What are the causes of the patterns in distribution of subway stations, the Greek community, parks, Roman Catholics, restaurants and bars, hockey arenas, and theatres in Toronto? Thanks for your help!

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like most large metropolitan areas, Toronto’s history is less one of planned growth than one of ad hoc accommodation of large volumes of emigres from poorer, distant regions. The first half of the 19th century witnessed a sizable influx of Irish Catholic immigrants, who would be the foundation of the city’s Roman Catholic population. The latter decades of that century were characterized by the large scale settlement of immigrants from Greece, who were fleeing not only their homeland’s endemic poverty, but the continuing violence between Greeks and Turks that would continue throughout the century that followed. In both cases, the immigrant communities, as was the case in large U.S. cities like New York, tended to congregate in the lower-income neighborhoods commensurate with their own socioeconomic status. As one history of Canada’s Greek community reported:

“The Greeks who came to Canada tended to settle in the urban centers with the majority settling in Montréal, Toronto and to a lesser degree, Vancouver. Within these cities, Greek communities formed, usually in older parts of the city where rents were cheaper. Often, several families would live together in one house, sharing expenses until they became established and could afford their own homes” [See: “History of Greek Immigration in Canada,” http://canada.greekreporter.com/2009/11/11/history-of-greek-immigration/]

As such, the demographics of 19th century Toronto were driven primarily by economic considerations combined with the natural tendency of immigrant communities to settle amongst ‘their own kind,’ with assimilation occurring gradually over many years. Each of these two particular immigrant communities brought with it the religious practices of its country of origin, with the Irish Catholics representing Roman Catholicism and the Greek Orthodox Church similarly taking root.

Toronto’s subway system had its origins in the city administration’s recognition in the early part of the 20th century that its growing population would require means of transportation beyond what the city’s streets could accommodate. Its construction began in 1949 and, as with most subway systems around the world, its growth tracked the city’s population growth, with subway stations constructed in communities with the densest populations. An official history of Toronto’s subway system, a link to which is provided below, notes of the subway’s initial path:

“It became obvious that some step must be taken to separate public transportation facilities from other forms of traffic, particularly on Yonge Street which carried the greatest volume of traffic in the city, and "Canada's First Subway" presented the only practical solution to the problem and set the pattern for future transportation developments in Toronto and in other large Canadian cities.”

The subway system, then, was built in accordance with the need of city planners and administrators to replicate the most heavily trafficked surface routes. As the city grew and expanded, the subway routes, and stations, tracked those routes most in demand among motorists.

The locations of public parks, arenas, bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues are all a product of careful planning, with park locations specified in accordance with city officials’ dictates from those who largely ruled society, the social and economic elites. As one history of Toronto’s public parks has written:

“As a setting for recreation, public association and grassroots politics, Toronto parks have a long and colourful history. In the late 19th century, parks were for the moneyed classes to stroll through in their finery. They were certainly not for athletic endeavours or children’s play. Children were fined and put in jail for doing so!” [http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/local-history-genealogy/2012/06/toronto-parks-the-aspiration-of-the-commons.html]

Over time, the city’s parks became increasingly ‘democratized,’ with social and political liberals often using these public spaces as venues for their demonstrations and other activities – a pattern that continues today. Their initial locations, however, were dictated by the wealthy, who planned them into their communities and ruled these ostensibly public spaces like fiefdoms. As the city grew and became more ethnically and socially diversified, the planning of public spaces like parks began to reflect the varied demands of these myriad communities.

Similar to the early parks, Toronto’s theater district was built to accommodate the wishes of the wealthy, with the district’s waterfront downtown location reflecting the demographics of the time. As with theater districts and major sports venues around the world, their construction in Toronto anchored revitalization in surrounding neighborhoods. Thus, owners of bars and restaurants tended to gravitate to the densely populated districts housing such major venues in order to exploit the large patronage visiting theaters and sports venues, especially hockey. The city’s professional NHL hockey team, the Maple Leafs, currently play in the Air Canada Center in the city’s downtown district, again, a common selection for such a venue, as team owners and city officials understood the need to make the team’s home center accessible to the maximum number of residents.