For the past 10 years, I've travelled to several communities where the "star" of the town is their
. 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."
Other items on our list? The town has to have what we call walk-ability, a sense of order and cleanliness. It's nice if the downtown is historic, but not always necessary. We like shops where you can speak with a friendly clerk who genuinely wants to help you. Most of the downtowns we've visited have free parking. No need to run back and feed meters that often only allow you to purchase two hours of parking at a time. There should be plenty of places to eat from one end of the scale to the other. A downtown that's void of big box stores rates high on our list. Here are five of our favourite Canadian downtowns.
- This lovely town of 12,000 is tucked away in a wide valley. Parking is free. Locals nod and greet you when you enter their shops. There's a
that really hits home. There's a lot to explore on Grand River Street North, their main street. Check out Three Blind Mice Cheese Company where the 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.
- This is a small, pretty village of 5,500 on the Grand River. 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.
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. When you're really hungry try Cork's Restaurant on Metcalfe Street.
is set in a beautiful valley beside the majestic Thames River. 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-operated restaurants and shops where the locals strike up a conversation with anyone who comes through their door. Parking is free.
- 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.
-Lindsay is one of the sixteen communities that make up the City of Kawartha Lakes. The city's wide main street,
Kent Street, with its century-old buildings looks like a scene you'd find in New England. At the end of Kent Street is the renovated Academy Theatre built in 1893. The nearby city hall and old fire hall 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.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, the Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.
Paris (2011 population, 11,763) is a community on the Grand River in Ontario, Canada. The town was established in 1850. In 1999, its town government was amalgamated into that of the County of Brant, Ontario, thus ending 149 years as a separate incorporated municipality.
Elora is a community in the township of Centre Wellington, Wellington County, Ontario, well known for its 19th-century limestone architecture, its artistic community and the geographically significant Elora Gorge.
St. Marys is a town in southwestern Ontario, Canada. It is located at the junction of Thames River and Trout Creek, southwest of Stratford in Perth County.
Known for its world-class theatre and summer concerts, Stratford is a small, slow-paced rural Ontario town but one which is always ready to entertain. Stratford's streets are lined with attractive Victorian buildings with interesting architecture and sculptures at every corner. Stratford bears remarkable resemblance to Stratford, England.
Stratford is home to the Shakespearean Festival and one of Canada's most important centres for arts, acting, writing, music and also entrepreneurs.
Lindsay is a community of 20,354 people (2006 census) on the Scugog River in the Kawartha Lakes region of south-eastern Ontario, Canada. It is approximately 43 km (27 mi) west of Peterborough.