Metropolitan Toronto

The municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was an upper tier level of municipal government in Ontario, Canada, from 1954 to 1998. It was made up of the old city of Toronto and numerous townships, towns and villages that surrounded Toronto, which were starting to urbanise rapidly after World War II. It was commonly referred to as "Metro Toronto" or "Metro".

Metropolitan Toronto
Dissolved region


Metro, Metro Toronto
Location of Metropolitan Toronto in the province of Ontario
Incorporated1953 from Toronto, York Township, Scarborough Township and Etobicoke Township
Dissolved1998 into Toronto
  TypeCouncil–manager government
  BodyMetropolitan Toronto Council
  ChairmanAlan Tonks (last)
  Total630 km2 (240 sq mi)
Time zoneUTC−05:00 (EST)
  Summer (DST)UTC−04:00 (DST)
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History of Toronto
Town of York (1793–1834)
City of Toronto (1834–1954)
Metropolitan Toronto (1954–1998)
Toronto (Amalgamated) (1998–present)
Toronto Purchase 1787
Battle of York 1813
Battle of Montgomery's Tavern 1837
First Great Fire of Toronto 1849
Second Great Fire of Toronto 1904
Hurricane Hazel (effects) 1954
First Amalgamation 1967
Second Amalgamation 1998
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Passage of the 1997 City of Toronto Act caused the 1998 amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto and its constituents into the current City of Toronto. The boundaries of present-day Toronto are the same as those of Metropolitan Toronto upon its dissolution: Lake Ontario to the south, Etobicoke Creek and Highway 427 to the west, Steeles Avenue to the north, and the Rouge River to the east.


City and suburbs

Prior to the formation of Metropolitan Toronto, the municipalities surrounding the central city of Toronto were all independent townships, towns and villages within York County. After 1912, the city no longer annexed suburbs from York Township. At times, the suburbs asked to be annexed into Toronto, but the city chose not to do so.

In 1924, Ontario cabinet minister George S. Henry was the first to propose a 'metropolitan district' with its own council, separate from the city and the county, to administer shared services. He wrote a draft bill, but the government chose not to act on it.[1]

The Great Depression saw almost all of the towns and villages of the county become insolvent. When that happened, they were, financially, taken over by the province. In 1933, Henry, now the premier, appointed a formal inquiry into forming a metropolitan district. A proposal was made for Toronto to provide several of its services to the suburbs as well. The inquiry died with the defeat of Henry in 1934.[2]

In the 1930s, a Liberal Ontario government named the first minister of municipal affairs, David A. Croll, and introduced a draft bill to amalgamate Toronto and the built-up suburbs. The draft bill faced strong opposition in Toronto and was withdrawn. The government then started its own inquiry into issues of the suburbs surrounding Toronto. Through consensus, it came to the conclusion that a metropolitan municipality was the best solution. The inquiry reported in September 1939, and its conclusions were put aside for the duration of World War II.[2]

Two factors changed in the 1940s. A Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PCO) government was elected in 1943, with a changed policy, intending to promote economic growth through government action. Also in 1943, the first Master Plan was adopted in Toronto. It recognized that future growth would take place in the vacant land of adjacent suburbs. Planning would have to take into account the whole metropolitan area.[3]

Forest Hill reeve Fred Gardiner, who was politically well-connected to newly elected PC premier George Drew, now promoted the idea of ambitious new programs to lay the capital infrastructure for growth. In 1946, the province passed the Planning Act, which required each urban municipality to have its own Planning Board. A Toronto and Suburban Planning Board was founded, under the chairmanship of James P. Maher, and the vice-chairmanship of Fred Gardiner. The Board promoted specific projects, and also promoted a suburban 'green belt', a unified system of arterial roads and the creation of a single public transit network.[4]

The Board was ineffective. Projects such as a bridge across the Don River Valley and the Spadina Road Extension (the basis for the later Spadina Expressway) were rejected by the local municipalities. Gardiner, elected as chairman of the board in 1949, wrote to Premier Leslie Frost that only a unified municipality could measure up to the problems. In 1950, the City of Toronto Council voted to adopt an amalgamated city, while nearly all of the suburbs rejected the amalgamation.[5]

From 1950 until 1951, the Ontario Municipal Board held hearings on the proposal, under the chairmanship of Lorne Cumming. The Board worked until 1953, releasing its report on January 20, 1953. Cumming's report proposed a compromise solution: a two-tiered government, with the formation of a Metropolitan government, governed by a Metropolitan Council, to provide strategic functions, while existing municipalities would retain all other services. He rejected full amalgamation, citing a need to preserve 'a government which is very close to the local residents.'[6]


The Frost government moved immediately and on February 25, 1953, introduced the bill to create the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. The new municipality would have the power to tax real estate and borrow funds on its own. It would be responsible for arterial roads, major sewage and water facilities, regional planning, public transportation, administration of justice, metropolitan parks and housing issues as needed. The municipalities retained their individual fire and police departments, business licensing, public health and libraries.[7]

The Council would have its own chairman, selected by the province initially, then to be elected by the Council itself after 1955. Premier Frost convinced Fred Gardiner, who still preferred amalgamation, over the metro scheme, to take the job. Gardiner was well known to Frost through the Conservative Party, was well-off, was felt to be beyond personal corruption. Gardiner accepted the position partly due to his friendship with Frost, and he demanded that he retain his corporate connections. He also felt that the job would be "bigger than anything he had tried before." The bill to form Metro was passed on April 2, 1953. The Gardiner appointment was announced on April 7.[8]

In Canada, the creation of municipalities falls under provincial jurisdiction. Thus it was provincial legislation, the Metropolitan Toronto Act, that created this level of government in 1953. When it took effect in 1954, the portion of York Township not yet annexed by Toronto, as well as all of Scarborough and Etobicoke Townships were incorporated as part of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, and seceded from York County.

Metro Toronto was composed of the City of Toronto, the towns of New Toronto, Mimico, Weston and Leaside; the villages of Long Branch, Swansea and Forest Hill and the townships of Etobicoke, York, North York, East York, and Scarborough.

The Metropolitan Toronto Council initially consisted of 12 councillors from Toronto (including the mayor), and one representative (usually a mayor or reeve) from each of the surrounding municipalities. Metropolitan Toronto also had planning authority over the surrounding townships such as Vaughan, Markham, and Pickering, although these areas did not have representation on Metro Council.

Growth and mergers

Gardiner was Metro Chairman from 1953 until the end of 1961. During his tenure, Metro built numerous infrastructure projects, including the opening of the first subway line, start of construction of the second subway line, water and sewage treatment facilities, rental housing for the aged and the Gardiner Expressway, named after Gardiner. Metro also amalgamated the various police forces into one in 1956. It was a period of rapid development of the suburban municipalities of Metro. The population of Metropolitan Toronto increased from one million to 1.6 million by the time he left office.[9]

As a result of continued growth, the province reorganised Metro in 1967. The seven small towns and villages, which were no longer any denser than the surrounding areas, were merged into neighbouring municipalities. This left the City of Toronto and the five townships, which at this time were re-designated as boroughs (all but East York were later incorporated as cities). Long Branch, New Toronto, and Mimico were absorbed back into Etobicoke; Weston was absorbed into York; Leaside into East York; and Swansea and Forest Hill, into Toronto. The reorganized Metropolitan Toronto adopted a flag and decal using a symbol of six rings representing the six municipalities. The six rings that made up the symbol would later inspire Drake to nickname Toronto "the Six."

As the seats on Metro Council were reapportioned according to population, the council was now dominated by the suburban majority; but it continued to address suburban and inner city issues in equal measure.


By the 1990s, many people believed that Metropolitan Toronto, set up to encompass the urban region of Toronto, was no longer relevant since it constituted barely 50% of Toronto's actual metropolitan area, known as the Greater Toronto Area, and many people saw it as being synonymous with Toronto. On the other hand, its residents often felt more concerned with local matters (such as provision of services) than Metro-wide ones. When a City of Toronto election ballot included a non-binding referendum question on eliminating the Metro level of government, there was a substantial vote in favour.

In the 1995 provincial election, PCO leader Mike Harris campaigned on reducing the level of government in Ontario as part of his Common Sense Revolution platform, and promised to examine Metropolitan Toronto with an eye to eliminating it. However, in the end the Harris government announced what they saw as a superior cost-saving plan. The six municipalities of Metro Toronto would be amalgamated into a single-tier city of Toronto. This was a major break from the past, which had seen the core simply annex suburbs. Similar amalgamations were planned for other parts of Ontario, such as Ottawa and Hamilton.

The announcement touched off vociferous public objections to what the media termed the "megacity" plan. In March 1997 a referendum in all six municipalities produced a vote of more than 3:1 against amalgamation.[10] However, municipal governments in Canada are creatures of the provincial governments, and referendums have little to no legal effect. The Harris government could thus legally ignore the results of the referendum, and did so in April when it tabled the City of Toronto Act. Both opposition parties held a filibuster in the provincial legislature, proposing more than 12,000 amendments that allowed residents on streets of the proposed megacity take part in public hearings on the merger and adding historical designations to the streets.[11] This only delayed the bill's inevitable passage, given the PCO's majority. The amalgamation would take place effective January 1, 1998, at which time the new City of Toronto (legal successor of Old Toronto) came into existence.

Political structure

Originally, members of the Metropolitan Toronto Council also sat on their respective lower-tier councils; they were not directly elected to the upper-tier council, and because Toronto councillors often voted in a bloc, inner-city issues tended to dominate. The arrangement was achieved by electing two members in each ward. The person who achieved the greatest number of votes was named the senior alderman. The person with the second most votes was the junior alderman. Both aldermen sat on the local council, but only the senior alderman sat on Metro Council. The Province of Ontario changed this arrangement in 1988, requiring direct elections to Metro Council and severing the links between the two tiers. Now only the mayors of the six member municipalities sat on both the upper-tier and lower-tier councils.

The first chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, Fred Gardiner, was appointed by the province; subsequent chairmen were elected by Metro Council itself. The Metro Chairman was, for many years, an ex-officio member of the council without having to be elected to Metro Council by constituents as either a local mayor, controller, alderman or councillor. Beginning in 1988, the position of chairman was chosen by council members from amongst its own members (excluding mayors who could vote for Metro Councillor but could no longer run for the position).

As usual in Ontario municipalities, all of these councils were non-partisan, although in later years some councillors (and candidates) did identify themselves explicitly as members of particular political parties. Metro councillors were elected by plurality.

From the inception of Metro Toronto until amalgamation, there were six chairmen altogether:


Metro Toronto wards established in 1988 were given names that contained the number of the ward, name of municipality and the name of the local communities:

East York

  • Metro Toronto Ward 1 - East York


  • Metro Toronto Ward 2 - Lakeshore-Queensway
  • Metro Toronto Ward 3 - Kingsway-Humber
  • Metro Toronto Ward 4 - Markland Centennial
  • Metro Toronto Ward 5 - Rexdale-Thistletown

North York

  • Metro Toronto Ward 6 - North York Humber
  • Metro Toronto Ward 7 - Black Creek
  • Metro Toronto Ward 8 - North York Spadina
  • Metro Toronto Ward 9 - North York Centre South
  • Metro Toronto Ward 10 - North York Centre
  • Metro Toronto Ward 11 - Don Parkway
  • Metro Toronto Ward 12 - Seneca Heights


  • Metro Toronto Ward 13 - Scarborough Bluffs
  • Metro Toronto Ward 14 - Scarborough Wexford
  • Metro Toronto Ward 15 - Scarborough City Centre
  • Metro Toronto Ward 16 - Scarborough Highland Creek
  • Metro Toronto Ward 17 - Scarborough Agincourt
  • Metro Toronto Ward 18 - Scarborough Malvern


  • Metro Toronto Ward 19 - High Park
  • Metro Toronto Ward 20 - Trinity-Spadina
  • Metro Toronto Ward 21 - Davenport
  • Metro Toronto Ward 22 - North Toronto
  • Metro Toronto Ward 23 - Midtown
  • Metro Toronto Ward 24 - Downtown
  • Metro Toronto Ward 25 - Don River
  • Metro Toronto Ward 26 - East Toronto


  • Metro Toronto Ward 27 - York Humber
  • Metro Toronto Ward 28 - York Eglinton

City Hall and Metro Hall

At its inception in 1953, Metro was headquartered at a six-floor building at 67 Adelaide Street East (now home to Adelaide Resource Centre for Women). When the new Toronto City Hall opened in 1965, one of its twin towers was intended for Metro Toronto offices and the other for the City of Toronto; the two councils shared the central Council Chamber. Eventually this space proved inadequate and committee facilities and councillors' offices were relocated to an office tower at the southwest corner of Bay and Richmond Street (390 Bay Street), across from City Hall; Metro Council continued to meet in the City Hall council chamber. Finally, in 1992, the Metro government moved out of Toronto City Hall altogether and into a newly constructed Metro Hall at 55 John Street, which was designed by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects (BBB Architects).

The amalgamated council chose to meet at City Hall, though it temporarily met at Metro Hall while City Hall was retrofitted for the enlarged council. Metro Hall continues to be used as office space by the City of Toronto.


The following is a list of services that were funded and provided by the Metro government:

In addition, the following agencies were Metro government agencies:

See also


  • Colton, Timothy J. (1980). Big Daddy. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-2393-2.
  • Levine, Allan (2014). Toronto: Biography of a City. Madeira Park, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 978-1-77100022-2.


  1. Colton 1990, p. 55.
  2. Colton 1990, p. 56.
  3. Colton 1990, pp. 58-59.
  4. Colton 1990, pp. 60-61.
  5. Levine 2014, p. 204.
  6. Colton 1990, p. 70.
  7. Colton 1990, pp. 71–72.
  8. Colton 1990, pp. 72–73.
  9. Colton 1990, p. 93.
  10. Chidley, Joe; Hawelshka, Danilo. Toronto's struggle against amalgamation. Maclean's, 1997-03-17.
  11. "Legislative Reports". Canadian Parliamentary Review.
  12. "Sony Centre for the Performing Arts". The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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