When Europeans first stumbled through the snow into Ontario, several aboriginal nations already called the region home. The Algonquin and Huron tribes had long occupied the southern portion of the province, but by the time European colonization took hold in the early 18th century, the Iroquois Confederacy (aka the Five Nations) held sway in the lands south of Georgian Bay and east to Québec. The Ojibwe occupied the lands north of the Great Lakes and west to Cree territory on the prairies (today’s Alberta and Saskatchewan).
The first Europeans on the scene were 17th-century French fur traders, who established basic forts to facilitate trade links with the Mississippi River. With the arrival of the British Loyalists around 1775, large-scale settlement began. After the War of 1812, British immigrants arrived in larger numbers, and by the end of the 19th century, Ontario’s farms, industries and cities were rapidly developing. In the aftermath of both world wars, immigration from Europe boomed – Toronto has since evolved into one of the world’s most multicultural cities.
An industrial and manufacturing powerhouse, Ontario is home to around 39% of Canada’s population. Despite boom times in Alberta, Ontario remains the first choice of immigrants from across the globe, with solid employment prospects and Toronto’s well-established immigrant support services proving a powerful draw.
Ontario sees itself as a civilized place – the pinnacle of multicultural Canada, detached from the rednecks out west and infinitely more sensible than the Francophiles in Québec. The good citizens of Toronto work hard and play hard, and are fond of making myopic comments like, ‘This place is so awesome – why would we want to go anywhere else?’ The rest of the country finds this highly irritating, a reaction celebrated in the 2007 film Let’s All Hate Toronto.
Outside of Toronto, however, you’ll find most Ontarians to be rather mild-mannered folk – they know they have a high standard of living and access to all the world’s bounty, but they don’t feel the need to boast about it. Rural Ontarian towns are generally unassuming (and often unspectacular), but usually have some good pubs, B&Bs and farmers’ markets selling high-quality local organic produce.
More than any other province, Ontario is hockey-mad. This is the home of Wayne ‘The Great One’ Gretzky, and right through the year, huge slabs of prime-time radio are given over to Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators talk-back shows, spotlighting the failings of new recruits, dissecting Leafs’ coach Paul Maurice’s post-match interviews and debating whether or not this could be the year. The ‘Sens’ fell just short of Stanley Cup glory in 2007, but Toronto’s 1967 Stanley Cup victory looks set to remain unreprised for some time yet.