Toronto’s Founding and Evolution: A Cultural and Economic Hub

Who Founded Toronto Canada?

A natural harbour, links to Montreal and New York, plus a hinterland rich in resources, gave Toronto distinct economic advantages. The city grew quickly, attracting textile factories, publishing houses and metal foundries.

Fears of an American invasion prompted the government to grant land in southern Ontario to Loyalists who fought for Britain in the Revolutionary War. These settlers would help to shape Toronto’s future.


Toronto became the centre of rapid development in the 19th century as the Northern and Grand Trunk railway lines opened up the hinterland, allowing farmers to grow their products and trade them for lumber. The city grew as a cultural hub with the establishment of literary periodicals, publishing houses and a succession of notable writers including Goldwin Smith, E.J. Pratt, Morley Callaghan, Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye and Margaret Atwood.

The name ’Toronto’ is derived from the Mohawk word tkaronto (where there are trees standing in water). It originally referred to the Narrows, the narrows between Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe where Wendat people drove stakes into the shoreline to create fishing weirs. The name migrated south down the portage routes and was eventually applied to the mouth of the Humber River.

First Peoples

Over the centuries Iroquoian-speaking peoples farmed and hunted in the area that would become modern Toronto. The introduction of maize 1,400 years ago led to permanent settlement and villages built around longhouses.

In the 1600s, French fur traders used a route known as the “Toronto Passage” to reach the Hurons. The name was carried south along the portage routes, and eventually applied to a new fort at the mouth of the Humber River—which became known as Fort Toronto.

By the turn of the 20th century, the city’s population had exploded, and problems of urbanization were gaining urgency. Women’s suffrage and the University of Toronto gave rise to important movements. Incorporation into a city brought a mayor and council elected by wards, as well as sizable civic departments for services like roads, water and police.


Although the name Toronto is Canadian, its European roots are strong. The city is Canada’s financial hub and a leader in information media and specialized services. It is a major publishing center with a concentration of literary periodicals and publishing houses, and has nurtured the work of such writers as Goldwin Smith, Morley Callaghan, Northrop Frye, Marshall McLuhan, and Margaret Atwood.

The name “Toronto” is derived from the Mohawk word tkaronto, meaning “trees standing in water.” In 1720 the French built a trading post on Baby Point, named Fort Douville and also called a magasin royal (royal store). The construction of the Erie Canal and the Welland Canal transformed the city into the centre for import-export and local distribution, bypassing Montreal and the St. Lawrence River.


Many United Empire Loyalists migrated to the province of Upper Canada (now Ontario) after the American Revolution. Their descendants can be identified by the title UE in their name and are among the founding peoples of Canada.

British immigration after the 1820s swelled the population to a predominance of English-speaking Protestants. The Orange Order protected this influence and wielded power in civic politics.

The city’s first European settlement was at the narrows where Lake Simcoe discharges into Lake Couchiching. The name Toronto was derived from the Mohawk word tkaronto, meaning “where there are trees standing in the water.” These early settlers braved cold, hunger and disease but persevered to become major participants in the formation of Canada. Documents related to their land grants and compensation are valuable records for researchers today.

Second World War

In the postwar era, Toronto became Canada’s financial capital with major banks such as the Royal Bank of Canada, the Bank of Montreal and the Toronto-Dominion Bank. It also became a manufacturing centre with a leadership position in electronics, aircraft and precision machines. Many leading Canadian insurance and investment companies are headquartered in the city, along with the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The city council grew into a powerful municipal body elected by wards, while the police force modernized and professionalized. Sizable civic departments were created for roads, water, police and health services. In the early 20th century, Garrison Creek and Taddle Creek were rerouted into culverts under the city, while much of Castle Frank Brook was covered by McCaul Pond. The pond is now the University of Toronto campus.

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