Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario
The lake seen from Dutch Street Road, Huron, New York
Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes
Location North America
Group Great Lakes
Coordinates 43°42′N 77°54′W / 43.7°N 77.9°W / 43.7; -77.9Coordinates: 43°42′N 77°54′W / 43.7°N 77.9°W / 43.7; -77.9
Primary inflows Niagara River
Primary outflows St. Lawrence River
Catchment area 24,720 sq mi (64,030 km2)[1]
Basin countries  United States
Max. length 193 mi (311 km)[2]
Max. width 53 mi (85 km)[2]
Surface area 7,340 sq mi(18,960 km2)[1]
Average depth 283 ft (86 m)[2][3]
Max. depth 802 ft (244 m)[2][3]
Water volume 393 cu mi (1,640 km3)[2]
Residence time 6 years
Shore length1 712 mi (1,146 km)[1]
Surface elevation 243 ft (74 m)[2]
Settlements Toronto, Hamilton, Ontario, Rochester, New York
References [3]
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Ontario (French: Lac Ontario) is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is bounded on the north and southwest by the Canadian province of Ontario, and on the south by the American state of New York. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, was named for the lake. In the Wyandot (Huron) language, ontarío means “Lake of Shining Waters”. It is the last in the Great Lakes chain and serves as the outlet to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River. Lake Ontario is also the only one of the five Great Lakes to not share a coast with the state of Michigan.



Lake Ontario is the easternmost of the Great Lakes and the smallest in surface area (7,340 sq mi, 18,960 km2),[1] although it exceeds Lake Erie in volume (393 cu mi, 1,639 km3). It is the 14th largest lake in the world. When its islands are included, the lake has a shoreline that is 712 miles (1,146 km) long. As the last lake in the Great Lakes' hydrologic chain, Lake Ontario has the lowest mean surface elevation of the lakes at 243 feet (74 m)[2] above sea level; 326 feet (99 m) lower than its neighbor upstream. Its maximum length is 193 statute miles (311 km; 168 nmi) and its maximum width is 53 statute miles (85 km; 46 nmi).[2] The lake's average depth is 47 fathoms 1 foot (283 ft; 86 m), with a maximum depth of 133 fathoms 4 feet (802 ft; 244 m).[2][3] The lake's primary source is the Niagara River, draining Lake Erie, with the St. Lawrence River serving as the outlet. The drainage basin covers 24,720 square miles (64,030 km2).[1][4]

Baymouth bars built by prevailing winds and currents have created a significant number of lagoons and sheltered harbors, mostly (but not limited to) Prince Edward County, Ontario and the easternmost shores. Perhaps the best-known example is Toronto Bay, chosen as the site of the Upper Canada (Ontario) capital for its strategic harbour. Other prominent examples include Hamilton Harbour, Irondequoit Bay, Presqu'ile Bay, and Sodus Bay. The bars themselves are the sites of long beaches, such as Sandbanks Provincial Park and Sandy Island Beach State Park. One unique feature of the lake is the Z-shaped Bay of Quinte which separates Prince Edward County from the Ontario mainland, save for a 2-mile (3.2 km) isthmus near Trenton.

Major rivers draining into Lake Ontario include the Don River; Humber River; Trent River; the Cataraqui River; the Genesee River; the Oswego River; the Black River; and the Salmon River.


A large conurbation called the Golden Horseshoe occupies the lake's westernmost shores, anchored by the cities of Toronto and Hamilton. Ports on the Canadian side include St. Catharines, Oshawa, Cobourg and Kingston, near the St. Lawrence River outlet. Close to 9 million people or over a quarter of Canada's population lives within the watershed of Lake Ontario. The American shore is largely rural, with the exception of Rochester and the much smaller ports at Oswego and Sacket's Harbor. The city of Syracuse is 40 miles (64 km) inland, connected to the lake by the New York State Canal System. Over 2 million people live in Lake Ontario's American watershed.

A high-speed passenger/vehicle ferry, the Spirit of Ontario I, operated between Toronto and Rochester from 17 June 2004 to 10 January 2006, when the service was cancelled. The Crystal Lynn II, out of Irondequoit, New York has been operating between Irondequoit Bay and Henderson, New York since May 2000, operated by Capt. Bob Tein.

Ontario, Canada
New York, U.S.A.

Ocean and Lake navigation

The Great Lakes Waterway connects the lake sidestream to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway, and upstream to the other rivers in the chain via the Welland Canal and to Lake Erie. The Trent-Severn Waterway for pleasure boats connects Lake Ontario at the Bay of Quinte to Georgian Bay (Lake Huron), via Lake Simcoe. The Oswego Canal disconnects the lake at Oswego to the New York State Canal System, with outlets to the Hudson River, Lake Erie, and Lake Champlain.

The Rideau Canal, also for pleasure boats, connects Lake Ontario at Kingston to the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa.



Nearly all of Lake Ontario's islands are located on the eastern and north-eastern shores, between the Prince Edward County headland and the lake's outlet at Kingston. The Toronto Islands on the north-western shore are the remnants of a sand spit formed by coastal erosion, whereas the mostly larger eastern islands are underlain by the basement rock found throughout the region. The Thousand Islands, mostly found in the St. Lawrence River, have several large members near the Lake Ontario side of the outlet.

Wolfe Island, located near Kingston at the St. Lawrence outlet, is the largest island in the basin. It is accessible by ferry from both Canada and the U.S.

Great Lakes Circle Tour

The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.[5]


The lake basin was carved out of soft, weak Silurian-age rocks by the Wisconsin ice sheet during the last ice age. The action of the ice occurred along the pre-glacial Ontarian River valley which had approximately the same orientation as today's basin. Material that was pushed southward by the ice sheet left landforms such as drumlins, kames, and moraines, both on the modern land surface and the lake bottom,[6] reorganizing the region's entire drainage system. As the ice sheet retreated toward the north, it still dammed the St. Lawrence valley outlet, so that the lake surface was at a higher level. This stage is known as Lake Iroquois. During that time the lake drained through present-day Syracuse, New York into the Mohawk River, thence to the Hudson River and the Atlantic. The shoreline created during this stage can be easily recognized by the (now dry) beaches and wave-cut hills 10 to 25 miles (15 to 40 km) from the present shoreline.

When the ice finally receded from the St. Lawrence valley, the outlet was below sea level, and for a short time the lake became a bay of the Atlantic Ocean. Gradually the land rebounded from the release of the weight of about 6,500 feet (2,000 m) of ice that had been stacked on it. It is still rebounding about 12 inches (30 cm) per century in the St. Lawrence area. Since the ice receded from the area last, the most rapid rebound still occurs there. This means that the lake bed is gradually tilting southward, inundating the south shore and turning river valleys into bays. Both north and south shores experience shoreline erosion, but the tilting amplifies this effect on the south shore, causing loss to property owners.


Toronto from the bay in 1901. A then heavily industrialized and busy harbour has been mostly replaced with condominium high-rise developments and urban parks.


Map of Lac de Frontenac (now Lake Ontario), showing Teiaiagon and Lac Taronto (now Lake Simcoe).

The lake was previously identified in some maps under different French names. In 1632 and 1656 is was referred to as Lac de St. Louis or Lake St. Louis by Samuel de Champlain and cartographer Nicolas Sanson respectively (likely for Louis XIV of France)[7] In 1660 Jesuit historian Francis Creuxius coined the name Lacus Ontarius. In a map drawn in the Relation des Jésuites (1662–1663), the lake bears the legend "Lac Ontario ou des Iroquois" with the name "Ondiara" in smaller type. A French map produced in 1712 (currently in the Canadian Museum of Civilization[8]), created by military engineer Jean-Baptiste de Couagne, identified Lake Ontario as "Lac Frontenac". Iroquois people called the lake "Skanadario".

17th to 20th centuries

The lake was a border between the Huron and their vassals and the Iroquois Confederacy in pre-European times. The first documented European to reach the lake was Étienne Brûlé in 1615. Artifacts which are believed to be of Norse origin have been found in the area of Sodus Bay, indicating possible earlier visits by Europeans, but this remains unproven. A series of trading posts was established by both the British and French, such as Fort Oswego in 1722 and Fort Rouillé (Toronto) in 1750. After the French and Indian War, all forts around the lake were under British control. The United States did not take possession of forts on present-day American territory until the signing of the Jay Treaty in 1794. Permanent, non-military European settlement began during the American Revolution. As the easternmost and nearest lake to the Atlantic seaboard of Canada and the United States, population centres here are among the oldest in the Great Lakes basin, with Kingston, formerly the capital of Canada, dating to the 1780s. The lake became a hub of commercial activity following the War of 1812 with canal building on both sides of the border and heavy travel by lake steamers. Steamer activity peaked in the mid-19th century before competition from railway lines.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a type of scow known as a stonehooker was in operation on the north-west shore, particularly around Port Credit and Bronte. Stonehooking was the practice of raking flat fragments of Dundas shale from the shallow lake floor of the area for use in construction, particularly in the growing city of Toronto.[9]



Lake Ontario as seen from top of CN Tower

The lake has a natural seiche rhythm of eleven minutes. The seiche effect normally is only about ¾ inches (2 cm) but can be greatly amplified by earth movement, winds, and atmospheric pressure changes.

Because of its great depth, the lake as a whole rarely freezes in winter. During the winter months, an ice sheet covering between 10% and 90% of the lake area typically develops, depending on the severity of the winter. Ice sheets typically form along the shoreline and in slack water bays, where the lake is not as deep. During the winters of 1877 and 1878, the ice sheet coverage was up to 95–100% in most of the lake. In the winter of 1812, the ice cover was stable enough that the American naval commander stationed at Sackets Harbor feared a British attack from Kingston, over the ice.

When the cold winds of winter pass over the warmer water of the lake, they pick up moisture and drop it as lake-effect snow. Since the prevailing winter winds are from the northwest, the southern and southeastern shoreline of the lake is referred to as the snowbelt. In some winters the area between Oswego and Pulaski may receive twenty or more feet (600 cm) of snowfall. Also impacted by lake-effect snow is the Tug Hill Plateau, an area of elevated land that is about 20 miles (32 km) east of Lake Ontario, creating ideal conditions for lake-effect snowfall. The "Hill", as it is often referred to, typically receives more snow than any other region in the eastern United States. As a result, Tug Hill is a popular location for winter enthusiasts, such as snow-mobilers and cross-country skiers. Lake-effect snow often extends inland as far as Syracuse, with that city often recording the most winter snowfall accumulation of any large city in the United States. Other cities in the world receive more snow annually, such as Quebec City, which averages 135 inches (340 cm), and Sapporo, Japan, which receives 250 inches (640 cm) each year and is often regarded as the snowiest city in the world. Foggy conditions (particularly in fall) can be created by thermal contrasts and can be an impediment for recreational boaters. In a normal winter, Lake Ontario will be at most one quarter ice-covered, in a mild winter almost completely unfrozen. Lake Ontario has completely frozen over on only two recorded occasions: during the winter of 1874–75, and in February 1934.

Lake breezes in spring tend to retard fruit bloom until the frost danger is past, and in the autumn delay the onset of fall frost, particularly on the south shore. Cool onshore winds also retard early bloom of plants and flowers until later in the spring season, protecting them from possible frost damage. Such microclimatic effects have enabled tender fruit production in a continental climate, with the southwest shore supporting a major fruit-growing area. Apples, cherries, pears, plums, and peaches are grown in many commercial orchards around Rochester. Between Stoney Creek and Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Niagara Peninsula is a major fruit-growing and wine-making area. The wine-growing region extends over the international border into Niagara and Orleans counties. Apple varieties that tolerate a more extreme climate are grown on the lake's north shore, around Cobourg.

Environmental concerns

Lake Ontario and city of Toronto in the background

During modern times, the lake became heavily polluted from industrial chemicals, agricultural fertilizers, untreated sewage, phosphates, such as from laundry detergents, and chemicals. Some pollutant chemicals that have been found in the lake include DDT, benzo[a]pyrene and other pesticides; PCBs, aramite, chromium, lead, mirex, mercury, and carbon tetrachloride.

By the 1960s and 1970s, the increased pollution caused frequent algal blooms to occur in the summer. These blooms killed large numbers of fish, and left decomposing piles of filamentous algae and dead fish along the shores. At times the blooms became so thick that waves could not break.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, environmental concerns have forced a cleanup of industrial and municipal wastes. Cleanup has been accomplished through better treatment plants, tighter environmental regulations, de-industrialization and increased public awareness. Today, Lake Ontario has recovered much of its pristine quality but regional airshed pollution remains a concern. For example, walleye, a fish species considered as a marker of clean water, are now found. The lake has also become an important sport fishery, with introduced Coho and Chinook salmon now thriving there.

Invasive species are a problem for Lake Ontario, particularly lamprey and zebra mussels. Lamprey are being controlled by poisoning in the juvenile stage in the streams where they breed. Zebra mussels in particular are difficult to control, and pose major challenges for the lake and its waterways. Thermal pollution from the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station and Darlington Nuclear Generating Station just east of Toronto has become a concern in recent years, with the warm wastewater released from the plant being a problem year-round.[10] Radioactive and heavy metal contamination from these nuclear plants, as well as nuclear-industry fuel manufacturing in Port Hope, Ontario, is also an ongoing concern.

Lake Monster

In the 1800s, there were reports of an alleged creature similar to the so-called Loch Ness Monster being sighted in the lake. The creature is described as large with a long neck, green in colour, and generally causes a break in the surface waves.[11][12][13]


See also

Great Lakes in General


  1. ^ a b c d e "Great Lakes: Basic Information: Physical Facts". U.S. Government. May 25, 2011. Retrieved November 12, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Great Lakes Atlas: Factsheet #1" (in English and French). United States Environmental Protection Agency. April 11, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  3. ^ a b c d Wright, John W. (ed.); Editors and reporters of The New York Times (2006). The New York Times Almanac (2007 ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Books. pp. 64. ISBN 0-14-303820-6. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Great Lakes Circle Tour.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Museum of Civilization
  9. ^ Snider, Charles Henry Jeremiah, Townsend, Robert B. Tales from the Great Lakes. Toronto: Dundurn Press Limited, 1995, pp. 25.
  10. ^ Vyhnak, Carola (6 July 2010). "Pickering nuclear plant ordered to quit killing fish". The Star (Toronto). 
  11. ^ The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, July 25, 1835; p. 6 "Sea Serpent in Lake Ontario"
  12. ^ Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, June 28, 1867 "Another Sea Serpent Sensation: A hideous monster discovered in Lake Ontario"
  13. ^ Pinkwater, Daniel. The Monster of Lake Ontario. New York: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 2010, pp. 46–47.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lake Ontario — Ontariosee Satellitenbild des Ontariosees Geographische Lage: zwischen Kanada und USA Zuflüsse …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lake Ontario — noun the smallest of the Great Lakes • Syn: ↑Ontario • Instance Hypernyms: ↑lake • Part Holonyms: ↑Great Lakes * * * Lake Ontario [ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lake Ontario — Sp Ontãrijo ẽžeras Ap Lake Ontario L vienas Didžiųjų ežerų Š. Amerikoje, JAV (Niujorko v ja) ir Kanada (Ontarijo p ja) …   Pasaulio vietovardžiai. Internetinė duomenų bazė

  • Lake Ontario — ➡ Ontario * * * …   Universalium

  • Lake Ontario — n. easternmost lake of North American Great Lakes which is the smallest in the area …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Lake Ontario — noun One of the five Great Lakes of North America …   Wiktionary

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