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ST. CATHARINES

St. Catharines is the urban heart of the Niagara region. The city offers abundant wine and culinary experiences, plus unique festivals and cultural events including live music, theatre and sports. As the largest city in the region, this year-round destination is rich in significant Black and Indigenous history and is within easy reach of any location in the GTHA. (Not to mention a comfortable day’s drive from the U.S.)

April 11, 2023 | Photo Courtesy of Niagara Artists Center



Day One

MORNING

DOWNTOWN ST. CATHARINES

STEP INTO HISTORY

Indigenous trails predating European settlement underpin St. Catharines’ major streets, including St. Paul Street. The construction of the first Welland Canal along Twelve Mile Creek made St. Paul Street a hub of commerce — the History InSite permanent installations are a great way to view historic locations downtown.

People of African descent began settling in the area in the late 18th century, and their descendants continue to live and thrive in the community today. That deep history is reflected at Salem Chapel BME Church with its famous congregant, legendary Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman. (Do book ahead for a tour as there are no walk-ins.)

Start your day with a visit to vibrant downtown St. Catharines. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Catharines.

AFTERNOON

NIAGARA ARTISTS CENTRE AND LUNCH

ART AND A MEAL, RIGHT DOWNTOWN

While you’re exploring downtown visit the Niagara Artists Centre, one of the oldest artist-run organizations in Canada, sharing interdisciplinary contemporary arts of all kinds, including film, music and literature. Summer rooftop concerts are a favourite! NAC also runs The Studio Shop, an artist-run vintage clothing and art shop curated with an eye toward one-of-a-kind finds.

Take a lunch break at one of downtown St. Catharines’ many restaurants (there are over 70!): coffee at eclectic The Brazen Café, empanadas at Fiesta Empanada, or vegan cuisine at Rise Above Restaurant & Bakery are just a few of the choices. On Thursdays and Saturdays, check out the Farmers Market, operating since the 1860s and loved in the 2020s for both local produce and work by local artisans. The market regularly hosts live performances and a “Discovery Table,” connecting local farmers with market-goers.

Visit the artist-run Niagara Artists Centre for interdisciplinary art for all ages. Photo by Amber Lee Williams

AFTERNOON

MONTEBELLO PARK

A WALK IN THE PARK

Next, stroll through leafy Montebello Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, famed for co-designing New York City’s Central Park. Montebello has a splendid rose garden and a historic bandshell and pavilion, making it a perfect setting for festivals (including the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival). Another park-walking possibility is Richard Pierpoint, a park named for a one-time enslaved loyalist soldier with a celebrated St. Catharines history. At the age of 68 Pierpoint helped create “the Colored Corps” in the War of 1812, the only unit in Upper Canada composed entirely of men of African descent. Those men both fought in the war and helped repair fortifications at the mouth of the Niagara River.

Take an afternoon stroll through Montebello Park. Photo by Mike Keenan.

EVENING

FIRSTONTARIO PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE

CELEBRATING CREATIVITY

This beautiful, state-of-the-art cultural complex is right downtown and boasts four impressive performance venues where you can enjoy live music, theatre and film. One of those venues is The Film House, featuring world-class cinema accompanied by Niagara wine and craft beer. Every September the Celebration of Nations holds its annual anchor event here, a three-day festival showcasing Indigenous arts and artists, with traditional and contemporary performing arts, visual arts and films, plus workshops and hands-on activities. FirstOntario PAC is also a partner of Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, which means you might catch some emerging talent in performance — all part of the Centre’s role as a catalyst for downtown St. Catharines arts and culture.

Visit one of the four performance venues at the Firstontario Performing Arts Centre cultural complex. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Catharines

Day Two

MORNING

ST. CATHARINES MUSEUM AND WELLAND CANALS CENTRE

FROM LOCKS TO LACROSSE

The Welland Ship Canal is a passageway for both “salties” (ocean-bound ships) and “lakers,” connecting the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Explore its history and get a front rail seat at the Lock 3 viewing platform as vessels pass through the lock. The adjacent park is the site of the Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial, a contemplative spot to reflect on the incredible human demands involved in the creation of such a feat of engineering. Many of St. Catharines’ stories are told in the St. Catharines Museum itself, from the history of St. Catharines’ women to its significant Underground Railroad legacy.

Then there’s the game of lacrosse, Canada’s official summer sport, created by Indigenous peoples. Learn all about “LAX,” as the sport is nicknamed, at the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame, located in the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

The Welland Canal Fallen Workers Memorial remembers the people who died while building the Welland Canal. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Catharines.

AFTERNOON

FOLLOW THE WINE ROUTE

SO MANY WINERIES; SO MUCH GORGEOUS SCENERY

There are many possible paths through wine country – the entire Niagara Peninsula boasts one hundred wineries! – so plot your route via Wine Country Ontario’s detailed map. The 13th St. Winery, named the top Ontario winery at the 2022 National Wine Awards of Canada, is a lovely and chic jumping-off point that’s only ten minutes from downtown. It’s where you’ll find the 13th Street Gallery, dedicated to Canadian fine art, as well as a delightful sculpture garden. Consider strolling the outdoor space with a glass of wine in hand. Then grab a meal at The Farmhouse Bistro’s locally-inspired cuisine (seasonal hours), or head to the 13th Street Bakery for Canada’s Best Butter Tart (as awarded by House and Home).

 

Onto more wine, or perhaps ale. There are half a dozen nearby wineries to choose from, including the famed Henry of Pelham family estate with its “old world charm and new world winemaking.” Book a tour to learn about the history of the winery and the life of a wine grape — while sipping on Estate grown wines. The Coach House Café (seasonal hours) is where fine wine meets fine food: charcuterie, inventive mains and the like. Of course, wine isn’t the only beverage the region boasts. Lovers of ale will want to visit at least one of St. Catharines craft breweries along the Niagara Ale Trail: Cold Break Brewing, Decew Falls Brewing Company, Dragan Brewing & Wine, Lock St. Brewery and the Merchant Ale House. Cheers!

While you’re visting the 13th Street Winery, check out the Gallery, which houses Canadian fine art. Photo by Natasha Wielink.
Take a tour of one of the half-dozen wineries in the region. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Catharines.

AFTERNOON

PORT DALHOUSIE

ONLY FIVE CENTS A RIDE

Port Dalhousie pretty much defines “waterfront charm.” Located on a small peninsula separating Martindale Pond from Lake Ontario, the town is famed for sandy Lakeside Park Beach, where you can stroll peacefully while taking in spectacular harbour views. If you’re feeling more energetic, you can also swim, paddleboard or kayak. In season, ride the historic Lakeside Park Carousel, purchased for St. Catharines’ early 20th century amusement park (with many visitors arriving by steamship). The menagerie has been meticulously restored to its turn-of-the century glory, and riders of all ages can enjoy a turn-of-the-century price — only five cents a ride!

Follow the walking trail to the wildflowers and willows of Rennie Park where you can watch as rowers glide by on Martindale Pond. It’s also where you’ll find the annual Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, its famous course constructed in 1903. Before heading home, take a turn around Port Dalhousie’s piers to enjoy the sunset, or stay on for dinner — popular spots are classic Italian (“with a twist!”) at The Twisted Pig and Spanish cuisine at Patio Andaluz.

Take a ride on the meticulously restored, historic Lakeside Park Carousel, still only five cents a ride. Photo courtesy of the City of St. Catharines.

YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE


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.

Ontario Culture Days thanks its tourism partner the City of St. Catharines for their support and assistance with this article. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.


Thank you to Arterra Wines Canada for support of this ON Culture Guide.