Updated: Jul 12, 2021
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Two good reasons to get out of the house: the gingerbread cottages in Ontario's most whimsical village + a genuine flea market (with Niagara-on-the-Lake as bonus)
As an author of guidebooks, I’ve been searching for (and writing about) the gems around southwestern Ontario for over 25 years... And it wasn't until this year that I learned about the colourful village of Grimsby Beach!
This destination beyond Hamilton is less than 75 minutes from Toronto and definitely worth a visit. And there is no lack of options to make it a nice day trip.
Indulging in Grimsby
I love to explore the Main Streets of small Ontario towns. This is where the odds are in favour of finding a small café, a bakery or a nice local restaurant. I found all three in Grimsby (exit 71 from the QEW), not to be confused with Grimsby Beach (a little further), where you can find beautiful houses all decorated.
For our caffeine fix, we chose 416 Coffee Co (2 Main St. W #2, open from 8 am to 4 pm). I could not resist their sense of humour. On the sidewalk, a sign proclaimed: Our seating sucks but our coffee is great #youcantdrinkchairs. In Port Dalhousie, we saw another branch of this St. Catherines-based coffee roaster.
We devoured the ginger cookies at Suzie's Gluten Free Kitchen (7 Ontario St). And next time I'm in the area, I'll stop in for a bite at Station 1 Coffeehouse (28 Main St. E, open 9 am to 9 pm, closes at 6 pm on Sunday). Its Facebook page featured scrumptious apple and brie scones, grilled cheese, rhubarb and lemon squares, bacon and tomato toasties, homemade donuts, etc.
A Grimsby curiosity: The Brick Shack (15 Main St E), where Lego lovers were digging into large bins of pieces sold by weight!
Historic Grimsby Beach
Grimsby Beach is a 5-min drive from the small town. We drove down Ontario Street passing under the QEW and made our way to Lake Street, where we turned right.
We saw our first spectacular gingerbread cottages on the right, just past Birchpark Drive. A good taste of what awaited us a little further on! Then, turning left onto Wesley Avenue, we were greeted by a big pink Cadillac cut out, right next to a fun (private) tiki bar.
You have to be careful to respect the parking restrictions, not park on the grass and stay on the public road when taking photos. I assume that by the end of the summer, the home owners will be a bit fed up with tourists but in this early/post-pandemic July, I found them very nice and happy to answer our questions.
We visited the place on a Friday early afternoon and easily found a place to park on Park Rd N. From there, we took a small path through a park that gives access to the small pebble beach on one side, and to the narrow streets on the other.
It took us at least an hour to admire the whimsical neighbourhood from Temple Ln to Lake Street. There is a nice cluster of painted ladies on Auditorium Circle. In talking with the homeowners on this street we learned that it was there that residents began, more than 35 years ago, to paint the once less exuberant gingerbread cottages. When you look at Grimsby Beach on Google Street View, you can see the streets as filmed in 2012. The pink Cadillac had not yet arrived.
Grimsby Beach has been a tourist destination since the 1850s, first as a campground run by the Methodists. In the 1875s, cottages replaced tents and two hotels were built (since destroyed by fire). This popular resort was served by train and steamboat.
While you are there
We wanted to keep on enjoying the waterfront, so we took Lake Street back towards Niagara (it becomes N Service Road). We found that Maple Grove Drive, 8 km down the road, gives access to a beautiful little country road by the lake, which spreads out like an ocean. Lakeshore Rd runs through beautiful properties for 2.75 km to Martin Rd, where we took N Service Road again.
We arrived in 2 km at Prudhomme's Antique Market (3125 N Service Rd, Vineland Station, open Thursday to Sunday, 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays and 5 pm on weekends). For the past 40 years, this flea market has been set up in the large Victorian house and surrounding. A collector's paradise.
Just 200 meters away is the Lake House Restaurant (3100 N Service Rd, Vineland Station, open from 11:30 am to 10 pm). This chic restaurant is popular for its large terrace overlooking the lake.
Our next stop was Port Dalhousie (part of St. Catherines). From the flea market, you can continue on N Service Road for 8 km and turn right onto Third Street Louth to get to S Service Road. Then turn left onto Martindale Rd and right onto Main St to enter Port Dalhousie. We drove through a few streets to admire the houses around the charming downtown, and took a coffee at Balzac's Port Dalhousie (9 Lock St, open from 7 am to 7 pm), set in an old bank built in 1907.
From there, it takes 20 minutes to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake on Highway 87. I strongly recommend that you follow Shakespeare Avenue to your left to drive along the lake. Gorgeous at sunset! Then park and explore this iconic village straight out of a postcard. The Shaw Festival's summer season has begun, with physical distance and masks on! There are very few tickets left but you can already book for the winter season.
We were lucky enough to find a table in the late afternoon on the patio of the charming Gate House (142 Queen St, open from 11:30 am to 8 pm) where we enjoyed mushroom pasta and a fancy burger, but it’s wiser to make a reservation to enjoy any restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I made a mental note to try the Neapolitan pizza at Pieza (188 Victoria St) on my next visit.
For your information, Niagara Falls is 25 minutes away. Parking is currently about $30 for an hour (pandemic prices) but the falls are lit up late at night and the kitschy Clifton Hill, always a big surprise for first-time visitors, was in full swing by early July 2021.
Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls, which you can get on amazon.ca
or by contacting the author directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can pick up the book at 299 Booth Avenue, the author delivers in Toronto and Canada Post takes care of the other destinations.