Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario
—  Region  —

██ Core area ██ Extended area
Country Canada Canada
Province Ontario Ontario
 - Total 802,378.67 km2 (309,800.1 sq mi)
Population (2006)
 - Total 745,372
 - Density 0.9/km2 (2.3/sq mi)
 - Incl. ext. area 843,853 km2
Largest City Greater Sudbury
157,857 (2006)
Highest Point Ishpatina Ridge
(693 m)
Longest River Albany River
(980 km)
Government of Ontario

Northern Ontario is a region of the Canadian province of Ontario which lies north of Lake Huron (including Georgian Bay), the French River and Lake Nipissing. The region has a land area of 802,000 km2 (310,000 mi2) and constitutes 87% of the land area of Ontario, although it contains only about 6% of the population. 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 two thirds of Northern Ontario's 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 may still be referred to as Nouvel Ontario, although le Nord de l'Ontario and Ontario-Nord are also used.)

The people of Northern Ontario have a strong sense of identity separate from Southern Ontario. There have been movements in the past for the region to separate from the rest of Ontario, all of which have failed. It is economically, politically, geographically, and socially vastly different from the rest of the province. Some organizations effectively treat it as a province — for instance, it is the only provincial or territorial subregion in Canada that sends its own team to the Brier separately from its province.[1]


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 and 1867.

Canadian provincial boundaries in 1867

At the time of Canadian Confederation in 1867, the portion of Northern Ontario lying south of the Laurentian Divide was part of Ontario, while the portion north of the divide was part of the separate British territory of Rupert's Land. The province's boundaries were provisionally expanded northward and westward in 1874, while the Lake of the Woods region remained subject to a boundary dispute between Ontario and Manitoba. The region was confirmed as belonging to Ontario by decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1884,[2] and confirmed by the Canada (Ontario Boundary) Act, 1889 of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which set the province's new northern boundary at the Albany River.

The remaining northernmost portion of the province, from the Albany River to Hudson Bay, was transferred to the province from the Northwest Territories by the Parliament of Canada in the Ontario Boundaries Extension Act, 1912. This region was originally established as the District of Patricia, but was merged into the Kenora District in 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. Five more northern districts were created between 1907 and 1922: Cochrane, Kenora, Sudbury, Temiskaming and Patricia. The Patricia District was then merged into the Kenora District in 1927.

Unlike the counties and regional municipalities of Southern Ontario, which have a government and administrative structure and jurisdiction over specified government services, a district lacks that level of administration. Districts are too sparsely populated to maintain a county government system, so many district-based services are provided directly by the provincial government. For example, districts have provincially-maintained secondary highways instead of county roads.

The districts in Northern Ontario (which appear in red on the location 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 census division in Northern Ontario where county-level services are offered by the local government rather than the province.

A portion of the Nipissing District which lies south of the formal dividing line between Northern and Southern Ontario is considered part of Northern Ontario because of its status as part of Nipissing. 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.


North Bay is often considered to be the "Gateway" to Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario has nine cities. In order of population (2006), 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.

Smaller municipalities in Northern Ontario include:


Science North in Sudbury.

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. The Thunder Bay International Airport is the third busiest airport in Ontario after Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto and Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, carrying some 600,000 passengers in 2004 with over 100 flights and four international flights daily. 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.

Under the staples thesis of Canadian economic history, Northern Ontario is a "hinterland" or "periphery" region, whose economic development has been defined primarily by providing raw natural resource materials to larger and more powerful business interests from elsewhere in Canada or the world.

Northern Ontario has had difficulty in recent years maintaining both its economy and its population. All of the region's cities declined in population between the censuses of 1996 and 2001. (This coincides with the discontinuation of the operation of the subsidized government airline, norOntair in March 1996.) 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, public services and tourism are represented as well. In the 2006 census, some of the region's cities (including its four largest) posted modest population growth, while others saw further declines.

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 (which maintains a large office in Sault Ste. Marie) and the Ministry of Northern Development Mines and Forestry (whose head office is in Greater Sudbury).

Sault Locks in Sault Ste. Marie.

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 Transportation Commission) 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.

Over the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in mining exploration. McFaulds Lake in the James Bay Lowlands has attracted the attention of junior mining exploration companies. Since the 2003 investigation of the area for diamonds, some 20 companies have staked claims in the area, forming joint ventures. While still in the exploration phase, there have been some exciting finds that could bring prosperity to the region and the First Nations communities in that area. New mining sites have also been investigated and explored in Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Elliot Lake and the Temagami area.


Although Progressive Conservative candidates have been elected in Northern Ontario from time to time, the region has been one of the weakest areas in all of Canada for both the PCs and their federal successor, the Conservative Party. In part due to 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 election or the 1999 election. (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. Following Eves' retirement from politics, Norm Miller — currently the Official Opposition critic for Northern Development and Mines — was also elected in Parry Sound—Muskoka in a by-election in 2001, and was re-elected in the 2003 and 2007 elections.

Former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River.

Former 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. William Hearst, premier of Ontario from 1914 to 1919, represented the riding of Sault Ste. Marie.

In the 2008 federal election, the New Democratic Party won nearly every seat in the region, with the exception of Nipissing—Timiskaming, which was retained by its Liberal incumbent Anthony Rota, and Kenora, which was won by Conservative Greg Rickford. This sweep included several seats which were formerly seen as Liberal strongholds, including Sudbury, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Thunder Bay—Rainy River and Thunder Bay—Superior North. However, the strong support for the NDP in most parts of Northern Ontario tends to be more labour-populist in nature. The region can, in fact, be quite socially conservative in some 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 extension of Highway 400 from Parry Sound to Sudbury, issues pertaining to the quality and availability of health care services, mining development in the Ring of Fire region around McFaulds Lake, and a controversial but now-defunct plan to ship Toronto's garbage to the Adams Mine, an abandoned open pit mine in Kirkland Lake.

In the redistribution of provincial electoral districts prior to the 2007 election, the province retained the existing electoral district boundaries in Northern Ontario, rather than adjusting them to correspond to federal electoral district boundaries as was done in the southern part of the province. Without this change, the region would have lost one Member of Provincial Parliament.

Due to the region's relatively sparse population, federal and provincial electoral districts in the region are almost all extremely large geographically. Federally, the electoral district of Sudbury is the only one that is comparable in size to an electoral district in Southern Ontario, while at the other extreme the districts of Kenora and Timmins—James Bay are both geographically larger than the entire United Kingdom. One consequence of this, for example, is that a politician who represents a Northern Ontario riding in the Canadian House of Commons or the Legislative Assembly of Ontario must typically maintain a much higher budget for travel and office expenses than one who represents a small urban district does.[3]

Secession movement

Forests, lakes, and rivers dominate much of the Northern Ontario landscape.

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 created and led by Ed Deibel, to lobby for the formation of a separate province of Northern Ontario. The party attracted only modest support and folded in 1984, but was reestablished in 2010. In its current platform, the Northern Ontario Heritage Party stops short of advocating full separation of the region from the province, but instead calls for a number of measures to increase the region's power over its own affairs, including increasing the number of Northern Ontario electoral districts in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the creation of a special district for the region's First Nations voters.

More recently, however, such concerns have resurfaced as some residents of the city of Kenora have called for the city or the wider region to secede from Ontario and join Manitoba.[4] A few residents throughout the region continue to suggest splitting all or part of the region into a separate province. The latter movement, known as the Northern Ontario Secession Movement, has begun to attract attention and support; most notably by the mayors of Kenora and Fort Frances. The crisis in the Ontario forest industry, and the perceived inaction by the provincial government, has in particular spurred support for the idea of secession. In particular, many residents feel that the industrial energy rate is too high to allow the industry to remain competitive. These concerns have been given particular voice by Howard Hampton. Additionally, media coverage, though rarely in favour of secession, has begun to highlight the problems and frustrations faced by the north. Most recently, the Toronto Star, a major daily, ran a front page story on the issue.

Similarly, Sudbury's Northern Life community newspaper has published a number of editorials in recent years calling on the province to create a new level of supraregional government that would give the Northern Ontario region significantly more autonomy over its own affairs within the province.[5]


The southern limit of the region is home to four universities: Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Laurentian University in Sudbury, Nipissing University in North Bay and Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie. Algoma, which was previously a federated school of Laurentian, became an independent university in 2008. Laurentian University also has a federated school with campuses in Hearst, Kapuskasing and Timmins, the francophone Université de Hearst.

The universities also have satellite campuses in some Southern Ontario cities that do not have their own universities. Lakehead has a campus in Orillia, Nipissing has one in Brantford, Laurentian offers programs on the campus of Georgian College in Barrie, and Algoma has a campus in Brampton.

The region also has six colleges: Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Sault College in Sault Ste. Marie, Northern College in Timmins, Canadore College in North Bay, and the anglophone Cambrian College and francophone Collège Boréal in Sudbury. Several of the colleges also have satellite campuses in smaller Northern Ontario communities.

A large distance education network, Contact North, also operates from Sudbury and Thunder Bay to provide educational services to small and remote Northern Ontario communities.

In the early 2000s, the provincial government announced funding for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which opened in 2005. This school, a joint faculty of Laurentian and Lakehead universities, has a special research focus on rural medicine.


All of Northeastern Ontario's towns and cities receive CTV service from the originating stations or rebroadcast transmitters of the CTV Northern Ontario system. CBC, Global, Radio-Canada, TVOntario and E! service is received through rebroadcast transmitters of the networks' Toronto stations.

Northwestern Ontario receives Global and CBC service through the independently-owned Thunder Bay Television twinstick and through rebroadcasters of the CBC stations in Toronto or Winnipeg (depending on the community's time zone), and CTV service through Kenora's CJBN. TVOntario service is received through rebroadcast transmitters of the Toronto station; like the English CBC, Radio-Canada service may originate from Toronto or Winnipeg.

Some of Northern Ontario's more remote communities receive TFO and the Ontario Parliament Network from over-the-air transmitters; in most areas of the province these services are only available on cable. (TFO is also available as an over-the-air channel in Greater Sudbury.)

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 Chronicle-Journal is owned by Continental Newspapers, and all of the other daily newspapers are owned by Quebecor. Community newspapers include Northern Life in Sudbury, Northern News in Kirkland Lake and the Dryden Observer in Dryden.

Noted magazines published in the region include HighGrader, Northern Ontario Business and Sudbury Living.

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 (CBCS), with rebroadcasters throughout Northeastern Ontario, and in Thunder Bay (CBQT), with rebroadcasters in the Northwest. The French Première Chaîne has a station in Sudbury (CBON), with rebroadcasters throughout Northern Ontario. CBC Radio 2 is currently heard only in Sudbury (CBBS) and Thunder Bay (CBQ), and the French Espace musique is currently heard only in Sudbury (CBBX) and Timmins (CBBX-FM-1).

Cable television service is provided by Shaw Cable in Sault Ste. Marie and virtually all of Northwestern Ontario, by Cogeco in North Bay, and by EastLink in Northeastern Ontario apart from North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.


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, under the French Language Services Act of 1986. All of Northeastern Ontario, with the sole exception of Manitoulin Island, is designated as a French language service area, as are a few individual municipalities in the Northwest. As well, the government of Canada provides French and English equally in all matters. See Franco-Ontarian for further information.

The region also has a significant First Nations population, primarily of the Ojibwe, Cree and Oji-Cree nations, with smaller communities of Nipissing, Algonquin, Odawa and Saulteaux.

Fiction set in Northern Ontario




North Bay inventor Troy Hurtubise was the subject of the documentary film Project Grizzly (1996).

Television series

Television series The Red Green Show (1991–2005) and its spinoff theatrical film Duct Tape Forever (2002) are set in the fictional town of Possum Lake. The animated sitcom Chilly Beach (2003–, CBC), set in a fictional town of unspecified location in Northern Canada, is produced in Sudbury.


In the comic strip For Better or For Worse, Elizabeth Patterson attended North Bay's Nipissing University, and subsequently taught school in the fictional reserve of Mtigwaki on Lake Nipigon. Lynn Johnston, the strip's cartoonist, lives in Corbeil, near North Bay in real life, although the strip is set primarily in Southern Ontario. The first part of Scott Pilgrim vs the World is set in Northern Ontario.


  1. ^ "Northern Ontario defends "province" status at the Brier". The Sports Network, March 12, 2010.
  3. ^ "Queen's Park's biggest spenders revealed". Toronto Sun, June 1, 2011.
  4. ^ "So, how does Kenora, Man., sound to you?", Toronto Star, April 1, 2006
  5. ^ "The case for regional government", Northern Life, November 6, 2006.

External links

Coordinates: 50°N 86°W / 50°N 86°W / 50; -86

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