Southwestern Ontario is the geographic area of Ontario extending from the Bruce Peninsula and Lake Huron on the north, the Lake Huron shoreline on the west, the Lake Erie shoreline on the south, and neighbouring the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara Golden Horseshoe region on the east. Its principal population centres are on the '401 corridor' cities - Windsor and Chatham-Kent, London and St Thomas, Woodstock and Ingersoll, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph, with Sarnia, the western terminus of highway 402; Brantford, on highway 403, and Stratford. Other significant centres are Collingwood and Owen Sound, Goderich, Tillsonburg and Simcoe.
The Rural North
- Bruce County - The wild north. The dramatic Bruce Peninsula with the region'st best hiking
- Grey County - Billy Bishop and Tommy Thompson's home country, mountains, escarpments, waterfalls, skiing
- Dufferin County
- Waterloo Region (including Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge)
- Wellington County - pretty historic towns of Elora, Fergus and Guelph, escarpment landscapes, and ruins of old mills
- Perth County - Stratford theatre festival, history town of St. Mary's
London Between the Lakes
- Huron County - gorgeous beaches, historic lighthouses, Blyth theatre festival
- Middlesex County
- Elgin County
Around Six Nations
Michigan Border Area
- 1 Brantford
- 2 Chatham
- 3 Guelph
- 4 Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge
- 5 London
- 6 Orangeville
- 7 Owen Sound
- 8 Windsor
- 9 Woodstock
- 1 Elora
- 2 Ipperwash Beach
- Long Point National Wildlife Area
- 3 Lucan
- 4 Pelee Island
- 5 Sarnia
- 6 Stratford
- 7 St. Thomas
- 8 Tobermory
- 9 St. Marys (Ontario)
Visiting "all" of southwestern Ontario is a bit of an insane task: it occupies an area of about 37,000km², roughly the size of Belgium or Switzerland, but with a population of only about 2.5 million, which is better compared to Lesotho or Qatar. Its largest city is London, with a population of about 390,000, while its largest urban area is the Waterloo region, with a population of about 540,000.
Traditionally inhabited and exchanged by a variety of aboriginal First Nations, it was later settled by the French, colonized by the English, populated by American "United Empire Loyalists", and urbanized by every wave of immigrants ever to come to Canada. It's Canada's most southern reach, and its manufacturing heartland, pinned between two massive freshwater lakes, and bordering two American industrial giants. In recent history a relatively self-sufficient manufacturing and transportation hub, in the 21st century, the sprawling mega-city of Toronto is increasingly affecting the economies and population dynamics at the furthest reaches of southwestern Ontario.
Ontario's changing economy has struck southwestern Ontario hard. Industrial pollution and regulation, the dissolution of the tobacco industry, followed by the corrosion of the manufacturing sector, has eviscerated rural areas and left cities like Windsor and London with some of Canada's highest unemployment levels. Others, like Waterloo and Guelph, having turned to technology and the arts, emerged unscathed and even vibrant.
Visitors to southwestern Ontario often come as an escape from the urban crush of Toronto and Detroit, but stay for its long beaches, clean parks, efficient highways, interesting towns, and economic opportunities.
London has the only airport in the area with regularly scheduled services to more than one destination, generally flying to Toronto and cities in Western Canada. Waterloo Region Airport flies nonstop to Calgary, while Windsor and Sarnia have services to Toronto. Residents often use Detroit, Buffalo, or Toronto airports for long-haul flights. All of these airports and a few others are regularly affected by route changes, new route developments, and the emergence and loss of small regional airlines.
Southwestern Ontario has just three major controlled-access highways. Highway 401, sometimes claimed to be the world's busiest, begins in Windsor and bisects southwestern Ontario on its way to Toronto and onwards to the Quebec border. The other major highways are the 402, which begins at the Sarnia-Port Huron border and connects to the 401 in London, and the 403, which begins in Woodstock and proceeds through Brantford on its way to Hamilton and Toronto.
By public transport
- Via Rail, Canada's national passenger railway, serves the region on the Windsor-London-Toronto route, and the Sarnia-London-Toronto route.
- Greyhound services from Detroit generally stop in Windsor and London on their way to Toronto. Local services usually have Windsor, London, Kitchener, or Toronto as their hubs. Smaller bus companies serve many other routes.
- GO Transit, Toronto's commuter rail and bus service, has a few lines/routes that reach into southwestern Ontario, with an assortment of services terminating in Orangeville, Guelph, Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge, or Brantford on their way from Toronto and its suburbs.
While urban public transport is generally adequate, inter-city services are limited. Locals generally rely on personal vehicles, or limit their travel between the cities and towns in the area. Car rentals are widely available. Hitchhiking is illegal on the 400-series highways, and is both uncommon and challenging on rural roads. Casual ride sharing exists but is disorganized; Try searching on Kijiji.ca or on city-specific Facebook groups.
Intercity public transit services include:
- Via Rail's Windsor-Toronto line serves Chatham, Glencoe, London, Ingersoll, Woodstock, and Brantford enroute to the GTA. The Sarnia-Toronto line serves Wyoming, Strathroy, London, St Mary's, Stratford, Kitchener, Guelph and Georgetown enroute to the GTA. Tickets can be purchased online and are generally cheaper if bought further in advance.
- Greyhound Canada offers a few bus lines along the Windsor-Toronto corridor, plus service from Owen Sound to Barrie via Collingwood (with additional stops by request along the way). Advance purchases can be half the price or less.
- Megabus (Coach Canada) serves the Fort Erie to Toronto route, with stops including Niagara Falls and St Catharines.
- Can-Ar Coach connects Toronto to Port Elgin via Orangeville and Kincardine.
- RobertQ's airport services to London, Toronto, and Detroit, can make stops at Sarnia, Chatham, St Thomas, Strathroy, Tilbury, Woodstock, and Windsor.
- BendBus offers limited transport for daytrips from London to Grand Bend during the summer
- Windsor-Quebec corridor
- Windsor-Niagara and southern Ontario are the final stop on the Underground Railroad for those escaping slavery in the United States.
- Point Pelee National Park, 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Windsor, one of Canada's smallest national parks, attracts approximately 300,000 visitors each year. This is the southernmost national park in Canada.
Staying in Canada, the Greater Toronto Area is the next segment of the Windsor-Quebec corridor, and the Niagara Peninsula is almost due east of most of Southwestern Ontario. If you're in Tobermory, you can take a ferry to Manitoulin Island and from there continue on to Northern Ontario.
Leaving Canada, you can go north from Windsor to visit Detroit or west from Sarnia to visit Flint, and from either of those cities start your exploration of Michigan and the Midwest United States of America.