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It is approximately 20 km (12 mi) east of the Toronto borough of Scarborough, and it is known as a commuter suburb in the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area.

While the southern portion of Whitby is predominantly urban and an economic hub, the northern part of the municipality is more rural and includes the communities of Ashburn, Brooklin, Myrtle, and Myrtle Station.

When the township was originally surveyed in 1792, the surveyor, from the northern part of England, named the townships east of Toronto after towns in northeastern England: York, Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby and Darlington.

The original name of "Whitby" is Danish, dating from about 867 AD when the Danes invaded Britain.

Like much of Durham Region, demographics in Whitby are characterized mainly by rapid population growth.

The 2006 census population of the town is 111,184 inhabitants, compared with the 2001 Statistics Canada total of 87,413.

It is commonly considered part of the Greater Toronto Area, although statistically it belongs to the greater Oshawa Metropolitan Area.

They are both in the eastern part of the Golden Horseshoe region.

In the 1840s a road was built from Whitby Harbour to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay, to bring trade and settlement through the harbour to and from the rich hinterland to the north.

The Town of Whitby was chosen as the seat of government for the newly formed County of Ontario in 1852, and incorporated in 1855.

It is a contraction of "Whitteby," meaning "White Village." The allusion may be to the white lighthouse on the pier at Whitby, Yorkshire, and also at Whitby, Ontario.' Although settlement dates back to 1800, it was not until 1836 that a downtown business centre was established by Whitby's founder Peter Perry.