Destination guide: Toronto, Canada
Toronto is one of the most important cities in Canada and has one of the best standards of living in North America. Among its main attractions are James Garden, the Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, Chinatown, Yorkville, the Town Hall, the CN Tower, Queen Street West, Niagara Falls and a wide range of bars, pubs, nightclubs, theatres and casinos.
Check out our offers on flights to Toronto and discover all of Canada’s charm.
Toronto - History Overview
In the 17th century, present-day Toronto was Seneca aboriginal land. Frenchman Étienne Brûlé was the first European here in 1615. The locals didn’t relish the visit, the chilly reception they issued temporarily impeding further French development. It wasn’t until around 1720 that the French established a fur-trading post in what’s now the city’s west end.
In 1793 the British took over and John Simcoe, lieutenant governor of the new Upper Canada, chose the site as the capital (formerly at Niagara-on-the-Lake) and founded the town of York. On April 27, 1813, during the War of 1812, American forces reached Fort York and overcame British and Ojibwe troops. The Americans looted and razed York, but held sway for only six days before Canadian troops booted them out and hounded them back to Washington.
In 1834, with William Lyon Mackenzie as mayor, York was renamed Toronto, an aboriginal name meaning ‘gathering place.’ The Victorian city, controlled by conservative politicians, became known as ‘Toronto the Good, ’ a tag that only began to fade in the 1970s. Religious restraints and strong anti-vice laws were to blame: on Sundays it was illegal to hire a horse, curtains were drawn in department-store windows (window-shopping was considered sinful) and movies weren’t allowed to be screened.
Like many big cities, Toronto had a great fire; in 1904 about 5 hectares of the inner city burned, leveling 122 buildings. Amazingly, no one was killed. By the 1920s, Bay St (Toronto’s Wall St) was booming, in part due to gold, silver and uranium discoveries in northern Ontario.
In 1941, 80% of the population was Anglo-Celtic, but the city’s cultural face changed after WWII. Well over one million immigrants have arrived since: Italian, Portuguese, Chilean, Greek, Southeast Asian, Chinese and West Indian immigrants have rolled into the city in waves. New tongues, customs and cuisines have livened the place up, curing the city’s chronic case of one-eyed Anglo reserve.
In 1998 five sprawling Toronto suburbs – York, East York, North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough – fused to become the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As the fifth-largest city in North America, contemporary Toronto is booming – a million miles from its beginnings as ‘Muddy York, ’ Ontario’s second-choice town.
The city's lofty ambitions and 20-plus theaters came crashing down in 1906, when earthquake and fire left 3000 dead, 100,000 homeless and much of the city reduced to rubble - including almost every mansion on Nob Hill. Theater troupes and opera divas performed for free amid smoldering ruins downtown, reviving a performing arts tradition that continues to this day.
Ambitious public works projects continued through the 1930s, when Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and federally funded muralists began the tradition of leftist politics in paint visible in 250-plus Mission murals.