Northern Ontario

From Academic Kids

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Northern Ontario is the part of the province of Ontario, Canada, which lies north of Lake Huron, Georgian Bay, the French River and Lake Nipissing.

Northern Ontario covers 1 million square kilometres and constitutes 90 per cent of the surface area of Ontario, although it contains only 10 per cent of the population.

In the early 20th century, Northern Ontario was often called "New Ontario", although this name fell into disuse because of its colonial connotations. (In French, however, the region is still referred to as Nouvel Ontario.)

Most of Northern Ontario is situated on the Canadian Shield, a vast rocky plateau. The climate is characterized by extremes of temperature, extremely cold in winter and hot in summer. The principal industries are mining, forestry, and hydroelectricity.

For some purposes, Northern Ontario is further subdivided into Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario. When the region is divided in this way, the three westernmost districts (Rainy River, Kenora and Thunder Bay) constitute "Northwestern Ontario" and the other districts constitute "Northeastern Ontario". Northeastern Ontario contains most of Northern Ontario's population.

Northern Ontario has a strong sense of identity separate from the rest of Ontario. There have been movements in the past for the region to separate from the rest of Ontario, all of which have gone nowhere (see below). It is economically, politically, geographically, and socially vastly different than the rest of the province. Some organizations treat it as a province - it sends its own team to the Brier, Canada's men's curling championship, separately from Ontario and the other provinces of Canada.


Territorial Evolution

Those areas which formed part of New France in the pays d'en haut, essentially the watersheds of the Ottawa River, Lake Huron and Lake Superior, had been acquired by the British by the Treaty of Paris (1763) and became part of Upper Canada in 1791, and then the Province of Canada between 1840-1867. The disputed southern portions of Northwestern Ontario were confirmed as belonging to Ontario by the decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1884 and confirmed by the Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The northernmost portion of the province up to Hudson's Bay was transferred to the province from the Northwest Territories by the Parliament of Canada in the Ontario Boundaries Extension Act, 1912 which the province named the District of Patricia but which has formed part of Kenora District since 1927.

Judicial and administrative divisions

The Province of Canada began creating judicial districts in sparsely populated Northern Ontario with the establishment of Algoma District and Nipissing District in 1858. These districts had no municipal function; they were created for the provision of judicial and administrative services from the district seat. After the creation of the province of Ontario in 1867, the first district to be established was Thunder Bay in 1871 which until then had formed part of Algoma District. The Ontario government was reluctant to establish new districts in the north, partly because the northern and western boundaries of Ontario were in dispute after Confederation. Ontario's right to Northwestern Ontario was determined by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1884 and confirmed by the Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. By 1899 there were seven northern districts: Algoma, Manitoulin, Muskoka, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, and Thunder Bay. Four more northern districts were created between 1907 and 1912: Cochrane, Kenora, Sudbury and Temiskaming.

Unlike the counties of Southern Ontario, districts are too sparsely populated to offer the same types of services, so many district-based services are provided by the provincial government.

The districts in Northern Ontario (which appear in red on the map) are Rainy River, Kenora, Thunder Bay, Cochrane, Timiskaming, Algoma, Sudbury, Nipissing and Manitoulin. The single-tier municipality of Greater Sudbury -- which is not politically part of the District of Sudbury -- is the only geographic division in Northern Ontario where county-level services are offered by the local government rather than the province.

As well, for some purposes, the districts of Parry Sound and Muskoka (which appear in green on the map) are treated as part of Northern Ontario even though they are geographically in Central Ontario. In 2004, the provincial government removed Muskoka from its definition of Northern Ontario for development funding purposes, but continues to treat Parry Sound as a Northern Ontario division. The federal government retained both more southerly districts in the service area of its development agency FedNor.

All of Northeastern Ontario is within the Eastern (UTC -5) time zone; Northwestern Ontario is split between the Eastern and Central (UTC -6) time zones.


Northern Ontario has nine cities. In order of population, they are:

Until the City of Greater Sudbury was created in 2001, Thunder Bay had a larger population than the old city of Sudbury, but the Regional Municipality of Sudbury was the larger Census Metropolitan Area as Sudbury had a much more populous suburban belt (including the city of Valley East, formerly the region's sixth-largest city.) However, as the former Regional Municipality of Sudbury is now governed as a single city, it is both the region's largest city and the region's largest CMA.

Other communities in Northern Ontario include:

Some of these communities are, in fact, larger in population than the region's smallest cities, but do not currently have city status.


Sudbury is the dominant city in Northeastern Ontario, and Thunder Bay is the dominant city in Northwestern Ontario. These two regions are quite distinct from each other economically and culturally, and also quite distant from each other geographically. As a result, Sudbury and Thunder Bay are each the primary city in their part of the region, but neither city can be said to outrank the other as the principal economic centre of Northern Ontario as a whole.

In fact, each city has a couple of distinct advantages that the other city lacks -- Sudbury is at the centre of a larger economic sphere due to the city's, and Northeastern Ontario's, larger population, but Thunder Bay is advantaged by air, rail and shipping traffic due to its prime location along major continental transportation routes. Sudbury's economy, in which the largest sectors of employment are government-related fields such as education and health care, is somewhat more diversified than Thunder Bay's, which is still based primarily on natural resources and manufacturing, yet in the era of government cutbacks, Thunder Bay's economy has been less prone to recession and unemployment.

Northern Ontario has had difficulty in recent years maintaining both its economy and its population. All of Northern Ontario's cities declined in population between the censuses of 1996 and 2001. Although the cities have tried with mixed results to diversify their economies in recent years, most communities in the region are resource-based economies, whose economic health is very dependent on "boom and bust" resource cycles. Mining and forestry are the two major industries in the region, although manufacturing, transportation and tourism are represented as well.

The cities have, by and large, been very dependent on government-related employment and investment for their economic diversification. The Liberal government of David Peterson in the 1980s moved several provincial agencies and ministries to Northern Ontario, including the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (whose head office is in Sault Ste. Marie) and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (whose head office is in Greater Sudbury).

As well, many of Northern Ontario's major tourist attractions (e.g., Science North, Dynamic Earth, the Sault Locks, etc.), and some of its transportation infrastructure (e.g., Ontario Northland) are agencies of the provincial or federal governments. Further, much of the funding available for economic development in Northern Ontario comes from government initiatives such as the federal government's FedNor ( and the provincial Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (


Although Progressive Conservative candidates have been elected in Northern Ontario from time to time, the region is usually one of the party's weakest areas in all of Canada. In part because of the region's significant dependence on government investment, the Liberal Party has traditionally taken the majority of the region's seats at both the federal and provincial levels. The New Democrats also have a significant base of support here, thanks to the region's history of labour unionism, support from First Nations communities, and the personal popularity of local NDP figures.

Mike Harris, the Conservative premier of Ontario from 1995 to 2002, represented the Northern Ontario riding of Nipissing. However, Harris himself was the only Conservative candidate elected in a true Northern Ontario riding in either the 1995 or 1999 elections. (If the definition of Northern Ontario is extended to include the Parry Sound District, then Harris was joined by Ernie Eves in Parry Sound—Muskoka. In 2001 and 2003, Norm Miller was also elected in Parry Sound - Muskoka. Miller is currently the Official Opposition Critic for Northern Development and Mines.)

Ontario New Democratic Party leader Howard Hampton also represents a Northern Ontario riding, Kenora—Rainy River, in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. The riding of Algoma East was represented federally by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson from 1948 to 1968.

In the Canadian federal election, 2004, the Liberals took seven seats in the region, and the NDP took two. However, the NDP placed second -- and often a very close second -- in every riding the Liberals won, except one. Nipissing—Timiskaming was the only riding in the region where a Conservative candidate did better than third place (in the more conservative area around and south of North Bay). However, the region's strong support for the NDP tends to be more labour-populist than progressive in nature. The region can, in fact, be quite socially conservative in many respects, especially in the southern border parts of the region. The northern and northeastern areas are generally more progressive, due to the high concentration of First Nations and the high franco-ontarian population, which are generally quite liberal.

Major political issues in recent years have included the economic health of the region, the possible extension of Highway 400 from Parry Sound to Sudbury, and a controversial plan (proposed and cancelled several times, and is currently cancelled) to ship Toronto's garbage to the Adams Mine, an abandoned open pit mine in Kirkland Lake.

On-going high unemployment, lack of awareness of or concern for Northern Ontario's problems, and difficulties in achieving economic diversification have led to discontent amongst Northern Ontarians. In the late 1970s, this manifested itself in the establishment of the Northern Ontario Heritage Party to lobby for the formation of a separate province of Northern Ontario. The party attracted only modest support, and folded in the 1980s.


There are universities in Thunder Bay (Lakehead University), North Bay (Nipissing University) and Greater Sudbury (Laurentian University). Laurentian University also has affiliated colleges in Sault Ste. Marie (Algoma University College) and Hearst, Kapuskasing and Timmins (Collège universitaire de Hearst).

Technical colleges are located in Thunder Bay (Confederation College), Sault Ste. Marie (Sault College), Timmins (Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology), North Bay (Canadore College) and Greater Sudbury (Cambrian College, an English language college, and Collège Boréal, a French language college which has several satellite campuses in other Northern Ontario communities, and in Toronto.)

In the early 2000s, the provincial government recently announced funding for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. This school, a joint faculty of Laurentian and Lakehead Universities, will have a special research focus on rural medicine.


All of Northeastern Ontario's towns and cities receive CTV Television Network service from the originating stations or rebroadcast transmitters of the MCTV television system, which is owned and operated by CTV. CBC, Global, Radio-Canada, TVOntario and CH service is received through rebroadcast transmitters of the networks' Toronto stations.

Northwestern Ontario receives CTV and CBC service through the independently-owned Thunder Bay Television twinstick, Kenora's CTV affiliate CJBN and through rebroadcasters of the CBC stations in Toronto or Winnipeg (depending on the community's time zone). Northwestern Ontario does not receive Global or CH service, although Thunder Bay Television and CJBN purchase broadcast rights to some of those systems' programming. TVOntario service is received through rebroadcast transmitters of the Toronto station; like the English CBC, Radio-Canada service may originate from Toronto or Winnipeg.

Daily newspapers in the region include the Sudbury Star, the Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay, the Sault Star in Sault Ste. Marie, the North Bay Nugget, the Timmins Daily Press and the Kenora Daily Miner. The Kenora Daily Miner is owned by Quebecor, the Chronicle-Journal is owned by Horizon Media Group, and all of the other daily newspapers are owned by Osprey Media. Community newspapers include Northern Life in Sudbury and Northern News in Kirkland Lake.

Most commercial radio stations in Northern Ontario are owned by the national radio groups Rogers Communications, Haliburton Broadcasting Group or Newcap Broadcasting, although a few independent and community broadcasters are represented as well. CBC Radio One has stations in Sudbury, with rebroadcasters throughout Northeastern Ontario, and in Thunder Bay, with rebroadcasters in the Northwest. The French Première Chaîne has a station in Sudbury, with rebroadcasters throughout Northern Ontario. CBC Radio Two is currently heard only in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, and the French Espace Musique is currently heard only in Sudbury.


The mining boom of the early twentieth century attracted many francophones to Northeastern Ontario, and French is still widely spoken there. While the Canadian constitution never required the Province of Ontario to recognize French as an official language, the government provides full services in the French language to any citizen, resident, or visitor wishing it including communications, schools, hospitals, social services, and in the courts. As well, the Government of Canada provides French and English equally in all matters.

See Franco-Ontarian for further information.


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