Embrace your inner Scot at the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, the largest of its kind outside Scotland. (The Great Waterway)
Embrace your inner Scot at the Glengarry Highland Games, the largest of its kind outside Scotland. (South Eastern Ontario)

Cornwall and the surrounding counties have been about welcoming people no matter their backgrounds for hundreds of years. The post-contact population was a mixture of French Canadian, Ojibwe and Mohawk, and later United Empire Loyalist, Acadian, Scottish, Irish and Eastern European. It was even once home to former American slaves.

It’s not surprising, then, that that “open arms” spirit is still very much alive here. At Upper Canada Village, for example, history is the core, but there are pumpkin fests, light shows and more for non-history buffs as well. Likewise, the area’s restaurants feature classics like pizza, but there’s Thai, local perch and gourmet burgers too. Read on for a few more of the best ways the region is welcoming visitors today.

History

Experience life as it was in the 1860s around here at Upper Canada Village. (Rob Stimpson Photography)
Experience life as it was in the 1860s at Upper Canada Village. (Rob Stimpson Photography)

First Nation people have lived in this area for millennia, but Cornwall itself was first established in 1784 by United Empire Loyalists led by Sir John Johnson. That makes the city one of Canada’s oldest permanent settlements. Surrounding communities and villages in present day North & South Stormont, North & South Dundas and North & South Glengarry weren’t far behind, and you can see the march of that rich history at 94 heritage sites that dot the region.

A good way to start tapping into all of that history would be checking out the Native North American Travelling College, followed by a visit to Sir John Johnson’s home or St. Raphael’s Ruins—both National Historic Sites. From there, see what life was like around here in mid-1800s at Upper Canada Village, a nineteenth-century replica village and one of the biggest draws to the region.

3 Best History Experiences

Upper Canada Village: A 60-acre property with over 40 heritage buildings and costumed interpreters bring Upper Canada circa 1866 alive.

Historic Cornwall Jail: Take a guided tour through the holding cells, visitation and common areas, exercise yard, and the gallows of this jail built in 1834.

Sir John Johnson House: Built for the Loyalist leader who organized the movement of 3,776 Loyalists north, this is now one of the oldest surviving homes in Ontario.

Outdoors

The Long Sault Parkway, a popular cycling route for obvious reasons. (The Great Waterway)
The Long Sault Parkway, a popular cycling route for obvious reasons. (South Eastern Ontario)

With the St. Lawrence River at your doorstep, along with 105 kilometres of waterfront trail, 4 conservation areas and 5 beaches, you won’t be lacking for things to do outside here. There are also 12 golf courses scattered throughout the region, and the Summerstown and Glengarry trail systems offer up some of the best hiking and cross-country skiing in South Eastern Ontario.

Cycling is huge, too, and no wonder. The section of Waterfront Trail that runs through here is one of the most uninterrupted, plus many of the roads have plenty of shoulder and ample spots to take a break. And this isn’t even mentioning the welcoming communities and beautiful scenery all the way along. Visit the Ride With GPS website for road routes developed by experienced cycling enthusiasts.

3 Best Outdoors Experiences

Lost Villages Scuba Diving: When the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, 10 communities were submerged. See their ghostly remains and “Lock 21” on a scuba diving adventure.

Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary: A place for expert and rookie ornithologists alike. 9,000 hectares, 200 bird species and 8 kilometres of nature trails for hiking, skiing and snowshoeing.

McMaze Family Fun Farm: Always something to do no matter the time of year. Five mazes, including a 4-acre corn maze, Easter egg hunts, pumpkin picks, horse-drawn sleigh rides, farm animals and more.

Food and Drink

Farm to table is the way it's always been for many restaurants in the region. (The Great Waterway)
Farm to table is the way it’s always been for many restaurants in the region. (South Eastern Ontario)

You might start your restaurant search with this handy guide put together by Cornwall and The Counties Tourism, which includes everything from a gourmet burger joint, to an oyster bar, to a bakery with some of the best butter tarts around.

Get a taste for what’s behind some of those local flavours at a farm, vineyard or market, and then try picking your own bounty at a nearby orchard. Those with a maple sweet tooth would be wise to head to Maple Ridge Farms or Sand Road Maple Farm.

3 Best Food and Drink Experiences

Chesterville Farmers’ Market: Spend your Saturday morning sipping local coffee, nibbling on a fresh-baked cookie and picking up some local produce at this farmers’ market along the Chesterville waterfront.

Nineteenth Century Dining at Upper Canada Village: Take your palate back in time at Willard’s Hotel for a period-style meal, or Cook’s Tavern for a ginger beer or sarsaparilla.

Beer at the Star Inn: Part of the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, the Starr Inn was a popular stagecoach stop in the 1860s. It’s now believed to have one of the oldest preserved taverns in Eastern Ontario.

Festivals and Events

From the more quirky Tubie Festival, which includes a tube race down the St. Lawrence, to the traditional Glengarry Highland Games, which has welcomed close to a million visitors since 1948, this region’s festivals and events are as diverse as its population. One of 2015’s biggest will be the International Plowing Match, coming up in September in Finch. Over 80,000 people are expected for five days of horse-, mule- and tractor-plowing competitions, dances, concerts, cooking competitions and over 600 vendors. Stay tuned to Cornwall and The Counties’ event calendar for up-to-date monthly listings.

2 Best Festivals and Events

Glengarry Highland Games: Scottish and Celtic culture at its biggest and best. Pipe bands, drummers, dancers, Scottish giants hurling hammers and way more.

Alight at Night: Upper Canada Village gets lit up with close to one million lights every December and January. Plus, concerts, carolling, dining, carriage rides, a sound and light show, and train rides.