When you’re looking for something interesting to do, Ontario is chock full of unique destinations and experiences for all.
While there are a great deal of cultural activities to be found in Stratford, after watching an incredible production of The Neverending Story at the Stratford Festival, we seek family friendly fun to cool off from the summer heat. A stone’s throw away is the Town of St Marys, aka Stone Town. Known for its abundance of limestone, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and a disarmingly friendly community, what begins as a side trip becomes the highlight.
Years ago I was driving through St Marys at night and ran out of gas. I walked to the local Tim Hortons and asked if anyone could help me. Everyone offered to help me. One man not only drove me to his home to give me a one gallon container of gas, but he also gave me a case of yogurt from the local plant where he worked! Talk about hospitality–this is the best of small town Canadiana. I’m reminded of that as I fill up the tank before our drive.
We enter the shop at McCully’s Hill to find everything we’d search for at a farmer’s market but at an even better price. From meats like lamb, bison and angus beef, to stews and meat pies like tourtieres, beef curry pies, beef, tomato, vegetable pies, and chicken and turkey pot pies. Everything is raised healthy, without additives, is locally produced and, as much as possible comes from right here on the farm. While admiring a wall of local maple syrup, and canned peaches and pears, the aroma of butter tarts, and apple and strawberry pies being freshly baked in the kitchen wafts through the shop. We leave with warm chocolate cookies, but return later for the best deal on turkey legs that I’ve ever seen.
Outside the shop, my son plays with the goats: my kid and theirs. We take the wagon up the hill to the barn where we pet the bunnies and the horses, and learn about the animals on the farm. In addition to being a working farm there are plenty of family programs here for every season to provide kids with fun and education.
As we head into town and pass all the limestone buildings, we stop at Snapping Turtle Coffee Roasters, a community hub, where locals relax with a variety of coffee, wine or beer and, of course, warm baked goods. As I slowly sip my fresh-roasted espresso, my son learns the yo yo from other gregarious patrons who are only too pleased to welcome new visitors. We could linger here all day with our new found friends.
At Village Craft & Candle, wall to wall products cover every hobby. We could make soap or bath products, but we choose an out-of-the-ordinary candle making workshop. Sidling up to the counter my son begins to fill his mason jar with chunks of strawberry wax, then blueberry and chocolate, topped with coconut, mango and a cherry. It looks like a dessert, good enough to eat, but smells sweet enough to leave open in our living room. A unique memento to bring home. In the meantime, all these delicious scents are making us hungry.
We cross the street to Town & Country Cheese Shoppe for a taste of place and to put together our picnic basket. There is so much great cheese in the Stratford area, but here we want to sample the local alpine-style Stonetown Artisan Cheese. It is such a treat. Low in sodium, and using fresh whole milk, we savour the Gruyer-style Grand Trunk, and the Appenzeller-style Wildwood, named for the local Wildwood Conservation Area. Each taste of local Stonetown cheese is more delicious than the last. Our sandwiches of roast beef and cheese in tow, we head to the shaded park for a wholesome picnic. Now its time for a plunge.
It’s not merely a pool, nor is it a lake, it’s Canada’s largest outdoor freshwater swimming pool, equipped with a water trampoline and slide. This is the single best thing to do on a summer trip to the Stratford/St Marys area. No matter how many people enjoy the quarry, there is plenty of space for everyone. How many times can my son go up and down the slide? Floating and splashing, we laze away the afternoon. Perched against the limestone quarry wall, he’s giddy with delight. It’s so refreshing, clean and fun. Warm and dry, we pack up the car and head for some Hearn’s Ice Cream, but alas, as I adjust my rear view, I see he’s fast asleep. What a perfect way to end our St Marys getaway.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.