A venture through the town of Elora and its surroundings produces nothing less than beauty and awe. There’s beauty in its more-than-a-century-old streetscapes. There’s awe in its more-than-ten-thousand-year-old limestone cliffs. The allure of the area is the marriage of built and natural, which makes it well worth a visit.
The town is located in Wellington County on the banks of the mighty Grand River, a waterway that historically provided sustenance to the Attawandaron or Neutral Confederacy. The wide river and its majestic walls has a history far beyond even those inhabitants, being carved out of the last ice age 14,000 years ago. The water provided the power for early industry while its cliffs were source for the towns early constructions.
One such structure that falls into both categories – stone walls and industry — is the Elora Mill on the west end of the aptly named Mill Street. It was established in the 1850s by J.M. Fraser. In recent memory, it was closed for many years awaiting redevelopment. As of July 2018, it is reopened as a multi-faceted hotel and hospitality venue.
Elora is full of quaint boutiques, sweet shops, and galleries, such as those at the Elora Mews and the main strip of shops at the juncture of Metcalfe and further north.
As modern are the enterprises and restored are their exteriors, Elora still maintains its historic character. They are seen in the 1865 Gordon’s Block (otherwise known as the Flat Iron Building because of the triangular junction at Geddes and Metcalfe), the Elora Public Library (funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1909 and built the following year), the 1911 Post Office, and further up, the 1889 St. Mary’s Schoolhouse.
One geography that has not completely survived is the old red bricked Elora Town Hall on Geddes Street next to the Post Office. Its history goes back to 1874 when it was built as a market building. The space in front of it was once known as Market Square. A cenotaph honouring the town’s contributions to World War I was added in the square in 1929. The Town Hall was demolished because of its deteriorating state and new civic offices were constructed in 1992 near the old hall.
A punt ride on the Grand River allots a great way to view the town’s waterfront. Through Elora Raft Rides, one takes in the history and geography of the town — including neat views of ancient fossils in the limestone cliffs.
A curious sighting is a stone abutment located near the Mill, which is the phantom remainder of the former Victoria Street Bridge. A structure spanning the river has been since 1842, but last incarnation of the bridges was closed to vehicle traffic in the Sixties following the opening of the adjacent Metcalfe Bridge and subsequently demolished. As a part of the Elora Mill redevelopment, Victoria Street Bridge might rise again.
Outside of the town’s built environs, one finds himself in the phenomenal landscapes of the Elora Quarry and Elora Gorge. Both fall under the management of the Grand River Conservation Authority which protects the surrounding watershed while providing recreational activities. The Quarry itself is a sensational post-industrial swimming hole with hiking trails which came under the GRCA in the 1970s.
Elora Gorge Conservation Area offers neat nature hikes and thrilling (and calming) tube rides — seriously, try it! Through Victoria Park, one can access part of the rocks through a set of stairs, as well as gaze over the Grand & Irvine Rivers with lookouts like the Elora Falls & Tooth of Time, Lover’s Leap and toward the gorge and David Street/Irvine River Bridge.
Exploring the town and environs, Elora’s identity of the merger of culture and nature then becomes truly apparent. Its many plaques tell the story of its shakers. It’s also a great arts & culture town with references everywhere to musical showcases like the Elora Festival and Riverfest at Bissell Park. Culinary and historic walking tours guide visitors through the significance of the town.
Other landmarks like the Wellington County Museum & Archives – a former House of Industry and keeper of Elora’s past – and the Elora Cataract Trail – a lost railway turned scenic recreational path – also are major draws. For a small town like it and its neighbour Fergus, Elora does an excellent job at marketing itself as a true tourist destination with dual appeal.