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Ontario Hotels

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2: Searching or hotels in Ontario, a state of Canada. Ontario is divided into 73 regions - from Ancaster to Woodstock. To find your hotel, click on one of the blue links below.

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Ontario: The one million square kilometres of Ontario, Canada's second-largest province, stretch all the way from the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes to the frozen shores of Hudson Bay. Some two-thirds of this territory – all of the north and most of the centre – is occupied by the forests and rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield, whose ancient, Precambrian rocks were brought to the surface by the glaciers that gouged the continent during the last ice age. The glaciers produced a flattened landscape studded with thousands of lakes and it was the local Iroquois who first coined the name "Ontario", literally "glittering waters". The Iroquois – as well as their Algonquin neighbours to the north – hunted and fished the Canadian Shield, but their agricultural activities were confined to the more fertile and hospitable parts of southern Ontario, in which the vast majority of the province's ten million people are now concentrated.

The first Europeans to make regular contact with these aboriginal peoples were the French explorers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most famously the intrepid Étienne Brûlé and Samuel de Champlain. However, these early visitors were preoccupied with the fur trade, and it wasn't until the end of the American War of Independence and the immigration of the United Empire Loyalists that mass settlement really began. Between 1820 and 1850 a further wave of migrants, mostly English, Irish and Scots, made Upper Canada, as Ontario was known until Confederation, the most populous and prosperous Canadian region. This pre-eminence was reinforced towards the end of the nineteenth century by the industrialization of the region's larger towns, a process that was underpinned by the discovery of some of the world's richest mineral deposits: in the space of twenty years, nickel was found near Sudbury, silver at Cobalt, gold in Red Lake and iron ore at Wawa.

Nowadays, a highly mechanized timber industry, mineral mines, massive hydroelectric schemes and thousands of factories – making more than half the country's manufactured goods – keep Ontario at the top of the economic ladder. However, this industrial success has created massive environmental problems, most noticeable in the wounded landscapes around Sudbury and the polluted waters of lakes Erie and Ontario. Furthermore, the province remains firmly in the political hands of the Progressive Conservative Party, whose flinty right-wing agenda owes much to the UK's Mrs Thatcher. As a consequence, privatization and tax cuts are in vogue, along with endless moaning about welfare scroungers, whilst environmental issues take a back (or nonexistent) seat.

With more than four million inhabitants, Toronto is Canada's biggest city, a financial and industrial behemoth that boasts a hatful of sights – the pick of which are its art galleries – a great restaurant scene and a vibrant nightlife. To the east and west of the city, along the north shore of Lake Ontario, is the so-called "Golden Horseshoe" – named for its economic clout rather than its looks and comprising sprawling suburbs and ugly industrial townships. Highlights here are few and far between, but the steel city of Hamilton, at the western end of the lake, does have one or two interesting historic sights and is also near Canada's premier tourist spot, Niagara Falls – best visited on a day-trip from Toronto or from colonial Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most of the rest of southwest Ontario, sandwiched between lakes Huron and Erie, is farming terrain that's as flat as a Dutch polder. Nevertheless, the car-producing town of Windsor is a lively place to spend a night, and both Goderich and Bayfield are charming little places tucked against the bluffs along the Lake Huron shoreline. For landscape, the most attractive regions of southern Ontario are the Bruce Peninsula and the adjacent Georgian Bay, whose Severn Sound is the location of the beautiful Georgian Bay Islands National Park as well as a pair of top-notch historical reconstructions, Discovery Harbour and Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.

In central Ontario, inland from the coastal strip bordering Georgian Bay, are the myriad Muskoka Lakes – the epicentre of what Canadians call cottage country. Every summer, the province's city folk arrive here in their thousands for a spot of fishing, boating and swimming, hunkering down in their lakeside cottages – though "cottages" is something of a misnomer as these second homes range from humble timber chalets to vast mansions. Locals swear this summer jaunt is the best time of the year, but touring the region as an outsider is mostly disappointing. For a start, and with the notable exception of several superb hotels, there is nowhere in particular to go and the main towns – primarily Gravenhurst and Bracebridge – are far from inspiring. If you get an invite to a cottage things may well seem very different, but otherwise – if you're after the great outdoors – it's best to keep going north to Algonquin Provincial Park, a vast tract where beavers and black bears roam and you can canoe for days without seeing a soul. If that sounds too daunting, head east instead for the towns bordering the St Lawrence River, primarily Kingston, a handsome city with a clutch of fine colonial buildings. North of here, within easy striking distance, is Ottawa, the nation's capital, but a surprisingly small city of impeccable streets and parks, high-class museums and galleries, plus – and this may be something of a surprise if you're familiar with the city's bureaucratic image – a lively restaurant and bar scene.

Northern Ontario, beyond Algonquin Provincial Park, offers a natural environment stunning in its extremes, but the travelling can be hard and the specific sights too widely separated for comfort. Two main roads cross this sparsely inhabited region, Hwy 11 in the north and Hwy 17 to the south. The former links a series of mining towns and should be avoided, while the latter passes near or cuts through a string of parks, including the extravagantly wild Lake Superior Provincial Park. Hwy 17 also visits Sault Ste Marie – terminus of the Agawa Canyon train, which affords a glimpse of the otherwise impenetrable hinterland – as well as the gritty grain port of Thunder Bay, an ideal stopping point on the long journey west (or east). North of Hwy 11 lies a brutal country where hunters are the only regular visitors, though the passing tourist can get a taste of the terrain on board the Polar Bear Express, which tracks across the Arctic tundra to link Cochrane, on Hwy-11, with Moosonee on the shores of James Bay.

Toronto is at the heart of Ontario's public transport system, with regular bus and rail services shuttling along the shore of Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River to connect every major city between Niagara Falls, Ottawa and ultimately Montréal. Away from this urban core, however, the picture is far more sketchy. There are fairly regular bus services on the London–Windsor–Detroit route and along the Trans-Canada and Hwy 17, but connections between the province's smaller towns are few and far between – reckon on about one per day even for prominent places, though in some cases (for instance, Goderich) there are no buses at all. Click here to go to Ontario Web site



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