Relief Line: The Story Behind Toronto’s Nicknames
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Relief Line: The Story Behind Toronto’s Nicknames

Relief Line is your not-so-serious glance at the city we love.

Illustration by Mikhail (Vokabre) Shcherbakov from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Illustration by Mikhail (Vokabre) Shcherbakov from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


Tkaronto: The Mohawk term Tkaronto—meaning “where there are trees standing in the water”—was used to describe the area near the Humber River until the English showed up and immediately began mispronouncing it “Turanna.”

Dirty Little York: Toronto’s previous incarnation of York received this unfortunate nickname not because of it was small and dirty, but from an absolutely mind-blowing story that’s too risqué for a nice website like Torontoist. All I can say here is that it involved a secret tunnel under Fort York, a beautiful but deadly courtesan, the 1837 rebellion, and a talking monkey who owned a—sorry, I am getting carried away. You know what, just forget I ever mentioned Dirty Little York.

The Big Smoke: It’s hard to believe now, but before they passed all those restrictive smoking by-laws Torontonians were free to enjoy a smooth, refreshing cigarette in bars, restaurants, offices, churches, schools, hospital delivery-rooms, rollercoasters, mineshafts, propane refilling stations and submarines.

La Ville Reine: The meaning behind Toronto’s French language nickname is still a mystery because we all dropped core French after grade 9.

Toronto the Good: Most people mistakenly think this stems from from Toronto’s reputation for being overly uptight and puritanical. The truth is it was the compromise decision from a 1921 Council debate on what would be the most accurate nickname for the city. Toronto the Great was thought too immodest, Toronto the Crap was considered too self-deprecating and Toronto the Bad but Bad in, like, A Cool Way was seen as trying way too hard. In the end Toronto the Good narrowly defeated its next closest competitor: Toronto the Perfectly Fine, If You Like That Sort of Thing.

T-Dot: Comes from some ridiculous urban legend which says Torontonians always doẗ our ẗ’s.

Hollywood North: For decades Hollywood has filmed its movies in Toronto. That’s about it really. Look, not all nicknames have a fascinating backstory like Dirty Little York, okay?

Dirty Little York: Are you really bringing this up again? I’ve already told you I can’t reveal the electrifying, unbelievable story behind Toronto’s coolest nickname. All I can divulge is that it involves a hot-air balloon chase, a jade amulet, a raunchy burlesque number, and a major historical figure in drag, *cough* George Brown *cough*. But that’s all I can say.

The 6ix: Los Angeles based rapper Drake recently came up with this fun handle for Toronto, his 6ixth favourite city.

Hogtown: There are a number theories about Hogtown’s origins. The first, most plausible one, is it was derived from Toronto’s central role in the pork industry in Canada; the second, less likely source, is that Toronto has often been accused of “hogging” the agenda at Queen’s Park; the third, almost definitely not true story, is that the city was briefly ruled by a porcine dictatorship a la George Orwell’s Animal Farm; and the final theory, obviously fictional, is that it was just invented by some guy trying to fill out his word count for an article on Toronto’s nicknames. The truth is we may never know.

The Centre of the Universe: Astrophysicists have actually calculated Ajax to be the true centre of the universe, but it’s just easier to say Toronto.

Dirty Little York: You are persistent aren’t you? Well you’ve come this far so if you really want to know the delightfully wicked tale behind Toronto’s greatest nickname then meet me at old Fort York on the next full moon. All you’ll need to bring is a jug of rye whiskey, a waterproof jacket, an old-timey map of Toronto and a sense of adventure!

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