Canada Celebrates 150 Years
A year of birthday festivities.
2017 marks the 150th year of Canadian Confederation — and the country is planning a blowout year of birthday festivities. Come celebrate with us in Toronto! From big-city spectacle to rustic Canadiana, Ontario’s capital is the place to discover all the best our nation has to offer, and to learn more about what makes Canada Canada. Here’s a sample of what’s happening in Toronto:
Through 2017: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra celebrates Canadian music, from rock to classical, with performances throughout the year.
Canada on Screen
Through 2017: A free program showcasing the best in Canadian cinema at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Canada 150: Discovery Way
Through 2017: Canada 150: Discovery Way, the Ontario Science Centre’s year-long installation about the stories behind transformational Canadian inventions and innovations, from the lightbulb to the flight recorder.
Casa Loma Celebrates 150 years of Canadian Cuisine
January 28 & 29 and February 4 & 5, 2017: During Winterlicious 2017, Casa Loma celebrates confederation with a spectacular array of foods past and present.
February 25 & 26, 2017: A special edition Bloor-Yorkville Icefest, which transforms the midtown neighbourhood into a magical winter wonderland.
Snapshots Through Time & Maple Leaf Forever
March to November, 2017: The Market Gallery in St. Lawrence Market presents Becoming Canadian In Toronto: Snapshots Through Time and Maple Leaf Forever: Toronto’s Take on a National Symbol.
Oh! Canada, Canada Blooms
March 10 to 19, 2017: Come to Canada Blooms and see how talented garden designers, builders and floral superstars interpret the theme of Oh! Canada. Expect to see stunning showcases with vibrant colours, alluring fragrances and captivating designs that will overtake your senses.
Fort York National Historic Site
April 8 & 9, 2017: Among many Canada 150 initiatives being developed for 2017, Fort York marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge with a two-day commemorative event.
June 21, 2017: Fort York National Historic Site also hosts National Aboriginal Day festivities, featuring musical and cultural programming.
Cultural Hotspot in East York
May to October, 2017: An arts and culture initiative based in East York. It includes My City My Six, a city-wide participatory public art project beginning in January.
Toronto Riverside Community Celebrations
May to October, 2017: The vibrant Toronto Riverside community hosts a series of Canada 150 events through 2017. These include an Ontario Wine festival, guided walking tours, and the Riverside Celebrates 150 Street Festival in June.
Soulpepper Theatre Company
Summer 2017: Soulpepper presents four plays about Canadian history including one of the most critically-acclaimed Canadian plays of all time, “Billy Bishop Goes to War.”
Sounds of Home
Summer 2017: Harbourfront Centre’s summer music program has a sesquicentennial theme in 2017.
July 1 to 4, 2017: Canada Day (July 1) celebrations will be taking place across the Toronto region including at Mississauga Celebration Square, North York Civic Centre, Scarborough Civic Centre, Colonel Samuel Smith Park and a four-day event at Nathan Phillips Square.
July 1 & 2, 2017 at Woodbine Racetrack: Horse racing fans are invited to enjoy an action-packed, two-day event over the 2017 Canada Day long weekend. Celebrate the nation’s finest three-year-old horses, highlighted by the prestigious $1-million Queen’s Plate, on the 150th anniversary weekend of Confederation across the country.
Redpath Waterfront Festival
July 1 to 3, 2017: The 2017 Redpath Waterfront Festival is a Canadiana-themed celebration with nautical programs, Tall Ships, live music, food and more.
Toronto’s Festival of Beer
July 28 to 30, 2017: Toronto’s Festival of Beer showcases Canada’s rich history of beer and food in a 20,000+ square-foot space featuring culinary offerings from across this great country. A Canadian music lineup rounds out the festivities.
EDIT (Expo for Design, Innovation + Technology)
September 28 to October 8, 2017: The inaugural edition of EDIT, a biennial expo exploring design, technology and innovation addresses global issues.
Cavalcade of Lights
November 25, 2017: Toronto’s festive annual holiday kickoff, a Cavalcade of Lights special edition happens in Nathan Phillips Square.
More Canada 150 Events
Canada’s Powerhouse: A Brief History of Toronto
By Jamie Bradburn
A Nation is Born
On July 1, 1867, Torontonians gathered near St. Lawrence Market to celebrate Canada’s Confederation with a day-long ox roast, followed by evening festivities and fireworks in Queen’s Park. Few of the over 45,000 people residing in the city that day could have imagined the roles Toronto would play within Canada over the next 150 years.
The road to becoming Canada’s centre of arts and entertainment, business, sports and innovation started with a rejection from Queen Victoria. While she chose Ottawa as Canada’s capital due to its distance between Montreal and Toronto and lower likelihood of attack from the United States, our consolation prize was to play host to the new Ontario provincial government. We still had a prominent role to play in Ottawa, as George Brown, influential editor of The Globe newspaper and a Father of Confederation, served as the first leader of the emerging Liberal party. Toronto would be the birthplace of two Prime Ministers (Lester Pearson and Stephen Harper), while Mount Pleasant Cemetery marks the final resting place of our longest serving leader, William Lyon Mackenzie King.
As the city grew into an industrial power during the Victorian era, an annual fair was established to display the latest technological advances. Originally known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition when it launched in 1879, the scope of its ambitions led to its rebranding as the Canadian National Exhibition. While known these days more for its novelty food items, in its heyday the fair introduced visitors from across the country to innovations ranging from electric railways to television.
Manufacturers like Massey-Harris (farm equipment) and the William Davies Company (meat packing) grew not only into Canada’s largest in their particular fields, but the British Empire’s as well. It’s to Davies that Toronto owes its nickname “Hogtown.” In retailing, Eaton’s grew from a small dry goods store on Yonge Street into a department store chain whose catalogue was so embraced by settlers in the rural west that it became known as “the prairie Bible.”
During the 20th century, our educational institutions and hospitals made Toronto a centre for medical breakthroughs which improved the lives of many Canadians. The work of Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto led to the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes in 1922. At the Hospital for Sick Children, Frederick Tisdall and Theodore Drake’s development of Pablumin 1930 improved infant nutrition. In 1961, James Till and Ernest McCulloch’s work at the Ontario Cancer Institute pioneered stem cell research.
A Centre for Television and Film
In the midst of the Great Depression, radio audiences across the country tuned in the radio every Saturday night to listen to Foster Hewitt yell “he shoots, he scores!” during his play-by-play of Maple Leafs games from the recently-built Maple Leaf Gardens. These broadcasts grew into one of our national institutions, Hockey Night in Canada.
Hewitt was among the first personalities to appear on CBC Television when it signed on in 1952. Its launch paved the way for Toronto to become the country’s centre of film and television production. Foreign producers noted the skilled workforce which developed at CBC and early studios like Scarborough’s Glen Warren Productions. Alongside Vancouver, Toronto became “Hollywood North,” prompting moviegoers to figure out which city neighbourhoods and landmarks filled in for other locales.
New forms of media helped spur the careers of intellectuals like the University of Toronto’s Marshall McLuhan. His insights into the role of “the medium as the message” inspired debate over the consequences of new technological innovations upon us and society.
Shaping the National Conversation
George Brown’s newspaper, the Globe, cultivated national political debate and public opinion in the wake of Confederation, as did its Conservative counterpart, the Mail. These papers later merged to form the Globe and Mail, which long billed itself as “Canada’s National Newspaper.” Toronto-based media companies such as CBC, CTV and Postmedia continue to entertain, enlighten and infuriate Canadians.
City and Financial Development
The consequences of how Canadian cities developed spread out from Toronto: Don Mills provided a template for the development of suburbia in the 1950s, while urban theorists like Jane Jacobs promoted human-scale neighbourhoods. To get commuters moving in the post-Second World War era, Toronto opened the country’s first subway system in 1954, leading the way for rapid transit systems in Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.
By the 1970s, spurred by an exodus of bank headquarters as anxieties about Quebec separatism grew, Toronto overtook Montreal as Canada’s centre of economic power. Bay Street and other downtown addresses housed the boardrooms where Canada’s economic fate was frequently decided by the nation’s corporate elite. This shift altered the city’s appearance, in a skyscraper boom which continues to this day.
While long-suffering Maple Leafs fans have endured a half-century of Stanley Cup drought, more recent arrivals on Toronto’s professional sports scene have captured the country’s hearts. Baseball’s Blue Jays became competitive within a decade of their debut in 1977, leading to back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Their run for the playoffs in 2015 rekindled interest in the team nationwide. The Raptors’ “We the North” branding coincided with the basketball team’s emergence as a playoff contender the past two seasons. Not since Molson beer’s “I Am Canadian” had a marketing campaign resonated so well with patriotic sentiments.
Strength in Diversity
Toronto has shown the country the advantages of a vibrant, multicultural society, especially in a city once viewed as a boring place which shut down completely on Sundays. “Diversity Our Strength” declares the motto on the city’s coat of arms, and we have helped export that across Canada as immigrants who begin their new lives in Toronto move on to other locales, bringing with them a richness of cultural activities, food and life perspectives.
Canada’s many waves of immigration are embodied in the history of Kensington Market. British labourers in the Victorian era were followed by Eastern European Jews during the first half of the 20th century. Post-Second World War opportunities attracted the Portuguese. The loosening of restrictive immigration policies from the 1960s onward drew newcomers from the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America.
We have helped promote tolerance of what were once considered alternative lifestyles, especially regarding LGBTQ issues. Toronto’s Pride celebrations have gained international stature and inspired similar activities in other cities, while the union of Michael Leshner and Michael Stark in 2003 paved the way for same-sex marriage elsewhere.
Promoting these notions of diversity and tolerance may prove to be one of Toronto’s greatest legacies to the country. How we continue to handle them will help shape the next 150 years.
Jamie Bradburn is a Toronto-based historian and staff writer for Torontoist.
Historical images from the City of Toronto Archives.
Get Your Canada Here
The best of Canadiana.
Get Your Canada Here
Canada’s a big country. And our reputation? Huge! You could travel the nation in search of quintessentially Canadian experiences to sample, savour and shop… or you could limit your efforts to the Greater Toronto Area. Because—surprise!—we’ve got it all, from eh to Z.
Immerse yourself in indigenous art at the Gallery Indigena, a gallery devoted to the sculpture, ceramic, drawings, prints and wall hangings of artists from Inuit and Iroquois, Anishinabek, North Pacific Coast, Cree and Iroquois First Nations.
Canada’s Walk of Fame
Rub shoulders with Brendan Fraser, Jim Carrey and Shania Twain. OK, maybe not shoulders. But you can touch their stars on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Hockey Hall of Fame
Kiss the Stanley Cup, score a goal during a sim game or find your own way to celebrate Canada’s unofficial national sport at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
See a polar bear. Canada is home to 60 percent of the world’s population of more than 20,000 polar bears. But you needn’t travel to the Far North to spot one: just head to the Toronto Zoo.
Canada produces 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup. Our tastiest global commodity can be purchased at any local supermarket.
Art Gallery of Ontario & McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Dig into the gooey, cheesy, gravyliciousness of poutine, our national junk food. Thanks to its millennial resurgence, poutineries can be found all over town.
Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre
Pick up a paddle at Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre and explore the waterfront like a true voyageur. Rent a canoe or kayak, or sign on for a guided paddling tour.
The Hudson’s Bay Company
The Hudson’s Bay department store chain predates Canadian Confederation and is woven into the country’s national fabric. It is the place for Canadian Olympic gear (such as the famous Team Canada red mittens) and the company’s legendary multi-stripe point blanket.
Fort York National Historic Site
Tour the birthplace of modern Toronto at Fort York National Historic Site, a key outpost during the War of 1812. A new visitor’s centre was unveiled in 2014, providing context to the military significance of the garrison, an 1813 battleground.
Moore Park Ravine, Don Valley and Toronto Necropolis
Feast your eyes on our postcard-perfect fall foliage. Stroll, run or rent a bike to take in the explosive yellow, orange and red tree canopy along the Moore Park Ravine and the Don Valley ravine system, or in Cabbagetown’s quiet and pensive Toronto Necropolis cemetery.
Splurge on a bottle of decadent icewine. Buy it at provincial liquor stores or spend the day exploring the Niagara wine region and stock up there.
Find even more iconic Canadiana, people, places and food in Toronto in our fresh mini mag: All Canadian, All in Toronto.