A brief history of the 416 area code
Saturday Mar 19th, 2016
I chose areacode416homes.com as my real estate website domain and @areacode416 as my Twitter handle because it ties nicely into a couple of my passions: Toronto and numbers. It is also a nod to my high school and university summer job as a Bell Canada telephone operator. Zero was my work phone number back then. You may remember me from such catchphrases as "Bell operator — can I help you?" or "Directory Assistance — for what city please?").
Some 411 on the 416
1924 – First telephone exchange in Canada was GRover (e.g. GRover 1234, or 47-1234) in the Kingston Road and Main Street area. The first two letters converted to numbers the same as today, but it was common to use the word then.
1947 – Original 86 North American area codes are introduced, including 416. First digits use 2-9 (the “4”), second digits are either 0 (if it was the only area code for the state/province) or 1 (if there were multiple area codes). Ontario and Quebec are the only provinces to get two (613 was the other in Ontario). Here is the original 1947 original area code map (source):
1951 – Toronto exchanges begin lengthening from 6 digits (2 letters + 4 numbers) to 7 digits (2L+5N). The example below shows the original 2L+4N KEnwood (53) exchange on the "Coca-Cola" sign at lower right transforming to the 2L+5N LEnnox (still 53) exchange on the upper left "Wash and Dry" sign.
1953 – 416 splits with the western portions (e.g. Kitchener, London) becoming 519.
1961 – Named prefixes begin to be phased out in favour of All Number Calling (ANC). So LE 3-8903 in the above "Wash and Dry" sign would now by written as 533-8903.
1993 – 416 splits for the second time, with Metro Toronto (M postal codes) remaining 416, and the surrounding suburbs (L postal codes) becoming 905. This is the first new area code in Ontario in 31 years, bringing the total in the province from the original 2 up to 6 [original 416 & 613 in 1947, 519 in 1953, 705 in 1957, 807 in 1962, 905 in 1993]
2001 – 647 code (overlaying the 416) is introduced, necessitating 10 digit local dialing. (Overlay meaning the 647 is right on top of - and sharing the exact geographic boundaries as - 416.) It was Canada's first overlay code.
2013 – 437 code (another overlay) is introduced.
From 1953 when the western portions were changed into 519, the 416 area code sat relatively stable for 40 years until the 1993 split into 416/905. After that it only took half the time to triple in numbers (8 years before the first overlay code, 647, and then 12 more years for the next overlay code, 437). From 1993 the population growth and the explosion of mobile phones and direct business lines in the Greater Toronto Area has led to the introduction of 4 more area codes in that territory (the two 416 overlay codes, plus two overlay codes for 905: 289 and 365). It's a fast-paced world! Ontario now has 14 area codes (the below 13 plus 807 in northern Ontario):
Each area code accommodates roughly 8 million numbers (7-digit phone numbers still don't start with 0 or 1 or else it would be 10 million). So the City of Toronto has about 24 million numbers for about 3 million residents1. That sounds like ample room, but another overlay code (387) has been already been reserved for Toronto's future use. That would bring the total to 4 area codes for Toronto, but 387 isn't expected to be needed until around 2034.
This post was originally written March 19, 2016. It was most recently updated on April 8, 2020.
1 - City of Toronto population is 2,956,025 as of July 2018, per City's website
Resources and further reads:
Ontario Area Codes (Current list, plus dates came into existance)
Toronto's history in phone numbers (Spacing.ca article and source of the laundry photo)
Telephone EXchange Name Project (Archive which includes a database for looking up names your city used for different exchanges)