Travel

Everything You Need to Know About Ontario, Canada

Written by Amanda Kaiser
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Ontario is a place that boasts both natural wilderness and vibrant city life. One of the largest of Canada’s provinces, Natural wonders abound at its many rivers and lakes, while music and lights fill the cities in live entertainment.

Ontario contributes the majority of the money to the Canadian economy and has a diversity of business sectors.

Related: Is Canada a Good Place to Live? 

Ontario has a richness of history that includes Native tribes, pirates, English and German heritages. It also includes the romance of Niagara Falls as well as modern trendy shops throughout the cities.

Where is Ontario?

Ontario borders the northern side of the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River across from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. New York also has a land border with Ontario. Other American states that border it by land are Minnesota and Vermont.

Image from Graphicmaps.com

Ontario stretches in a narrower corridor northwest before it expands inland to border Quebec on its east side and Manitoba on the west. Hudson Bay and James Bay provide a shoreline for Ontario from where it joins Manitoba down to the Quebec border.

Ontario is the second-largest province in Canada and covers more than 415 squares miles. For comparison, the area is larger than if Spain and France were combined. Comparing with other cities in latitudes, the northern section of Ontario is in line with Warsaw, Poland, and London, England.

In the southern portion of the province, which is in Lake Erie, the latitude is in line with cities like Rome, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain.

When was Ontario Founded?

Ontario’s founding is somewhat complicated by wars, changing territory lines, migration, and changing government actions splitting the land between provinces. British and French settlers first arrived in the area in the 1600s and made a life of farming. Most Canadian land went to British claim when the Seven Year War ended in 1763.

The name became Quebec, and it includes both Ontario and Quebec and part of what is now the United States. The American Revolution changed things. Some colonists from America moved to Ontario after the war out of their loyalty to Britain.

The Native American tribe of Iroquois, who lived in northern New York, also moved to Upper Canada. Quebec was split in two when Britain enacted the Constitutional Act in 1791. Ontario became Upper Canada and Quebec was known as Lower Canada. 

Another change happened in 1867 when Quebec and Ontario split into two provinces. The two formed a federal union named the Dominion of Canada and were joined by New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The formalization of the Dominion of Canada came when the British North America Act was enacted. 

What Does Ontario Mean?

There remains debate over what the name Ontario means, probably because there isn’t a definitive translation of the name. Most language experts agree that Ontario is from the Iroquois language, spoken by the Aboriginals, and refers to water.

Specifically, it means either a large body of water, beautiful lake, beautiful water or something to that effect.

How Many People Live in Ontario?

According to statistics from April 1, 2020, the population of Ontario reached 14.7 million people. This includes a 33.213 population increase occurring during 2020’s first quarter. While that is a lot of people, the number was down from the same quarter in 2019 when 42,548 people moved to Ontario. 

Statistics also show that 90 percent of Canada’s residents live within 100 miles of the border with the United States.

What are the Best-Known Ontario, Canada Cities?

Toronto and Ottawa are the best known Ontario, Canada cities as both are capital cities. Also, both are two of the larger Ontario cities with a lot of businesses and events.

Most of the larger cities in Ontario lay in the southern portion of the province. The largest city is Toronto with 2.7 million people followed by Ottawa with 934,243 people.

Other highly populated cities include:

  1. Mississauga 721,599
  2. Brampton 593,638
  3. Hamilton 536,917
  4. London 383,822
  5. Markham 328,966
  6. Vaughan 306,233
  7. Kitchener 233,222
  8. Windsor 217,188

Why do Most People in Canada Live in Southern Ontario and Quebec?

Most Canadians live in southern Ontario and Quebec within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The closeness to the border is the primary reason for populating those areas as manufacturers and export businesses need proximity to do business.

Being close to the border also allows for jobs in other sectors such as tourism and provides easy access for Canadians to travel to the United States for business or pleasure. Southern Ontario also has a milder climate than Northern Ontario, which translates to a longer season for those in the agricultural sector.

There are also fisheries and other types of trades in the area, meaning there are many opportunities for jobs. Northern Ontario is more sparse in jobs with dense forests, lakes, and other natural areas.

What is the Capital of Ontario?

There is some confusion over which city is Ontario’s capital because the capital of Canada is also in the province.

Toronto is the capital of Ontario and has been since 1867. The capital of Canada is Ottawa, also located in Ontario. 

Where is Toronto, Canada?

Toronto is located on the shore of Lake Ontario across from New York State and across the water from Niagara Falls, New York.

It is next to Mississauga and southeast of Brampton.

What is Ontario Known For?

The primary thing Ontario is known for is Niagara Falls, a worldwide tourist attraction.

Ontario is the primary hub of Canada’s economy and is also known for its natural beauty in its parks, forests, and bordering four of the five Great Lakes.

Life in Ontario

Ontario has a reputation for being one of the cleanest cities in the world. It also is highly ranked for safety and has many public services. These aspects are what make it attractive to more than 50 percent of those immigrating to Canada.

The cost of living is high in the province. The minimum wage is $11.39 ($14.25 CAD) an hour in U.S. dollars, and salaries tend to be the highest in the country. Statistically, the average after-tax salary is $1,147.41 (1,411.08 CAD) a week in U.S.D.

The average rent of a one-bedroom apartment is $1,389.10 USD in the city ($1700 CAD). Homes average at $484,000 (USD) with a 5.94 percent interest rate (595,222 CAD). You can expect to pay between $160 to $250 USD ($200-$290 CAD) in groceries monthly for each person in your home.  Based on a mid-size apartment, basic utilities run $114 USD (or $140 CAD) monthly.

Demographically, Ontario is mostly caucasian, with the majority of the population of English and European heritage. Most immigrants are Scottish, Italian, and Irish and around 28 percent of Ontario’s population is foreign-born.

Seventy percent of people speak English, which is the official language, but there are more than 100 languages spoken in the province. Half of those living in Ontario are Catholic or Protestant faiths, and another 27 percent are of another faith. Only 23 percent don’t claim a religious affiliation.

Beyond the tourism elements such as Niagra Falls, Ontario has a lifestyle that involves many of the outdoors. Hiking, kayaking, and other water sports are part of everyday life when the weather is nice.

A lot of the coast area is along the Great Lakes, so recreational activities abound. Toronto Island Park and Lake Ontario are popular spots for both residents and tourists. Those who want more of a wilderness experience go to Thousand Islands National Park, found in the St. Lawrence River near New York State.

This park is large and includes 20 granite islands and three primary sites. This is where people kayak, camp, and shop along with the shore’s trendy shops.

Divers head to Fathom Five National Marine Park to explore freshwater areas with shipwrecks, islands, cliffs, and rock pillars. There is also a glass-bottom boat for non-swimmers to see the shipwrecks.

There is a wealth of history, including mansions like Dundrun Castle, to explore and wineries such as Peller Estates Winery.

The Culture of Ontario

Ontario’s culture is a mix of French, British, native tribes, and pirates. The culture of the area shows in its festivals and celebrations.

There are at least five pirate festivals in Ontario, with many focused in the Ottawa area. Pirates are a big deal in Ontario as it is known they once weaved through its waterways to hide and plot. The most well-known festival is the Ontario Pirate Festival set every August in Guelph.

There are others in Ottawa, Toronto, Alexandria Bay, Penetangishine, and Gananoque. Musical events, like concerts and festivals, are also prominent. Toronto hosts the Wavelength Summer Music and Arts Festival in August. Other festivals celebrate everything from German heritage to tulips.

Festivals aren’t just summer events in Ontario, as winter is a time for celebration too. Winterlude is a colder celebration in February in Ottawa that features ice sculptures, an igloo building, and a playground on ice.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival runs between spring and fall, and the Ottawa Tulip Festival is every May.

One of the more colorful festivals in Ontario is a tribute to the Caribbean. The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival brings more than two million people to the city of Toronto in August. Although Canada is a long way from the Caribbean, this festival brings out all the Caribbean flavors and colors with dancers, calypso music, and a Parade of Bands.

October is time for the annual Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest, and the Toronto Cavalcade of Lights jumpstarts the Christmas season at the end of October. The feature is the lighting of the Christmas tree adorned with more than 100,000 lights.

Nightlife

Those who want nightlife should know that eight of Ontario’s cities are listed as top nightlife spots. Toronto is the most popular with its plethora of nightclubs and bars, but the others have gotten noticed. They include Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, Mississauga, Windsor, Sudbury, and Niagara Falls.

Each of the clubs boasts different vibes, including jazz and Latin dancing. There are special salsa nights, and many even offer weekend classes.

One interesting note is that game clubs, some featuring thousands of board and video games, are also popular in several cities. Toronto and Ottawa have them, and Hamilton has a vintage-style arcade bar. Kingston is known for its Irish pubs, live music, and sports bars.

Other theme restaurants, ranging from Cajun to traditional Southern food, in some of the other cities like Mississauga and Cuban restaurants in Toronto. There are also upscale venues like the Caesars Windsor Hotel and Casino in Windsor, Ontario.

Ontario’s Economy

Ontario’s economy began as primarily agricultural but now has a combination of industries to generate revenue. The heart of Ontario’s economy is its vast natural resources, which are more than other provinces.

It also has a diversified industrial complex and has been growing the tourism industry as well. These are the reasons why Ontario is considered the nation’s wealthiest province.

It is the center of trade agreements with the U.S. and Mexico. Data shows more than $1.4 billion in Canadian dollars crossed the Canadian-U.S. borders daily in 2011, with trade between the two countries accounts for roughly $716 million in Canadian dollars.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing is vital to Ontario’s economy as it concentrates on exports. The province shipped more than $258 billion in products in 2011, and it has more manufacturing employees than anywhere in Canada or the United States, with the exceptions of California and Texas.

Ontario’s key industry is automobiles. Most of its vehicle production, amounting to 88 percent were exported, according to 2011 figures. Nearly all went to the U.S. Ontario is also North America’s spot for the largest jurisdiction for sub-national auto assembly.

Other prominent industries in Ontario include communication and information technologies, pharmaceuticals, biotech, and medical devices.

Agriculture

Most of Canada’s high-quality farmland is in Ontario. Census figures from 2011 show 51,950 farms account for 25 percent of Canada’s total farm revenue. Farm products include fruit, vegetables, cash crops like soybeans, corn, and grains, livestock like pork, beef and dairy, and flowers.

Forestry

Trees have always been important to Ontario’s economy, and timber was one of the province’s first thriving industries.

Today, 53,000 jobs are directly related to the forest industry, while it also supports a total of both direct and indirect 200,000 jobs across the province.

Mining

Figures from 2011 indicate there is more than $10 billion in Ontario mineral production. The province is in the top 10 global producers for platinum and nickel and produces copper, gold, cobalt, silver, and zinc.  Most of those are mined in the northern part of the province.

Mineral mining in the southern portion of the province includes sedimentary rocks associated with the oil and gas industry, salt, gypsum, and lime.

Tourism and the Service Sector

Ontario’s service industry has grown and now is the largest sector of the province’s economy, contributing 76.9 percent of the economy. Around 5.3 million people, accounting for 79 percent of the population, are employed in service jobs.

The service sector includes more than tourism and consists of other types of services such as financial services, arts, culture, scientific-technical services, and professional services.

Ontario’s vibrant tourism industry generated $36.7 billion in 2018. It became the province’s top service export in 2019, generating $105 billion in revenue and totaling 3 percent of exports. Tourism supported or created 1.8 million Canadian jobs both directly and indirectly.

Ontario’s Natural Resources

The geography of Ontario has a significant influence on the province’s economy because it defines the number of natural resources contributing to electrical power, mining, agriculture, and other aspects of the economy.

Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario, marked by Mattawa, Ottawa, and French Rivers, covers 350,000 square miles. Within it are many rivers, lakes, forests, and rugged terrain. It is higher lands above sea level than the rest of Ontario. These characteristics allow for several natural resources which contribute to hydroelectric power, mining, and lumber industries.

The Northern Ontario area is credited with being a primary source of the province’s modern wealth.

Southern Ontario

Southern Ontario is a much smaller area than its Northern counterpart, accounting for only 15 percent of the provinces’ area. It is also much lower to sea level than the northern lands, with the Blue Mountains’ highest point.

This area has a series of lakes that are now resort areas that generate significant revenue in tourism.

Quick Facts about Ontario

  • Ontario was settled by people long before Europeans. It was originally settled more than 12.000 years ago by Aboriginals and Algonquiari peoples.
  • Sixty percent of Ontario’s land is forested.
  • More than 150 fish species are native to Ontario.
  • The western shore of Lake Ontario, where most people and cities are, is called the “Golden Horseshoe.”
  • Aboriginal people are around 2 percent of the population and include First Nation, Metis, and Inuit tribes.

Conclusion

Those looking for a clean place to settle down, many job opportunities, and various outdoor activities to keep everyone busy can look to Ontario.

Ontario is full of wonder and remains true to its founding history with a lot of respect for natural beauty.

About the author

Amanda Kaiser

Amanda is a Canadian travel specialist. She has traveled to all the Canadian provinces as well as from coast to coast several times. Amanda is a nature lover at heart. She loves learning and writing about the True North and the opportunities it has to offer.

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