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Toronto: History, Development & Environmental Issues
University of Windsor
Austin Fister
ESTU – 2100 Canadian Regional Environments
Submitted to: Dr. Neil Porter
November 25th, 2020
The Toronto we know today is an ever-developing metropolis in the soul of
Ontario. The capital of Ontario, with the Toronto Metro Area being home to over 6
million people making it the largest city in Canada. Toronto is the premier hub for
business development, communication, and an enriched cultural experience. Home to
the tallest free-standing building in the western hemisphere, Toronto is a center for
dining and entertainment that is enhanced by the many cultures that make it up. The
economic heart of Canada producing over half of all Canada’s manufactured goods
(Careless, 2018).
The earliest settlers within the Toronto region can be dated back to over 11, 000
years ago. Small numbers of indigenous tribes of mainly Algonquian speaking people
moved from the south to hunt caribou which was the largest resource for indigenous
communities at the time. Several thousand years later the climate within the area began
to warm, this warmth brought a more temperate forest environment. Due to the
warming, travel became a lot easier. A route was eventually found between Lake
Ontario and Georgian Bay, through Lake Simcoe known as the “Toronto Passage”
(Benn, 2017). This passage then became a trade route for better access to Northern
and Southern Ontario. As more areas became habitable, indigenous communities were
on the rise, leading to innovations of fishing, agriculture, bow hunting, and even pottery.
By about the 1400s, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people were the main inhabitants of
the Toronto area. These communities were rather developed with well built long houses,
blockades, and agricultural development with the introduction of corn, maize, beans
squash and tobacco (Benn, 2017). The area was seen as advantageous due to direct
water access via Lake Ontario which allowed for fishing, hunting and offered a way of
transportation for trade.
By the 1600s the Iroquoian people slowly began to travel north in search of better
soil. This move also took place due to displacement from warfare to join the HuronWendat confederacy, which became a center for inter-tribal warfare. This was partially
enabled by French settlers, additionally, diseases from the settlers were introduced
which ravaged many of the indigenous communities within the area. Around this time
the Anishinaabe people moved south into the Toronto area. Eventually an alliance was
formed between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois with the addition of
other groups). The Anishinaabe controlled the Toronto area until the 17th century. At the
beginning of the 1700s, more French settlers began to settle along the Toronto Passage
and further south. The British conquest of New France in 1759 sparked further travel of
British immigration that extended into the Toronto area – displacing many indigenous
people (Careless, 2018).
Settlement along the St Lawrence led to the creation of Upper Canada in 1791,
established by the British. The settlement saw the first governor John Graves Simcoe
who planned the development of a central town within modern day Toronto (1793). This
area became a naval base to help guard the boundary into the United States. The town
of York was then created along the harbour that became a hub for merchants,
manufacturers, and workers of many disciplines. This began to kickstart the economy of
Upper Canada. The War of 1812 caused uproar with American invaders that took a toll
on the surrounding area. After the war British immigration was at an all time high and by
1834 over 10, 000 people lived in York under the first named mayor: William Lyon
Mackenzie (Careless, 2018).
Shortly after the failed cease of Toronto by Mackenzie – the Toronto area began
to develop at a fast rate. From 1840-1900 railways were built to connect to Montreal,
Toronto was made the capital of the province of Ontario Confederation. Toronto also
became an industrial focal point, agricultural machinery was under development,
publishing factories opened, and clothing suppliers began to take off. The 1920s
brought about more development in municipalities bringing the population up to nearly
half a million people. The growth came to a halt during the Great Depression of the
1930s, which resulted in high unemployment rates. In 1939, the second world war
began where Canada joined forces against Germany. The economy began to improve
due to new factories developing in the Toronto area to supply weapons and resources
for war (Benn, 2017). Towards the end of the war and into the 1950s unemployment
was at an all time low. By 1966 the metro Toronto area split into 13 municipalities,
though just over 30 years later (1998) the provincial government took away the metro
system. Toronto was formed through uniting Toronto, North York, Scarborough, York,
Etobicoke, East York together, solidifying Toronto as a metropolis.
Toronto’s economy today remains at the top. The key economic drivers for
Toronto are both Finance and Technology development. Toronto is the business capital
of Canada, containing the Toronto Stock Exchange which is the third largest exchange
in North America. This allowed for the financial listings of oil, gas, and mining industry in
Canada. The finance department development has also grown the economy due to
large companies such as Royal Bank of Canada locating their headquarters within
Toronto. The technology sector accounts for over $50 billion in revenue for the city each
year. Technology firms across Toronto account for 30, 000 jobs, and the technological
development of communication is the largest sector ranking 3rd in all of North America
(Toronto Global, 2019).
Toronto is Canada’s most multicultural city. Nearly half of its population is born
outside of Canada with over 200 ethnic groups and 140 languages spoken (Stats
Canada, 2016). The main reason for diversity is due to immigration policies becoming
more liberal after the second world war. Economic migrants as well as refugees poured
into Toronto from European countries. By the 1970s the majority of immigrants began to
come from outside of Europe. Toronto, and Canada as a whole became a land of
opportunity for those trying to travel for a better life into a city booming with
development (Benn, 2017). All of these factors played a massive role in developing
Toronto into the multicultural place we know today.
With a large population, and booming economy inevitably the environment is
being affected. Air pollution tends to be a problem for areas within the big city. The main
contributor to this is the use of fossil fuels to run vehicles. Vehicle exhausts emit large of
amounts of greenhouse gas emissions when combined. Hot spots of poor air quality
tend to be those with high volumes of vehicles such as downtown Toronto, Highway 427
and the Scarborough Town Centre. According to Toronto Public Health in 2004 air
pollution contributed to 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospitalizations in Toronto
each year. More recently the figures are estimated to be 1,300 premature deaths and
3,550 hospitalizations (Toronto Public Health, 2014). Sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen
dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), and ozone (O3)
tend to have the biggest implications to major health concern in humans. Concentrated
amounts of carbon dioxide are the overwhelming contributor to greenhouse gas
emissions that are continually warming our planet. In light of this problem, Toronto has
been steadily improving the surrounding air quality. This improvement was due in part of
the closure of coal fired power plants as well as the improved regulations for the Drive
Clean Vehicles Emissions Program which identifies if certain cars are fit for the road
without their emission controls being compromised. Green initiatives have also been
employed across the city to reduce the use of heat and cooling at home.
Toronto is referred to as the heart of Canada. However, it didn’t come to be over
night. Much of the history leading up to its development should be more known to show
where Canadians come from. From the constantly improving economy, to multicultural
development that enriches the Toronto experience. Looking at the development of this
great city, gives hope for it to overcome its contribution to climate change and air
Careless, J. C. (2018). Toronto. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Carl Benn, C. B. (2017, December 11). The History of Toronto: An 11,000 Year Journey. City of
Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/explore-enjoy/history-art-culture/museums/virtualexhibits/history-of-toronto/
Statistics Canada. (2016). Canadian Demographics at a Glance.
Toronto Global. (2019). Tech Companies in Toronto Region | Technology | Toronto Global
Toronto Public Health. (2014). Path to Healthier Air: Toronto Air Pollution Burden of Illness
Update. https://toronto.ca