Difference between revisions of "Ontario"
Revision as of 12:30, 7 July 2011
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 (Michigan and Minnesota) of the United States to the south, by Manitoba to the west and by Hudson and James Bays to the north.
In addition to being Canada's most populous province, it is also a major tourist destination, especially around the Niagara Falls. Most of the population, more than 90% resides in the four regions that make up Southern Ontario, which covers a much smaller land area than the expansive north making it world's apart in topography and local culture. Ontario can provide the visitor with access to one of the world's great cities, Toronto, the world's largest fresh water lake, Lake Superior and even a polar bear Park in the arctic circle due to its massive size. While the majority is clearly English speaking, one will find historic French speakers and some signage in French, many other immigrant languages in the greater Toronto area in addition to First Nations people's native tongues still being spoken.
Ontario has many cities. Here are nine of the major ones.
English is spoken throughout Ontario. French is spoken in some 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.
More than 95% of the Ontarian population is fluent in English or French. More than 91% of the population is fluent in English.
Most visitors arrive in Ontario by way of Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Mississauga (just outside of the Toronto metro area). Several flights from within Canada and from the United States land in Ottawa. If you are going to Windsor, you will land at Detroit Metro Airport just across the border.
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.
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 20 to 49 km/h despite the threat of hefty fines. 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 license suspension and a seven-day vehicle impound.
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 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.
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.
Pacific Western  offers charter services, which is available throughout the entire GTA, Mississauga, Brampton, Niagara Falls Region, Buffalo NY Airport and Montreal Airport. But, they could assist you with any transportation requirements outside of these areas including: All of Canada and the USA.
A quick, convenient, and frequent bus service that links Toronto to Toronto Pearson Airport is Airport Express , which operates at peak periods: every 20 minutes and off-peak periods: every 30 minutes. It picks up at both terminals, and stops at several major hotels in the downtown core. Adult fares are $18.95 one way, $29.25 for round trips. There is a 10% discount for online reservations.
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 (such as Moosonee or Lake Superior Provincial Park). There are train services to these areas that are your only options, excepting planes.
Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport  (IATA: 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.
In Southern Ontario, there are airports at Windsor, Sarnia, London, Hamilton and Kingston which 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 which is served by Delta Air Lines to Detroit and WestJet to Calgary.
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.
The Greater Toronto Area, Golden Horseshoe, and Niagara Falls/Niagara Region each offer you a wide variety of Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican, fast food, and French cuisines (all formal and unformal).
Visit Gluten-Free Ontario for a list of restaurants/bakeries in Ontario that offer gluten-free food.
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:
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.
It's wine regions are right in the middle of the northern grape-growing belt – between 41° and 44° north. That puts southern 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. Keep in mind that there are still many wines that are not certified, but lack of certification does not necessarily mean a poor wine.
In Ontario, recent Supreme Court rulings have made it difficult to convict on charges of possession, and police are generally lenient towards possession of up to 30 grams. However, buying, selling, cultivating (for non-medical use) and smoking marijuana in public is still illegal. The federal government has expressed a willingness to "get tough" on drugs, and as a result marijuana possession charges have jumped. Tourists are advised to avoid smoking marijuana in public areas, though the risk of criminal prosecution is minimal relative to most of the world.