Toronto: The largest city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario
Toronto is the largest city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario. It is one of the most populated cities in North America. It houses the headquarters of the Toronto Stock Exchange, the world's sixth largest, along with a majority of Canada's corporations. However, none of these matter to people who come here to see one of the greatest natural wonders of the world – the Niagara Falls, which is just a stone’s throw away from the city.
Due to the influx of immigrants from all over the world into the city, throughout the years, the city has a very diverse and cosmopolitan population. In fact, about 49 percent of the city’s residents were born outside Canada! What makes the city so attractive to people are the city’s low crime rates, clean environment and relatively high standard of living. Toronto has consistently been rated as one of the world's most livable cities but it was also ranked as the most expensive Canadian city in which to live with over 2 million people sharing a 630 sq km space.
To the south of the city is Lake Ontario, the Etobicoke Creek is to the west, and the Rouge River to the east. The city is intersected by two rivers - the Humber River and the Don River, at opposite ends of the Toronto Harbor.
The many creeks, rivers and tributaries create large patches of densely-forested ravines that offer ideal sites for parks and walking or hiking trails. These deep ravines also provide some logistical support to the city for draining the city's vast storm sewer system during heavy rains.
Toronto has relatively moderate climate as compared to the rest of the country mainly due its proximity to Lake Ontario and its southerly geographical position. The climate is continental with warm, humid summers and cold winters. Snowstorms during the months of November until mid-April are quite common, often accompanied by rain. Spring and Autumn are generally mild with alternating dry and wet periods, and the best time to visit the city if you plan to get around.
Around 1500 AD: Europeans arrive at site of present day Toronto, previously inhabited by the Huron tribes, and the Iroquois tribes before them.
1750: French traders founded Fort Rouille but abandon it in 1759.
1787: British negotiate the Toronto Purchase securing more than a quarter million acres of land in the Toronto area.
1793: Governor John Graves Simcoe establishes the town of York on the existing settlement. It replaces Newark as the capital of Upper Canada in the hope that it’ll be less likely to be attacked by the Americans. Fort York is constructed at the entrance of the town's natural harbor.
1813: Battle of York ends in the town's capture by American forces. Much of the Fort is destroyed by American soldiers and they also set the parliament buildings on during their five-day occupation.
1834: York is incorporated as the City of Toronto reverting to its original native name. Many escaped African-American slaves come to settle here, as slavery had been banned in Upper Canada by 1806.
1846-1849: The Great Irish Famine brings a large number of Irish Diaspora into the city.
1904: The Great Toronto Fire destroys a large section of the city costing more than $10 million in damage.
Sights around town:
Toronto's most prominent landmark is the CN Tower, standing at 1815 ft as the tallest free-standing land structure in the world.
Just an hour away from the city is the world’s most recognized waterfall…the Niagara Falls. Most people use Toronto as a starting point to visit this great natural wonder. The sheer force of the water is astounding, and if you are brave enough, you could even try to take a boat right up to the fall and get a bit wet!
There are other places to get wet though. Toronto has some excellent beaches where you could enjoy activities such as volleyball, biking and rollerblading, apart from the usual swimming and lazing around in the sun. Lake Ontario tends to be quite cool even during summers with clean water, making it a great place to lay back. The Toronto Islands is a car-free zone and have some of the cleanest beaches (including a clothing-optional beach at Hanlan's point). Take your bike along to get around and view the sights. It is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
The Distillery District is located in the former Gooderham & Worts distillery lands. It is a pedestrian-only village dedicated to the arts and entertainment. The village contains boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, artist studios and small breweries, including the well-known Mill Street Brewery. It is a great place (and excuse) for having some alcoholic beverage.
If you prefer being out on your own, in the lap of nature, then the Lakefront and Toronto Island both offer good biking and walking trails with an excellent view of the Toronto skyline. Get your dose of exercise along with some time on your own.
For hockey fans, of which there are many in Canada for sure, the Hockey Hall of Fame is the place to honor legends and heroes. It is housed in a building that was formerly a bank and the structure was erected in 1885, making the building as much a part of history as its contents.
Other museums of note in the city include the Royal Ontario Museum for those interested in world culture and natural history; the Art Gallery of Ontario containing a vast collection of Canadian, European, African and contemporary artwork; the Gardiner Museum of ceramic art - the only museum in the country entirely devoted to ceramics, with over 2,900 ceramic works from Asia, the Americas, and Europe; the Ontario Science Centre is a great place to take kids of all ages for them to try out hands-on activities and science displays; and the Bata Shoe Museum that also features many unique exhibitions.
Shopping is one of the best tourist and local pastimes. Toronto caters to them with countless shopping arcades and avenues. The Yorkville neighborhood is one of Toronto's most elegant shopping and dining areas and if you are there during the film festival, you could spot celebrities from all over North America.
A great place to shop for more kitschy apparels is the Yonge Street Strip, known locally as Highway 11. The strip is often cited as the longest street in the world, since it extends from north from the city, over the top of the great lakes, all the way to Rainy River on the border with Minnesota 1,896 km away!
The Greektown area boasts one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per km in the world and is home to the annual ‘Taste of the Danforth’ festival which attracts over one million people in its two and a half day of celebrations.
Canada’s most famous castle resides right here in Toronto. The Casa Loma is the former estate of Sir Henry Pellatt, a prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man.
If you are looking to escape from the city life, try staying in a cottage county such as the Waterloo Region to the west, Muskoka to the north and the Kawarthas to the northeast of Toronto, with country inns, provincial parks, lakes and rivers, that provide ample opportunities for camping, fishing, hunting, and many other year-round outdoor activities amidst natural beauty.
The Annex is a popular place for food and shopping and is said to be one of the friendliest neighborhoods of the city. Old style houses are lined beautifully along tree-lined streets. With the University of Toronto being nearby, many students and faculty live here. This has also prompted a large number of second-hand bookstores to come up in the area for their benefit, giving the neighborhood a somewhat intellectual reputation.
The Zion schoolhouse was built in 1869 and later restored to the 1910 period. It has provided elementary education to generations of children and is one of Toronto's remaining one-room schoolhouses. Montgomery's Inn, now restored to its 1847 glory, remains a meeting place where visitors share their everyday stories and culture.
Cabbagetown, located along Parliament Street, is a neighborhood of historic Victorian houses. Once home to poor Irish immigrants, it is now home to residents who have restored the area maintaining its original character.
Nearby is the Riverdale Farm - a working farm, with barns and outdoor paddocks, and animals of all types providing education about the farm life. It is a great place to take the kids.
High Park is one of the largest parks in the city where you can stroll through the gardens, zoo, playgrounds, and trails. It even has a swimming pool. In July or August, make sure to stop by for Dream in High Park, an annual event that showcases the works of Shakespeare.
Migrants to the city have built their own little corners around town. Toronto’s Chinatown is one of North America's largest Chinatowns and is a good place to pick up souvenirs. Koreatown is home to dozens of Korean (and Japanese-Korean) restaurants and bars. Little India houses many shops, and restaurants. Little Italy is filled with music, sidewalk cafes and excellent food.
If you enjoy life after sunset, the city does not disappoint. the aptly named Clubland and the fashion district on Queen Street West are the most happening places in town for a rocking nightlife. The Phoenix, Toronto's largest club The Guvernment and the Docks, literally operating on part of Toronto's commercial port, are three of the major clubs outside the district.
For theatre buffs, Toronto has a great theatre scene for every taste and budget, with more than fifty ballet and dance companies, six opera companies, and two symphony orchestras. The bigger theatres on King Street and Yonge Street present big flamboyant shows, such as Chicago, The Lion King, and Cats. Smaller theatres offer productions that range from original Canadian works, avant-garde, experimental theatre, small budget musicals to British murder mysteries.
If that doesn’t satisfy your cultural agenda, try the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, and the Roy Thomson Hall where the Toronto Symphony plays.
Every summer, the Canadian Stage Company presents an outdoor Shakespeare production in Toronto’s High Park called ‘Dream in High Park’. The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the most important annual events for the international film industry. The Canadian National Exhibition is the oldest and the fifth largest annual fairs in the world, with an average attendance of 1.3 million.
From mid-July to early August, you can witness Toronto's Caribana festival - one of North America's largest street festivals. The festival is based on the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and the one in Toronto took place in 1967 when the city's Caribbean community celebrated Canada's Centennial year. 40 years later, it continues to attract hordes of visitors to the Lake Shore Boulevard annually.
Mid-June sees one of the largest LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) festivals in the world attracting more than one million people from all over the world.
Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is about 45 minutes by car from the heart of the city and is serviced by most major international carriers from around the world.
The city is also connected to most major cities in the region by an extensive network of bus and coach services. If you would rather drive into town yourself, it is relatively easy to find your way if you just ask someone. Being the largest city in the country, almost anyone could point you in the right direction. The main streets in Toronto are laid out in a grid pattern that makes it one of the easiest cities to get around in by car.
However, if you prefer to take the slow and easy route, catch a train. Toronto is situated along a primary VIA Rail corridor and there are express services between Toronto and Montreal.
The city has a safe, well-maintained and extensive network of public transportation. The buses, subway, and streetcars will take you to almost any point in the city, and they are easy to use. Taxis are plentiful and safe, but not cheap, and are prone to get stuck in traffic during rush hours, escalating the cost of the ride. By far the most healthy, and environment friendly way to get around is cycling. The central area has become relatively bike friendly in recent years and the government has installed many new bike only lanes.