The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is centred on the city of Toronto, in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe. It is generally considered to extend west to the border with Hamilton, east to the border of Port Hope, and north to the shore of Lake Simcoe. It is by far Canada's most populous urban/suburban area, with 6.4 million inhabitants (2016); nearly half of Ontario's population. The GTA is a commercial, distribution, financial and economic centre, and is the second largest financial centre in North America.
|City of Toronto |
the most populous city in Canada, the centre of the country's financial sector, and an energetic, diverse destination for travellers
the eastern suburbs, and a growing technology hub
the far western suburbs, with a lot of land still in agricultural use
the near western suburbs
the northern suburbs, with some interesting heritage districts
- 1 Ajax — founded around a World War II munitions factory, it grew into a bedroom community for Toronto after the war
- 2 Brampton — one of Canada's fastest growing cities
- 3 Burlington — a pleasant suburban community that is home to the amazing Royal Botanical Gardens
- 4 Markham — a growing suburban community and technology centre with several charming heritage districts
- 5 Mississauga — Toronto's largest suburb and Canada's sixth largest city
- 6 Newmarket — its Main Street Heritage Conservation District includes several historic sites
- 7 Oakville — an affluent suburb of Toronto whose downtown has a quaint, small-town atmosphere
- 8 Oshawa — the home of a massive auto manufacturer facility that has been gradually closing down through the 2010s, it is trying to transition to an education and health sciences hub
- 9 Pickering — the city bordering Toronto, it is also home to the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station
- 10 Richmond Hill — a growing suburban town
- 11 Vaughan — famous as the home of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection
- 12 Whitby — during the Second World War, it was the location of Camp X, a secret spy training facility established by the "Man Called Intrepid"
Greater Toronto consists of the City of Toronto and four surrounding regional municipalities: Durham, Halton, Peel, and York; which in total contain 25 urban, suburban and rural municipalities.
The region generates about a fifth of Canada's GDP and is home to 40% of Canada's business headquarters. In 2010, over half of the labour force in the Greater Toronto Area was employed in the service sector, with 19% in the manufacturing, 17% of the labour force employed in wholesale & retail trade, 8% of the labour force involved in transportation, communication & utilities, and 5% of the workforce was involved in construction.
The Toronto CMA also has the largest proportions of foreign-born residents (46%) as a share of the total population out of all metropolitan areas in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The Greater Toronto Area was home to a number of First Nations (Indigenous) groups who lived on the shore of Lake Ontario long before the first Europeans arrived in the region. At various times the Neutral, Seneca, Mohawk and Huron nations were living in the vicinity. The Mississaugas arrived in the late 17th or early 18th century, driving out the Iroquois.
By the 17th century, the area was a crucial point for travel, with the Humber and Rouge River providing a shortcut to Lake Simcoe and the upper Great Lakes. These routes were known as the Toronto Passage. The area would later become very crucial for its series of trails and water routes that led from northern and western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the "Toronto Passage", it followed the Humber River, as an important overland shortcut between Lake Ontario, Lake Simcoe and the upper Great Lakes. For this reason area became a hot spot for French fur traders. The French established two trading forts, Magasin Royal in the 1720s, although abandoned within the decade and Fort Rouillé in the 1750s, which was burnt down and abandoned in 1759 by the French garrison, who were retreating from invading British forces.
The first large influx of European settlers to settle the region were the United Empire Loyalists arriving after the American Revolution, when various individuals petitioned the Crown for land in the Toronto area. In 1787, the British negotiated the purchase of more than a quarter million acres (1,000 km²) of land in the area of Toronto with the Mississaugas of New Credit.
The Greater Toronto Area is classified as a humid continental climate. In winter, which begins in December and ends in March, typical high temperatures will range from −5 to 2 °C (23 to 36 °F) and low temperatures from −11 to −6 °C (12 to 21 °F). Occasional cold spells hold daytime highs below −10 °C (14 °F) for several days, while low temperatures sometimes drop below −18 °C (0 °F). Mild spells are also a feature of Toronto's winter, with temperatures occasionally surpassing 5 °C (41 °F) for several days. Spring is short and often mild, although snow sometimes falls as late as April. Summer is warm, sometimes hot and humid and begins in June and ends in late September. High temperatures typically range from 24 °C (75 °F) to 31 °C (88 °F) while low temperatures hover around 15 °C (59 °F) in the suburbs and 18–20 °C (64–68 °F) downtown and near the lake. Although fairly sunny, summers do feature occasional heavy, thundery showers. Heat wave conditions featuring temperatures between 32 °C (90 °F) and 35 °C (95 °F) are not uncommon. Temperatures are lower near the lake and higher inland. Although rare, the mercury sometimes rises above 38 °C (100 °F). Autumn alternates between wet and dry periods. Temperatures fall sharply in November and by December, cold and snowy weather is common. The summer of 2016 was one of the hottest summers on record with 38 days at or above 30 °C (86 °F).
By public transportation
GO Transit runs commuter trains and buses between Toronto and its suburbs. Most train routes only operate during rush hour and are replaced by coach services at other times. The exceptions are the Lakeshore East and West rail lines, which run all day and on weekends from Aldershot to Oshawa. GO Trains as well as a few GO bus routes run to Union Station in downtown Toronto, which is connected to a subway station with the same name. Most GO buses run to Yokdale or York Mills stations on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line or Scarborough Centre on the Scarborough RT line.
VIA rail operates intercity trains Toronto-Windsor, Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa and Toronto-Kingston-Montréal as part of its coverage of the beaten-path Windsor-Quebec corridor. There are onward connections in Montréal for Québec City. A trip across Canada by train requires three legs, Halifax-Montréal, Montréal-Toronto and Toronto-Sudbury-Vancouver. Ontario Northland used to run trains north from Toronto's Union Station, but this has been discontinued and replaced with intercity bus.
By public transit
GO Transit operates the commuter transit services serving municipalities within and near the GTA. It operates 7 commuter rail lines, radiating from Union Station at the base of Toronto's financial district. The Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East lines operate every day from 6AM to 1AM between Burlington and Pickering. Three other lines have limited mid-day service to Unionville (Markham), Aurora and Brampton. Otherwise, all other GO rail destinations are commuter-oriented, inbound to Union Station during morning rush hour and outbound during evening rush hour. GO buses often complement GO Transit rail service for destinations or time periods not covered by GO trains. Many GO bus route originate at four stations along subway Line 1 Yonge–University; they are Union Station, Yorkdale, York Mills and Highway 407.
There are various local transit operators to serve the different municipalities within the GTA. The TTC is the largest, running all the buses, streetcars and subways within Toronto. York Region Transit operates buses in York Region, to the north of Toronto. YRT also runs 6 bus rapid transit lines, known as VIVA; most connect to a TTC subway station. Durham Region Transit operates local bus service in Durham Region, east of Toronto, serving cities and towns between Toronto and Oshawa. MiWay operates bus service in Mississauga to the west of Toronto. Most of its services are centred on the Square One shopping centre and many of its routes connect to subway Line 2 Bloor–Danforth at Islington station. Also, to the west of Toronto, there are three small cities (Brampton, Oakville and Burlington) that have their own local bus systems.
Toronto International airport (YYZ IATA) in Mississauga is served by GO commuter buses (to Yorkdale/York Mills), Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto local buses and a TTC bus (at regular fare, $3.25) directly to TTC's Kipling subway station in Toronto/Etobicoke. There's also the UP Express, a train direct to Union Station in Toronto/Downtown with on-board wi-fi (cash fare $12.35, or $9.25 with a Presto card, credit card or mobile app payment, as of Mar 2021).
All the above services use the Presto card, which is particularly useful if you plan to use more than one of the above transit services. The Presto card entitles the user to various discounts and privileges. It also eliminates the hassle of carrying exact change for each trip and it simplifies transfers, as fare rates and transfer rules vary for each local transit operator. Using the Presto card twice on the UP Express will pay for the $6 up-front cost of the card. The Presto card is also valid in Ottawa and Hamilton. If you are a senior, be sure to have your card set up for senior fares.
The regional transportation agency, Metrolinx, operates the Presto farecard system which allow users to pay transit fares throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area as well as in Ottawa. Using the card always provides a discount from the regular fare. Presto will simplify transfers between GTA transit systems, and provide discounts when transferring between GO Transit and another GTA system using Presto. Presto saves the hassle of finding a vendor selling strips of tickets for each operator. Tickets for one operator are not valid for another; however, Presto is valid for all operators supporting Presto. Some transit systems have phased out tickets forcing the use of passes or Presto.
The Presto card is different from the Presto ticket used by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for its public transit services. The Presto card has a stored balance and can be used multiple times on any of the public transit operators listed below. A Presto ticket has no stored value, and can only be used once for a specified period on TTC vehicles; it cannot be used on non-TTC vehicles. The rest of this section describes just the Presto card; with a Presto card, you do not need Presto tickets.
Here are the transit operators using Presto:
- Brampton Transit and Zum buses
- Burlington Transit
- Durham Region Transit (east of Toronto)
- GO Transit commuter trains and buses
- Hamilton Street Railway buses
- MiWay (Mississauga)
- Oakville Transit
- OC Transpo (buses and O-Train in Ottawa)
- Toronto Transit Commission (TTC buses, streetcars and subway)
- UP Express (trains between Pearson International Airport and Union Station)
- York Region Transit north of Toronto (YRT and Viva buses)
Presto is not valid for Via Rail trains nor for intercity bus routes not operated by GO Transit.
You can buy a Presto card for $6 (non-refundable) plus a minimum $10 balance. Cards can be ordered by phone (☏ online for mailing within 10 business days but only within Canada. Presto cards can also be purchased from the following vendors:) or
- UP Express service counter at Pearson International Airport sells Presto cards for adults and seniors.
- The GO Transit service counter at Union Station and the TTC Customer Service Centre at Davisville subway station.
- Shoppers Drug Mart stores within the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa.
- Fare Vending Machines at TTC subway stations sell Presto cards for adult fares only.
- Hamilton GO Centre in downtown Hamilton
Senior citizens (65+): when or after you buy a Presto card, have the card set up for senior fare discounts. The GO Transit service counter at Union Station can do this, as can Shoppers Drug Mart stores and the TTC Customer Service Centre at Davisville subway station. You may be required to show a government-issued document (e.g. passport) to prove you are not as young as you look.
At subway and GO stations, there are Presto machines to display the card balance and to load more money onto your Presto card.
GO Transit operates a system of regional trains and buses within and near the Greater Toronto Area. Many of these services, especially trains, are oriented to weekday commuters travelling to and from downtown Toronto.
The following table summarizes service levels on all seven GO Transit train lines. There may be seasonal variations; riders should check the GO Transit website for precise train times. In the following table: "rush-hour, peak direction" means inbound to Toronto during the morning rush hours, and outbound in the evening; "mid-day bidirectional" means two-way service between the morning and evening rush hours; "limited bi-directional service" means inbound service runs roughly from late morning to mid afternoon and outbound from about noon to early evening; "weekdays" excludes holidays.
|Train line||Toronto to/from||Service|
|Lakeshore East||Oshawa||7 days per week, early morning to midnight, every 15-30 minutes|
|Lakeshore West||Burlington (Aldershot)||7 days per week, early morning to midnight, every 15-30 minutes|
|Hamilton West Harbour||7 days per week, early morning to late evening, hourly service|
|Hamilton GO Centre||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Niagara Falls (Ontario)||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
Weekends: 4 trains per day
|Barrie||Aurora||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction plus mid-day bi-directional service|
Weekends: Limited bi-directional service
|Barrie||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction plus one extra evening round-trip|
Weekends: Limited bi-directional service
|Stouffville||Markham (Mount Joy)||Morning to mid-evening service|
|Stouffville (Old Elm)||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Kitchener||Brampton||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction plus mid-day bi-directional service|
|Kitchener||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction plus a few round-trip runs after midday|
|London||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Richmond Hill||Richmond Hill||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
|Milton||Milton||Weekdays: Rush-hour, peak direction only|
Passsengers using GO train service beyond Kitchener to London, Ontario must have a smartphone and purchase e-tickets as the stations in Stratford, St. Marys and London have neither Presto readers nor GO ticket vending machines. As of October 2021, service west of Kitchener is a pilot project that might be discontinued in future. Via Rail also serves the three stations west of Kitchener, and may provide faster train service but at a higher fare.
GO trains operate in trains of 6-to-12 double-decker passenger coaches. Each GO train has a Customer Service Ambassador, who is responsible for making station announcements, answering questions, and dealing with emergencies. The CSA is stationed in the Accessibility car (the 5th car behind the locomotive).
The GO bus network is much more extensive than the GO train network serving areas or time periods without GO train services. Most GO bus routes operate out of bus terminals at various locations within and near the Greater Toronto Area.
In many cases, a GO bus will not stop unless you indicate you want to be picked up, even if you are standing at a bus stop. You must flag the bus down by raising your hand or ticket in the air as the bus approaches.
GO fares are the same on buses and trains, and are distance-based. Bus operators do not accept cash; tickets must be purchased before boarding at a ticket machine, or online. GO Transit no longer has ticket counters at railway and bus stations. Fares for seniors (65+) cost 50% of regular fares. Children 12 & under can ride for free on all GO Trains and buses. Presto card users get a discount of 11.15% for using Presto instead of one-trip tickets. When transferring between GO Transit and a local transit operator to complete a trip, you may be eligible for a fare discount called the GO co-fare. For Presto users, the discount is automatic after completing the transfer between GO Transit and any local operator using Presto. Co-fare conditions vary by local transit operator.
If you use the Presto card for fare payment, you must tap the card in at the start of the trip, and tap out at the end. If you transfer between a GO train and a GO bus, or between two GO buses, you must tap off the first vehicle before tapping onto the next. For GO trains, customers tap in and out at the station entrance/exit. For GO buses, you must tap both on and off inside the bus door. Remember to tap off when you disembark in order to avoid paying an excessive fare. For GO Transit, the Presto card must have a minimum balance of $5.30 (as of 2018). To cancel a trip after tapping in but before departing, press the "correction" button on the reader, then tap again. (Newer Presto readers have a menu instead of a special button for corrections.)
If you have a smartphone, you can buy e-tickets to pay your GO fare. Some GO promotions such as the weekend pass are available only with e-tickets. Purchase your e-tickets online, after which an email will be sent to your smartphone's email address containing a link. Click the link on your smartphone to activate your e-ticket at least 5 minutes before you board your GO train or bus as it takes 5 minutes for the GO computer to validate your ticket. Once activated, the e-ticket is valid for 4 hours.
GO trains operate on the Proof-of-Payment system; passengers must possess a valid ticket or a tapped-in Presto card for the entire length of their journey before boarding a train. Tickets cannot be purchased on board, and there are no gates or staff before boarding to ensure you have a fare for a particular train. GO Transit enforcement officers conduct random inspections of tickets, issuing expensive fines to anyone without the correct fare.
GO trip planner
Here are a few tips for using the GO Transit trip planner. If you are departing or arriving at Toronto (downtown), enter "Union Station" rather than "Toronto". "Union Station GO" is the railway station, "Union Station Bus Terminal" is for GO buses, "UP Express Union Station" is for the airport train and "UNION STATION TTC" is the TTC subway station, all four of which are in close proximity. For downtown Hamilton, select "Hamilton GO Centre". However, for hourly train service to Hamilton, select West Harbour GO as Hamilton GO Centre has mostly bus service. Most GO train stations are identified by station name followed by the acronym "GO". Thus, "Newmarket GO" is the GO train station in Newmarket while "Newmarket GO Bus Terminal" is 2KM east of the railway station.
While it is expensive to park in downtown Toronto, driving remains convenient for many areas of the GTA (or necessary in the outskirts of GTA). Pay attention that Highway 407, Highway 412 and Highway 418 are tolled. They charge based on distance and time of driving (highest charge during weekday rush hour, lowest at night and on weekends). You do not see toll booths. All tolls are charged electronically. An toll-free alternative to Highway 407 is Highway 401. The toll-free alternative to Highway 412 is Lakes Ridge Road N, which runs its entire length parallel to Highway 412. The toll-free option for Highway 418 is Solina Road.
The City of Toronto is the biggest draw for visitors to the region. The Downtown district has the CN Tower, North America's tallest free-standing structure, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, Chinatown, and the city's new and old city halls. Just north of Downtown is Casa Loma, an impressive castle restored and opened for tours and events.
In Scarborough, the Toronto Zoo occupies a huge area in the east end to see its many exotic animals and Canadian wildlife.
Outside of the City of Toronto, head to Old Oakville, which has a few small buildings restored to the pioneer era, with costumed interpreters. Parkwood Estate Gardens in Oshawa, is a grand private estate featuring architectural, landscape and interior designs of the early 20th-century English Arts and Crafts period. It operates as a museum. Unionville Main Street historic village developed in the 1840s in what was then Markham Township. As typical of a small village, it boasts numerous quaint period buildings in an idyllic surrounding.
Toronto has a busy live theatre calendar, including locally produced shows, shows being prepared for Broadway, and touring shows.
Toronto is represented in most of North America's major sports leagues, including the Toronto Blue Jays (baseball), the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey), the Toronto Raptors (2019 National Basketball Association champions), the Toronto Argonauts (Canadian football), and Toronto FC (soccer/association football).
Rouge Park is a 63-km² urban national park crossing the boundaries ofthe cities of Toronto, Markham and Pickering and the Township of Uxbridge. It has 13 hiking trails ranging from 500 m to 5 km and from easy to challenging. There are public beaches in the Toronto Islands and east of the city.
The Canadian National Exhibition is an amusement park and fairgrounds on the west side of downtown Toronto. Canada's Wonderland is a Cedar Fair theme park in Vaughan.
Woodbine Raceway is a major horse racing venue in Toronto/Etobicoke.
The Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) is a huge Caribbean festival held over three weeks in July in early August, with parades and parties and music and dancing and food. It is the largest festival of Caribbean culture in North America, drawing over a million people, and serving as a reunion for people of the Caribbean diaspora in North America.
A huge LGBT Pride Festival and parade, usually near the end of June, brings several hundred thousand people.
The Toronto International Film Festival, over 10 days in early September, is one of the leading film festivals in the world. Unlike the Cannes Film Festival, TIFF is open to film fans, showing a massive 245 films to almost half a million movie-goers in 2019.
The busy main street of Toronto, Yonge Street, draws a more diverse collection of merchants with more independents than the malls.
Toronto was once headquarters for two rival national department store chains, Eaton's and Simpsons, which both have either closed or been merged into other chains. The largest malls are the Toronto Eaton Centre and Hudson's Bay Centre in Toronto/Downtown, Yorkdale Mall at 401 and Allen Road in Toronto/North York, the Scarborough Town Centre in Toronto/Scarborough, Sherway Gardens in Toronto/Etobicoke and Square One in Mississauga.
Pickering (Ontario) operates an extensive indoor flea market on weekends.
A few national chains claim Toronto or its suburbs as home base; the Swiss Chalet roast chicken restaurants originated in Toronto and the Pizza Pizza delivery chain has strong enough ties to the city to have registered as a trademark the last seven digits of their heavily-advertised Toronto number, +1 416-967-1111. The Harvey's flame-broiled hamburger was first served in York Region.
Because of strong and growing immigrant communities, ethnic foods in Toronto are of good quality and comparable to those of the respective home countries. Greek food on Danforth Avenue or Chinese foods in the various Chinatown districts, among others, are prepared by cooks and chefs from those countries and entice expatriates to visit the city for a "taste of home".
Entire books have been written as collections of reviews of Toronto-area restaurants, which span every segment from takeaway foods to the most expensive of haute cuisine. Within the City of Toronto, very high standards protect food safety and restaurateurs are legally required to post the results of regular inspections.
Toronto is home base to the Loblaw supermarket chain, one of the big three nationally (its rivals Métro from Montreal and Sobey's from Nova Scotia are also widely present). Loblaws city markets tend to be large stores with an assortment of sidelines, ranging from clothing to housewares.
Plenty of bars along Front St. in downtown Toronto.
Toronto never sleeps.
Some options for further travel include:
- The Niagara Region - home to the Falls, the Shaw Theatre, a multitude of wineries, and many other tourist attractions.
- Prince Edward County and Eastern Ontario - an opportunity to get out of the city, even pick your own apples and strawberries in season.
- North of Barrie, the Georgian Bay area is cottage country for many Torontonians