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Exploring Ontario

People & History

More than 13.5 million people live in Ontario. The province’s labour force aged 25 and over exceeds 6 million people and about 64% of Ontario residents between 25 and 64 have completed post secondary schooling. Life expectancy is about 79 years for men and 84 years for women.

First Nations

People have lived in Ontario for at least 7,000 years. Ontario has many distinct native cultures and languages. In the north, the Algonquin, Cree and Ojibwa people have traditionally fished and hunted. The first farmers in the south were the Huron, Tobacco (Petun), Neutrals (Attiwandaron), and Iroquois. Follow a timeline of settlement in the Ottawa Valley or learn about the first people of Canada.

In the five years since 2001, about 15 per cent of new immigrants listed India as their country of birth. India was followed by:

  • China (13.3 per cent)
  • Pakistan (7.5)
  • The Philippines (6.5)
  • Sri Lanka (3.2)
  • United States (3.2)

New Arrivals

The first Europeans to visit Ontario arrived by boat. French explorers Étienne Brûlé and Samuel de Champlain followed the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario in 1610 and 1615. Henry Hudson sailed into Ontario from the north and claimed the Hudson Bay area for Britain in 1611. Read about Ontario’s first foreign settlers from across the Atlantic. Explore French Ontario in the 17th and 18th centuries or learn about the migration of Germans to Canada.

Frontier Battles

If history had turned out differently, Ontario today might have been either a French colony or another state united with America. Revisit the Seven Years War of 1754-1763, between the French and British, and the War of 1812, when America declared war on Great Britain. Learn more about Ontario’s early frontier battles and how Ontario eventually became a part of Confederation, the Dominion of Canada, in 1867. Learn about the War of 1812.

By 1961, immigrants accounted for one in five Ontarians.

Ontario’s population increased by 40 per cent from 1945 to 1958. By 1961, immigrants accounted for one in five Ontarians.

Ontario Industry

During construction of the railroad across Canada, large mineral deposits were found in the northern parts of Ontario in the early 1900s. Automobile manufacturing took off in 1903 when Henry Ford set up shop in Windsor. In 1906, the water power of Niagara Falls was harnessed with the launch of the Ontario Hydro-Electric Commission. Discover how Ontario’s Industrial Revolution turned the province into Canada’s economic centre.

Modern Ages

After the two world wars, the 1950s and 1960s were a period of rapid expansion for Ontario’s economy. In 1965, the signing of the U.S.-Canada Autopact boosted Ontario’s biggest manufacturing industry. The North American Free Trade Agreement in 1989 had a major effect on Ontario’s economy. The modern ages brought millions of newcomers from all over the world to Ontario.

Downtown Inferno

In less than nine hours, the Great Toronto Fire of 1904 destroyed 20 acres of land and 100 buildings, at an estimated cost of more than $10 million. Fortunately no lives were lost, but the exact cause of the fire was never determined. Find out more about the Great Toronto Fire.

Explore Ontario: Be a Tourist in Your New Home

Ontario has a rich history that is preserved in various heritage sites throughout the province. You can watch historical re-enactments and recreations of daily life at places like Fort George, Fort William, Lang Pioneer Village and Black Creek Pioneer Village.

There are several Aboriginal heritage sites documenting the history and culture of Ontario’s First Nations. North America’s largest and longest-running Pow Wow takes place on Manitoulin Island every August, a fascinating display of drums, spiritual dances, chants and vibrant costumes.

Ontario Welcomes You

As a newcomer to Ontario, you may have many questions. The Province of Ontario has many services and programs to help you find the answers, information and support you need to succeed.

Fun Facts and Figures

The Ontario region’s first capital was Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), when the land was originally claimed as Upper Canada in 1791. Two years later, the capital was moved away from a then volatile U.S. border to York (now Toronto).

In 1841, Kingston was the capital of a united Province of Canada, until 1843 when legislation moved the capital to Montreal. Ottawa has been the nation’s capital since the confederation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Look up more trivia, just for fun!