Tourist and Traveler
Information for Ontario
A Quick Overview of Ontario
The name "Ontario" comes from the Iroquois word "Kanadario" meaning
"sparkling water." The name is fitting: not only is Ontario bordered
on the south by the Great Lakes and on the north by Hudson Bay, but
177 390 km2, or one sixth of its terrain, is covered by rivers and
Three main geological regions make up Ontario: the Great Lakes-St.
Lawrence Lowlands, the Canadian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
The latter are narrow coastal plains bordering Hudson Bay and James
Bay; the land is wet and covered by scrub growth. The Canadian
Shield, covering the rest of northern Ontario from Lake Superior to
Hudson Bay and extending into the southern part of the province, is
a vast rocky plateau. Although the soil is poor and not well suited
to large-scale farming, there is a wealth of minerals, forests and
The Canadian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowlands cover 90 percent of
the province's 1 068 580 km2 of territory, but are home to only 10
percent of the population. Although the fur trade was the original
catalyst for development in Northern Ontario, many towns in the
northern part of the province were built because of the railway, and
today rails and roads carry the products of the mines and lumber
mills southward. Farther north, travel is often limited to air and
water. The extremes of the northern climate are a fact of life
there. At Winisk, mean daily temperatures reach only 12 to 15°C in
July, dropping to minus 25°C in January.
The five Great Lakes are the most visible results of the ice age in
Ontario, and the biggest, Lake Superior, is the world's largest body
of fresh water.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands make up the rest of southern
Ontario and contain most of the population, industry, commerce and
agricultural lands. The Lowlands include the Windsor-Thousand
Islands-St. Lawrence Valley triangle. Mean annual summer
temperatures reach 22°C in the south, where the temperate climate
and fertile soils nurture a major agricultural industry. This
relatively small area has more than half of Canada's best
Toronto, Ontario's capital and Canada's largest city, with a
regional population of more than 4.5 million, is Canada's leading
producer of manufactured goods and headquarters of the majority of
Canadian companies. Ottawa, the bilingual, bicultural national
capital, sits at the junction of the Gatineau, Rideau and Ottawa
Ontario's first peoples arrived about 10 000 years ago, during the
last ice age. The European explorers encountered the Iroquois and
Algonquin descendants of those first migrants in the 17th century.
Sailing into the large bay that bears his name, Henry Hudson became
the first European to touch the shores of present-day Ontario in
1610; in 1613, Samuel de Champlain and Étienne Brűlé made the first
contacts with the Aboriginal people in the southern part of the
In 1774, the British ruled over southern Ontario, then part of the
British colony of Quebec. Under the Constitutional Act of 1791,
Quebec was divided in two and Ontario renamed Upper Canada. This
became necessary with the tremendous influx of Loyalist refugees
after the American Revolution.
In 1840, the Act of Union saw Upper and Lower Canada reunited, this
time with the name Canada. The two regions, Canada West and Canada
East, took part in the Confederation debate of the 1860's and, when
the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867, became the separate
provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
From 1779 on, waves of English, Scottish and Irish immigrants
followed one another, moving up the St. Lawrence and populating
present-day Ontario. Today, immigration continues to be important to
Ontario, and there are large numbers of people of Italian, German,
Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Indian, Polish and Caribbean origin.
Approximately 60 percent of all immigrants to Canada settle in
Ontario and more than 100 languages and dialects are spoken in the
province. In Toronto, cited by the UN as one of the world's most
multi-cultural cities, one-half of its residents are foreign-born.
In 1996, Ontario had over 141 000 people of Aboriginal, Métis or
With over 11 million people, Ontario is the country's most heavily
populated province. While English is the official language,
Ontario's Francophones play an essential part in the province's
cultural life. The provincial government provides services in French
in those regions where the Francophone population is sufficiently
Ontario is Canada's most productive province, generating some 40
percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Its
manufacturing industries lead the way. Ontario's competitive
advantages include its natural resources, modern transportation
system, large, well-educated labour force, reliable and relatively
inexpensive electrical power, and proximity to key U.S. markets:
less than a day's drive puts Ontario's products within reach of 120
million American consumers.
Automobiles are Ontario's major manufacturing industry and most
important export, employing more than 140 000 people. Motor
vehicles, parts and accessories accounted for 37 percent of Canada's
total exports in 1998.
Mining has always played an important role in the development of
Ontario's economy. Extraction of gold, nickel, copper, uranium and
zinc represents a multi-billion-dollar business. Also, many Ontario
towns have at least one industry connected to forestry. Ninety-one
percent of the forest land is owned by the provincial government,
which licenses logging rights. The forest industry accounts for 5.8
percent of Ontario's exports.
Financial industries are also a source of prosperity. Toronto is the
world's fourth-largest capital market and its stock exchange is
ranked among the world's top exchanges.
Tourism, the province's third-largest industry, is also important to
the Ontario economy. In 1997, tourist expenditures of $14.1 billion
generated about $2.1 billion in total revenue for the province and
more than 400 000 direct and indirect jobs.
-with permission of Communications Canada