Living in a major city like Toronto, I spend more time travelling in the Caribbean than I do travelling in my own province and that’s quite sad really, because there is so much to see, do, explore and discover just a short few hours from home.
I recently had the opportunity to go on a little journey of discoveries on my way to Pembroke Ontario to speak at the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization Conference and along the way I came upon Wilno Ontario.
Wilno is a small town with a population of less than 500, located about 4 hrs north-east of Toronto Ontario in the region known as Ontario’s Highlands.
Here’s what I discovered about Wilno Ontario.
Discovery 1 — Wilno Ontario is Canada’s First Polish Settlement
The best type of discovery, in my opinion, is when you learn a bit about the history of a place you visit. I don’t know, perhaps it’s so that I can kick *ss the next time I’m playing the Canadian edition of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy, or perhaps it’s because I’m a nerd that way.
According to Wikipedia Wilno Ontario “ Wilno is the first and oldest Polish settlement in Canada. The original settlers in this area circa 1858 were mainly of Kashubian origin from Kaszebe – the then Prussian area of Poland. One of the reasons they chose this area to settle was because of the landscape which reminded them of their original homes.”
Discovery 2 — Wilno Tavern Restaurant makes really good Pierogies
17589 Highway 60, Wilno Ontario K0J 2N0
AKA Don’t judge a restaurant by the parking lot.
We were driving east on Highway 60 / 62 and when we saw Wilno Tavern Restaurant from the parking lot we were a bit uninspired by what we were getting into here. Kinda drab exterior from this angle eh?
But, walk around to the front/ side of the restaurant and BAM — super cute looking right?
Once inside, we discovered warm wood decor everywhere and lots of Polish charm. The Wilno Tavern Restaurant menu does suffer from a bit of an identity crisis (Indian Vegetarian Samosas, Tempura Shrimp, Pork Schnitzel ??) The menu also lists the usual bar type fare such as burgers and wings but do yourself a favour and skip all that nonsense — turn the menu directly towards the “Polish Specialities” section.
TIP: When I’m unfamiliar with a restaurant I always ask the waitress what their specialty is and order a sampler if available…
Wilno Platter – Light Sampler
One Homemade Pierogi, Cabbage Roll and a side – $13.99
Fresh made-from-scratch, warm, and comforting — my pierogies were well seasoned with lots of bacon, cheddar cheese and potato stuffing (an ice cream scoop worth in fact), the cabbage roll was savory and moist too but the pierogi really was the star of the dish. If I were ever to return again, and I do hope I get the opportunity again, I would skip the cabbage rolls and go straight for the perogies. Totally yummy!
(and yes, I chose the homemade mashed potatoes instead of a salad – please don’t judge me LOL)
The staff is super friendly and welcoming. This is a real local hangout, with regulars sitting at the bar enjoying a beer whilst taking advantage of their free wi-fi and at night they have live music.
We were both stuffed from our meals but the waitress sweet talked us into dessert.
OK, let’s be honest, she didn’t have to twist my arm too hard once she said “Bread Pudding” especially once she told us that it was a secret family recipe. Apparently, Chef JoJo arrives early in the morning to create this dish in the greatest of privacy. No one else in the restaurant knows the recipe!
If that doesn’t sell you on it … what about the photo?
Homemade Caramel Bread Pudding
Was it as good as it sounds?
Perhaps the sales pitch was too grand but for me it wasn’t the best bread pudding I’ve eaten, it was just different as it was more dense and “compressed” than what I’m used to. That being said the bread pudding was quite tasty as it sat in a bath of hot caramel sauce covered in real whipped cream.
(If I was alone I probably would have tipped the dish to my mouth and drank the sauce — the sauce was THAT good and again, please don’t judge me LOL)
(Almost) Discovery 3 — Polish Kashub Heritage Museum
1112 Wilno Road North, Wilno, ON., K0J 2N0
(featured image at top)
I call this an “almost” discovery because we didn’t actually go inside the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum. It was closed when we spotted the beautifully decorated building through the window of the Wilno Tavern.
When speaking with our waitress we were told that the displays chronicle the history of the Polish settlement in Wilno Ontario. It’s a shame that it wasn’t open because I love little museums like this and they really do need the support of the locals and visitors alike as they are often run by volunteers as a labour of love.
If you are in the area, do plan a visit and let me know what it was like…
Admission is by Donation.
Discovery 4 — Grumblin’ Granny’s
19478 Highway 60, Barry’s Bay
Technically NOT in Wilno Ontario but in Barry’s Bay Ontario, about 10 minutes West of the Wilno Tavern Restaurant on Highway 60.
We had one of those screaming “stop the car” hit the brakes, make a U-turn moments when we first drove past the eclectic collection of wares on display in front of Grumblin’ Granny’s. The street show is just the tip of the iceberg and a big tease for what’s inside the shop.
We were told that the owner of Grumblin’ Granny’s travels the world to source hand crafted items such as wooden carvings, furniture, jewellery, rugs, leather goods and pottery for the shop. I was especially smitten by the knitted alpaca shawls, gloves and hats.
The great thing about Grumblin’ Granny’s? Shopping with a purpose!
“Many of our products are produced by small cottage industries in Nepal, India, and Bali. This generates income in regions that are not otherwise self-sustainable.”
We were also told that there was an outlet location but we didn’t have an opportunity to search it out.
This little shop is full to the brim with lots of great finds for yourself, your home or for gifts. Everything was very reasonably priced.
Making a “shopping find” is the best type of discovery don’t you think?
Small towns close to home, such as Wilno Ontario, are full of little discoveries and it just goes to show that you don’t have to hop on a plane to have an adventure or experience an unfamiliar culture.
For more information about Wilno, Ontario checkout http://ontarioshighlands.ca/discover/historic-sites/wilno/
This weekend, get in a car and take a drive. I’d love to hear what little journey of discovery you find…
Travel assistance provided by Ontario’s Highlands Tourism. As always, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.