A Strong Voice for a New Land

At the turn of the 20th century, many people thought of Northern Ontario as an isolated frontier, valuable for its natural resources. At that time, the area's resources were providing about 25 percent of Ontario's revenues.

To people in the south of the province, it was New Ontario, a remote and rugged land. In 1900, there were no highways in the North. Travel anywhere was by rail or boat. It was a different world in many ways.

To this day, Northern Ontarians take pride in that sense of distinctiveness. They have sought to have the region's uniqueness reflected in political policies and decisions. In turn, the provincial government has recognized the economic importance of Northern Ontario. It has given the region a strong voice in government through the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

A Brief History of Northern government

  • 1889 – An Act of British Parliament gives control of Northern Ontario to the Ontario government. The province sets policies to develop the region's natural resources.
  • 1905 – The first cabinet minister from Northern Ontario, Sudbury's Frank Cochrane, is appointed. Cochrane serves as minister of the new Department of Lands, Forests and Mines until 1911.
  • 1912 – The Department creates a Northern Development Branch to further support growth in the North. In 1926, this branch becomes the Department of Northern Development.
  • 1930s – The Department of Northern Development merges with the Department of Highways. Its purpose: to build and maintain roads and bridges in Northern Ontario.
  • 1970 – The government creates a new Department of Mines and Northern Affairs in response to northerners' concerns about the lack of access to provincial government information. Twenty-four Northern Affairs offices in the region bring the Ontario government to northerners. This department changes name and responsibilities throughout the 1970s and early 1980s due to government restructuring.
  • 1985 – The government creates a new Ministry of Northern Affairs and Mines. Later that year, the name becomes the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. The change emphasizes the province's commitment to greater social and economic development in the North.
  • 1990 – The ministry headquarters are re-located to two new buildings in Sudbury.
  • 2009 – The realignment of forestry from the Ministry of Natural Resources to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is announced reflecting the importance of forestry to many northern and rural communities. The renamed Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry now leads the business and economic aspects of forestry, including industrial strategy, forest sector competitiveness programs, softwood lumber and wood allocation, pricing and licensing.
  • 2011 - The business and economic aspects of forestry are transferred back to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The Idea of a Separate Government

Government decisions made in Toronto have not always agreed with northerners' views. From time to time, the passionate difference of opinion has caused the people of the North to consider separating from the rest of Ontario. For example:

  • 1875 – Simon James Dawson first proposed the idea of separating. He represented the riding of Algoma, which was the only northern seat in the Ontario legislature at the time. He said that Northern Ontario should be a territorial government until it had enough people to become a province.
  • 1891 – The idea of a separate government was popular at this time in Sudbury. People were against proposed taxes on mine properties.
  • 1905 – The creation of two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, heated up northerners' argument for their own province.

While the desire to separate never fully went away, it dropped off during the years of the world wars and economic depressions. The idea came up again during the 1970s, and has resurfaced in recent years.