Administrative division of Canada
Also known as Province d’Ontario
Total area: 1,068,580 square kilometres (412,581 square miles)
Population: 10,084,885 (1991)
Maximum elevation: 660 metres (2,165 feet)
Average elevation: 305 metres (1,000 feet)

Ontario, one of the central provinces of Canada, bordered on the north by Hudson Bay and James Bay, on the east by Quebec, on the south-east by the American state of New York, on the south by Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Superior and the American state of Michigan, on the south-west by the American state of Minnesota, and on the west by Manitoba. The Ottawa River forms part of the eastern boundary, the St Lawrence and Niagara rivers part of the south-eastern boundary, the St Mary's, St Clair, and Detroit rivers part of the southern boundary, and the Rainy River part of the south-western boundary.

Ontario became part of the Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, as one of the four original provinces. It had been known as the province of Upper Canada (1791-1841) and from 1841 to 1867 was united with Quebec into one province. The province's name is derived from an Iroquois term perhaps meaning "beautiful lake", a reference to Lake Ontario, or "rocks standing by the water", a reference to Niagara Falls.

Land and Resources

Ontario is the second-largest province in Canada; only Quebec is larger. Ontario covers 1,068,580 sq km (412,579 sq mi), of which 177,390 sq km (68,490 sq mi) are inland water surface. About 0.3 per cent of the total area is owned by the federal government. The extreme dimensions of Ontario are about 1,610 km (1,000 mi) from east to west and about 1,690 km (1,050 mi) from north to south. The highest elevation in the province is 693 m (2,275 ft), at Ishpatina Ridge, near Haileybury; the lowest elevation, sea level, occurs at James Bay and at Hudson Bay. Ontario has a shoreline of some 7,600 km (4,725 mi) along four of the five Great Lakes and of some 1,210 km (752 mi) along Hudson and James bays.

Physical Geography

Ontario can be divided into four geographic regions that are of unequal size-the Canadian Shield, the Hudson Bay Lowland, the Great Lakes Lowland, and the St Lawrence Lowland. The Canadian Shield region covers about two-thirds of the province. It is underlain by ancient Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, which are the source of most of the mineral wealth of Ontario. These rocks help form a landscape of flat plateaux and low, rounded hills, interrupted by numerous steep-sided river valleys and lake basins. The average elevation in the Canadian Shield region is about 305 m (1,000 ft), but peaks reach above 660 m (2,165 ft) in the rugged area north and east of Sault Sainte Marie. The region slopes gently to the north, where it is overlain by flat-lying sedimentary rocks of the Hudson Bay Lowland.

A south-eastern extension of the Canadian Shield separates the St Lawrence and the Great Lakes lowlands, both of which are underlain by flat sedimentary Palaeozoic limestones, shales, and sandstones. The St Lawrence Lowland is less than 91 m (300 ft) high and is part of the sand and clay plains that extend along the St Lawrence River into Quebec. In Ontario, the region contains several areas of fertile soil. The most dramatic features of the Great Lakes Lowland are the east-facing cliffs of the Niagara escarpment, which extends from Niagara Falls through the Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island.

The rivers and lakes of Ontario form two large drainage systems-one trending north to Hudson and James bays and one south to the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River. In addition, a smaller region in the west drains into Manitoba. Among the major rivers that drain the Canadian Shield and the Hudson Bay Lowland towards the north are the Severn, Winisk, Attawapiskat, Albany, and Abitibi. Major components of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence drainage basin include the Ottawa, French, Grand, and Thames rivers. The Niagara River, between Lakes Erie and Ontario, flows over the Niagara Falls.

Besides parts of four of the Great Lakes, Ontario contains thousands of other lakes, many of which are located in the west.


Ontario covers a large area and has a wide range of climates, which can be grouped into two main regions-an arctic and subarctic climate area in the north and a humid continental zone in the south. The former region is affected by very cold air from the Arctic and the Canadian prairies, and the climate of the latter region is moderated by winds from the Great Lakes. Thus, Trout Lake, in the north, has a mean January temperature of -24.1° C (-11.4° F) and a mean July temperature of 15.9° C (60.6° F), and Toronto, in the south-east, has a mean January temperature of -4.4° C (24° F) and a mean July temperature of 21.8° C (71.2° F). The south-eastern part of Ontario gets about 915 mm (36 in) of precipitation per year, and the remainder of the province gets up to about 635 mm (25 in) annually.

Plants and Animals

The vegetation of Ontario may be grouped into five main areas. Along the shore of Hudson Bay is a narrow strip of arctic tundra, made up of low shrubs, mosses, and lichens underlain by permafrost. A wide subarctic transitional zone covers most of the Hudson Bay Lowland and the northern half of the Canadian Shield region. Black spruce is the dominant tree species here. Drainage is poor, and swamps and muskegs are widespread. A third area, part of the boreal forest, covers the central section of the Shield and is the main resource area for pulpwood. Black spruce abounds, and white spruce, jack pine, and balsam fir occur on drier sites. The Great Lakes and St Lawrence forests also are major sources of timber. This area extends from the southern part of the Shield, where the boreal softwoods as well as red spruce and hemlock occur, to south-eastern Ontario between Lakes Huron and Ontario, where hardwoods such as maple, beech, oak, basswood, and walnut dominate. Along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario is the fifth area, made up mainly of southern broadleaf forest, which includes such trees as beech, hickory, and oak. Altogether, forest covers nearly 70 per cent of the land area of Ontario.

The animal life of Ontario is rich and varied. Polar bear, white whale, seal, walrus, and caribou are common in the arctic area along Hudson Bay. The swampy northern areas and the countless lakes of the Canadian Shield region provide ideal habitats for many furbearing animals such as beaver, muskrat, marten, mink, fox, wolverine, and raccoon. In the boreal and Great Lakes forests are black bear, skunk, deer, moose, wolf, weasel, and smaller mammals such as squirrel, rabbit, and woodchuck. Common game birds of Ontario include duck, goose, and ruffed grouse; many other birds, such as heron, diver, woodpecker, warbler, and finch, also live in the province.

Ontario's lakes and streams abound in trout, pickerel, pike, perch, whitefish, muskellunge, and bass.

Resources, Products, and Industries

While the economy of Ontario was traditionally dominated by agriculture, forestry, mining, and trapping, manufacturing has become a leading economic sector. Commerce, banking, insurance, tourism, and government operations are other major aspects of the Ontario economy. Ontario has great mineral resources, with vast deposits of nickel, copper, and iron ore as well as substantial resources of gold, silver, platinum metals, colbalt, lead, and zinc. Other important mineral resources of Ontario include salt, gypsum, petroleum, natural gas, napheline syenite, sulphur, and uranium.

Ontario is the leading agricultural province of Canada. About 63 per cent of cash receipts from farming is generated by livestock sales and livestock products; the rest is derived from the sale of crops. A big portion of the crops produced in Ontario is used as fodder for livestock. The major crops include corn, potatoes, and other vegetables, soya beans, tobacco, wheat, barley, and hay. Large quantities of apples, cherries, grapes, peaches, and other fruit are grown in the Niagara Peninsula. Softwoods harvested in the northern part of the province are used primarily for furniture making. Commercial fishing is limited, with harvested species being yellow perch, lake whitefish, smelt, pickerel, white bass, pike, lake trout, and herring.

Ontario dominates manufacturing in Canada, accounting for more than half of all the country's shipments of fabricated goods. The most important manufactured items include transport equipment, especially motor vehicles, packed meat and other processed food, beverages, primary metals and metal products, rubber and leather goods, textiles, clothing, furniture, paper and paper items, refined petroleum, and printed materials.


According to the 1991 census, Ontario had 10,084,885 inhabitants, an increase of 10.8 per cent over 1986. The overall population density in 1991 was 9.4 people per sq km (24.4 per sq mi). English was the sole first language of about 75 per cent of the people; nearly 5 per cent had French as their only mother tongue. Some 113,000 Native Americans live in Ontario.

Education and Cultural Institutions

The first elementary (common) school in Ontario was founded in the late 1780s, and in 1816 the government provided for elementary schools to be established throughout the province. It was not until the 1870s, however, that all elementary and secondary schools were made free. Tax- supported elementary schools today include public (non-denominational) and separate (Roman Catholic) schools. In the early 1990s Ontario's public and separate elementary and secondary schools had a combined annual enrolment of nearly 2.1 million students.

King's College, the first institution of higher education in Ontario, was established by a royal charter in 1827 and became the University of Toronto in 1850. In the early 1990s Ontario had some 54 institutions of higher education with a total yearly enrolment of about 339,400 students. Besides the University of Toronto, notable schools included Queen's University (1841) and the Royal Military College of Canada (1876) in Kingston, McMaster University (1887) in Hamilton, the University of Ottawa (1848) and Carleton University (1942) in Ottawa, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (1948) in Toronto, the University of Windsor (1857) in Windsor, the University of Western Ontario (1878) in London, and Wilfrid Laurier University (1911) and the University of Waterloo (1957) in Waterloo.

Ontario contains a number of excellent museums and other cultural facilities. Toronto is the site of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Ontario Science Centre. Located in Ottawa are the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, the National Museum of Science and Technology, and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Also in Toronto the O'Keefe Centre (home of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada) and Roy Thomson Hall, home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, another performing-arts complex, contains an opera house and a theatre. A major annual cultural event in Ontario is the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, featuring productions of plays by Shakespeare.

Places of Interest

Ontario's places of historical interest include Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg, containing the remains of a British military post founded in the 1790s; Fort George National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake, encompassing a reconstruction of a British fort used in the War of 1812; and Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, with a restored British fort erected in 1838-1839. Also of note is Bellevue House in Kingston, a residence of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister.

Sports and Recreation

Ontario's parks, forests, extensive shoreline, and numerous lakes and rivers provide excellent conditions for swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, skating, ice hockey, and skiing. Major-league ice hockey and baseball teams play in Toronto, and Hamilton, Ottawa, and Toronto all have entries in the Canadian Football League. The Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto, and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame is in Hamilton.

Government and Politics

Ontario has a parliamentary form of government. The chief executive of Ontario is a lieutenant-governor, who is appointed by the Canadian governor-general in council to a term of five years. The lieutenant-governor, holds a position that is largely honorary. The premier (called the prime minister until 1972), who is usually the leader of the majority party in the Ontario legislature, is the actual head of the provincial government and presides over the executive council or cabinet. In addition to the premier, the executive council includes the treasurer, attorney-general, minister of industry, trade, and technology, minister of education, minister of health, and about 20 other officials. The unicameral Ontario Legislative Assembly contains 130 seats, including those of the premier and the members of the executive council. Members of the legislature are popularly elected to a term of up to five years. Ontario is represented in the Canadian Parliament by 24 senators, appointed by the Canadian governor-general in council, and by 99 members of the House of Commons, popularly elected to terms of up to five years.


The first explorer to visit parts of what is now Ontario was the Frenchman Étienne Brûlé, who ascended the Ottawa River in 1610-1611 and again in 1615 with the French explorer Samuel de Champlain; in the latter year they penetrated to Georgian Bay. A Jesuit mission was established among the Huron people soon afterwards; it was destroyed when the Huron were attacked by the Iroquois in 1649. The French constructed a number of forts and trading posts but made no attempts to colonize the region. The earliest English settlement in present-day Ontario was Moose Factory, a Hudson Bay post established in 1671. Rivalry, often bloody, developed between the British and French over the lucrative fur trade. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 at the conclusion of the French and Indian War between France and Great Britain, the region was established as British territory. In 1774 the area that is now Ontario was attached to the British colony of Quebec.

After the American War of Independence thousands of Loyalists left the new republic to settle in the southern part of the Ontario region. Great Britain created the separate province of Upper Canada with the Constitutional Act (1791), which also established a limited form of representative government. Authority was concentrated in the hands of a small colonial elite, who gave the region a distinctly conservative cast. The arrival of a host of immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland during the next three decades perpetuated Ontario's British character into the mid-19th century.

In the 1820s the authoritarian structure of colonial life was attacked by the Reformers, and in 1837 the Upper Canadians, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, rose in rebellion. This rebellion was defeated, and in 1841 the British government united Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Quebec) into a single province in a vain effort to Anglicize the French Catholic population. A new generation of English and French Reformers then became the dominant force in politics; they introduced a modern form of party government, built a tax-supported public school system, and established an alliance between government and business to construct railways. The equal representation of the two regions in one parliament, however, brought political deadlock that was broken in 1867 by confederation, in which Upper and Lower Canada became the separate provinces of Ontario and Quebec respectively.

With 44 per cent of the Canadian population in 1871, Ontario was the dominant member in the new Dominion. The manufacturing sector grew enormously in the 1880s and again in the 1900s, as hydroelectric developments at Niagara Falls ensured plentiful power. The opening of new mines in northern Ontario after 1900 created additional sources of wealth. These foundations ensured Ontario's economic dominance throughout the 20th century. Toronto slowly surpassed Montreal in the realms of finance, commerce, and industry, becoming Canada's leading city during the 1970s.

Ontario has always attracted large numbers of immigrants. During the 19th century the population was made up largely of people of British descent. After 1900 there arrived a new wave of southern and eastern Europeans. A second wave of European immigrants arrived after 1945. More recently, Ontario has attracted many people from Commonwealth lands in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. By 1986 over a third of Greater Toronto's 3.4 million people were immigrants, giving the city a cosmopolitan character.

In local politics the long-term rule of parties geared to economic growth has predominated. From Confederation to 1905 Ontario was governed almost entirely by the Liberal party (successors to the Reformers). Its Progressive Conservative replacement was even more committed to state-assisted development. Between 1919 and 1923 a farmer-labour coalition held power, eventually losing office to the Progressive Conservatives. The crisis of the Great Depression brought to power in 1934 a Liberal party that proved to be sympathetic to business interests. In 1943 the Conservatives were returned to office and, under a succession of leaders, they governed for more than 40 years. Their rule ended in 1985 with the election of the Liberal David Peterson, who headed a reform administration allied with the New Democratic party (NDP) until 1987. Disenchantment with incumbent politicians overwhelmed Peterson in the 1990 election and brought to power Robert Keith Rae, Ontario's first NDP premier.