The area that lies on Lake Huron’s southeast shore is appropriately called Huron County. A sister of mine lives there, in Goderich, the county’s largest town. When I go for a visit we usually meet up in Stratford and take in a theatrical production before moving on to her place. The last time I was there I was into “all things Alice Munro”—Alice being the highly acclaimed “master of the contemporary short story” and recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Alice was born and brought up in Huron County and still lives there.
When my sister Charlotte and I did the “Alice Munro loop” in the fall, it struck me that Huron Country is a great place to vacation – for families, couples and even for ‘the girls’ – since it seems to have something to offer just about everyone.
I also learned that Huron County is sometimes called Ontario’s West Coast, and although the ‘West Coast’ includes an area a little larger than the county, it is an apt descriptor because Lake Huron that runs along it from north to south defines it.
Lake Huron is nothing to sniff at. It’s the 3rd largest fresh water lake in the world, sometimes referred to as a fresh-water sea. The waves on the lake can get really big and over 1,000 ships have been wrecked there. There are places along the coast that offer safe harbour though, and there are several marinas. It’s also famous for fishing. And there are many beaches, some quite secluded if that suits you.
There are freshwater dune grasslands, which are quite rare and take thousands of years to grow. The grasslands are under pressure from people and can be destroyed in an instant. So conservation is an issue.
Charlotte has a friend who is a birder so when they go around ‘the loop’ they always have binoculars handy. If I was travelling with pre-teens I’d probably play a game of mini-golf in Grand Bend followed by a hotdog and ice cream. For a romantic weekend or one with ‘the girls’ my destination of choice would be Bayfield, the classic resort village.
If you like to hike or bike then the choices are just about endless. Want to do something a little different? Then go see how they make ice sculptures with the cleanest ice in the world.
Want to lock your kids up for a bit? Well there’s an old ‘gaol’ where I’m told they will close the door on the cell with your kids inside (for just a moment or two). That’s in Goderich and there’s also a museum there where you can learn more about the county’s history.
Time for a special evening? Well there are two famous summer theatres in Huron County and some fab restaurants.
This is the loop Charlotte and I took in September.
Our first stop after Stratford was Clinton where Alice Munro now lives. I had a photo of her house but it was not easy to find. We drove up and down and up and down the streets until we finally spotted it: a freshly painted white house with a green roof and an enclosed back garden to keep people such as me from prying. Clinton is a pretty town.
Blyth is famous for its summer theatre and quite unlike Stratford that gets its fame from abroad (Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon in England), the Blyth theatre is all about “stories from where we live”. They have been doing it rather spectacularly since 1975. About 100 Canadian plays—some winners of the Governor General’s Awards—have opened here.
On to Wingham, another stop for Alice Munro fans (she was born and raised here). The North Huron Museum has a special exhibit on her life and beside it you will find the Alice Munro Literary Garden. The garden is easy to spot for the metal archway that overlooks it bears her name. The stones along the garden paths are engraved with the names of her books and awards. There is a plaque, in the shape of a book, that says Alice opened the garden on July 10, 2002.
From there we went west along Hwy 86 to Lake Huron shore. There are endless places to explore as you drive south along the shore to Goderich.
A tornado tore unexpectedly through the historic centre of Goderich on August 21, 2011, doing heavy damage and taking down nearly 170 trees. Goderich is filled with can-do people and before long they were getting what has been known as ‘the prettiest town in Canada’ back into shape.
I love walking in Goderich and my sister and I do lots of it, peering at the historic homes and front yard gardens and going along the boardwalk that runs along the lake for 1.5 km (also a favourite walk for Alice Munro). There are three beaches, picnic areas, a playground, and I’m told ice cream stands at both ends during the summer.
Sometimes we go beyond the boardwalk and up to the Menesetung Bridge from where you have the best views of Port Goderich and Lake Huron. This is the start of the 3 km Tiger Dunlop Trail, part of the Maitland Trail, which is the largest trail system in Huron County.
I’ve heard wonderful reviews of Goderich’s Celtic Roots Festival that takes place every August. It’s been going on for more than 20 years and the town is overrun with visitors and everyone with a spare room rents it out. The week starts with a Celtic College so you can be skilled and well-informed before the festival begins!
Bayfield, just off Hwy 21, is a charming resort town—the real thing—with a picturesque Main Street, great shops and galleries, and lovely old cottages and inns. There is a store with the best, one-of-a-kind garden sculptures. I’ve enjoyed Easter dinner at the Inn and on different occasions have probably eaten in most of the Main St. restaurants. The Village Bookshop is a destination all its own, frequented by famous authors (including Alice Munro).
Then its east on highway 81 on Stephen B Line and you are at Grand Bend, a popular beach town. It had a bit of a wild reputation when I was young but it seems rather tame today. There is a family-friendly beach (change rooms and washrooms) and the sort of food on-offer that kids in particular might like. For entertainment try the mini-golf on the main strip and the Huron County Playhouse that bills itself as “summer theatre that relishes”.
Pinery Provincial Park
There are 9 km of beach, 1000 campsites, 10 nature trails, and 15 km of bicycle trails at the Pinery so it is huge. This is a place for bird watching (there are numerous feeding stations) and where many visitors come to observe the fragile Oak Savanna and Freshwater Coastal Dune ecosystem.
Much to enjoy on Ontario’s West Coast.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2014