The first 19 years of my life were spent in a teeny tiny town in rural southwestern Ontario called Ridgetown. Looking back, growing up in a small town had a lot of advantages. I walked to and from school by myself at a young age, biked the streets with my friends during summer, and participated in all the local cultural traditions. You’re reading an article by the 1993 Ridgetown Fair Princess, don’t you know?
Of course, I didn’t appreciate the small-town feel until I was as far away as possible in a big city living a very different life. Every time I go home to Ridgetown, I like to reminisce about my childhood by doing all the things I loved to do growing up there. I also enjoy experiencing the new curiosities the area has to offer. In my humble opinion, here are five reasons to add Ridgetown, Ontario to your bucket list.
1) Stock up at Pinnell’s Bakery
This is always my first stop. Pinnell’s Bakery is a staple not only in Ridgetown but also in my parent’s house. Their donuts are to die for! It’s nearly impossible to take home only a dozen, and we often make multiple weekly trips to buy more. These are classic donuts. No crazy toppings or fillings, just chewy, warm, giant bites of heaven.
Pinnell’s is probably best known for its Honey Dipped Donut. We’re talking about a freshly baked, perfectly crispy, warm donut dipped in hot, local honey — delectable. Other must-tries include the apple fritter, sugar twist, Venetian cream-filled, and honestly, any of the donuts you try will be amazing.
Pinnell’s Bakery also offers an assortment of other goodies ranging from baked goods to speciality chocolates. The other Pinnell’s staple we always have in my house is a loaf of freshly baked cherry bread. Pair it with a hot coffee and a donut for the perfect breakfast for those with a sweet tooth!
2) Visit a Park
At Point Pelee National Park, I like to start my day at the Marsh Boardwalk. I love checking out the marshlands, climbing up the observation decks, and trying to find animals. Then I walk (you can take the shuttle) to “The Tip,” which is quite literally where the Canadian mainland ends.
Another interesting sight within the park is the DeLaurier House which was built in the 1850s. Visit the house and its namesake trail to discover the impact human settlement has had on the area. There are also lots of other activities to do in the park like canoeing, trail walking, picnicking, and laying on the beach. The park is designated as a Dark-Sky Preserve, so you can even spend a night gazing at the stars. Point Pelee National Park is about an hour’s drive from Ridgetown.
Rondeau Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s 340 provincial parks. It’s right in our backyard, only a 15-minute drive away. I spent a lot of time in this park growing up. You could find me walking the trails, hitting the many kilometres of beaches with friends, and even working in the park restaurant. Explore the forest, listen to the waves, and head to the Visitor’s Centre to learn more about the area. I have fond memories, like the time a snake slithered over my mom’s foot while she was relaxing on a bench. My mom has never moved faster!
Both Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Provincial Park are on Lake Erie. This is one of the Great Lakes and sometimes on a clear day, you can see across to the U.S..
3) Spend a Kid-Friendly Day in Sarnia
This is easily one of my favourite day trips. Getting to Sarnia from Ridgetown takes about an hour, so it’s doable with children in tow. The first stop is the Seaway Kiwanis Children’s Animal Farm in Canatara Park. This animal farm is free to visit, but it’s run by volunteers so donations are always welcome. Make sure you bring a large bag of fresh fruit and veggies (carrots, apples, etc.) so you can indulge the many animals and have great photo ops! The mini-train that runs outside the animal farm near the playgrounds is always fun for younger kids too.
If you (or your kids) enjoy swimming, Canatara Beach on Lake Huron has blue flag status and is wheelchair and stroller accessible. After a fun-filled morning, grab lunch at Waterfront Park. There are multiple chip trucks to choose from under the Blue Water Bridge that connects Canada and the U.S. Nothing beats fresh cut french fries and a hamburger (or some other form of delicious chip truck food) when you’re hungry! Waterfront Park has a beautiful boardwalk, playgrounds for energetic kids, and even a splash pad for those hot summer days.
Finally, there’s no better way to end a fantastic day than with ice cream. Ice Cream Galore is the place to go for a huge variety of ice cream flavours and other exquisite treats, including homemade waffle cones. My mouth is watering and my mind is racing just thinking about which one I’ll try next!
4) Spend an Adults-Only Day Touring Craft Breweries and Local Vineyards
Quench your thirst at three local breweries all within a 30-minute drive of Ridgetown. Red Barn Brewing is a unique rural experience because the bar is in a giant red barn. They often have food trucks and vendors around, especially during special events and concerts.
Sons of Kent is a well-established local brewery that is constantly pumping out new and interesting beer flavours. It also seems like they are always expanding and they’ve recently added the “Backyard”. This is a dedicated space for concerts and other exciting events.
Bayside Brewing Company is located in Erieau. It’s situated right on Lake Erie. The best part about this brewery is the large terrace. Here, you can sit, relax, and enjoy the summer breeze while tasting the different brews they have to offer.
Lake Erie North Shore Wine Country ranges from 30 minutes to just over an hour away, depending on which vineyards you visit. But speaking from experience, you will want a whole day to visit as many as you can. There are so many amazing, award-winning wines to try.
One of the most well-known wines to come out of the region is Girls’ Night Out from Colio Estate Wines. Elsewhere, one of the most famous local wineries is Pelee Island Winery. They’ve been growing grapes on Canada’s southernmost island for over 40 years and were one of the first wineries to produce ice wine. Viewpointe Estate Winery is known for its stunning view from the patio.
A personal recommendation of mine is Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards. I ended up purchasing two bottles of the Late Harvest Chardonnay Musqué because it was just so good. If you are a huge wine lover or have a few days in the area, the EPIC Wine Tasting Pass gives you access to eight local wineries.
5) Check Out a Local Festival
Throughout spring and summer, there are a lot of local fairs and festivals that completely encompass what being from a small town is all about. One of my favourites is RetroFest. This event started as an antique and classic car parade and has turned into a fun-filled weekend with activities for all ages. During the last weekend in May, downtown Chatham’s streets are lined with retro cars. The park has a full festival going on with rides, games and activities for kids, food trucks, and live concerts.
Ridgetown Teddy Bear Picnic is a classic for me and I was so happy to be home to share this picnic with my daughter. The local Kiwanis Club celebrates a Teddy Bear Picnic the last Saturday in May every year. There’s a parade of dressed-up teddy bears, different contests for kids and their teddies to enter, a free concert for kids with singing and dancing, and general wholesome fun. Here’s a link to the full list of events happening in and around Ridgetown all year long: Events and Festivals in Chatham-Kent.
I’m really happy to be back in my hometown visiting when everything is making its comeback after the brunt of COVID-19. I feel a greater appreciation for what I had growing up now that I can experience it as an adult with my own daughter. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path rural Canadian experience, definitely include Ridgetown in your list of places to visit.