Land & Climate

Ontario is big. Its longest north–south span is 1730km, and 1568km separate east from west. Unlike Canada's rugged west, the landscape is largely flat, with some mountainous regions and more lakes than you could skim stones across in a year: four of the five Great Lakes have shoreline in Ontario. Fifty percent of Ontario's area (around 50 million hectares) is part of the boreal forest (aka 'Amazon of the North') which transverses Canada. It's one of the world’s largest storehouses of carbon, begins around the 50th parallel, between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay, and extends across the province in an east–west band up to 1000km wide.

In southern Ontario, cold air from the north collides with warm air from the Great Lakes, causing plenty of rain, humid summers and milder winters. The entire province gets blanketed with heavy snowfalls, but towns in the snowbelt, such as Parry Sound, Barrie and London (from Georgian Bay to Lake Huron) are generally hardest hit. Lake Ontario often spares downtown Toronto from the brunt of the snowfall, but winter storms have been known to shut down the city. January averages around -4°C on the Niagara Peninsula and -18°C in the north.

As summer draws closer, southwestern Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula get increasingly hot and sticky. It can feel oppressively humid in Toronto, where pollution can be stifling, and Ottawa. Summer storms are common along the Niagara Escarpment and conditions sometimes produce tornadoes. July averages around 23°C here and 15°C in the north. Late spring and early fall are the best times to visit, when temperatures are mild, days long and sunny, and nature puts on its finest displays.

National & Provincial Parks

Ontario contains six of Canada's national parks: Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Point Pelee National Park (the southernmost point of the Canadian mainland), Pukaskwa National Park and Thousand Islands National Park. There are also more than 330 provincial parks here, many of which offer hiking and camping facilities. Campsites for up to six people cost between $35 and $52 per night. They range from basic sites without showers or electricity to well-located powered plots with showers. Make reservations with Ontario Parks.

Local Culture

There's something for everyone in Toronto. Torontonians love their city and seem somewhat blinded to its flaws: bitter winters, expensive housing, congested roads and inadequate public transit. They smile through gritted teeth as if it were their duty to defend the city against criticism. Toronto's ethnocultural makeup is so diverse that it defies attempts to define or resist it: people just get along. You'll find all walks of life and all colors, flavors and traditions of the world represented here.

Outside cosmopolitan Toronto and Ottawa, rural Ontario is generally homogenous and unassuming, although communities have French, Belgian, German, Chinese, Finnish and Aboriginal roots and influences and there's a strong immigrant labor force. Farmers are practical, no-fuss folk who work hard, value things for their functionality and don't get too involved with life beyond the farm. Most Ontarians are mild-mannered folk who enjoy a good to high standard of living, but don't feel the need to boast about it.

More than any other province, Ontario is hockey-mad – this is the birthplace of Wayne 'The Great One' Gretzky – though less violent winter sports such as curling still have a following. One thing is universal: when the weather is fine, city and country folk all head for the sunshine and the water, where they commune with nature and their families; food, wine, good friends, healthy conversation and debate are all valued here.