Business Improvement Areas Celebrate 50 Years in Ontario

Simple icon of two tall buildings. Downtowns of Durham

A Business Improvement Area (BIA) is a “made-in-Ontario” innovation.

It was in the late 1960’s when a business association in the Bloor-Jane-Runnymede area of Toronto decided that in order to compete with a new wave of indoor shopping malls, they would need to find new ways of raising funds to carry on services for the local business community. The group developed a plan whereby the business taxpayers in the area would invite the municipality to collect an incremental part of their business taxes and provide it to the association to be used to improve the local streetscape and promote the area as a good place to shop.

On September 16th, 1970, the City of Toronto with approval from the Ontario Municipal Board accepted the application, and the first Business Improvement Area anywhere in the world was formed. There are now 300 BIAs in the Province of Ontario.

In Durham Region, there are 9 BIA organizations:


BIAs in Durham Region began forming as early as the 1970’s (Ajax, Bowmanville, Oshawa) and have continued to form until more recently in areas such as Pickering Village (1993) and Downtown Whitby (2017).

BIAs organize events and festivals, coordinate street-scape improvements, and look for creative ways to promote shopping in their areas. A BIA plays a key role in advancing a distinct, livable, vibrant and resilient business district within their local community.

In 2020, BIAs across Durham Region began talking about how to support businesses, and help them to recover following pandemic-related closures. The group worked together with the Region of Durham to build this Downtowns of Durham website, the goal of which was to promote their own areas but also to work together to promote all of Durham Region’s main street areas, including many that do not have BIAs in place.

Working together to overcome challenges is a foundational value rooted in the history of BIAs. It is fitting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BIAs in 2020 as Durham Region’s BIAs pull together behind a shared vision of success, recovery and vibrancy of all Downtowns of Durham.

Celebrate 50 years with us by shopping local in one of the Downtowns of Durham. Share on social media tagging #DowntownsofDurham and #50YearsForward the week of September 14th to 18th!