Canada's Condominium Magazine

The heart of Toronto: a look at the city’s exciting history, people, and cherished landmarks

Toronto is a city with heart — a vibrant, emotional, thriving, busy city which beats along at the pace of its exciting and diverse people. Has it always been this way? Very much so. The history of Toronto is one of its people — a history still preserved, despite the rise of new buildings everywhere, in beautiful heritage buildings and cherished landmarks. The city of Toronto has a rich history, one of which Ontarians should be proud. As the new year approaches, we take a look at the city’s history and heritage. Especially now, with the opening of new subway stations, connecting Toronto with Vaughn, it’s fascinating to look back to 1949 when the first subway line was commenced. [See below.]




Humble Beginnings

Founded in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe, the town was named York in honour of the Duke of York. Simcoe chose York as the capital of Upper Canada, which had been separated from Lower Canada two years prior.

On March 6, 1834, the town was renamed to distinguish the city from New York. The chosen name was Toronto, a Huron word meaning “Meeting Place.”  The word is somewhat fitting, as the city is known for its diversity and rich cultural heritage.

Old Map of Toronto, 1892


Innovation and Progress

The city of Toronto has changed drastically, and many new advances were made along the way. In 1841, the first gas-powered lamps were installed along major roadways. These lamps used coal gas to light up the streets, providing adequate lighting for safer travel. However, the use of coal meant that the lamps were unreliable due to limited visibility when the lamps became dirty and the frequency of which they flickered out and needed to be relit. Additionally, the smell was difficult to overcome. Eventually, the lamps were replaced with electric lights, which were installed in 1880.


Victorian Gas Lights located at St. Lawrence Hall are the only remaining gas lamps, originally installed in 1841.


In 1846, the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Co. was formed. On December 19th of that year, Canada’s first telegraph was transmitted from Toronto to Hamilton. In 1852, the company was purchased by the Montreal Telegraph Company.


A plaque honours the inaugural telegraph.


In 1889, the Toronto Belt Land Corporation was formed, developing parcels of land north and west of the city into residential neighbourhoods, which would be linked to downtown Toronto with a new steam railway. The Belt Line Company began construction on the line in 1890. However, the company went bankrupt in 1892, and the line was completed by the Grand Trunk Railway. Service began on July 30, 1892, and six trains ran along each loop each day.


Ontario Lieutenant Governor Ray Lawson pushed the switch to drive the first steel pile at the groundbreaking ceremony for Canada’s first subway line. September 8, 1949. Credit: Canada Pictures Limited


On March 30, 1954, Canada’s first subway line opened in Toronto. The 7.4-kilometre subway line used four- and six-car trains, which operated at approximately 32 kilometres per hour. The Toronto Transportation Commission (now known as the Toronto Transit Commission) began construction in 1949, with the groundbreaking ceremony taking place on September 8th.

Go Transit launch history:

On May 23, 1967, GO Transit was established, with an inter-regional transit system connecting the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas. Trains ran from Hamilton to Pickering. The transit system was developed to meet rising transportation demand and reduce highway congestion that resulted from an increasing population that stemmed from post-war immigration.


Massey Hall’s acoustics are its most prominent characteristic, designed as a tribute to Charles Massey in honour of his musical talents.

Important Buildings and Landmarks

Massey Hall

H.A. Massey and Company’s founder Hart Massey financed Massey Hall in honour of his son, Charles, who died from typhoid on February 12, 1884. The hall was given as a gift to the people of Toronto by the Massey family. Construction took place between 1893 and 1894, and it has been used by a variety of businesses and employees. Due to the building’s acoustics, which were designed as a tribute to Charles’s musical talents, it quickly became Toronto’s premier music hall. The fire escape was added in 1904, following the Great Fire of Toronto, in which a large section of the downtown core was destroyed. The fire, which took nine hours to extinguish, destroyed 104 buildings, causing $10.3 million in damage, and resulted in one casualty.


Union Station

On August 6, 1927, the new Union Station, which cost $6 million to build, opened. Princes Edward and George attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with Prince Edward cutting the ribbon. The rail station is the busiest transportation hub in the country, with GO rail lines passing through the train shed and Via Rail trains operating on the main line between Windsor and Quebec. Union Station is also a National Historic Site of Canada.


This photo from the City of Toronto archives features the new Union Station after its completion in 1927.


Maple Leaf Gardens

The Maple Leaf Gardens is a prime location for the city’s biggest events. The Gardens are used for political rallies, concerts, boxing matches, hockey games, and more. The building was constructed during the summer and fall of 1931, and it opened on November 12th. The Toronto Maple Leafs played their first game the following season.


Maple Leaf Gardens.


Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was constructed in 1808 and 1809 when Toronto was still called York, and it is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the second oldest in Canada. The lighthouse signaled approaching ships and guided sailors into York harbour. The lighthouse differed from other buildings, which were typically made from local materials. Its construction comprised of stone from Queenston near Niagara Falls. The last of the lighthouse’s keepers, Dedie Dodds, completed the shipping season for the last time in 1957, ending a nearly 150-year run. The lighthouse was replaced by the Federal Department of Transport’s fully-automated modern skeletal tower. The Metropolitan Toronto Parks Department took ownership of the lighthouse in 1958, and it was later restored. The remaining homes of the lighthouse keepers were demolished, and the surrounding land was integrated into the Toronto Island Park.


Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.


People of Toronto

The people of Toronto make Toronto a vibrant, living place — one of the most exciting places to live. Toronto Caribbean Festival

Toronto has a rich heritage that includes a wide range of people of various cultures and experiences. BBC recently declared Toronto the most diverse city in the world, with a 51 per cent foreign-born population comprising of approximately 230 different nationalities. Director of Global Studies Patricia McCarney responded to the BBC’s study, saying, “It’s part of our branding and legacy.” She noted that the city has been diversifying its population since the Second World War. She continued, “We haven’t put up those walls that politicians in other countries are talking about these days.”

The people of Toronto take pride in their diversity. The city even hosts an annual Cultural Festival, among other multicultural events including the Highland Creek Heritage Festival, Native Men’s Residence Traditional Powwow, BrazilFest, Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Franco-Fête, the Scarborough Community Multicultural Festival, and more.

Auberge on the Park-Tridel


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