Toronto History

Toronto History
History of Toronto
York from: 1793?1834
Toronto from: 1834?Present
First Settlement: Teiaiagon


Toronto is a Huron people’s word meaning ‘Meeting Place’. The first settlement in the history of the Toronto area, was Teiaiagon, which was populated by the Seneca Indians and then later by the Mississauga Indians on the east bank of the Humber River. Early Toronto History consisted of crucial military battles that paved the way for what is now, one of the largest cities in North America.   


The first large influx of Europeans was by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution. In 1793, Toronto, then known as York, was named capital of the new colony of Upper Canada. The city steadily grew during the nineteenth century, becoming one of the main destinations of immigrants to Canada. In the second half of the twentieth century, Toronto surpassed Montreal as the economic capital of Canada and as its largest city.

French Fort (1615-1760) 

French explorer Etienne Brule was the first European to stand on the shores of Lake Ontario in the vicinity of what is now Toronto. The city of Toronto was very crucial for its series of trails and water routes that led from northern and western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The routes were known as the ?Toronto Passages? and were important overland shortcut between Lake Ontario and the upper Great Lakes. These passages made Toronto a hot spot for French fur traders. The French established a trading fort, Fort Rouillé, on the current Exhibition Grounds.

Hostilities that existed in Europe between Britain and France were carried over into the colonial settlements including Toronto and intense rivalries developed between the two as they vied for control of the fur trade and other resources. In 1759, the French had abandoned the fur trade and by 1760 the British had defeated the French who withdrew from North America spelling the end of French rule.

United Empire Loyalists (1776 -1783)

From 1776 to 1783, United Empire Loyalists, American colonists who refused to accept being ruled by anyone other than the United Kingdom after the American Revolution, or who felt unwelcome in the new republic of the United States of America, fled the newly formed United States to the unsettled lands north of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Some had fought in the British army and were paid with land in the region.

United Empire Loyalists settlements along the upper St Lawrence and lower lakes led to the creation of the province of Upper Canada in 1791. Plans for a town at centrally located Toronto, were affected by Upper Canada’s first governor, John Graves Simcoe.

Governor John Graves Simcoe (1793-1812)

The area which is now known as Toronto was then chosen by Governor John Graves Simcoe on July 29, 1793 as the new capital of the newly organized province of Upper Canada. Simcoe mainly viewed the village as a very strong military commanding position to guard the troubled American borders.

The town then known as York (modern day Toronto), was built within a large protected bay formed by the Toronto Islands, which at the time was a long sandy peninsula which formed a large natural harbour. The harbour featured a great wetland marsh fed by the Don River at the eastern end (which has long since filled in), with the only opening to the lake at the western end. It was only later, in 1858, that the Eastern end was punched through the peninsula by a storm, creating the true Toronto Island.

The large natural harbour was defended with the construction of Fort York, guarding the entrance on what was then a high point on the water’s edge, with a small river on the inland side (Garrison Creek). The town proper was formed closer to the eastern end of the harbour, entirely behind the peninsula, near what is now Parliament Street.

Soon after York was named the capital of Upper Canada, parliament buildings and cutting roads inland started being developed. Yonge Street was created in 1796, named by Simcoe for then the British secretary of war Sir George Yonge. The street now forms the dividing line between east and west in Toronto, and is recognized as ?the longest street in the world” as it snakes its way for 1,896 kilometres (1,178 miles) to Rainy River, on the Minnesota border. In the fall of 1796 Simcoe returned to Britain on leave and was reassigned to military duties in the West Indies.

War of 1812, War at York (1812-1815)

On June 18, 1812, James Madison, the President of the United States, signed a declaration of war against Great Britain. This war was an outgrowth of conflict by Britain who was blatantly disregarding the naval and trade rights of the United States. American citizens also believed that the British territory in North America was rightfully theirs and should have been taken during the Revolutionary War (1776-1783).

In 1813, as part of the War of 1812, York was raided twice and partially burned by American forces led by Zebulon Pike.  The city was even briefly taken by US forces in 1813. Fort York, which was built to protect York?s harbor, was lightly manned at the time, and realizing that a defense was virtually impossible, the troops retreated and set it on fire. It exploded as the US forces were entering the fort, killing Zebulon Pike and a contingent of his men. British forces attacked Washington, DC the next year in retaliation, setting fire to the White House.

After the US forces departed, a new and much stronger fort was constructed several hundred yards to the west of the original position. Another American attack in 1814 was defeated with ease, the landing force never being able to approach the shoreline. Due to land reclamation, this newer fort now lays hundreds of metres inland.

Peace was signed in December 1814, although the news didn’t reach York until February 1815. After the war of 1812, York felt the rising wave of British immigration to Upper Canada. Its hinterland trade mounted with expanding farm frontiers, as its merchants supplied country dealers as wholesalers, and it became the province’s banking centre.

From York to Toronto (1815-1834)

The fast-growing town of over 9000 inhabitants was incorporated as the city of Toronto on March 6, 1834, with an elected civic government led by William Lyon Mackenzie as the first ever mayor of Toronto. Mackenzie lived at the Mackenzie house which is still a Toronto landmark today.

Union Station 1919The name of the town changed from York to Toronto in order to distinguish it from New York City, as well as about a dozen other localities named ‘York’ in the province. Toronto was the site of the key events of the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837.

Toronto then flourished rapidly growing in the late 19th century. The Toronto population increased from 30,000 in 1851 to 56,000 in 1871, to 86,400 in 1881 and 181,000 in 1891. The total urbanized population was not counted as it is today to include the greater area, those just outside the city limits made for significantly higher populations.

Below are facts and timelines of Toronto’s history and developed over the 1800 and 1900′s.

Toronto History Facts

The 1800′s

  1. In the 1840s Toronto increased its commercial lead, as steamboat port activity and gaslit, sewered main streets marked its urban rise.
  2. In the 1850s railway building brought the city a radiating web of tracks connecting it to New York and Montréal, the upper lakes at Georgian Bay, and across western Upper Canada to Detroit and Chicago.
  3. In the 1850s its own regional grasp was widely extended; wholesaling, banking and railway entrepreneurship grew accordingly.
  4. The city was made capital of the new province of Ontario at Confederation in 1867, and by the 1870s it was becoming markedly industrialized.
  5. A city of 30 000 in 1851 was over 5 times bigger by 1891, aided by industrial tariff protection after 1879 and the promotional drive of leaders such as railway builder Casimir Gzowski and department store builder Timothy Eaton. 

 The 1900′s

  1. From the later 1890s into a booming early 20th century, the settlement of the Canadian West and the tapping of northern Ontario’s forests and mines opened further markets and resources to Toronto.
  2. In 1911, Hydroelectric power provided by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario from Niagara Falls gave cheap energy for more factory growth, the city’s banks, investment and insurance companies invaded regions well beyond Ontario.
  3. World War I expanded Toronto’s investment and manufacturing scope
  4. In the prosperous 1920s development continued as new suburban municipalities rose around an overflowing city of some half million.
  5. Toronto was hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s, yet Toronto suffered proportionately less than many other Canadian centres.
  6. World War II revived growth, shaping electronic, aircraft and precision-machine industries. And in the postwar era Toronto boomed, as a ravaged Europe renewed its material stock. Population swelled further, to over a million in Greater Toronto by 1951.
  7. A Metropolitan government was set up in 1953 under a vigorous first chairman Frederick Gardiner. The Metropolitan Toronto Authority handled area-wide requirements. The subway system begun by the city in 1949 was built up, parks and drainage projects were effected and material through roads constructed.
  8. In 1967 small suburbs were amalgamated, leaving a Metro structure of the city of Toronto and 5 boroughs, of which all but East York had also become cities by 1991, as their populations soared.
  9. On June 26, 1976, after 40 months of construction the CN Tower is open to the public. The CN Tower is Canada?s most recognizable and celebrated icon and the world?s tallest building at a height of 553.33m (1,815 ft., 5 inches). The CN Tower has become the symbol of Toronto.
  10. In 1998 the new “megacity” of Toronto came into existence. Toronto then became the 5th largest city in North America at 2.4 million, which is more people than the populations of most of the provinces and territories in Canada 

Toronto History Video

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