Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Northern Ontario
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Northern Ontario

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. Most of Northern Ontario was transferred to the province from the Northwest Territories in 1882 and 1912.

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 dividing line roughly follows the 85th meridian from the eastern shore of Lake Superior to Hudson Bay. "Northeastern Ontario" contains most of Northern Ontario's population.

Table of contents
1 Political Divisions
2 Communities
3 Economy
4 Education
5 Franco-Ontarians

Political Divisions

Northern Ontario is divided into several geographic districts. Unlike the counties of Southern Ontario, districts are too sparsely populated to offer the same types of services, so district-based services are provided by the provincial government.

The districts in Northern Ontario are Rainy River, Kenora, Thunder Bay, Cochrane, Timiskaming, Algoma, Sudbury, Nipissing and Manitoulin. The city 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 District of Parry Sound is treated as part of Northern Ontario even though it is geographically in Southern Ontario. In 2004, the provincial government removed the Muskoka District Municipality from its definition of Northern Ontario for development funding purposes. The federal government retained both more southerly districts in the service area of its development agency FedNor.


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

Smaller communities in Northern Ontario include:


Although Northern Ontario's larger 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 of the region 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 Mines and Northern Development (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.

Northern Ontario is one of a few Canadian regions whose population declined between the censuses of 1996 and 2001.

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 (Université 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.)

The Ontario government recently announced funding for a new medical school in Northern Ontario. This school, a joint faculty of Laurentian and Lakehead Universities, will have a special research focus on rural medicine.


The mining boom of the early twentieth century attracted many francophones to Northern 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 vistor 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.