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BORN Toronto

5 months ago

By sangeetha m

While indigenous people such as the Iroquois, Mississauga, Seneca and Huron have lived in the ‘Golden Horseshoe’ area around Lake Ontario since the ice receded over 8,000 years ago, the first Westerner to set food in the area was French explorer Etienne Brule in the early 1600s. Soon after the English followed, and in 1793, the British Crown purchased the area from the tribes around there in what is known as the Toronto Purchase. As a garrison against the French, they called it Fort York then, named in honour of the Duke of York. At one point, it was even the capital of the United Province of Canada before it became the capital of the province of the state of Ontario. In 1834, the settlement of 9,000 took on the name Toronto, meaning ‘meeting place’ in the Huron language.

These days, the city of Toronto has a moniker that resident rapper Drake made famous, and which has outstripped in popularity it’s other names such as TO, Tdot, The Big Smoke, and Hogtown. They call it 6, Six or 6ix, for the six municipalities – Old Toronto, East York, North York, York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough, that were merged to create the city of Toronto in 1998.

The city saw its first massive influx of immigrants after the Great Irish famine of the mid-1800s. From the mid-nineteenth century onward, Toronto rapidly urbanized alongside increased steamboat port activity and railway building. The post-World War II period saw another wave of immigrants from Europe, and by 1951, the population stood at over 1 million. The subway system was created shortly after and these days, Toronto has the second largest public transit system in North America. PATH is the largest pedestrian walkway in North America, connecting 50 office towers and comprising 20 parking garages, 5 subway stations, 1200 stores, and restaurants.

Nowadays, more than 50% of Toronto’s over 2.4 million residents were born outside Canada, and over 30% speak a language other than English and French, with well established immigrant enclaves such as Little Italy, Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Malta, Little Portugal and Little Tibet. Almost a quarter of Canada’s population lives within a 160 km radius of Toronto. 

This melting pot and the fact that 65% of people between the ages of 25 and 64 have a post-secondary education has also meant that Toronto has always been a centre for innovation bringing to the world things as diverse as the electric lightbulb – sold to Thomas Edison! – insulin injections, the jolly jumper, five-pin bowling, the whoopee cushion, keyframe animation, and the pager. 

University of Toronto alumni have invented things such as IMAX giant screen movie format, alkaline batteries, electric wheelchairs, pacemakers, anti-gravity suits, cough suppressant, and precooked baby cereal. 

Student Brent Townshend was responsible in 1993, though, for an invention that changed how we communicate – Townshend invented the 56k modem at a time when the fastest modem speeds maxed out at 33.6 kilobits per second. He used digital links to connect servers with the phone network, facilitating faster speeds, and eliminating the time-consuming analog-to-digital conversions in the download direction. 

Aside from Drake, Toronto’s famous sons and daughters include talented actors and comedians such as Christopher Plummer, Kiefer Sutherland, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Russell Peters and Mike Myers, authors Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood, director David Cronenberg, architects Frank Gehry and Moshe Safdie, journalist and writer Malcolm Gladwell, classical pianist Glen Gould, Youtuber Lilly Singh, and singers such as Neil Young, Shawn Mendes, Nelly Furtado, The Weeknd, Rush and the Barenaked Ladies, not to mention one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, Joni Mitchell. Most of these groundbreaking creators were nurtured by the cultural fabric of the city and are a testament to its very diverse population. 

Film is another big draw for residents and tourists alike. The Toronto International Film Festival vies with Cannes to attract filmmakers to premiere films from around the world. Toronto is also the third largest venue for movie production in America, employing around 28,000 people. Notably, Suits and DC’s Suicide Squad were filmed here – the latter saw directors stage a helicopter wreckage on one of Toronto’s busiest streets.

It’s not only about culture though. Torontonians are very proud of the Raptors, the city-based basketball team that were the NBA champions this year and you’ll find them cheering on their ice-hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Add to this 1,600 parks and a 43km shoreline, and no wonder Toronto routinely features in lists of the most livable cities in the world, even if locals deprecatingly call it ‘New York on decaf’ – sweetened with maple syrup! – and ‘New York run by the Swiss’.

BORN is located in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, on Alexander Street, named after one of the city’s founding citizens, Scottish merchant Alexander Wood. Towering over downtown is the iconic CN Tower, which was the world’s tallest building when it was built in 1976, and now still the fifth tallest.


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