Ontario is positively brimming with beautiful small communities that combine heritage architecture with walkable streets and interesting attractions and shops. Here are eight hidden gems that you may not have visited yet.
Located in northern Pickering, about 40 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Claremont was settled in the 1840s, and was originally named Noble’s Corners after Thomas Nobel’s grocery store. Claremont is also known for being the home of painter Tom Thomson, who was perhaps influenced by Claremont’s mix of historic architecture and access to the Oak Ridges Moraine, part of the Ontario Greenbelt.
Dresden may be named for a German city, but its claim to fame is as the terminus of the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War. Part of the municipality of Chatham-Kent, Dresden was the home of Josiah Henson, whose life inspired the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In fact, visitors to Dresden can visit the real “Uncle Tom’s cabin,” Henson’s home just outside the city. Visitors can also find out about Dresden’s history through a series of plaques located on the brick-paved Trillium Trail.
Vienna is a tiny southwestern community located just north of Port Burwell and Lake Erie. It’s the birthplace of Thomas Edison’s grandfather, and boasts a museum dedicated to Edison located on land owned by the Edison family. Vienna also boasts an auction most Monday evenings, which might be the perfect place to pick up a quaint remembrance of the town.
With Dresden and Vienna on the list, it would be silly not to include Paris. Located where the Grand and Nith rivers meet in Brant County, Paris was voted “Prettiest Little Town in Canada” by Harrowsmith magazine. The community has a great collection of nineteenth-century buildings that feature exterior veneers of cobblestones pulled from the rivers, as well as well-preserved heritage buildings all over the historic downtown.
If you’re not from around Ottawa, you may not know that Canada has a Mississippi River—but it does, and Almonte is a lovely mill town located on its banks. With a downtown filled with restaurants, boutiques, and galleries housed in historic buildings, Almonte calls itself “the Friendly Town.” For natural grandeur, the river drops 20 metres as it flows through the community, resulting in dramatic waterfalls and rapids. Check out Almonte for its festivals, including Celtfest, Puppets Up (a puppetry celebration), and the North Lanark Highland Games.
Located on the Rideau River, Smiths Falls boasts two National Historic Sites related to the railway development of the province: the original CN railway station, now the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario, and the railway bascule bridge, or drawbridge. Downtown Smiths Falls still features a number of historic buildings, as well as great views of the canal – and yes, there are actually falls in Smiths Falls.
Located on the shores of Lake Huron south of Goderich, Bayfield combines the best aspects of a heritage village combined with a beach town. Chock-full of pretty boutiques and shops, Bayfield also boasts numerous beaches—one with a view of Bayfield’s famous shipwreck, the hull of the steamboat named the Linda Hindman. Hungry swimmers can find relief at one of the community’s farmers’ market, which runs on Fridays from 3-7, May to October.
Founded in 1855, Neustadt—German for “new town”—is the birthplace of John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th Prime Minister. Many of Neustadt’s historic farmhouses are built in the ornate Victorian Gothic revival tradition, while others feature construction of local fieldstone. The Neustadt Springs Brewery is housed in an essentially unchanged brewery building that dates from 1869 that once housed the town hall.