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In the space of a couple of centuries, the history of the city of Toronto has shown that it has grown from a tiny output of the British Empire to a world class city and the largest city in Canada.

The first humans to settle in Toronto were the Iroquoians speaking people known as the Huron tribe on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The French introduced the fur trade with the native people and supplied them with essential goods making them dependent upon the French.

The first European explorer to traverse the city know named Toronto was Etienne Brule in 1615. For most of the period from 1615 to 1759 Toronto was called French Toronto and the region was very much in control of the native people. The French and Indian war lasting from 1754-1759 spelled the end of French Toronto and also the end of the entire French Empire in North America.

A revolution of an entirely different nature came to Toronto in the 1850’s via the railway system. Allowing both people and goods to be transported in hours rather than days; the railway system in a few decades would transform Toronto, transforming it from a small town into a full fledged city.

The first Canadian railways were portage lines connecting lakes and rivers by steam power. But the rail line that put Toronto on the International map was named the Grand Trunk Railway.

Conceived as a through line from the Atlantic coast to the American Midwest, it linked Toronto with Montreal in October 1856 and was completed to the United States in 1859. At this time it was the longest rail line in the world, and became part of Canadian National System, which is still the largest railway system of the world.

As Toronto grew an increasing number of those living in the surrounding region commuted into the city both for work and pleasure. A process aided and abetted by the railway and soon to be usage of street cars. 

The city began to look for a wider tax base to support its emerging infrastructure, although by the same token those living in area near the city boundaries often restricted the idea of joining the city because they did not want the increased taxes that went with such a move.

The Canadian National Exhibition, created as a showcase for Toronto’s industry and commerce is one of the reasons the city emerged as the most powerful in the country. Success requires promotion, and the Exhibition was just the thing to accomplish this. 

The Exhibition began as a display for agriculture. In 1846 the Provincial Agriculture Association and the Board of Agriculture organized an annual fair to be rotated among several cities in Canada West. The first of these fair’s were held on the grounds of the Government House in Toronto. The fair did not return to the city again until 1852 and then again in 1858. It was in the latter year that a showpiece building named the Crystal Palace was erected to house the exhibits.

In the late 1890’s until the first world war is when Toronto developed much of the infrastructure considered modern, aided by the advanced construction technology.

One of the driving forces was the wide use of electricity, which not only allowed for electric required by homes, but also provided power for the new electric street cars. The street cars suddenly increased the distance over which it was practical to commute to one’s place of work. Electric street lights had begun to be installed in 1883.

As the 19th century turned into the 20th a movement arose in England against the “dark satanic mills” of some of the industrial party of that country. Aviation in Canada began as a baling wire and canvas affair, its usefulness jolted by the 1st world war, then developed into a thriving and competitive airmail business, and finally emerged as a passenger carrying business in the 1930’s for the masses. 

The first airfield in Canada, let alone Toronto was on the present day site of the power station at Long Branch. The airfields were opened in 1915 by pioneer aircraft manufacturer Curtiss Aeroplanes. Another airfield was established in 1917 at Leaside to train pilots for the Royal Flying Corporation.

As early as 1911 plans had been created for a sub surface railway to replace the streetcars of the day, but it was an idea before its time and never materialized. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) decided in 1942 to proceed with a subway along Yonge Street, which often became clogged with streetcars as well as automobiles. 

The current “Transit City” plan envisions a more economical widely spread network of new light rail lines with high speed streetcars running on dedicated right of way.

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