The City of Toronto has changed profoundly since 1951 – physically, politically, economically, socially, and culturally. In 1951 its boundaries encompassed an area about one-eighth the size of the present-day municipality, and most of today’s suburban regions were still rural. In that year’s census, the majority of people who lived in Toronto and the neighbouring suburban regions that would be integrated into today’s larger city were still ethnically British (73 per cent), religiously Protestant (72 per cent), and Canadian-born (69 per cent). Yet, these statistics also indicate other stories, such as the fact that a substantial 27 per cent of the population was notethnically British, representing a significant increase from a figure of 8 per cent at the beginning of the century. After 1951, changes to the city’s ethnic make-up accelerated as waves of immigrants and their offspring transformed the face and soul of Toronto. One outcome was that the ethnic associations already in existence found themselves invigorated by the newcomers, and assisted the displaced persons, refugees, and economic migrants in making their way into Canadian society, and in the process provided an important foundational element for building today’s cosmopolitan city. These newcomers, from the four corners of the globe, revolutionized Toronto so much that by 2001 its 2.5 million people found themselves living in one of the most diverse – but comparatively harmonious – centres on the planet. Two facts demonstrate the depth of this multicultural revolution in comparison to the data from 1951: in 2001, more than half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada; and a million people identified themselves as belonging to visible minorities.

Yet, the ongoing move to multicultural tolerance has not been achieved without struggle. Federal immigration laws discriminated against different peoples for decades. For instance, it was not until 1950 that the government allowed citizens of the former enemy countries of Germany and Italy to immigrate to Canada again; and restrictions against visible minorities and newcomers from Third World countries did not begin to be dismantled in significant ways until the 1960s. Once that happened, however, immigration patterns shifted quickly so that by the 1970s the majority of immigrants came from countries outside of Europe.

Toronto, C.1950 (City of Toronto Archives)

Once here, people often faced varying degrees of discrimination and exploitation, such as having to pay bribes to get dangerous jobs in the construction trades (often to individuals of the same ethnicity as themselves). In response, the province passed protective laws, such as the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1954, but their impact was limited. Schools and social agencies worked to encourage tolerance, especially from the latter decades of the 20th century. Government services changed to keep up with the shifting cultural landscape, as represented by federal policies from the early 1970s that supported multiculturalism. Philanthropic organizations grew and reformed in the post-war period, in part to address the evolving dynamics of the city’s population, as exemplified by the creation of the United Way in 1956, which sought to increase revenues and improve efficiency among the many charities that served an increasingly diverse range of Torontonians.

People’s motivations for coming to Toronto varied greatly. A large portion of the immigrants in the years immediately after 1945 were Europe’s ‘displaced persons,’ who found it difficult, if not impossible, to return to their former homes after the terrible upheavals of the Second World War and its aftermath. Others were refugees from some later trauma, such as Hungarians who fled here when the Soviet Union invaded their country in 1956, or Vietnamese who began to arrive in the latter 1970s after the fall of the pro-western government in Saigon. Many individuals chose to come in freer circumstances in hopes of achieving the good life they believed Canada could offer them, as represented by post-war Dutch immigration, while some moved here to join family members who had preceded them to the new country. In addition to immigrants, of course, a significant portion of the Toronto’s newcomers came not from foreign lands, but were Canadians from elsewhere in the country who chose to seek their fortunes in the big city.

Vietnamese Immigrants, 1978 (Multicultural History Society of Ontario)

Although there were exceptions, post-war Canada usually was more willing to accept people escaping Communist rather than right-wing regimes. In part, this helped to form a comparatively conservative political culture among the city’s immigrant groups, especially during the heyday of the Cold War in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s when the first generation of immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe, dominated life in their communities, although a not insignificant number of Eastern Europeans embraced left-wing politics. Despite this conservatism, the federal Liberal Party tended to gain the most benefit from the city’s ethnic vote, partly because it was seen as better disposed towards newcomers, with one exception to this trend being the Ukrainian community, which tended to favour the Conservative Party.

Paralleling the growth in population and diversity was the transformation of the regions surrounding Toronto into modern suburbs. People had been moving into these communities for some time, as represented by a population increase of 200,000 in the regions just beyond the city limits between 1940 and 1953, largely into self-built and small-scale housing initiatives. Yet, as late as 1946, 90 per cent of the manufacturing enterprises in York County still were to be found within the boundaries of the City of Toronto. However, that figure fell to 77 per cent by 1954 as businesses chose to build on former agricultural land beyond the city limits, a trend that would accelerate as the years passed and as new highways offered alternatives to railways for transporting goods economically. (For example, Highway 401, which connects the province between Windsor and the Quebec border, started to accept cars in 1947 but was not completed until 1968.)

In 1952, during the height of the post-war ‘baby boom’ and its demands for affordable housing, construction began at a new suburban development, Don Mills. Although intended to be at least something of a ‘new town’ outside Toronto, following British-inspired social thinking in part, it was too close to the centre to achieve such a distinction, and became more of a standard North American bedroom community. It was symbolic of a massive and new kind of post-war suburban housing revolution dominated by large-scale developers. That revolution saw Toronto burst its relatively compact boundaries in an orgy of urban sprawl, which consumed some of Canada’s best farmland, both within Toronto’s ultimate 632-square-kilometre boundary and far beyond into what then was called ‘the Golden Horseshoe’ but now has been defined differently as the ‘Greater Toronto Area.’

Sheppard Avenue and Leslie Street Area, 1948 and 1973 (City of Toronto Archives)

Suburbanization brought with it a new way of life that would embrace roughly three-quarters of the city’s population by the end of the 20th century. Suburbanization also put intense pressure on municipalities because of the difficulties in supplying services to low-density neighbourhoods in contrast to the old city where greater population and business concentrations made service delivery more efficient and created a richer tax base to support those services.

As officials in the 1940s planned the modernization of the city and the suburbanization of the surrounding countryside, they believed that local government needed more centralization and financial capability to develop roads, transit, sewers, and parks, as well as such services as health and welfare. These needs became imperative with the post-war population explosion and its attendant housing shortages and rapid development of the areas around the city.

After a royal commission studied the issues, the Province of Ontario created a novel two-tiered civic structure in April 1953. It consisted of the new ‘Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto,’ which looked after regional issues, plus the old jurisdictions, which attended to local concerns. In addition to the City of Toronto itself, the communities that formed ‘Metro’ were the partially rural jurisdictions of Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York, plus the small urban communities of East York, Forest Hill, Leaside, Long Branch, Mimico, New Toronto, Swansea, and Weston. In 1966, the province consolidated the 13 municipalities that made up the lower tier in Metro into one City of Toronto and five boroughs (Etobicoke, York, North York, East York, and Scarborough, all of which, except East York, eventually altered their titles from ‘borough’ to ‘city’).

Metro enjoyed some major successes, such as creating an extensive regional parks system, but it also experienced conflicts, such as in a battle with the City of Toronto over the residential community on the island, which Metro wanted to demolish for parkland but which Toronto fought to retain (and which saw part of that distinctive community disappear during the struggle).

Metropolitan Toronto, 1953 (City of Toronto Culture)

Years later, in 1998, the Conservative provincial government of Mike Harris abolished the metropolitan system and created a single-tiered City of Toronto to govern the same territory encompassed by Metro and its composite municipalities. While Harris claimed that amalgamation would lead to more efficient government, critics argued that the opposite would happen, basing their views on the experience of merged municipalities elsewhere. Rejecting the idea of cost saving, some people thought that Harris’ neo-conservative government wanted to swamp the progressive old City of Toronto council with conservative suburban politicians as well as address suburban financial problems by shifting resources from the downtown to the suburbs, especially since he ‘downloaded’ some responsibilities (such as social services) from the province, which created serious financial problems for the newly amalgamated government. Although Harris enjoyed support from powerful allies in business and the media, the affected municipalities and their citizens generally opposed the move, as represented by a 1997 referendum in which 76 per cent of Metro’s population voted against his plan. Nevertheless, Harris, whose political support mainly came from outside Toronto, created his new ‘megacity.’

In the amalgamated city’s first election, with the majority of voters residing in the suburbs, Mel Lastman, the former mayor of North York, defeated the mayor of the old city, Barbara Hall, to become the amalgamated Toronto’s first mayor. The second mayor, David Miller, however, came from the old city. Nevertheless, earlier strains continued to show themselves when his main rival, John Tory, tended to win the suburban regions while Miller won the older neighbourhoods, but Miller’s margin of victory in the old city was much higher than his opponent’s in the suburbs, which allowed him to win the 2003 election.

Construction Trends in 20th Century Toronto (City of Toronto Survey and Mapping Services)

Suburbanization, population growth, and an enormous increase in the number of cars raised demands for new roads. Metro assumed control for arterial roads in 1953 and spent much of its budget on roads and highways, such as the Gardiner Expressway, which cut across the waterfront in the late 1950s. Many of these projects were controversial, with perhaps the most notorious being the Spadina Expressway, initially intended to slice through the residential neighbourhoods south of Highway 401 and pump huge quantities of cars onto Bloor Street near the University of Toronto. However, the Progressive Conservative provincial government of William Davis halted the project at Eglinton Avenue in response to widespread citizen opposition in 1971 in a battle that pitted suburbanites against downtowners.

The Spadina Expressway controversy occurred at a time of increasing civic activism generated by people who wanted a larger say in the evolution of their community. One result of the changing mood of the time was the election of moderate reformer David Crombie to the City of Toronto mayor’s chair in 1972, and the election of the more radical reformer, John Sewell, to the same office in 1978 (although his replacement, Art Eggleton, two years later, perhaps signalled a waning of reform enthusiasm with the coming of the 1980s).

Yonge Street Subway, C.1950 (Toronto Public Library)

The Toronto Transportation Commission (renamed the Toronto Transit Commission in 1954) tried to keep up with the growing city by taking over and initiating new bus routes in the suburbs, making improvements to the downtown surface routes, and by opening subway lines: Yonge (between Union and Eglinton) in 1954, University (between Union and St George) in 1963, and Bloor (between Keele and Woodbine) in 1966. The TTC afterwards lengthened these subway routes and opened the Scarborough Rapid Transit and Sheppard Subway lines in 1985 and 2002 respectively. Unlike most North American cities, Toronto retained its streetcars (but lost its trolley buses), which now help to define the city’s character and give downtowners a smoother ride to work than their bus-riding suburban peers experience. The province also entered the transit business in response to the burgeoning suburban population, with the first ‘GO’ commuter train pulling out of Union Station in 1967.

In the latter decades of the 20th century, anti-car and pro-cycle advocates worked to establish bike lanes on roadways and convince people to leave their cars at home for the sake of their health and the environment. Nevertheless, the rate of automobile ownership in contemporary Toronto is among the highest on the continent, and thus associated issues of pollution and congestion pose ongoing challenges for the community and its residents. Despite limited success in reducing automobile use, Toronto has made significant gains in developing a ‘green city,’ such as recycling increasingly-large quantities of garbage and passing by-laws to preserve trees and ban pesticides. Yet many challenges remain, with bad air quality being a particular concern, especially in the warm months when winds from south of the border blow huge amounts of pollution into the province and threaten people’s health.

TTC Memorabilia, C.1954-94 (City of Toronto Culture)

Beyond the battle to halt and reduce environmental degradation, modern Toronto experienced a sudden climatic disaster in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel struck southern Ontario in October of that year. It caused the worst flooding in the city’s recorded history, washed out roads and bridges, derailed trains, destroyed enormous amounts of property, left thousands homeless, and killed 81 people. In its aftermath, residential areas were cleared out of low-lying vulnerable areas in the Don, Humber, and other valleys, which then were converted into flood control zones and some of the community’s largest and most important parklands.

In addition to change in the suburbs, development transformed the business and commercial districts of the downtown in modern times. Two important icons of this shift from the 1960s were New City Hall on Queen Street West and the Toronto-Dominion Centre at King and Bay, the latter being the first of the international style post-war bank towers that now dominate the skyline. The TD project also saw the destruction of a splendid 1913 classical bank building (based on the design of the Paris Bourse), which could have been preserved beside the new office towers without difficulty, but which fell to the wrecker because it did not ‘fit’ the architectural vision for the larger TD site. The loss of such landmarks encouraged people to demand that more of the city’s built heritage be preserved in the face of the demolitions that accompanied modernization. In the end, public opinion and City Council, supported by weak provincial preservation laws, saved many threatened structures, such as Old City Hall, which had been scheduled to make way for a set of standard office towers in the initial plans for the Eaton Centre. Nevertheless, many other important landmarks fell.

Old Bank of Toronto Building, C.1913 (Library and Archives Canada); Toronto-Dominion Centre Model, C.1963 (City of Toronto Archives)

Heritage preservation was not the only source of contention in the changing city. People fought to protect their neighbourhoods from high-rise apartments and other intrusions that they felt would undermine the stability of the environment around them, sometimes winning their battles, sometimes failing in the face of powerful developers. A particularly harsh example of this sort of conflict was the decision by City Council to demolish the downtown Chinatown in the mid 1950s as a ‘sanitary measure,’ only to retreat after some buildings disappeared because of resistance from the people affected, combined with liberalizing attitudes in the 1960s and 1970s. More positively, towards the end of the century, as older industries faded away, developers converted many of the underutilized factories and uninspiring properties in the downtown into revitalized neighbourhoods, either in new condominium and townhouse projects, or in old structures converted to loft and other uses, such as live-work space for high-tech industries in the Liberty neighbourhood near King and Dufferin streets.

Boards of education tried to keep up with a burgeoning population by building schools at a rapid rate to meet the demands of the new suburban regions. For instance, there were 108 public elementary schools across Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough in 1956, a figure that rose to 238 within a decade. Secondary schools went through periods of reorganization and specialization, especially from the 1960s, to increase the options available to students and reduce the dropout rate among teenagers as part of a trend that saw Torontonians become increasingly better educated. As well, new programmes appeared in schools to meet varying needs, as represented by the introduction of heritage language classes in the 1970s. However, in the latter 1990s, the Conservative provincial government increased its control over Toronto’s schools, imposed severe budget cuts, and reduced services, all of which caused controversy and left bitterness in their wake, marked in part by tense teacher strikes and community outrage as programmes disappeared, as community groups no longer could use school facilities as readily as before, and as the overall cleanliness and maintenance of schools deteriorated.

Toronto Schoolchildren, C.1953 (City of Toronto Culture)

Old post-secondary institutions, such as the Ontario College of Art and Design and the venerable University of Toronto, expanded to enrol more students than ever before, adding hundreds of programmes to their offerings in the process. Ryerson Institute of Technology, founded in 1948, reinvented itself, first as Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in 1964, then as Ryerson University in 2001. New institutions arose during this period, with York University being the largest and best known. It began to take shape in the late 1950s and opened its Keele campus in North York in 1965. The year 1966 saw the appearance of new vocational colleges in and around Toronto to form important cornerstones in the city’s educational matrix: Centennial, George Brown, Humber, Seneca, and Sheridan, while the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education started operations in the mid 1960s near the University of Toronto.

Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, 1949-69 (City of Toronto Culture)

By the late 1940s, Toronto probably was home to more of the nation’s primary money market businesses, such as insurance, than Canada’s largest urban centre, Montreal. By 1965 there were more national head offices in Toronto than in its main rival, and in the 1976 census Toronto surpassed Montreal to become Canada’s most populous city. Some of these changes arose out of fear of Quebec separatism that led businesses and people to leave Montreal and relocate in Toronto.

In the latter 20th century, Toronto’s old manufacturing economy declined in relative importance compared to both the long-standing commercial and service sectors and to the new economies as part of the period’s global restructuring, as represented by the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. With these changes, much of Canada’s economic activity moved away from nationally-focused endeavours to north-south enterprises, while a significant portion of the nation’s manufacturing shifted to lower wage regions south of the border or to the Third World.

One place where these economic changes were particularly obvious was along the waterfront. As manufacturing weakened, and as many industries chose suburban locations, the amount of land needed for a harbour-based industrial infrastructure could be reduced (despite the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway in 1959, which allowed deep ocean-going vessels to travel to Toronto, but which never lived up to its promise). Therefore, the waterfront underwent major redevelopment. In 1972, the federal government created ‘Harbourfront’ to oversee the transformation of much of the old industrial port into cultural and residential areas. Nevertheless, controversy surrounded these changes because some observers complained that the area was becoming little more than a long row of uninspired condominiums that created a new barrier between the city and its waterfront in place of the old rail and industrial one.

The post-war period often has been depicted as one of unending growth and prosperity, and while the standard of living that Torontonians take for granted today exceeds the dreams of city residents of the early 1950s, and while Toronto is among the most materially comfortable communities on the planet, growth has been uneven. Many people continue to live in poverty and a lack of affordable housing continues to afflict life in the city. In the case of the very poor, various solutions have been tried, with perhaps the better known being the experiments in urban renewal that led to the creation of large and controversial public housing blocks between the 1940s and the 1960s at Regent, Moss, and Alexandra ‘parks’ as well as at Lawrence Heights. A more successful approach to social housing was the St Lawrence neighbourhood east of lower Jarvis Street, constructed in the 1970s on old railway lands, which mixed assisted with regular housing.

During the post-war period, the social safety net grew sporadically from the 1940s to the 1980s to cushion some of the economic blows and to attempt to introduce some degree of equity within the community. Then, in the mid 1990s, the rise of neo-conservative views, particularly at the provincial level, led to reductions in the help given to those in need while transferring much of the responsibility for social services to the city. Although attitudes shifted away from those of the 1990s, the amount of rebuilding needed in social services and other areas is significant, and tensions continue between the city and the province (and between Toronto and Ottawa) over how to finance Canada’s largest municipal government to meet its needs and to keep the city – Canada’s biggest economic engine – functioning well and competitively in comparison to other municipalities around the world.

Plans for Regent Park, 1951 (City of Toronto Archives)

Beyond housing and social services for the disadvantaged, there have been numerous other challenges to the community’s well being. For instance, recessions occurred in 1957 and 1963. They were marked by a drop in the birth rate, reduced consumer spending, and the growth of apartment construction in comparison to single-family housing. Other periods of economic stress occurred subsequently, such as the high inflation and interest rates of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the ‘dot-com’ crash that pummelled much of the high tech sector at the beginning of the 21st century.

Toronto is the headquarters of English Canada’s major media outlets and the centre of an extraordinarily high level of cultural activity. For instance, today’s city is unusual in North America in supporting four major paid daily newspapers, not to mention the free ‘subway’ dailies and the ethnic and specialized presses. Of course, the great dominating medium of the post-war era was television. Some Torontonians first received TV signals from stations in Buffalo in 1948. The CBC began broadcasting in Toronto in 1954, followed by CFTO in 1960, and CITY took to the airwaves in 1972 with its unusually strong localized focus. Other channels appeared subsequently in increasing numbers, especially with the switch from aerial to cable reception and then with the more recent arrival of satellite and digital broadcasting. In later decades the city became a major production centre in the North American motion picture industry.

Modern Toronto also became home for a disproportionately-large percentage of Canada’s major scientists, thinkers, storytellers, artists, and performers, such as Nobel chemist John Polanyi, media guru Marshal McLuhan, novelist Margaret Atwood, artist Michael Snow, and pianist Glenn Gould. As well, Toronto serves as headquarters of such institutions as the National Ballet of Canada (founded in 1951) and the Canadian Opera Company (founded in 1970 out of earlier organizations dating back to 1950). New performance venues opened in modern times, including the O’Keefe Centre at Front and Yonge in 1960 (now the Hummingbird Centre), Roy Thomson Hall at King and Simcoe in 1982, and numerous small theatres, with one example being the Tarragon, which opened in 1970 to explore new works. Old venues, such as the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street, were refurbished to extend their working lives and attractiveness to theatre-goers. Popular attractions also opened, such as the Ontario Science Centre (1969), Ontario Place (1971), and the Metro Toronto Zoo (1974), while such venerable institutions as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario underwent major renovations and expansions. Some older attractions, however, disappeared, with the most famous being the Sunnyside Amusement Park, lost in 1956 to make way for the Gardiner Expressway.

National Ballet of Canada, 1969 (The National Ballet of Canada Archives); St. Lawrence Centre, 1970s (City of Toronto Archives)

The quality of life in the city improved after 1951. In the 1960s, for instance, boutique and specialty shops, bookstores, and galleries appeared in larger numbers in a movement that continues to enliven the community. (‘Pop art’ first appeared in three Toronto galleries in 1963, although it did not sell well and local critics did not know what to make of it.) Large-scale, annual cultural events were founded, such as Caribana (1967), the Toronto International Film Festival (1976, first called the Toronto Festival of Festivals), and the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival (1986), which give definition to the cultural calendar and attract many thousands of people on an annual basis. New cafes, sophisticated restaurants, and other places where people could go out and enjoy the company of their friends appeared in the 1960s and competed with the older range of largely uninspired restaurants and dingy beer parlours, although an invasion of fast food eateries and corporate formula restaurants also transformed the character of dining out with mixed results. Another great change over the decades occurred in the club scene, and now Toronto possesses one of the largest and most diverse mix of clubs on the continent. The number of major professional sports teams increased with the arrival of Blue Jays baseball (1977) and Raptors basketball (1997). With them came new professional sports facilities: SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre), opened in 1989 in place of the 1949 Exhibition Stadium (itself built on the site of an 1870s grandstand), followed by the Air Canada Centre in 1999 to replace Maple Leaf Gardens.

Toronto Pride Week (Pride Toronto)

A key element in the city’s modernization occurred attitudinally in tandem with the liberalizing attitudes of the western world. Two representatations of the change were the popularity of radical views in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as by the longer-lasting impact of Second-Wave Feminism. At first, many of the changes were modest or compartmentalized. For example, it was not until the 1960s that horse races, theatre performances, and similar activities became legal on Sundays. It was not until the 1970s that most expressions of ethnicity aside from foodways emerged outside of the emotional and structural boundaries of particular communities to be embraced by the wider population – a movement that has accelerated as people increasingly choose friends and partners from outside their own ethnic and cultural communities, and in the process started the city along an interesting road that might be called ‘post-multicultural.’ Another major change has been the increase in women’s participation in the labour force. In 1951, about one-third of working-aged women were employed outside of the home, a number that doubled by the end of the century. People also increasingly felt free to embrace lifeways that would have been unthinkable in the past, as exemplified by the openness of the city’s flourishing gay culture today in comparison to the discretion with which it had to be expressed in the 1950s.

Another of the great attitudinal shifts of the post-war period occurred religiously. Secularism always had been a part of the Toronto experience, but in the early 1950s the majority of Torontonians belonged to Christian churches, identified with them, and maintained at least a modest link to a parish community. Today, a huge percentage of Torontonians have no connection to organized religion at all, and government and educational institutions have embraced a secular persona that would have surprised people in the early 1950s. Within the old liberal Protestant denominations (which themselves became more broad-minded), active participation dropped off significantly, as it has among Roman Catholics and eastern Christians. Much of the story of the evolution of Judaism in Toronto from 1951 paralleled that of the ‘mainline’ Christian denominations. At the same time, fundamentalist Protestantism, such as Pentecostalism, has played a role in the city, especially in the suburbs, although not nearly on the same scale or with the same amount of social impact that it has had south of the border. Beyond that, the number of Torontonians who follow Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and other religions has grown significantly with the arrival of newcomers from around the globe, and has contributed to increasing the complexities of the city’s spiritual diversities.

Jami Mosque

In looking back to 1951, it is clear that countless factors transformed Toronto from the place it was once to city that it is now. Naturally, the city’s unusually high level of immigration from so many countries was a central transforming agent of this change, and has been the one that most people celebrate as being key to understanding the formation of the modern community. Beyond that fundamental shift, other influences also had profound impacts on Torontonians. The appearance of the modern suburb in the 1950s, the settlement of the majority of the population in those regions, and people’s embrace of the lifeways that came with suburbanization also were significant transformative movements. Another factor affecting the evolving character of the city has been its place within the Canadian nation state, as represented by how the city evolved so differently after 1945 from comparable American centres.

The growth of personal freedoms, tolerance for others, a rising standard of living, the reach of television, a shifting economy, changes in the nature of work and employment, developments in high, popular, and commercial culture, and increased education also took prominent places in Toronto’s transformation. Although these factors are common throughout the First World, they nevertheless are critical to understanding Toronto’s evolution, and mark the city’s integration into the larger currents that affect the planet, from which Toronto simply cannot be isolated. Beyond these, myriad quantities of other factors have helped to form modern Toronto, although many of them rarely appear in assessments of our recent history. These range from the happy (and almost forgotten) disappearance of coal as people’s primary heating fuel in the 1950s-60s, to the mixed impact of the emergence of the credit-card society in the 1960s, to the widespread use of home air-conditioning from the 1970s at a time of global warming, to say nothing of the more recent impacts of the personal computer, email, cell phones, the Internet, and other new developments on how people live their lives and interact with the world around them.

Toronto Skyline, 1970 (City of Toronto Archives)

In the 1970s, reporters from newspapers and magazines in the United States referred to Toronto with admiration, such as Anthony Astrachan’s famous 1974 description of Toronto as ‘a city that works.’ Astrachan and his peers celebrated the ongoing vibrancy of Toronto’s downtown neighbourhoods in stark contrast to the depressing problems faced by many American centres with their hollowed-out cores and hopeless slums. Part of the difference between Toronto and US cities stemmed from their patterns of growth. Despite Toronto’s rapid suburbanization, similar development in the United States received far more government subsidization than occurred here, which contributed to a greater move on the part of the American middle class away from downtowns. That shift undermined the ability of the older urban municipalities in the US to support themselves through taxation at the same time that the percentage of people in need within their populations grew substantially. Additionally, the comparative health of Toronto’s older neighbourhoods and downtown core encouraged people who had moved to the suburbs to come back to the centre, particularly from the latter 1960s onwards, to revitalize areas that had begun to fall into decline, but that had not slipped so far as to become despoiled. Toronto’s success in preserving its inner neighbourhoods was marked by the fact that by the mid 1970s inner city residents overall enjoyed greater incomes than their suburban neighbours did.

“M” is for Market, 1983 (City of Toronto Culture)

In more recent years, however, Toronto has faced challenges that have taken some of the lustre off the accolades of the 1970s. Outside of Canada, higher levels of government in major western countries often provide superior financial support and fundraising tools for municipalities, allowing cities to meet their needs better than they can here where the federal government’s presence in supporting Toronto has been small, and the province implemented programmes and policies that made the task of running Toronto and preserving its quality of life difficult. The pressure felt by the city in the latter 1990s even led some of its prominent urban thinkers, such as Jane Jacobs, to argue that Toronto ought to leave Ontario and become Canada’s first ‘city province,’ while others who did not favour a radical solution became more vocal about the city’s requirements for better opportunities to finance its needs and for a fairer share of the tax revenues generated by the three levels of government. Nevertheless, most of Toronto’s problems are smaller than those of other large North American cities, and thus the chances of success in attempting to solve them are greater, which bodes well for the city’s future.

Today’s Toronto is a large and complex urban centre. Like any similarly large city it faces important challenges and competing opinions on how to face them. At the same time, Toronto continues to flourish as a tremendously exciting city, embracing a strong and prospering economy, rich cultural underpinnings, and retaining its long heritage as a comparatively safe, orderly, and inclusive community, where working and living conditions are among the very best to be had on the planet.

Hindufest (PhotoSensitive); CN Tower (PhotoSensitive); High Park (Tourism Toronto)