Human habitation of what is today Ontario dates back at least 7,000 years. Among the early aboriginal inhabitants were Algonquin, Cree and Ojibwa in the north, and in the south the Huron, Tobacco (Petun), Neutrals (Attiwandaron), and Iroquois. The first European explorers in the early 17 th century were Frenchmen Etienne Brulé and Samuel de Champlain pioneering fur trade routes from the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers and Englishman Henry Hudson sailing into Hudson and James Bay.

Fur trading would be the dominant economic activity by Europeans for a century and a half, with little attempt at settlement. With the outbreak of the American Revolution, first a trickle and then, after American independence, a flood of Loyalist refugees poured into what was then the western part of the British province of Quebec. The Constitution Act of 1791 created for them the separate colony of Upper Canada, a term still used by some Ontario institutions and businesses.

During the War of 1812, the United States invaded Upper Canada, occupying parts of the colony and burning the Legislative Buildings in Toronto. After the war, Upper Canada’s economy and population grew rapidly, aided by the construction of first canals and then railroads along with waves of settlers from Britain.

In 1834, Toronto became the first community in the colony to gain status as a city. An 1837 uprising, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, was defeated but helped set in motion the unification four years later of Upper and Lower Canada as the Province of Canada. Upper Canada was officially restyled Canada West although the name was never popular.

On July 1st 1867 the again-renamed Ontario became one of the original four provinces of the Dominion of Canada, the anniversary of which is celebrated annually as Canada Day. Ottawa, capital of the Province of Canada, became the new Dominion’s capital city while Toronto would be the capital of Ontario. During the later 19th and 20th century, Ontario’s frontier of settlement and boundaries pushed northward. Large-scale industry came to Ontario, based particularly on such resources as minerals and softwood forests along with the development of hydroelectric power. After World War Two, the province saw another wave of economic expansion including road building, Canada’s first subway system in Toronto, and the completion in 1959 of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The 1965 signing of the U.S.-Canada Auto Pact further stimulated what was Ontario’s biggest manufacturing industry. As well, the provincial government oversaw spending growth in health and education, including several new universities. Toronto overtook Montreal as the nation’s largest city and financial capital. The largely British nature of the Ontario population also changed with a diverse mix of immigrants from virtually every part of the globe. By 1981, only 65 per cent of Ontarians had been born in the province.

Toronto is currently the fourth largest city in North America in terms of population.  The city acts as the economic and cultural centre of the Province, which has been experiencing a resurgence of importance over the last couple of years.

Did You Know ?

The Province of Ontario is;

  • approximately 1,076,395 sq. km / 415,598 sq mi.
  • larger than France and Spain, combined.
  • almost 1/3 the size of India.
  • more than 3 times the size of Germany.
  • more than 3.5 times the size of Italy.
  • more than 1/10th the size of Canada.
  • more than 4 times the size of the UK.
  • more than 8.25 times the size of England.
  • more than 15 times the size of Ireland