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The word Ontario is derived from an Iroquoian word meaning “beautiful water”, an apt description for a region studded with lakes, rivers and streams.

The Ontario government is a participant in the Historic Places Initiative, a federal, provincial and territorial partnership aimed at identifying and conserving historic places across Canada. HPI will help further an appreciation of Ontario's heritage by promoting its historic places and encouraging heritage conservation and rehabilitation efforts. Tour Canada's Historic Places for more information.

Ontario’s first settlement commenced in prehistoric times. By 100 A.D. Indian settlement was divided into two main groups, the Algonquin (Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin) and the Iroquois (Huron, Iroquois, Erie…).

Early European exploration of Ontario began in 1610 with Etienne Brulé voyaging up the St. Lawrence River in company with the Huron Indians and Nicolas du Vignau travelling with the Algonquin up the Ottawa on behalf of Samuel de Champlain. Champlain himself traveled up the Ottawa River in 1613 and again in 1615 guided by the Huron.

guardFrench settlement was limited largely to the St. Lawrence Valley between Québec and Montréal in what is presently the Province of Québec. Within Ontario most attention by the French was paid to forts, trading posts and missions amongst the Indians. For example, in July 1673, Governor Count Frontenac arrived at the site of the present city of Kingston to meet leaders of the Five Nations of the Iroquois and established Fort Frontenac with the aim of controlling access to the fur rich Great Lakes region.

What is now Ontario remained under the French regime until September 1760 when New France became a British Colony. Subsequently the region became Québec under the Treaty of Paris of 1763. When the Québec Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1774, added the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions to Québec, it raised much anger in the colonies to the south and was a contributing factor to the American Revolution.

Following the revolution, in 1783 the Second Treaty of Paris ceded the land south of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes to the United States. At the close of the revolution, colonists who remained loyal to the English crown, the United Empire Loyalists, fled north to Canada in large numbers. What is now Ontario, received its first major wave of approximately 7,500 English speaking settlers who moved primarily to the provinces eastern half, along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and of Lake Ontario. See Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg and Loyalist Cultural Centre and Museum in Adolphustown.

glengarry.jpgScottish immigration to Ontario which began to a limited extent with Scottish Loyalists from the Mohawk Valley moving to Ontario’s most eastern region was followed by large numbers settling in Glengarry, Lanark and Renfrew counties in Eastern Ontario. Through their involvement in the fur trade in both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company, they established trade routes, explored much of Canada, and were prominent in commerce, education, medicine, law and the clergy. Scottish culture is actively celebrated in festivals and events such as the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, Ontario. Visit the Nor’Westers and Loyaist Museum in quaint Williamstown Village.

With poor economic conditions prevalent in Ireland in 1822, the British parliament rated 30,000 pounds to finance and emigration of poor Irish families to Upper Canada. Parliament was intent on increasing the number of settlers to defend the border with the United States. In 1823, Peter Robinson led the first wave of 568 settlers to Lanark, Perth and Ramsay townships, and in 1825, a second wave of 1800 people to the Peterborough area. Thousands more Irish settlers were carried to Ontario and North America during the potato famine of the 1840’s in Ireland. Although still not frequently credited, Irish labourers were the backbone of the development of such major projects as the Rideau Canal and the eastern regions lumber industry.

oldmill.jpgWithin the eastern half of Ontario the earliest French settlement took place at l’Orignal in 1674. After 1850, francophone immigration, largely from Québec spread within Ottawa, Prescott Russell, and Glengarry –Stormont. The mid northern areas near North Bay in Nipissing were settled around 1880 with more northern regions around Cochrane and Timiskaming receiving francophone immigration at the beginning of the 20th century. Francophones currently represent 5% of the provinces total population, with some counties, such as Prescott Russell having a 75% francophone population.

Across the province there are numerous francophone cultural centres, festivals, galleries, theatres, as well as radio, television and newspapers in the French language.


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