The first time that Toronto figured in an international event of any consequence, it was ravaged by fire, looting and death. On April 27, 1813— when the Lake Ontario harbor town was called York, had fewer than 800 citizens and was not quite 20 years old—a shipborne invasion of 1,700 American troops overwhelmed a defence of 300 imperial British regulars and about the same number of colonial militiamen and Indians. Casualties totalled 117 soldiers killed and 333 wounded, many of those so seriously that they soon died. Most of the American casualties occurred when the retreating defenders blew up their own munitions. The Canadians also torched what the Americans had come for—a powerful, nearly finished warship, which both sides agreed would have given its owners control of a key Great Lakes frontier in the U.S.-Canada war of 1812 to 1814. In retaliation, the raiders plundered properties —including the town’s lending library—and burned the provincial parliament of Upper Canada, now Ontario.
War: The war for control of Canada, and early Toronto’s unhappy role in it, were sideshows to Europe’s Napoleonic wars. But the town’s humiliation—in a wider struggle that stiffened Canada’s resolve to survive as a separate American nation—left a legacy that echoes 175 years later in the resourceful, ambitious but often
self-doubting metropolis that Toronto has become. Despite its dramatic change and growth over the years, Toronto is both the heartland of Canadian nationalism and a place that often strives to emulate cities in the United States. It is a self-described “city that works,” which at the same time uncertainly curries comparison with the world’s great metropolitan centres.
Toronto’s inherited instinct to survive and prosper, and its counterpoint of doubts, were reflected in the city’s preparations for the three-day June economic summit. Civic officers were demonstrably determined to make the most of what they described as a choice opportunity to promote Toronto as a world-class city—and as a worthy site for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, which they covet. Said Barbara Eastman, Toronto’s director general on a joint provincial-municipal secretariat for the 14th annual summit: “We join the ranks of other great cities that have hosted summits.” z Horn: But unlike other major sumg mit cities, Toronto’s municipal offi| ciáis and its business community ? mounted a major campaign to publi5 cize the city’s brief but unaccustomed á role on the international stage. That > program included taking Toronto’s £ story to the New York City news meg dia five weeks before the summit. 9 Said Eastman afterward: “The New £ York bureau chiefs know nothing
about Toronto. They have never been here. I think we haven’t blown our own horn enough.”
Strength: There is, according to Toronto’s Mayor Arthur Eggleton and to many others among the 3.7 million people who live in the city’s entire metropolitan and suburban areas, plenty to warrant the hornblowing. “A lot of people have heard of Toronto but do not know much about it,” says Eggleton. “There is a strong sense of tradition, of neighborhood life and family life here. It has a reputation as a safe and clean city. People here come from many nations, so it is rich culturally, and diversity is a strength.”
By those standards, and by more tangible measurements, Toronto has achieved the rank of a major citystate. It remains for most of its residents—despite an overheated economy that is generating severe housing, traffic and waste-disposal problems—both a comfortable and a stimulating place to live. Metropolitan Toronto, a pioneering 1953 union of six municipalities, now links 2.2 million residents through common systems of public transport, police and other utilities. Metro, as it is known locally, is Canada’s pre-eminent economic centre. Home to almost one in 12 Canadians, it contains one-seventh of Canada’s workforce. It is the employment hub for four suburban municipal regions—linked to Metro Toronto by a network of Ontario-owned commuter trains—which themselves have expanded in population by more than one-fifth in five years to more than 1.5 million. And it is the commercial focus of a largely urban “Golden Horseshoe” that arcs prosperously around the western end of Lake Ontario.
But Toronto’s success has also made it a city that is widely unloved by other Canadians. And, despite its ranking among the world’s major investment, financial and commercial centres—the Toronto Stock Exchange reached seventh place in dollar volume three years ago—the city is widely unknown and unheralded abroad, as Eggleton acknowledges. Says Montrealer Nick Auf der Maur, a municipal councillor and newspaper columnist whose lively city needs no introduction to the rest of the world: “Toronto’s dynamism is on the financial pages, not the front page.” Observes Vancouver’s Vicki Gabereau, a seasoned host of CBC Radio talk shows: “What’s to say about Toronto? It has more doughnut outlets than any other city in Canada, and I think that is something to be proud of.”
Barbs: Toronto has become accustomed to ridicule from other Canadians, although thousands of them move to the city every year. The barbs began as long ago as its founding in 1793 as a permanent settlement—on land purchased from the Mississauga Indians for £1,700—and its designation three years later as the provincial capital. The satire became more biting after the capital’s defeat in 1813. And criticism grew while irrepressible “muddy York” gained prosperity and power until, in 1834, it was incorporated as the City of Toronto. Its designation as “Hogtown”— originally a reference to Toronto’s primacy as a processor and shipper of pork supplied by its farming hinterlands—has become a derogation that means greed city. Because Toronto gained from federal import tariff’s, said writer Jane Jacobs in her 1984 study Cities and the Wealth of Nations, “naturally it is hated by Canadians in the supply regions of the country.” Adds Jacobs, a scholar of municipal development who was born in Scranton, Pa., and now lives in Toronto: “They call it Hogtown and see national tariff policies as being rigged to drive up their own costs of living for the benefit of Toronto. They are right; and yet Canada would be an extremely poor and backward country without tariff protection.”
One result of the city’s historical advantages under a high-tariff National Policy introduced a century ago has been an enduring nationalism in Toronto. But the roots of the city’s Canada-first attitudes may well lie deeper—in the local bitterness engendered by the American attack on York in the spring of 1813 and a second bloodless but plundering raid three months later. As the Toronto-based historian Donald Creighton wrote bluntly in The Story of Canada almost 150 years after the raids: “The pillage and destruction wrought by the American forces bred in the civilian population a settled hatred of the United States.”
Threat: Now, Toronto is the centre of opposition to the U.S.-Canada trade agreement that awaits ratification. Ontario Liberal Premier David Peterson—more than half of whose provincial constituency of 9.4 million lives within 75 km of the provincial legislature in Toronto—has attacked the agreement as a threat to Ontario’s industry and to Canada’s sovereignty.
Toronto’s financial community suffered what it loudly portrayed as another affront from Ottawa when the Conservative federal government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney early last year designated Montreal and Vancouver as international banking centres with tax incentives to attract foreign business. Mulroney’s decision a year ago to make Toronto the site of the economic summit was perceived by some in the I host city as a gesture to offer amends to a Toronto-
centred constituency that will choose more than onetenth of the House of Commons in a federal election due in less than 15 months.
Icons: As important as its electoral strength in politics is Toronto’s financial power. The icons of that power—and its excess—are stationed all around the main meeting place of the summit leaders in the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre, a 1984 construction in $100 million worth of glass, concrete and furnishings. Before it rise the bank towers; a gemlike concert hall named for the late international newspaper magnate Roy Thomson (the first Baron Thomson of Fleet); the ornately Edwardian Royal Alexandra Theatre owned by retail merchant Edwin (Honest Ed) Mirvish, who six years ago bought and revived London’s Old Vic theatre, and an adjacent block of “Ed’s World-Famous Restaurants.”
Behind the summit meeting place—“meeting place” is one translation of the Huron Indian word Toronto, another is “plenty”—soars the CN Tower, a communications facility and tourist attraction, which on a clear day provides a long-range view across Lake Ontario to New York state. Beside it, under construction, is the SkyDome, a sliding-roof stadium with artificial lawn due for completion next year. All but a handful of the stadium’s 161 preferred boxes have already been leased for 10year terms at annual rental rates of $100,000 to $225,000 each. Those outlays buy first call on the 16 to 30 seats in each box at an additional charge per seat for each event, including the 81-game baseball season of Toronto’s Blue Jays.
The SkyDome’s top box-leasing rate is just under the average resale price of a home in Metropolitan Toronto. At $233,000 in May, the price has soared by 75 per cent in just two years. Rents have risen apace—the vacancy rate is negligible—while homelessness and hunger are growing problems. Help-wanted signs are endemic. Toronto also faces a growing motorvehicle jam, despite its vaunted subway, bus and streetcar systems. And, partly because of the cityordered closure this fall of a garbage incinerator as an environmental protection measure, there is an imminent waste-disposal crisis.
Craze: The physical development of the city is also provoking new controversy. In the early 1970s, activist citizens and immigrants helped Toronto to remake its image from a somewhat stuffy community dedicated to growth into a lively, cosmopolitan city that cared about preserving downtown neighborhoods against motor traffic and a highrise craze. That crusade halted the partly built Spadina expressway before it sliced through older residential properties. And it inspired a plan to renovate the harbor front and turn it largely over to public use as a so-called people place. But, in recent years, property developers and speculators, backed by increasingly powerful lobbyists in city hall, have taken over stretches of the waterfront and built
highrise condominium towers. Those actions have aroused critics who charge that city officials have neglected the people’s interests in the name of progress.
Involved in that controversy are developers Michael Huang and Bela Danczkay. As noteworthy in the continuing controversy, in a city traditionally ruled by Anglo-Saxon power, is that the partners are of Chinese and Hungarian origins—reflections of the revolutionary changes in the ethnic composition of Toronto’s population during the past 40 years. And this year, both the City of Toronto Book Award and the Ontario Trillium Book Award went to Michael Ondaatje, 44, who was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated in 1962. His poetic novel, In the Skin of a Lion, is based on the lives of earlier immigrants in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s.
Curiosity: The city’s transformation by immigration is its major continuing story. In March, Toronto magazine proclaimed “Hail and farewell” to the city’s historically dominant WASP whose white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Toronto-the-good “now seems like a curiosity.” In May, Toronto Life magazine’s “The top 50” most influential Torontonians were mainly WASPs, many of them leaders in the financial community. But Toronto is also a magnet for immigrants and artistic professionals who strengthen its claim to be one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and an important cultural centre. The 1986 federal census counted almost one million residents of exclusively British background but about the same number who said their ethnic origins were mixed. Those with a single ethnic background include almost 300,000 Italians, more than 135,000 people from Eastern Europe, 126,000 Chinese, more than 100,000 Jews, roughly the same number each from the Indian subcontinent and Portugal, and a total of more than 115,000 blacks—descendants of escaped American slaves and migrants from the Caribbean and Africa.
On a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon before the summit convened, adjacent ravine parks in west-central Toronto contained a microcosm of multicultural activity typical of the new city. From north to south in those parks: an intercounty baseball game that included commuting American players from the Niagara frontier; a soccer match between Korean and Vietnamese teams who bowed to each other before the starting whistle; a pickup softball game among Chinese-Canadians; a game of Italian boccie—all of that to the accompaniment of a West Indian steel band beating out reggae music.
Nearby, on the wall of a white-painted corner store, was a spray-paint response to the city’s presummit campaign to clean away graffiti—a relative rarity in Toronto before then. The response: “Cancel the summit,” and, in smaller letters: “Graffiti is people’s art.” The activities in the parks and the writing on the wall both were far away in memory and in spirit from the history that helped to shape Toronto but that remains—despite two centuries of change—a lingering influence on Canada’s major city.
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