A true blending of the character and culture of its neighbours and with its own distinct influences, this is region takes a little from a lot of different places and produces something distinct. Reconciling opposites it the theme here, as the region is both English- and French-speaking, mostly rural both also home to Canada's capital city, both agricultural and home to a giant wilderness park, and found in the middle of the continent but sitting on one of the world's greatest shipping routes.
The city of Ottawa, its suburbs and agricultural hinterland, and home to several recreational lakes.
A region of small towns and interspersed farms and forests often used as a weekend getaway from the city of Ottawa.
A patchwork of English- and French-speaking small towns nestled in the farmland between Ottawa and Montreal
The shores of Lake Ontario and the wine region of Prince Edward County.
Historic cities and town, notably Kingston, stretched along the St. Lawrence River, with the Thousand Islands as its natural landmark.
- 1 Ottawa — the largest city of the region, it has all the architecture and museums you would expect in a national capital
- 2 Alexandria — part of Ontario's Celtic heartland, a place where Gaelic can still be heard
- 3 Belleville — it has some fine heritage buildings
- 4 Brockville — the "city of the Thousand Islands"
- 5 Cornwall — for those coming from Montreal, this is a stop along the way to Toronto
- 6 Kingston — one of the most historic cities in Canada with many churches, old buildings, picturesque neighbourhoods, and 19th-century fortifications
- 7 Pembroke — a small city that can be a base for exploring Algonquin Provincial Park
- 8 Prescott — has two War of 1812 national historic sites to visit
- 9 Trenton — home of the National Air Force Museum of Canada
- 1 Algonquin Park — large forested provincial park with camping, activities; borders Central and Northern Ontario
- 2 Thousand Islands — scenic border region split between Eastern Ontario and northern New York
Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the sea, the geography and much of the history of the region is dominated by water. Indigenous peoples (Algonquin, Haudenosaunee and Wyandot) used the rivers as trade networks, which the French voyageurs adopted starting in the 1600s for trading manufactured goods to the natives for furs (European settlement in Eastern Ontario didn't first start until the mid-1700s, when the settlement of L'Orignal in what is now Prescott-Russell was founded). After the American Revolution, the St. Lawrence became a border, but was also where the United Empire Loyalists (groups of Americans who stayed loyal to Britain after the American Revolution) settled. Kingston owes its existence to the water as it was founded as a military outpost to protect the entrance to the St. Lawrence from Lake Ontario. The colonial authorities worried about the vulnerability of the connection down the St. Lawrence to American attack opened the Rideau Canal in 1832 to Connect Kingston to the Ottawa River, adding a new water feature to the geography that today is mainly for recreation. The rivers were also key to the lumber industry as logs were floated down river to saw mills, and one of these lumber towns, Bytown (now Ottawa), was later chosen as Canada's capital.
European settlement inland (away from the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers) didn't start until the first half of the 1800s, when the settlements of Russell, Saint Augustine-de-Catherine (now Embrun), Perth and Smiths Falls were founded. Eastern Ontario continued to grow throughout the rest of the 1800s and into the 1900s, now with government jobs in Ottawa as a main driver. Then the water changed again in 1959, when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened and flooded several historic communities, which are memorialized at Upper Canada Village and the Lost Villages Museum in Morrisburg.
During the 1940s to 1970s the size of government in Ottawa dramatically expanded, bringing increased prosperity to the region. Since that time, information technology and tourism have also emerged as major industries.
When it comes to language, Eastern Ontario is divided into three linguistic sub-regions:
- The Canadian French area is mainly in Prescott-Russell, in the far northeastern section of Eastern Ontario. In this area, the French language is dominant culturally, though you should have no problem being understood in English.
- The Canadian English area is mainly in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Leeds-Grenville, Frontenac County and Lanark County. In this area, the English language is dominant culturally.
- The Ottawa Valley Twang area is mainly in Renfrew County. In this area, an accent of the English language, called Ottawa Valley Twang is dominant. Often common phrases that are normally two words are pronounced as though there is no space between them (eg. "Good day" is pronounced as "gidday").
Although Canada has a reputation for being very cold, low-lying parts of Eastern Ontario are in the "Long Summer/Short Winter" belt of Ontario, where summer can arrive early and stay late, providing some pleasant warmth in late spring and early autumn. Summers in Eastern Ontario usually last from late May to late September, and winters last about from late November/early December to late March.
The first snowfalls of the year usually occur in November, but snow doesn't actually cover the ground until December. Snow in October is not unheard of, though it's usually just a flurry and rarely lasts more than a day or two.
In the spring, the snow usually starts melting in March, although occasional warm breaks with temperatures as high as 10°C (50°F) usually occur once or twice in January and February, and snow flurries can still occur in April or even May.
Often in the winter freezing rain will occur, when it is not warm enough for rain but not cold enough for snow. Freezing rain is rain that turns to ice after it hits the ground, which makes driving very hazardous and often closes down schools and makes the roads very icy for a few days.
Humidity is common in summer, especially in July and August. Although temperatures are usually just under 30°C (86°F), humidity can make the temperature feel like its about 38°C (100°F). Heatwaves are becoming more frequent, with temperatures rising above 30°C for a few days at a time, when humidex temperatures can feel closer to 45°C (113°F).
- By car
- The Trans-Canada Highway (17/417) follows the Ottawa Valley through Pembroke and Ottawa to Montréal
- Ontario highway 401 follows the Windsor-Quebec corridor from Toronto, passing through Kingston-Brockville-Cornwall and continuing toward Montréal
- From New York state, Interstate 81 ends at the Thousand Islands bridge in Leeds and the 1000 Islands, 15 km east of Gananoque on the 401. There are also bridges across the St. Lawrence River at Prescott-Ogdensburg and Cornwall-Massena.
- From the Outaouais and Western Quebec there is one bridge in Pembroke, five in Ottawa-Gatineau and one in Hawkesbury to cross the Ottawa River into Ontario
- By bus
- Megabus (Coach Canada) operates in the Toronto-Kingston-Montreal corridor with several runs daily
- A few local (city) buses on both OCTranspo and STO cross between Ottawa-Hull or Ottawa-Hull-Gatineau. Ottawa city buses are red and white, Gatineau are light blue.
- By train
- Via Rail runs three "corridor" services through the region several times a day. These include:
- By air
- Ottawa International (YOW IATA) is the one major airport in-region.
- Kingston (YGK IATA) has a small airport for private planes;
- Montréal-Trudeau is slightly out of region, but has good air-to-rail connections westward into the St. Lawrence Valley
- By boat
- There are a few ferry crossings on the Ottawa River in small places like Cumberland-Masson which lack an interprovincial bridge to Québec
- There is a privately-operated international ferry from Cape Vincent NY to Wolfe Island which operates seasonally
- Cruising on small craft is possible on the Ottawa River (from Ottawa eastward), the Rideau Canal, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes
- Local city bus service of varying quality is available in cities including Belleville, Kingston, Brockville and Ottawa
A total solar eclipse on Monday 8 April 2024 crosses this area from about 3:20PM local time. The track of totality is northeast from Mexico and Texas to Ohio, straddling the Canada–New England border through Lakes Erie and Ontario. It misses Toronto then comes ashore at Cobourg, following the Seaway to Cornwall, then across Montreal, Maine, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
Ottawa, as the National Capital, has excellent national museums and galleries devoted to various subjects from arts to science to warfare. Kingston is a small, exceedingly pleasant city on Lake Ontario, with a beautiful university, and lots of old limestone buildings that are central to its character.
There is lots of history through the region, including Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, a pioneer village living history museum. Fort Wellington in Prescott and Fort Henry in Kingston recreate military exercises and displays from the post-War of 1812 era
Merrickville is a small but charming canal-side village on the Rideau which makes a good day trip from Ottawa.
Cruises of the Thousand Islands are popular, especially in the summer. They start from Kingson, Gananoque and Brockville, and some include a tour of the historic Boldt Castle, which sits on one of the islands.
Whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River is popular, as is skiing in Calabogie. In winter, part of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa is turned into an 8-km-long skating rink. From late March until mid November, the region offers excellent cycling opportunities on the hundreds of kilometers of separate cycling infrastructure. In winter there are options for renting fat bikes to cycle in the snow. The city also has an increasing number of urban cross country ski trails starting at parking lots and light rail stations.
There are many events in Ottawa, including Winterlude, a large winter carnival in February, with ice and snow sculptures, concerts, and an 8-km-long skating rink (weather permitting).
The Tulip Festival in early May. The tulip bulbs were an annual gift from Princess Juliana from the Netherlands after her stay in Ottawa during the war years as well as from the Dutch population for the liberation of the Netherlands in which Canada played an important role. Eventually the annual ambundance of tens of thousands of tulips was turned into a festival in May. The Netherlands government operated in exile in London, England during the Second World War.
Canada Day (July 1) is celebrated in a big way throughout the city of Ottawa.
- Maple sugar shacks are popular in early spring; the season usually begins soon after the spring thaw
- Strawberries and apples may be picked in-season; the strawberries are usually ripe in late June, just before the Canada Day holiday. Apples are usually ripe between mid September and mid October.
- See also: Wine Regions of Ontario
- Prince Edward County is winery country - not quite on the same scale as the Niagara Peninsula, but there is a growing number of small vineyards
- While most of Eastern Ontario is beaten path, animal collisions remain a risk on some highways. Winter driving and ice safety are also a concern in the off-season.