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 Lake Ontario, 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.