Ontario boasts an impressive mixture of cultural backgrounds. Of course, cities like Toronto are known for their rich diversity. However, it's not just urban centres where you can experience another culture. Many of Ontario's smaller cities, towns and villages have become home for a particular group of people. Here are a few places you can visit to learn (and taste) something a little different.
Wilno often boasts of being the first Polish settlement in the province. Established in the 1850s, this town is still celebrates its traditional heritage with Kashub Day
, the first Saturday in May. No matter when you visit, Polish arts and crafts are on display (at places such as the Wilno Craft Gallery), marvel at the awe-inspiring and hand-built St Mary's Church, and hearty Polish fare, such as the famous pierogies, is found at the Wilno Tavern. Tour around the Barry's Bay and Golden Lake areas to take advantage of the many affordable art galleries
Perhaps the best known spot on this list is Kitchener (or as it was known before the First World War - Berlin). One of the region's largest claims to fame comes from hosting the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Germany. While thousands visit the region every autumn to don lederhosen, do the chicken dance, and eat some schnitzel and spaetzle, there are plenty of hints of the region's German ancestry throughout the year.
For example, many of the communities of Old Order Mennonites have German ancestry and some even still predominantly speak this language. Visiting the Mennonite Story and Farmers' Market (both in St Jacobs) to get a glimpse of their life. We have three planned trip
itineraries that focus on the rural aspects of this region.) Also, the annual Christkindl Market in from the Kitchener City Hall brings to mind the famous German Christmas Markets, with stall after stall of doughnuts, pretzels, and crafts.
For those interested in the life of early German settlers, Joseph Schneider Haus is the place to go, with its costumed staff, knowledgeable in local history.
It isn't just great hiking and hockey in T-Bay. As Finnish people began emigrating to Canada in the 1880s, it's not surprising a large number chose the area north of Lake Superior as their new home. The often chilly weather and beautiful lakes and forests were likely a comforting reminder of home. Today, Thunder Bay claims to have the largest Finnish population outside of Finland in the world.
There are many reminders of the town's cultural connections with Finland, including Finnport, a store specializing in imported goods. The Finnish Labour Temple still hosts cultural events as well as the famous Hoito restaurant (home of the delicious Finnish pancakes) that is perhaps the oldest co-operatively owned and operated restaurant in Canada.
Communities in the Chatham-Kent area have a strong Black History connection. Given its location just across the Detroit River from Michigan, it isn’t surprising that the town was a principle terminal point of the Underground Railroad, with former slaves reaching freedom by undertaking the harrowing swim across the river. Today, many of their descendants still live in this area.
To learn more about this history, you must visit Amherstburg's North American Black Historical Museum
(and Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church on the same site). Nearby Essex has "Where the Underground Railroad had its End" at John Freeman Walls House. The Buxton National Historic Site remembers the 19th century community for thousands of escaped slaves through artefacts, exhibits, and a good gift shop.
Glengarry & Maxville
Scottish immigrants were essential to the development of Canada, and Ontario in particular. One area of the province still celebrates the contributions of these early settlers. Glengarry hosts its famous Highland Games
each summer. Fifty pipe bands, highland dancing, heavyweight competitions, and plenty of tartan will make you feel you are really in Scotland. The local area also boasts Muirs Bakery - known for its Scottish classics, including meat pies, princess cookies, and haggis. And in tiny Dunvegan, you'll find the Glengarry Pioneer Museum
, which houses historic settler records and antiques, such as Gaelic Bibles.
Nearby Williamstown (home to Canada's oldest annual fair
) has the Nor’Westers and Loyalist Museum, which includes substantial history on the early Scottish fur traders.
Although the rest of the communities on this list are famous for their immigrant populations, there are several parts of Ontario known for their First Nations history. While Manitoulin Island
boasts great outdoors and First Nations activities, the Brantford and Ohsweken area has a treasure trove of local history:
-Chiefswood National Historic Site - home of poet and writer E. Pauline Johnson, restored to the 1880 period; the only surviving pre-Confederation Native mansion in Ontario, built by Mohawk Chief George H.M. Johnson for his British bride, Emily Howells
-Iroqrafts - gift shop of First Nations art and crafts
-Her Majesty's Royal Chapel of the Mohawks - charming white, wooden church (the oldest surviving church in Ontario)
-Two Turtle Art Gallery and Studio - Showcasing art of Iroquois artist Arnold Jacobs
-Woodland Cultural Centre - museum showcasing the history of the Anishinaabe and Onkwehon people
And while you're in Ohsweken, check out the Burger Barn, with over 20 kinds of burgers!