Goderich, Ontario is a small community in a part of the province known as Ontario’s west coast. Those who speak of it typically have travelled up the coast of Lake Huron from Grand Bend to Sauble Beach, and talk about the tornado of 2011 that devastated the downtown core, or bring up the historic Gaol or the unique downtown square. There is so much more to the town that is celebrating its 190th this year though, and if you are looking for a relaxing weekend getaway, here’s what you need to know about what is often referred to as the Prettiest Town in Canada.
Where To Stay: Goderich offers plenty of accommodations to choose from, from the contemporary Dreamz Inn located just outside the town, to the historic Hotel Bedford in the heart of the downtown square. There are also plenty of options for cottages to rent for the weekend, although you really need to plan well in advance if you want the best views. The Hotel Bedford is right in the thick of things though, and offers a great central point for your exploring of the area. It was built in 1896, and offers 35 rooms spread across its 3-story walk up interior. The design of the building, including the staircase that you see as soon as you enter, is an excellent example of classic architecture seen throughout. While the WiFi and TV may not be what you are used to if you are coming from a big city, you really don’t find it mattering so much because you spend more time out of the room exploring the town than in it.
What To See: Goderich is rich in Ontario history, and as mentioned earlier, one of the things most people think about when they go there is the historic Huron Gaol. You really don’t want to miss exploring the building that acted as the County Jail from 1841 to 1972. Full of artifacts and interesting historical tidbits, you’ll quickly discover why the building was named a National Historic Site of Canada. Part of the tour includes the Governor’s house attached to the complex, which in itself is an entirely new museum to explore. If you are looking for a day trip, you may want to consider checking out the Blyth Festival. This festival is located about half an hour outside of Goderich in the small town of Blythe. It runs annually from the end of June until late September, and every year it features a selection of original plays by local and regional artists. Of course, one thing you can’t miss are the beaches . There are three public use beaches located in the town. You can pick the beach of your choice and drive to it, or park at the main beach and walk the mile-long boardwalk to explore all three. For the hiker, there are several scenic trails located around the outskirts of Goderich as well, including the Menesetung Bridge and Maitland trail, which are part of the Tiger Dunlop Tomb Trail. This route offers amazing views of the Maitland river, and is a perfect way to get some fresh air. And if you are looking for something to do in the evening, you simply must check out the old-style movie theatre in the square. The Park Theatre may not offer the megaplex experience you are used to, with Imax and AVX screens, but there is a charm to it that screams small town and it adds to your overall experience of the area. And of course, you will want to check out the Goderich Square. An octagonal one-way street is at the heart of downtown, with a county courthouse and park set in the middle. The park consists of 166 trees of 46 distinct species. Most of the trees are new, as the 2011 tornado devastated the park and all but 8 of the trees were destroyed. If you come on a Sunday, you can walk the courthouse park arboretum and view the wares during the weekly flea market where you will find items from local merchants, from books, to smoked meats and candies, and other little surprises. One word of warning though, if you are not used to visiting a small town, a lot of things close early. By six at night, most people are at home spending time with their families.
What To Eat: If you are used to chain restaurants and city eating, you are in for a treat in Goderich because the food there is so much better than that. Restaurants in the town really care about the food they feed you, and it shows in the delicious choices you are offered. For breakfast, you simply must try Pat and Kevin’s on the Square. One of the first things you’ll notice is that the owners are celebrities, having starred in a TV series called Dash and Dine. If you are lucky, you’ll also meet one of the owners, Kevin Morrison, who also happens to be the mayor of the city. He’s a straight shooter that tells it like it is, and who you can tell is passionate about the town he runs. The decor of the place feels like a greasy spoon diner of days long past, and even has a toy train track hanging from the ceiling and a stuffed gorilla by the door. If you are looking for what to try, we just loved the Sun of a Beach breakfast with the farmer’s sausages, although the back bacon is an incredible option as well. For dinner, well there is a reason Thyme on 21 is ranked #1 out of the Goderich restaurants by Trip Advisor. The building is an old Victorian Mansion that is kept in great shape by the owners of the place, Peter and Catherine King, including the amazing garden out front. You can tell the duo put their all in the place, especially when Peter greets you when you enter and takes you to your seats. You simply must take a quick look around the four different dining spaces in the building before you go as well, because the pair have done a great job keeping things as original as possible, from the unique stained glass windows to the antique fireplaces. As for the food, there doesn’t seem to be anything on the menu that you don’t want to try. The crab cakes appetizer really only whets your appetite for what is to come. The pecan crusted breast of chicken comes served in a mustard, tarragon cream sauce that you really wish they would share the recipe for, but at the very least they tell you the location of the local butcher shop where they got the meat from for the delicious maple pork tenderloin. Even their kids’ menu was so good that the pasta and cheese appeased our fussy eleven-year-old. As good as their main courses were though, you simply cannot leave Thyme on 21 without trying their desserts. After trying a flourless chocolate cake, a perfectly made crème brûlée, a double chocolate brownie and an Italian chocolate raspberry ice cream, we left so completely satisfied that we found ourselves wanting to come back for more at a later date.
All in all, Goderich is a town you’ll want to visit when you need a little time to unwind, and when you want to explore a little bit of Ontario history. The people are friendly and willing to answer any questions you may have, and you will never have to worry about being stuck in a rush hour commute. As the mayor told us during our breakfast, it’s more like a “rush couple of minutes.”