As a travel writer living in a major metropolitan city such as Toronto, Ontario, I spend more time exploring the world than I do travelling within my province. It’s unfortunate, and I’m sure that I’m not the only person that explores far off places but not their home city/state/province/country. There is so much to see, do, explore and discover just a short few hours from home and in this article, I get to explore Wilno Ontario – won’t you join me?
So just where is Wilno Ontario?
Wilno is a small town with a population of fewer than 500 people, located about 4 hrs drive north-east of Toronto Ontario in the Ottawa Valley Region known as Ontario’s Highlands. It’s south-east of Algonquin National Park and south-west of Pembroke, Ontario.
My 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.
Here’s what I discovered about the town and a list of things to do in Wilno Ontario.
Oh, If you are wondering where we stayed while in the area and are looking for a unique and sweet educational activity, read – A Maple Syrup Experience at Deakins Mountainview B&B
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. Random information is a hobby of mine. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, or maybe it’s so that I can kick *ss the next time I’m playing the Canadian edition of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy.
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 – The Wilno Ontario Vampire
I didn’t go in search of a Vampire town in Ontario, nor did I see any Vampires while I was visiting, but there are rumours that they were once in the area.
According to some online research, the Kashubian Polish believed that any birth abnormality is a sign that the child is destined to become a vampire. Things such as being born with teeth or born with a piece of red amniotic membrane still stuck on a child’s head were all signs of the mother having relations with demons.
Apparently, the local graveyard holds further proof of vampire activity. At a small grave surrounded by a white picket fence, a plaque reads “if a vampire is not destroyed before he is buried, that he will rise again and carry off his relatives and others in the neighbourhood.”
Proof? I’ll let you be the judge!
Discovery 3 – The Wilno Tavern Restaurant makes Delicious 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. From this angle, as you can see in the photograph, it has a drab exterior.
But, walk around to the front side of the restaurant and BAM – super cute looking right?
Once inside, we discovered warm wood decor throughout and lots of Polish charm. The Wilno Tavern Restaurant menu does suffer from a bit of an identity crisis with selections such as Indian Vegetarian Samosas, Tempura Shrimp, as well as the usual bar-type fare such as burgers and wings. Do yourself a favour and skip all that nonsense and turn the menu page directly to the “Polish Specialities” section.
RESTAURANT TIP: When I’m unfamiliar with a restaurant, I always ask the waitress what their speciality is. Even better, I order a sampler if available so that I can try their best dishes.
Wilno Platter – Light Sampler
One Homemade Pierogi, Cabbage Roll and a side
Comforting, made-from-scratch, warm, and fresh. My pierogies were well seasoned with lots of bacon, cheddar cheese and potato stuffing – an ice cream scoop worth according to the waitress. The cabbage roll was savoury and moist too, but the pierogi was the star of the dish. If I were ever to return, and I do hope I get the opportunity, I would skip the cabbage rolls and go straight for the perogies. Yummy!
(I chose the homemade mashed potatoes instead of a side salad – I love carbs – please don’t judge me LOL)
The staff is super friendly and welcoming. The Wilno Tavern is a real, local hangout. Regular customers sit at the bar enjoying a beer while taking advantage of their free Wi-Fi, in the evening they have live music.
We were both stuffed after our entrées, 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 the phrase “Bread Pudding” especially once she told us that it was a secret family recipe. The waitress told us that the chef arrives early each 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 ordering the bread pudding, what about the photo? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Homemade Caramel Bread Pudding
Was it as good as the waitress’ sales pitch?
Perhaps the sales pitch was too grand, but for me, it wasn’t the best bread pudding I’ve eaten in my life; it was just different as it was denser and “compressed” than what I’m accustomed. The bread pudding was quite tasty, mainly because of a large dollop of real whipped cream and it was sitting in a bath of hot caramel sauce.
(If I were alone, I probably would have tipped the dish to my mouth and drank the sauce — the sauce was fantastic, and again, please don’t judge me LOL)
(Almost) Discovery 4 – Polish Kashub Heritage Museum
1112 Wilno Road North, Wilno, Ontario, K0J 2N0
(featured image at top)
I call this an “almost” discovery because we didn’t 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. I love exploring small local museums, and the Wilno Heritage Society museum needs the support of locals and visitors because these heritage buildings are such a labour of love.
If you are in the area, do plan a visit and let us know what you found. Admission is by Donation.
Discovery 5 – Grumblin’ Granny’s
19478 Highway 60, Barry’s Bay
They have a second location in Campbellville, Ontario.
Technically NOT in Wilno Ontario but 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.
Grumblin’ Granny’s travels the world to source handcrafted 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 is 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.”
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.
A “shopping find” is the best type of discovery, don’t you agree?
Small towns and villages close to home, such as Wilno Ontario, are full of little discoveries. It just goes to show that you don’t have to hop on a plane or travel long distances to have an adventure or experience an unfamiliar culture.
This weekend hop in your car and take a drive. I’d love to hear what little journey of discovery you find along the route!
Travel assistance provided by Ontario’s Highlands Tourism. As always, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.