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Toronto History

Initially claimed by the French in the 18th century, it was not until the American Revolution caused hordes of United Empire Loyalists (loyal to the British) to escape to Toronto that the city became an established settlement.

Known then as York, the town was exceedingly British in character, functioning as the administrative capital of English-speaking Upper Canada and becoming a thriving manufacturing centre by the 19th century. In 1834 it was renamed Toronto, a Huron Indian word meaning 'meeting place', to distinguish it from neighbouring New York.

The next 100 years saw the city experience a growth explosion. Driven by a combination of immigration, high birth rates and burgeoning industry, the population increased from 30,000 in 1851 to over a million by the 1950s. Even when the Great Toronto Fire of 1904 decimated a huge area of downtown, the Torontonians simply rolled up their sleeves, rebuilt and continued to prosper.

As it continued to grow, the city began to develop an impressive reputation for industry and commerce. A railway arrived, linking Toronto to the Upper Great Lakes, and lenient laws led to the distillation industry expanding until Toronto became the largest centre of alcohol distillation in North America.

Despite this licentiousness, the Toronto of the 19th and early 20th centuries was a law-abiding city, where rules were made and rarely broken and where the overriding concern was making money. As such, Toronto gained a reputation as a conservative, boring enclave of Protestantism - a reputation that still dogs it to some extent today.

Towards the end of the 1950s, a surge in immigrant arrivals infused Toronto with new foods, new languages and, most importantly, new attitudes. Italians, Portuguese and Eastern Europeans arrived first, followed by immigrants from the Caribbean, Asia and India. They settled into what would become the city's great ethnic neighbourhoods - Greektown, Little Italy and Chinatown.

Today, Toronto is the hub of the nation's commercial, financial, industrial, and cultural life, and is the capital of the Province of Ontario.

Did you know?
• In December 1944, a whopping 52cm (20.5 inches) of snow fell in Toronto in just 24 hours.
• Marilyn Bell was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario in 1954.
• When the CN Tower opened in 1976, it was the world’s tallest freestanding structure.

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Hazelton Hotel

Since opening in 2007, the Hazelton in the ritzy Yorkville district has drawn a steady stream of actors and hipsters, many attracted by its proximity to luxury boutiques and Toronto International Film Festival events. Amenities include a lap pool, fitness centre, spa, private screening room and 24-hour room service.

The Westin Harbour Castle

This is a mammoth 38-storey, twin-towered hotel with 977 rooms that looks straight out onto Lake Ontario. As well as boasting spectacular views, the Harbour Castle features 70,000 square foot of meeting space, tennis courts, an indoor pool, whirlpool and giant windows throughout. The rooms are exceptionally comfortable and well equipped.

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

The tallest building in the British Empire when it opened in 1929, the massive Royal York even now is a prominent feature of Toronto's Lake Ontario skyline. Amenities include a business centre, indoor lap pool, 24-hour fitness centre, spa and children's wading pool.

The Strathcona

A popular budget hotel, The Strathcona is located directly across from the city's main railway hub, Union Station. Aiming itself at the budget business traveller, it provides corporate rooms with Wi-Fi access and has a full service meeting room and 24-hour business centre. All rooms are en suite.

The Gladstone Hotel

Built in 1889, The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto and is now one of the city's most exciting, with artist-designed rooms and exhibition spaces. Guests have instant access to the Toronto art scene - either by going outside to enjoy the city's art and design neighbourhood, or simply by enjoying the paintings in their rooms.

Eaton Chelsea

Canada's largest hotel, the glass-clad, sky-high Eaton Chelsea tries to cater for everybody within its 1,590 guest rooms. For families, there are Nintendo games, a bottomless cookie jar and kids' discounts in the restaurants. While for business travellers, there is a dedicated floor of rooms equipped with cordless speaker telephones, faxes, well-stocked desks and back-friendly chairs.