Today I am rolling out a new feature. Actually it’s a borrowed feature from the old Black Table website called “6 things you didn’t know about…” various U.S. states. For my purposes I have convened a pantheon of guest writers to cover the many provinces and territories of Canada. The information will generally be stuff you won’t find on Wikipedia, but might know if you live in the province in question. I still have a few available so if you live somewhere in this great country and want to write about it contact me first. I’ll let you know if your area is still up for grabs. I also recommend checking out the original Black Table feature because it is great.
My contribution to this great effort is not actualy a province. I have decided to divide Ontario into at least three parts, Northern, Southern and the GTA. It’d be really hard to generalize such a large and diverse place. We are the largest in population and second largest in size among the provinces. Given my location in Hamilton (which will never truly be part of the GTA so take that Toronto) I am going to write about Southern Ontario, an area roughly defined as Niagara-Windsor and Lake Erie to Lake Huron. I am ignoring the bit with Kingston, Belleville and the Capital Region. I think those last three might get their own entry as they are practically in Quebec.
Toronto? Boo! Or not…
Like most Canadians, people in Southern Ontario generally hate Toronto. We consider the citizens smug show offs, with too much land, and too much money. Corporate yuppie wannabes. They wanted to be their own province! How arrogant. Unlike most of Canada we also secretly love Toronto. This is because many of us have lived, worked, or visited the place and realize that it really is one of the best cities in the world. We go to baseball and hockey games, we shop in the many awesome malls and shopping districts, we eat the delicious food, we view the world class art, and we enjoy the top notch entertainment. Young people go wild in the clubs (sometimes the old ones too). When we are outside of the city we insult and loathe it, but when there is fun to be had, guess where you’ll often find us. Despite this, I still say Oskee Wee Wee!
OOOOO Pretty Water Fall Down
Most people know about Niagara Falls with it’s cheesy stores, wax museums, and, oh yeah, the waterfall. But did you know that the Niagara Escarpment (which runs from Niagara to Tobermory) is home to hundreds of other waterfalls? Hamilton alone has 97, ranging from majestic and beautiful, to leaky faucet like. And if you get tired of watching water run over rock, we also have easy access to three of the 5 great lakes, something we have in common with Michigan.
Why do the Americans talk to us?
Southern Ontario was once home to Neutral, Huron, and Iroquois native tribes. But that is kind of irrelevant now, unless you are interested in land disputes. Most of the settlements that exist today were founded by Loyalists. You know, those people who backed the losing side in the American War of Independence. To some degree that explains the War of 1812, except for the part where we captured Detroit and Washington D.C. What this means is that Ontario has a rich British and Anglican history, that has mostly been supplanted by just about every other ethnic group in the last 300 years. It doesn’t mean we can’t remember the pioneers who carved out a spot for themselves in some of the most fertile land in all of Canada. They kind of hit the jackpot when they came to Niagara and were handed land grants. Here have this land where you can grow any nice fruit you like, and in a couple hundred years you can make award winning wines for all to enjoy! This also led to the creation of places like Stratford, which belongs in England not Ontario.
We’ve got learning yes we do, we’ve got learning how ’bout you?
Southern Ontario is home to the greatest concentration of post-secondary institutions in the nation. We boast 7 universities in the area I roughly defined above, and numerous colleges and bible schools. Of course the region also boasts the least educated electoral district in the country, Hamilton East, where only 3% of residents have a university degree. This fact underlines the great dichotomy of Southern Ontario, namely that two ways of life intermingle in one place. You have the highly educated professionals, many of whom work in Toronto, juxtaposed against the blue collar manufacturing and agricultural workers. It makes for some great dinner time conversation.
Come and see for yourself
Despite being a fairly boring place, Southern Ontario has a successful tourism industry. I know it’s true because I used to see the monthly statistics. So where do people go? Niagara Falls is the obvious first choice, being the honeymoon capital that it is. More unusual options include the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, The Clay and Glass Museum in Waterloo, Storybook Gardens in London, and the ever popular beaches along Lake Erie. Considering that on the other side of Lake Erie is Cleveland, you might want to be careful in that water. Hamilton, Burlington, and Milton are convenient places to stay when you want to get a bit of everything, including the dreaded Toronto.
New world, old world, green world, blue world
Perhaps the best part about Southern Ontario is it’s diversity. It’s well known that Toronto is one of the most multi cultural cities in the world, but not even it can match up with what the surrounding region has to offer. We have a thriving Mennonite community in Waterloo Region. We have large populations of many Asian communities ranging from Chinese to Filipino to Indian. You want religion? We have Buddhists, Muslims, every kind of Christian, even our own wacky cults. Kitchener and Hamilton are top locations for new immigrants to start out. Our border crossings handle a lot of traffic every year (ever try to get across the Peace Bridge on a Saturday? Yikes!) Luckily we have avoided a lot of the racial tension that can occur when this many people intermingle in one place. Remember, Southern Ontario was, for a brief time, the preferred destination of escaping slaves on the underground railroad. Harriet Tubman spent time here. Even the WASPs have learnt to play nice. Southern Ontario welcomes you like a warm blanket on a cold day, then dumps 3 feet of snow on you. But the summer’s are great!
It’s pretty clear that I love Southern Ontario. It has been my home for all 26 years of my life. Would I recommend visiting? You bet! Just so you know, “Hamilton Mountain,” Not a mountain at all.
Other entries in this series