Toronto, city, capital of the province of Ontario, southeastern Canada. It has the most populous metropolitan area in Canada and, as the most important city in Canada’s most prosperous province, is the country’s financial and commercial centre. Its location on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, which forms part of the border between Canada and the United States, and its access to Atlantic shipping via the St. Lawrence Seaway and to major U.S. industrial centres via the Great Lakes has enabled Toronto to become an important international trading centre. Since the second half of the 20th century the city has grown phenomenally, from a rather sedate provincial town—“Toronto the Good”—to a lively, thriving, cosmopolitan metropolitan area. In 1998 Toronto amalgamated with East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York to form the City of Toronto. Area city, 244 square miles (632 square km); metropolitan area, 2,266 square miles (5,868 square km). Pop. (2006) city, 2,503,281; metropolitan area, 5,113,149.
The city site
The site of the city is almost uniformly flat, although 3 to 4 miles (5 to 6 km) inland there is a fairly sharp rise of some 40 feet (12 metres)—the shoreline elevation of the former glacial Lake Iroquois. Streets are laid out in a grid, although the pattern is modified to some extent by diagonal roads roughly following the shoreline. The central business areas are located around Bloor and Yonge streets and Yonge and Queen streets. The central financial district, with its numerous insurance and banking offices and the Toronto Stock Exchange, is in the vicinity of King and Bay streets, south of the old City Hall (1899).
The city is an important cultural centre. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other musical groups have an international reputation. There are three major theatres, together with many small experimental theatres. The Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum have excellent collections, and there are numerous privately owned galleries. Other attractions include the Ontario Science Centre, with its imaginative working exhibits, and Ontario Place, a large complex of recreational facilities on man-made islands that are an extension to the permanent Canadian National Exhibition. At the beginning of the 21st century, an area of historic Victorian industrial buildings, the Distillery District, was restored and became a popular cultural and entertainment destination with a wide variety of galleries, cafés, theatres, shops, and artists’ studios. Among the annual highlights of the city’s cultural activities are the Luminato and Nuit Blanche arts festivals and the Toronto International Film Festival.
The city’s lakefront is separated from the downtown area by railway tracks, an expressway, and increasing residential development. Ferry service connects the dock area to the Toronto Islands, about half a mile offshore, which have yacht clubs, a small airport, recreational facilities, and a residential community.
North of the central business district is the fashionable Yorkville-Cumberland boutique shopping area, to the south of which are Queen’s Park, the Ontario Parliament Buildings, and the University of Toronto. Large expanses of grass and tall shade trees make this a pleasant area, complementing the ravines that form so important an element in the metropolitan parks system. One of the most attractive residential areas in Toronto is Rosedale, an older neighbourhood of dignified houses and winding, tree-lined streets quite close to the downtown centre, which itself contains many attractive streets of modest, well-designed houses.
Toronto’s geographic situation on Lake Ontario modifies the climate somewhat, although winter temperatures may frequently drop below 0 °F (−18 °C). Heavy snowfall, however, is rare even in January and February, the coldest months. July and August are humid, with temperatures often rising above 90 °F (32 °C).
The city’s population was traditionally Protestant and largely of British origin, but during part of the 1950s and ’60s Toronto became one of the fastest-growing urban areas in North America, with an influx of European immigrants that transformed the character of the city; by 1961 less than half the inhabitants of the central city were of British extraction. During the 1970s and early ’80s European immigrants were augmented by large numbers from the West Indies and Asia.
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