Have you heard of Tillsonburg, Ontario? How about Otterville? While I admit that I knew that the town of Tillsonburg existed, I really didn’t know much about it. And Otterville? Never heard of it! It just goes to show that there are so many wonderful places to visit in Ontario that might not be too far from home. I’m going to show you how to explore these little towns in Southwest Ontario for one memorable day.
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I suggest that you combine this road trip itinerary with a visit to Woodstock, Ontario. You can spread out these activities, as well as the ones in Woodstock, across a couple of days. I visited these fascinating places in Oxford County over two nights/three days including the drive down from Toronto. This southern Ontario getaway is an excellent way to spend a weekend or a long weekend in Ontario.
Things to Do in Otterville Ontario
Otterville is a historic village between Woodstock and Tillsonburg, Ontario, built around the Otter River. There are a surprising number of things to see and do considering the small size of the village, including interesting natural features and historic sites.
Paddle on the Otter River and Mill Pond
I wouldn’t know anything about Otterville if it weren’t for Jamie at Grand Experiences. Along with another guide, we spent the morning together exploring Otterville, both on land and water. After learning about the history of Otterville and visiting a few key sites, we launched the kayaks and canoes into the water. The water levels were a little too low to kayak on the Otter River (and there were some blockages), so we meandered around the picturesque Mill Pond.
The pond was perfectly still with very little wind, making for some really pretty reflections of the trees and sky on the surface of the water. I never knew what to expect around each bend. Sometimes there were vast, open spaces. Other times, there was a heron, a white egret, or a colorful bird that we couldn’t seem to identify. We even witnessed a bald eagle flying overhead at one point! There was also an element of adventure as we navigated across fallen logs and low hanging branches.
Grand Experiences hosts paddling and cycling tours all over southern Ontario, including two UNESCO World Biospheres (Niagara Escarpment and Long Point), paddling on several rivers (Grand River, Nith River, Otter River, Big Creek, and Long Point Bay), and many other day and multi-day experiences. Whether you’re in Oxford County or beyond, be sure to plan your outdoor adventures with Grand Experiences as I had an amazing time.
Learn About the History of Otterville
If you’re a history buff, you won’t want to miss a trip to Otterville. In the tiny village of Otterville, there are a whopping eight historic sites and monuments. It’s best to visit the village with an experienced guide. If I hadn’t toured around with Jamie of Grand Experiences, I wouldn’t have known that any of these places existed. Furthermore, I’d never know the stories behind any of them.
The village of Otterville was established in 1807. As early as 1829, the local Quaker population created a safe settlement and community for free Black people and escaped slaves from the USA. Today, you can visit the African Methodist Episcopal Cemetery that served the Black community, one of the only remaining Black pioneer burial grounds in Ontario.
The Otterville Mill, dating to 1845, is one of the oldest continuously operating wheel powered mills in the province. It was once a grist and flour mill that contributed greatly to the livelihood of the village. It’s possible to take a tour of the mill upon request, and there’s an annual barbecue each year on the grounds. This red wooden building is a focal point of the village, and it shouldn’t be missed.
The Grand Trunk Railway Station is a fully restored station from 1875, made to appear as it did in its heyday in 1881. The outdoor signage is completely authentic, as is the indoor waiting room. There are permanent displays and interpretative signs featuring artifacts, details about the village’s Quaker history, and information about the town’s role in The Underground Railroad.
Other historic sites around Otterville include the Otterville Park, the 1861 Octagonal Cottage, the Otter Creek Bridge (steel pony truss bridge from 1900).
Explore the Village of Otterville
I highly recommend taking a stroll down the main street of Otterville. You can’t miss visiting the Otterville Dam, one of the prettiest views in town. Market By the Falls is a general store with a huge amount of groceries and fresh foods. They have a large variety of Dutch items if you’re seeking a tasty treat imported straight from the Netherlands. Stop by Market By the Falls for a coffee, which is the best coffee I’ve ever had from a convenience store!
If you’re thinking about spending the night in Otterville, you can stay at the cutest little spot in town: R Wee Inn. It’s a Scandinavian style flat with a king bedroom, a spacious living and dining area, and a bunk bed (the rental sleeps up to four people). There’s also a kitchen, an indoor fireplace, free parking, complimentary Wi-Fi, and so many more amenities. Book your stay at R Wee Inn for a delightful and dreamy village getaway.
Things to Do in Tillsonburg Ontario
After visiting Otterville, I continued on to Tillsonburg where I participated in some outdoor activities, dined, and spent the night. Here are the best things to do and see in Tillsonburg, as well as where to eat and stay.
Cut Your Own Flowers at Makkink’s Flower Farm
Makkink’s Flower Farm is one of the most magical places in Tillsonburg, Ontario. It’s a small family owned and operated farm by the Makkink family, who moved here from the Netherlands over 10 years ago. I met and spent some time with the lovely owner, Hilde Makkink, and I could really sense her joy in owning this beautiful farm.
Rows of bright blooms greet visitors at every turn. There are over 35 varieties of flowers at the farm, blooming at various times throughout the year. I wandered between the patches of cheery dahlias, zinnias, and snapdragons in every color of the rainbow. There’s also a huge sunflower field, too.
Cutting your own flowers at Makkink’s Flower Farm is one of the best things to do in Tillsonburg. Armed with a pair of cutters and a metal bucket, I took a stroll around the fields. I really had no idea what I was doing, but Hilde provided some quick and easy instructions. There are also instructions in front of each variety of flower, so you know how to cut them properly. The toughest part was choosing which flowers to cut for my bouquet because they were all so pretty. After cutting my flowers of choice, Hilde arranged them into a gorgeous bouquet for me.
On your visit to cut your own flowers, you can spend as much time in the flower fields as you’d like. Hilde encourages visitors to bring their cameras and smartphones, and you’re welcome to do photo shoots among the flowers. Not only can you bring home a stunning bouquet of flowers, but you’ll likely end up with at least a photo or two for your Instagram! The whole experience costs $25, which includes cutting your own flowers, spending time in the flower fields, and bringing a bright bouquet home with you.
If you’re planning to visit, be sure to book your time slot on their website in advance. It’s a popular experience in the area, and it does sell out. You can cut your own flowers from July through to the end of September. They also offer workshops for flower arranging, growing succulents, and Christmas arrangements around the holidays. You can also find the Makkink family at the Tillsonburg Farmers Market every Saturday.
Outdoor Yoga at Indigo Lounge
Indigo Lounge is an organic cafe and wellness center in Tillsonburg, Ontario. I attended one of their Yoga on the Lawn classes, which is the perfect way to start the day. Bring your own yoga mat and water bottle, and you’re all set! You’ll be able to attend a yoga class, led by a professional yoga instructor. The lawn is right outside the cafe in a peaceful, outdoor environment, beneath a giant tree.
I really enjoyed my morning yoga flow class. The sun was shining brightly overhead, but the breeze and the shady tree kept my body cool. If you love yoga or you’d like to try it for the first time, don’t hesitate to attend one of Indigo Lounge’s classes. It’s an exhilarating experience that will leave you feeling balanced and energized for the rest of the day.
Stroll Through the Participark
Tillsonburg has a variety of walking trails throughout town, plus links to the Trans Canada Trail (also known as The Great Trail). The Kinsmen Participark is one of the best places to go for a walk. It’s a 1.2km trail that follows Stoney Creek. There’s plenty of natural flora and fauna, and it’s even possible to see fish spawning in the spring.
The Participark is also an excellent place to have a picnic lunch. There’s lots of wide open green space to spread out a picnic blanket. Enjoy a packed lunch with your friends and family, and then go for a little walk in the park once you’re done.
Where to Dine in Tillsonburg Ontario
There are lots of great restaurants in Tillsonburg, Ontario. As I follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, I discovered two establishments that stood out for their variety of plant-based meals.
D’Lish Kitchen Cafe
D’Lish Kitchen Cafe has a little something for everyone, including the veggie folks in the crowd like myself. While it isn’t a strictly veggie restaurant, there are also gluten-free and vegetarian options, too. Many of the bowls are vegan or vegan-friendly, as well as the falafel wrap, salads, soups, and fries. If you’re not sure, just ask the friendly staff members. They’ll be able to point out exactly which items are vegan or can be prepared vegan.
I chose the Naked Burrito Bowl without cheese or sour cream, making it totally vegan. I really love how the rice and veggies were topped with these mini empanadas filled with refried beans. It’s really innovative to have these small dumplings on top of the burrito bowl toppings, and everything tasted great!
Indigo Lounge is an organic eatery with many vegan options on the menu. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many vegan meals, from appetizers to desserts. All of the vegan options are clearly marked, as are the vegetarian and gluten-free offerings.
I started with a kale Caesar salad that comes topped with roasted chickpeas. Then, I had the rice vermicelli dish that included rice noodles, sauteed organic veggies, and a homemade sesame soy sauce. It was a hot day outside, so my glass of pink lemonade really hit the spot!
Where to Stay in Tillsonburg Ontario
When I visited Tillsonburg, I stayed at the historic Seven Gables B&B. Not only is Seven Gables a stunning place to call home, it has a really interesting history. This Edwardian style home was built in 1904 by EV Tillson, the grandson of Tillsonburg’s founder, George Tillson. The current owners, Ed and Maureen McLaughlin renovated and preserved many aspects of the home, maintaining this living piece of history in Tillsonburg. They’ve retained the home’s classic features while upgrading and adding modern elements for a comfortable stay.
I was warmly greeted and hosted by innkeeper, Les. While I had access to my own room and bathroom during my stay, Les invited me to make myself at home. The entire first floor of the home is open to guests throughout their stay, such as the family room and the parlor room. There’s also an incredibly charming front patio where you can relax, mingle, or simply read a book in a serene environment.
I spent the night in the Innkeeper Suite, which has a king bed, a large flatscreen TV with cable and streaming services, and complimentary Wi-Fi. The bathroom is very spacious with a separate bathtub and large shower.
In the morning, Les prepared a wonderful breakfast, and he can accommodate any special dietary requests. For my vegan breakfast, I enjoyed a bowl of fresh fruit, slices of watermelon, and toast with homemade jam. I highly recommend staying at Seven Gables, as I’m sure you’ll fall in love with this home as much as I did.
More Things to Do in Southwest Ontario
Ontario’s Southwest is a treasure trove of amazing cities and epic small towns that you’ll love. Here are some ideas for how to explore Southwest Ontario:
- Fun things to do in London, Ontario
- An eco-friendly guide to Windsor, Ontario
- 10 reasons to visit Ontario’s Blue Coast
- Pinery Provincial Park and Grand Bend