Famous Canadians
from Ontario

Many famous Canadians were born or have lived in Ontario, so this list below is far from exhaustive. So how have I selected who to include?

The Famous Five

(Nellie McClung, shown above as part of the Famous Five)

Here are two things I considered:

  • I think these Canadians will interest tourists. He or she might be in the news often, or might have accomplished something important and well-known.
  • In SOME cases, the person has some kind of physical “site” associated with them – a museum or art gallery, for example – that travellers can visit (i.e. the Bell Museum).

Famous Canadians A-F

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless (1857 - 1910) - Helped found the national YWCA and the Victorian Order of Nurses and worked with the Women's Institute. You can visit her former home, the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead National Historic Site, in St. George. Another house, the Erland Lee Museum in Stoney Creek, is also associated with her and her work with the Women's Institute.

Alanis Morissette (1974 - ) - Singer/songwriter. Born in Ottawa.

Alexander Graham Bell (1847 - 1922) - Invented the telephone. Born in Scotland but came to Brantford in 1870 with his parents. His former home, The Bell Homestead in Brantford, is open to the public as a museum.

Alice Munro – Short-story writer. Born in the small town of Wingham in 1931.

Billy Bishop - World War I flying ace. The Billy Bishop Heritage Museum in Owen Sound is dedicated to his memory. It's located in the home where Billy Bishop was born and raised. There's also an amazing two-man play about him that has been running on-and-off for about 30+ years, called Billy Bishop Goes to War (REALLY worth seeing!). And the Toronto island airport is called Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. See pictures of his birthplace in my story about Owen Sound.

Christopher Plummer – Actor, stage, film and television. Born in 1929 in Toronto. Has performed in NYC's Broadway, Stratford Shakespeare Theatre Festival, and on television programs.

Colonel R.S. McLaughlin - Founder of General Motors of Canada. You can visit his former mansion, Parkwood, The R.S McLaughlin Estate National Historic Site, in Oshawa.

Dan Aykroyd (1952 - ) - Actor and writer. Born in Ottawa.

Dave Thomas – Actor. Born in 1949 in St. Catharines.

Dionne Quints – The famous quintuplets – five babies who, during the 1930s, became a bit of a circus attraction and distraction from the Depression. Were probably the most famous Canadians in Ontario at the time. You can visit their birthplace in North Bay, the Dionne Quints Museum.

Eugene Levy- Actor. Born in 1946 in Hamilton and graduated from that city's McMaster University.

Frank Gehry – International architect. Grew up in Toronto. Recently re-designed the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Famous Canadians G - O

George Brown - Father of Confederation and founder of the Globe newspaper. His former home, George Brown House, at186 Beverley Street in Toronto, is available for rental for special events and meetings.

Glenn Gould (1932 - 1982) – Pianist and composer. Born in Toronto. One of many famous Canadians who've made it big in the music business.

Gordon Lightfoot (1938 -) – Musician, song-writer. Orillia’s performing arts theatre is named after him.

Graham Greene – Actor. Born in 1952 on the Six Nations Reserve not far from Brantford

Group of Seven – Canada’s famous painters. You’ll find many of their works in major art galleries including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. Some of the members of the Group are buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Homer Watson – 19th century artist. One of the first Canadian painters to gain international fame. Visit his fabulously decorated former home and studio in Kitchener which is now a museum and art gallery for local artists. For pictures of this place, see my story on Kitchener.

Jim Carrey (1962 - ) - Comedian and actor. Born in Newmarket (near Toronto).

Joe Shuster (1914 - 1992) - Co-creator of Superman, the comic book hero. Born in Toronto.

John McCrae (1872–1918) – Soldier, poet. Author of In Flanders Fields. You can visit his birthplace, McCrae House, in Guelph.

Joseph Brant (or Thayendanegea) (1742 - 1807) - Mohawk chief, scholar, statesman and soldier. You can visit a reconstruction of his former home, The Joseph Brant Museum, in Burlington. Warning though: I was a bit disappointed with this place. This isn’t a “great person’s house museum” with period rooms. It’s really more dedicated to the history of the community. Just be prepared.

Josiah Henson – An inspiring man, this former slave founded a community for escaped slaves and helped many other people escape to freedom. You can visit his cabin, called Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, near Dresden, Ontario. Henson’s autobiography was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

Justin Bieber (1994 - ) - Teenage pop star. Discovered through a You-Tube video which showed him busking on the steps of Avon Theatre (part of Stratford Festival Theatre) in downtown Stratford Ontario. Now a world-wide sensation.

Karen Kain (1951 - ) – World-famous ballerina. Born in Hamilton.

Keanu Reeves – Actor. Grew up in Toronto. One of many famous Canadians in Hollywood.

Laura Secord (1775 - 1868) – Heroine of the war of 1812. You can visit her former home, The Laura Secord Homestead, in Queenston, in the Niagara Region, and buy her wonderful chocolates or ice cream! The only connection I can see between chocolates and her story is that there was a cow mentioned in her tale, wasn't there??? Cow....milk...chocolate?

Lucy Maud Montgomery – Author of Anne of Green Gables. No, you’re right, she WAS from Prince Edward Island. But she spent the last years of her life in Uxbridge Township. The Leaskdale Manse where she lived and wrote 11 of her 22 novels has been designated an historic site and is being restored.

Margaret Atwood – Writer. Born in Ottawa in 1939. Attended University of Toronto. Many of her novels are set in Toronto and refer to landmarks such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Queen Street West, the Royal York Hotel, the Toronto Islands, etc. Atwood has helped put Toronto on the map.

Marie Dressler – Film star from the 1930s. Visit the Dressler House in Cobourg where she was born. In her day, one of the most famous Canadians in the silver screen.

Martin Short – Comedian/actor. Born in 1950 in Hamilton.

Mazo De la Roche (1879–1961) – Author of the Jalna series of novels. In Port Credit, which is part of Mississauga (near Toronto), you can visit the Benares Historic House, the house that was the model for Jalna, the home of the fictitious Whiteoak family. Read more about the museum in my story about Port Credit.

McQuestens - The famous family from Hamilton left a legacy of beautiful parks and heritage for all of Ontario.

Mike Myers – Actor. Raised in Scarborough (Toronto suburb). One of the most famous Canadians in Hollywood today.

Nellie McClung – Suffragist. Famous activist in the Persons Case. She was born in Chatsworth, Ontario. You can see a monument to the Persons Case leaders in Ottawa on Parliament Hill.

Norman Bethune – Doctor and humanitarian who worked in China. You can visit his birthplace in Gravenhurst, the Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site. Probably the most famous Canadian in China.

Famous Canadians P-Z

Paul Kane (1810-1871) – Artist. Born in Ireland but grew up in Toronto where he lived most of his life. Best known for his paintings and sketches of Aboriginal people done during a two-year journey across western Canada.

Paul Peel (1860-1892) - Artist. Another great Canadian artist. This one died too young. You can visit the childhood home of Paul Kane at Fanshawe Pioneer Village.

Pauline Johnson (1861 - 1913) - One of Canada's best known poets. Performed her poetry on stage at the turn of the 20th Century. Good travel writer too. Daughter of a Mohawk Chief and an American woman originally from England. You can visit her home at Ohsweken, the Chiefswood National Historic Site (near Brantford).

Rich Little – Comedian. Born 1938 in Ottawa.

Roberta Lynn Bondar (1945 - ) - First Canadian woman in space. Born in Sault Ste. Marie.

Shania Twain (1965- ) – Country singer. Born in Windsor, but grew up in Timmins.

Sir Allan McNab – One of Canada's first premiers. Visit his majestic home, Dundurn Castle, in Hamilton.

Sir Frederick Grant Banting - Co-discoverer of insulin. Born in Alliston. You can visit the Banting House National Historic Site in London.

Sir Isaac Brock (1769 - 1812) - Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. Died defending Canada at the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. Brock’s Monument in Queenston Heights park in the Niagara Region is impossible to miss. Brock University in St. Catharines is named after him as well.

Sir William Osler (1849 - 1919) - Called "the father of modern medicine". Advocated bedside training (not just book learning) for doctors. Medical innovator, researcher and author. Born in Bond Head and raised in the quaint, old-fashioned town of Dundas.

Stephen Leacock – Author. One of the most famous Canadians in the literary world in his era; people called him the Mark Twain of Canada. Known for his funny novels and short stories. His best known work is Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. You can visit his summer home, The Stephen Leacock Museum, in Orillia.

Tom Thomson – Painter. Associated with Algonquin Park, where he painted many of his works and died mysteriously at Canoe Lake. You’ll find his works in major art galleries including the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, as well as the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery in Owen Sound.

Wayne Gretzky – Hockey star. Born in Brantford. Has a boulevard named after him! You can learn more about him at the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition and, of course, in Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame.

William Lyon Mackenzie – Rebel, writer, publisher, politician, First Mayor of Toronto. Visit his last home, Mackenzie House, in Toronto, or the Mackenzie Heritage Printery in Queenston.

William Lyon Mackenzie King – Former Prime Minister of Canada. Grandson of William Lyon Mackenzie. You can visit his boyhood home, Woodside National Historic Site of Canada, in Kitchener, his estate (The Mackenzie King Estate) in Gatineau Park across the river from Ottawa and the Laurier House National Historic Site in Ottawa where he lived while he was Prime Minister.

Yousef Karsh –Photographer. Created portraits of royalty, world leaders and international celebrities as well as famous Canadians. Worked out of a studio in the famous Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa. You can find his work in major galleries around the world including the National Gallery of Canada. Great one of Stephen Leacock at the Stephen Leacock Museum, too.

You may enjoy

Ontario History - A list of some exciting history museums in Ontario.

Ontario Travel Secrets

> Famous Canadians