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Ontario, province (2001 pop. 11,410,046), 412,582 sq mi (1,068,587 sq km), E central Canada.

Land and People

Ontario, the second largest Canadian province, is the most populous and the leader in mineral, industrial, and agricultural output and in financial and other services. It is bounded on the N by Hudson Bay and James Bay; on the E by Quebec; on the S by the St. Lawrence River, lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Superior, and the United States; and on the W by Manitoba. The province has three main geographic regions. Western and central portions lie on the Canadian Shield, a region of mineral-rich rock but very little arable land, covered with forests and broken by a labyrinth of rivers and lakes. In the north the Hudson Bay Lowlands border on Hudson and James bays, an area consisting mainly of marshes, swampland, and forest. In the south and east are the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence lowlands, where nine tenths of the population live and where industry and agriculture are concentrated.

The far north has subarctic conditions, while the west has a temperate climate. Around the Great Lakes the weather is moderate and summers are longer than in other parts of the province. The St. Lawrence River and seaway give Ontario access to the Atlantic. Other important rivers include those on the province's borders—the Ottawa (which forms part of the boundary with Quebec), and the St. Clair, the Detroit, and the St. Marys, all on the U.S. border. Several of the province's rivers are used to generate hydroelectric power, among them the Niagara, with its famous falls. Besides the falls, Ontario has numerous other tourist attractions, including the annual Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, the annual George Bernard Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, four national parks, the huge Algonquin Provincial Park, and numerous lake and island resorts.

With steady immigration from Italy, Germany, Portugal, the West Indies, India, and East Asia, Ontario's ethnic composition is rapidly diversifying. People of British ancestry make up about half the population, and one tenth are of French extraction. Over 80% of Ontario's residents live in urban centers. Toronto, the largest metropolitan area in Canada, is the capital; other important cities are Ottawa (the capital of Canada), Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Windsor, Thunder Bay, and St. Catharines.

Economy and Higher Education

The most important economic activity in Ontario is manufacturing, and the Toronto-Hamilton region is the most highly industrialized section of the country. The area from Oshawa around the west end of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls is known as the "Golden Horseshoe." Major industrial products include motor vehicles and parts; iron, steel, and other metal products; foods and beverages; electrical goods; machinery; chemicals; petroleum and coal products; and paper products. Ontario has many high-technology companies, especially around Ottawa and in the "Canadian Technology Triangle" region around Waterloo-Kitchener, Guelph, and Cambridge, and its service industries are second in importance only to manufacturing.

Agriculture is also significant, with cattle, dairy products, and hogs producing the most income. Other major crops are corn, wheat, potatoes, and soybeans. On the shores of the eastern Great Lakes are orchards and tobacco plantations. In the Canadian Shield region iron ore, copper, zinc, gold, silver, and uranium are mined. The area around Sudbury is particularly rich in copper and nickel. Ontario is also a major producer of lumber and pulp and paper.

Among the province's institutions of higher education are Brock Univ., at St. Catherines; Carleton Univ. and the Univ. of Ottawa, at Ottawa; Laurentian Univ., at Sudbury; McMaster Univ., at Hamilton; Queen's Univ., at Kingston; Ryerson Univ. and the Univ. of Toronto, at Toronto; Trent Univ., at Peterboro; the Univ. of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier Univ., at Waterloo; the Univ. of Western Ontario, at London; and York Univ., at North York.

History and Politics

Before the arrival of Europeans the Ontario region was inhabited by several Algonquian (Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin) and Iroquoian (Iroquois, Huron, Petun, Neutral, Erie, and Susquehannock) tribes. Étienne Brulé explored southern Ontario in 1610-12. Henry Hudson sailed into Hudson Bay in 1611 and claimed the region for England. A few years later Samuel de Champlain reached (1615) the eastern shores of Lake Huron, and French explorers, missionaries, and trappers had established posts at several points. However, settlement was long hindered by the presence of the Iroquois.

In the late 17th cent. the British established trading posts in the Hudson Bay area, and the Anglo-French struggle for control of Ontario began. The conflict was resolved by the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which gave Great Britain all of France's mainland North American territory. In 1774 the British merged Ontario with Quebec, which had a predominantly French culture. When many pro-British Loyalists migrated to Ontario after the American Revolution, the desire for institutions and a government separate from those of Quebec grew. The Constitutional Act of 1791 split Quebec into Lower Canada (present-day Quebec) and Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), with the Ottawa River as the dividing line.

During the War of 1812, Americans raided Upper Canada and burned Toronto (1813). After the war many English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to the colony. Conflict developed between the conservative, aristocratic governing group (known as the Family Compact) and the reformers and radicals led by William Lyon Mackenzie. The radicals staged an armed uprising in 1837 but were easily suppressed. However, the rebellion occurred at the same time as a revolt in Lower Canada, and the British government dispatched Lord Durham (see Durham, John George Lambton, 1st earl of) to study the situation in the North American colonies. He recommended the reunion of the two colonies (to place the French of Quebec in a minority) and the granting of self-government.

Accordingly, Upper and Lower Canada were joined in 1841 and became known, respectively, as Canada West and Canada East. Parliamentary self-government was not granted until 1849. However, conflict between French and English made the united province unworkable, and in 1867, when the confederation of Canada was formed, Ontario and Quebec became separate provinces. With the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1880s, settlement increased in western Canada, and Ontario's commerce and industry flourished. The exploitation of minerals in the Canadian Shield region began in the early 20th cent. From the 1960s, many businesses that left Quebec because of agitation against anglophone economic domination there relocated around Toronto, shifting the balance of Canadian business and financial power decisively to Ontario.

The main political parties in Ontario are the Liberals, who held power during the late 19th cent. and for a few terms during the 20th cent.; the Progressive Conservatives, who governed from 1905 to 1985 (except in 1919-23 and 1934-43); and the New Democrats, a democratic socialist party, who controlled the government from 1990 to 1995. Elections in 1995 brought Michael Harris and the Progressive Conservatives to power; after four years of cuts in social spending, Harris became (1999) the first Ontario premier to secure a second term in three decades. He resigned as premier in Apr., 2002, and was succeeded by Ernie Eves. In 2003 the Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty, won at the polls, and formed their first provincial government since 1990; they won again in 2007.

Ontario sends 24 senators and 99 representatives to the national parliament.


See D. Fink, comp., Life in Upper Canada, 1781-1841 (1971); R. L. Gentilcore, ed., Ontario (1972); J. Spelt, Urban Development in South Central Ontario (1972); J. V. Wright, Ontario Prehistory (1972); C. Armstrong, The Politics of Federalism: Ontario's Relations with the Federal Government 1867-1942 (1981); K. J. Rea, The Prosperous Years: The Economic History of Ontario 1939-75 (1985); D. Peterson, Ontario (1987).

Ontario, city (1990 pop. 133,179), San Bernardino co., S Calif., near Los Angeles, in a region of vineyards; inc. 1891. Manufactures include aircraft and aircraft parts, aerospace vehicle parts, sporting and leather goods, wine, electrical equipment, and plastics. High-technology industries in the southern California area have added to Ontario's development; it was one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities in the late 20th cent. Founded in 1882 as a planned community, the city is the site of an international airport and Ontario Motor Speedway.
Ontario, Lake, 7,540 sq mi (19,529 sq km), 193 mi (311 km) long and 53 mi (85 km) at its greatest width, between SE Ont., Canada, and NW N.Y.; smallest and lowest of the Great Lakes. It has a surface elevation of 246 ft (75 m) above sea level and a maximum depth of 778 ft (237 m). Lake Ontario is fed chiefly by the waters of Lake Erie by way of the Niagara River; other tributaries are the Genesee, Oswego, and Black rivers in New York and the Trent River in Ontario. The lake is drained to the northeast by the St. Lawrence River. Oceangoing vessels reach the lake through the St. Lawrence Seaway and use the Welland Canal to bypass Niagara Falls and reach Lake Erie; smaller craft (mostly pleasure boats) can travel the Rideau Canal between Kingston and Ottawa, and the Trent Canal between the Bay of Quinte and Georgian Bay. Navigation on the lake is not usually impeded by ice in winter. The chief Canadian lakeshore cities are St. Catharines, Hamilton, Toronto, Oshawa, and Kingston; on the south shore are Rochester and Oswego, N.Y. Commercial fishing is important, but pollution has been a problem. A U.S.-Canadian pact (1972) established that water quality would be improved and further pollution ended. Recreational facilities are provided at state and provincial parks. The first European to see (1615) Lake Ontario was Étienne Brulé, the French explorer; later that year Samuel de Champlain visited it.

Ontario is a province located in the central part of Canada, the largest by population and second largest, after Quebec, in total area. (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are larger but are not provinces.) Ontario is bordered by the provinces of Manitoba to the west, Quebec to the east, and the U.S. states (from west to east) of Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania (at Lake Erie), and New York. Most of Ontario's borders with the United States are natural, starting at the Lake of the Woods and continuing through four of the Great Lakes: Superior, Huron (which includes Georgian Bay), Erie, and Ontario, then along the Saint Lawrence River near Cornwall. Ontario is the only Canadian Province that borders the Great Lakes.

The capital of Ontario is Toronto, the largest city in Canada. Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is located in Ontario as well. The 2006 Census counted 12,160,282 residents in Ontario, which accounted for 38.5% of the national population.

The province takes its name from Lake Ontario, which is thought to be derived from ontarí:io, a Huron word meaning "great lake", or possibly skanadario which means "beautiful water" in Iroquoian. Along with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec, Ontario is one of the four original provinces of Canada when the nation was formed on July 1, 1867, by the British North America Act.

Ontario is Canada's leading manufacturing province accounting for 52% of the total national manufacturing shipments in 2004.


The province consists of four main geographical regions:

  • The thinly populated Canadian Shield in the northwestern and central portions which covers over half the land area in the province; though mostly infertile land, it is rich in minerals and studded with lakes and rivers; sub-regions are Northwestern Ontario and Northeastern Ontario.
  • The virtually unpopulated Hudson Bay Lowlands in the extreme north and northeast, mainly swampy and sparsely forested; and
  • The temperate and therefore most populous region, the fertile Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence Valley in the south where agriculture and industry are concentrated. Southern Ontario is further sub-divided into four regions; Southwestern Ontario (parts of which were formerly referred to as Western Ontario), Golden Horseshoe, Central Ontario (although not actually the province's geographic centre) and Eastern Ontario.

Despite the absence of any mountainous terrain in the province, there are large areas of uplands, particularly within the Canadian Shield which traverses the province from northwest to southeast and also above the Niagara Escarpment which crosses the south. The highest point is Ishpatina Ridge at above sea level located in Temagami, Northeastern Ontario.

The Carolinian forest zone covers most of the southwestern section, its northern extent is part of the Greater Toronto Area at the western end of Lake Ontario. The most well-known geographic feature is Niagara Falls, part of the much more extensive Niagara Escarpment. The Saint Lawrence Seaway allows navigation to and from the Atlantic Ocean as far inland as Thunder Bay in Northwestern Ontario. Northern Ontario occupies roughly 85% of the surface area of the province; conversely Southern Ontario contains 94% of the population.

Point Pelee National Park is a peninsula in southwestern Ontario (near Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan) that extends into Lake Erie and is the southernmost extent of Canada's mainland. Pelee Island and Middle Island in Lake Erie extend slightly farther. All are south of 42°N – slightly farther south than the northern border of California.

Territorial evolution

Land was not legally subdivided into administrative units until a treaty had been concluded with the native peoples ceding the land. In 1788, while part of the Province of Quebec (1763-1791), southern Ontario was divided into four districts: Hesse, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Nassau.

In 1792, the four districts were renamed: Hesse became the Western District, Lunenburg became the Eastern District, Mecklenburg became the Midland District, and Nassau became the Home District. Counties were created within the districts.

By 1798, there were eight districts: Eastern, Home, Johnstown, London, Midland, Newcastle, Niagara, and Western.

By 1826, there were eleven districts: Bathurst, Eastern, Gore, Home, Johnstown, London, Midland, Newcastle, Niagara, Ottawa, and Western.

By 1838, there were twenty districts: Bathurst, Brock, Colbourne, Dalhousie, Eastern, Gore, Home, Huron, Johnstown, London, Midland, Newcastle, Niagara, Ottawa, Prince Edward, Simcoe, Talbot, Victoria, Wellington, and Western.

In 1849, the districts of southern Ontario were abolished by the Province of Canada, and county governments took over certain municipal responsibilities. The Province of Canada also began creating districts in sparsely populated Northern Ontario with the establishment of Algoma District and Nipissing District in 1858.

The northern and western boundaries of Ontario were in dispute after Confederation. Ontario's right to Northwestern Ontario was determined by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1884 and confirmed by the Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. By 1899, there were seven northern districts: Algoma, Manitoulin, Muskoka, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, and Thunder Bay. Four more northern districts were created between 1907 and 1912: Cochrane, Kenora, Sudbury and Timiskaming.


Ontario has three main climatic regions. Most of Southwestern Ontario, the cities of Windsor, London and the southern half of the Golden Horseshoe region including Hamilton, Niagara and the city of Toronto, have a moderate humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfa), similar to that of the inland Mid-Atlantic States and the lower Great Lakes portion of the Midwestern United States. The region has warm, humid summers and cold winters. Extreme heat and cold usually occur for short periods. It is considered a temperate climate when compared with most of continental Canada. In the summer, the air masses often come out of the southern United States, as the stronger the Bermuda High Pressure ridges into the North American continent, the more warm, humid air is drawn northward from the Gulf of Mexico. Particularly in the fall and winter, temperatures are moderated by the delayed cooling of the Great Lakes, making it considerably milder than the rest of the province and allowing for a longer growing season than areas at similar latitudes in the continent's interior. Both spring and fall are generally pleasantly mild, with cool nights. Annual precipitation ranges from 75-100 centimetres (30-40 in) and is well distributed throughout the year with a summer peak. Most of this region lies in the lee of the Great Lakes making for abundant snow in some areas while others receive usually recevie less snow than most of Canada because of the shorter, milder winter.

The second climatic zone covers the northern half of Southern Ontario, including the northern portion of the Golden Horseshoe, Central, Eastern Ontario (includes Ottawa) and the southern reaches of Northern Ontario, including the cities of Sudbury and North Bay, which have a more severe humid continental climate (Koppen Dfb). This region has warm and sometimes hot summers (although shorter in length than Southwestern Ontario) with cold, longer winters with roughly equal annual precipation to the south. The southern part of this zone lies on the windward side of Lake Huron. Here in winter, the open lakes frequently result in heavy lake effect snow squalls that affect much of the Georgian Bay shoreline including Killarney, Parry Sound, Muskoka and Simcoe County; extending southward on the Lake Huron shore from Bruce Peninsula to Sarnia, sometimes reaching inland to London. Wind-whipped snow squalls can reach areas as far as 100 kilometres (60 mi) or greater from the shore when surface winds are strong, but the heaviest snows usually fall within 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the shoreline. Some snowbelt areas in this region receive an annual average of well over 300 centimetres (120 in) of snow, combined with moderate cold making for excellent winter recreation conditions.

The northernmost parts of Ontario—primarily north of 50°N—have a subarctic climate (Koppen Dfc) with long, severely cold winters and short, cool to warm summers and dramatic temperature changes. In summer, hot weather occasionally reaches even the northernmost parts of Ontario, although humidity is generally lower than in the south. With no major mountain ranges blocking sinking Arctic air masses, especially in the far north and northwest, temperatures of -40 °C (-40 °F) are not uncommon. The snow stays on the ground much longer in here than other regions of Ontario; snow cover is usually present to some extent between October and May.

Severe and non-severe thunderstorms peak in frequency from June through August when Ontario becomes an active thunderstorm zone, due to the median position of the continental storm track and increased warmth and humidity. In Southern Ontario, they can occur at any time from March to November because of the frequent collision of colder, Arctic air and warm, moist Gulf air. In summer, isolated or cluster type thunderstorms also form from daytime convective heating. One severe type of thunderstorm is known as a Derecho, which is a larger cluster-type thunderstorm mass, often occurring nocturnally and with great forward motion, bringing severe straight-line winds over wide areas and can be damaging to forests. These storms usually develop along stationary frontal boundaries during hot weather periods and can occur in most areas of the province covering great distances during their lifespan. Only the Hudson/James Bay Lowlands region rarely experience one. The areas with the highest severe weather frequency in the province are extreme Southwestern (Windsor, Chatham) and Central Ontario (Simcoe County), both areas have storms accentuated by the localized Lake Breeze Front. London has the most lightning strikes per year in Canada and is also one of the most active areas in the country for storms. In typical year, Ontario averages 20 or more confirmed tornado touchdowns, with the highest frequency in southwestern Ontario and near Lake Simcoe. They are rarely destructive (the vast majority are classified as F0 or F1 on the Fujita Scale). In Northern Ontario, some tornadoes go undetected by ground spotters because of the sparse population and remote landscape; they are often discovered after the fact by aircraft pilots, where aerial observations of damaged forest confirm occurrences.


European contact

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the region was inhabited both by Algonquian (Ojibwa, Cree and Algonquin) and Iroquoian (Iroquois and Huron) tribes. The French explorer Étienne Brûlé explored part of the area in 1610-12. The English explorer Henry Hudson sailed into Hudson Bay in 1611 and claimed the area for England, but Samuel de Champlain reached Lake Huron in 1615, and French missionaries began to establish posts along the Great Lakes. French settlement was hampered by their hostilities with the Iroquois, who allied themselves with the British.

The British established trading posts on Hudson Bay in the late 17th century and began a struggle for domination of Ontario. The 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War by awarding nearly all of France's North American possessions (New France) to Britain. The region was annexed to Quebec in 1774. From 1783 to 1796, the United Kingdom granted United Empire Loyalists leaving the United States following the American Revolution 200 acres (0.8 km²) of land and other items with which to rebuild their lives. This measure substantially increased the population of Canada west of the St. Lawrence-Ottawa River confluence during this period, a fact recognized by the Constitutional Act of 1791, which split Quebec into The Canadas: Upper Canada southwest of the St. Lawrence-Ottawa River confluence, and Lower Canada east of it. John Graves Simcoe was appointed Upper Canada's first Lieutenant-Governor in 1793.

American troops in the War of 1812 invaded Upper Canada across the Niagara River and the Detroit River but were defeated and pushed back by British regulars, Canadian militias, and First Nations warriors. The Americans gained control of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, however, and during the Battle of York occupied the Town of York (later named Toronto) in 1813. The Americans looted the town and burned the Parliament Buildings but were soon forced to leave.

After the War of 1812, relative stability allowed for increasing numbers of immigrants to arrive from Britain and Ireland rather than from the United States. As was the case in the previous decades, this deliberate immigration shift was encouraged by the colonial leaders. Despite affordable and often free land, many arriving newcomers from Europe (mostly from Britain and Ireland) found frontier life with the harsh climate difficult, and some of those with the means eventually returned home or went south. However, population growth far exceeded emigration in the decades that followed. Still, a mostly agrarian-based society, canal projects and a new network of plank roads spurred greater trade within the colony and with the United States, thereby improving relations over time.

Meanwhile, Ontario's numerous waterways aided travel and transportation into the interior and supplied water power for development. As the population increased, so did the industries and transportation networks, which in turn led to further development. By the end of the century, Ontario vied with Quebec as the nation's leader in terms of growth in population, industry, arts and communications.

Many in the colony, however, began to chafe against the aristocratic Family Compact that governed while benefiting economically from the regions resources, and who did not allow elected bodies the power to effect change (much as the Château Clique ruled Lower Canada). This resentment spurred republican ideals and sowed the seeds for early Canadian nationalism. Accordingly, rebellion in favour of responsible government rose in both regions; Louis-Joseph Papineau led the Lower Canada Rebellion and William Lyon Mackenzie led the Upper Canada Rebellion.

Although both rebellions were put down in short order, the British government sent Lord Durham to investigate the causes of the unrest. He recommended that self-government be granted and that Lower and Upper Canada be re-joined in an attempt to assimilate the French Canadians. Accordingly, the two colonies were merged into the Province of Canada by the Act of Union (1840), with the capital at Kingston, and Upper Canada becoming known as Canada West. Parliamentary self-government was granted in 1848. There were heavy waves of immigration in the 1840s, and the population of Canada West more than doubled by 1851 over the previous decade. As a result for the first time the English-speaking population of Canada West surpassed the French-speaking population of Canada East, tilting the representative balance of power.

An economic boom in the 1850s coincided with railway expansion across the province further increasing the economic strength of Central Canada.

A political stalemate between the French- and English-speaking legislators, as well as fear of aggression from the United States during the American Civil War, led the political elite to hold a series of conferences in the 1860s to effect a broader federal union of all British North American colonies. The British North America Act took effect on July 1, 1867, establishing the Dominion of Canada, initially with four provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. The Province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec so that each linguistic group would have its own province. Both Quebec and Ontario were required by section 93 of the BNA Act to safeguard existing educational rights and privileges of the Protestant and Catholic minorities. Thus, separate Catholic schools and school boards were permitted in Ontario. However, neither province had a constitutional requirement to protect its French- or English-speaking minority. Toronto was formally established as Ontario's provincial capital.

Province of Ontario

Once constituted as a province, Ontario proceeded to assert its economic and legislative power. In 1872, the lawyer Oliver Mowat became premier and remained as premier until 1896. He fought for provincial rights, weakening the power of the federal government in provincial matters, usually through well-argued appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. His battles with the federal government greatly decentralized Canada, giving the provinces far more power than John A. Macdonald had intended. He consolidated and expanded Ontario's educational and provincial institutions, created districts in Northern Ontario, and fought to ensure that those parts of Northwestern Ontario not historically part of Upper Canada (the vast areas north and west of the Lake Superior-Hudson Bay watershed, known as the District of Keewatin) would become part of Ontario, a victory embodied in the Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889. He also presided over the emergence of the province into the economic powerhouse of Canada. Mowat was the creator of what is often called Empire Ontario.

Beginning with Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy (1879) and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1875-1885) through Northern Ontario and the Canadian Prairies to British Columbia, Ontario manufacturing and industry flourished. However, population increase slowed after a large recession hit the province in 1893, thus slowing growth drastically but only for a few short years. Many newly arrived immigrants and others moved west along the railroad to the Prairie Provinces and British Columbia.

Mineral exploitation accelerated in the late 19th century, leading to the rise of important mining centres in the northeast like Sudbury, Cobalt and Timmins. The province harnessed its water power to generate hydro-electric power and created the state-controlled Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, later Ontario Hydro. The availability of cheap electric power further facilitated the development of industry. The Ford Motor Company of Canada was established in 1904. General Motors of Canada Ltd. was formed in 1918. The motor vehicle industry would go on to become the most lucrative industry for the Ontario economy.

In July 1912, the Conservative government of Sir James P. Whitney issued Regulation 17 which severely limited the availability of French-language schooling to the province's French-speaking minority. French-Canadians reacted with outrage, journalist Henri Bourassa denouncing the "Prussians of Ontario". It was eventually repealed in 1927.

Influenced by events in the United States, the government of Sir William Hearst introduced prohibition of alcoholic drinks in 1916 with the passing of the Ontario Temperance Act. However, residents could distill and retain their own personal supply, and liquor producers could continue distillation and export for sale, which allowed Ontario to become a hotbed for the illegal smuggling of liquor into the United States, which was under complete prohibition. Prohibition came to an end in 1927 with the establishment of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario by the government of George Howard Ferguson. The sale and consumption of liquor, wine, and beer are still controlled by some of the most extreme laws in North America to ensure that strict community standards and revenue generation from the alcohol retail monopoly are upheld. In April 2007, Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Kim Craitor suggested that local brewers should be able to sell their beer in local corner stores; however, the motion was quickly rejected by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The post-World War II period was one of exceptional prosperity and growth. Ontario, and the Greater Toronto Area in particular, have been the recipients of most immigration to Canada, largely immigrants from war-torn Europe in the 1950s and 1960s and after changes in federal immigration law, a massive influx of non-Europeans since the 1970s. From a largely ethnically British province, Ontario has rapidly become very culturally diverse.

The nationalist movement in Quebec, particularly after the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976, contributed to driving many businesses and English-speaking people out of Quebec to Ontario, and as a result Toronto surpassed Montreal as the largest city and economic centre of Canada. Depressed economic conditions in the Maritime Provinces have also resulted in de-population of those provinces in the 20th century, with heavy migration into Ontario.

Ontario has no official language, but English is considered the de facto language. Numerous French language services are available under the French Language Services Act of 1990 in designated areas where sizable francophone populations exist.


Population since 1851

Year Population Five-year
% change
% change
Rank among
1851 952,004 n/a 208.8 1
1861 1,396,091 n/a 46.6 1
1871 1,620,851 n/a 16.1 1
1881 1,926,922 n/a 18.9 1
1891 2,114,321 n/a 9.7 1
1901 2,182,947 n/a 3.2 1
1911 2,527,292 n/a 15.8 1
1921 2,933,662 n/a 16.1 1
1931 3,431,683 n/a 17.0 1
1941 3,787,655 n/a 10.3 1
1951 4,597,542 n/a 21.4 1
1956 5,404,933 17.6 n/a 1
1961 6,236,092 15.4 35.6 1
1966 6,960,870 11.6 28.8 1
1971 7,703,105 10.7 23.5 1
1976 8,264,465 7.3 18.7 1
1981 8,625,107 4.4 12.0 1
1986 9,101,695 5.5 10.1 1
1991 10,084,885 10.8 16.9 1
1996 10,753,573 6.6 18.1 1
2001 11,410,046 6.1 13.1 1
2006* 12,160,282 6.6 13.1 1
*2006 Census

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Responses %
Total population 11,285,545 100
Canadian 3,350,275 29.7
English 2,711,485 24
Scottish 1,843,110 16.3
Irish 1,761,280 15.6
French 1,235,765 10.9
German 965,510 8.6
Italian 781,345 6.9
Chinese 518,550 4.6
Dutch (Netherlands) 436,035 3.9
East Indian 413,415 3.7
Polish 386,050 3.4
Ukrainian 290,925 2.6
North American Indian 248,940 2.2
Portuguese 248,265 2.2
Jewish 196,260 1.7
Jamaican 180,810 1.6
Filipino 165,025 1.5
Spanish (Latin America) 147,140 1.3
Welsh 142,740 1.3
Hungarian (Magyar) 128,575 1.1
Greek 120,635 1.0
Russian 106,710 0.9
American (USA) 86,855 0.8
Serbian 78,230 0.7
British, not included
76,415 0.7
Vietnamese 67,450 0.6
Finnish 64,105 0.6
Croatian 62,325 0.6
Métis 60,535 0.5
Lebanese 59,155 0.5

The percentages add to more than 100% because of dual responses (e.g. "French-Canadian" generates an entry in both the category "French" and the category "Canadian"). Groups with greater than 200,000 responses are included. The majority of Ontarians are of British (English, Scottish, Welsh) and Irish ancestry.

The vast majority of Ontarians are of British or other European descent. Slightly less than five percent of the population of Ontario is Franco-Ontarian, that is those whose native tongue is French, although those with French ancestry account for 11% of the population.

In relation to natural increase or inter-provincial migration, immigration is a huge population growth force in Ontario, as it has been over the last two centuries. More recent sources of immigrants with already large or growing communities in Ontario include Caribbeans (Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese), South Asians (e.g. Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans), East Asians (mostly Chinese and Filipinos), Central/South Americans (such as Colombians, Mexicans, Hondurans, Argentinans, and Ecuadorians), Eastern Europeans such as Russians and Bosnians, and groups from Somalia, Iran, and West Africa. Most populations have settled in the Greater Toronto area. A smaller number have settled in other cities such as London, Kitchener, Hamilton, Windsor, Barrie, and Ottawa.


The largest denominations by number of adherents according to the 2001 census were the Roman Catholic Church with 3,866,350 (34 %); the United Church of Canada with 1,334,570 (12 %); and the Anglican Church of Canada with 985,110 (9 %).

The major religious groups in Ontario, as of 2001, are:

Religion People %
Total 11,285,535 100
Protestant 3,935,745 34.9
Catholic 3,911,760 34.7
No Religion 1,841,290 16.3
Muslim 352,530 3.1
Other Christians 301,935 2.7
Christian Orthodox 264,055 2.3
Hindu 217,555 1.9
Jewish 190,795 1.7
Buddhist 128,320 1.1
Sikh 104,785 0.9
Eastern Religions 17,780 0.2
Other Religions 18,985 0.2


Ontario's rivers, including its share of the Niagara River, make it rich in hydroelectric energy. Since the privatization of Ontario Hydro which began in 1999, Ontario Power Generation runs 85% of electricity generated in the province, of which 41% is nuclear, 30% is hydroelectric and 29% is fossil fuel derived. OPG is not however responsible for the transmission of power, which is under the control of Hydro One. Despite its diverse range of power options, problems related to increasing consumption, lack of energy efficiency and aging nuclear reactors, Ontario has been forced in recent years to purchase power from its neighbours Quebec and Michigan to supplement its power needs during peak consumption periods.

An abundance of natural resources, excellent transportation links to the American heartland and the inland Great Lakes making ocean access possible via ship containers, have all contributed to making manufacturing the principal industry, found mainly in the Golden Horseshoe region, which is the largest industrialized area in Canada. Important products include motor vehicles, iron, steel, food, electrical appliances, machinery, chemicals, and paper. Ontario surpassed Michigan in car production, assembling 2.696 million vehicles in 2004.

However, as a result of steeply declining sales, on November 21, 2005, General Motors announced massive layoffs at production facilities across North America including two large GM plants in Oshawa and a drive train facility in St. Catharines which by 2008 will result in 8,000 job losses in Ontario alone. Subsequently in January 23, 2006, Ford Motor Company announced between 25,000 and 30,000 layoffs phased until 2012; Ontario was spared the worst, but job losses were announced for the St. Thomas facility and the Windsor casting plant. However, these losses will be offset by Ford's recent announcement of a hybrid vehicle facility slated to begin production in 2007 at its Oakville plant and GM's re-introduction of the Camaro which will be produced in Oshawa. Toyota also announced plans to build a new plant in Woodstock by 2008, and Honda also has plans to add an engine plant at its facility in Alliston.

Toronto, the capital of Ontario, is the centre of Canada's financial services and banking industry. Suburban cities in the Greater Toronto Area like Brampton, Mississauga and Vaughan are large product distribution centres, in addition to having manufacturing industries. The information technology sector is also important, particularly in Markham, Waterloo and Ottawa. Hamilton is the largest steel manufacturing city in Canada, and Sarnia is a centre for petrochemical production. Construction employs at least 7% of the work force, but because of undocumented workers, the figure is likely over 10%. This sector has thrived over the last ten years because of steadily increasing new house and condominium construction combined with low mortgage rates and climbing prices, particularly in the Greater Toronto area. Mining and the forest products industry, notably pulp and paper, are vital to the economy of Northern Ontario. More than any other region, tourism contributes heavily to the economy of Central Ontario, peaking during the summer months owing to the abundance of fresh water recreation and wilderness found there in reasonable proximity to the major urban centres. At other times of the year, hunting, skiing and snowmobiling are popular. This region has some of the most vibrant fall colour displays anywhere on the continent, and tours directed at overseas visitors are organized to see them. Tourism also plays a key role in border cities with large casinos, among them Windsor, Rama, and Niagara Falls, which attract many U.S. visitors.


Once the dominant industry, agriculture occupies a small percentage of the population. The number of farms has decreased from 68,633 in 1991 to 59,728 in 2001, but farms have increased in average size, and many are becoming more mechanized. Cattle, small grains and dairy were the common types of farms in the 2001 census. The fruit, grape and vegetable growing industry is located primarily on the Niagara Peninsula and along Lake Erie, where tobacco farms are also situated. Tobacco production has decreased leading to an increase in some other new crop alternatives gaining popularity, such as hazelnuts and ginseng. The Ontario origins of Massey-Ferguson Ltd., once one of the largest farm implement manufacturers in the world, indicate the importance agriculture once had to the Canadian economy.

Southern Ontario's limited supply of agricultural land is going out of production at an increasing rate. Urban sprawl and farmland severances contribute to the loss of thousands of acres of productive agricultural land in Ontario each year. Over 2,000 farms and of farmland in the GTA alone were lost to production in the two decades between 1976 and 1996. This loss represented approximately 18% of Ontario's Class 1 farmland being converted to urban purposes. In addition, increasing rural severances provide ever-greater interference with agricultural production.


Historically, the province has used two major east-west routes, both starting from Montreal in the neighbouring province of Quebec. The northerly route, which was pioneered by early French-speaking fur traders, travels northwest from Montreal along the Ottawa River, then continues westward towards Manitoba. Major cities on or near the route include Ottawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay. The much more heavily travelled southerly route, which was driven by growth in predominantly English-speaking settlements originated by the United Empire Loyalists and later other European immigrants, travels southwest from Montreal along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie before entering the United States in Michigan. Major cities on or near the route include Kingston, Oshawa, Toronto, Mississauga, Kitchener/Waterloo, London, Sarnia, and Windsor. Most of Ontario's major transportation infrastructure is oriented east-west and roughly follows one of these two original routes.


400-Series Highways make up the primary vehicular network in the south of province, and they connect to numerous border crossings with the U.S., the busiest being the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and Ambassador Bridge (via Highway 401) and the Blue Water Bridge (via Highway 402). The primary highway along the southern route is Highway 401, the busiest highway in North America and the backbone of Ontario's road network, tourism, and economy, while the primary highway across the northern route is Highway 417 /Highway 17, part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Highway 400/Highway 69 connects Toronto to Northern Ontario. Other provincial highways and regional roads inter-connect the remainder of the province.


The St. Lawrence Seaway, which extends across most of the southern portion of the province and connects to the Atlantic Ocean, is the primary water transportation route for cargo, particularly iron ore and grain. In the past, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River were also a major passenger transportation route, but over the past half century they have been nearly totally supplanted by vehicle, rail, and air travel. There was previously a ferry connecting Toronto with Rochester, New York.


Via Rail operates the inter-regional passenger train service on the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, along with "The Canadian", a transcontinental rail service from Toronto to Vancouver. Additionally, Amtrak rail connects Ontario with key New York cities including Buffalo, Albany, and New York City. Ontario Northland provides rail service to destinations as far north as Moosonee near James Bay, connecting them with the south.

Freight rail is dominated by the founding cross-country Canadian National Railway and CP Rail companies, which during the 1990s sold many short rail lines from their vast network to private companies operating mostly in the south.

Regional commuter rail is limited to the provincially owned GO Transit, which serves a train/bus network spanning the Golden Horseshoe region, with its hub in Toronto.

The Toronto Transit Commission operates the province's only subway and streetcar system, one of the busiest in North America. Outside of Toronto, the O-Train Light rail line operates in Ottawa with expansion of the line and proposals for additional lines.

Air travel

Lester B. Pearson International Airport is the nation's busiest and the world's 29th busiest, handling over 30 million passengers per year. Other important airports include Ottawa International Airport and Hamilton's John C. Munro International Airport, which is an important courier and freight aviation centre. Toronto/Pearson and Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier form two of the three points in Air Canada's Rapidair triangle, Canada's busiest set of air routes (the third point is Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport). WestJet also operates many flights in the triangle. A third and new airline, Porter Airlines recently made Toronto City Centre Airport their hub.

Most Ontario cities have regional airports, many of which have scheduled commuter flights from Air Canada Jazz or smaller airlines and charter companies—flights from the larger cities such as Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, North Bay, Timmins, Windsor, London, and Kingston feed directly into Toronto Pearson. Bearskin Airlines also runs flights along the northerly east-west route, connecting Ottawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay directly without requiring connections at Toronto Pearson. Isolated towns and settlements in the northern areas of the province rely partly or entirely on air service for travel, goods, and even ambulance services, since much of the far northern area of the province cannot be reached by road or rail.


The British North America Act 1867 section 69 stipulated "There shall be a Legislature for Ontario consisting of the Lieutenant Governor and of One House, styled the Legislative Assembly of Ontario." The assembly has 107 seats representing ridings elected in a first-past-the-post system across the province. The legislative buildings at Queen's Park in Toronto are the seat of government. Following the Westminster system, the leader of the party holding the most seats in the assembly is known as the "Premier and President of the Council" (Executive Council Act R.S.O. 1990). The Premier chooses the cabinet or Executive Council whose members are deemed "ministers of the Crown." Although the Legislative Assembly Act (R.S.O. 1990) refers to members of the assembly, the legislators are now commonly called MPPs (Members of the Provincial Parliament) in English and députés de l'Assemblée législative in French, but they have also been called MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly), and both are acceptable. The title of Prime Minister of Ontario, while permissible in English and correct in French (le Premier ministre), is generally avoided in favour of "Premier" to avoid confusion with the Prime Minister of Canada.


Ontario has traditionally operated under a three-party system. In the last few decades the liberal Ontario Liberal Party, conservative Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, and social-democratic Ontario New Democratic Party have all ruled the province at different times.

Ontario is currently under a Liberal government headed by Premier Dalton McGuinty. The present government, first elected in 2003, was re-elected on 10 October, 2007.

Federally, Ontario is known as being the province that offers the strongest support for the Liberal Party of Canada. The majority of the party's present 106 seats in the Canadian House of Commons represent Ontario ridings. As the province has the most seats of any province in Canada, earning support from Ontario voters is considered a crucial matter for any party hoping to win a Canadian federal election.

Urban areas

Census Metropolitan Areas

Statistics Canada's measure of a "metro area", the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), roughly bundles together population figures from the core municipality with those from "commuter" municipalities.

CMA (largest other included municipalities in brackets) 2006 2001
Toronto CMA (Region of Peel, Region of York, City of Pickering) 5,813,149 4,682,897
Ottawa–Gatineau CMA (Clarence-Rockland, Russell Township)* 1,130,761* 1,067,800*
Hamilton CMA (Burlington, Grimsby) 692,911 662,401
London CMA (St. Thomas, Strathroy-Caradoc) 457,720 435,600
Kitchener CMA (Cambridge, Waterloo) 451,235 414,284
St. Catharines–Niagara CMA (Niagara Falls, Welland) 390,317 377,009
Oshawa CMA (Whitby, Clarington) 330,594 296,298
Windsor CMA (Lakeshore, LaSalle) 323,342 307,877
Barrie CA (Innisfil, Springwater) 177,061 148,480
Sudbury CMA (Whitefish Lake & Wanapitei Reserves) 158,258 155,601
Kingston CMA 152,358 146,838

*Parts of Quebec (including Gatineau) are included in the Ottawa CMA. The entire population of the Ottawa CMA, in both provinces, is shown. Clarence-Rockland and Russell Township are not the second and third largest municipalities in the entire CMA, they are the largest municipalities in the Ontario section of the CMA.


Ten largest municipalities by population
Municipality 2006 2001 1996
Toronto (provincial capital)
Ottawa (national capital)
Mississauga (part of the Greater Toronto Area)
Brampton (part of the Greater Toronto Area)
Markham (part of the Greater Toronto Area)
Vaughan (part of the Greater Toronto Area)

Songs and Slogans

In 1967, in conjunction with the celebration of Canada's centennial, the song "A Place to Stand" was introduced at the inauguration of Ontario's pavilion at the Expo 67 World's Fair, and became the background for the province's advertising for decades.

In 1973 the first slogan to appear on licence plates in Ontario was "Keep It Beautiful." This was replaced by "Yours to Discover" in 1982, apparently inspired by a tourism slogan, "Discover Ontario," dating back to 1927. (From 1988 to 1990, "Ontario Incredible gave "Yours to Discover" a brief respite.)

In 2007, a new song replaced A Place to Stand after four decades. "There's No Place Like This" (Un Endroit Sans Pareil) is featured in current television advertising, performed by Ontario artists including Molly Johnson, Brian Byrne, Tomi Swick (from Hamilton) and Keshia Chante (born in Ottawa).

Famous Ontarians

The singer-songwriter, guitarist, and film director Neil Young was born in Toronto and spent part of his childhood in Omemee, a town he memorialized in his song "Helpless" (written for Young's band Crazy Horse but most famously recorded on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu). The first lines of the song read, "There is a town in north Ontario / With dream comfort memory to spare / And in my mind I still need a place to go / All my changes were there."

Other famous artists originating from Ontario include musician Avril Lavigne (Napanee), Rush (Toronto), Silverstein (Burlington), Protest the Hero (Whitby), Sum 41 (Ajax), Billy Talent (Mississauga), Our Lady Peace (Toronto), Alexisonfire (St. Catharines), The Tragically Hip, (Kingston), illScarlett (Mississauga), Three Days Grace (Toronto), singers Paul Anka, Keisha Chante, Matthew Perry, and Alanis Morissette (all from Ottawa), Gordon Lightfoot (Orillia), musician Shania Twain (Timmins), Blue Rodeo (Orono), comics Jim Carrey (Newmarket), John Candy (Toronto), Russell Peters (Brampton), Mike Myers (Toronto), fomer NHL star Steve Yzerman (Nepean), Tom Green (Pembroke), music band Barenaked Ladies, former WWE Diva Trish Stratus, and rapper Kardinal Offishall were all either raised or at one time resided in Scarborough, formerly an incorporated city which now makes up the eastern section of Toronto. Wayne Gretzky "The Great One" Former NHL star from Brantford

See also



  • Michael Sletcher, 'Ottawa', in James Ciment, ed., Colonial America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History, (5 vols., M. E. Sharpe, New York, 2006).
  • Virtual Vault, an online exhibition of Canadian historical art at Library and Archives Canada

External links

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