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Toronto, Ontario

Located in Southern Ontario, the city of Toronto is the largest city in Canada and the fourth most populated city in North America. Toronto is also the capital of the Province of Ontario. Queen's Park, a park in Downtown Toronto, and named in honour of Queen Victoria is the site of the Ontario Legislative Building, which houses the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Toronto forms part of the Golden Horseshoe, an area surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario, stretching all the way to the Niagara Region. A densely populated area, the Golden Horseshoe contains roughly 25% of the population of Canada.

The city of Toronto was originally called York in honour of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. The site had been chosen by Governor John Graves Simcoe over the previous capital of Upper Canada at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Simcoe felt a fort at the North western end of Lake Ontario would be less vulnerable to American attack than Newark. During the War of 1812 the town was captured by American Forces and Fort York was destroyed as well as the parliament buildings. The community would rebuild but it would never again serve as the capital of Upper Canada.

In 1834 York was incorporated into the city of Toronto. William Lyon Mackenzie became the first Mayor of Toronto and led the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 against the British colonial government and the Family Compact.

By the 1860's the city would have one of the largest distilleries in North America. Today this harbour front industrial area has become known as the Distillery District. The city of Toronto would see enormous growth as it entered the 20th century. Electric streetcars replaced horse drawn streetcars, and streets were lit with gas lanterns. Fuelled by immigration the city continued to grow and by 1950 had reached a population of one million. Over the next twenty years the population of Toronto would double to two million and by the 1980's had become Canada's most populated city.

The Founding of York

In 1791 Upper Canada became a distinct province with the passage of the Constitutional Act of 1791. The act divided the Province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. This division would allow the French speaking colonists to retain their language, laws and Catholic religion, while opening up a vast area of southern and northern Ontario for the ever increasing flow of English speaking, mainly Protestant refugees arriving from the American colonies in search of land to re-settle on.

When John Graves Simcoe arrived from England and was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor in 1792 he would take up residence at Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). Newark, located at the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario and Kingston were the only British communities of any significant size in the entire province. When Governor Simcoe became aware that the fort on the east side of the Niagara River would now be ceded to the Americans he was reluctant to have the capital of Upper Canada remain within reach of the guns of an enemy's fort.

In May 1793 Simcoe, accompanied by a small group of military officers set out from Niagara in boats for Toronto following the shoreline of Lake Ontario to Burlington Bay, and then eastward to the Humber River. The location Simcoe chose was the site of Fort Rouillé, the French fort that had been burned by the retreating French almost forty years before. Governor Simcoe named this new capital York, after the King's second son, the Duke of York.

fort york 1885
Fort York, 1885
Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

On the 29th of July, 1793 Governor Simcoe and his wife set out from Navy Hall, Newark on board the ship Mississaga and arrived with much fanfare to take possession of his newly formed capital. Simcoe would set to work with great haste to build a suitable legislative building. He would also instruct his militia, the Queen's rangers to clear a road into the interior of the province that he named Yonge Street which would eventually connect up with the Holland River to the west.

Governor Simcoe would also build a home for his family among the pines of the Don, on land deeded to his two year old son Francis that he would name Castle Frank. Situated on a steep hill overlooking the Don Valley, at a point where Castle Frank Brook met the Humber River, the thirty by fifty foot structure was constructed of pine logs. The trunks of four peeled pines formed a columned façade sixteen feet high in the manner of a Greek Temple.

When the Simcoe's returned to England in 1796, Castle Frank was left unfinished. Simcoe would never return to Upper Canada, nor would his son Francis, who was killed in action in Spain in April 1812. Castle Frank burned to the ground in 1829 at the hands of some careless fishermen. During his time in Canada Simcoe held the rank of colonel and the appointment of Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. After leaving Canada for England, he was promoted to Major-General in 1799 and Lieutenant General in 1801.

Places to Explore

CN Tower
Distillery District
Kensington Market
St. Lawrence Market
The Beaches

Ontario Towns and Cities

Toronto, Ontario

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