Sunday, June 10, 2012

Epistle to Dumb Yanks - Part IV - Ontario

This is the fourth part of seven. To read the entire series click:

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part V, Part VI, Part VII.

Carrying on with the "proximity to water" theme is not difficult when examining the early history of settlement in what is now the Province of Ontario, except in Ontario's case it is proximity primarily to the Great Lakes and the rivers that flow into them, not the St. Lawrence River, per se, although the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence are parts of the same large drainage system that covers a large part of eastern North America.

The City of Toronto is Canada's largest (pop. 2,615,063). If the surrounding bedroom and other nearby communities are included the population is over six million.

The site where Toronto was originally built was once under French control. The earliest European settlement there was a French fur trading fort that dates to 1750 which was on Lake Ontario's shore, facilitating incoming transportation of trading goods and outgoing shipments of furs collected from the Indians in exchange for those goods.

Ontario is the only Province in which the Great Lakes are found. They do not extend into either Quebec or Manitoba, which are the provinces which are on either side of Ontario. The boundary between Canada and the USA runs through the centre of those Lakes, with the exception of Lake Michigan, which is entirely in the USA.

York, founded in 1793, which is now a suburb of Toronto, which grew up around it, was the original urban settlement. York figured prominently in the War of 1812 and was actually captured and burned by the Americans. Two can play that game.

Toronto itself has been the capital city of, at first, Upper Canada, and later the province of Ontario, so it's importance to the history of that region is well established. (The term "Upper" derives it's meaning from it being "upstream" along the St. Lawrence River system. There was also a "Lower Canada", which is now parts of the Province of Quebec, being "downstream".)

The modern day City of Toronto itself is situated on the shore of Lake Ontario. Mississauga (pop. 712,443) is situated right next to Toronto, as is Etobicoke, Oakville, Milton, Brampton  and numerous other cities.

Other major Ontario cities situated either on the lakes, or on rivers that drain into the lakes, or those that connect them, include:

Kingston (pop: 123,363). Kingston is, originally a French fur trading post (founded in 1673) and later, a major receiving point for United Empire Loyalists fleeing during the American revolutionary war, later still, a British fortress, Fort Henry, prominent during the War of 1812 - 1814 and also important  for it's being at the southern terminus/entrance of the Rideau Canal.

Niagara Falls (pop. 82,997), where Lake Erie ends with a big splash, not far upstream from where Lake Ontario begins.

Windsor, dating to 1749, under France, (pop: 210,891), on the Detroit River which joins Lake Huron to Lake Erie;

Sarnia, the largest city on Lake Huron, (pop: 72,366),

Hamilton (pop: 519,949) Hamilton is a major manufacturing centre with steel being one of its major products, and

Thunder Bay (pop: 108,359).   Although very close to the American Border, its major role has been to connect Western Canada, especially the grain producing belt on the prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, via the CN/CP railroad, with the Great Lakes. It's not now, nor has it ever been clinging to the Yankee border. It started out, amazingly (tongue planted firmly in cheek), as two fur trading posts established in 1683  and 1717, respectively. 

But yes, most of the population of this part of Canada lives close to the US border,  And due to its heavily industrialized character, most of the Canadian population lives around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence.
"More than 98 per cent of Ontario residents — 11 million people — live within the Great Lakes Basin. Most live near the shores, in eight of Canada’s 20 largest cities, which include Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and Sarnia."
Ontario's smaller cities of some import that are on the Great Lakes drainage basin include:

Halton Hills
New Market
Niagara Falls
North Bay
Owen Sound
Richmond Hill
St. Catharines
St. Thomas
Sault St. Marie 

A great many of these cities are in what is known as the Golden Horseshoe, a stretch of land that curls around the west shore of Lake Ontario.

This is the industrial heartland of Canada and, although in most cases these cities are very close to the American border, settlement there was largely the result of proximity to industrial and commercial interests that began much earlier on the shores of Lake Ontario, the City of Hamilton, being a significant case in point.

Another historically significant factoid about the region in question, centers on Lake Simcoe, and the man after whom it is named, John Graves Simcoe. He was a British Officer and the first Governor of Upper Canada. He founded the City of York, now Toronto. If you read his biography, I think you might agree that the accolades foisted upon him in our history books are well deserved. He abolished slavery, for example, long before you Yanks got around to it.  It should be no surprise that the shore of Lake Simcoe is one of the many places in Ontario where United Empire Loyalists were settled.  But  again, European presence in this area of Canada dates back to the French in the 1600s.

In short, my dear Dumb Yanks, this area is indeed heavily populated, but the reasons for this have nothing to do with its proximity to the American border, unless you want to tip your hat to the Loyalists and folks like Simcoe who your ancestors fought against. Its history is as old as yours and is entwined with it, but, once again, the fur trade, the waterways, the Brits and early Canadian ingenuity and industriousness, were responsible for its settlement.

Sorry. Later, when I get to Western Canada we can talk about the Medicine Line, that being the 49th parallel, across which Sitting Bull discovered the Yanks would not cross.  But I don't think the border figured prominently in era under discussion here. Indeed, the Brits and the Yanks were still killing each other over that sort of thing.

And since I'm about to leave Ontario and head out West to what we in Canada call the Prairie Provinces, let me leave you with this.  This is called the Quebec City - Windsor Corridor, where most of Canada's population lives. Notice how it hugs up against Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River THE WHOLE FREAKIN' WAY? Notice it mentions the fur trade? Notice it says this is "the most densely-populated and heavily-industrialized region of Canada"? Notice it doesn't attribute proximity to the US border as a reason for the density of the population along the "corridor"?

'Nuff said. On to Western Canada now.

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