If you’re looking for beautiful architecture, a rich and fascinating history, and a dizzying selection of recreational and leisure options, the Town of Goderich, Ontario, set on a cliff overlooking Lake Huron, offers a wide array of activities. The Town boasts historical sites and museums, beautiful scenery, and its Courthouse Square, a truly unique downtown octagonal hub from which streets radiate out, creating one of Goderich’s most distinctive features.
More than a quarter of the Town’s land is designated for parkland, which means plenty of parks to explore along with 140 businesses and services to visit, a regular farmers market, summertime outdoor performances, specialty shops, cafés, and restaurants. And you can’t forget the Town’s magnificent waterfront and sandy beaches.
In short, there’s a reason why Goderich has been referred to as the “Prettiest Town in Canada” for such a long time.
“Lake Huron, bordering our west side, is a major attractor for many people to both live and visit within the area,” says Jenna Ujiye, Tourism & Community Development Officer.
Goderich features three main beaches at its extensive waterfront, including Main Beach across from the salt mine and the main harbour, which is an industrial and commercial harbour servicing regional mining, manufacturing and agricultural industries. The Port is an important hub of commercial shipping in southwestern Ontario.
“It’s a really unique experience for people to come here,” Ujiye says. “A lot of times industrial and commercial harbours are just so massive, and they don’t have a beachfront. People can enjoy the unique sight of ships coming into the Port of Goderich (the only deepwater port on the east shore of Lake Huron), as well as enjoy our waterfront and beaches.”
St. Christopher’s Beach is rockier and dog-friendly, while man-made Rotary Cove Beach was created in the early 90s. “It’s a beautiful sandy beach that has a lot of room for people to spend the day on. There’s [play] equipment and washrooms, and it’s a major attractor to the town,” says Ujiye.
Connecting those three beaches is 1.6 kilometers of boardwalk that has been updated and expanded over the past couple of years to be 12 feet wide and completely accessible.
“It’s a great way to see the entire waterfront, and I always say it’s pretty cool because you can get ice cream at both ends,” laughs Ujiye. “We also have the Beach Street Station restaurant located at the waterfront that has the most amazing and unobscured view of our sunset, and amazing local food and drink as well.”
If sand isn’t your thing, Goderich has 12 different viewpoint parks that sit atop the bluff overlooking Lake Huron, all with stunning views. And if you’re looking to spend the night—or week—there are numerous hotels, motels, and inns with capacity throughout the year both within the town and just outside as well.
As for attractions, Goderich has plenty, such as the Huron Historic Gaol, which served as the County Jail from 1841 until 1972.
“The design is one of the most unique designs in architecture around,” says Myles Murdock, Mayor of the Town of Goderich. “It was actually viewed as a model of humanitarian prison design, because it has quite a lot of outdoor space. And it’s also in the shape of an octagon, just like our downtown.”
Goderich also hosts a variety of iconic events that draw thousands of locals and tourists, such as the Multicultural Festival that focuses on multiculturalism and the BIPOC population on the third weekend in June. Held in Courthouse Park’s South Plaza, the event features numerous food vendors creating incredible and unique ethnic foods to enjoy while taking in music, dance and art performances throughout the entire day.
In honour of its Celtic roots, there’s also the annual Celtic Roots Festival and Celtic College held the second weekend in August, with performances taking place for a week and a half. This popular event draws music fans from all over the world, including musicians and artists who both perform and teach. The main festival weekend features artists, vendors, and food booths, along with performances on five different stages within Harbour Park.
“It’s an amazing festival,” says Mayor Murdock. “There’s one coordinator and hundreds of volunteers brought together to lead the entire event. A lot of townsfolk are very involved and of course attend, but then it draws people from all over the world to attend as well.”
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, that’s because there is. Goderich’s Summer Fest features live music, a beer garden, food, fish fries, games, and giveaways, and also involves local youth with basketball, volleyball, and co-ed slow-pitch tournaments. “It’s a whole weekend of events during summer put on by the Kinsmen,” Ujiye says. “It’s a huge draw. I’d say thousands of people come each night.”
It’s safe to say that despite the challenges of the pandemic that severely hampered tourism around the world for the past several years, Goderich is definitely recovering, bouncing back and celebrating success.
“During COVID we were actually receiving attention from the closer cities, which really helped us to reach those communities, their friends and family members,” says Mayor Murdock. “Putting a positive spin on things was very difficult. But we also had that unique draw.”
Along with those numerous events and activities, there’s also the downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) that hosts a Saturday Farmers Market and Sunday Flea Market from May until October. “All my heart is in local food,” Ujiye shares. “This is actually the most agriculturally productive County in the entire province. Local food is super important.” You certainly won’t leave Goderich feeling hungry, she adds. There’s something for everyone to see, do, eat and drink.
“Our community is bustling and vibrant with great food and activities happening every Saturday and Sunday downtown,” she says. “There’s also a Thursday and Saturday concert series downtown every week from May until October.”
This year also brings the advent of Goderich’s Salt Festival, the third weekend in September, celebrating one of the Town’s most unique features, its salt mine. The largest underground working salt mine in the entire world, it is located 1,800 feet underground and produces 7,250,000 tons of salt yearly. While visitors are unable to venture into the mine for safety reasons, the Town plans to celebrate all things salt-related with videos, augmented reality, and 360-degree images of different parts of the underground mine.
“We’re creating the experience virtually because we’re not able to do tours,” says Ujiye. “We want to be able to celebrate salt every year with events including salt-infused local food and drink, bus tours, and historical displays.”
Local restaurants will showcase salt-inspired menus and items while historical bus tours will run throughout the entire weekend near the mine, the waterfront, and other significant sites. There will also be a salt artisan market showcasing smoked and flavoured salts that are truly unique to the area.
With something to offer for everyone, the Town of Goderich is a great destination any time of year. “We do have a lot going on,” says Mayor Murdock.
Goderich’s success and ability to thrive is a testament to past hardships, most notably an F3 tornado that destroyed the entire downtown—both buildings and vegetation—in 2011. “We’re fully recovered and back to our beautiful selves, with a lot of new buildings,” Mayor Murdock says. “The restoration and reunification of that has essentially finished and it looks beautiful, but it was a challenge for a number of years.”
The tornado’s damage is also the reason behind the waterfront restoration and the boardwalk expansion. “The project was twofold, but it ended up just completely beautifying the entire waterfront,” says Mayor Murdock. “I can’t tell you how many people you hear talking about how it’s just so nice to easily walk along the waterfront. You see moms with babies and carriages walking down there every day, every morning.”
Goderich is truly beautiful, and while the Town appreciates its unofficial designation, the story behind the slogan is a bit surprising.
“People have said over time that the Queen of England said that Goderich was the prettiest town in Canada. And this is Queen Victoria, not Elizabeth,” says Ujiye. “From what we can find historically, it was her cousin who visited here and told Victoria that Goderich was the ‘Prettiest Town in Canada.’”
Even so, the designation more than fits with its unique, beautiful vistas, sandy beaches, and octagonal centre planned and designed by John Galt.
“Our downtown has eight sections, and it’s a shopping square with a large park and the County courthouse sitting right in the middle,” Mayor Murdock explains. “We also have a performance stage area on the park in the middle of the square which, again, is an octagon.”
Whether it’s strolling the boardwalk, shopping at the numerous businesses, taking in any number of festivals and events, or traversing the unique downtown core, the Town of Goderich will be sure to make a memorable impression, says Ujiye. “We’re known as the ’Prettiest Town in Canada,’ because that’s just truly what we are.”