Annex, Forest Hill, Lawrence Park, Lytton Park, Deer Park, Moore Park, and Casa Loma, most stretching away from downtown to the north. East and west of Downtown, neighbourhoods such as Kensington Market, Chinatown, Leslieville, Cabbagetown and Riverdale are home to bustling commercial and cultural areas as well as communities of artists with studio lofts, with many middle and upper class professionals. Other neighbourhoods in the central city retain an ethnic identity, including two Chinatowns, the Greektown area, Little Italy, Portugal Village, and Little India, along with others.
The inner suburbs are contained within the former municipalities of York and East York. These are mature and traditionally working class areas, primarily consisting of post–World War I small, single-family homes and small apartment blocks. Neighbourhoods such as Crescent Town, Thorncliffe Park, Weston, and Oakwood–Vaughan mainly consist of high-rise apartments, which are home to many new immigrant families. During the 2000s, many neighbourhoods have become ethnically diverse and have undergone gentrification, as a result of increasing population and a housing boom during the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century. The first neighbourhoods affected were Leaside and North Toronto, gradually progressing into the western neighbourhoods in York. Some of the area’s housing is in the process of being replaced or remodelled.
The outer suburbs comprising the former municipalities of Etobicoke (west), Scarborough (east) and North York (north) largely retain the grid plan laid before post-war development. Sections were long established and quickly growing towns before the suburban housing boom began and the emergence of Metro Government, existing towns or villages such as Mimico, Islington and New Toronto in Etobicoke; Willowdale, Newtonbrook and Downsview in North York; Agincourt, Wexford and West Hill in Scarborough where suburban development boomed around or between these and other towns beginning in the late 1940s. Upscale neighbourhoods were built such as the Bridle Path in North York, the area surrounding the Scarborough Bluffs in Guildwood, and most of central Etobicoke, such as Humber Valley Village, and The Kingsway. One of largest and earliest “planned communities” was Don Mills, parts of which were first built in the 1950s. Phased development mixing single-detached housing with higher density apartment blocks became more popular as a suburban model of development. Over the late 20th century and early 21st century, North York City Centre, Etobicoke City Centre and Scarborough City Centre have emerged as secondary business districts outside Downtown Toronto. High-rise development in these areas have given the former municipalities distinguishable skylines of their own with high-density transit corridors serving them.
In the earlier industrial era of Toronto, industry became concentrated along the Toronto Harbour and lower Don River mouth.
The Distillery District contains the largest and best-preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture in North America. Once an alcohol processing centre, related structures along the Harbour include the Canada Malting Co. grain processing towers and the Redpath Sugar Refinery. Although production of spirits has declined over the decades, Toronto still has a growing microbrewery industry. The District is a national heritage site, it was listed by National Geographic magazine as a “top pick” in Canada for travellers. Similar areas that still retain their post-industrial character, but are now largely residential are the Fashion District, Corktown, and parts of South Riverdale and Leslieville. Toronto still has some active older industrial areas, such as Brockton Village, Mimico and New Toronto. In the west end of Old Toronto and York, the Weston/Mount Dennis and Junction areas still contain factories, meat packing facilities and railyards close to medium density residential.
Beginning in the late 19th century as Toronto sprawled out, industrial areas were set up on the outskirts. Over time, pockets of industrial land mostly followed rail lines and later highway corridors as the city grew outwards. This trend continues to this day, the largest factories and distribution warehouses have mostly moved to the suburban environs of Peel and York Regions; but also within the current city: Etobicoke (concentrated around Pearson Airport), North York, and Scarborough. Many of Toronto’s former industrial sites close to (or in) Downtown have been redeveloped including parts of the Toronto waterfront and Liberty Village, large-scale development is underway in the West Don Lands.
The still mostly vacated Port Lands remain largely undeveloped, apart from a power plant, a shipping container facility and out-of-commission industrial facilities. There are future plans for development, including residential areas under the guidance of Waterfront Toronto.
Toronto has a diverse array of public spaces, from city squares to public parks overlooking ravines. A group called the Toronto Public Space Committee was formed to protect the city’s public spaces. Nathan Phillips Square is the city’s main square in downtown, and forms the entrance to City Hall. Yonge-Dundas Square, a newer, privately owned square near to City Hall, has also gained attention in recent years as one of the busiest gathering spots in the city. Other squares include Harbourfront Square, on the revitalized Toronto waterfront, and the civic squares at the former city halls of the defunct Metropolitan Toronto, most notably Mel Lastman Square in North York.
There are many large downtown parks, which include Grange Park, Moss Park, Allan Gardens, Little Norway Park, Queen’s Park, Riverdale Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Christie Pits, and the Leslie Street Spit, which mainly consists of Tommy Thompson Park and opens on weekends. The Toronto Islands have several acres of park space, accessible from downtown by ferry. Large parks in the outer areas include High Park, Humber Bay Park, Centennial Park, Downsview Park, Guildwood Park, and Rouge Park. An almost hidden park is the compact Cloud Gardens which has both open areas and a glassed-in greenhouse in downtown Toronto.
Nathan Phillips Square, Harbourfront Centre, and Mel Lastman Square feature popular rinks for public ice-skating. Etobicoke’s Colonel Sam Smith Trail opened in 2011 and is Toronto’s first skating trail. Centennial Park and Earl Bales Park offer outdoor skiing and snowboarding slopes with a chair lift, rental facilities, and lessons.
Nathan Phillips Square is undergoing a major redesign by PLANT Architect Inc., Shore Tilbe Irwin + Partners, Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc., and Adrian Blackwell (winners of the international design competition in 2007). West 8, a Dutch architecture firm, won the Central Waterfront Innovative Design Competition in 2006 to redesign the central part of the Toronto waterfront. In 1999, Downsview Park initiated an international design competition to realise its vision of creating Canada’s first national urban park. In May 2000, the winning park design was announced: “TREE CITY”, by the team of Bruce Mau Design, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Oleson Worland Architect and Inside/Outside.