Ontario is Canada’s most populous, richest, and second largest province. The name Ontario derives from an Iroquios word meaning “beautiful water”. The name is appropriate since lakes and rivers occupy a substantial part of the area of the province. The name was first used in 1641 to name the easternmost of the Great Lakes, and later in 1867 was applied to the whole province.
The Ontario landscape is the most varied of all provinces in Canada. Much of the province lies in the Canadian Shield, a resource-rich region consisting of mainly exposed Precambrian rocks, which are more than 570 million years old. This area is very rugged, and is home to less than 10% of the provinces population.
The southern part of the province is much more hospitable and contains the biggest cities, including Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and London.
The differences between north and south are just some examples of the contrasts in this province. Although many people visit the province for its natural beauty, Ontario was recently rated as the second worst polluter in North America, up from third a few years earlier.
People have lived in Ontario since the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. The first Europeans to explore Ontario were Etienne Brule and Samuel de Champlain, who in 1613 travelled along the Ottawa River into the interior of the province. They allied with the indiginous Huron and Ottawa to establish fur trading. The Iroquois, who dominated mainly south of the Great Lakes, were hostile to the French, but did not prevent the French from penetrating further inland.
During this time, the main French posts in the region were Fort Frontenac (Kingston), Fort Niagara, Fort Detroit, and Fort Michilimackinac. The British successfully invaded the region in 1759 and secured their position by defeating the native allies of the French in an uprising in 1763-1764. The region also served as a base of operations for British forces during the American Revolution. After the war, Loyalist and Iroquois refugees expelled from the United States settled in areas north of Lake Ontario. The Treaty of Paris (1783) established the southern border of Upper Canada through the Great Lakes.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812, approximately 80% of the 100,000 settlers of Upper Canada were of American origin. Although some settlers sided with the Americans during the war, the British army successfully defended most of the province with help from Indians and local militias. The American invaders were repelled at Queenston Heights in 1812 and Beaver Dams and Stoney Creek in 1813. But the Americans successfully raided the provincial capital, York (now Toronto), where they burned the government buildings. When peace arrived, both sides returned their conquered lands, but tensions continued for much of the 19th century.
During the first half of the 19th century, population grew at a great pace. Most of the immigrants arrived from the islands in the north-west of Europe: 20% English, 20% Scottish, and 60% Irish. In the aftermath of the rebellions of 1837 led by William Lyon MacKenzie, the British government brought Upper and Lower Canada together to form the Province of Canada in 1841. It’s capital was at first Kingston, but later was shuffled between Quebec City, Toronto, and Montreal. Much of the period between 1841 and 1864 saw fractious politicking, which was resolved by the formation of a joint-party regime which sought a union of the British North American colonies. This lead to confederation in 1867 and Ontario became a province of the new Dominion of Canada.