Ontario, Canada’s second-largest province covers 1,068,639 million square kilometres (412,592 square miles) stretching 1,730 kilometres (1,056 miles) from its most southerly point to the Arctic waters of Hudson Bay, and 1,690 kilometres 91,047 mi.) from west to east. The word Ontario is thought to mean “beautiful waters” in the original Iroquoian language, a fitting description for a land of more than 250,000 lakes and thousands of kilometres of rivers and streams. These glorious freshwater lakes and rivers were created by the retreat of massive glaciers during the last ice age.
It was 10,000 years ago that the first Aboriginal people arrived in what is now Ontario. While some Aboriginal nations settled down to erect villages and farm the land in the south, other nations continued to wander. There were battles between the nations, but by the 1600s they had begun to band together into confederacies and develop a democratic system of government.
The French were the first Europeans to arrive in Ontario, following the path of explorers in the early 1600s. The lucrative fur trade drew the English to the wild shores of Hudson Bay only a few years later, but settlement in earnest began with the Loyalists moving north after the War of American Independence.
Today, there are two Aboriginal language groups in Ontario: Algonquian, spoken by the Algonquin, Ojibwa and Cree; and Iroquoian, spoken by the Iroquois. The French culture is still a part of Ontario, with Franco-Ontarians representing five per cent of the province’s population of just over 11 million. Successive waves of immigrants have continued to enrich Ontario’s culture, and its cities are microcosms of the world in their rich ethnic variety. Today, Ontario is home to more than 80 cultures.