January 2013 issue

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Open Ontario

Ontario is home to some of Canada’s most well-known treasures: from one of the world’s major tourist attractions, Niagara Falls, to Canada’s largest city, Toronto. But this province holds a lot more to be discovered, as Gillian Evans finds out.

Sweeping from the St Lawrence River and Great Lakes in the south to the frozen shores of Hudson Bay in the north, Ontario is the second-largest province in Canada, covering a landmass that is greater than France and Spain combined. The province boasts over 250,000 lakes, which make up about one-third of the world’s fresh water, and kilometres of untouched natural wilderness, and it is this that David Oancia, International Recruitment Officer at Niagara College in Niagara, urges international students to explore. “What many people do not do is explore the geography of the region,” he asserts. “For example, the south of the peninsula boasts over 90 kilometres of beaches along Lake Eire. In fact, it is the longest stretch of fresh water beaches in the world. They are pristine white sand beaches nestled in the heart of the Canadian wilderness.”

James Rice, Director of Connect Languages in Toronto, highlights the snow sports opportunities. “In Ontario, the students are often surprised at our ski mountains,” he says. “Often they think of the Rocky Mountains but Ontario has some fantastic ski resorts such as Blue Mountain which has been compared with Aspen, Colorado.”

Its picture-postcard attributes aside, the province is also home to Ottawa. Despite being Canada’s capital city, Ottawa is often overlooked by students, says Sharen Craig, Director of NSL Camps in Ottawa. “Many students miss one of Canada’s most beautiful cities because they simply do not know [about it]. The architecture is one of a kind; the city has history and natural beauty. It is laid back, easy to get around, with no big traffic worries and it is safe.”

One of Craig’s personal city highlights is strolling down the Rideau Canal. “In the winter, skating its full eight kilometres is an absolute delight,” he says. Just seeing people of all ages, at all times of the day and night going up and down the canal in the crisp winter air, really is something unique to Ottawa.”

Ontario is also home to Canada’s largest city, Toronto. Languishing along the northern edge of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a lively and vibrant city with a large harmonious multicultural population. “[Toronto] is a true global village,” muses Rice. “I love the fact that in Toronto we have the entire world living next door to each other without conflict but with respect for each other’s culture.” 

Ramie Goudreau, Director of Sol Schools International in Toronto, agrees. “Toronto is very culturally diverse and this is a big attraction for many students. Festivals, restaurants, cultural centres showcasing traditions and culture from all parts of the world are a short subway or streetcar ride away.”

Paul Santos, Marketing Coordinator at York University – English Language Institute (YUELI) in Toronto, also points out, “There are many things that students can do after class or during their free time in the city: from museums, to tours around the city, and [enjoying the] popular night life.”

Toronto’s main street is Yonge Street, famous for being the longest street in the world, according to Gayle Forler at EC Canada in Toronto, and lined with shops, restaurants and entertainment, with the school just a short walk away. “Our exact neighbourhood is Yonge and Eglinton but people in Toronto call it ‘Young & Eligible’ as there are so many young professionals living in the area,” says Forler.

Just a 45-minute drive from downtown Toronto is the city of Burlington, rated as Canada’s second-best place to live (after Ottawa) in 2012. Felix Woehler at English Encounters in Burlington mentions Burlington’s location on Lake Ontario as particularly attractive with “a very nice beach, where students can go swimming in summer”. But there is much more to this city, from Canada’s largest free Sound of Music Festival and Ribfest [a four-day festival where ‘ribber’ teams compete for the title of best spare rib] to the peace and tranquillity of its Royal Botanical Gardens.

Known as the Forest City, thanks to its many tree-lined streets, London is said to offer the cultural punch of a big city but in a smaller, safer and more cost-effective environment. Bruce Wilson, Manager of the International Centre at Fanshawe College in London, states, “London, Ontario offers a unique experience of the large city with the small town feel. Compared with Toronto the cost of living in London is 30-to-40 per cent less – accommodation, transportation, food.” Apart from all the water activities available on the nearby Great Lakes, students in London can also enjoy any of the five major festivals held in Victoria Park in the heart of the downtown during the summer.

For food and wine, the Niagara region is widely viewed as a centre for gastronomy and viticulture, reports Oancia at Niagara College, which has campuses in Niagara on the Lake and in Welland, both of which are about 15 kilometres from Niagara Falls. In addition, the peninsula boasts over 50 golf courses, and plenty of other outdoor activities. “There are numerous outdoor activities to be experienced in the Niagara peninsula,” confirms Oancia. “These range from sailing in the great lakes, kayaking, camping [and] hiking through the region’s 12 conservation areas.”

About 70 kilometres’ drive from Niagara Falls – but boasting many of its own water features – is Ontario’s third largest city Hamilton. “Known as the Waterfall Capital of the World, Hamilton has over 126 magnificent waterfalls that can compare to Niagara Falls in their grandeur,” asserts Dorette Joesph at Columbia International College in Hamilton. “The falls boast the perfect ambiance for picnics, outdoor activities and striking photography.” Hamilton itself has all the attributes of a major urban centre including museums, theatres and art galleries. In addition, says Joesph, “Hamilton, like Canada, is a cultural mosaic full of different places to discover and enjoy. Along with the diversity of the [international] foods Hamilton offers, students also find highlights in the city’s beautiful terrain, safe surroundings and welcoming, friendly people.”

Marylou Heenan from Red Leaf, which offers programmes for teenagers in many locations in Ontario, says that their students get to know the friendly Ontarians by partaking in volunteer programmes. “Red Leaf offers volunteer opportunities, including tree planting, packaging dried foods for low-income families and helping out at food banks,” she says. One of the cities to which they send students is Guelph, which in 2009, was named one of the country’s safest cities. Illustrating this, Heenan recounted, “One year, we had three Spanish students lose their wallets (all at different times) on the Guelph city buses and all were returned intact with all money and valuables still in place.”

Agent viewpoint

“Toronto is the capital city of the province of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is the fifth most populous municipality in North America and is a very multicultural city. It is one of the cities with the highest percentage of university educators, more than in any other country in the world. Toronto is the largest financial centre in Canada. The police force of Toronto is among the most efficient, friendly and respected police forces in the world. Toronto is one of the most peaceful, large and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Niagara Falls is just an hour’s drive away. There are as many as 1,500 parks in Toronto, including sports parks, trails, recreation centres and botanical gardens and conservatories. Toronto has been rated as one of the world’s most livable cities, by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. We send students to Toronto, Niagara and Hamilton. Toronto is the most popular. Despite Toronto being Canada’s largest city, it is very safe and friendly. The students enjoy snowboarding and skiing mainly. They also love travelling and visiting the museums, the CN Tower, Casa Loma and the Sky Dome. They love and enjoy going to Niagara Falls and also love going to see baseball games.”
Ana Maria Gonzalez Paquot, Enjoy Languages, Mexico

“The biggest group of students [we send] are aged between 15 and 18 years, and they generally have already gone to the UK or Ireland which are destinations nearer than Canada for French people. When they are older and have more maturity, their parents let them choose Canada or the USA in order that they discover geographically more distant countries. We also send students aged 18 to 25 who want to take a language course and live within a host family to discover the Canadian culture and habits from the inside. In Ontario, we send our students to Toronto because we are in relation with numerous host families there. The aim is also to be near the main touristic areas of the region. Students all love the day-trip to Toronto and the Niagara Falls which are amazing. They also love going to Wonderland, the CN Tower and this summer, a student went to see a horse race with her host family and appreciated it very much.”
Chrystelle Garnier, Silc, France

“There are many things students like about this province: the people are very welcoming and there are many interesting places to visit. Of course Niagara Falls is the number one attraction with Niagara on the Lake, the CN Tower and Vaughn Mills Shopping Centre. Mexicans enjoy shopping and Canada has great shopping malls. The Royal Ontario Museum is also very interesting for them. The experience that the students we send for a period of two weeks to Canada has been excellent, since the students have the opportunity to learn about Canadians and their lifestyle, and also make lifelong friendships, and see the great sites Ontario has to offer.”
Grace Blankenagel, BS Educatours, Brazil

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