Despite being born on the first day of Spring, I love Fall. I especially love Fall in Ontario when all of the sugar maples are at their peak colour change and the air has that refreshing and oh-so-perfect amount of chill to it. Fall is definitely my favourite season, so what better time to start exploring my home province with my Zipcar rental then now.
The weather was perfect for our Sunday drive through the countryside. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and brilliantly blue, and everywhere you looked there was fallen leaves on the ground, creating a carpet of golds and reds. I felt like I was driving through an oil painting, it was that idyllic. And to sweeten the deal I was driving my favourite Zipcar, a new VW Beetle.
Our two destinations for the day were going to be Glasgow in the Durham region, and Little Britain, “The Sports Capital of the Kawarthas”. I had never visited either town before, so I honestly had no idea what to expect. However, I was excited to visit a location named after one of my family’s hometowns in Scotland, and Little Britain sounds like a little hamlet you’d find in a children’s book. I’m happy to report that neither of them disappointed.
We reached Glasgow first. According to its sign, it’s actually “The Community of Glasgow”, and driving through you could tell it has some roots in Ontario’s history.
We saw signs indicative of what I refer to as “Small Town Ontario” — old, Victorian houses, some of which belonged to farmsteads, smaller residences with wooden clapboard siding, barely any commercialism (in this case we saw none, don’t know if we missed it to be honest), quiet country roads, usually one main church, and small, pioneer cemeteries. Glasgow has all of this.
A few yards away from that sign you will find a skinny but long cemetery. It immediately caught my interest. Looking through from the gate you can see some more newer, marble headstones, but looking farther back into the property I noticed the delicate, white headstones typical of pioneer graves. I decided to pay my hosts a visit.
Some of the graves dated back to the 1860s, which was a major time in Ontario’s settlement history. During this period many families immigrated to Ontario to farm the land, or build mills on our powerful rivers, or to open stage coach houses along the major routes connecting York and all its smaller outlying towns with Kingston, the then capital of the country. Even the area of Scarborough that I’m from dates back to this time. So, once I noticed a pattern in the names on the headstones, I knew that Glasgow was once such a town. There were many members of three of four key families buried here.
If you were to continue farther down the concession road that acts as a main thoroughfare for Glasgow, you’d also come across an entire cemetery dedicated to one family, as well as this historical Mennonite church which also acts as the final resting place to many prominent family names (Reesor’s prominence even extends to Scarborough).
Southern Ontario is full of these little pockets of historical towns. I feel a research project coming on…
We drove in every direction of main road offered by Glasgow, and all we came across were houses (and this beautiful orchard). The only other people we saw were other motorists, who just seemed to be passing through as well. The impression I got is that it definitely lives up to its “Community” name, and I wouldn’t doubt the possibility that some of its residents are descendants of the town’s original settlers.
Next up was Little Britain!
The two towns are separated by about an hour’s drive on regional roads and smaller highways — i.e. my favourite types — so it made me very happy to be behind the wheel as we navigated our way further into the countryside.
In researching Glasgow I wasn’t able to find anything on its history, but Little Britain offers a little more insight.
Established in the 1830s with the building of a mill, Little Britain was a little cluster community with no major road in or out. Within a few decades it had its own thoroughfare, two churches, a post office, a blacksmith, a carriage shop, a foundry, a couple of flour mills and its own doctor. At its peak it had about 3,000 residents, but now it’s become a cozy, small town of just over 1,000 people.
Due to it being a part of the Kawarthas (and also its close proximity to Lake Scugog), during the summer months Little Britain sees a lot of cottagers and a few tourists passing through. Its main road, appropriately called “Little Britain Road”, runs parallel to the busier Highway 7 (which is part of Ontario’s portion of the Trans-Canada Highway), so it acts as a prettier, quieter alternative for motorists.
Little Britain Road is also home to a bakery with some of the best butter tarts I’ve ever tried, as well as a remnant of 2000’s Moose in the City project, which originated in Toronto. Little Britain somehow ended up with the Curtis “CuJo” Joseph moose. How they lucked out with this one, I couldn’t tell you, but if you’re coming in from the west he stands like a proud sentinel, welcoming passerby and locals alike.
…and something else you only see in Small Town Ontario — the main grocery store combined with the only LCBO and Beer Store:
(Just to note, we did not visit “The Spudster”, though it sounds appetizing enough to warrant a second visit.)
We grabbed some lunch at a tiny pub, located across the street from the post office, then we bid a final adieu to the little town before hopping back into our little car.
After becoming somewhat familiar with the highways in this area, I’ve come to realize that I’ve danced around the edges of these towns during previous road trips. My uncle’s cottage is in the Kawartha Lakes area, and my preferred route to Algonquin Park lies just east of here. However, I’ve never before “entered the middle”, so to speak, and detracted from the major routes to discover while lies beyond. Now that I have, I’ve come to further appreciate the beauty of this province.
I’ve always loved road trips, but now I’m hooked on the idea of exploring more of these towns. Ontario is “Yours to discover”, after all. Why not grab a car and find out what you’re missing?
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