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.
|Bruce County |
The dramatic Bruce Peninsula with the region's best hiking
|Wellington and Dufferin Counties |
Including Orangeville, and the pretty historic towns of Elora, Fergus and Guelph, escarpment landscapes, and ruins of old mills
|Lake St. Clair |
The southwestern-most part of Southwestern Ontario is made up of Essex County and the City of Chatham-Kent
|Region of Waterloo |
Including Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge
|Lake Erie Shore |
A temperate climate, many kilometers of beaches, relaxing or bustling beach towns, and a good dose of historical and cultural attractions await you in Elgin County, Norfolk County, Haldimand County, and Brant County
|Western Ontario |
Including the City of London; Huron County's gorgeous beaches and historic lighthouses; Perth County (Stratford theatre festival, historic town of St. Marys); Lambton County (including Sarnia); Middlesex County; and Oxford County
|Grey County |
Billy Bishop and Tommy Thompson's home country, mountains, escarpments, waterfalls, skiing
|Brantford and Brant County |
Alexander Graham Bell said he invented his telephone in Brantford. The Brant County district includes the country's largest First Nations (Indigenous) reserve.
- 1 Brantford — where Alexander Graham Bell said he invented his telephone; his home is an international tourist attraction
- 2 Chatham — part of the African-Canadian Heritage Tour route and the Underground Railroad
- 3 Guelph — known for its beautiful limestone architecture, vibrant culture and a variety of festivals
- 4 Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge — three closely-knit cities with a strong German/Mennonite and Scottish heritage that now form a multicultural technology triangle
- 5 London — a medium-sized city with many historical sites and parks
- 6 Orangeville — an administrative and commercial hub for Dufferin County and the surrounding area
- 7 Owen Sound — an excellent base for exploring the Grey-Bruce region
- 8 Windsor — a small city across the river from Detroit
- 9 Woodstock — the Dairy Capital of Canada offers several historic sites
- 1 Elora — well known for its 19th-century limestone architecture and the beautiful Elora Gorge
- 2 Ipperwash Beach — one of the longest freshwater beaches in Ontario with shallow waters that are ideal for children
- 3 Pelee Island — the southernmost inhabited place in Canada is a place of peace and relaxation for its many visit, especially migrating birds and butterflies
- 4 Point Pelee National Park, the southernmost point in mainland Canada, with accessible boardwalks through the marshlands tghat are important habitats for migrating birds
- 5 St. Marys (Ontario) — known for its beautiful limestone buildings, and as the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
- 6 St. Thomas — known for its beautiful limestone buildings, and as the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
- 7 Stratford — internationally known for its theatre festival
- 8 Tobermory — port town on the shores of Georgian Bay at the tip of the peninsula; well known for its two national parks: Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park
Southwestern Ontario occupies an area 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 Indigenous First Nations, it was later settled by the French, colonized by the English, populated by United Empire Loyalists who fled the United States, 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 the early 20th century, it was 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 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.
- 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.
- Megabus (Coach Canada) serves the Fort Erie to Toronto route, with stops including Niagara Falls and St Catharines.
- TOK Coach (formerly 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
A total solar eclipse on Monday 8 April 2024 crosses this area from 3:13PM 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 most of the Erie north shore but passes over Kingsville and Pelee Island, then is visible from St Thomas east to Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, continuing across Maine, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
Southwestern Ontario are the final stop on the Underground Railroad for many of those escaping slavery in the United States. The Buxton National Historic Site & Museum and Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in Chatham-Kent are good place to explore this history.
The Alexander Graham Bell Homestead, just outside Brantford, is a museum that has been restored to how it looked when Bell invented the telephone here in the 1980s.
Her Majesty's Chapel of the Mohawks, on the outskirts of Brantford, was built by the British Crown in 1785 for the Mohawk and Iroquois people as a reminder of the agreements made with the British during the American Revolution.
In Owen Sound, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery exhibits a collection of works by Thompson and the Group of Seven, who were an important group of Canadian artists in the early 20th century.
The ports, towns and villages along Lake Erie, including Port Dover, Port Stanley, Turkey Point and Long Point, are lovely places for hanging out on the beach, browsing in shops, or having a drink overlooking the lake. The Lake Huron beach towns are also buzzing in the summer because of their long stretches of fresh water beaches.
The Stratford Festival is one of the main tourist draws for the region. It runs from April to October, and is recognized worldwide for its productions of Shakespearean plays. The Blyth Festival produces a summer season of all-Canadian plays.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is a Bavarian festival held annually in October; it is the largest in the world outside of Munich, Germany.
The Elora Gorge attracts sightseers, campers, hikers, kayakers, zipliners and tubers. The limestone cliffs are 22 metres high and the Grand River exits frantically through the Gorge.
There are many beautiful parks in the region for scenery and outdoor recreation, including Point Pelee National Park, Ontario's southernmost mainland point, and a marshy peninsula home to significant wetlands. The untamed shores of the Bruce Peninsula are particularly beautiful near Tobermory, where the Bruce Peninsula National Park protects and the Fathom Five National Marine Park protect the shoreline, cliffs, rocky islands and underwater diving sites where the Niagara Escarpment meets Lake Huron. Smaller provincial parks and conservation areas, such as Rockwood Park, offer day-use and overnight camping experiences throughout the region.
The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail stretches over 2,100 km (1,300 mi) along the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, Lake Huron and the Niagara, Detroit, and St. Lawrence Rivers, connecting 114 communities and hundreds of parks and natural areas including wetlands, forests, and beaches. The Bruce Trail stretches more than 890 km, mostly following the edge of the Niagara Escarpment from Tobermory, at the tip of the peninsula, to Queenston near Niagara Falls.
The Village at Blue Mountain in Grey County is a year-round centre for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, golf, mountain biking, rock climbing, and caving.
The St. Jacobs Farmers' Market draws visitors from all over southern Ontario: over 600 vendors, including many Mennonite families, bring their fresh produce, baked goods, ethnic foods, furniture, and clothing.
- See also: Wine Regions of Ontario
Because of its mild climate, the Lake Erie shore is Ontario's second most important wine region after Niagara. There are many wineries open for tours and tastings.
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.