How to Spend a Day in St. Thomas
St. Thomas, Ontario, is a quirky place. Like any small town, the ‘Railway City’ retains a core network of families who have lived here for generations and feel connected to some of the early ideas and foundational myths and realities of the community. Simultaneously, local homebuilders have established plenty of new neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city, attractive and efficient subdivisions full of young families and retirees. The kids may attend school and play sports in St. Thomas, but often we hear that the adults in the subdivisions “live in St. Thomas but work (and play) in London.” This means that there are lots of newcomers to the community who may still be wondering how to spend a day in St. Thomas, and of course this is also helpful for anyone visiting the city for the first time.
With all that in mind, we present our suggestions for How to Spend a Day in St. Thomas:
First, if you are visiting on a Saturday between Mother’s Day and Hallowe’en, head right to the Horton Farmers’ Market first thing in the morning. If you arrive a little before the Market officially opens at 8am, you might be able to pick up a croissant from La Houlette de vie Bakery … and seriously, the croissants actually sell out before the Market even opens! Come a bit later and there are lots of other terrific options, including omelettes and other French-inspired breakfast items from Bonjour Breakfast or treats from Spicer’s Bakery. Wander outside and pick up fresh produce from Berry Hill Farm, Common Ground Farm, and lots of other producers, as well as Palmer’s Maple Syrup and Wildflowers Honey. If you have someone special with you, perhaps pick up some gorgeous cut flowers from Harris Flower Farm. Usually you can hear music or check out local artists as well, and the whole vibe at the Market is very relaxed, perfect for whether you have a spring in your step and want to pick up lots of healthy produce or if maybe you have a bit of a hangover and you need to ease into your day.
Next, walk over to Streamliners Espresso Bar and order a French press, latte, or maybe a hot chocolate if there is a chill in the air. Established in 2017, this is the coffee place in the city with a sleek, modern look inspired by the Streamliner locomotives of the early-to-mid twentieth century (yeah, there is a lot of train stuff in St. Thomas!). Staff members are friendly and inviting, inspired by co-owners Stacey Hayhoe and Maria Fiallos. The coffee comes via Las Chicas del Café, a coffee roaster (owned by Maria Fiallos and her sister, Valeria Fiallos-Soliman) located across the street inside the historic CASO Station. Along with the great coffee at Streamliners, you can pick up macaroons and other goodies from Seed Confections, a local “small batch, hand crafted, artisan chocolate and confection company.” If you want even more sweetness to start the day, walk a few steps down Talbot Street to The Fritter Shop, which is quickly becoming a local institution through the efforts of young entrepreneur Kelvin Van Rijn.
Heading into late morning, one option is to take a walk and criss-cross the city, taking note of some of the historic railway assets in the community and a few noteworthy architectural pieces. Just off Talbot Street across from Streamliners and The Fritter Shop, you will discover the CASO Station, a remarkable brick building completed in 1873 and recently renovated in spectacular fashion by a group of local volunteers supported by generous donors. The building is now owned by an organization called the North American Railway Hall of Fame. Wander around the structure and if the doors are open, take a look inside at the stunning Anderson Room, where community events and wedding receptions are held regularly.
From the CASO Station, you have two options: head east and visit the Elgin County Railway Museum, which is housed in the massive Michigan Central Railroad Locomotive Shops. There are some impressive locomotives inside and lots of railway artefacts. The Museum is also the driving force behind the annual “Day Out with Thomas” event in the city, featuring train rides with Thomas the Tank Engine and other activities for kids inspired by the popular TV show. Thousands of people flood into the city over a couple weekends every summer for the event. Just beyond the Museum, you will find the Joe Thornton Community Centre, named after the NHL legend, who grew up in St. Thomas. Inside there is a community ‘Wall of Fame’ that includes Thornton as well as Rachel McAdams, the well-known and highly respected film star.
Alternatively, you can head west from the CASO Station along the Palmer Memorial Walkway, part of what is now called the ‘Whistle Stop Trail’ that connects lots of the railway assets and other sites in the community. Find the well-designed new Veterans’ Memorial Garden along Moore Street and pause for a moment to reflect on how members of the community have contributed to Canadian war efforts over the years. Amble north and you will find the Railway City Tourism office located inside the L&PS Station just off Talbot Street. Step through the doors and find lots of information about places to explore in the community. From there, you may want to walk northwest to the St. Thomas Public Library and check out the little reading garden that has been established recently beside the building. Bring a book, stay a while …
Elsewhere in the city, we would definitely recommend checking out some of the architectural highlights, like the Old St. Thomas Church, Elgin County Courthouse, and the Princess Ave Playhouse (a cool, kind-of secret little concert venue and home of the Elgin Theatre Guild).
While you are at the west end of St. Thomas close to the Old St. Thomas Church and the Courthouse, there are two essential stops: first, check out the St. Thomas Elevated Park, an ambitious project currently in the process of being built on top of the stunning Michigan Central Railroad Kettle Creek Bridge; second, no trip to St. Thomas is complete without a photo next to the Jumbo the Elephant statue … you can learn more about Jumbo here.
Where else to go? Well, we always like an afternoon visit to the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre, an attractive gallery at 301 Talbot Street that features a lovely gift shop. Feeling hungry? There are some great food options in the city … if you like Thai food, we highly recommend a visit to Le Café Siam at 392 Talbot Street! Awesome food, friendly staff. If you want pub food, the patio at Legends Tavern is a great place for a bite and a pint. For some surprisingly good sushi, check out Asuka Japanese Cuisine at 825 Talbot Street. Another great choice in the summertime is to try the excellent pizza made by Elgin Harvest in a mobile wood-fired pizza oven that is wheeled up to the doors of the Railway City Brewing Company on Friday nights. The vibe is happy and festive as locals drop by for a beer and a slice. Railway City Brewing is also one of the stops on the ‘Hello Highbury’ tour offered by Ride the Bine, just in case you have a group that wants to check out the craft beer scene in St. Thomas & London.
There are lots of ways to finish off the day. One option would be to travel down to Port Stanley and walk around the harbour, or visit Little Beach or Main Beach on Lake Erie. Since we are focussing on St. Thomas, though, one option would be a quick trip south of the city to Shaw’s Ice Cream, a landmark local business that keeps customers coming back with generous scoops of ice cream, from vanilla to maple walnut to the delicious Port Stanley Sunken Treasure (vanilla with caramel and chocolate-covered almond toffee). Hop back in the car with your ice cream and return to St. Thomas to check out Pinafore Park, a beautiful expanse of trees and walking trails located at 95 Elm Street. Inside the park, you can watch the sun go down while catching a ball game at Emslie Field, or just walk and enjoy the open space.
So, there you go, our thoughts on How to Spend a Day in St. Thomas! Feel free to get in touch and let us know what else should make the list …