TORONTO'S DEEP BRITISH ROOTS
- Canada's frst Prime Minister was a Scottish immigrant, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Next time you enjoy a high tea at one of Toronto's hotels, think of it as a little reminder of how British our city used to be.
In downtown Toronto, it's hard not to fnd British names on streets such as King, Queen, York, Wellington, George, Frederick, or on the many institutions, such as Victoria University, Massey Hall, Campbell House, Bishop Strachan School, Osgoode Hall, etc. In fact, our older buildings are designed in classic British architectural styles: Edwardian, Georgian, Victorian. And when you study Toronto's history, you fnd that many of our various leaders, architects, educators, writers and artists have British heritage. Tink of Irish born Timothy Eaton (Eaton Centre), English born former mayor, David Miller, the frst leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, Scottish born Tommy Douglas.
It's not surprising this is the case. Canada as a country was formed in 1867 (our ofcial birthday!), but we remained a British colony until 1931. And Canada was still legally connected to the United Kingdom until 1982.
Tis meant that for generations, people from Great Britain – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – have been able to come to Canada as British subjects. Immigration was easy. In fact, it was encouraged, especially during times of hardship such as the Irish famine in the 1840s.
Although Toronto was predominantly settled by the British in areas such as the Beaches, East York, Rosedale, Summerhill, etc. there were specifc neighbourhoods where individual communities of English, Scotts and Irish settled. For instance, along St. Clair West, known as "little Britain," there were many English born residents. Today you can still see the influence with the Georgian style of some of the buildings.
Fleeing famine in Ireland, new Irish immigrants came to Toronto by the thousands. Tey typically settled in different neighbourhoods, depending on whether they were Irish Catholics (from southern Ireland) or Irish Protestants (from northern Ireland).
Corktown (named after Ireland's County Cork) located south of Regent Park and north of the Gardiner Expressway, between Berkeley Street and the Don River) attracted Irish Catholics. It was desirable because it was close to jobs at the various breweries, brickyards and mills in the area. One of the busiest places during this period was the House of Providence, a Catholic charity that still exists to this day. Originally housed in a majestic building on Power Street, the institution provided care and support for the many poor residents of the area.
Nearby Cabbagetown was home to a higher concentration of Irish Protestants, which sparked occasional turf skirmishes. Cabbagetown got its name because the Irish were so poor that they grew cabbages on their front lawns.
Each year on January 25, many bars across Toronto celebrate Robbie Burns Day to honour the great Scottish poet. You don't have to be Scottish to join in, but the many who enjoy this annual party demonstrate how long and how deep our city's Scottish roots go back.
Many of our beautiful old buildings were designed by Scottish architect William Fraser. Fraser designed ofce buildings in the Beaux-Arts style for the Toronto General Trust Building, Bay Street at King Street West, and the School of Household Science at the University of Toronto (southeast corner of Avenue Rd. and Bloor St. W.)
Today, there are almost as many Canadians of Scottish heritage (4.7 million) as there are Scots in Scotland (5.3 million). No matter how you approach the history of Toronto–through exploration, politics, business, education, literature–you fnd Scots taking a leading role.
Te St. Andrew's Society in Toronto was set up in 1836 to welcome and support new Scottish arrivals to the city. Te society is still very active today with annual celebrations including the annual St. Andrew's Charity Ball.