Toronto - Ontario's Metropolis
Although origins of Toronto's name are lost in time, it is thought to be derived
from a native word meaning 'meeting place'. Certainly, aboriginal peoples are known to
have come here for centuries to join an overland and canoe route between Lakes Ontario
and Huron. Etienne Brûlé was the first European to arrive (in 1615) and the Toronto
Passage soon became well-known to French fur traders. A small store was established in
the 1720s, a fortified post was built in 1751. Under early British rule Fort York lost
prestige, being visited only sporadically by fur traders.
Following the American Revolution of 1775-1783, Loyalist families who had
supported the British crown fled the newly established United States for areas in the
Upper St Lawrence Valley and Lower Lakes. In 1791 their settlements were severed from the old
Province of Québec, and incorporated as the Province of Upper Canada. Its first
governor, John Graves Simcoe, developed plans for the provincial capital of York, with
government offices and a military garrison on the northern shore of Lake Ontario.
Growth was slow. "Muddy York" was twice raided and burned during the 1812 war
between the United States and Britain, at which time there were only 700 inhabitants.
Rapid growth followed. By 1834 its population reached the 9,000 mark, and the city was
renamed Toronto. Now, with a population of 2.3 million, Toronto is considered a first
class city - the largest in Canada, it is ranked alongside London, New York and Tokyo.
Present-day Toronto retains the orderly layout developed by Governor Simcoe's
surveyors. First-time visitors are surprised by the cleanliness of city streets and subway
system, and modern architecture that blends so well with cherished historic sites. They
say they feel safe here, and for the most part they are. They like the parks, ever handy
scraps of green where they can sit and rest; wooded ravine trails and lakeshore parks.
Before the arrival of post-war immigrants, 80 per cent of Torontonians were
Anglo-Saxon. The early l950s brought an influx from Europe, followed by the
Caribbean, Asia and other parts of the world. Ethnic neighbourhoods took root and
prospered. Now Toronto's Chinatown is one of the continent's largest. St. Clair Ave
West is known as Little Italy. Danforth Ave has its Greek shops and restaurants. Hop on
a Queen Street streetcar to The Beaches and you will be in a predominantly Anglo
enclave with one-of-a-kind shops, tree-shaded streets and a boardwalk along the shores
of Lake Ontario. Some of these communities stage traditional parades and festivals. Their
restaurants add tremendous verve to what used to be a very bland dining scene. And
every June they all come together at Caravan, a ten days' celebration with pavilions
featuring food and entertainment of the countries represented.
Yonge Street divides Toronto down the middle, beginning at the lakefront and
continuing up into Northern Ontario. (At 1,100 miles, 1,770km, it is listed in the
Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest street.) With downtown parking at a
premium, and traffic snarls a nightmare, a bus tour is recommended to acquaint you with
the city. After that you can easily get around on your own. Subways run north from
Union Station, east-west on Bloor Street, supplemented by busses and streetcars to
provide efficient public transportation.
Even visitors not interested in serious shopping will still enjoy Toronto's stores, in
part for their interesting locales. Downtown at Queen and Yonge Streets, the Eaton
Center has 350 stores in a bright climate-controlled multi-purpose complex. The eclectic
shops, galleries, clubs and cafes on Queen St West attract the young and trendy.
Specialty shops and pubs in The Beaches have their loyal fans, and stores at Yonge and
Bloor Streets generally cater to upmarket shoppers. Immediately north of Bloor, between
Yonge and Avenue Road, Yorkville is Toronto's most exclusive shopping district. While
this is not for the budget-conscious shopper, you will want to pay it a visit anyway for a
stroll in the historic lanes and perhaps lunch at a sidewalk café.
All these areas, except for The Beaches, can be reached by a network of
underground tunnels extending north from Union Station. This is virtually a subterranean
city with three miles (5km) of walkways, trees blooming in January, 'outdoors' seating
for restaurants, countless shops and services, plus access to hotels, cinemas and subway
As expansion rapidly continues to march north, the lakefront around which the city
was founded has been given a second life. Former wharves, grain elevators and
abandoned warehouses are now integrated into Harbourfront, a cultural and leisure
center with events the year-round. In summer, footpaths and parklands along the
lakeshore here are as busy as those of any seaside resort. Lake activities, more shops,
Canada's largest antique market, live theatre, artists at work, cafes and restaurants, free
entertainment and imaginative programmes for children all contribute to the holiday
The lakefront was always a natural gathering place. Back in the 1800s the
Canadian National Exhibition was established here as an agricultural fair where Ontario
farmers celebrated the harvest each autumn. Still going strong, 'the Ex' now embraces
international pavilions, midway rides, a fun fair and top performers on stage during three
weeks at the end of summer. Linked to the Exhibition by an overhead walkway, Ontario
Place is purpose-built on a series of man-made islands. A childrens' playground, marina,
fabulous movies on an Imax screen, restaurants and live shows make this a happy
summer destination for families.
Dominating the waterfront and city skyline, the CN Tower at 1,815 feet (553m) is
the world's tallest free-standing structure, featuring indoor and outdoor observation
platforms, a revolving restaurant and nightclub. Close by, Sky Dome is another famous
landmark. This much photographed sports stadium with a retractable roof and integrated
hotel is the home of the World Series winning Blue Jays baseball team. In addition,
events are scheduled through the year, and guided tours fill you in on statistics. SkyDome
can be reached via a covered walk from Union Station. Ferries are frequent to off-shore
islands. Harbor cruises offer a grand view of the city waterfront.
In the same general area, but a couple of hundred years away, Fort York was built
by the British in 1793, destroyed in the 1812 war, and reconstructed immediately after.
Its summer programmes illustrate the life and times of nineteenth-century British soldiers
garrisoned at the fort. On holiday weekends especially, it can be extremely colourful as
red-coated 'soldiers' go about their business. Similarly the Toronto Historical Society
operates several early homes in the city, giving them a lived-in look with costumed
residents performing chores of the day. Black Creek Pioneer Village at Jane Street and
Steeles Avenue is an aggregation of settlers' buildings essential to a pioneer community,
including a former coaching inn where hot lunches are served in its dining room.
No aspect of the visitor's Toronto has expanded so dramatically over the past
twenty years as its theatre. Offering more live theatre than any other English-speaking
city - London and New York excepted - there were at last count 130 professional theatre
companies in town. Performances by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian
Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada are always well attended.
Toronto has outstanding museums and galleries. Best known is the Royal Ontario
Museum, fondly known as the ROM at Queen's Park. Nearby, the Bata Shoe Museum
has an extraordinary shoe collection spanning some 4,500 years. The George R. Gardiner
Museum of Ceramic Art is another specialty museum, with a huge collection of pottery
and porcelain of the past 3,000 years. At the edge of Chinatown, on Dundas St.West, the
Art Gallery of Ontario has the world's largest collection of work by Henry Moore. North
of the city (25 miles, 40km) Kleinburg is a perfect setting for the McMichael Collection
of Canadian Art, beautifully shown in a rambling log building above the Humber Valley.
Canada's famed Group of Seven landscape artists are well represented here, as are Indian
and Inuit artists. The gallery has a restaurant, and there are others in town to make this an
enjoyable half-day excursion from Toronto. More Canadian art is displayed in the
Ontario Parliament Buildings at Queen's Park, just south of the ROM.
Children will want to visit the Ontario Science Centre, particularly popular for
hundreds of 'hands on' exhibits. Also the Metro Toronto Zoo, recognized as one of the
continent's better zoos. Even with monorail and electric trains providing zoo
transportation, there is still a lot of walking involved to cover its 710 acres (287ha).