Five best small-town downtowns in southern Ontario
The farmers' market is a highlight of a trip to Elora. (QMI Agency)
What makes a great downtown? My wife Ellen says, "One of the most important things is that it offers a diversity of shopping. I want unique stores where I can get something that I can't find at home."
It's nice if the downtown is historic. We like shops where you can speak with people who genuinely want to help you. We like downtowns where parking is free -- no need to run back and feed meters that often only allow you only two hours of parking at a time. There should have plenty of places to eat.
Here are five of our favourite Ontario downtowns.
This lovely town of 12,000 is tucked away in a wide valley and only an hour and a half drive from Niagara.
Parking is free. Here locals nod and greet you when you enter their shops. There's a laid-back lifestyle that really hits home. There's a lot to explore on Grand River St. N., the main street. Check out Three Blind Mice Cheese Co. where owner Lindsay Dawdy will tell you everything you want to know about cheeses.
Inside the Paris Bakery, the aroma of fresh-baked breads and pastries will have you drooling. When it's time to eat, visit the Cedar House Grill at the end of the main street. www.parisdowntown.ca
This is a small, pretty village of 5,500 on the Grand River about 130 kilo-metres from Niagara. We both have a weakness for Farmer's Markets. Check their market out on Saturday mornings and speak with the farmers who grow what they sell. Elora is an artists' community. Tiny shops on their cozy main street (parking is free) feature hand crafted and one-of-a-kind items. The historic buildings that house these shops still have charm. www.elorafergus.travel
St. Marys is set in a beautiful valley beside the majestic Thames River. It's about a three and a half hour drive from Niagara. If you like stunning old stone buildings you'll find lots of them downtown and throughout this community of 6,700.St. Marys Public Library, built in 1904 of locally quarried limestone is an award winner. You can walk just about anywhere in this village in 15 minutes. Downtown is dotted with one-of-a-kind shops. There are many owner operate restaurants and shops where the locals strike up a conversation with anyone new who comes through their door. Parking is free. www.townofstmarys.com
It's not far from St. Marys.
One of the traditional things to do here is attend a play at the Stratford Festival. If theater isn't your thing, but shopping and dining are, then you've arrived. Start you're walking tour of the historic downtown, from the historic 12 sided red brick Victorian City Hall built in 1898-99.The town has plenty of lovely outdoor gardens found on the edge of the Avon River.
We like eating at Molly Blooms Irish Pub on Brunswick Street. www.visitstratford.com
This is one of the 16 communities that make up the City of Kawartha Lakes, about a three-hour drive from Niagara. The city's wide main street, Kent St., with its century old buildings looks like a scene you'd find in New England.
At the end of Kent St. is the renovated Academy Theatre, built in 1893. The nearby city hall and old firehall are both stunning and the old provincial jail remains very much like it did when it was built almost a century ago. There are plenty of unique shops and fine eateries. Parking is free. Don't leave town without a visit to one of the best Saturday morning markets in Ontario. www.city.kawarthalakes.on.ca