Midland Ontario is a popular summertime destination for vacationers... The town is blessed with the natural beauty of a harbour on scenic Georgian Bay as well as some important historic museums.
The pretty little resort town of Midland Ontario bills itself as the “Gateway to the 30,000 Islands”. It’s also the central city in the southern Georgian Bay area.
Midland is only a few hours north of Toronto, which makes it a popular weekend getaway for visitors. The town is small enough (population about 17,000) to feel cozy but big enough to provide plenty of amenities (attractions, shopping, dining and a variety of accommodation). Its historic buildings and small-town main street appeal to travellers looking for a temporary retreat to a laid-back, slower pace of life.
We spent two nights in Midland and took in several of the attractions.
Georgian Bay Cruise
We took a boat cruise on Miss Midland offered by Midland Tours to see some of the islands in the massive Georgian Bay Islands National Park. That trip was definitely the highlight of our weekend! The tour lasts for two and half hours and takes you through a landscape of rocks and windswept trees that is straight out of a Group of Seven painting. The only difference between the paintings and the reality is that some of these islands (thankfully not all) are today lined with luxury resorts and cottages and cabins and monster homes that you might expect to find much further south in Ontario.
The boat holds 300 passengers and they have a minimum number required before they go out. Most of the time they’ll get this minimum but be forewarned that if you go early in the season, they may cancel if they don’t reach that number that day. Just a heads up!
Port of Midland & Midland Murals
The cruise begins at the Port of Midland’s harbour park and marina, a great place for strolling and scenery. Take your time ogling all the nifty boats lined up at the piers!
You can also take in some funky public art,
including a massive mural on the side of the grain elevator (North
America’s largest outdoor mural). The painting depicts a Wendat/Huron
man facing a French Jesuit priest and refers to the 17th century history
of the meeting between the two cultures. The strange walled community
in the centre of the picture is Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, a major
museum on the outskirts of town (see more details below).
Artist Fred Lenz painted several other murals throughout the downtown district. Midland’s murals are famous and are popular tourist attractions. Most of them feature historical themes. One of my favourites honours the Girl Guides:
At the Port, there’s also a giant trumpeter swan sculpture on one of the piers. I noticed that the seagulls seemed to believe this was a perch built especially for them.
Little Lake Park
The harbour isn’t the only place in Midland to enjoy the water. Just a short distance from the marina is Little Lake Park, where you can go swimming, take the children to the playground, or just stroll along the sand and enjoy the beach. There used to be a huge campground here and many residents from Southern Ontario recall spending their summer vacation here as kids.
A concession stand sells snacks and fast food. During the summer, there are outdoor concerts in the park.
Huron/Wendat Village is another fascinating feature of the Little Lake
Park. The Wendat Village is a recreation of a 500-year-old village with
wooden fence, longhouse, wigwam, sweat lodge and several other buildings
reflecting the life of the local people during that period.
The Huronia Museum, next door to the Village, is an eclectic place full of exhibits that appear to date back to the original museum established in 1947. There’s a quaintly old-fashioned feel to the place, which is crammed with glass cases and strange artifacts sporting little cards with obscure descriptions. You’ll find a toy collection in one corner (including a mini roll-top desk for that budding 5-year-old accountant), military and maritime relics, dresses from belles of years gone by, and a huge antique studio camera on stilt that was once the property of a famous local photographer John W. Bald) and lots of antique furniture and china.
My favourite piece in the whole museum is a great early 1920s (I’m guessing) photograph of two elderly women in flouncy white linen swim suits. The pure glee of their expressions sums up the spirit of summer vacation and would make an amazing ad for the Midland Ontario tourist office!
There’s an extensive collection of Aboriginal artifacts
in one room, beginning with ancient arrowheads, and going right up to
mid-20th century art and crafts. The museum has an art gallery as well
featuring, among others, local artists such as William J. Wood, a
contemporary of the Group of Seven. There is also a room full of art work by Thor Hansen, a Canadian designer. You can watch a video about his work here:
Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons is the biggest and best-known museum in Midland. This, again, is a site that was reconstructed based on excavations. The original Sainte-Marie was a walled/gated community that the Jesuits built in 1639. It’s historically significant because it’s the FIRST European settlement in what would eventually become Ontario.
The mission has close historic ties with the nearby Martyr’s Shrine, a major religious site and another big tourist attraction. If you’re not familiar with the eight Canadian martyrs, they were Jesuits who preached in this territory during the 1600s and died at the hands of Iroquois warriors who were then at war with the French and the Wendat people. The martyrs were originally buried in Ste-Marie, and Catholic pilgrims often come to the museum to pray at the graves.
Outdoor activities in Midland Ontario
Do you enjoy outdoor recreation? Then be sure to put Wye Marsh on your agenda. It’s a large nature reserve area with multiple trails, educational programs and opportunities to go canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing, etc either on your own or with a guide. It’s just down the road from the shrine and Ste-Marie.
If your notion of exercise is window shopping, then King Street is your destination. It’s the main shopping street downtown and it runs right down to the waterfront so the view is lovely. The buildings, some of which are more than 100 years old, are decorated with all those murals I mentioned above. The most striking building is the Public Library with its four-faced clock tower. When it was built back in 1913, it was the local post office and customs house.
Many of the King Street shops cater to tourists and cottagers. You’ll find lots of crafts and furniture and clothing shops for example.
We tried several restaurants.
Dino’s at 319 King Street has fantastic “mile-high” sandwiches. Very tender and tasty!
Above: Now THAT'S a sandwich! Dino's famous Mile-High.
We loved SerendipiTea at 244 King Street with its Victorian ambiance and great food including dainty sandwiches, homemade soups, scones with cream and jam, and 35 brands of tea... a perfect Girlfriends Getaway spot.
We also had dinner at Uncle Roy’s Chinese and Canadian food at 289 King Street. Places like this always fill me with nostalgia for the Chinese restaurants of my childhood.
The Boathouse is a very popular spot, right at the Port in Midland Ontario. This is a big sprawling pub with a patio and free live entertainment. We had dinner there one evening and found the food enjoyable and reasonably priced.
Side-trip to Penetanguishene
Penetanguishene is a town about a 15 minute drive from Midland Ontario. If you’re interested in history, you’ll want to visit Discovery Harbour, another great historic site. Here you’ll find buildings relating to the maritime history of Ontario, as well as Kings Wharf Theatre, a place to enjoy live plays. The town has a small shopping district as well (although much smaller than Midland). At the harbour you can catch a boat tour of Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands.
You may enjoy:
Island Queen - another boat tour on Georgian Bay