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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Skydome and CN Tower, Toronto.

Toronto is the capital city of the Province of Ontario, Canada. It is not the capital of Canada; that's Ottawa, which is also in Ontario. It is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario, at 43° 42' latitude and 79° 25' longitude. It is the fifth largest city in North America, and the largest in Canada. It has also been declared by the United Nations to be the most multicultural city in the world, which a bus ride in any direction of more than a few blocks will tell you is well deserved.

Toronto used to be known as 'Hogtown', because it was a centre of agricultural processing. Locals tend to call it 'Trawna'. And the rest of Canada sarcastically calls it 'The Centre of the Universe', due to what they perceive to be Torontonians' egocentric lack of interest in the geography and affairs of the rest of the country.


Before there was a city called Toronto, there were Mississauga Indian encampments, a French fur trading post, and Fort Rouillé, which the French burned during their retreat from the British in 1759.

In 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe decided to establish a new town on the site to accommodate the influx of United Empire Loyalists, who migrated to Upper Canada (which is what Ontario was called at the time) from the New England colonies during the American Revolutionary War. Many Canadians still proudly trace their family trees back to Loyalist roots.

The town, named York, was guarded by Fort York, which was destroyed in the War of 1812. Fort York was subsequently rebuilt, and is now a prominent feature on the Toronto tourist map.

In 1834, York became a city and was renamed Toronto, a Huron word meaning 'meeting place'. In 1867, it became the capital of Ontario.

In 1998, the government of Ontario forced the City of Toronto and several surrounding communities to merge into the new 'mega-city' of Toronto1.

Toronto's Neighbourhoods

Toronto is often called a city of neighbourhoods. Residents tend to identify themselves both as Torontonians and as residents of a particular neighbourhood or former borough. Most neighbourhoods feature a mix of commercial and residential use, and often industry as well.

Some neighbourhoods bear old names, such as the relatively affluent neighbourhoods of Rosedale (old money) and Yorkville (which was a hippie area in the 1960s) and the gentrified neighbourhood of Cabbagetown, where Irish immigrants once grew cabbages in their yards. Others are geographic, such as Queen West and Bloor West Village. Some reflect particular ethnic communities, such as Chinatown (which is really pan-Asian), Little Italy (of which there are two), Greektown, and Little India, and a thriving Tibetan exile community. Some reflect other communities, such as Boystown (which isn't boys-only). Then there are those that are identified by particular features, such as Kensington Market, which has been home to waves of new immigrants for over a century, and to Bohemians since the 1970s.

Tourist Attractions

  • Nathan Philips Square - Located at the junction of Queen and Bay Streets, Nathan Philips Square is the home of Toronto's New City Hall (1965), which is right next to the Old City Hall (1899) on Bay. The new seat of municipal government was designed in the shape of an eye, with a three storey rotunda flanked by two curved towers. Unless you arrive by air, though, you may be forgiven for missing the 'eye of government' theme. The square is a natural meeting place, featuring a reflecting pond which is used for ice skating in winter.

  • CN Tower - The CN Tower is the largest freestanding structure in the world, scraping the sky at 553.3m. (The CN Tower is more than half as big again as the Eiffel Tower, for example.) It is also the world's largest phallic symbol. It was built by the Canadian National Rail and Communications company in the early 1970s as a communications tower. Many Torontonians predicted that it would meet the same fate as the Tower of Babel, and downtown Toronto was plastered with posters illustrating the radius of destruction to be caused by its anticipated collapse. Nevertheless, to date it hasn't fallen over. There are two levels for visitors, one containing a rotating restaurant, billed as the largest in the world. The tower also features external lifts, which zoom up and down its concrete sides like energetic beetles, the world's longest staircase, and the world's highest flush toilets, 'The Royal Flush'.

  • Skydome - Another addition to Toronto's collection of eccentric architecture is Skydome, home to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts. It features a retractable roof. It is situated next to the CN Tower, which has led to interestingly snide comments about phallic and non-phallic symbols. The Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team play at the nearby Air Canada Centre, as does the Toronto Raptors professional basketball team. Skydome is also a popular venue for concerts and exhibitions of all descriptions. The stadium has its own built-in hotel.

  • Toronto Eaton Centre - Tourists also seem to like the Eaton's Centre, which is a big shopping mall on Yonge Street, the world's longest street. It's a shopping mall, pretty much like any other, but it's big (though not the world's biggest) and it has a flock of stuffed geese hanging in a frozen 'V' formation from the glass roof.

  • Queen's Park - The home of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Queen's Park is an island in the middle of University Avenue, which swirls around it like a moat. Nevertheless, citizens routinely manage to cross the moat to hold various and sundry protest rallies on the provincial government's lawn.

  • Royal Ontario Museum - Located just up the road from Queen's Park, the ROM is an excellent museum of natural and human history. In 1984, the newly renovated ROM was officially opened by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Many of the red sandstone exterior walls, characteristic of the architecture of old Toronto, have now been enclosed by new walls, and form interior surfaces in what has become an innovative blend of old and new, representative of the function of the building. It's a cool place!

  • Casa Loma - Also known as 'Toronto's own Camelot', Casa Loma is a mock-medieval castle, which was added to the Toronto landscape in 1914 by Sir Henry Pellatt, a very rich person. It features towers, tunnels, stables, and gardens, and is a favourite of locals, foreign visitors, and Hollywood film producers, who have used the exotic location for a variety of feature films. Located in the heart of Toronto, it is a monument to what can be achieved with a dream and almost limitless amounts of cash.

  • Ontario Science Centre - Situated to the northeast of the downtown core, the Science Centre is easy to reach by public transport. It is a museum of science with the young and the young-at-heart in mind. Most of the centre's exhibits are designed to be actively explored by the visitor, and involve a lot of running about, pulling, and twirling. Naturally this makes for an often noisy environment... so, be warned!

  • Art Gallery of Ontario - The AGO is located downtown amidst an odd assortment of tiny private galleries, cafés, Oriental groceries, and souvenir shops. It offers a calming and inspirational respite from the noise and hullabaloo of the outside world, featuring a permanent collection with samples from most periods in art history. The AGO's main attraction, oddly enough, is its collection of work by the English sculptor, Henry Moore. The AGO also hosts many celebrated touring exhibits from galleries around the world.

  • Canadian National Exhibition - Better known as 'the Ex', the CNE started out as an industrial exhibition at summer's end. It has since evolved into a carnival featuring scary rides, games, and exhibits of 'miraculous' kitchen gadgets, marking the last bit of fun before the start of the new school year. The annual CNE airshow was brought to a tragic conclusion in 1999, when an RAF Nimrod crashed into Lake Ontario, killing all on board.

  • Ontario Place - Built in a series of artificial islands adjacent to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, Ontario Place is a family fun park featuring Cinesphere - an Imax theatre in a dome, amusements for the kids, and a beer garden for leg-weary grown-ups.

  • Toronto Islands - From the viewing galleries of the CN tower, looking south over Union Station, the Toronto Islands can be seen sitting in a lazy arc in the shallows of Lake Ontario. Centre Island is home to an amusement park and gardens, which offers a refreshing break from the city on muggy summer's days. A short trip by ferry from Queen's Quay, in the shadow of city's business district, is rewarded immediately with a chance for a cold one in a beer garden at the Centre Island dock. Anyone who still feels up to it can then enjoy a walk (stagger) along the park's trail system.


The Toronto Islands have their own airport which offers convenient access to the city for light aircraft. Most foreign visitors to Toronto, however, will arrive at Pearson International Airport, to the northwest of the city. To date there is no direct rail link to the city centre, but buses and taxis are plentiful.

Travel in the city is fast, reliable, and safe. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) runs a combination of subway trains, servicing most areas of the city, and busses, servicing the rest. Fares and reasonably priced and routes are easier to decipher than those of many large cities.

Access to Toronto by car is provided by a fairly good network of highways, which is on the verge of being overwhelmed by the megacity's growth.

  • South - From New York State, travellers will reach Toronto via the Queen Elizabeth Way, and enter the downtown area on the Gardener Expressway. They will be greeted by an impressive view of the CN Tower, as they round the bend at the foot of highway 427 (a north-south expressway), and a fairly unobstructed look at Lake Ontario - which they may have seen earlier from the other side.

  • West - Drivers from Michigan may approach Toronto on the MacDonald Cartier Freeway (Hw 401). The western approach affords a close-up look at aircraft flying in and out of the international airport and a quick peep at Labatt Breweries.

  • East - Travellers arriving from the east, including those from the neighbouring province of Quebec, will also enter the city on Highway 401. They will have spent most of the day driving through a seemingly endless sprawl of suburbs, with little to distinguish where one municipality ends and the next one begins.

  • North - Most of the traffic from the north is made up of commuters who will long ago have decided what is interesting about the trip and what is not.


These figures are taken from Statistics Canada data:

  • Area - 632 sq km

  • Population - About 2.5 million

  • Immigration - Over 50% of Torontonians were born outside Canada. In 1997, 80,000 immigrants from 169 countries settled in Toronto. One quarter of Canadian immigrants live in Toronto, especially from the UK, Italy, Hong Kong, Italy, India, Jamaica, China, Portugal, and the Philippines. Recent immigration has been largest from Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, China, India, and the Philippines. Immigration levels have contributed to Toronto's remarkable restaurant scene.

  • Language - The most commonly spoken language is English, but more than 100 languages are reported as spoken at home. In most cases, simply saying 'How 'boot them Leafs, eh?' is a good way to break the ice.

1For more of Toronto's history, consult The Canadian Encyclopedia (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2000).

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