In a country that just doesn’t toot its own horn because it seriously doubts anyone’s listening, here’s a province that knows it matters. (And maybe the only one that particularly cares.) Ontario has enough steam to make noise globally. It has Canada’s largest city, biggest stock market, greatest economic clout. It’s home to about a quarter of all the country’s farms (the most per province in the country), draws the most visitors, boasts the most corporate headquarters and houses the national capital. (That’s Ottawa, with its fabulous parliament buildings and stroll-ready greenbelts.) It’s the only province with enough cities even to have a Technology Triangle.
Whether Toronto, Ontario’s engine-by-the-lake, is the smartest city in Canada (let the debate begin), it’s surely the most diverse and the busiest: Canada’s New York. Toronto plays in the big leagues, with Earth’s tallest freestanding structure (OK, outside Dubai), best living short-story writer and a movie director who declared himself “king of the world” and just might be. And literally so: it’s the only city to swipe away victory in America’s national game. Toronto’s the biggest motor in the biggest wheelhouse in Canada—“the city that works” (Jane Jacobs).
But it’s parts of Ontario that lie outside of cities—the lakes of Muskoka and the silver birch of Algonquin Provincial Park, the lazy timeless Thousand Islands and the autumnal blaze of the Hockley Valley down the rugged Niagara Escarpment to the Falls (adjectives are a dime a dozen in Ontario)—that feed another part of the Canadian soul. The part that feels, and roams, and stays out exploring till the call of the loon pipes it home.
Ontario in a nutshell:
Used to be called: “Upper Canada”
Artistic pedigree: E. Pauline Johnson, the Group of Seven
Jacket art: Yousuf Karsh
Pavilion: Frank Gehry
Rivalry with: British Columbia
Best Nicknames for Toronto: “Hogtown,” “Tee-Oh,” “Toronto the Good,” “The Narrows” (literally, from the Native “Taronto”), “Place where the Mind Narrows” (Vancouver only)
Soundtrack by: Gordon Lightfoot, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Neil Young
Overdub: Barenaked Ladies, The Tragically Hip, Shania Twain, Maestro Fresh Wes, K'naan
Hockey shrines: Maple Leaf Gardens, Hockey Hall of Fame, Wayne Gretzky’s birthplace in Brantford
Etched in stone by: Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Farley Mowat, Al Purdy, Stephen Leacock, Pierre Berton
Overlay: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Timothy Findley, Rohinton Mistry, Anne Michaels, Jane Urquhart
History-makers: Alexander Graham Bell, Sir Frederick Banting, Roberta Bondar
Strangest tourist attraction theme: giant things in small towns (Big Nickel in Sudbury, Big Goose in Wah-Wah, Husky the Muskie, etc.)
Black sheep: Conrad Black
Best time of year to visit: Canada Day (July 1st) or late September
Festivals: Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Harbourfront Centre festivals, Toronto International Film Festival
Attractions: Art Gallery of Ontario, National Gallery of Canada, ROM (Royal Ontario Museum)
Oversized things: Sudbury Nickel, Wah-Wah Goose
Local delicacy: BeaverTails, butter tarts, sweet cornbread, meatloaf
Home movies: Atom Egoyan, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg
***Ontario Pavilion Day at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is Feb. 24.
Le marché de Kensington
Thousand Islands Cruise in Kingston
Parliament Hill in Ottawa
La Colline du Parlement
Read about Canada’s 13 provinces and territories