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The Niagara Peninsula is the portion of Southern Ontario, Canada, lying between the south shore of Lake Ontario and the north shore of Lake Erie. It stretches from the Niagara River in the east to Hamilton, Ontario, in the west. The population of the peninsula is roughly 1,000,000 people. The region directly across the Niagara River and Lake Erie in New York State is known as the Niagara Frontier. Located in Western New York, the area forms a part of the broader Buffalo Niagara Region.
The greater part of the peninsula is incorporated as the Regional Municipality of Niagara. Cities in the region include St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Thorold, Port Colborne and Welland. Towns include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lincoln, Pelham, Grimsby and Fort Erie, as well as the townships Wainfleet and West Lincoln. The remainder of the peninsula encompasses parts of the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County.
The area was originally inhabited by a First Nations people called the "Neutrals", so named for their practice of trading goods such as flint arrowhead blanks with both of the feuding regional powers, the Wyandot and Iroquois. The Neutrals were wiped out by the Iroquois c. 1650 as the latter sought to expand their fur-trapping territory as part of the Beaver Wars. From this point until the arrival of United Empire Loyalists following the American War of Independence, the region was only sporadically inhabited, as the Iroquois did not establish permanent settlements in the area.
The Niagara Peninsula then became one of the first areas settled in Upper Canada by British Loyalists in the late 18th century. The capital of the new colony was established with the founding of Niagara-on-the-Lake, then called Newark. Many English and Irish immigrants settled in the peninsula, but by the 1800s, Italian and German immigrants heavily populated the peninsula and were the chief sources of immigrants followed by French, Polish, and other Eastern Europeans.
Following the agricultural period of European settlement, the Niagara area became an important industrial centre, with water-powered mills joined later by hydro-electric power generation in Niagara Falls and electricity-intensive industry in both Niagara Falls and St. Catharines. While agriculture – especially fruit farming along the shore of Lake Ontario – remains important to this day, it was joined in the 19th century by industrial developments. A succession of canals were built to connect the markets and mineral resources of the upper Great Lakes with the St. Lawrence Seaway (See also Welland Canal). General Motors built a considerable presence in St. Catharines with auto plants and a foundry, and a number of auto-parts manufacturers followed. Dry docks were also built at Port Weller on Lake Ontario.
Heavy industry has been diminishing for the past decade or more primarily due to the slow-down of the North American automotive manufacturers. Thousands of jobs have been lost at long-time area employers such as General Motors, Thompson Products, Deere & Company, Dana Canada Corp, Port Weller Drydocks, Domtar Papers and Gallagher Thorold Paper. Because of this, local municipalities have been forced to look at new and diversified opportunities to prevent an exodus of well trained staff.
Hospitality and tourism has attracted numerous visitors to the area for more than 150 years primarily thanks to Niagara Falls. New development beginning during the mid-1990s has spun off an upscale hospitality boom throughout the whole Niagara Peninsula.
Today, more than 10 million guests visit the peninsula annually to see the beauty of the Falls and the Niagara Parks. Ecotourism has become more popular with more people finding and exploring out of the way places such as the Niagara Escarpment, named a world Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1990.
Another area of major tourism growth in the past thirty years has been the expansion of the grape and wine industry. The Niagara Peninsula is one of four recognized viticultural areas by the VQA in the Ontario wine industry. The many European-style wineries and vineyards have played a major role in attracting visitors seeking a unique cultural experience. Most of the local wineries offer full tours of their facilities with a few offering onsite dining featuring unique Canadian cuisine paired with their own VQA vintages. It is common for many of these wineries' world-class chefs to use fresh ingredients that are grown or acquired from local farms in season. Some wineries also feature live music and theatrical performances in the vineyard during the summer months. Visitors come during the coldest months of the year (usually December to February) to watch some varieties of grapes being harvested and pressed outdoors in the vineyard as part of the process of creating the sweetest, and among the most expensive, wine on earth – ice wine. A few Niagara Peninsula wineries have won the most prestigious international awards for their ice wine products, many of which are only available from the vintner.
There is an official  Wine Routes Guide for those that wish to self-drive while transportation companies offering wine tours operate out of major hotel and bed and breakfast establishments in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto. (Driving from downtown Toronto to the Niagara wine region is about two hours.)
Another major attraction for the well travelled looking for cultural activities is the famous Shaw Festival Theater (named for playwright George Bernard Shaw) located in the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. A resident repertory company of actors uses three theatres during a six-month season. Niagara-on-the-Lake is also the location of Fort George, a British-built and -occupied fort during the War of 1812. It was rebuilt for the public during the 1960s and is open during the summer months. Other key historical locations nearby include: Brock's Monument, the Laura Secord Monument and the battlefield sites of Battle of Queenston Heights, Battle of Lundy's Lane and Battle of Chippawa.
The region's moderate year-round climate, in addition to its close proximity to the United States for easy road and air access to the southern U.S., makes it a popular retirement destination. In fact, the Niagara Peninsula has both the highest density and growth rate of seniors for any region within Ontario. The highest percentage of seniors to the total population is located within the city of Port Colborne.
During the early 1990s a major telecommunications highway between metropolitan Toronto and the U.S. was upgraded to become one of North America's fastest fiber backbones. It passes through the heart of the Niagara Peninsula and enters the U.S. at Buffalo, New York. This gave Niagara the advantage of having direct access to the backbone and attracting many new professional call centers.
Compared with the cities of Toronto, Hamilton and most Ontario municipalities with populations similar in size to the whole of the Niagara Peninsula, the average cost of living is very reasonable. The cost of housing, both owned and rented, is lower. The three major cities, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland are mostly urban with most needed services available locally. The remainder of the peninsula, especially to the far west and south, is either partially urban or almost entirely rural.
The major roadway bisecting the peninsula is the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). This freeway connects Toronto and the United States via New York State. It is one of the major thoroughfares for the North American trucking industry and is responsible for supporting the carriage of nearly one third of all goods imported and exported. The second major roadway is Highway 406 which begins at the QEW in west St. Catharines and ends approximately 30 km south in the city of Welland. Another shorter freeway is Highway 405, named the General Isaac Brock Parkway in 2006. It begins at the QEW in Niagara-on-the-Lake, just east of St. Catharines, and ends about 15 km away at Queenston, Ontario, where it connects to an international bridge that crosses into the United States at Lewiston, New York. This is also a major travel zone for the Canada/US trucking industry.
All cities and some towns in the peninsula have taxi services while St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland all have a local transit commission. There is also one major airbus company that services Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo airports exclusively. Most cities and some towns also have very limited inter-city bus services operated mostly by Greyhound and Coach Canada. A specialized inter-city regional bus service, owned and operated by the Regional government, began operation in late 2006 but is restricted to those requiring transport to medical appointments throughout the region and have no other means of transportation. (Other restrictions apply.) The region hopes to have a fully integrated region-level transit system by the end of the decade.
Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Grimsby are all connected to the CN railway line. Via Rail offers limited daily commuter and weekend service between these three peninsula municipalities and Toronto and many points between. Via Rail and Amtrak also offer daily southbound service from Toronto to New York City with stops at the same stations.