There's so much history behind a name. Distinguished moments of prosperity, adverse years of struggle, and important pillars of an entire heritage can all be extracted from a single name.

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In Toronto, the names of each town, city or district have their own unique stories, and together they create a comprehensive picture of the land we call home. Here are the secrets behind the names of 9 GTA cities:


Toronto

The name “Toronto” was once used by early explorers to describe Matchedash Bay, a wetland between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching in Simcoe County. The name eventually trickled down south, and ended up being applied to a new fort that was established at the mouth of the Humber River.

Historical documents show various original spellings of the word in both English and French, such as Tarento, Tarontha, Taronto, Toranto, Torento, and Toronton. Of these, Taronto was used frequently, particularly by the Mohawk population that modified it to tkaronto, which means “where the trees are standing in the water.” It was only in 1695 that the name was changed to Toronto, when a cartographer named Vincenzo Coronelli started using it on his maps.


Mississauga

The name “Mississauga” was derived from the Anishinaabe word Misi-zaagiing, which means “[Those at the] Great River Mouth.” It was used to describe a First Nations group called the Algonquin Mississaugas, who lived in the Credit River Valley area in the 1600s. During that time, the same area was also occupied by Iroquoian peoples; however, by the early 1700s the Mississaugas drove them away in a historical battle known as the Beaver Wars.


Etobicoke

The name “Etobicoke” was derived from the Mississauga word wah-do-be-kang, which means “place where alders grow.” Historically, the name was used as a descriptor of the area between Etobicoke Creek and Humber River. The name was eventually changed to ato-be-coake by Augustus Jones, the first surveyor of the land in that area. It was only in 1795 that the name Etobicoke was introduced, when Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe officially named the surrounding land as such.


Vaughan

The name “Vaughan” was derived from that of Benjamin Vaughan, a British commissioner who in the 1780s signed a peace treaty with the United States. Historically, the first man to ever pass through the area was Etienne Brule, a French explorer in the 1600s. The land only started seeing developments in 1792 and was extremely bare before then (it was hard to travel to because of a lack of roads in the area).


Pickering

The name “Pickering” was derived from that of another town in England which went by the same name. The land was originally occupied by the Wyandot, an Aboriginal group that spoke the Iroquoian language in the 15th century. It was only after the English defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War that European settlers began to take over the area.


Ajax

The name “Ajax” was derived from the that of the HMS Ajax, a famous British warship that fought in the Second World War. The ship is most known for her roles in the Battle of the River Plate, the Battle of Crete and the Battle of Malta. In honour of its service, another community in Halifax also adopted the name in 1942.


Markham

The name "Markham" was derived from that of William Markham, the Archbishop of York from 1776 to 1807. Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe was good friends with William, and eventually decided to name the city after him. Markham changed its status from town to city in July 1, 2012 after experiencing a staggering population increase, and it is now the 16th largest city in Canada.


Brampton

The name "Brampton" was derived from that of another town in England which went by the same name. In 1853 an agricultural fair known as the Brampton Fall Fair was held, and that same year Brampton was incorporated as a village. Today, Brampton is often referred as "The Flower Town of Canada" because of its booming greenhouse industry.


Oshawa

The name "Oshawa" was derived from the Ojibwa word aazhaway, which means "the crossing place." Many historians believe that Oshawa was once a transfer point for fur trading between local Mississauga natives and French voyagers known as the Coureurs des bois. The trading post was abandoned in the 1760s, and the remaining facilities became occupied by families who ended up becoming the first residents of Oshawa.


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