A Brief History of Zoning Bylaws in Toronto

December 14, 2015 | Katherine

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Plate from Goads Atlas of the City of Toronto 1910Zoning as we think of it today was not really developed in Toronto until the late 1940s, and specific bylaws were not passed until the 1950s.

Early bylaws concerned with the construction of buildings had some restrictions on what could be built in different areas, but were mainly focused on limiting fire hazards. The first major Toronto bylaw related specifically to buildings as a group was passed in the 1920s. Until the 1970s, building codes and bylaws were developed at the municipal level.

The province of Ontario created and passed the first Ontario Building Code in 1976, in order to create uniform building regulations throughout the province. The primary purpose of the Ontario Building Code is to promote public safety through appropriate uniform building standards.

In contrast, zoning is the regulation by the municipality of the uses of real estate and restricts a particular area to residential, commercial, industrial, or other uses. It may also dictate heights, lot coverage and specific types of uses, but does not cover specific construction methods (eg. types of materials, standards, etc.) These are covered under the Ontario Building Code.

Until amalgamation in 1998, each previous municipality in Toronto (East York, North York, York, Etobicoke, Scarborough and old City of Toronto) had its own zoning bylaw.

Toronto bylaws related to construction and zoning:

The full text of bylaws mentioned below are available in the Toronto Collection, Humanities & Social Sciences Department, Toronto Reference Library.

An Act to provide for the erection of party walls, and to prevent the erection of buildings dangerous in promoting fires within certain limits. Passed January 25. Bylaw 152

By-law for regulating the erection of buildings and the storage of inflammable substances, and for making other provisions for the prevention of fires. Passed October 26. Bylaw 471

Various amendments through 19th century. By 1902, mention of inflammable substances was mainly relegated to a separate bylaw through amendments.

To regulate the erection and provide for the safety of buildings. Passed December 10. Bylaw 9868

Various amendments, many for specific addresses, re residential, detached, etc. through early 20th century.

A specific zoning bylaw was developed, but never passed by Council. See Draft zoning by-law, 1942

City of Toronto’s first zoning bylaw passed June 10. Bylaw 18642

Major amendments to 18642 passed May 8. Bylaw 18878

City of Toronto zoning bylaw passed April 13. Bylaw 20623. This supersedes all earlier versions. This zoning bylaw had many amendments, so the law as it stood in 1959 (in the Council Minutes) is not what was in force in, for example, 1964. There are consolidations of this bylaw at the Toronto Reference Library for March 1966, May 1971, January 1973, June 1975 and June 1986 (final revision).

City of Toronto zoning bylaw passed June 16. Bylaw 438-86
This supersedes all earlier versions. It also has many amendments, so the law as it stood in 1986 (in the Council Minutes) is not what was in force at later dates. The Toronto Reference Library has only a late amended version, which is consolidated to approximately 2012. This version is still in force for parts of the old City of Toronto that are not harmonized.

New City of Toronto:
While the new city was constituted in 1998, all predecessor city zoning bylaws remained in effect until 2010, when the first harmonization of all was done.

New City of Toronto zoning bylaw passed August 27. Bylaw 1156-2010
This harmonized the various zoning bylaws of the predecessor cities.

The above bylaw was repealed on May 18, 2011, after a change of administration and numerous complaints. Zoning reverted to the previous bylaw from 1986 for the old City of Toronto, and to the zoning bylaws of other predecessor cities. Bylaw 603-2011

New City of Toronto zoning bylaw passed April 3 and 4. Bylaw 569-2013

This bylaw is only available online through the City of Toronto website, and offers an interactive map.  Zoom in to see colour-coded Zone Categories. Using the Legend on the left hand side, click to open and select boxes which show the various overlays for height restrictions, allowable lot coverage, major roads, etc. Click on any area, and a box will link to the explanatory text pertaining to that section.

Zoning bylaw map icon  Zoning map legend







While this bylaw is meant to harmonize zoning for the entire City, there are some areas which do not come under its jurisdiction. When you find a white space on any zoning map area, it will refer to the older bylaws which are still in force. For parts of the old City of Toronto, this will mean bylaw 438-86, listed above. For other predecessor cities, it will mean their previous zoning bylaw. These print copies are available in the Toronto Collection, Humanities & Social Sciences Department, Toronto Reference Library.

NB: There are many amendments to the Zoning bylaw every year, often related to a specific property. e.g. Bylaw 109-2015 To amend Zoning By-law No. 569-2013, as amended, with respect to the lands at 357 Birchmount Road (north-east corner of Birchmount Road and Highview Avenue.

Scarborough zoning current bylaw

Current City of Toronto zoning map.  Birchmount Road and Highway 401 area.

All Toronto bylaws after 1998 are available full text through the City of Toronto website. Individual bylaws before 1998 can be tracked through the By-law Status Registry, although full text of most older bylaws is not yet available there.