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How Toronto got its various nicknames

Every major city has a cliched nickname: New York is the Big Apple, Los Angeles is Lalaland, Chicago the Windy City, and literally every metropolis on earth is The Big Smoke to its less urban neighbours.

Toronto's most unique overused nickname is surely Hogtown (or, perhaps, "T.O.") For a city that's conspicuously pig-free, it's a strange title to bear in the age of condominiums and skyscrapers, but one with an interesting history.

Here's the backstory on Toronto's most famous nicknames.

Hogtown
There are two main theories regarding the origin of this popular porcine nickname. The most plausible (to my mind) concerns the stockyards William Davies Company, which was once one of Canada's largest meat packers. Davies, whose company popularized peameal bacon, processed half a million animals at his Don River plant in 1900. Davies died, ironically, after being kicked by a goat aged 90.

An alternative is that "Hogtown" was an insult levied at Toronto because of its tendency to dominate affairs at Queens Park. "In the smaller cities of the Province when a man wants to say nasty things about Toronto he calls it Hogtown," read a Globe editorial in 1898.

The 416
Introduced in 1947 to cover Toronto and southwestern Ontario, the coveted 416 area code is now a metonym for Toronto, despite the fact the numbers are becoming increasingly scarce. Until the 1960s, a person's Toronto telephone number started with two letters, depending on their location. "UN" for the University exchange, "RI" for Riverdale, "PR" for Princess, "WA" for Walnut, and so on. Some old store signs still carry these lost exchange codes.

T.O.
"TO" and its variants get everywhere. The title of books, the names of businesses, and, obviously, this website. John Tory used it in his campaign logo (John TOry) and the tourist board recently used it in the name of one of its programs. Use of T.O., TO, or T Dot seems to originate from a desire to shorten the name of the city. It's either short for "TOronto" or "Toronto, Ontario," depending on who you ask. I tried to find the original source, but, alas, I had no luck.

The 6
A riff on 416 (and perhaps the newer 647, too,) Drake's super cool nickname for Toronto first appeared in the title of his upcoming album Views from the 6. Right now, the only person who should use this nickname with a straight face is Drake himself.

YYZ
Pearson's airport code is weird because it has no connection at all to the name of the city it serves. International Air Transport Association (IATA) Location Identifier codes originated in the 1930s out of the U.S. weather service's practice of giving two-letter codes to its stations. All major Canadian airports start with the letter Y, although most use the next two letters to indicate the name of the city: YVR for Vancouver, YOW for Ottawa, and so on. Best use of YYZ goes to Rush. Their song of the same name opens with a morse code drumbeat of those letters.

Toronto the Good
Not so much a nickname nowadays as a sarcastic title for when something juicy or salacious happens, "Toronto the Good" originates from the city's Victorian propensity for moral stiffness. The term was coined by former mayor William Howland (1886-87,) who, in the words of the Toronto Star, was "an anti-vice, anti-gambling, anti-liquor, Bible-thump[er]."

Queen City
Another Victorian throwback, the old Queen City moniker has seen less frequent usage in the 21st century and is now widely applied to other large cities, some outside Canada, as a sign of dominance. La Ville Reine is still popular in Quebec, but in Ontario the name has been in decline for decades.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Robert Snache/blogTO Flickr pool.


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