Toronto is a diverse, vibrant, and prosperous city. But how did it become what it is today? This blog post, is a retype from 1926 newspaper article that explores a past era of the city, its shoirt and gives a a clear insight from 1805 to 1896.



Commenced With Arrival of French Party Down Humber River a Century and Three-Quarters Ago, to Capture Fur Trade


Source:  Star April…1926

Unknown and unsung, just one hundred and seventy-seven years ago, the first Frenchman landed at Toronto to choose the site of the future industrial home of Canada.

It was in a strictly industrial sense that they came.  They were sent to capture the fur trade coming down the Humber river from Lake Simcoe and the upper lakes, at that time crossing to the Choueguen, the English post, on the south shore of the lake.

A monument in the Exhibition ground marks the spot where they erected their block house and stockade with timber sent on barques from Fort Frontenac, now the city of Kingston.

Never, perhaps, were so many stores packed in such a little fort.  For the Indians who came paddling down the Humber every day was a bargain day.

To-day, not yet two centuries later, Toronto is still the city packed with goods, the city noted all over the continent for its great stores, the metropolis of almost three-quarters of a million people.

The phenomenal growth of the city has made it impossible for the citizens of the community to keep posted during the last fifteen years upon the great diversification of Toronto’s industry, its commerce and the tremendous assets of the community.

Is Dramatic Story

In this growth the board of trade during the last 25 years and, now, the Toronto publicity bureau are performing an important part, making this city one of the favorite convention points on the continent and promoting and protecting the civic welfare and commercial interests of the city.

The evolution of the businesses and professions from the time that the first little …and of Frenchman built their fort on the site of the Exhibition grounds is a dramatic story.

The memory of this first French trading post is preserved in the city’s name, Toronto.  Really founded 44 years later by Col. John Graves Simcoe and christened York, the city finally went back to first name given to the site by the French and the Indians.

Cruising along the north shore of Lake Ontario for a capital for upper Canada when his recommendation of London was rejected by Lord Dorchester, the governor of Canada, Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe was attracted especially by the splendid harbor and the fine spot near it covered with large oaks.  Soon afterwards, in that same year of 1793, Simcoe, his wife and one hundred men of the Queen’s Rangers crossed the lake in bateaux and set up their canvas tents at the foot of Bathurst street beside Garrison Creek, long ago transformed into an underground sewer.

With the establishment of the Toronto publicity bureau Toronto is really only going back to the enterprising example of Governor Simcoe who advertised his new town in the papers of the United States and Great Britain, awakening the interest of parties of trustful colonists who set out for the promised land.

Slow Growth at First

Twelve years after the landing of Simcoe, in 1805, the first official census showed that there were only 474 people in the town.

From a fur trading post the town soon took on a manufacturing aspect.  The first manufacturing was the production of breadstuffs in mills situated along the Don and the Humber.  The manufacture of potash was also an early industry which grew out of the clearing of the forests and the burning of the logs.  Quetton St. George, the predecessor of Timothy Eaton, a French nobleman who fled from France during the revolution, had established a noted business by 1803, and was selling potash kettles and materials for making stills.  The coming of blacksmiths led to the establishment of small wagon factories and the making of stoves, still one of the new outstanding industries of the city, represented by such well known firms as the Gurney Foundry Company.

It was following the first provicial exhibition, held in October, 1846, just south of the present Hydro-Electric Power Commission’s head office, that Toronto began to take  shape as the outstanding centre of exhibitions, general stores, and farm implements which it has retained till to-day.  The editor of The Examiner found special interest in a machine for extracting the stumps of trees.  The manufacturers of stoves in Toronto were also given credit for using a better kind of pig iron than their American competitors.

Foreign Competition Enters

An editorial in the Globe at this time said:  “We are now large producers of tweeds, flannels, hosiery, leather, boots and shoes, cotton yarns and batting, furniture, oils, soaps, candles, liquors, agricultural implements of all kinds, stoves, castings, machinery, tobacco, etc.”  The coming of railways in the early fifties brought foreign goods into sharp competition with local products, but still Toronto produced goods of the highest merit able to survive.

The harvester and farm implement manufacturing of the Massey-Harris firm of Toronto is known all over the world.  Founded in 1847 by Daniel Massey at Newcastle, it amalgamated with the Harris side of the company in 1857, and in 1879 transferred its entire plant to Toronto.

The increase in the employ….of this great firm is indicative of the great progress of the city as an industrial centre.  From 150 men in 1879 its workers have now increased to 7,800, of whom 2,500 are in Toronto.  In all the exhibitions of the world its implements and latest inventions have received gold metals and grand prizes.

Two Striking Successes

It was on December 8th, 1869, that Timothy Eaton personally unlocked the front door of a well-stocked dry goods shop at 178 Yonge street, between Richmond and Queen streets.  This young man from the north of Ireland, from his experience with credit business in St. Mary’s, had resolved to test a new theory of retailing.  That theory was “one price and spot cash.”  Fifty years later his widow, in celebrating the jubilee of the institution, opened with a golden key the front door of the T. Eaton Company’s great departmental store, the greatest store in the British empire, perhaps in the whole world.  Beginning as an ordinary dry goods store of modest size, the Eaton business has developed into a vast retail, mail order and manufacturing enterprise with over 23,000 employ…, with stores, warehouses and factories in seven Canadian cities and offices in nine cities in other parts of the globe.

Toronto’s other great departmental store, the Robert Simpson Company, Limited, dates from three years after the morning the late Timothy Eaton opened shop.  It too, through the taking over of the John Murphy Company of Montreal, is one of the world’s greatest stores, and is pushing its business across Canada, with branches at Halifax and Regina.

From 1869 Toronto grew apace in population and prosperity.

Gradually it assumed its position as the centre of the greatest university in the British empire, and the centre of the greatest public-ownership electric power enterprise in the world, both instituions adding to its industrial prestige.  From the science departments of the university have been turned out engineers who in the building of the Hydro-Electric power canal from Chippawa to Queenston and the new Welland canal have done feats to surpass those even in the building of the Panama canal.  Cheap electrical power gave a further stimulus to Toronto as the great industrial centre.

It was at the Toronto Exhibition, whose fame is now established over the whole continent, that the first practical electric railway with full-sized cars was demonstrated in operation, in 1884.  The thought of a motor run by an invisible force and drawing a car with 50 people on board seemed like a fairy story to the thousands who flocked to assist at the beginning of an era in the history of transportation.

The board of trade was organized in 1845, then came the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, in 1902, with a notable commercial intelligence service furnishing commercial reports on every part of the world and protecting the distribution of Canadian and Toronto-made goods.  A veritable storehouse of treasure for the manufacture of goods of tility and art, the whol province of Ontario lies behind Toronto, with all its outstanding facilities for manufacturing: such as, abundance of electric power at low rates, ideal factory sites in various parts of the city, especially developed on the waterfront by the Toronto Harbor Commissioners, splendid transportation facilities by rail and water, plenty of labor available, …nexcelled banking facilities, plentiful supply of brokers and dealers in the raw materials of various industries, and a constant and growing market within the city itself for manufactured products.




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