Images of Ontario now on Flickr

Ontario is the most populous and second largest province of Canada. It is bordered by Manitoba to the west and Quebec to the east. The landscape is extremely varied, with three distinct regions defining the province: the Hudson’s Bay Lowlands, the Canadian Shield, and the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Lowlands. Ontario was populated by First Peoples approximately 10,000 years ago and today’s indigenous communities, such as the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois, can trace their origins to that time. European explorers arrived in the 17th century and initially conducted basic trade and exploration. After the American Revolution the population increased as an influx of British Loyalists moved northwards. After the War of 1812 another wave of immigration came from Europe.

Black and white photograph of nine women wearing dresses, coats and hats standing in front of a residential building.

Group of African-Canadian women in front of the YWCA boarding house at 698 Ontario Street, Toronto, Ontario (MIKAN 3191591)

Upper Canada was established in 1791 and included what is now known as southern Ontario. In 1837, the Upper Canada Rebellion took place against the British government-appointed administrators and in favour of responsible government. The rebellion was quickly put down, but in 1841 the new Province of Canada was formed. The colony formerly known as Upper Canada became Canada West, while the colony formerly known as Lower Canada became Canada East. In 1848, Canada West was awarded self-government. This power-shift was influenced largely by the continuing population growth of the province, mainly of English-speaking settlers. By the 1850s, Canada West was enjoying considerable economic strength due to the continued influx of immigrants who moved, along with many locally born citizens, to urban centres where industrial jobs were available. During the 1860s, Canada West participated in a series of conferences, along with Canada East, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to work out the terms of confederation. This led to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Did you know?

  • Ontario has over 200 reported ethnic languages, and 26% of the population identifies as a visible minority.
  • In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the permanent location of the nation’s capital.
  • Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, fought for provincial rights and greatly decentralized the power of the federal government over provincial affairs.

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The 200th Birthday of Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a Prominent Father of Confederation

Today marks the 200th birthday of one of Canada’s most important historical figures, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a leading Father of Confederation. Cartier was born on September 6, 1814 in Sainte-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Lower Canada. He studied law and started practising in 1835; however, politics soon became his passion. His entrance into the world of politics was anything but uneventful, as he played a role in the Lower Canadian Rebellion of 1837 and fought in the Battle of Saint-Denis. Cartier subsequently spent a year in exile in Vermont but pled for leniency and returned to Montreal in 1839.

The Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Baronet

The Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Baronet (MIKAN 3476630)

In 1848 Cartier was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and shortly after was appointed to Cabinet. From 1857 to 1862 he served as co-premier of the Province of Canada with Sir John A. Macdonald following his coalition with the Upper Canadian Conservatives. It was in this period that Macdonald and Cartier started working together and began to garner support for Confederation in an attempt to put an end to political instability.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier (MIKAN 3213760)

Cartier played a pivotal role in gaining French-Canadian support for Confederation. He argued that francophone interests would be best preserved in a federation of provinces. When Confederation finally came about on July 1, 1867, John A. Macdonald became the first Prime Minister and Cartier the first Minister of Militia and Defence.

Shown among their peers are the Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, the Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Lieutenant-Colonel John G. Irvine

Shown among their peers are the Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, the Honourable Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Lieutenant-Colonel John G. Irvine (MIKAN 3192010)

Cartier passed away on May 20, 1873. His death deeply affected his close friend, John A. Macdonald, who proposed that a statue be erected in Cartier’s honour. It was sculpted by Louis-Philippe Hébert and unveiled in 1885. This was the first statue to be placed on Parliament Hill and it can still be seen today. Cartier left his mark on generations of Canadians. The centenary of his birthday in 1914 was marked by large celebrations and another monument was erected, this time in Montreal. Cartier’s Montreal home was designated a National Historic Site.

Sir George-Étienne Cartier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier (MIKAN 2837680)

While the majority of Cartier’s papers were destroyed, Library and Archives Canada does have several important records, including a family photo album, postcards, and some correspondence that took place during his period as Minister of Militia and Defence. We also have several letters written by Cartier to Macdonald, found in the Sir John A. Macdonald collection (archived).

To find out more about George-Étienne Cartier and his role in Confederation:

Release of a new version of the Federal Census of 1871 (Ontario Index) database

Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the release of a new version of the Federal Census of 1871 (Ontario Index) database. Originally created in 1986 by the Ontario Genealogical Society, this database contains references to heads of households, people with a different surname living in the household and people who had died during the previous twelve months.

This new version includes revised district and sub-district information.