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Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from the Mississaugas of the New Credit. The settlement was later established as the Town of York and proclaimed as the new capital of Upper Canada by its lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe. In 1834, York was incorporated as a city and renamed to its present name. The city was ransacked in the Battle of York during the War of 1812 and damaged in two great fires in 1849 and in 1904. Since its incorporation, Toronto has repeatedly expanded its borders through amalgamation with surrounding municipalities, most recently in 1998.
With over 2.6 million residents, it is the fifth most populous city in North America. Its metropolitan area has over 5.5 million residents. Toronto is at the heart of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and is part of a densely populated region in Southern Ontario known as the Golden Horseshoe. The census metropolitan area (CMA) had a population of 5,583,064, and the Greater Toronto Area had a population of 6,054,191 in the 2011 Census. Its cosmopolitan and international population reflects its role as an important destination for immigrants to Canada. Toronto is one of the world's most diverse cities by percentage of non-native-born residents, with about 49% of the population born outside Canada. Toronto is also consistently rated as one of the world's most livable cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.
As Canada's commercial capital and one of the top financial centres in the world, Toronto is considered an alpha world city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) study group. It is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange, the world's seventh largest in terms of market value. Toronto contains more corporate headquarters than any other Canadian city, including those of Canada's five largest banks. Toronto's leading economic sectors include finance, business services, telecommunications, aerospace, transportation, media, arts, film, music, television production, publishing, software production, medical research, education, tourism, engineering, and sports industries. According to Forbes, Toronto is the tenth-most economically powerful city in the world and one of the fastest growing among the G7 nations, whilst PwC ranks the city as the world's second-best "metro powerhouse". Toronto was ranked twelfth in the world and fourth in the Americas in 2010 for economic innovation by 2thinknow. The cost of living in Toronto was ranked highest in Canada in 2011.
Lawrence Richards, a member of the faculty of architecture at the University of Toronto, has said "Toronto is a new, brash, rag-tag place—a big mix of periods and styles." Toronto buildings vary in design and age with many structures dating back to the mid-19th century, while other prominent buildings were just newly built in the first decade of the 21st century.
Defining the Toronto skyline is the CN Tower. At a height of 553.33 metres (1,815 ft 5 in) it was the world's tallest freestanding structure until 2007 when it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa, but it is still the tallest tower in the western hemisphere surpassing Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) by 110 metres. It is an important telecommunications hub and a centre of tourism in Toronto.
Toronto is a city of high-rises, having 1,800 buildings over 30 metres (98 ft), second only to New York City (which has over 5,000 such buildings) in North America. Most of these buildings are residential (either rental or condominium), whereas the central business district contains the taller commercial office towers. There has been recent media attention given for the need to retrofit many of these buildings, which were constructed beginning in the 1950s as residential apartment blocks to accommodate a quickly growing population. As of December 2011, Toronto had 132 high-rise buildings under-construction, which was the highest among all cities in North America, significantly beating Mexico City (88), New York City (86), and Chicago (17).
Through the 1960s and 1970s, significant pieces of Toronto's architectural heritage were demolished to make way for redevelopment or, simply, parking. In contrast, Toronto is currently experiencing a period of architectural revival, with several buildings by world-renowned architects having opened in the last five years. Daniel Libeskind's Royal Ontario Museum addition, Frank Gehry's remake of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Will Alsop's distinctive Ontario College of Art & Design expansion are among the city's new showpieces. The historic Distillery District, located on the eastern edge of downtown, is North America's largest and best preserved collection of Victorian era industrial architecture. It has been redeveloped into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture and entertainment neighbourhood. Modern glass and steel highrises have begun to transform the majority of the downtown area as the condominium market has exploded and triggered widespread construction throughout the city's centre. Trump International Hotel and Tower, Ritz-Carlton Toronto, Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts are just some of the many high rise luxury condominium-hotel projects currently under construction in the downtown core.
The many residential communities of Toronto express a character distinct from that of the skyscrapers in the commercial core. Victorian and Edwardian-era residential buildings can be found in enclaves such as Rosedale, Cabbagetown, The Annex, and Yorkville. Wychwood Park is historically significant for the architecture of its homes, and for being one of Toronto's earliest planned communities. The Wychwood Park neighbourhood was designated as an Ontario Heritage Conservation district in 1985. The Casa Loma neighbourhood is named after Casa Loma, a storybook castle built in 1911 complete with stunning gardens, multiple turrets, massive stables, an elevator, secret passages, and bowling alleys. Spadina House is a 19th century manor that is now a museum.
The City of Toronto encompasses a geographical area formerly administered by six separate municipalities. These municipalities have each developed a distinct history and identity over the years, and their names remain in common use among Torontonians. Throughout the city there exist hundreds of small neighbourhoods and some larger neighbourhoods covering a few square kilometres. Former municipalities include East York, Etobicoke, North York, Old Toronto, Scarborough, and York.
The Old City of Toronto covers the area generally known as downtown. It is the historic core of Toronto and remains the most densely populated part of the city. The Financial District contains the largest cluster of skyscrapers in Canada, including the First Canadian Place, Toronto-Dominion Centre, Scotia Plaza, Royal Bank Plaza, Commerce Court and Brookfield Place. This area includes, among others, the neighbourhoods of St. James (not to be confused with St. James Town to the north), Garden District, St. Lawrence, Corktown, and Church and Wellesley. From that point, the Toronto skyline extends northward along Yonge Street. Old Toronto is also home to many historically wealthy residential enclaves, such as Yorkville, Rosedale, The Annex, Forest Hill, Lawrence Park, Lytton Park, Deer Park, Moore Park, and Casa Loma, most stretching away from downtown to the north. These neighbourhoods generally feature upscale homes, luxury condominiums and high-end retail. At the same time, the downtown core vicinity includes neighbourhoods with many recent immigrants and low-income families living in social housing and rental high-rises, such as St. James Town, Regent Park, Moss Park, Alexandra Park and Parkdale. East and west of Downtown, neighbourhoods such as Kensington Market, Chinatown, Leslieville, Cabbagetown and Riverdale are home to bustling commercial and cultural areas as well as vibrant communities of artists with studio lofts, with many middle and upper class professionals. Other neighbourhoods in the central city retain an ethnic identity, including two Chinatowns, the popular Greektown area, the trendy Little Italy, Portugal Village, and Little India, along with others.
The inner suburbs are contained within the former municipalities of York and East York. These are mature and traditionally working class areas, primarily consisting of post–World War I small, single-family homes and small apartment blocks. Neighbourhoods such as Crescent Town, Thorncliffe Park, Weston, and Oakwood–Vaughan mainly consist of high-rise apartments, which are home to many new immigrant families. During the 2000s, many neighbourhoods have become ethnically diverse and have undergone gentrification, as a result of increasing population and a housing boom during the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century. The first neighbourhoods affected were Leaside and North Toronto, gradually progressing into the western neighbourhoods in York. Some of the area's housing is in the process of being replaced or remodelled.
The outer suburbs comprising the former municipalities of Etobicoke (west), Scarborough (east) and North York (north) largely retain the grid plan laid before post-war development. Sections were long established and quickly growing towns before the suburban housing boom began and the emergence of Metro Government, existing towns or villages such as Mimico, Islington and New Toronto in Etobicoke; Willowdale, Newtonbrook and Downsview in North York; Agincourt, Wexford and West Hill in Scarborough where suburban development boomed around or between these and other towns beginning in the late 1940s. Upscale neighbourhoods were built such as the Bridle Path in North York, the area surrounding the Scarborough Bluffs in Guildwood, and most of central Etobicoke, such as Humber Valley Village, and The Kingsway. One of largest and earliest "planned communities" was Don Mills, parts of which were first built in the 1950s. Phased development mixing single-detached housing with higher density apartment blocks became more popular as a suburban model of development. To some this model has been copied in other GTA municipalities surrounding Toronto, albeit with less population density. Over the late 20th century and early 21st century, North York City Centre, Etobicoke City Centre and Scarborough City Centre have emerged as secondary business districts outside Downtown Toronto. High-rise development in these areas have given the former municipalities distinguishable skylines of their own with high-density transit corridors serving them.