Each month, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel Canada, discovering the best each province has to offer in a variety of subjects. We will also feature a drink the area is known for. Today, we journey to Ontario, which likes to think of itself as the center of the universe. Does that theory hold up? Let’s find out:
Motto: “Loyal she began, loyal she remains” – This has some abusive vibes to it…
Food: While popular across the country – and even internationally – Tim Hortons is an institution in Ontario. It was founded in Hamilton in 1964 by hockey star Tim Horton. The company’s headquarters are now in Toronto. As of 2022, there were 1,713 Tim Hortons locations in Ontario, accounting for 48 per cent of all the chain’s locations in Canada. I can attest, Tim Hortons donut holes, called Timbits, are quite addictive.
Drink: The Labatt Brewing Company was founded by John Labatt in 1847 in London, back when the area was known as Canada West, rather than Ontario. The company is headquartered in Toronto, but is now owned by the Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. Labatt is the largest brewery in Canada, with brands including Labatt Blue (lager) and Labatt 50 (ale).
Site to See: Niagara Falls, on the border of Ontario and New York State, is the top tourist attraction in the province. Most fascinating to me is the number of daredevils who have tried to survive going over the falls. Sadly, many did not live to tell the tale, including those who used the falls to commit suicide. An estimated 5,000 bodies have been found in the waters below the falls between 1850 and 2011.
Street: Yonge Street in Toronto was, for a time, called the longest street in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. Although this was a mistake, one title that has remained is ‘Main Street Ontario’. Notable sites along the route include the Eaton Centre shopping mall and Dundas Square, where a number of eating, entertainment and shopping options can be found.
TV Show: I’ve enjoyed a number of series set in Ontario, chief among them Letterkenny. The show highlights the lives of those living in the country community, based on star Jared Keeso’s hometown of Listowel. The townsfolk are broken up between being hicks, jocks, skids and natives. The quick dialogue has created many popular catchphrases and added numerous idioms to the lexicon.
Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, starring Michael Cera, is about a young man pursuing the girl of his dreams, only to find out he has to defeat her seven evil exes to be with her. The film, based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, uses many video game references. It’s set in Toronto, featuring landmarks such as Casa Loma, St. Michael’s College School and a Toronto Public Library location.
Book/Author: Margaret Atwood, born in Ottawa, is a Canadian literary icon. Atwood has published numerous works, including 18 novels, 18 books of poetry, eight children’s books and two graphic novels. Perhaps her most notable work is The Handmaid’s Tale, which was adapted into a 2017 TV series. Among her many accolades, Atwood received the Order of Canada in 1981 and Order of Ontario in 1990.
Fictional Character: A few other characters/shows deserving of mention include Mr. Kim (Kim’s Convenience), William Murdoch (Murdoch Mysteries), Red Green (The Red Green Show), Hobo the Dog (The Littlest Hobo), and Bob and Doug McKenzie (SCTV). Combined, the characters/shows give a good representation of Ontario from the late 19th century – the setting of Murdoch Mysteries – to present day.
Fictional City: Since Letterkenny was already mentioned above, I’ll use this category to feature Schitt’s Creek, both the show and the invented locale. When video store mogul Johnny Rose loses his entire fortune, he and his peculiar family are forced to move to the one property they still own, the rural town of Schitt’s Creek. Here, they interact with the eclectic citizens, while trying to rebuild their lives.
Actor/Actress: There are too many folks that fit this category, so I’ll just list them: Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Ryan Gosling, Jay Baruchel, Rachel McAdams, Keanu Reeves, Michael Cera, Will Arnett, Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Matthew Perry, John Candy, Neve Campbell, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara, Sandra Oh, Martin Short… did I miss anyone?
Song: A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow is the unofficial anthem of Ontario. It was written by Dolores Claman, best known for writing The Hockey Theme, which is viewed as a secondary national anthem in Canada. The song was used at the Ontario pavilion at the Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montreal, Quebec. It was also featured in the short film A Place to Stand, which won a 1967 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.
Band/Musician: Once again, there are many options for this category. If I had to narrow it down to one, I think I’d select Justin Bieber. Just kidding, I’d probably go with Rush, but others deserving of mention include Alanis Morissette, The Tragically Hip, Drake, Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, Neil Young, The Weeknd, Shania Twain, Paul Anka, Blue Rodeo, Alessia Cara, deadmau5, Gordon Lightfoot, Our Lady Peace, Sum 41, etc.
People: Another tough category to narrow down, so I’ll split it between two long-time media personalities, one universally beloved and the other incredibly controversial. First, Alex Trebek, born in Sudbury, hosted TV game show Jeopardy! for 37 years before his death in 2020. On the other end of the spectrum, hockey pundit Don Cherry was a fixture of Hockey Night in Canada for 33 years before being unceremoniously fired in 2019.
Animal: A few giant pandas have had notable stays at the Toronto Zoo. First, Qing Qing and Quan Quan appeared at the zoo in 1985, shattering all attendance records over the zoo’s history. Decades later, Er Shun and Da Mao arrived in Toronto and in 2015, Er Shun gave birth to twin cubs, the first birth of giant pandas to occur in Canada. The cubs were named Jia Panpan (Canadian Hope) and Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy).
Invention: Insulin, co-discovered by Sir Frederick Banting (born in Alliston) has to take this spot, thanks to the hormone’s ability to save the lives of those with diabetes or at least allow them to enjoy a safer, more comfortable existence. For his discovery, Banting was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Medicine, at the age of 32, making him the youngest winner in that field to this day.
Crime: In the early 1990s, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, known as the Ken and Barbie Killers, raped and murdered three teenagers, including Homolka’s own sister. On his own, Bernardo was a prolific serial rapist, given the nicknames Scarborough Rapist and Schoolgirl Killer. The pair were convicted of their crimes, but while Bernardo was sentenced to life imprisonment, Homolka cut a controversial plea deal and only served 12 years.
Sports Team: Ontario is home to the most sports franchises in the country. Toronto has the Maple Leafs (NHL), Raptors (NBA), Blue Jays (MLB) and Argos (CFL), while Ottawa offers the Senators (NHL) and Redblacks (CFL). There’s also the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats. The province also has the Ontario Hockey League, with 17 of the circuit’s 20 junior teams located within Ontario.
Athlete: Among other options, this category has to go to Wayne Gretzky. Born in Brantford, ‘The Great One’ owns countless NHL records and is generally regarded as the greatest hockey player the game has ever seen. Gretzky won four Stanley Cups, to go along with many individual awards, over his 20-year career. When Gretzky retired, he was immediately enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his #99 jersey was retired league-wide.
Famous Home: While the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence seems like an obvious choice, I’ll go in a different direction, highlighting McCrae House in Guelph. It is the childhood home of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the poem In Flanders Field during World War I. Sadly, McCrae died of pneumonia before the war concluded. The home was named a National Historic Site in 1966.
Urban Legend: The Baldoon Mystery is a curious tale. Taking place in the community of Wallaceburg, the story states the family farm of John T. McDonald experienced many paranormal encounters, said to result from a witch’s curse. McDonald was advised to shoot a black-headed goose with a silver bullet, which would wound the witch as well. Upon shooting a goose in its wing, McDonald came across an old woman with a broken arm and the hauntings ceased.
Museum: The Hockey Hall of Fame was established in Toronto in 1943. With the 2021 induction ceremony, a total of 417 players, builders and officials have been enshrined in the Hall. The museum also allows visitors to get close to the Stanley Cup, which reminds me of the joke that the Hall of Fame was placed in Toronto, as that’s the closest folks living there would ever get to the championship!
Firsts: For a league that has only one Canadian team, it’s amazing the first-ever National Basketball Association game was played on November 1, 1946, in Toronto. The contest, played at Maple Leaf Gardens, was between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers, with the Knicks winning 68-66. The Huskies only lasted one season before folding and Toronto would be without a team until the Raptors were founded in 1995.
Company: As department stores go the way of the dodo, they were once major shopping institutions. All of the biggest Canadian department stores were headquartered in Ontario, including The Bay, Eaton’s and Sears. Of these, only The Bay, in existence in various forms since 1670, still exists, but they have struggled in recent years, due to discount stores and online shopping.
Events: The War of 1812, fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, featured a number of battles in Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). The war is credited for helping to create a sense of national identity in Canada. For Canadians, the war is perhaps best remembered for the burning of Washington, which included setting the White House, then known as the Presidential Mansion, and Capitol building ablaze.
Miscellaneous: The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is one of the largest film festivals in the world, highlighted by the premieres of star-studded movies and creating buzz for films leading up to the award season. The festival was founded in 1976 and today lasts 11 days in mid-September. Some notable movies to debut at TIFF, include American Beauty, Ray, Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, and The King’s Speech.
Ontario: Raymond Massey
- 2 oz Canadian Whiskey
- Dash of Ginger Syrup
- Top with Bubbly
- Garnish with a Lemon Twist
This cocktail is named after actor Raymond Massey, who was born in Toronto, where the drink enjoys its popularity. It is a variation of the classic French 75 beverage, subbing in the Canadian Whiskey and Ginger Syrup, in favour of Gin and Lemon Juice.