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The History Behind the Most Famous Landmarks in Toronto

January 3, 2024 By CityPASS

Toronto is a tapestry woven with the threads of history, innovation, and culture, and nowhere is this more evident than when you explore the city's most famous landmarks. The CN Tower, Casa Loma, and the Royal Ontario Museum each offer a window into Toronto's past and a view of its future. These storied sites reveal the fascinating journey of Canada's largest city through the ages. Each attraction stands not just as a structure but as a historical milestone that reflects the city's fascinating evolution. Whether you're a history buff, an architectural aficionado, or simply seeking awe-inspiring experiences, Toronto's famous sites will leave you enriched and enthralled.

The Rich Historical Background of Toronto

Before exploring famous landmarks in Toronto, it's important to understand the city's rich history. Indigenous peoples, including the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabeg, inhabited the land for over 10,000 years before European settlement began in the 18th century. During the 19th century, the area transformed from a small collection of villages into a bustling metropolitan hub.

As Canada's largest city and financial center, Toronto experienced massive population and building booms throughout the late 1800s and 1900s. This rapid urbanization led to the construction of architectural marvels like the CN Tower, cultural institutions such as the Royal Ontario Museum, and the preservation of heritage sites, including Casa Loma and the Distillery District. Today, each one stands not just as a structure but as a historical milestone that reflects the city's fascinating evolution through the ages.

Toronto's Most Famous Landmarks and Their Historical Context

The CN Tower: An Architectural Marvel and Symbol of Innovation

Without a doubt, the iconic CN Tower is one of the most famous buildings in Toronto. Soaring 553.3 meters high, it was the world's tallest free-standing structure for 34 years after its completion in 1975. The Tower was built by the Canadian National Railway to solve communication issues caused by the city's rapidly expanding skyline, which was disrupting television and radio signals.

Visitors can take glass floor elevator rides up to the observation deck, restaurant, and the world's highest external walkway to take in panoramic views of the city and Lake Ontario.

For thrill-seekers, the CN Tower's EdgeWalk located on the rooftop will get your heart pumping as you walk hands-free (but safely tethered, of course) around the circumference of one of the world's tallest buildings 116 stories above the ground. Trained EdgeWalk guides provide commentary about the city views during the 30-minute outdoor walk.

This architectural wonder is a source of pride for Canadians and symbolizes the country's spirit of innovation. It remains one of Toronto's must-see landmarks for both tourists and residents alike.

Casa Loma: A Fairytale Castle Frozen in Time

Transporting visitors back to the elegance of early 20th-century Europe, the Gothic Revival-style Casa Loma is one of Toronto's most famous historic landmarks. The 98-room castle was built from 1911 to 1914 for financier Sir Henry Pellatt, who made his fortune investing in railways, steel, electricity, and land.

Situated on the heights of Davenport Hill, the castle offers spectacular views of Toronto from its many terraces and towers. The property originally consisted of over 98 acres of gardens, winding trails, and other amenities like stables and hunting lodges. Visitors can take a guided or self-led audio tour to explore the secret passages, 800-foot tunnel to the stables, conservatory, and elaborate rooms that feel like walking through a fairytale book.

The interior of Casa Loma is just as impressive as the exterior. The majestic Great Hall features tall oak panels, decorative ceilings, and a large fireplace. The Conservatory's beautiful stained glass ceiling and exotic plants create an indoor oasis. The Library showcases carved wood panels, as well as a rolling ladder to reach the second-level book collection. The castle is also home to decorated suites, secret passageways hidden behind bookshelves, and towers offering fantastic views of the Toronto skyline.

Pellatt's eventual financial ruin adds a layer of drama and intrigue to Casa Loma's story. After living in the castle for less than a decade, Pellatt's fortunes dwindled, and he had to abandon Casa Loma in 1924. For a period in the late 1920s, the castle was used as a hotel but also fell into disrepair. Thankfully, the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto purchased and restored Casa Loma in 1937, saving it from potential demolition. Today, the landmark hosts popular events and serves as a filming location, continuing to create new memories while preserving Toronto's history.

The Royal Ontario Museum: A World of Art, Culture, and Nature

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) contains a comprehensive collection of art, culture, and natural history from around the globe. Created by the Canadian government in 1912, the ROM opened in 1914 and expanded several times, including the addition of the eye-catching Michael Lee-Chin Crystal in 2007. The Crystal's innovative geometric design by architect Daniel Libeskind integrates itself with the ROM's existing heritage buildings through a modernist approach.

The ROM is home to over 13 million artifacts, artworks, and objects spread throughout 40 galleries and special exhibitions. Highlights include an extensive assemblage of dinosaur fossils and an impressive array of Egyptian mummies and ancient artifacts. The Indigenous galleries showcase historical and contemporary culture through art, ceremonial objects, and multimedia displays. The museum also houses significant collections of African art, textiles, Middle Eastern artifacts, Chinese temple art, and more.

The museum is in the heart of metropolitan Toronto and easily accessible through the Toronto subway system. The ROM's structure itself represents an architectural dialogue between classical and contemporary styles, perfectly embodying the museum's bridge between antiquity and modernity.

The Distillery District: From Industrial Powerhouse to Pedestrian Paradise

Strolling through the pedestrian-only Distillery District transports visitors back to Toronto's 19th-century industrial boom. The charming cobblestone streets and Victorian-era buildings were once part of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery, founded in 1832. It eventually became one of the largest distilleries in Canada and, at one point, was the largest distillery in the world. By the 1870s, Gooderham & Worts was producing over 2.5 million gallons of whiskey annually.

The more than 40 brick buildings have been carefully restored and repurposed into a hub showcasing unique boutiques, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and whiskey-tasting rooms. The area was designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to its well-preserved 19th-century industrial buildings and mills. Wandering through the Distillery Historic District provides a chance to glimpse Toronto's past while enjoying distinctly modern shopping and dining experiences.

The Distillery District is also a celebrated arts and culture district hosting concerts, plays, dance performances, and art exhibitions throughout the year. In December, the area transforms into a magical Christmas village with music, lighting displays, and outdoor skating rinks. No matter when you visit, the Distillery District offers the opportunity to experience Toronto's rich history while creating new memories of your own.

Experience Toronto's Famous Landmarks With CityPASS® Tickets

Forget the hassle of buying separate tickets to each location, and enjoy stress-free access to the best of Toronto's landmarks. With a Toronto CityPASS® ticket, you can take in panoramic views from the CN Tower, explore Casa Loma's grandeur, uncover treasures at the ROM, and step back in time at the Distillery District. It's the most convenient and affordable way to dive deep into Toronto's history and culture.

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