Ontario is currently under a stay-at-home order. If you plan to explore, please do so digitally. More information on COVID-19 and details on the stay-at-home order are available here.
*Updated December 22, 2020*
Nestled in a rich agricultural region, the city of Guelph is filled with lush greenery and gorgeous buildings constructed with local limestone. Known as the Royal City, Guelph was founded by Scottish novelist John Galt in 1827, but long before that, the ancestors of the Indigenous peoples, including the Neutral peoples, had settled the region circa 9000 BCE. The city is known for its 19th-century charm, and its excellent beer—not surprising considering its agricultural roots.
Explore the Guelph Arboretum – 9:00 am
DAY 1 – 9:00 AM: Step into the Guelph Arboretum and you’ll be transported into another world.
Established in 1970, the Arboretum has everything from manicured flowerbeds to natural woodlands stretching across acres. There are five gardens, including a Japanese garden with a stone bridge and reflecting pool, and over nine kilometres of trails. Right now, the Arboretum allows foot-traffic, so take your time to walk around and learn about all the different species present.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite after all that walking, so grab lunch at one of the many spots nearby. You can find a few of our suggestions at the bottom of this guide – and make sure to double check their hours before heading over.
Visit the Art Gallery of Guelph and Outdoor Sculpture Park – 1:00 PM
DAY 1 – 1:00 PM: Spend the rest of your afternoon at the Art Gallery of Guelph’S SCULPTURE GARDEN
A must see is the extensive Sculpture Park surrounding the Art Gallery of Guelph. There are 39 pieces of sculpture to see, the most-beloved of them being the Begging Bear, a seven-and-a-half foot, bronze emblem of Canadiana by artist Carl Skelton.
Formerly-known as the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Guelph* features a large collection of Canadian and international works, including a collection of Inuit drawings covering 1960 to the present. The gallery recently re-opened with three new, temporary exhibitions to boot.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Art Gallery of Guelph has re-opened.
Check out the local scene in downtown Guelph – 5:00 pM
DAY 1 – 5:00 PM: Ditch the car and walk Guelph’s vibrant downtown core
Market Square and City Hall form the nucleus of downtown Guelph, drawing locals and tourists alike, no matter the season. In the summer, kids splash around in the wading pool, and in the colder stretches, you can go ice skating. There are plenty of curved stone benches for explorers to catch their breath on before setting off in search of Guelph’s other delights.
Avid readers should take note of the Bookshelf, which acts as a community hub of sorts, where you can buy books, watch films, eat, and enjoy a cocktail all under one roof. At the moment, they are doing curbside pickup, and it’s worth checking out their online catalogue before you stop by.
Downtown Guelph has several architectural gems, including the Petrie building, which is currently home to Brothers Brewing. The full metal façade has overlooked Wyndham Street since 1882, when local entrepreneur and busybody A.B. Petrie operated a pharmacy from its ground floor.
A short walk away is the infamous Family Fountain. Unveiled in 1985, it was dedicated to the immigrants who settled in Guelph. The graceful style recalls the Italian Baroque, but the nudity of the figures, which is commonplace in Italy, caused quite a stir among the locals. Aside from rumours that the sculpture is cursed, it’s rarely a point of contention anymore.
Tip: Guelph is known for its beer, and popular among craft breweries now is the strand of barley OAC21, which came from the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph back in 1903. Beer-lovers should try local brews made with this century-old strand.
VISIT THE FAMOUS BASILICA AND THE CIVIC MUSEUM – 10:00 AM
DAY 2 – 10:00 AM: By now, you’ve probably noticed the gigantic church towering over the city.
The Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate* was built between 1876 and 1888 using local limestone. It features twin towers, pointed arches, and rose windows, all in the Gothic Revival style. The basilica was recently restored and was awarded the 2015 Award of Excellence by the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.
Right next door is the Guelph Civic Museum*, home to much more of the city’s history, from its earliest human settlement and up through colonial times. Housed in a renovated Loretto convent, the Museum is another building where you can admire the region’s distinct limestone architecture.
*NOTE: The Basilica has not yet re-opened to visitors. A virtual tour is currently available.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Guelph Civic Museum has re-opened.
Visit the home of John McCrae – 1:00 PM
Day 2 – 1:00 PM: Your last stop of the day is McCrae House, the childhood home of John McCrae who wrote the famous wartime poem In Flanders Fields.
His poem helped make the poppy an enduring symbol of Remembrance Day and the sacrifices it commemorates. Learn about John McCrae’s life and achievements and then visit the beautifully landscaped Memorial Garden nearby. There’s a monument there, carved in local limestone, with a cast bronze book inscribed with the words of McCrae’s famous poem.
*NOTE: As of our last update, McCrae House has re-opened.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
The Arboretum – https://www.uoguelph.ca/arboretum/
Art Gallery of Guelph – https://artgalleryofguelph.ca/
Sculpture Park – Art Gallery of Guelph – https://artgalleryofguelph.ca/education_list/sculpture-park/
Exhibition Park – https://guelph.ca/location/exhibition-park/
Bookshelf – https://bookshelf.ca/home
Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate – https://www.basilicaofourlady.com/
Guelph Civic Museum – https://guelphmuseums.ca/venue/civic-museum/
McCrae House – https://guelphmuseums.ca/venue/mccrae-house/
Na Ha Thai’s Kitchen – https://nahathaikitchen.weebly.com/menus.html
Retour Bistro – https://www.retourbistro.com/
Earth to Table Bread Bar – https://guelph.breadbar.ca/
Miijida Cafe & Bistro – https://www.miijidaa.ca/
Brother’s Brewing Company – https://www.brothersbrewingcompany.ca/
Fixed Gear Brewing Company – https://fixedgearbrewing.com/
Royal City Brewing Company – https://royalcitybrew.ca/
London House Bed & Breakfast – https://londonhouse.ca/
Norfolk Guest House Bed & Breakfast – https://www.norfolkguesthouse.ca/
The City of Guelph provided information and assistance for the creation of this guide. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Esther Lee.