York Officially Becomes Toronto

A garrison was established at what would event...
A garrison was established at what would eventually become Fort York, built to protect what would be the new capital of Upper Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Toronto was originally named “Toronto” by the Native Indians, who used its sheltered bay as a harbor. Later, French fur traders used the bay, and built Fort Rouillé there in 1749. There was, however, little habitation until 1793, when Governor Simcoe chose the site to be the capital of Upper Canada. He called it “York” to commemorate victories won by the Duke of York in the war with France.

As the community grew, the inhabitants tried several times to get the name changed to Toronto because so many other places were called York. The assembly passed a bill to this effect in 1822, but the Governor and his Council ignored it.

Quebec and Montreal were incorporated as cities in 1832, and using this as a precedent, the people of York finally got their way. An Act of Incorporation was passed on March 6, 1834, and the city was named Toronto.

By this time there were 10,000 people in Toronto, and the first municipal election was held on March 27. Every male citizen could vote whether he was an owner or a tenant. The city was divided into five wards, each having two councillors and two aldermen. They appointed the mayor from their own ranks and the man they chose was William Lyon Mackenzie. This was intended to be an affront to the Governor and his Council, known as the Family Compact. Mackenzie was a militant reformer and had already been expelled from the legislature. This happened several times but he was always elected.

Mackenzie’s first act as mayor of Toronto was to order wooden sidewalks to be built and drains to be dug. When it became known that this work would increase taxes by three-pence per pound, there was a riot in which six people were killed and others were injured. Toronto “the good” got away to a turbulent start.

To learn about all this, I recommend a few sites. A great place to start is City of Toronto‘s website; Tourism Toronto; there’s also the ever available Wikipedia; another fascinating site is The Friends of Fort York; there’s an interesting page about Black history at the City of Toronto Archives. For a fun and informative read, I suggest Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place Names.



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