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Having recently changed its legal designation from a town to a city and branding itself the Tech Capital of Canada, the Southern Ontario city of Markham is outgrowing its reputation as a mere suburb of Toronto.

Growth is undoubtedly a word being tossed around a lot in Markham over the past several decades. Since its incorporation as a town in 1972, its population has more than quintupled with the rise of multiple subdivisions; what began as a product of Toronto sprawl has become a city in its own right. With just over 300,000 inhabitants, it’s the fourth-largest community in the greater Toronto area, just after Brampton.

2011 Census data shows its demographics as being about 38 percent Chinese, 28 percent white, 19 percent South Asian, 3 percent black, and 3 percent Filipino, with many more nationalities making up smaller pockets of the population. Roughly 39 percent of Markham residents speak English as a first language, followed by 16 percent for whom Cantonese is their native tongue.

Markham doesn’t have its own university, although Seneca College – a polytechnic school based in Toronto -- has two campuses in town: one at the Buttonville Municipal Airport and one on the edge of town at the intersection of Highways 404 and 7. The city has four school boards: one overseeing secular English-speaking public schools, one for English-speaking Catholic schools, one for secular French-speaking schools, and one for Catholic schools where French is spoken. Cultural touch points include the Markham Fair, Markham Theatre and Markham Public Library.

The city’s largest employer is IBM, one of more than 900 technology and life-sciences companies found there. Many global brands’ Canadian headquarters are seated in Markham, including AMD, American Express, Apple, Honda Canada, Honeywell, Hyundai, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle and Toshiba.

Markham doesn’t have one official daily city paper; instead, it has a number of small weekly and monthly community newspapers and magazines serving various segments of the city. Its community television station, Rogers Cable 10, serves the entire York region. It has many sister cities, including Cary, North Carolina in the US and Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province of China.

As many Markhamites prefer to travel by car, Markham offers limited public transportation options in the form of rail and bus transit. York Region Transit (YRT) offers passengers the opportunity to connect with surrounding municipalities in York; it connects to Toronto’s subway system by way of Viva buses up and down Yonge Street and via Don Mills Station through Markville Mall and Unionville.

Train service is provided with several stops throughout town, including the Unionville, Centennial, Markham and Mount Joy stations. Additionally, the Richmond Hill commuter rail line offers service at the Langstaff GO station at the border between Markham and Richmond Hill.

The airport most often used by Markham residents is Buttonville Municipal Airport in Toronto – Ontario’s 4th busiest airport. In coming years, however, the airport will be demolished to make way for condo towers and office space. Toronto Pearson International Airport is about a 30-minute drive southwest of the Buttonville location.

Generally speaking, Markham breaks down into six primary communities: Buttonville, Cornell, Markham Village, Milliken, Thornhill and Unionville. Thornhill and Unionville in particular are largely responsible for the Markham real estate boom of the last few decades.

Buttonville is a largely industrial area, with an airport and manufacturing plants sprouting up over the years on what was once farmland. With Cadillac Fairview’s purchase of the airport, however, it’s set for demolition after 2014 and will eventually become a hub of Markham condos and office space. It’s also becoming more residential, with a population of around 30,000 living in its homes.

Cornell is a planned community conceived in the 1990s and drawing more than 12,000 inhabitants in the years since. Many of Markham’s townhouses can be found here, as well as semi-detached and fully-detached houses with garages in back. With central amenities, Cornell was designed to combat urban sprawl with density and shared conveniences. Its southern section, though, is largely undeveloped.

Home to the historic Markham Main Street area, Markham Village houses around 6,000 residents. It was founded by Mennonites from Pennsylvania and upstate New York and still features the community’s historic train station, which is now open for event rentals.

Originally called “Milliken Corners,” Milliken straddles the line between Markham and Toronto proper. 35 percent of Milliken residents speak a Chinese dialect as their first language – more than twice the percentage of the overall city’s native Chinese speakers. Many of its two-story homes were built in the 1980s.

Also along the Toronto border, the considerably-sized Thornhill is split into two municipalities: one in Markham and one borne of its original designation as a Toronto suburb. It’s an ethnically diverse area, the growth of which has boomed since the 1970s; as a result, it’s now responsible for quite a few homes on the Markham MLS and has nearly 30 public elementary schools serving the youngest among its more than 100,000 residents. Perhaps its most famous former residents is Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars’ prequel trilogy.

Lastly, Unionville clocks in with 80,000 residents and plenty of red brick architecture. One of the most affluent communities in the greater Toronto area, its tourism industry brings in thousands of visitors per year, as does the annual Unionville Festival. Some of the most expensive homes for sale in Markham can be found here. A few notes of pop culture trivia: former Thornhill resident Hayden Christensen attended Unionville High School, and the community has also been used for various television and movie productions, including parts of the first season of Gilmore Girls.

Currently abuzz in Markham is the fact that neighboring Toronto will host the Pan Am Games in 2015, bringing Markham to the very edge of a worldwide stage as the iconic international sporting event comes to town. It will be the games’ first return to Canada since its last stop in Winnipeg in 1967.

More evergreen diversions, though, include everything from sports to art, as well as shopping, dining and other forms of recreation. Creative expression is at its peak in the Markham’s museums and art galleries, including the Markham Museum and Frederick Horsman Varley Art Gallery.

Shopping options abound as well, with no fewer than four large shopping centres: Pacific Mall, the largest indoor Chinese mall in North America with its 450 mini-shoppes; The Mall at South Unionville Square, boasting 300 stores; Markville Shopping Centre, with 250 stores; and Market Village, with 170 stores.

Locals frequent popular restaurants serving East Asian and American comfort cuisine. Favorites include Smash Kitchen & Bar, serving comfort food on Highway 7 East; Ding Tai Fung (serving Chinese food) and Osaka Sushi Japanese Korean Restaurant, both also on Highway 7 East; Pa Pa Chang, serving Japanese and Taiwanese food on 16th Avenue; and Federick, serving Chinese food on New Delhi Drive.

To preserve a sense of the city’s heritage and offer a glimpse into the past for those looking to while away a weekend afternoon, two historic streets -- Main Street Markham and Main Street Unionville – offer the perfect cultural stroll. Community centers, local sporting events and cultural festivals round out the array of ways residents spend their downtime in Markham.