- For other places with the same name, see Ontario (disambiguation).
Ontario is Canada's second-largest province, and the most populous, with more than 14 million inhabitants. It is home to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, and Toronto, which is Ontario's capital and Canada's largest city.
Stretching from the shores of Hudson Bay (an arm of the Arctic Ocean) in the north to four of the five Great Lakes in the South and from Manitoba in the west to Quebec in the east, Ontario is truly massive at over a million square kilometres (almost half a million square miles). That equates to seven and a half times as large as neighbouring New York State.
However most of that area is remote wilderness untouched by tourism, apart from camping, fishing, and hunting. Most visitors stay in the more densely populated southern part of the province which is at the same time a fertile farming region, Canada's main industrial area, and English Canada's political, media and cultural hub. The national capital, Ottawa, features numerous monuments and museums, of course. The pre-eminent urban region, however, is Greater Toronto, the seventh most populous metropolitan area in North America with more than six million people or almost half of all Ontarians. Here one finds the usual suite of amenities associated with big-city life but with the added twist that Ontario is one of the world's greatest magnets for international migration, drawing people from across the world in huge numbers since Canadian immigration laws were relaxed in the 1960s: in 2014, 51% (a majority) of Torontonians were born outside of Canada, with more than one in ten people being immigrants even in smaller centres such as Kitchener, London, or Windsor. It isn't too much exaggeration to say that it is possible to see "the world in miniature" in Ontario, just by visiting its diverse urban neighbourhoods, and especially their range of different ethnic restaurants.
However, even southern Ontario is known as much or more for its rural landscapes, particularly its clean lakes and rivers within a day's driving distance of Toronto, the so-called "cottage country" where many lakeside properties are available for short-term rentals, but also natural landmarks like Niagara Falls, and even a few wine regions in the southernmost regions of the province.
|Greater Toronto Area (Toronto, Durham, Halton, Peel , York Region)|
The wealthiest and most urban region, made up of several different communities centred on Toronto. Filled with museums, architecture, restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, live theatre and professional sports.
|Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula |
Includes the once-rough, now gentrifying city of Hamilton, Canada's leading wine region, multiple historic sites related to the War of 1812, and the world-famous Niagara Falls
|Eastern Ontario (Ottawa-Rideau, Ottawa Valley, Prescott-Russell, Quinte-Northumberland, Seaway Region)|
A land of rivers, lakes, and boreal forests, it also contains the elegant national capital: Ottawa. Along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers and Rideau Canal (a world heritage site) there is a multitude of historic towns.
|Southwestern Ontario (Bruce County, Wellington and Dufferin Counties, Lae St. Clair, Waterloo, Lake Erie Shore, Western Ontario, Grey County, Brantford and Brant County)|
Ontario's breadbasket with extensive farmland and quiet, historic villages sprinkled throughout. Also contains Canada's main information tech hub in Waterloo.
|Central Ontario (Haliburton Highlands, Kawarthas, Muskoka, Simcoe County)|
Peaceful lakes and rivers earn this region the nickname "Cottage Country". Where urbanites spend their summer weekends, but available any time for quintessentially Canadian moments relaxing on the lake shore.
|Northern Ontario (Northwestern Ontario, Northeastern Ontario, Lake Superior North Shore, Near North)|
A vast region of extensive boreal forests and isolated communities. Home of the ancient rock formations of the Canadian Shield, indigenous cultures persevering in the modern world, and literally millions of clean, swimable lakes with some of the world's best freshwater sport fishing.
The Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula are usually described as the Golden Horseshoe. These are, together with Southwestern Ontario, described as "Southern Ontario".
Ontario has many cities. Here are nine of the major ones.
- 1 Toronto — Canada's largest city and capital of Ontario with 6.1 million people, simultaneously a globalized international hub and the media and cultural metropolis of English Canada.
- 2 Ottawa — Canadian federal capital with 1.19 million people, home to Parliament and the main national museums of art, military history, and nature.
- 3 Hamilton — a rust-belt-esque industrial city of just over half a million inhabitants, now gentrifying and therefore perfect for urban trend spotting
- 4 Kingston — briefly a major military base and colonial capital of Canada from 1841 to 1844, it is now known mostly for its universities and historic ambience, population 123,798 (2016)
- 5 Kitchener — the capital of German culture in Canada, population 233,222 (2016) but centre of a larger region including tech hub Waterloo sprawling Cambridge
- 6 London — a leafy mid-sized city (population 383,822 in 2016) formerly industrial, now known for insurance.
- 7 Niagara Falls — once the honeymoon capital of the world and still a major draw for sightseers, population 88,071 (2016)
- 8 Thunder Bay — the gateway to Ontario's north, population 107,909 (2016)
- 9 Windsor — directly across the river from Detroit, home of Canada's automotive industry, with a population 217,188 (2016)
- Lake Huron Beaches — including Grand Bend, Sauble Beach, and Wasaga Beach, the world's longest freshwater beach.
- 1 Bruce Peninsula — southwestern Ontario's last major forested area, home to a national park, and endpoint of the Bruce Trail.
- 2 Algonquin Provincial Park — a huge, isolated expanse of rugged backcountry forests and lakes, but near the main cities.
- 3 Thousand Islands — countless stop-offs, some with castles, on the St Lawrence River bordering New York.
- 4 Rideau Canal — historic waterway, now used for pleasure craft, connecting Kingston and Ottawa.
- 5 St. Joseph Island — a pretty place to break up the 24-hour drive across northern Ontario
- 6 Prince Edward County — an island in Lake Ontario that is like the whole province in miniature with beaches, wine growing, and quaint villages.
- 7 Pimachiowin Aki
In addition to being Canada's most populous province, Ontario is also a major tourist destination, especially around the Niagara Falls. More than 90% of the population resides in the four regions that make up Southern Ontario, which covers a much smaller land area than the expansive north, making them worlds apart in topography and local culture. Due to its massive size, Ontario can provide the visitor with access to Canada's most populous city, Toronto; the world's largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior; and even a polar bear park in the Subarctic. While English is the first language of most people, one will find historic French speakers and some signage in French, many other immigrant languages in the greater Toronto area, and First Nations peoples' native tongues still being spoken, though dwindling.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the region was inhabited by Algonquian (Ojibwe, Cree and Algonquin) in the northern/western portions, and Iroquois and Wyandot (Huron) people more in the south/east.
The French explorer Étienne Brûlé explored part of the area in 1610–12. Samuel de Champlain reached Lake Huron in 1615, and French missionaries began to establish posts along the Great Lakes. The British established trading posts on Hudson Bay in the late 17th century and began a struggle for domination of Ontario with the French. After the French defeat during the Seven Years' War, nearly all of France's North American possessions were ceded to Britain in 1763, including most of what is now Ontario.
The first big wave of European settlement occurred in 1782–1784 when 5,000 American loyalists arrived following the American Revolution. The British also set up reserves in Ontario for the Mohawks who had fought for the British and had lost their land in New York state.
American troops in the War of 1812 invaded Upper Canada across the Niagara River and the Detroit River, but were defeated and pushed back by the British, Canadian fencibles and militias, and First Nations warriors. Upper Canada was an active theatre of operation during the conflict. After the War of 1812, relative stability allowed for increasing numbers of immigrants to arrive from Europe rather than from the United States. It was a mostly agrarian-based society, but canal projects and a new network of plank roads spurred greater trade within the colony and with the United States.
Meanwhile, Ontario's numerous waterways aided travel and transportation into the interior and supplied water power for development. As the population increased, so did the industries and transportation networks, which in turn led to further development. By the end of the century, Ontario vied with Quebec as the nation's leader in terms of growth in population, industry, arts and communications. An economic boom in the 1850s coincided with railway expansion across the province, further increasing the economic strength of Central Canada. With the repeal of the Corn Laws and a reciprocity agreement in place with the United States, various industries such as timber, mining, farming and alcohol distilling benefited tremendously.
A political stalemate between the French- and English-speaking legislators, as well as fear of aggression from the United States after the American Civil War, led the political elite to effect a broader federal union of all British North American colonies. In 1867, the Dominion of Canada was established three colonies: Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. The Province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec.
Ontario emerged into the economic powerhouse of the new nation. Manufacturing and industry flourished. Mineral exploitation accelerated in the late 19th century, leading to the rise of important mining centres in the northeast. The province harnessed its water power to generate hydro-electric power and created the state-controlled monopoly. The availability of cheap electric power further facilitated the development of industry. The motor vehicle industry became the most lucrative industry for the Ontario economy during the 20th century.
The post-World War II period was one of exceptional prosperity and growth. Ontario has been the recipient of most immigration to Canada, largely immigrants from Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, and a massive influx of non-Europeans since the 1970s. From a largely ethnically British province, Ontario has rapidly become culturally very diverse. The nationalist movement in Quebec in the 1960s and 1970s led to many businesses and English-speaking people leaving Quebec for Ontario, and Toronto surpassed Montreal as the largest city and economic centre of Canada.
English is the official language of Ontario, and is widely spoken throughout the province. French is spoken in some parts of the province especially along the border in eastern and northern Ontario, and has been officially recognized as a minority language by the provincial government. Services are available in both English and French at all federal and provincial government offices, and some municipal government offices. Many businesses, especially in Ottawa, offer services in French although this is not mandated by law, so don't expect it. The closer one gets to Quebec, the more likely one is to be able to receive service in French in stores, restaurants and other businesses. Some banks and ATMs also offer service in Chinese, particularly in Ottawa and Toronto.
More than 95% of the Ontarian population is fluent in one or both of English and French; more than 91% of the population is fluent in English.
Most visitors arrive by way of Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga (just outside of Toronto). The airport is a major hub for most Canadian air carriers. If your destination is in Southern Ontario, you will likely pass through Pearson at some point. Many flights from overseas will land in Toronto, and daily flights are available from many Canadian cities and most American hubs. Pearson is a very expensive airport, however, so alternative airports in smaller cities (such as Hamilton, or even Buffalo across the border) are popular with travellers on a budget.
For destinations in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley, flights from within Canada, from the United States, and the United Kingdom are also available to Ottawa. Many American hubs have daily direct flights into Ottawa.
Montreal's Trudeau Airport is another option for Eastern Ontario, especially for destinations not served by Ottawa Airport; Montreal is just two hours away from Ottawa by road or train. Some carriers run their own buses; for example KLM sell an Amsterdam-Ottawa ticket that flies to Montreal then uses a bus the rest of the way. There are other buses direct from the airport. Via Rail's Dorval station is close to the airport and has trains to Ottawa, Cornwall, Kingston, Toronto and other Ontario towns.
In Southern Ontario, there are airports at Windsor, Sarnia, London, Hamilton and Kingston that are served by Air Canada and/or WestJet to various Canadian destinations (but most commonly only to Toronto). There is also an airport at Kitchener that is served by WestJet to Calgary and Flair Airlines to domestic destinations. You could also land at Detroit Metro Airport just across the border from Windsor.
If you plan to travel to Northwestern Ontario or the North of Superior region, then Thunder Bay International Airport is your best bet. Air Canada's direct flights include those from Toronto and Winnipeg, and WestJet has flights from Hamilton and Winnipeg.
Driving from the USA, border crossings include: International Falls, Minn. to Fort Frances, Ontario; Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Sault Ste Marie, Ontario; Port Huron, Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario; Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario; Buffalo, NY to Fort Erie, Ontario; Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Ontario; Lewiston to Queenston; Cape Vincent to Wolfe Island (seasonal), Wellesley Island NY to Hill Island (Lansdowne), Ontario; Ogdensburg to Prescott; Massena to Cornwall.
If you are coming from the St. Lawrence River valley in Quebec, the southern routes are Autoroute 20 to the Highway 401 (Windsor-Quebec corridor to Toronto) or Autoroute 40 to Highway 417 (through to Ottawa). Between Montreal and Ottawa, Autoroute 40 and Highway 417 are part of the Trans-Canada Highway. If your intentions are northerly, the Ottawa route is the most direct. From Hull, five local bridges lead south into Ottawa; from l'île aux Alumettes a bridge on highway 148 leads south into Pembroke. From the westernmost portions of Québec (Rouyn-Noranda and Abitibi-Témiscamingue), regional highways lead to North Bay, Temiskaming Shores, and the Trans-Canada Highway (11).
From Manitoba, there really is only one option by car (unless you are coming via the USA), and that is Highway 1, which becomes Highway 17 in Ontario. Both Highway 1 and Highway 17 are part of the Trans-Canada Highway.
- Greyhound, ☏ +1 214-849-8100, toll-free: +1-800-231-2222. From New York City via Buffalo to Toronto.
- Megasbus (Coach Canada), toll-free: +1-866-488-4452. Service Montreal to Toronto via Kingston.
- Ontario Northland, toll-free: +1-800-461-8558. Operates primarily in Northern Ontario. Routes travel as far west as Winnipeg, as far south as Toronto, and as far east as Ottawa. The route from Winnipeg travels directly to Thunder Bay.
- Orléans Express, ☏ +1-450-640-1477, toll-free: +1-833-449-6444. Service from Montreal to Ottawa.
- VIA Rail Canada, toll-free: +1-888-842-7245. Operates trains routes across Canada. Train routes entering Ontario:
- Amtrak, ☏ +1-215-856-7924, toll-free: +1-800-872-7245. Operates the Maple Leaf Train between Toronto and New York City with stops in Oakville, Aldershot, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Albany.
On foot or bicycle
A few central points in Ottawa (such as the Byward Market, Centretown, Parliament Hill, the National Gallery and Major Hill Park) are within walking distance from Hull. There are paths on the Québec side, suitable for cycling, which easily reach the Alexandra (Interprovincial) bridge to Ottawa-Lowertown.
There is no easy way to enter Windsor from Detroit on foot or by bicycle. Tunnel Bus is a possible alternative, but bicycles may need to be partially disassembled to lie flat for transport if there's insufficient space on the bike racks (and may not be able to be brought aboard at all if the bus is full).
It is possible to cross from New York State on foot using the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. It is possible to cross by seasonal ferry to the Thousand Islands (Cape Vincent, New York to Wolfe Island, Ontario) with a bicycle; crossing on foot there makes little sense due to the rural distances involved.
Ontario is a large province and, as a result, the car is nearly the most convenient way to explore it. If you are arriving by plane, cars are easily rented if you are over 23, but easiest if you are over 25 years of age. There is more to Ontario than Southern Ontario and Toronto (or Hamilton, or Niagara), and driving to and through the vast and varied regions of Ontario can be an adventure. Coming from the USA, your options are numerous.
In Northern Ontario, the car is a must if you wish to get from place to place. In most cases, you will be driving the Trans-Canada Highway (a cross-Canada network of highways, often offering more than one route), either on Highway 17 or Highway 11.
Even by car, you will be unable to access the northern half of Ontario. Roads are the exception, not the rule, and you will rely on plane and train nearly anywhere north of Lake Nipigon.
Speed limits are posted in metric. Roadways are usually in good condition. Controlled-access highways (numbered 400-427,and the QEW) have posted speeds of 100 or 110 km/h (62 or 68 mph). Other provincial highways (numbered 2-148) generally have posted speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph). You will likely find that the average speed of traffic exceeds these limits by 10-20 km/h when conditions are good as drivers do not expect to receive a speeding ticket at these speeds. Fines for speed escalate rapidly at higher speeds. Anyone caught exceeding the speed limit by 50 km/h or more, or making certain undesirable driving manoeuvres such as racing, preventing others from passing or rushing to turn left on a fresh green light before the oncoming lanes have moved, can be hit with an automatic fine between $2000 and $10,000, a seven-day licence suspension and a seven-day vehicle impound. Ontario outlaws radar detectors.
Lane discipline by drivers is considered mediocre at best. Although it is widely known that passing should be only done on the leftmost lanes, drivers routinely pass on the rightmost lanes, mostly due to slower drivers failing to change lanes to the rightmost lanes.
Ontario has High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on Highways 403 and 404. Cars and even motorcycles require at least two occupants per vehicle to use them around the clock. Motorcycles without passengers are banned from Ontario HOV lanes.
Around the Greater Toronto Area, GO Transit buses serve many cities and towns as far as Barrie, Niagara Falls, Peterborough, and Waterloo. GO buses often complement GO Transit rail service for destinations or time periods not covered by trains. A few GO bus terminals are at stations along Toronto's subway system.
Several bus companies serve the busy corridor between London, Toronto, Kingston, and Ottawa, with several stops in between. Some routes continue further west from Toronto to London, Niagara Falls or Windsor:
- Book-a-ride. Also serves Peterborough.
- Flixbus. Also serves Hamilton, London, Chatham-Kent, and Windsor. Connections in Toronto to St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.
- Megabus. Connections in Toronto to London, Grimsby, St. Catharines, and Niagara Falls. Also serves Mississauga and some destinations in [Quinte-Northumberland via North York (Toronto).
- Onex Bus. Serves London, Woodstock, Kitchener, Toronto Pearson Airport, and Toronto.
- Red Arrow. Serves Ottawa and Toronto, via Kingston and Scarborough.
- Rider Express. Serves Ottawa and Toronto, via Carleton Place, Perth, Kingston, and Peterborough.
Fewer bus companies operate to the north of the Greater Toronto Area, but many destinations are served along the major corridors through the province.
- Ontario Northland. From Toronto, Ottawa, and Barrie, serves several central and eastern Ontario destinations such as Hunstville, Parry Sound, and Pembroke before continuing to Northern Ontario via North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Thunder Bay. The last stop in Ontario before Manitoba is in Kenora. In Cochrane, buses connect with the Ontario Northland Train which runs as far north a Moosonee.
- TOK Coachlines. Serves Haliburton and the Kawarthas, or Bruce County from Vaughan and Toronto Pearson Airport.
Some specific destinations are served by seasonal bus services. For example, Park Bus serves Algonquin Provincial Park, the Bruce Peninsula National Park, and some popular outdoor destinations in southern Ontario through the camping and summer hiking season. Aucoach serves the Village at Blue Mountain ski resort during winter.
Ontario contains many excellent recreational waterways including: the Great Lakes, the Rideau Canal, the Trent-Severn Waterway, the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers. The St Lawrence River includes the Thousand Islands region and the St Lawrence Seaway system.
The Niagara River is one of the wonders of our natural world although it is most definitely not a recreational waterway! The river includes the great cataract, Niagara Falls, and is bypassed for navigational purposes by the Welland Ship Canal.
- Chi-Cheemaun ferry, ☏ +1-800-265-3163. From early May to mid-October, the ferry makes round trips each day between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island.
- Pelee Island Ferries, ☏ +1-800-661-2220. Daily trips to Pelee Island and Leamington or Kingsville. Service from Sandusky is limited to once daily during the summer months, and is further restricted during the spring and fall. Advance vehicle reservations.
VIA Rail services many areas of Ontario, from small towns to the largest cities. Many of the larger stations are served by several trains each day. Stations are often in the downtown area of some cities, and are sometimes served by local public transit. In Toronto, car rentals are available from within Union Station.
Within and near the Greater Toronto Area, GO Transit offers train service on several routes radiating from Toronto's Union Station. There is daily train service (including evening service) between Burlington and Pickering with more limited service to other destinations, some having only rush-hour, peak-direction service. GO Transit bus service often complements the rail service for destinations or time periods not covered by GO trains. On Weekends year-round, GO Transit runs the Niagara Weekend GO Train Service between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
The big exception to the above is if your destination is Northern Ontario (such as Moosonee or Lake Superior Provincial Park). There are train services to these areas that are your only options, excepting planes.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ IATA), as the province's largest airport, is a major hub for most Canadian air carriers with regular service to regional airports throughout Ontario. More locations are served by Toronto's City Centre Airport.
Ottawa has the Macdonald Cartier International Airport (YOW IATA) for destinations in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley.
In Southern Ontario, there are airports at Windsor, Sarnia, London, Hamilton, Kingston, and Kitchener.
If you plan to travel to Northern Ontario, airports include Thunder Bay, Sudbury (Ontario), Timmins, Sault Sainte Marie (Ontario), and many smaller airports. The larger carriers serving Northern Ontario from airports in Toronto and Ottawa include Air Canada Express, Bearskin Airlines, and Porter Airlines.
A total solar eclipse on Monday 8 April 2024 crosses the south edge of Ontario from about 3:10PM local time. The track of totality is northeast from Mexico and Texas to Ohio, straddling the Canada–New England border through Lakes Erie and Ontario. It misses Toronto but crosses Kingsville, Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, and Kingston and the Seaway, then along the border to Maine, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
Niagara Falls will be at the top of the list for many travellers. More water goes over the three falls here per minute than over any other falls in the world. The city of Niagara Falls has many other places of interest, from beautiful gardens, to butterfly conservatories to ticky-tacky tourist traps. The Niagara region is the most important of the Wine Regions of Ontario.
Toronto is a busy, cosmopolitan, multicultural city with theatre, museums, galleries, shopping, professional sports, and restaurants offering the cuisines of the world (half of Torontonians were born outside of Canada). If the view from the observation deck of the CN Tower, which was the tallest tower in the world from 1975 to 2017, doesn't take your breath away, you can take a step outside (with a harness), and walk around the edge of the building 356 m above the city.
Ottawa, Canada's capital city, is rich in historical buildings and museums, including the National Gallery of Canada, Canadian War Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Nature. The city comes alive with festivals in the summer.
Further afield, Old Fort William in Thunder Bay, is a historical fort with the best historical reenactments available in Ontario. The lighthouses and beaches along the Lake Huron coastline makes for a relaxing summer vacation.
Sainte-Marie among the Hurons: 1½ hours north of Toronto on Hwy 12. French Jesuits settled here for 10 years until they fled in 1649 after attacks from the Iroquois.
- Explore the Historic Nipissing Road now part of the Great (Trans Canada) Trail. You can drive the road as well as hike it. See Magnetawan.
- Bruce Trail — the oldest and longest marked footpath in Canada
- Rideau Canal — a scenic waterway linking Kingston and Ottawa
- Windsor-Quebec corridor
Ontario offers many outdoor activities every season of the year. In the northern part of the province, you can hike the Sleeping Giant, a series of mesas that resemble a human figure, near Thunder Bay, hike through Temagami's Old Growth Forest, or climb the Fire Tower and canoe Lake Temagami.
At Fathom Five National Marine Park at Tobermory, you can dive around or take a boat tour of shipwrecks. Nearby Bruce Peninsula National Park has great camping opportunities, and neighbouring Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater lake island in the world.
Visit one of Ontario's freshwater sandy beaches: Wasaga Beach, Sauble Beach or Grand Bend in Southwestern Ontario; Pancake Bay Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. Also visit these Ontario Parks for great beaches: Sandbanks, Lake Superior, Awenda, Charleston Lake, and the Pinery.
The Bruce Trail offers 850 km of hiking from Niagara Falls to Tobermory. If you still have some energy left, try the Ontario sections of the Trans Canada Trail.
The province's extensive provincial parks provide many opportunities for camping, hiking, canoeing and rock-climbing. Algonquin Park is a great place to start.
There are several heritage railways in Ontario operated by rail-fans using vintage rail equipment.
Wine lovers can explore the Wine Regions of Ontario, starting with the Wine Road from Exit 78 on QEW to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Ontario makes some excellent cold-climate wines, including the spectacular ice wine, and many wineries have excellent restaurants and B and Bs. Ontario is an enthusiastic participant in the craft brewery craze, too.
Try Walleye and Bass fishing in Ahmic Lake in Magnetawan.
Many cities and towns, such as Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, offer extensive biking and hiking trails with beautiful views of trees, birds.
The Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Golden Horseshoe, and Niagara Falls/Niagara Peninsula each offer you a wide variety of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Latin American, Japanese, fast food, and French cuisines (all formal and informal). Toronto and Ottawa have large immigrant populations, and have an unusually high variety of quality specialty cuisines, that cater to Western, Asian, European palates.
In Ontario, the legal drinking age is 19. In Southern Ontario, you will find a great variety of beer and spirits at your disposal, while in Northern Ontario your options are usually limited to the most common North American standards. Drinking in public is discouraged by law in Ontario and most parts of Canada, exceptions being licensed patios and the like.
Beer is available from the Beer Store (run by Molson, Labatt and Sleeman), while beer, wine and other alcohol is available from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, commonly called the LCBO (run by the government). In Northern Ontario, you will typically only see the LCBO (and this will also be the case in some rural areas of Southern Ontario). Alcohol in a grocery store is very rare; beer was introduced to a handful of large grocery stores in 2015. A few rural villages unable to support a free-standing liquor store operate an LCBO agency as a sideline in an existing store. You will never find alcohol in convenience stores in Ontario. You can also buy wine at the Wine Rack in some areas; some of these outlets are attached to large supermarkets. Alcohol may not be easily available outside of LCBO and Beer Store hours, so stock up on alcohol ahead of holidays and store closures.
Of course, pubs and bars are no rarity in Ontario. In nearly every community, you will be able to find at least one tavern or bar. A domestic bottled beer will typically cost around $3.50 and a cocktail-type drink around $4.50 or more. Expect the prices to vary, with prices being much higher in urban centres. Drinks are served "smart-serve" in Ontario, so they will never be made free-pour, every (single) serving of liquor, beer and wine would have approximately the same amount of alcohol (though in reality, particularly strong beers or wines will have more alcohol per serving)
Ontario has an active beer culture that has blossomed in Southern Ontario in particular. Below are some of the breweries you can expect to find.
- Labatt, a macrobrewery found across Canada
- Molson, a macrobrewery found across Canada
- Amsterdam Brewing Co., based in Toronto
- Bench Brewing Co., based in Beamsville
- Black Oak, based in Oakville
- Cameron's Brewing, based in Oakville
- Collective Arts Brewing, based in Hamilton
- Counterpart Brewing, based in Niagara Falls
- King Brewery, based in Nobleton
- Mill Street Brewery, based in Toronto's Distillery District
- Nickel Brook Brewing Company, based in Burlington
- Oast House Brewers, based in Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Old Credit in Port Credit, Mississauga
- Something in the Water Brewing Company, based in Toronto's Liberty Village
- Steam Whistle, based in Toronto
- Taps Brewery, based in Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Beau's, based in Vankleek Hill (midway between Ottawa and Montreal)
- Beyond the Pale Brewery, based in Ottawa
- Kichesippi Beer Co., based in Ottawa
- Riverhead Brewing Company, based in Kingston
- Smithavens Kawartha Lakes Brewery in Peterborough
- Spearhead Brewing Company, based in Kingston
- Whitewater Brewing Company, based in Foresters Falls (near Ottawa)
- Brick, based in Waterloo
- Craft Heads Brewing Company, based in Windsor,
- Farm League Brewing, based in Cambridge
- Gold Crown Brewery, a brew-pub in Waterloo
- Sleeman, Canada's third largest brewery, based in Guelph
- Walkerville Brewery, based in Windsor
- Waterloo Brewing, based in Kitchener
- Wellington Brewery, based in Guelph
- Canvas Brewing Company, based in Huntsville
- Creemore Springs, based in Creemore
- Lake of Bays Brewing, based in Baysville (just south of Algonquin Park)
- Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery, based in Barrie
- Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, based in Kenora
- Manitoulin Brewing Company, based in Little Current (on Manitoulin Island)
- Northern Superior Brewing Company, based in Sault Ste Marie
- Sleeping Giant Brewing Company, based in Thunder Bay
Much like the popularity of smaller, regional breweries, brewpubs have become increasingly popular in some cities throughout Ontario. These brew unique beers within the restaurant that supposedly reflect local tastes and matches some of the dishes offered.
- Main article: Wine Regions of Ontario
The Niagara Peninsula is Ontario's premier wine-production region. Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario is the second-largest wine region, and there are many wineries in Essex County in the southwest.
Ontario has a comparatively young wine industry that is expanding rapidly. Ontario, and Canada in general, is renowned for its consistent and unique ice wines. It is also gaining increasing recognition for its world-class premium table wines.
Its wine regions are right in the middle of the northern grape-growing belt – between 41° and 44° north. That puts southern and eastern Ontario just south of the famous Bordeaux Region in France, and parallel with northern California wine regions. Ontario is considered a "cool climate region" – which means at harvest time grapes are blessed with more concentrated flavours and balanced acidity which makes them wonderfully food friendly. That's why cooler climate wines typically have a livelier flavour than those from hotter climates.
The Vinters Quality Association (VQA) is an association of wineries that provide insight into the quality of Ontario wines. When purchasing wine made in Ontario, look for a "VQA" logo on the bottle - this tells you the wine has been approved by the association. Wines made outside of the three main regions are not certified, but that doesn't mean it's poor wine, and wines made from some varieties of grapes are automatically excluded from VQA consideration. On the other hand, wines labelled as "cellared in Ontario" or "international Canadian blends" are made from imported juices, and are usually of lower quality.
In Ontario, the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is 13% (5% federal, 8% provincial). Exceptions do apply. Basic necessities such as hygiene products, unprocessed fruits, vegetables and meat, bread (6 or more) and children's clothing are tax-exempt. Fast food which is under $4 are charged only at 5% tax. As is the case for rest of Canada, visitors cannot claim tax refund on their purchases.
Smoking any substance is prohibited in indoor workplaces in Ontario - including bars and restaurants, the workplaces of bartenders, waiters, and chefs. Depending on the city, it might or might not be legal to smoke on a restaurant's patio.
Since 2018 buying, selling, and using recreational marijuana have been legal across Canada. However, any building or public space where that tobacco is restricted, marijuana is also restricted. It is still illegal to take marijuana outside of Canada, including into the State of New York where marijuana is legal as this counts as drug trafficking and it will cause serious punishments.
To the east, Quebec's vibrant francophone culture and rich history present another side of Canada's character.
Head west to Manitoba to start your journey into the Canadian Prairies. If you go by road or rail, however, be prepared for a long trip; Toronto to Winnipeg via the Trans-Canada Highway is over 2,200 km (1,400 mi).
Ohio, Michigan and New York State to the south have borders with Ontario, and are good starting points for exploring the United States.