River with an arched bridge in the background Brandon Marsh Photography


Guelph is famed for world-class arts festivals, its historic downtown and beautiful waterways, the Speed and Eramosa Rivers, as well as the birthplace of “In Flanders Fields” poet, John McCrae. Oh, and then there’s the beer. Seriously, the abundance of excellent craft beer has led some to declare Guelph as truly “brewtiful.”

Day One

A large building with elegant design and a tall spire. Photo of Guelph Civic Museum courtesy Brandon Marsh Photography.
Civic Museum
The Story of a City

You can’t miss this museum — it’s located next to the stunning Basilica of Our Lady, an impressive example of High Victorian Gothic Revival style reminiscent of a medieval French cathedral. The museum itself shares Guelph stories from the era long before colonization — Guelph is built on the homelands of Anishinaabek peoples – to the city’s founding to present-day life in this diverse and vibrant community. The museum is a place to learn, and a place to play. Many a child has revelled in the The Families Gallery with its cool, interactive exhibits.

Several benches in front of a large open space with water fountains. A large building is behind the open space Photo of Market Square courtesy of Brandon Marsh Photography.
Market Square
There’s Magic in the Square

Some city squares have a kind of magic to them, and Market Square is definitely one. Pretty in winter when ice skaters twirl, and sweet in summer when the rink turns into giant splash pad. At any time of year the historic limestone buildings make it a charming place to watch the world go by. The charm is partly by design — it’s a modern take on the original 1800s market district. Also, Market Square is home to Guelph’s impressive City Hall, live performances, and events including the annual fall Jazz Festival. Plus, there are plenty of tasty treats nearby, with downtown restaurants just steps away. (A few possible spots to choose from: Planet Bean Coffee, Eric the Baker, La Cucina, Eat Thai, and Rise and Shine Island Flavour.) Guelph, it should be noted, is serious about food! Not surprising given its agricultural roots and embrace of culinary diversity.

A person walking in front of a glass door to a building Heritage Hall by Brandon Marsh Photography.
The Junction & Sunny Acres; The Ward & St. Georges
The Junction and the Ward

Two of Guelph’s most intriguing neighbourhoods are adjacent to downtown. To the east, it’s St. Patrick’s Ward and St. Georges (sometimes just called “The Ward”) with architecture ranging from war-time bungalows to stately Victorian homes. The Ward is also where you’ll find Guelph Little Theatre, which lives up to its slogan: a little theatre with big productions. GLT has a big history too, bringing outstanding amateur performances to theatre-goers since 1935. Next, head west to the Junction & Sunny Acres neighbourhood, the “junction” part of the name a nod to the former Guelph Junction Railway. You can see a living celebration of local railway history via “Blossom Junction,” a train made entirely of flowers. Also, don’t miss Heritage Hall nearby, current home of the Guelph Black Heritage Society. It holds a powerful history, having been built by former fugitive slaves who arrived via the Underground Railroad. Check the Heritage Society’s calendar for events that speak to that history through music, spoken word and more.

Elevated walkways leading to a large building Photo courtesy of Dean Palmer.
River Run Centre
Arts on the River

The River Run is Guelph’s premiere performing arts centre, beautifully situated on the banks of the Speed River. The entrance alone is worth the visit with its copper wall a creation of Guelph artist Peter Johnston, and one that traces the history of those who’ve lived along the river from its earliest days. The centre itself opened in 1997, but a former inhabitant of the site, the Speed Skating Rink, provided entertainment of its own right. Once upon a time, orchestras played graceful waltzes as skaters circled the rink. Today, The River Run Centre is the place to go for a full range of performing arts including concerts, musicals, plays, dance and shows aimed at the whole family.

Day Two

A wooden entryway to a trail with organized trees and shrubs in the distance Arboretum, UofG
The Arboretum
A World of Trees

Open from dawn ‘til dusk, the outdoor Arboretum is a living classroom for University of Guelph students and faculty but it’s also a relaxing place for all to stroll. The extensive gardens, forests and trails include thematic collections like Native Trees of Ontario, centred around the conservation of the province’s native woody plants. And “World of Trees” is truly that — more than 400 species of trees and shrubs that help connect the dots between the similarities and differences of the northern hemisphere’s woody plants. There are plenty of walking trail possibilities, including The Trillium, a loop through ten plant collections, and the Mtigwaaki, designed in collaboration with Anishinaabe elders, knowledge holders and environmental scientists to share an understanding of the forest from an Anishinaabek perspective.

4 people looking at art in a gallery Photo courtesy of the Art Gallery of Guelph
A house with a single floor Photo of McCrae House courtesy of Brandon Marsh Photography.
McCrae House
“The larks, still bravely singing…”

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow…There is no more famous Canadian poem from the First World War — or possibly ever! Poet, doctor, and soldier John McCrae wrote it after a young friend died in the wake of the 1915 battle at Ypres, Belgium, not knowing the incredible impact his poem would have. Red poppies came to symbolize the soldiers who died during that war — including McCrae himself. McCrae House is the stone cottage where this extraordinary man was born in 1872, and it offers visitors a chance to learn more about the man behind the poem: from family life to his many medical and military accomplishments.

A lake with trees on either sides and a bridge in the distance Photo courtesy of Brandon Marsh Photography.
Royal City Park
Reflection by the River

A five-minute walk from McCrae House brings you to Royal City Park, an ideal place to contemplate all that’s come before. The Sacred Fire Space located here was created by local Indigenous peoples, and is used for spiritual gatherings of prayer, gratitude, and personal healing. Walk the park’s nearly five-kilometre recreational trail to discover another way of experiencing the tranquility of the riverside.

Several people at a table clinking their beer glasses against each other Photo courtesy of Wellington Brewery.
Guelph’s Craft Breweries
Brewtiful, Spirited Guelph

Some around Guelph say that “beer built this town,” given the importance of early breweries to the city’s commerce. Perhaps most famous is Sleeman Breweries, which dates back to the late 19th century. Today, Guelph is famed for its craft beer, and you’ll find new favourites across the city including Brothers Brewing Company, Royal City Brewing Company, Fixed Gear, and Canada’s oldest independently owned microbrewery Wellington Brewery – all of which warmly welcome visitors. And if beer isn’t your thing, not to worry, Guelph is also home to two distilleries – Spring Mill Distillery and Dixon’s Distilled Spirits. Cheers!

Your trip at a glance

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please CONTACT US.

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.