Culture Surf is a corner of the internet set aside to help English learners (or anyone who’s curious) to learn more about American and Anglophone culture. We discuss song lyrics, regional slang, and a lot more. The point is to put focus on the fun side of language learning, which is the culture! Other topics like Geography and Movies are constantly being added. I’m always open to suggestions and questions to help you clear up what you want to learn. Come and discover more!
At Home you can find the latest content, as well as the page descriptions and most popular posts.
On the Give Me a Shout page, you can send me a direct message or make a comment. You can even give suggestions for content you want to see! (I also talk about my editing services there)
In the Culture section, we have short stories and audios for practicing listening and learning informal English terms through Adventures of Charles. About Americans talks about American society and culture. In Lyrics “Explained” you can read song lyrics, listen to music, and learn about English world culture and slang through song lyrics. At the Movies looks at English world society by analyzing movies. Language Surf allows you to listen to the sounds of the world’s languages, from the most endangered to the most spoken.
For Geography, we look at the world’s English-speaking countries, their geographies, and cultures through the Actual English World. There is also a section for looking at cool places, galleries, and profiles of the world’s regions called Earth’s Face.
Existe também uma seção chamada Em Português para quem fala e deseja ler sobre alguns tópicos do site.
Lastly, Helpful Resources is a place where I share some resources like websites and videos you can use to improve (and enjoy) your English skills.
**Even if you already speak English, you can contribute by adding your own ideas, sharing about your own accent and culture, and helping others grow. Let’s build this together!
Adzera Atzera – Azera – Atsera – Acira an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, in the Austronesian family Hear More Languages Speakers ~ 30,000 Dialects of Adzera Central groupAmariNgarowapum YarosGuruf (Ngariawang)Tsumanggorun *Sukurum and Sarasira may be dialects or separate languages Listen Teaching About Prayer and Faith – Adzera (jesusfilm.org) See More Do you speak Adzera or have an…
Adyghe West Circassian – Адыгабзэ – кӀахыбзэ – Adıgabzə – k’axıbzə a Circassian language of Russia (Caucasus region) and Turkey, in the Northwest Caucasian family Hear More Languages Speakers ~ 575,900 Black Sea Coast Dialects of Adyghe Shapsug (Шапсыгъабзэ)North Shapsugs (Great Shapsugs, Kuban Shapsugs, Шапсыгъэ шху)Kfar Kama (Кфар Камэм ишапсыгъэбзэ)Temirgoy Shapsugs (Pseuşko accent, Кӏэмгуе-шапсыгъ)South Shapsugs (Small…
The craze of ancestry testing has swept the globe. Organizations like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have been on the receiving end of millions of spit samples for a time now. I sent mine in, you can believe. One of the most interesting parts of doing a test like this is learning your backstory. Not just of…
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after the Alabama River which is named after the Alabama people, the name refers to someone of Alabama heritage in the Alabama language, could also come from the Choctaw language meaning “clearers of the thicket” or the Creek language for “tribal town“
Predominantly English (~ 95%). The local accents are known as Alabama English, part of the Southern U.S. variety.
Birmingham (largest urban area)
Southeastern United States, a state in the general Deep South region, also part of the greater Appalachia and Gulf Coast regions. Has a small coastline on the Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic).
Mostly Inuktitut (~ 63%). The second most spoken language is the local variety of English (~ 31%). French and Inuinnaqtun are also official in the territory.
Capital & Largest City
Northern Canada, a federal territory in the general Arctic region. Has a lot of Arctic Ocean coastline along with islands in the Arctic Archipelago and throughout Hudson Bay, including Canada’s largest, Baffin Island. Location is split between the mainland section and its many large and small islands.
Part of Canada’s Arctic tundra, taiga shield, and Arctic Cordillera mountains. Home to some of the world’s largest islands.
That’s right! Talking about the green island — well, green, white and orange, if we want to get technical. Ireland is one of the most recognizable and influential English-speaking countries out there. Here we’ll explore some of the reasons behind that bold statement. We’ll also take a quick look at the geography, culture, and other aspects of this modern Celtic nation. Let’s do it!
One thing that can get confusing about Ireland is … well, what it is. There’s the island (and smaller isles) of Ireland, yes, which holds two different countries on it. One — the one we’re talking about — is the Republic of Ireland, or Poblacht na hÉireann if you want to get fancy (we’ll just call it Ireland for simplicity’s sake). The other is the United Kingdom, which lays claim on the island by way of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland itself is a bit confusing, not necessarily a country, but maybe a special county, a semi-autonomous region, we don’t know for sure.
Anyway, Ireland (the republic) is a bit easier to define. Unlike its Great British neighbors, Ireland is still in the EU. The rest of the UK sits just across the Irish Sea and the two entities have impacted each other for millennia now. Don’t check the watch on that one.
Ireland’s capital is Dublin, which is also the biggest urban area. Even though about 40% of Ireland’s people live in this one region, there are still other major towns like Cork, Limerick, and Galway. Irish people themselves are pretty homogeneous, being in not too big of a place. Still, immigrant communities are present and well on the island, with many coming from other parts of Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and Brazil of all places.
Historically, Ireland has been divided into provinces. Namely, they are Connacht, Leinster, Munster, and Ulster. Today they don’t serve much of any administrative purpose, although they do hold value in other ways. Locally, the country is divided into 31 entities; that’s 26 counties, 3 cities, and 2 city-and-counties.
The climate in Ireland is temperate and maritime with mostly mild, cool weather. It can get super rainy but isn’t super snowy. These were great conditions for vast forests, although most of those have been cut down. Most the landscape these days is hilly and pastoral with green fields. A majority of the land is set aside for agriculture. There’s a general central plain that culminates in more highland areas around the edges, especially in the west. Much of the coast is rocky with cliffs. Cliff diving, anyone?
What’s the craic, lads? C’mon, give me your best Irish accent! We all know it when we hear it, and that’s due in part to the iconic culture of this place. Common social values in Ireland have to do with their unique sense of humor, storytelling, and folklore, an interest in politics and philosophy, admiration for wit, open expression, and the arts, as well as a pride for (and conflict with) the tricky history of the nation. Who really wants to bring up Protestant discrimination, foreign conquest and assimilation, or the several devastating famines? Not me, my friend.
This sense of pride, though, is one of the very reasons so many Irish abroad are quick to claim their origins. Often, even those with distant Irish descendants are happy to claim where their ancestry. This could be due in part to Irish last names being pretty easily identifiable.
A lot of them come from Gaelic origin, with names like O’Reilly, O’Hara, MacDonald, McAvoy, Murphy, Flanagan, Kennedy, etc. Oh, and the Normans had something to do with it (Kilpatrick, Kilkenny, Fitzpatrick, Fitzgerald), and the Welsh (Walsh). But hey, there’s a lot more to it. Some of the most iconic parts of Irish culture come from Gaelic roots, such as certain musical styles, dance, dress, and sports. I mean, hurling and Gaelic football are mostly an Ireland thing.
Farming and small-town life are also significant aspects of Irish identity, given all those agricultural fields we mentioned earlier. Counties play a role in many people’s identities, shaping things like accent and team affiliations, among others. Dublin is a major cultural and arts center, tied in as one of Europe’s most important financial and technology hubs too. It’s also had a lot more English influence over the years as compared to rural Ireland, so Anglo-Irish ID is a bit stronger than elsewhere in the country.
Irish folklore has also played a huge role in popular world folklore, especially in places like the U.S. and UK. Just think of how big Saint Patrick’s Day and shamrocks are outside of Ireland. Other major characters popularized (at least partially) by Irish storytellers include fairies, pixies, mermaids, the shapeshifting Pooka, the headless horseman, Dullahan, and most noteworthy of all, yes, leprechauns! Don’t know why I got all excited on that one.
Last one here, I wanted to mention Samhain (Saow-in). This traditional Celtic festival where turnips were used to scare away bad spirits would later evolve into today’s Halloween. Most of us use pumpkins instead of turnips now, but popular media have brought this spooky celebration all over the world. And it all stems back to pagan rituals. Imagine that.
Irish = Catholic?
After Gaelic culture, few things have influenced Irish identity and development like Catholicism. We know there’s a whole lot of controversy here, but what can I say? This Christian denomination is so crucial that it has basically been used as a major distinguisher between who is an “Irish national” and who is an “Irish Brit,” or just “Brit.” Irish from the republic are nominally a lot more Catholic, while those in Northern Ireland are a lot more Protestant. It could seem like a trivial difference, but centuries of squabbling and prejudice have really driven the fork deep between the two sides.
Even though it’s been a major issue, on and off, many Northern Irish still consider themselves as simply “Irish.” There’s steady talk of Irish unification too. I don’t know enough about it to voice an opinion, and I’m sure not everyone is open to that happening. Still, it shows how there is some mutual respect and cooperation between the two sides of the island.
The color green is often associated with the country on an international level. Despite conveniently being the color of clovers, it also is associated with the Catholic Church within Ireland (orange is associated with the Protestants).
Speaking the Gaelic
Irish Gaelic or Gaelige is a co-official language with English. It used to be the main language of the people up to about a hundred or so years ago. At different points in history, Ireland was under the control of Great Britain or England. The most recent time during the Industrial Revolution saw a rise in literacy and other factors that grew the English-speaking population substantially, kind of merking those poor Gaelic speakers. Well, not the speakers themselves, but you get it.
Nowadays, Gaelic has struggled to keep up since many don’t really see a need to learn it. Most fluent speakers happen to be older or from rural areas where Gaelic culture is still strong. Cities or areas that have significant amounts of Gaelic speakers are called Gaeltacht, I’ve gathered. Since it’s not really spoken outside of Ireland, and only spoken by a small percentage within its own country, you can understand why it’s a hard one to sell, especially to the youngsters.
Still, the language is mandatory in schools and most people know at least as much Gaelic as I know Spanish from my high school classes. There’s also a sense of revival for Gaelic in some communities, much like there is for lots of endangered languages around the globe. Despite not being fluently spoken by many, the language itself serves a sense of Celtic-rooted identity.
Many words, idioms, and expressions have made their way into the local variety of English. The Irish accent, influenced by Gaelic tongues, Norman and Anglo-Saxon dialects, English, and the several other Gaelic and Brythonic languages nearby have all shaped each other and meshed to influence the local version of English we all recognize today. Cool stuff.
To hear some people speaking in Gaelic and with Irish accents, watch and listen below!
The middle of Canada is spelled with a big “M.” Manitoba is a province of wildlands and some wild weather swings. This nice place is where residents of the world have decided to live and to visit. Scratching its recent Covid-19 troubles, this province is a fascinating one with some interesting features. Read on to see nine reasons why the Keystone Province can be considered unique. But first, some geography and stuff.
MANITOBA: Quick Geography (& Stuff)
Canada’s most centrally-located province is found in the middle interior of the country. One of the so-called Prairie provinces, it is the only one that isn’t landlocked and the one with the most humid climate. Its coastline comes in the northeast on Hudson Bay and it borders the United States to the south.
Back to the climate, Manitoba is mostly continental in the south and subarctic in the north. Major habitats include scattered highland regions, especially east around the Canadian Shield. Most of Manitoba, though, has flat or open landscapes, including prairies and boreal forests that turn into taiga and tundra in the north.
There are also many wetlands like the Hudson Plains and too many lakes to mention. The biggest are Lake Manitoba, Lake Winnipegosis, and Lake Winnipeg, among the largest lakes in the world. The vast majority of Manitobans live in the south which is where the capital, Winnipeg, is located.
Otherwise, the name comes from Cree and Ojibwe languages meaning “straits of Manitou” or the Great Spirit, referring to a place on Lake Winnipeg. The name could also be influenced by Assiniboine for “lake of the prairie.”
So why is Manitoba so special? …
1. Because of Winnipeg
The entryway into all that makes Manitoba stand out has to be in its capital and biggest city. The ground zero of what makes Winnipeg unique is at the Forks, the general meeting point of two rivers where big markets, nice parks, a riverwalk, and boating can be experienced.
Also around Downtown are cultural centers like the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Canadian Museum of Human Rights. That last one mixes some incredibly fun architecture with a breakdown of human rights movements from throughout history. Cruising happily down the urban rivers and parks can take visitors to FortWhyte Alive, an environmental and recreational center with all kinds of interactive outdoor activities.
Another great natural space is Assiniboine Park which covers everything from forest to a beautiful pavilion to a great zoo with tons of polar bears. Important events occur throughout the year too like Folklorama (folk festival) and the Festival du Voyageur (heritage/winter celebration).
2. Because of Churchill (& Polar Bears!)
If you’ve ever watched Animal Planet and seen that Canadian town where polar bears roam the streets, Churchill was probably the place. The city occasionally gets wild polar bears waltzing through it, but there are other attractions to be found. Kayaking on the river and beluga whale outings are especially popular.
There’s the major Prince of Wales Fort to be explored and the town is near to Wapusk National Park. Wapusk is a part of the tundra where visitors can spot wildlife, especially around Polar Bear Alley. There are also wrecked boats and the amazing Northern Lights that add an awesome appeal over the white winter landscape.
Like in other parts of Canada, Manitoba’s history is well preserved. This shows in Lower Fort Garry, an old fur trading post by the Hudson’s Bay Company that allows visitors to get a taste of frontier life.
Near to that is the Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre. Here, birdwatching and environmental immersion meet in a cool-looking center out on the marshes. Out in the town of Steinbach is a Mennonite Heritage Village dedicated to preserving and teaching about the lifestyle of these rustic settlers.
4. Because of its Random Attractions
Being in North America’s Midwest, Manitoba is bound to have some random attractions. Random doesn’t have to mean bad though, since one of these is the International Peace Garden. This wonderful garden is shared with North Dakota in the U.S. and is a really cool gesture of friendship between the two nations.
There’s also the big Centre of Canada sign which signals to the longitudinal center of the whole country. Who else can claim that? Portage La Prairie is a curious little town that boasts the World’s Biggest Coca-Cola Can, plus a neat waterpark on an island called Splash Island. Random.
5. Because of Lake Winnipeg
I don’t want to dump on the other lakes, but Lake Winnipeg seems to be the most popular. Besides all the other great stuff one can do on a massive lake (e.g. fishing, boating, you name it), there are also some popular beaches to see. Most noteworthy are Albert Beach and the famous Grand Beach which hosts a fun Sand Castle Tournament.
Castles made of sand can lead you to Hecla Island, a full-blown island in the lake with beaches and a relaxing coastal resort. There’s also Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park with its lovely coast and lighthouse to explore.
6. Because of the Icelandic Communities
So Canada is home to all sorts of ethnic communities, and adding to that unique list would be the Icelandic ones. Going back to Hecla, the town is home to a big Icelandic community.
A large area around Lake Winnipeg was actually known as New Iceland to settlers. They established the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland in Manitoba! That’s why there are several heritage festivals like Íslendingadagurinn (try that one fast) to commemorate. The town of Gimli is also a major center with a Heritage Museum, plus some beaches of its own.
Whiteshell Provincial Park is one of several unique nature parks in Manitoba. With sweeping rivers and woods, the park is special for having several strangely shaped lakes, especially at West Hawk Lake. This one was created by a meteor impact and has some very interesting views around it.
Not far is the Pinawa Dam Provincial Heritage Centre, centered around the Pinawa Dam. Imagine that. It’s an old dam with a really distinct design that has basically turned into these eerie ruins. Still, it’s a popular place for people to hike, hang out at the parks, or cruise under its watery arches.
8. Because of Parks like Riding Mountain
Riding Mountain just sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like the Matterhorn. Well, this national park has lots of nature to take in and enjoy, including a chance to witness the park’s bison and other wildlife. Scenic views and vast wetlands are also a feature at Spruce Woods Provincial Park, but with a twist. This park is home to a series of large sand dunes to climb in the midst of wild prairies.
From the southern plains to the eastern highlands, the Canadian Shield boasts impressive parks like Atikaki and Nopiming. These places mix rocky forests with beautiful lake shores, great for watching sunsets and Auroras under the wild sky.
9. Because of its Culture
Reading above, you could see how Manitoba’s settlers have shaped the face of the province. This of course stems from its First Nations and later Métis people (mostly of mixed Indigenous and French background) that played a big role in distinguishing it as a province.
From Icelanders to Mennonites to French and British fur traders, the rustic outdoors heritage of the settlers still shines in its modern lifestyle. Nature shapes a big part of Manitoba’s identity with wildlife being a core part of many attractions. Winters are brutal but people don’t shy away from a bit of lakeshore fun on those beaches.
Conserving nature and history is a big deal here in a place where it’s hard to say that polar bears don’t matter. I mean, they’re walking right there! But really, an attention to what makes all of human- and animal-kind special joined with a boldness to design and redesign itself all make Manitoba … well, it’s just a piece of what makes Manitoba a special place.
First off, thank you for coming. If you enjoyed this, please read about other unique places on Earth’s Face. Tell us what you like about Manitoba! Feel free to contact me with personal comments or for collaboration at email@example.com. Stop by again, and take care out there travelers!
Another piece of the Maritimes, Canada’s got its own little Acadian Scotland. Nova Scotia is known for its seaside towns, extreme tides, and forested highlands. But does any of that make the province unique? Well, let’s find out. First, take a quick look at some geography, and we’ll get into what is so special about Nova Scotia. Come on …
NOVA SCOTIA: Quick Geography
Canada’s second-smallest province is Nova Scotia, a Latin name meaning “New Scotland,” or Nouvelle-Écosse (Nu-vell-Eh-coss) in French. True to the name, it’s also known as Alba Nuadh in Scottish Gaelic, though that’s one of the lesser spoken languages nowadays.
Nova Scotia is a part of both the Maritimes and Atlantic provinces of eastern Canada. It’s mostly located on the main peninsula, though a big chunk lies on Cape Breton Island which is home to a pretty large inland sea called Bras d’Or Lake (I know, the name is misleading). The capital and largest city of Halifax is on the main peninsula. Otherwise, there are thousands of smaller islands all around, including the famous Sable Island.
It is connected to the rest of Canada in the north and is surrounded by parts of the Atlantic Ocean in all other directions like the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The climate in Nova Scotia is mostly continental with wet weather and uncommonly cold winters for the region. There are lots of seasonal forests and highlands that form an extension of the Northern Appalachian system, especially on Cape Breton.
So, why is Nova Scotia so unique?
1. Because of Pretty Towns like Lunenburg
One thing that Nova Scotia is probably known for above all is its pretty colonial towns and villages, with one of the most famous being Lunenburg. This town is particularly colorful with museums and historic buildings, but it’s most famous for its beautiful waterfront.
Other popular coastal towns are Peggy’s Cove and Yarmouth, known for similarly beautiful rustic buildings, their ports, lighthouses, and the works. Amherst was the first designated town in the province and Sydney used to be the capital of Cape Breton’s colony. Either way, the mix of Maritimes coast with forested hills and wooden Victorian homes make these towns all a special sight.
2. Because of Halifax
Halifax is not just Nova Scotia’s main city, but it’s the biggest city in the Maritimes region. This makes it a center for business and culture, most notably at the Harbour and Waterfront. Here there are markets, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, a newly designed Art Gallery in the works, and the famed Pier 21. This place was once Canada’s gateway for European immigrants and is now a museum where folks can check their family records for free.
The Harbour is also where people can take a ferry over to Dartmouth to get a great view of Halifax or enjoy another set of waterfront attractions. Within the city are the beautiful Public Gardens and the historic Citadel Hill which houses the city’s old forts and a special panoramic view.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica is one of the prettier structures to be viewed in town. Also known for its green spaces, pleasant zones to get fresh air are the Halifax Common and Point Pleasant Park. Long Lake Provincial Park is good to go a bit further in the boonies.
3. Because of Historic Sites like Louisbourg
The Fortress of Louisbourg is a National Historic Site where reenactments of colonial life are carried out by professionals all over the site. Even though it’s one of the larger forts, there are quite a few places that provide insight into historic life like the Ross Farm Museum and Fort Anne.
It and Port-Royal were actually among the first French settlements in Acadia and the Americas, while Fort Anne leads to the splendorous Annapolis Royal Gardens. Another historic site is Grand-Pré, a sort of monument town dedicated to the Acadians that were expelled from there by British rule.
4. Because of the Bay of Fundy & Minas Basin
That’s right! New Brunswick isn’t the only province that can boast the Bay. Nova Scotia also has a number of scenic sites and landscapes due some praise. Around Hall’s Harbour are a famous lobster restaurant, sea caves, and the site of huge tidal changes.
The area is also notable for whale watching. Cape Split has a series of high trails and cliffs that overlook the beautiful water. Going inward to Minas is where the real tide action happens, being home to the most extreme tidal changes in the world. There’s even a place where rafters can ride backward on the tides.
Blomidon Provincial Park is one of the best places to take in all the wonderful scenery with orange cliffs and long sandy passages being a feature there. Stamped between the Bay and some interior hills is Annapolis Valley, another very pretty region stocked with rolling vineyards and green knolls.
5. Because of Kejimkujik
Kejimkujik is — well, hard to pronounce, but also one of Nova Scotia’s best National Parks. It’s a gorgeous forest area with rivers and hills and even reaches down to some beaches. Besides its natural appeal, the park also has a number of cultural interactions with the native Mi’kmaq people. These can include villages, hunting and food practices, wildlife reserves, and other cultural immersion sites set to inform outside visitors about Nova Scotia’s original settlers.
6. Because of Cape Breton
Cape Breton Island has a lot of what makes Nova Scotia unique, and a lot of it has to do with the Cape Breton Highlands. The coastal highlands form another great National Park to explore, particularly around the Cabot Trail.
Among the many trails that Giovanni Caboto blazed in the New World, this area has a number of scenic overlooks and pathways to take in the pure beauty of Canada’s Atlantic coastline. I mentioned the big sea/lake of Bras d’Or which has its own share of nice water and forest settings.
Along the coast is the town of Baddeck, a calm post for tourism, boat outings, golf excursions, and a site dedicated to the maker of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, once a resident there. We already mentioned Louisbourg too, so check it as another special place on Cape Breton.
7. Because of its Random Islands
With a few thousand islands, you have to bet that some of NS’s isles had to be a little strange. Or maybe random is a better descriptor word. There are lots of islands that could potentially make the count, but one that stands out is St. Paul Island.
This place is odd because it’s pretty far offshore from Cape Breton but was seriously settled at one point. There’s a lighthouse, an abandoned radio station, and a couple of abandoned manors. If that weren’t enough, the island is often shrouded in fog to make matters creepier.
A more pleasant yet no-less random island is Sable. This island looks more like a long sandbank and it’s also a ways offshore from the mainland. That didn’t stop the island from being populated by a special breed of horses (Sable Island horses, fittingly so). It’s also apparently a popular island in literature and other media and is well-known for its grassy hills, long sandy beaches, and a history of frequent shipwrecks. I’m sure the horses contribute to the fame, though.
8. Because of the Culture
A big part of Nova Scotia’s cultural identity is spelled right there in the name. Scottish and other Gaelic-nation immigrants had a huge impact on the province’s early British settlement. Still, the earlier French and Acadians also left their mark on NS, from place names to foods and some of the traditions.
Several places look like French Catholicism and colonialism clashed with Victorian design and made some very pretty architectural collages. Plus, this is Canada, so world immigration has contributed to NS’s already diverse population. Anglo-Canadian culture and language have taken over. Still, there are areas where the native language or French are still prevalent. Scottish Gaelic is sort of on the rise in some places and apparently has one of the highest speaker communities outside of Scotland.
Even though its population density is fairly high, the people are pretty spread out and the towns are able to maintain that old North Atlantic fishing village feel. Industrialization mixes with modern tech and arts. The influence of the Mi’kmaq people is still present in heritage festivals, galleries, and some of the renewed designs.
It was also a haven for British Loyalists escaping the American Revolution, and so New England has a foot inside the province. Quiet coastal living, rural country values, and the ocean itself all put a stamp on what it means to be in Nova Scotia. Quietly continuing to surprise people with its subtle beauty, this province holds a unique place in our world.
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You read it right! We’re going to look at just the southern portion of Ontario. Welcome to the land of great lakes! (or beautiful waters) Unlike the previous Earth’s Faces in Iceland, Canada has some remarkably large subdivisions called provinces. Since this province is so big, I decided to break it up between north and south. It’s already one of the most iconic parts of Canada, but what (besides Toronto) makes southern Ontario so special? Let’s take a look … sh-hall we?
Southern Ontario: Quick Geography
The southern portion of Ontario is a very interesting part of Canada, being the region with the densest population. Several big urban areas are found here, including Toronto (Canada’s biggest city, Ontario’s provincial capital), and Ottawa, the nation’s capital.
It’s a region surrounded by the United States on three sides and is the southernmost part of the country. Most of the region is a type of lowland naturally covered in mixed-wood forests. Being a part of the Great Lakes / St. Lawrence River valley, part of its borders are traced by Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie.
The province is actually named after LakeOntario, which in turn probably comes from Wyandot or other Iroquoian languages. It means something like “great lake” or “beautiful water,” fitting since Ontario is home to nearly 250 thousand lakes! Some other major ones are Lake Simcoe and Lake St. Clair. Further to the north, you start to hit the boreal shield. Here, the forests are colder and denser, and the terrain gets more hilly. So, what are some special features?
1. Niagara Falls – quaint cities & waterfalls
Let’s just forget about Toronto (for now). The next thing that might come to mind when you think of southern Ontario should be beautiful Niagara Falls. These are some of the most famous waterfalls in the world, so I don’t need to explain too much. Besides the gushing rapids themselves, the falls sit right along the actual city of Niagara Falls. This is cool because you can be in the urban area, stroll in the park, be up in a hotel, and see the falls right next door.
Comparing to Buffalo, New York, for example, the falls are a lot closer to the city. Still, another special thing about Niagara Falls is its proximity to other unique cities. You have easy access to Buffalo, not to mention the city of Niagara Falls, New York. Inside Ontario, there are some quiet colonial towns with a laidback vibe like St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake. These cities deserve their own exploration with unique styles and even some of their own waterfalls. There’s also the Whirlpool Aero Car which takes you up above the valley to see the rushing waters from above. Just don’t look down for too long.
2. Thousand Islands – islands & history
The Thousand Islands is another very special part of Ontario. Like Niagara, this region is shared with New York state. It’s basically a series of isles and islets, numbering way more than 1,000, that straddle the mighty St. Lawrence River. There are boat tours and island hopping, views of towering bridges, and majestic castles to explore.
It’s a very cool-looking region that amazed me to learn about. Being from California and all, I had no idea about these kinds of places. If you’re coming from Lake Ontario, the historic city of Kingston sits right at the opening of the river. It seems like a great entry point to learn more about the region and take in the vibes of yet another Canadian city.
3. Ottawa – the capital
You know I had to include the capital of Canada! I get the sense that not many people outside of Canada know that Ottawa is the capital. It’s not as talked about in the world media, but it’s a very unique city. Being the capital, you can expect some important government buildings and astonishing architecture; look no further than Parliament Hill, towering over the Ottawa River.
One really striking building in these parts is the Library of Parliament which is amazingly beautiful. It reminds me of when I learned about the big library in Washington, DC. I mean, I really am surprised at how pretty libraries are in some parts of the world. Okay, so you have great museums like the National Gallery of Canada with its giant spider sculpture and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Important historic buildings are here like the St. Patrick Basilica and the old Laurier House, once home to the prime ministers.
For those just looking to chill, the city is stacked with urban parks, including those along the Rideau riverside. Rideau, by the way, is that river that freezes over in winter where people can go ice skating through the city. Riding around in the snow past beautiful buildings seems like an awesome experience to me. Ottawa is also interesting for being right on the border with Quebec, the predominantly French-speaking part of Canada. There’s lots of culture and lots of fun to be had out here.
4. Interior Parks – nature
Ontario has tons of provincial and national parks, and some of the prettiest ones are inland. Algonquin Provincial Park is probably the prime example. Acting as a sort of natural divider between northern and southern Ontario, it’s a heavily forested area cut by scenic lakes, rivers, and isles. It’s especially pretty in the autumn when the leaves change colors.
Another standout park is Bon Echo. It holds similar forested hills and dramatic landscapes to Algonquin but shines alone as far as scenic parks go. Further south you have rocky waterways like the Elora Gorge, great for canoeing or splashing in the water. One more important mention is the Bruce Trail. It’s this historic trail now used mostly by hikers to witness some of the awesome Ontario scenery. It goes from Niagara Falls all the way up to our next unique spot in the Bruce Peninsula.
5. Tobermory & Bruce Peninsula – nature & adventure
Again, from California guys, I’m sorry. When I first saw footage of Tobermory, I could not believe this place was in Canada. It is a region right along the edge of the larger Bruce Peninsula within the midsection of Lake Huron. The main striking feature here is the blueness of the water cut into by all kinds of rocks, grottoes, and cliffs.
The land is forested and honestly looks like somewhere out of the Caribbean during the summer. It’s a really pretty mixture of acrylic greens and blues, all set aside the massive lake backdrop. Travelers can explore caves, dive in natural pools, and even witness some funky-shaped rocks like the famous Flowerpot. And it’s not just Tobermory at the tip. The entire peninsula is full of pretty and interesting sites. Natural surprises speak loud out here.
6. The Great Lakes – lake shores
I know, Tobermory is on Lake Huron. I had to give it its own little section. Still, there is so much to see in the other Great Lakes. Sticking with Lake Huron, there’s an area called the Georgian Bay Islands, a series of islands and forests great for exploring nature. Right on the south of Huron is the city of Sarnia. Besides being another city to explore, there are also some nice beaches there to enjoy (at the right time of year, of course).
Lake Erie has a couple of (literal) points of interest like Long Point and Point Pelee. These places hold sandbanks and boardwalks where you can walk across the marshes and observe wildlife. Pelee National Park is actually the southernmost point in Canada, holding a few islands out in Lake Erie. Lake Ontario obviously has lots of cool towns and cities to stop at. A bonus place I want to mention is Sandbanks Provincial Park, a section of the lake dotted by hills of sand and pretty blue waters, plus some tranquil beaches. And speaking of Lake Ontario …
7. Hamilton – city & nature
Southern Ontario has lots of neat cities, but Hamilton stands out in the crowd. Not just the name of a famous play, it’s also one of the larger cities outside the immediate Toronto area with its own special identity. With the enchanting Royal Botanical Gardens and castles like the Dundurn, you don’t need much to appreciate this place. As if those kinds of features weren’t enough, Hamilton has a number of urban waterfalls to boot. Two prominent ones are Tews Falls and Albion Falls, but the city is loaded with natural spaces and parkland. But it’s not the only city worth a mention.
8. Explore Other Cities – more cities & culture
Given that southern Ontario is the most densely populated part of the country, you have to imagine there are some other cities worth their own shout-outs. This part of Canada is home to several of the nation’s very top universities. Take Toronto, Western, McMaster, and Waterloo, to name a couple. Education: check.
Windsor is a cool city kinda known for being a great place to view downtown Detroit. They also have a flashy yet homegrown art scene like the Chimczuck Museum, Art Gallery of Windsor, and the Sculpture Park. Some of these are on a parkway along the Detroit River, right next to the international Ambassador Bridge. And that’s not to mention the city’s extensive street art.
Stratford is famous for its local festival dedicated to theater. It has been one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the world. Fittingly, the town is home to the Shakespeare Gardens. Little Dresden is home to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This place is an important historic site for Canadians and Americans, being a station for former slave, Josiah Henson. After escaping from Maryland, he settled near this town where he wrote about the Underground Railroad and supported abolition. That’s worth celebrating!
Of course, you can’t talk about celebrations without mention of the Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo. These two cities come together to form one of the biggest Oktoberfests outside of Germany, adding on to their province’s pride.
9. Culture (And Closing)
My my. Southern Ontario is definitely one of the most important parts of Canada. It’s the region where Canada was essentially born and remains at the center of Canadian industry, entertainment, and economy to this day. It’s a place where American and Canadian identities meet since they’re so close together. In the cities, diversity runs wild and influences from around the globe morph together in this one section of the map.
Canada’s history is embedded into this part of Ontario and is, in many ways, the cradle of the nation’s English-Canadian identity. After all, many of the other provinces were populated by people who were leaving Ontario. This region is home to many of the Canadians that the world knows by way of entertainment, and is the political center of the nation as well. Borrowing bits and pieces from all over, southern Ontario is a unique place all by itself.
You can find more posts about the world’s special places in the Earth’s Face section.
**I hope you all enjoyed learning about this special place in Canada. I know some of my readers are from Canada, so please share what you know about southern Ontario. Are you from there? Let me know if there’s anything you would change or add in this post. And, as always, keep that adventurous learning spirit! Peace to you.
Welcome back to another post about Iceland! We’re going to continue our curious quest to learn what makes different parts of the world stand out from all the rest. Moving on within the nation of Iceland, this post explores how unique the Western Region and Westfjords are. This isn’t really a travel list, more a letter of admiration for these two incredible places. You can read Part 1 about Iceland here. Check the links to discover more, or feel free to research some of these places for yourself. But read this first!
Okay. What does make the Western Region and the Westfjords so special?
As far as place-names go in Iceland, this one is about as simple as it gets. The Western Region is named so for being in the west. It sits just north of the Capital Region, with its capital at Borgarnes. It has coastlines, highlands, mountains, and glaciers like all the other regions do. The climate doesn’t differ much either. Okay, moving on.
Features & Places
Even though Borgarnes is the capital, the biggest town in the region is Akranes. Akranes is a coastal city with several interesting features like a lighthouse that looks spectacular underneath the sunset or aurora lights. There’s this ship from the 1950s called Höfrungur AK 91 that was just left on the shore and turned into a tourist attraction. There’s a sandy beach too, although the water’s a little chilly for diving.
It’s not the biggest, but Borgarnes is still worth the visit. The saving feature of this town is the majestic landscape surrounding it. There are winding peninsulas and harbors with snowy mountains in the backdrop. Like with most of the country, the elevation rises the further inland you go. With this, you can see an impressively tall waterfall called Glymur high above the surrounding canyons and tumbling birds.
A mention of landscapes couldn’t go without Snæfellsnes. It’s a natural region on a peninsula that happens to be one of the most photographed and iconic parts of Iceland. There are these unbelievable rock formations covered in green pastures alongside roaring white waterfalls. The whole thing is like a fantasy setting. The coast is just as impressive with twisty stones and rugged shores alongside many uniquely shaped rocks. There are natural bridges, arches, and tunnels carved out by the constantly beating waves.
In this same area is Snæfellsjökull, a big volcano that overlooks beaches and shorelines. It’s a pretty sight considering the glacier sitting on top of it, and even more amazing when the whole area is covered in snow during the winter. Inland you can see even taller mountains and larger glaciers. Isn’t that awesome?!
The Westfjords are named so for being in the northwest of the country (naturally) and being full of fjords. It’s actually the part of Iceland furthest to the west and is the closest to Greenland. Its capital is a town deep inside a fjord called Ísafjörður. Now let’s see what you’ve got.
Features & Places
Now, the Westfjords or West Fjords — really you can write it either way — is a very pretty area similar somewhat to the Western Region. What makes it stand alone are its complex systems of fjords (imagine that!), cliffs, and very very twisty roads. These kinds of roads are famous and highly memorable for those that have driven them. The winding roads take you past some pretty amazing sights, including the mighty Dynjandi Falls. These suckers cascade over cliffs around the bend of some big road curves. Because of the rugged landscape, summer in these parts becomes really beautiful. As the snow melts, it creates all sorts of streams and waterfalls that run down into the ocean. One of the more interesting places to see this is in Ísafjörður, where the green and the streams really stand out around the edges of the town’s harbor.
The highest cliffs on the North Atlantic can be found at Látrabjarg. This place is a refuge for many sea birds like puffins that you can watch and get close to. The feeling of standing over the sea and watching birds fly under you must be an incredible sensation. The region is also full of green meadows that cover the hills and misty clouds that shift in between cliffs and mountains. The best showcasing of this unique beauty is found in Hornstrandir, an area with protruding mountains and cliffs like rhino horns that jut out over the sea. The setting is spectacular!
Culture (AKA Last Thoughts)
It’s easy to imagine why these regions are some of the most photographed and celebrated parts of Iceland. Just look up Iceland on Google Images and you’re bound to see a few locations from these iconic places. It goes to show from their almost unbelievable landscapes pressing right against the sea, their iconic winding roads, seaside volcanoes, and tall grassy cliffs. The Western Region and the Westfjords are definitely important for tourism, being not too far from Reykjavík. Still, they are remote enough to preserve the old customs and lifestyles while being open to welcome in newcomers. Go and check it out!
**Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning more about these unique regions of Iceland. I appreciate that you like to learn about the world and have a passion for exploring! Please share with us anything you’d like to add about these regions. What was the most interesting place on this list? Would you ever visit these regions? As always, take care of yourself. And go explore your world 😉