It’s estimated that nearly 40 percent of Canada’s population can be found in the province of Ontario.
But that’s not all that can be found there. From reproductions of War of 1812 forts to wineries, restaurants and golf courses, the province has a little something for everyone. And what it has in abundance is scenic views — from looking overhead to see migrating songbirds, out to the awe-inspiring Horseshoe Falls and across the horizon along miles of beaches.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: Where history comes alive
While the United States was fighting for its independence in the Revolutionary War, the area just beyond the New York border had become a haven for Loyalists, those who supported Great Britain against the colonies. A town was formed and, in 1792, Niagara-on-the-Lake became the first capital of Upper Canada (now Ontario).
“It’s a town of firsts in many ways,” says Amy Klassen of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Historical Museum, noting that it had the first post office and the first legislature as well.
The town was burned by American soldiers in the War of 1812, but a large amount of the housing stock dates to the days after the war. “They were preserved because we really were left alone,” Klassen says. “People didn’t come here for a few years.” Today there are house tours to view the homes, as well as regular festivals commemorating the local music scene and playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also one of the stops on the Niagara Parkway drive, described by Winston Churchill as the “prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.” The winding road allows people to view the winding Niagara River as it makes its way between two Great Lakes: Erie and Ontario. Tourism Niagara, tourismniagara.com
Elgin County: A piece of Dixie in Canada
One of the southernmost points in Canada, Elgin County offers a climate unlike most of the country. In fact, it’s a little piece of North Carolina, with more than 60 miles of Carolinian forest trail, allowing hikers to see animals and trees familiar to a lot of Americans, but not as common in Canada. The best place to see the forest is the John E. Pearce Provincial Park, which offers picnic grounds and a museum in addition to views of Lake Erie.
Elgin County is home to four port villages, each with its own attractions — and its own personality. Port Stanley is probably the main tourist attraction, with beaches and beachside bars, as well as a tourist railroad. There’s also the Port Stanley Harbourfest, held annually in August, featuring music and tall ships.
Port Burwell trades on its marine history, with a museum and a historic lighthouse, built in 1840 and open to the public. “I think it’s the oldest wooden lighthouse on Lake Erie still surviving,” says Katherine Thompson of Elgin County Tourism. “From the top you can see Port Burwell Harbor and the beach and a nice view of Lake Erie.”
Port Glasgow has a marina and camping, and Port Bruce is a quiet fishing village with a pier popular for fishing. “It’s a hidden gem,” Thompson says. Elgin County Tourism, 877-463-5446, elgintourist.com
Windsor Sculpture Garden: A museum without walls
Louis Odette had a vision of publicly accessible art, and he implemented it in several cities in Ontario. Today, the Windsor Sculpture Garden includes 31 sculptures along a 3.1-mile path on the Detroit River, affording walkers and bikers the chance to get a little culture while getting their exercise.
All but one of the sculptures are metal, to withstand the elements as well as people. “Public art has an assumption that people are going to get on it and touch it and handle it,” says Cathy Masterson, manager of cultural affairs for the City of Windsor, which oversees the park. “We want people to respect the piece but develop a relationship with it.”
And people don’t just develop connections with the sculptures, they become de facto caretakers, learning to keep them cleaned and preserved. It also becomes a community event, with an annual Washington Tembo Day, referring to the elephant statue in the park. “They are quite proprietary of the space, which is awesome,” Masterson says.
Self-guided tours are available, but, if you’re looking for an expert, there are Art Cart rides that take people through the park on golf carts in about an hour-long guided tour. Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, 800-265-3633, visitwindsoressex.com
Point Pelee: Hub for bird-watching
There’s never a bad time to visit Point Pelee National Park, but the park has more to offer in the spring and fall. It’s on a flightpath for migratory birds, allowing people to see birds returning north in May and flying south in October — as well as monarch butterflies and dragonflies. “The park is small in size, but one of the most diverse,” says park interpreter Sarah Rupert. “We have a lot of things packed into a little park.”
Rupert says the park, the smallest in Canada’s national park system and the southernmost point in mainland Canada, offers five distinct habitats and a variety of plants and animals. Inside the park is a 9.6-mile trail dotted by 16 picnic areas. “You can go to any picnic area in the park and pick up some type of cycling loop,” Rupert says.
There also are interactive opportunities with canoe rentals, a homestead trail to show life in the 1800s and the creature feature, which allows people to see — and touch — animals. “We’ve actually had people get over their fear of snakes by being able to see and touch snakes in our guarded environment.” Point Pelee National Park, 888-773-8888, pc.gc.ca
Niagara Falls: A natural wonder
Around half a mile wide and dropping as much as 225,000 cubic feet of water per second, Niagara Falls has been a destination for decades for honeymooners, daredevils who try to go over the falls in a barrel and those who just want to take in the majesty of nature.
“The sheer spectacle of nature at its most powerful continues to be inspiring and incredible to see,” says Jon Jackson, executive director of Niagara Falls tourism.
The best way to access the falls, Jackson says, is through the Hornblower cruises that allow you to see the falls from their base on the Niagara River, or the Journey Behind the Falls, an attraction that, as the name indicates, allows people to view the falls from behind in a series of observation decks.
Jackson then encourages anyone who came to see the falls to see the adjoining namesake city in Ontario, which has seen a lot of new construction, including hotels and restaurants as Southern Ontario embraces its new identity as a food and agritourism destination.
“If you want to see Niagara Falls, that’s the starting point,” Jackson says. “There are so many other things to see and do in the city too. It’s not the same Niagara Falls it was 10 years ago.” Niagara Parks Commission, 877-642-7275, niagaraparks.com
Norfolk County: Canada’s foodie scene
At one point, the sandy loam of Norfolk County was ideal for the growth and cultivation of tobacco. But as tobacco products have fallen out of favor, Norfolk County farmers have adapted — and thrived.
“We can’t grow coconuts or bananas, but we can grow just about everything else,” says Ted Willey of Norfolk County Tourism. “We’ve been reinventing ourselves to become this diverse agricultural community that celebrates its food and beverages. We were very early adopters of the local food movement.”
Among the products are hazelnuts, goji berries, strawberries and sweet corn. They also grow grapes as the county, sandwiched between the Niagara and Lake Erie North wine regions, has become its own wine producer. Willey notes that there are a dozen wineries in the county, in addition to three craft breweries and a vodka distillery.
The area also tries to attract two-wheeled tourists, with bike trails and a regular Friday the 13th event in Port Dover for motorcyclists. Willey says it’s not uncommon to draw more than 100,000 bikers to an event if Friday the 13th occurs in the summer.
There also are opportunities for fishing (the entire region was famed for its freshwater fishing fleet) and swimming at Longpoint Beach, which has white sandy beaches and clear blue water.
“On the right day, Longpoint looks like you’re in Caribbean,” Willey says. Norfolk County Tourism, 800-699-9038, norfolktourism.ca