York Region Turns 50
Celebrating 50 years of strong, caring, safe communities in York Region
2021 is York Region’s 50th anniversary! On January 1, 1971, our story began with just 169,200 residents. To commemorate this significant milestone, we are sharing highlights from the last five decades here and on social media.
We invite you to look back on our collective history and reflect on the experiences that have helped shape you, your family, friends and neighbourhood. Better days are ahead, and our memories from today will form our shared history tomorrow.
Thank you to every resident and Regional Municipality of York employee, past and present, who made the journey with us. We look forward to another 50 years of strong, caring, safe communities.
Photo caption: First members of York Regional Council (1970-1972), 1970
Read the article Looking back with 50 facts about York Region.
You shared your favourite memory in York Region
Thank you to all who submitted their photos, the contest has come to a close. View some of the submissions on social media here.
Explore York Region’s story
Message from York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson
On January 1, 1971, The Regional Municipality of York was founded to build a better community. In the decades since, that purpose remains at the heart of our government.
York Region is exceptionally proud to be marking its 50th anniversary in 2021. Over the past five decades we have grown more than seven-fold to 1.2 million people, becoming one of Canada's most diverse and fastest-growing communities. We got here by delivering innovative services and infrastructures like transit, rapid transit and clean water systems, forest trails and bike lanes, senior services and child care, public health, police and paramedic services.
With exceptional people and planning, York Region is a destination of choice to live, work and play.
I hope you enjoy this retrospective look at York Region. Please get involved by sharing your favourite York Region memories on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #YRturns50.
At this remarkable moment in our history, I offer the words of our first Regional Chairman at the inaugural meeting of The Regional Municipality of York:
"I wish to pledge my service, that of the regional council members and regional officers and staff to making a success of this new government. Its prime objective will be to build a better community for the people of the region." Garfield Wright, October 14, 1970.
Together, we continue to build a better community for all. Today, we are a strong, caring, safe community thanks to the remarkable people who call York Region home.
On behalf of the Regional Council, cheers to our next 50 years.
York Region Chairman and CEO
We acknowledge that York Region is located within the traditional territory of many First Nations, including the Chippewas of Georgina Island and the Mississaugas of the Credit. These lands are now home to many diverse Indigenous peoples.
We also acknowledge that York Region falls under Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaties with several Mississauga and Chippewas First Nations.
We honour York Region’s Indigenous people, ancestors, and future generations on this land that we share with reverence and humility.
Pre-1971 – Before York Region
Although York Region is 50 years old, the rich cultural heritage of this area goes back much further when Indigenous peoples, including the ancestors of the modern day Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, lived on these lands since time immemorial. York Region falls under Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the Williams Treaties with several Mississauga and Chippewas First Nations. The archeological records indicates that there has been activity dating back 11,000 years ago after the last Ice Age. Indigenous peoples living on these lands would pass down oral histories and traditions to their descendants and the physical traces of their use and settlement of these lands. By the late 1600s, European trappers, traders and missionaries began to visit the area and interact with Indigenous peoples. Later, British citizens and American refugees from the American Revolutionary War and more European settlers began to increase numbers, which initiated relocations and displacements of First Nations and Métis people in the late 1700s.
Photo caption: Pleasantville Curve and Don Mills Road (later Woodbine Avenue) looking south, Whitchurch Township, York County, 1957. Photo by: Ted Leonard. © Collection of the York Region Archives
In 1792, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, divided Upper Canada into 19 counties and set out a road system and further subdivision of the counties into townships; York was the 14th county created. York County government (also known as the County of York) was created with the passing of the Baldwin Act in 1849. It was joined with Peel County and Ontario County in 1852 but later separated. Ontario County was separated from York County in 1854 and Peel County in 1867.
York was primarily a rural county where barn raising, small hamlets, horses and buggies were typical, and the primary occupation of residents was farming. Things began to change rapidly after the Second World War (post 1945). Canada saw a large boom of immigrants from Europe. Toronto and the surrounding areas began to experience increasing urban and industrial growth that put pressure on many county governments within Ontario, including York County. In 1953, the City of Toronto became the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and officially separated from the remainder of York County. As a result, York lost a significant portion of its territory and population, reducing to a rural municipality of about 65,000 residents.
By the early 1960s, the province was growing at a fast pace. Smaller municipalities were coping with the complexities of developing a local government and its fiscal and administrative responsibilities. The system of local government had not changed much since it began in 1849, however, the functions and costs had grown significantly as demand for sewage and water services, recreational facilities and programs increased. A widening range of social services became expected from local government, many of which would benefit by being extended over a larger geographic area. Some services were not economically feasible unless provided over a more extensive, regional scope.
“The tasks ahead are challenging. But a new structure of local government is essential for the sound growth and development for the York County area – and for the Province of Ontario.” (Address by the Honorable W. Darcy McKeough, Minister of Municipal Affairs to the County of York Government, April 1, 1969.)
In the late 1960s, York County discussed how to solve these issues and proposed the implementation of Regional government. A Regional government would condense and strengthen local municipalities – combining the 14 municipalities into the nine local municipalities we have today.
Bill 102, An Act to Establish The Regional Municipality of York, received royal assent on June 26, 1970. York County Council held its last meeting on December 29, 1970. The Chain of Office passed from the previous Warden of York County Gordon Cook to the new Chair of The Regional Municipality of York Garfield Wright. York County’s story came to an end, and a new one began for The Regional Municipality of York on January 1, 1971.
Discover what York County was like by clicking on the photo album below.
The 1970s – Establishing the Region
Many will remember bell-bottoms, disco and eight-track tapes from the ‘70s. In 1971, Apollo 14 landed on the moon, Starbucks opened its first store, and the first microprocessor (CPU) was released. It is also the year The Regional Municipality of York was established.
Although York Region’s story doesn’t officially start until January 1, 1971, there was a great deal of preparation required before that milestone date. Garfield Wright was appointed Chair of York Region by the provincial government on July 16, 1970. The Region’s first council members were elected on October 5, 1970. On October 14, 1970, the inaugural meeting was held in a filled auditorium at Bayview Secondary School in the then-Town of Richmond Hill. This newly formed Council governed York Region from 1970 to 1972. Inaugural meetings would take place every two years throughout the remainder of the 1970s.
Photo caption: York Regional Council Inaugural Meeting, Minister of Municipal Affairs Darcy McKeough providing opening remarks at Bayview Secondary School, October 14, 1970. Photo by: Ted Leonard © York Region Archives
The Region’s initial organizational structure consisted of the following departments: Engineering, Planning, Health and Social Services, Clerk’s, Treasury, Legal and Emergency Measures, and all were under the administration of the Region’s first Chief Executive Officer, A. J. Rettie. York Region primarily operated out of the former County Head office at 62 Bayview Avenue (later Bayview Parkway) in the Town of Newmarket. It was soon apparent that despite the new addition to 62 Bayview Avenue, York Region had already outgrown the location.
York Region’s population at the time was 169,200 with 47,770 jobs. The first approved budget was for $18.7 million and its primary responsibilities included:
- Police Services
- Public Health
- Regional Planning and Development Services
- Regional Roads
- Regional Waterworks
- Sewer/Pollution Control
- York Manor and Daycare Centres
One of the driving reasons for establishing York Region was expanding and standardizing services across the local municipalities and to allow for improved planning. For health and social services, York County began standardizing program delivery by assuming responsibility for things such as Health Programing and taking over the operation of the long-term care facility York Manor. Once York Region was operating in 1971, it was able to expand services offered to:
- In-home senior support through the Home Care program
- Pre- and post-natal programs for new families
In the 1970s, fundamental infrastructure changes such as delivering water and sewage services began with the start of construction of the York Durham Sewage System. Work also started on providing southern municipalities with drinking water from Lake Ontario. Construction on Highway 404 began in 1977, which would provide a second major highway into York Region from the City of Toronto as an alternative to Highway 400. The 1970s saw the Region’s establishment and many critical projects and services that laid the foundation for what was to come.
View some of the 1970’s highlights by clicking on the photo album below.
The 1980s – Growing a Region
Those who grew up in the ‘80s will remember it was a decade of growth, innovation and progress. “O Canada” became the national anthem, Canada minted its first Loonie and Terry Fox ran his Marathon of Hope. The ‘80s was also the start of the computer age. Although York Region purchased its first computers in 1974, it wasn’t until the early ‘80s that they became widely used by various departments.
With its first decade under its belt, York Region looked for opportunities to grow in the 1980s. Its population increased significantly to 258,000 people, nearly doubling in just 10 years. The Region needed to accommodate its rapid growth, primarily in the southern municipalities, and ensure that roads, water and wastewater management were in place for residents and businesses.
Seeds planted in the 1970s, such as the construction of Highway 404 into York Region, began to bear fruit as the Region saw extensions open to Stouffville Road (1980), Bloomington Road (1982), Aurora Road (1985) and finally to Davis Drive (1989) to meet traffic needs. The new east-west provincial highway initially envisioned in the 1950s as a more northern alternative to Highway 401, Highway 407, finally broke ground in 1987.
The York Durham Sewage System (YDSS) was conceived following the 1965 provincial ban of new sewage treatment plants on the Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers. In the mid-1960s, eleven community wastewater plants had systems that emptied into these three rivers, and due to population increases, these streams could not handle additional plants. The 1980s saw the York Durham Sewage System opening to divert sewage to the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in the City of Pickering. Phase One was completed earlier than expected and serviced Markham, Unionville, Richmond Hill, Maple, Woodbridge and Oak Ridges (1980). Phase Two’s opening to service Aurora and Newmarket took place in 1984.
Economic growth was also a theme during this decade. Industrial and commercial activity increased with prime locations, affordable rent, access to markets and a dependable labour pool. More than 1,500 manufacturers and approximately 5,500 acres of developed industrial land and plans for another 4,000 acres of industrial land doubled employment opportunities by the end of the century. The decade saw businesses like IBM, Hyundai Canada and Magna International move to York Region. Housing also boomed, and in 1985 an estimated 6,500 homes were completed in York Region, and the housing sector alone accounted for an impressive $700 million boost to the local economy.
Photo caption: York Region’s first promotional billboard, 1984. © York Region Archives
Tourism and recreation sites were also growing in the region with the opening of Canada’s Wonderland in 1981 and the natural attractions of Lake Simcoe, the Oak Ridges Moraine and York Regional Forest. The Region began promoting itself with its first promotional brochure in 1979 and into the ‘80s with billboards throughout the Region.
The ‘80s also saw the addition of the then-Towns of Markham, Vaughan, and southern Richmond Hill to Lake Ontario drinking water, plans for a centralized 911 emergency telephone number, and 911 Task Force, ground-breaking of our third hospital, Markham-Stouffville Hospital and the start of the blue box recycling program with local municipalities.
York Region continues to experience and accommodate growth, improve transportation, water and sewage options to meet the growing needs of its residents.
Explore some of our memories from this decade by clicking on the photo album below.
The 1990s – Strengthening and protecting a Region
With the flurry of change during the 1980s, the Region looked to consolidate its services and vision through the 1990s. The decade started with a recession and York Region set out to safeguard its residents through social programs and health initiatives.
Photo caption: York Region Administrative Centre and York Regional Police Headquarters, 1994. © York Region Archives
The 1990s began with a focus on the future. Construction of a centralized Regional police and administrative office building was underway at 17250 Yonge Street in Newmarket in the Town of Newmarket. On June 23, 1994, the opening ceremony for the new Administrative Centre took place with the Honourable Henry N. R. Jackman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, presiding. The Region’s enhanced 911 emergency response system was officially launched, with a central dispatch centre fully operational by August 25, 1994. The Province announced its intention to transfer ambulance services to the municipalities in the late 1990s. The Region began funding ambulance services in 1998 and on January 1, 2000, assumed full responsibility for these services.
In the late 1980s, the adverse health effects of smoking were becoming accepted widely by the public. The Tobacco Use Prevention Program began in 1992 and as a result of Public Health’s recommendations, Regional Council began to update Regional policies for smoke-free public and workspaces. The proposed No Smoking bylaw passed on October 26, 2000, with a three-phased approach to the Region-wide no-smoking law in place by 2004. The Province eventually passed legislation to ban smoking in all public and workplaces in Ontario with the implementation of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act in 2006.
The population was 523,000 in 1991, which was more than three times the 1971 population. To accommodate for future growth, the Regional Official Plan began development in 1972. An initial draft was created based on consultation from the public and local municipalities. In 1993, the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine and natural resources was added. The Plan was approved in 1994 and provided direction and policies to guide economic, environmental and community planning decisions.
With discussions of waste and recycling starting to circulate in the 1980s, environmental impacts began to gain prominence. The Region further expanded its curbside recycling program in the 1990s and saw movement to close the Keele Valley Landfill in the then-Town of Vaughan, which was finally closed in 2002 following a contentious decade. The Water for Tomorrow campaign launched in 1998, saving 7.6 million litres of water each day, enough for 6,000 homes by June 2000.
The 1990s also saw additional changes that helped protect and strengthen the Region such as:
- Transfer of Greenacres long-term care facility (later Newmarket Health Centre) to York Region in 1991 and Regional Council approving the construction of Maple Health Centre (1994), both long-term care homes that would provide nursing and personal care services for adults who are no longer able to live in their own home
- York Region and Durham Region taking full ownership of Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant from the province in 1997
- Court services transferring from the province to the Region and its local municipalities in 1999
The Region was able to strengthen and protect its residents and provide direction and planning for its future.
Take a look at our stories from this decade by clicking on the photo album below.
The 2000s – Planning the future York Region
Planning was a theme throughout the 2000s. Many will remember the concerns of Y2K leading up to the millennium. The Region made upgrades to the telephone systems and computer infrastructure to ensure Y2K compliance.
Vision 2021 was adopted by Council in 1993. It was the first of its kind for the Region that solicited residents’ feedback on what they wanted the Region to look like in the future. Council adopted and revised Vision 2026 in 2002.
The Official Plan (1994) identified the need for a human service plan as York Region continued to be one of the fastest-growing regions in the Greater Toronto Area, with a population total of 754,000 in 2001, where about 40% were immigrants.
The Human Services Planning Coalition was established in 2001 as an advisory group and resource for effective long-term human services planning. The group recognized the importance of identifying ongoing needs and long-term human services planning with increased immigration through their Inclusivity Action Plan.
To align with the Region’s Vision 2026, the action plan sought to help make York Region an inclusive community, welcome and integrate immigrants and create social capital for a vibrant economy and highly skilled labour force. This updated Vision was the Region’s strategic plan, a roadmap to where it wanted to be in the next 25 years.
The Region also assumed many new responsibilities in the early part of the decade: ambulance services, affordable housing services, transit services and forest management.
The Region began delivering ambulance services (Paramedic Services) on January 1, 2000. By 2003 the Region expanded to 201 paramedics, 17 EMS stations, and 31 vehicles, fielding approximately 94,000 calls in 2003. York Region’s paramedics continue to respond to emergency and non-emergency calls and provide the highest quality care to residents.
Photo caption: York Region Paramedic Services, 2015 © York Region
Before 2000, the Region was responsible for administrating affordable housing services for residents residing in buildings owned and maintained by the Province. In 2000, ownership of the buildings – and responsibility for building maintenance – was transferred to the Region. In 2003, the Region amalgamated its two Housing Corporations (Region of York Housing Corporation and York Regional Housing Corporation) to create Housing York Inc. The establishment of Housing York Inc. streamlined the Region’s efforts to provide affordable housing to all residents, allowing the Region to build or acquire 12 additional buildings (for a total of 945 units) over the next 13 years.
In 1975, the Province prepared to participate in a transit study with the Region, to define the Region’s role in the current and future transit needs and how the Region would assume these responsibilities. In 1989, York Regional Council endorsed a comprehensive transit study and requested the Province investigate the uploading of local municipal transit systems to the Region. On September 14, 2000, Council passed a bylaw to assume control of transit within the Region to better coordinate service across the southern municipalities and expand north and on January 1, 2001, York Region Transit (YRT) was formed. Viva, YRT’s rapid transit service launched in 2005 that expanded services. Since amalgamation, transit ridership has increased from 7.7 million in 2001 to 15.2 million in 2005 served by 263 YRT and 85 VIVA vehicles. YRT keep residents connected within York Region and to surrounding cities and regions.
In 2000, the Region assumed the management of the York Regional Forest, which had “grown” to 18 properties comprising 2,031 hectares by then. The Provincial Forest Agreement program, which began in York County in 1924, ended in 1996 and has been under York Region’s management since then. Council adopted a 20-year York Regional Forest Management Plan (1998-2018) and in 2000, the York Regional Forest became the first public forest in Canada to be Forest Stewardship Council certified. York Region continues to strengthen the health, diversity, resiliency, and sustainability of the York Regional Forest.
Other highlights from this decade include:
- The creation of the Agricultural Advisory Liaison Group (now the Agriculture and Agri-Food Advisory Committee) in 2000 to assist York Region in efforts to protect agricultural lands, support farmers and agricultural organizations as valuable contributors to the community and promote healthy rural communities
- Council’s first recognition of Pride week during Council session (2001)
- Council adopted a new Emergency Management Program per the new Emergency Management Act that includes the development of an emergency plan, identification and assessment of various hazards and risks to public safety that could give rise to emergencies, public education on threats to public safety and preparedness for emergencies
- Council approved the first Annual Accessibility Plan – Understanding Barriers (2003)
- Council endorsed Water and Wastewater Sustainability Strategy that feeds into the Water and Wastewater Master Plan that builds on the Corporate Sustainability Strategy (2008)
The Region continues to plan and prepare for the future, working towards a sustainable Region and creating strong, caring and safe communities.
Explore more from this decade by clicking on the photo album below.
The 2010s – Putting the vision to work
The 2010s was a decade known for the explosion of social media. The Region took advantage of this new way of connecting to residents by joining Facebook and Twitter in 2011. Later, the Region created YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts and launched its first mobile application in 2017. We’ve come a long way from printed annual reports delivered to homes in the ‘70s! We continue to seek new ways to improve communication and access to Regional services and information.
In 2010, the updated Regional Official Plan was adopted. Key elements of the plan included goals toward a sustainable natural environment, healthy communities, economic vitality, urbanization, agricultural and rural areas and high-quality services for residents. In 2011, the Region published the York Region Immigration Settlement Strategy to reflect the needs of our growing and changing population. In 1988, Regional Council responded to a report from the Province which contemplated an extension of the Spadina subway to York University, in which they responded to extend the subway to Highway 407 area, that came to fruition almost 30 years later with the subway expansion into Vaughan. The TTC Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station, York Region’s first subway station, officially opened on December 17, 2017 that furthered the Region’s goals of sustainability and economic vitality.
Photo caption: 2013 - York Region plants its one-millionth tree at Maple Health Centre on September 25, 2013 © York Region
2011 was the Region’s 40thanniversary, and Vision 2026 was updated to Vision 2051 as it looked forward to the bright future ahead. Vision 2051 became the new blueprint to guide Regional Council and staff decision making. Vision 2051 puts us on the path to ensure what we do today advances sustainability efforts, residents’ health and well-being, and our communities’ overall livability.
To continue supporting the needs of our communities now and for the future:
- Making Ends Meet was launched by the Human Services Planning Board of York Region (2011) to ultimately create a healthier community and better quality of life by working together to help each resident of York Region make ends meet.
- Belinda’s Place opened its doors in 2015, the Region’s first owned multi-service centre for women experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Newmarket.
- Richmond Hill HUB was launched in 2016, the first of its kind in York Region that provides a drop-in centre, indoor and courtyard recreational spaces, counselling rooms, and emergency and transitional bedrooms for youth.
- YorkNet, a Region-owned corporation, plans, builds, operates, manages and maintains a high-speed, dark fibre network across the Region (incorporated in 2017). It is focused on maintaining and expanding the Region’s telecom network to support economic development and innovation in York Region, and to provide cost-effective and open access fibre connectivity for the Region.
To preserve and record our heritage for the future, Regional Council endorsed the Archaeological Management Plan in 2014. It adopted an amendment to the Regional Official Plan to ensure the responsible management of archaeological resources. The Plan identifies over 1,400 registered protected archaeological sites in York Region that are the physical remains of Indigenous and settlement history. First Nations, Métis and European archaeological resources contribute to York Region’s unique, local identity. This Plan recognizes the importance of conserving and commemorating archaeological discoveries that contribute to the Region’s unique identity.
Council approved many other plans and strategies during this decade including:
- SM4RT LIVING Plan - Waste Management Master Plan (2011, 2020 update)
- Long Term Water Conservation Strategy (2011)
- Corporate Strategic Plan (2011, 2015, 2019)
- 2013-2021 Multi-year Accessibility Plan (2013, updated in 2019)
- Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan (2014, updated in 2016 and 2019)
- First Multi-Year Budget 2015-2018 (2015, latest budget 2021)
- Economic Development Action Plan 2016-2019 (2016, updated in 2020)
- Transportation Master Plan (2016, to update in 2022)
- Senior Strategy Plan (2016)
- Water and Wastewater Master Plan (2016, currently being updated)
- Inclusion Charter (2018)
- York Regional Forest Management Plan 2019-2038 (2019)
- Growth Development Review (2018, updated in 2020)
- Child Care and Early Years Services System Plan (2019)
The Region continues to plan for the future to meet our goals in Vision 2051 and see our Regional Official Plan realized.
Take a look at some of our highlights from this decade by clicking on the photo album below.
The 2020s – Looking forward
2020 started with great excitement and quickly took a turn no one was expecting. COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the Region declared a State of Emergency for the first time in its history. This period has seen the Region and residents tested in unexpected ways. Staying home, remote work for those who can, physical distancing, proper handwashing, face masks, and lockdown have become a part of our everyday language. We are indebted to the heroic first responders, nurses, doctors, frontline workers, public health experts, public servants and essential workers who have helped our residents during this unprecedented time.
Photo caption: #Spiritofyr campaign, 2020 © York Region
Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, we saw the ground-breaking ceremony of the York University Markham Campus, the opening of the new Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, and the new 20-year York Durham Sewage System operating agreement with Durham Region. We also saw the launch of York Region Transit’s first electric buses, the automated speed enforcement pilot program, a $404 million investment in roads and transit infrastructure (the most in our 50-year history!) and the Federal government’s commitment to fund approximately 40% of the Yonge North Subway Extension that will connect the Finch subway stop to the City of Richmond Hill. Importantly, Council recognized 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent and acted to address anti-Black racism in York Region.
We’ve grown to 1.2 million residents since 1971, and we expect to grow to 1.8 million by 2041. We are home to more than 54,000 businesses and over 650,000 jobs, and the Region’s budget has grown from $18.7 million in 1971 to $3.3 billion in 2021.
We have come a long way and look forward to the next 50 years with optimism.
Explore some highlights from 2020 to today by clicking on the photo album below.
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