Life Travel

Goderich a little bit of heaven

By Nelson Branco, 24 Hrs

Goderich boasts that it's Canada's prettiest town -- and with good reason. Small town charm, pristine beaches... it doesn't get much better. GODERICH TOURISM

Goderich boasts that it's Canada's prettiest town -- and with good reason. Small town charm, pristine beaches... it doesn't get much better. GODERICH TOURISM

 It's called Ontario's west coast - and the prettiest town in Ontario.

With the Toronto Islands mostly closed for the summer due to flooding and the lacklustre weather making summer an arduous and uninspiring season, my friend and I decided to get in a car and Thelma & Louise it up west to one of the best-kept secrets: Goderich, Ontario.

And thanks to our brilliant navigation app Waze - which helped us avoid bumper-to-bumper highway traffic, cop cars on the hunt for speeders and other travelling misadventures - our sojourn led us through Ontario's drop-dead gorgeous farmland and rural splendour.

As someone who usually travels east of Toronto (mainly to visit Montreal; I've even biked from The Six to the French city so I know the eastern part of the province pretty well), it was a breath of fresh air to explore a different region of the stunning and underrated province.

At some moments, I felt like I was living in a moving picture travelling with what I have left of my hair waving in the wind and revelling in the manicured, well-kept vegetation, forests and acres of farmland.

It's no surprise why many Hollywood productions film in rural Ontario.

I would advise if you are going to use the back roads instead of the highways - and you should; it will only add an hour to your trip - that you make sure your car is filled with gas as there aren't too many gas stations on those peripheral gateways.

At one point, we needed gas so desperately that we drove into what looked like an abandoned gas station plucked right from the '50s. Or was it? The whole service station looked closed but it was so well maintained that I had to wonder if it was even operational. Regardless, a location scout should book this scenic and antiquated gas station.

As we neared Goderich, which is the largest urban centre in Huron County, you can immediately see why the town is deemed charming because of its heritage, architecture, captivating sunsets and unique downtown square. It's also the winner of multiple Communities In Bloom Awards.

And if you were a fan of Gilmore Girls, you'll love Goderich, which is famous for its salt production. When you're in the town's unique octagon-shaped downtown square called Courthouse Square, you practically expect Rory, Sookie and Lorelai to pop out and start speaking 1000 words per minute.

Don't believe me? Take the owner of Pat & Kevin's On The Square: Kevin Morrison. Not only does Morrison and his gay partner, Pat Foster, run the amazing diner much like Gilmore Girls' Luke Danes but he's also the mayor of the town that unseated Deb Shewfelt who had been the mayor on and off since 1975. (Kevin met his partner Pat when they were in the armed forces; they moved to Goderich in 2008.)

"Goderich isn't really a gay town," Kevin - who is originally from Chatham and London, Ontario - tells me. "But they didn't have a problem with me being gay or running for mayor; I easily won. I want Goderich to advance when it comes to affordable housing, economic health, and youth programs. I would also like it to be easier to travel between Toronto and Goderich."

Morrison and Foster are emblematic of the town's spirit: They're down-to-earth yet mercurial people with stories. Heck, during their spare time, they also entertain on cruise ships. Morrison also wrote his first book entitled Get Happy, Get Simple - which set the friendly guy in a new direction as a motivational speaker.

"Even as a kid, I always felt drawn to Goderich," shares Morrison. The couple is also said to be developing a Nashville-produced television show called Pat & Kevin's Dine and Dash. It plans to involve local production people and the kicker of every episode will involve Goderich.

It was also fascinating to see Syrian refugees in their new home - that was a highlight. There are refugees in Toronto, obviously, but since we're a city of diversity and immigrants, we blend in here so it was nice to see the grateful transplants and locals all getting along - for the most part. Seeing the Syrian families play in Lake Huron was a beautiful sight.

Other Goderich highlights: The famous Courtyard Square houses a Farmers'Market, Flea Market, an old-school movie cinema, evening concerts and festivals.

There are also hiking and biking trails located on the northern part of the town, which is near The Maitland River. Goderich overlooks Lake Huron on top of bluffs and showcases 1.5 km of beach front. It's a tad rocky but the water isn't too bad to help soak all your troubles away.

-With files from Jane Stevenson

GODERICH 411

GETTING THERE

Goderich is primarily a drive-to destination. There is no bus or train service (closest is Stratford 45 minutes away). Travel time from T.O. is about 2.5 hours.

SLEEPOVERS

Benmiller Inn & Spa has 56 rooms in three 19th-century mill buildings, plus the completely independent Mill House and Sharpe's Retreat. Try to get a room with a balcony to take advantage of the river views. (benmiller.ca) The town's historic hotel Hotel Bedford exterior aesthetic is beautiful but inside it's pretty rustic and standard. The hotel also doesn't have an elevator so if you book there, be sure you can walk up stairs - with a suitcase in hand! (hotelbedford.ca)

OUTDOOR ATTRACTION

Since 1847, Goderich Lighthouse is the oldest Canadian light station on Lake Huron. Its range is about 150 feet above Lake Huron which protects the waters and land. In fact, it first consisted of a pair of range lights built in the early 1830s.

ADVENTURE & FUN

You won't want to escape this: Escape Room Goderich is the port's first escape room. You have sixty minutes to find the clues, solve the puzzles and try to escape before time runs out! (226-421-2044) Drink up: spend a boozy afternoon at Square Brew and see why Ontario towns are excelling at producing IPAs. It's Goderich's first craft brewery, serving three different types of locally brewed beer. (519-612-2739)

GREAT EATS

Breakfast and lunch: Pat & Kevin's and West Street Willy's. (519-440-5110) Dinner: Beach Street Station (beachstreetstation.com)

THEATRE For the past 40 years, the Blythe Festival produces great stage plays that are entrenched in the town's history and DNA. (Blythefestival.com)

MORE INFORMATION For information, see goderich.ca/en/visitors and ontarioswestcoast.ca.