When you take a leisurely drive south of the Ottawa River and just west of the Quebec border, you’ll find yourself in the United Counties of Prescott-Russell. The 2,004-square-kilometre region, equidistant from Ottawa and Montreal, is made up of a beautiful mix of vibrant villages, towns, and small cities, along with peaceful agricultural landscapes and lush woodlands. Residents—totalling about 90,000 —live in and around East Hawkesbury, Hawkesbury, Champlain, Alfred and Plantagenet, The Nation, Casselman, Russell, and Clarence-Rockland. The population has been shaped by the arrival of French settlers in the early 19th century; two-thirds speak French. They readily celebrate their francophone heritage and if you’re keen to share in their joie de vivre, read on.

History On Repeat

To get a sense of history and culture in this delightfully unique part of the province, visit Le Chenail Cultural Centre on Hawkesbury’s  Île du Chenail . It is housed in “La Maison de l’ile”, a historic stone structure built in 1835 at a time when the Ottawa River was an important waterway for the forest industry. The centre now welcomes visitors who come to enjoy the gallery, café-bistro, and delightful boutique or the music, danse, theatre, literature, and visual arts programming. 

Take a tour of L’Orignal Old Jail in l’Orignal, built in 1825. Learn of its fascinating past as Ontario’s oldest prison and the province’s only francophone correctional facility, gain an understanding of its neo-classical architecture, and hear the macabre tales of prisoner hangings. 

Head over to Vankleek Hill’s Higginson Tower to get a bird’s eye view of this bustling little town. Originally built in 1830 as a wind-powered grist mill, it was eventually transformed into the first private observatory in Eastern Ontario. Today, you can climb the stairs of the 17-metre structure to the top, take in the history of the building, and enjoy a picnic on the grounds.  Take a quick walk over to Arbor Gallery. Housed in a lovingly restored 19th-century Victorian home, the gallery is a hub of cultural appreciation where artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers exhibit, perform, and teach for adoring audiences. 

You might also want to consider popping into the smaller (yet equally interesting)  Keith M. Boyd Museum in Russell and the Casselman Museum in Casselman where you can tuck into exhibits highlighting local history. 

Feast in the Southeast

Agritourism is a cornerstone of the local economy and the Broue and Chew Roadtrip is a reflection of this. The downloadable map features local producers, food processors and artisans that allow you to set off at your own pace and discover the flavour of Prescott Russell. Some of the fan favourites include Beau’s Brewery, and Ouimet Farms Adventure in Vankleek Hill, MISA Farm in Casselman, Tuque de Broue Brewery in Embrun, Broken Stick Brewing Company in Hammond, and Les Vergers Villeneuve and Blueberry Farm in Saint-Pascal-Baylon. 

Foodies looking for a casual sit-down meal will also enjoy Euphie d’ici Café & Smoothie Bar in Embrun, Café sur la Rive in Plantagenet, and 1844 Pub Bistro & Eatery in Casselman. 

The map also includes all the stops where you can see the Popsilos. Arts meets agritourism on this seven-stop circuit featuring giant murals painted on farm silos across Prescott Russell. On your self-guided tour, you’re invited to stop in to savour local products like the wine at Vankleek Hill Vineyards and the famous squeaky cheese from St-Albert Cheese Co-operative

Foodies looking for a casual sit-down meal will also enjoy Euphie d’ici Café & Smoothie Bar in Embrun, Café sur la Rive in Plantagenet, and 1844 Pub Bistro & Eatery in Casselman. 

At Your Leisure

Hands down, Larose Forest is the largest recreation hub in Prescott Rusell.  The 27,000-acre outdoor playground—located between Cheney, Hammond, Bourget, Casselman, and Limoge‚—attracts hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and anyone who wants to commune with flora, fauna, and fungi. 

The Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail is another mustn’t-miss four-season recreational asset. The trail runs for 72 kilometres between St. Eugene in the east and Hammond in the west with many access points along the way. Bike, walk, or jog in the summer and snowmobile, ski, or snowshoe in the wintertime.

Outdoor types love the natural beauty of Voyageur Provincial Park in Chute-à-Blondeau. The 3,580-acre park has a wide range of car camping and RV sites spread out over three campgrounds plus four sprawling beaches on the Ottawa River. Since it’s open during all four seasons, you can always find something to do: fish, swim, paddle, hike, ski and snowshoe!

Calypso Waterpark in Limoge was built for those who like adventures of the slippery sort! It holds the title of Canada’s largest theme water park with 35 towering slides, 100 water games, 2 lazy rivers, and the largest wave pool in the country. It’s a wet and wild party out there!

Festive Times

Residents of the region love a good festival and you’ll find them flocking to three summertime staples. The Wendover Western Festival in Wendover is a weeklong affair with live country music acts, a colourful parade of horses and floats, a craft fair, communal meals, and kinship. The Vankleek Hill Fair will celebrate its 180th edition in 2024. View the animal and homecraft exhibitions and don’t miss the demolition derby! You’ll also want to put the Russell Fair weekend on your calendar. Between the exhibits, live entertainment, garden tractor pull, and midway, there’s fun for the whole family.

If you’re looking at a map of Southeastern Ontario and trying to decide your next destination, add Prescott Russell to your list.  We hope the highlights above will inspire you to explore more and discover new spaces and faces!