The city of Toronto is located in the province of Ontario. It is Canada’s largest city and the fifth most populous city in North America, with just under six million in the Greater Toronto Area. A hub for banking and technology, Toronto is considered to be the economic capital of the country.
Like many North American cities, Toronto sprang up on the waterfront. A 46-kilometre coastline forms the city’s southern boundary, on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario. From there, Toronto slopes gently upward into rolling hills and plateaus.
As observed by many architects and specialists, the city has no distinct architectural style. The neighbourhoods of Toronto express a wide variety of styles, life styles and atmospheres. The neighbourhoods all have a special identity, mainly thanks to the city’s rich cultural diversity.
Indeed, Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods. It would be hard to name them all, as there are officially about 150 neighbourhoods in the city. Some of the neighbourhoods began as villages or towns of their own, but were gradually swallowed up by the sprawling metropolis, and are now part of the city of Toronto.
Overview of Toronto Neighbourhoods
The following are generally considered to be the largest, most important, and most interesting areas and neighbourhoods of Toronto.
- Downtown (old city of Toronto, Central): The historic core remains the most densely populated area of the city. Old Toronto is divided geographically into quadrants (Central, North, West and East), each comprised of a dozen or more smaller neighbourhoods. Downtown (Central) is the main business district of the city, home to the skyscrapers that form Toronto’s famous skyline. Here you’ll not only find a bustling Financial District, including the Toronto Stock Exchange and numerous major banking headquarters, but also the Entertainment District, as well as a wealth of theatres, restaurants and boutiques. Some of the city’s oldest and most interesting architecture can also be seen here. And be sure to visit Nathan Phillips Square, the largest open air public plaza in the city, flanked by Toronto’s impressive City Hall and the Old City Hall, and featuring a skating rink, a reflecting pool and a Peace Garden commemorating the victims of Hiroshima.
- Old Toronto, North End: This affluent section of the city, just above downtown, includes Bedford Park, recently named the wealthiest neighbourhood in Canada, and Casa Loma, home of the famous castle of the same name. Midtown, another major business district, is also on this side town.
- Old Toronto, West End (limited to the south by Lake Ontario): A sprawling conglomeration of neighbourhoods, the West End contains many of Toronto’s myriad ethnic communities. Some of these include Corso Italia, Little Malta, Koreatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, and Little Tibet.
- Old, Toronto, East End: Originally a city of its own, East Toronto was annexed in 1908. Today it is the home of Greektown, Little India, and the Beaches, where you’ll find the best coastal access to Lake Ontario, as well as a fantastic Jazz Festival every July.
- Etobicoke: Like a city in itself on the west side of the Humber River, Etobicoke is made up of a few dozen neighbourhoods. Heavy industrialization and suburban housing developments characterize this area.
- North York: North of Downtown, between Etobicoke and Scarborough, this very urban part of Toronto features another central business district with a number of corporate headquarters and high-density residences.
- York: A small assortment of old neighborhoods between Downtown and North York.
- East York: Across the Don River from Toronto, East York wasn’t amalgamated into the “mega-city” until 1998. This densely populated area is made up primarily of high-rise housing developments, and working-class and middle homes.
- Scarborough: On the eastern side of the city, atop the Scarborough Bluffs, this highly urbanized area has become a popular destination for immigrants and new arrivals. Consequently, this is now one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse parts of Toronto. It’s also home to the Toronto Zoo and Rogue Park, two of the city’s major landmarks.
Notable Neighbourhoods of Toronto
Whether you’re looking for a cool place to live, or just an interesting place to get out and people watch, the following list includes some of the most distinctive locales in the city.
- Queen West: A narrow stretch of Toronto that runs from Downtown eastward all the way to Yonge Street, Queen West is both the name of the street and the name of the neighborhood (technically a Business Improvement Area.) At one time a community of Jewish refugees, then Polish immigrants, then Portuguese, recent gentrification has transformed Queen Street West into a buzzing hive of avant-garde galleries, trendy eateries, and funky shopping. You’ll want to keep an eye out for Graffiti Alley.
- Church and Wellesley: A small neighborhood in the Central Downtown area, often referred to simply as the village, this is the epicenter of Toronto’s LGBT community, although you’ll find the entire city to be very tolerant and gay-friendly. (To read more about the village, check this article on LGBT in Toronto.)
- The Distillery District: A small area just east of Downtown, this district has been designated as a National Historic Site in Canada. It is teeming with Victorian-era architecture and a fabulous selection of shops, bars and restaurants.
- Cabbagetown: Another small neighbourhood in the center of the city, it is known for having the largest area of preserved Victorian housing in all of North America. The neighbourhood was founded by Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s, supposedly so poor that they grew cabbage in their front yards (long before the “Food not Lawns” movement became a thing.)
- Liberty Village: A haven of yuppies and high-tech upstarts, this centrally located neighbourhood on the West End is walking distance from the lakeshore and has quick streetcar access to the entertainment district and the financial core. In recent years it’s become a very popular place both to live and to go out for a bite or a drink.
- Parkdale: In a city of unsurpassed diversity, this colourful neighbourhood, also on the West End, wears the crown. A large supply of residential rental property has made the area popular for new immigrants, and the selection of restaurants will attest to that: Tibetan, North African, West Indian, just to name a few.
- Yonge-Eglinton: On the north side of Downtown, Toronto Life magazine ranked this the most desirable neighbourhood in all of Toronto, based on a wide spectrum of criteria, including housing, health, safety, employment, etc. These factors have all contributed towards making this part of town especially popular for young families, who have rushed in to fill the multitudes of condominiums.
We hope this overview of Toronto has helped you get a glimpse of Canada’s most populous metropolis. If you should need more help finding your way around in your new city, remember that ARIANNE Relocation Specialists are never more than just a click away!
Photo Credit: Annex houses in Toronto (Wikipedia)