Guelph/Ontario Tourism

City of Guelph

The City of Guelph was officially founded on April 23, 1827 by Scottish novelist John Galt of the Canada Company, a British land settlement firm. The town centre, considered to be one of Canada’s first planned towns, resembles a European city centre – with public squares, broad main streets, and narrow side streets. The historical tradition of the public square has been further enhanced by the recent construction of Market Square, with its spectacular water feature that is used as a skating rink in the winter and a splash park during the summer months.

The Speed and Eramosa Rivers have long been important for the region. Prior to the colonization era, Guelph was an important meeting zone, and Aboriginal peoples met to trade along the Speed River. For the early city, the rivers provided drinking water and power for mills. Today, the rivers continue to serve important community functions for their views, wildlife, and recreational trails. A popular summer activity for those at the University of Guelph is to enjoy an ice cream from the Boat House Tea Room, located at the bottom of Gordon Street just a 15-minute walk from the university. There, you can also enjoy walks along the river-side trail system, rent canoes or kayaks, or play with your children at the playground located across Gordon from the Boat House.

The town of Guelph really began to grow when the Grand Trunk Railroad reached Guelph from Toronto in 1856.  Many prominent buildings were constructed during that era, most by local architects, builders, and stone carvers who used locally quarried, amber-hued limestone, giving Guelph the visual unity seen in older parts of the city today.

A key historical building is the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate, which was completed in 1883 and still towers over the city today. The Convent has been converted into the Guelph Civic Museum, which presents exhibits and interactive displays on the history of the city. McCrae House is the birthplace of John McCrae (1872-1918), doctor, soldier and author of “In Flanders Fields”, the poem that captured the sentiments of World War I and is still recited today, almost 100 years later.

From its initial settlement, Guelph was an attractive town for both industry and citizens.  By 1915, the city boasted lively sports and music cultures and offered a free public library, daily and weekly newspapers, free postal delivery, 18 churches, a public and separate school system, a business college, and the agricultural college that later formed an integral part of the University of Guelph.  The city owned its own utilities, street railway system, and fire fighting force and had a varied industrial base of almost 100 industries.

The city of Guelph has since become a vibrant modern city of 122,000 people, known for its high quality of life, community spirit, and green initiatives.  With a leading research university, diverse manufacturing, high technology enterprises, a thriving arts scene, and a dynamic cultural core, it is one of the fastest growing regions in Canada.

The downtown core of Guelph and its surroundings are now particularly known for diverse dining options as well as boutique and antique shopping. The agricultural riches of the surrounding areas can be sampled at the Guelph Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. With a diverse arts and culture scene, Guelph is home to five renowned performing arts festivals. Activities for all ages include hiking, golfing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and enjoying visual and performing arts.

Things to do

The University of Guelph’s own Arboretum contains thematic gardens as well as natural trails that preserve and showcase native Ontario plants. The Arboretum is located just a 5-minute walk from Rozanski Hall. Walkers, joggers, and bikers will delight in Guelph’s extensive system of trails and parks, many with river views. One easy access point to the river-side trails is located near the Boat House Tea Room at the bottom of Gordon Street, just a 15-minute walk from the university. A short drive from Guelph, the Halton Hills Conservation Areas include many prominent local biodiversity hotspots such as Mountsberg Conservation Area and Crawford Lake. These parks form part of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserve.

Just 20 minutes away, the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory will allow you to stroll amid tropical butterflies and flora in a steamy greenhouse complete with waterfalls. The Royal Botanical Gardens near Hamilton offer both gardens and natural trails in the special setting of the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. The Toronto Zoo, African Lion Safari in Cambridge, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto each offer special opportunities to view the diversity of animal life. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is an internally renowned museum of natural history and civilization.

Activities for Families Traveling with Children

Children will love seeing animals at the Toronto Zoo, African Lion Safari, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. The zoo and safari attractions also feature splash parks that are a big hit with small children. Just a 10-minute drive from the University of Guelph you can also find the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, where visitors are welcomed on Wednesdays and Sundays. On hot days, families can enjoy the many splash parks and wading pools of Guelph, including one located at Market Square in downtown Guelph. Riverside Park in the northern part of the city features a playground, park train, carousel, paddleboat rentals, an ice cream shop, and river-side trails. For a rainy day in Guelph, Funmazing Playcentre and the Children’s Art Factory are popular choices for families with young children.

Canada’s Wonderland is a major draw for families and is located about one hour’s drive from Guelph. Teenagers will be thrilled by the roller coasters, which are among North America’s longest, highest, and fastest. Young children greatly enjoy the Kidzville zone, which includes gentle rides suitable for toddler. Kids of all ages can enjoy the Splash Works Water Park, featuring exciting water slides as well as a splash park area for small children. Another excellent nearby attraction for families is THEMUSEUM. Featuring interactive activities and exhibits for children, this museum is located about a 25-minute drive from Guelph, in downtown Waterloo.

Towns and Markets

The historic core of downtown Guelph offers diverse dining and boutique shopping opportunities. The downtown Guelph Farmers’ Market is held on Saturday mornings from 7 am to noon. A bustling staple of the Guelph community, the Market offers fresh baked goods, produce, and local crafts. Just outside of Guelph, Strom’s Farm and Bakery and the Aberfoyle Antique Market (open Sundays) are features of the local shopping landscape. Stone Road Mall, with over 150 retailers and services, is within walking distance of the University of Guelph.

Within a 20-minute drive of Guelph you will find Elora, described as Ontario’s most beautiful village. In Elora, you will find art shops, boutique clothing stores, fine restaurants, and walking trails along the spectacular Elora Gorge.

The village of St. Jacob’s is famous for the St. Jacob’s Farmers’ Market, Canada’s largest year-round farmers’ market. It is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 am to 3:30 pm. In addition to fresh foods reflecting the agricultural nature of southern Ontario, this market offers diverse hand-made crafts, clothing, and furniture.

Art and History Museums

The Art Gallery of Guelph is located right on the University of Guelph campus. The collection features three centuries of Canadian art, including contemporary art, a unique collection of Inuit drawings, and an outdoor sculpture garden, which is open to the public at any time. The Guelph Civic Museum in downtown Guelph is a historic former convent, now a museum detailing the history of Guelph through exhibits and artefacts. McCrae House in Guelph is the birthplace of John McCrae (1872-1918), doctor, soldier, and author of “In Flanders Fields”, the poem that captured the sentiments of World War I and is still recited today, almost 100 years later.

Located approximately 1 hour by train or bus from Guelph, the nearby and cosmopolitan metropolis of Toronto offers exceptional cultural experiences. Highlights among the museums of Toronto include the Art Gallery of Ontario, with its famous collection of Canadian as well as international art, and the Royal Ontario Museum, with its diverse exhibits on natural history and civilization. Located in the north part of Toronto, the new Aga Khan Museum showcases the arts and civilizations of the Islamic world. Just west of Toronto, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is renowned for its outstanding collection of Canadian art, featuring exhibitions by the Group of Seven, First Nations, Inuit, and contemporary artists as well as an outdoor sculpture park.

Niagara Region

The Niagara region is famous both for its excellent wineries and breweries and for the stunning Niagara Falls themselves. If seeing this natural wonder from above isn’t thrilling enough, you can get up close on the Maid of the Mist boat or even journey behind the falls!

The town of Niagara Falls is located approximately 1.5 hours by car from Guelph and offers excellent view of the falls, which are lit at night. There are many other attractions in the town, including Bird Kingdom, the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, and Niagara Parks’ Botanical Gardens. Diverse additional activities for families include fun houses, water parks, and helicopter rides.

Great Wolf Lodge, located just outside of the town of Niagara Falls, is a family resort that contains a water park, while the Fallsview Waterpark is connected via elevated walkway with several downtown hotels. The nearby town of Niagara-on-the-Lake offers beautiful lake views, fine restaurants, boutique shopping, wineries, and the Shaw Festival.

Performing Arts

The Stratford Festival is an internationally renowned theatre festival that runs from May to October, featuring works by Shakespeare as well as modern playwrights. The City of Stratford is located approximately one hour drive west of Guelph. Niagara-on-the-Lake also hosts an acclaimed theatre festival: the Shaw Festival, which runs from April through October. The thriving arts scene in Toronto includes theatre, film, ballet, opera, symphony, museums, and festivals.

National and Provincial Parks

Within a few hours drive of Guelph, there are stunning and diverse parks that will allow you to experience Canada’s natural environments. One of the National Parks of Canada, the Bruce Peninsula National Park features dramatic cliff views and is in a World Biosphere Reserve. The Ontario Provincial Parks system is even more extensive within southern Ontario. Perennial favourites among Guelph residents include Algonquin Park to the north, with its wild mixed forests and thousands of lakes, and The Pinery located just 2 hours drive to the west, with its magnificent sand dunes and the turquoise waters of Lake Huron (which are surprisingly warm by August!). The sunset views from The Pinery have been rated in the top 10 by National Geographic.