Elora – “Ontario’s Most Beautiful Village” ~ A.J. Casson, “Group of Seven”
A short distance away from the hustle & bustle of city life and yet it feels like… a world away Located within driving distance from the Greater Toronto Area, there is a fantastic place set amidst scenic rolling hills and fertile farmland. The village of Elora is one of the most charming areas of Ontario. Well known for the spectacular Elora Gorge on the Grand River, Elora’s charismatic village atmosphere remains unchanged.
Founder of Elora
Founded in 1832, by a retired British officer, who had recently returned from India, Captain William Gilkison purchased 14,000 acres of land in Nichol Township at the Grand River Falls. Originally called Irvine Settlement, the village was renamed Elora when the post office was established in 1839. Gilikson named the community after his brother’s ship, which was itself inspired by the Elora Caves near Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.
Gilkison, a cousin of John Galt, the founder of the city of Guelph, was a native of Irvine, Scotland. He soon established a sawmill and a general store, all before his untimely death in 1833.
Scottish stonemasons built the village along the Grand River and the spectacular Elora Gorge in the heart of Ontario’s farmland. 170 years have passed, and little has changed. The stark limestone architecture and natural beauty of the 80-foot gorges of the Grand and Irvine Rivers are the perfect setting for this jewel, with its historic charm and appealing village core.
Since a great many of the early settlers in Ontario were from the United Kingdom, it is not surprising that their buildings often contain details found in English Gothic and medieval architecture. Many elements of stone buildings in England are translated into wood on cottages and smaller residences in Ontario Gothic Revival buildings. The overall effect is eclectic and usually ornate. The Gothic Cottage is probably the most pervasive Ontario residential style prior to 1850.
Stroll the lovely, historic streets of Elora, rich in character and charm. Visit the downtown area with its unique gift shops and boutiques, often featuring unique work from local artists. Many of these picturesque stores are housed in century-old buildings. The Elora Mews shops on Mill Street are just steps from the Gorge and the Mill. The lantern-lit courtyard, limestone walls and very unique stores are not to be missed.
Preserving the heritage
By 1858, Elora became incorporated as a village. Situated by the junction of the Grand River, and the Irvine River, Elora is located about fifteen miles northwest of the City of Guelph, and according to the 2006 census, has a population of more than 4,500. Once a bustling mill town, because of the water power of the Grand River, Elora has preserved its heritage. Many of the turn-of-the-century buildings have been exceptionally restored and now house an interesting variety of craft and specialty stores.
Experience Elora all year round
Experience year round, the great outdoors amid the beauty and splendour of Elora, for either the novice or experienced adventure enthusiast, it has much to offer.
Cycle a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail, which links the village with other rural communities, or explore the area on walking trails in the village and throughout the Elora Gorge Conservation Area. Discover trails that descend to the river’s edge in the midst of terrific limestone cliffs and caves. Bring a canoe or kayak and paddle the waters, rent a tube and go down the Grand River rapids.
The Elora Gorge Park is one of the most beautiful and spectacular natural environments of Southern Ontario. Limestone cliffs on both side of the Gorge plummet 22m into the Grand River below. Riverside trails (with safety barriers) and scenic overlooks provide hikers with stunning views of the water far below. The waterfall at the Tooth of Time is a spectacular view of natural power. The Conservation Area also includes a cascade waterfall, “Hole in the Rock”, and numerous small caves. An opening in the limestone walls, stairs lead down to the Grand River to Lover’s Leap, where an aboriginal princess is said to have jumped to her death when she found out that her beloved had been killed in battle. The Grand River is a popular fly fishing destination.
Balloon rides start from the nearby Bissell Park, providing visitors a unique view of the Gorge from way up in the air, a four season, open-air location for picnics, skate boarding, football, soccer and ice-skating, it is a place to have a lot of joy.
The whole Fergus & Elora areas show spectacular rock walls alongside the Grand River. But swimming in the Elora Quarry, where the rock walls are 12m high is a popular attraction. Visit the “old swimming hole”! The Quarry is located on the eastern edge of the Village of Elora, on County Road 18 (“Lest we forget”), which is also known as the Fergus-Elora Road. In addition, do not forget to try horseback riding or a horse-drawn buggy ride.
Whatever the activity, Elora is surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in Southern Ontario.
Elora’s cultural events
Enjoy a memorable experience, with Elora’s many cultural events, those with artistic inclinations can “dabble in the arts” at the Elora Centre for the Arts or at the Wellington County Museum & Archives. The famous Elora Scottish Festival, garden tours, an early fall studio tour, and a sparkling night time Santa Claus Parade make tempting return visits a must!
Plan a winter visit to cross-country ski, or for a weekend of Christmas shopping free of city crowds and free parking. Maybe you’re a history buff? Enjoy a Historical Walking Tour!
Dominion Day Festivities
Celebrate Canada’s Birthday at the traditional Dominion Day Festivities including a pancake breakfast, soap box derby, and more. Enjoy quality family time with a visit during Monster Month in October and the Santa Claus Parade in late November.
Annual Elora Festival
A highly cultural community, its Annual Elora Festival is renowned for its music and theater. The Festival has been a wonderful artistic happening in Southern Ontario for over 25 years, with performances of world-renowned artists in intimate spaces such as village churches, or impressive natural surroundings as the Elora Gorge Conservation Area.
The Annual Elora Book Sale
The Annual Elora Book Sale attracts book lovers from all over Canada and the USA. The Elora Centre of The Arts fosters the creative community, and provides training and studio space to local artists. Since the early 1960s, Elora has been known as an artists’ community specializing in handcrafted and one-of-a-kind items. These owner-operated studios and galleries present an incredible opportunity: a chance to meet the artists in person, learn about their business and the artwork they create.
Shopping in Elora
Take a leisurely browse through a delectable choice of fine art and sculpture, hand-blown and stained glass, pottery and clay-work. Linger over handcrafted silver and gold jewelry, woven textiles and leatherwork, contemporary lighting and furniture and much more. Many studios do custom work, or offer design services, courses and instruction. And let’s not forget the wide variety of fine restaurants and cafes.
Elora also boasts a tantalizing assortment of specialty shops – garden and florist shops, specialty kitchen and food stores, and home accessory boutiques that carry items from all corners of the world. Elora has antiques and collectibles shops, clothing and jewelry stores, plus stores filled with exceptional giftware, books, toys and more.
With warm personal customer service combined with high-quality, exclusive and custom designed products, the merchants of Elora provide visitors with a delightful and enjoyable shopping experience; an excursion, to satisfy all your needs and desires. Open year round, Elora’s merchants invite you to discover an affordable, alternative style of shopping.
When visiting Elora, be sure to pack an adventurous spirit along with hiking shoes, swim gear, a bicycle, and a camera is a must.
Remember Elora, tell friends about Elora, and, most of all, visit it often!