Ontario, short ON, is one of the most heavily visited regions of Canada. Alone three major attractions draw most of the tourist: Toronto, as the country's largest city, Niagara Falls, as the overwhelming experience, and Ottawa, as the country's capital. But Ontario certainly has more to offer than this. You can explore the undeveloped timberlands north of Lake Superior, or experience the lakes and rivers in Algonquin Provincial Park - not only Ontario's largest and oldest, but also one of the best known parks in Canada. Theatre enthusiast will enjoy Shakespeare at world renown Stratford.
The origin of the name Ontario is believed to come from an Iroquoian word with the meaning sparkling or beautiful water or lake. This word was originally used to describe the large body of water that is currently known as Lake Ontario.
Ontario in Figures
Ontario is Canada's second largest province and covers an area of 1,068,587 sq km. This is an area larger than France and Spain combined. There are about 250,000 lakes in the province and water covers about one sixth of the province. The five Great Lakes, controlled jointly by Canada and the United States, are the world's biggest continuous body of fresh water.
Over 11 million people call Ontario their home. Immigration has been a major factor in Ontario's population growth. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the immigrants settle in Ontario.
The highest point, at 693 m (2,275 ft) above sea level, is in the District of Timiskaming (near Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park).
On the north Ontario borders to the Hudson Bay and James Bay, on the east to the province of Quebec, on the south to the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, and on the west to the province of Manitoba.
Manitoulin Island (2,766 sq km or 1,068 sq mi), in Lake Huron, is the world's largest fresh water island. It is a sacred island to central Canada's native peoples.
Canada's southern most point is in Ontario, on Lake Erie's Middle Island. In fact this point is further south than Rome, Italy.
Toronto, located on Lake Ontario in the south-east of the province is Ontario's capital.
Toronto, with its 2.385 million habitants is the country's largest city. Ontario's other major cities are Hamilton in the south, London, and Windsor in the southwest; Kingston and Ottawa in the east; and Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay in the north.
Most Ontarians speak English as their first language. However, almost half a million claim French as their mother tongue. In fact Ontario's French speaking community is the biggest in Canada outside Quebec. The major language groups (based on the 1991 census) include Chinese, Italian, German, Portuguese, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Polish, Spanish, Dutch, and Ukrainian.
Ontario's over 167,000 registered First Nations people speak two main languages. Algonquian and Ojibway, who live throughout the province, and the Cree, who live mostly in the north, speak Algonquian. The Iroquois and the Hurons, who live in southern and eastern Ontario, speak Iroquoian.
Ontario can be traveled year round, however the peak season is in the months of July and August.
The most common way to Ontario is via Toronto by plane. There are daily non-stop flights from Europe year round. Flights are offered by Air Canada and Lufthansa as well as by British Airways. British Airways flights generally have a stop over in London. You should compare prices as there are many specials you can benefit from. Swiss Air offers service from Switzerland.
Traveling within Ontario
We recommend a rental car or RV as roads are usually in good conditions in the southern part of Ontario. For those of you, who intend to discover the north of the province should consider renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle as gravel roads are fairly common. This applies also to those individuals who consider exploring the wilderness. However you should make up your mind before signing your rental contract as many vehicles may not be used on unpaved roads. This is especially important for RV renters.
To help visitors find their destinations easily, Ontario has introduced a new system of specially-designed signs so a wide range of tourism attractions can be posted on provincial highways. The blue and white signs use text, symbols and directional information.
If you wish to explore one of the metropolitan cities you might be better of using buses, as it not only saves money but your nerves. Parking can be fairly expensive and finding a spot to park your car can take up most of your valued time.
For the more adventurous traveler a bus ride with Greyhound might be just what you are looking for. The network is broad and prices are reasonable.
For sheer spectacle and wondrous wilderness ride the rails. Take the Agawa Canyon Tour through breathtaking Algoma Country. The Agawa Canyon is located in the heart of the wilderness and getting there takes you over towering trestles, and past mountain lakes and cascading waters.
If you exactly know, where to go you can also take a domestic flight. Most towns have an airport with daily service.
Means of payment
Besides the most common credit cards (Visa, Master Card and American Express) you might consider carrying some Traveler's Cheques in small denominations. Those are generally accepted like cash and have the advantage of being insured.
However you should always carry some cash, especially if you intend to push forward to more rural areas. Here cash is the only thing that counts as most of the small shops do not have the equipment to accept credit cards. You should not bring German Marks or American Dollar in order to pay your bills as American Dollars are only accepted near the US border.
All prices are generally subject to applicable taxes, which might be uncommon for European travelers. Taxes are added when you pay. Usually you have to pay 15 per cent taxes (7 per cent GST Goods and Service Tax and 8 per cent Retail Sales Tax). However some merchandise is tax exempt.
Waiters in a restaurant generally require a tip as they usually only receive minimum pay. The tip is added to the bill's total. It is up to you, how much you leave, but 10-15 per cent is fairly common. Usually you leave the tip on the table as you go. Tip is also given to cabbies, hairdressers, barbers, hotel attendants and bellhops.
We recommend saving all receipts, as tourists who have their place of residence outside of Canada might be eligible for tax refund. However, this only applies for amounts over CAN $50,00 per receipt (except accommodation receipt where no minimum amount applies) and a minimum of CAN $200,00 in total. Not eligible for tax refund are bills paid for gas or transportation. In any case it might be worthwhile to save receipts for accommodations or larger purchases that are exported. The application for tax refund can be found at the website address shown below. You can file your application up to six months after you have left the country and has to be in writing. A refund cheque will than be mailed to your home address. If you came by plane you are required to send your bording pass with your application. Receipts for goods have to be validated by Canada Customs as you leave Canada.
For further information visit Visitor Tax Refund.
Usually stores in Ontario are open 10 am to 6 pm. Some might be open till 9 pm and grocery stores often offer a 24 hour service, which also applies to gas stations that regularly have a convenient store attached. In summer months usually longer opening hours apply.
The post office generally closes at 5 pm, banks sometimes already at 4 pm.
National Parks and Provincial Parks
Ontario is home to 6 National Park. Those are Bruce Peninsula, Fathom Five, Georgian Bay Islands, Point Pelee, Pukaskwa, and St. Lawrence Islands. Further information on all of these parks can be found under "Attractions" within our Canada Vacation Planner.
Ontario's Provincial Parks have a lot to offer. Pristine wilderness. Rolling sand dunes. World-class canoe routes. Breathtaking hiking trails. Every year, more than eight million people enjoy this magnificent natural legacy. To date, 104 provincial parks are open to the public. Another 171 parks have been set aside to protect significant heritage values and to secure outdoor recreation opportunities for future generations.
Four hundred years ago, about 60,000 people lived within the borders of today's Ontario. These people belonged to Indian nations and spoke either Algonquian in the north or Iroquoian in the central and southern regions. Algonquian was spoken by the Ojibways, the Algonquins, and the Cree, who where soils permitted and made their living by hunting and fishing. Iroquoian was spoken by the Hurons, Tobaccos and Neutrals and the five Iroquois nations, who lived in villages and used to farm.
Samuel de Champlain visited the Hurons in 1615 and became the first European trading partner with the First Nations. They mainly traded furs for European cloths and steel. The Europeans also learned Huron survival skills, such as herbal medicine, canoeing, snowshoeing, and tobogganing. The highly profitable fur trade made the Europeans to stay.
The British followed the French to North America. They formed the Hudson's Bay Company (which still exists) in 1670. The two countries soon became rivals, which ended in the Seven Years' War (1756 to 1763). When it ended with the Treaty of Paris, French possessions in North America went to the British.
The Constitutional Act -- or Canada Act -- was proclaimed in 1791. It divided the old province of Quebec into Upper Canada (today's Ontario) and Lower Canada (today's Quebec).
After the War of 1812 with the USA, English, Irish and Scottish immigrants moved into Southern Ontario after 1825. The population of southern Ontario grew to almost one million by 1851.
The British North America Act -- renamed the Constitution Act (1867) in 1982 -- established the Confederation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867. The national government was based in the new capital of Ottawa. The first Canadian prime minister was Sir John A. Macdonald; John Sandfield Macdonald (no relation) became the first premier of the newly created Province of Ontario.
Farming was Ontario's major industry from Confederation until the Second World War. However, new technology changed the province. The railway, electricity and Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone in 1876, at Brantford, Ontario brought in new industries and resulted in growing cities.
In the 1880's mining became popular with copper, nickel, and other minerals found in the northern part of the province. In 1904 a new industry showed up, when a group of Ontario businessmen formed the Ford Motor Company of Canada.
At the end of each of the World Wars immigration rose with people coming from many European countries. Forestry remains the north's biggest employer. Tourism is the third major industry in Ontario's north. Every year, Ontario's north attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. There are many historic and cultural attractions plus fine camping, hiking, boating, fishing, hunting and skiing opportunities.
More Travel Tips for Ontario