Difference between revisions of "Ontario"
Revision as of 16:02, 24 July 2007
Ontario  is the most populous and second-largest province of Canada, home to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa, as well as Ontario's own capital Toronto, Canada's largest city. Ontario is bordered by the province of Quebec to the east, by the Great Lakes region of the United States to the south, by Manitoba to the west and by Hudson and James Bays to the north.
Ontario has many cities. Here are some of the major ones.
English is spoken throughout Ontario. French is spoken in many parts of the province. Services are available in both English and French at all Federal and Provincial Government offices as well as many Municipal Government offices. Many large and small business offer services in French although this is not always mandated by statute. 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 offer service in Chinese, particularly in Ottawa and Toronto.
Let's be realistic -- 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 initially, cars are easily rented if you are over 23, but easiest if you are over 25 years of age. The train offers you too little flexibility, and planes often only take you to major centres. Despite what you may have been led to believe, there is more to Ontario than Southern Ontario and Toronto (or Hamilton, or Niagara, or whatever). Coming from the USA, your options are numerous.
Here's a brief rundown of some of the most common crossings from the USA: 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, NY to Niagara Falls, Ontario; Wolfe Island to Lansdowne; Massena to Cornwall
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 TransCanada Highway (a cross-Canada network of highways, often offering more than one route), either on Highway 17 or Highway 11. 17 follows a more Southerly route hugging Lake Superior, while 11 ventures Northward at North Bay and heads through a slightly less populous region of the province before heading southwards. Do note that 11 and 17 come together in the Thunder Bay region. To the west, 11 heads to its end at Rainy River and the USA, while 17 heads up to lead to Manitoba.
If you are coming from Quebec, the southern routes are TransCanada Highways 20 and 40. 20 connects to the 401 (a direct route to Toronto) and 40 connects to 417 (heading to Ottawa). If your intentions are Northerly, the Ottawa route is the most direct.
From Manitoba, there really is only one option by car (unless you are coming via the USA), and that option is TransCanada Highway 1, which connects to 17 in Ontario.
NOTE: 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. On major highways, drivers routinely exceed the speed limit by up to 40 km/h notwithstanding the threat of a $295 fine. Do not occupy the left lane unless you intend to pass everything else on the road.
Ontario has High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on Highway 403 and 404. Cars and even motorcycles require at least two occupants per vehicle to use them around the clock. If you are coming from the USA, remember that motorcycles without passengers are banned from Ontario HOV lanes. It is different from most USA HOV lanes allowing motorcycles, even if without passengers, to get federal funds.
Within the Greater Toronto Area (which includes a large portion of the area around Toronto), GO Transit is an option. The fees depend on distance to travel, but for the most part are reasonable. This is the best mode of public transit between cities and towns in this region. Unfortunately, government cutbacks have caused many direct buses to be done away with, so expect your bus ride to include numerous stops. GO also has train service in this area.
Greyhound Canada travels to nearly 1,100 towns and cities in Canada, via 400 coaches during peak travel periods. As well, Coach Canada is another big bus service that runs in partnership with Trentway Wagar Lines.
From outside of the province, the only boat options are between the USA and Ontario. Recently, a ferry service opened connecting Rochester, NY to Toronto, Ontario; the service has been suspended and it is unclear whether or when it might resume operations. To be honest, however, ferry service is only recommended when it poses a substantial reduction to driving time.
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 as well as 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 we know as Niagara Falls and is bypassed for navigational purposes by the Welland Ship Canal.
Within Southern Ontario's Greater Toronto Area, GO Transit is a convenient and fast way to travel, if you can do so either in the early and late rush hour periods.
Within Canada, Via Rail Canada is the most common way to enter Ontario. It is not unheard of to enter Ontario from the USA by train, but the customs waits between the USA and Canada are no different than might be expected by car or plane, especially with the constant increases in Terror alerts south of the border.
The big exception to the above is if your destination is Northern Ontario (as in Fort Albany, Moosonee or Polar Bear Provincial Park). There are train services to these areas that are your only options, excepting planes.
Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport, airport code YYZ, is the province's largest airport. The airport is a major hub for most Canadian air carriers. If your ultimate 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.
Ottawa has another international airport for destinations in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Valley. There are fewer overseas flights terminating in Ottawa than in Toronto but the number is always increasing. Many American hubs also have daily direct flights into Ottawa.
If you plan to travel to Northwestern Ontario or the North of Superior region, then Thunder Bay International Airport would be your best bet. Air Canada has direct flights from Toronto and Winnipeg, to name a few, and Westjet has flights from Hamilton and Winnipeg.
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. Do take note that 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). The only time you will ever see alcohol in a grocery store is when that store has an internal LCBO. You can also buy wine at the Wine Rack in some areas.
Of course, pubs and bars are no rarity in Ontario. In nearly every community you will enter, 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 higher. Expect the prices to vary, with prices being much higher in urban centres.
Ontario has an active beer culture that has blossomed recently in Southern Ontario in particular. Below are some of the breweries you can expect to find:
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. Keep in mind that there are still many wines that are not certified, but lack of certification does not necessarily mean a poor wine. Although a matter of opinion, Ontario wines are not generally considered by most experts to be of the same quality as their European counterparts. Most of the awards they boast tend to be an internal 'patting themselves on the back'.