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About the Board

Our History: A Legacy of Connection at Home and Abroad

Ahead of our Annual Lunch on June 13, the Board is highlighting its history of influence while remaining focused on tomorrow’s success. In a series of posts, we are delving into the Board’s rich history of aiding our members career and business growth, building the city region in which they work, and fostering the business conditions in which they succeed.

What has remained the Toronto Region’s largest annual networking gala and the Board’s signature event, the Annual Dinner, was first hosted in 1887 with a toast to “the commercial interests of the Empire.” 133 Dinner’s later the annual event has hosted business and political leaders from around the world, convened at some of the City’s signature landmarks like the Royal York Hotel and Metro Toronto Convention Centre and has gone off, except for a few occasions, controversy free. 

In the early years, the Dinner featured a live audience that would watch the packed floor from the galleries – often in a now long-gone hockey arena. The Board’s second Annual Dinner reported a crowd of 582 present with 450 ‘ladies’ in the gallery.

Dinner galleries weren’t limited to women, but Board membership was limited to men for more than a century. As we reported in a recent feature Celebrating Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Trailblazing Women, the Board finally admitted its first woman member, Sadie Moranis, in 1972. A year later through a 1973 Annual Meeting resolution, the Board removed the longstanding “informal but nevertheless rigid practice of limiting memberships in the Board to males,” according to Geoffrey H. Stanford in his history of the Board, To Serve the Community, the Story of Toronto’s Board of Trade.

In 1995, Elyse Allan, a GE executive (who later returned to the company to become GE Canada’s President & CEO), became the first woman to lead the organization and was also the Board’s first President & CEO. Prior to Allan joining the organization, the senior staff role was titled General Manager, a role held by Jerry Collins, who passed away in November of 2023.

The familiar cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same is reflected in many of the value-added programs and services offered to members.

Even before making the World Trade Centre a part of the Board’s operations (which is among the many notable legacies left by Collins), the Board understood that international trade was vital. Consistent with recent times, even in era’s gone by there was concern about an over reliance on US trade. In 1894 the Board had concluded “that far too much significance was being given to this glamorous market of sixty million people.”

Our members travelled on Trade Missions to every continent seeking investment in the Toronto region and markets for our goods and services. The trade focus in the early years was primarily the United States and Britain, but expanded to Africa, Asia and Australia. Travel wasn’t always as convenient as today. In 1909, a delegation left Vancouver on August 13 arriving in Sydney more than three weeks later. Nearly forty years later, on a 12-country trip through Africa and Europe, the Board’s delegation “visited twenty cities and travelled over twenty-five thousand miles, “of which more than twenty thousand were by air” as reported in the Board of Trade Journal.

The Board has historically recognized the importance of nurturing the next generation of business leaders. The former Junior Board of Trade and the Partnership to Advance Youth Employment (PAYE) provided young professionals with skills, resources, and connections they needed to advance their careers. Today the Board’s Young Professionals Network is the premier resource for the region’s best and brightest under 40.

Communicating with our members has always been a priority though the methods have changed over the years. The Business Journal was an award-winning magazine the Board printed and distributed for decades. It is a living legacy of its times and covered the burning topics of the day, featured member success stories, and served as a resource for members to connect with each other. Today our electronic Bulletin Board and social media feeds provide the same material under a new delivery mechanism. 

The Toronto Region Board of Trade is more than just a business organization; it is a vibrant community of professionals dedicated to advancing the region's prosperity. Through a combination of physical and social networking, business collaboration, and a commitment to fostering innovation and growth, the Board provides our members with unparalleled value. As it continues to evolve and adapt to the changing economic landscape, the Board remains a beacon of connection and collaboration in the Toronto business community. 

Whether you're a seasoned executive or a young professional just starting out, the Board offers the tools, resources, and opportunities you need to succeed.