Discover the historic town of St. Marys by taking your own self-guided walking tour. The town of St Marys is like an open-air museum chock-full of a surprisingly rich Canadian history. There are so many things to do in this pretty town. It is full of wide-open green spaces and bridges spanning calm waters. Stroll the downtown lined with shops in the historic limestone buildings. And, wander a bit beyond to gaze upon the lovingly restored century-old homes. (Updated: November 2022)
The small town of St Marys is located in Perth County at the junction of the Thames River and Trout Creek in southwestern Ontario. St Marys to Toronto is just under 2 hours which means it makes for a great day trip. Here are the top things to do when in St. Marys Ontario.
Top Things to Do in St. Marys
TAKE A HISTORICAL WALKING TOUR
What makes St. Marys unique from other small towns in Ontario is its interesting Canadian history. The best way to see some of these historical sites is to take a self-guided walking tour, like the one I’ve created for you. It starts at the town’s border and beacon – the St. Marys Water Tower.
St. Marys Water Tower
Location: corner of Queen and James Streets | Built in 1899
The St. Marys water tower is made entirely of local limestone and is considered one of the best examples of industrial architecture constructed during the turn of the century in southwestern Ontario. It greets you as you enter the town.
St. Marys Station
Location: 5 James Street N | A 1-minute walk from Water Tower | Built in 1907
The St. Marys Station, built in 1907, is made of glazed brownish stone known as Logan Brick. This station is designated as a National Heritage building. Today, it’s been restored and serves as an art gallery with rotating exhibits.
On the opposite of town sits the Grand Trunk Railway from 1858. The Grand Trunk Railway, built entirely of limestone, was the town’s first station. It is considered the best preserved original GTR station in Ontario, and as such, is a National Historic Site. Today, it houses a craft brewery called the Broken Rail Brewer.
Fun Fact | Did you know that St. Marys nickname is “The Stonetown,” due to the abundance of limestone in the surrounding area, giving rise to a large number of limestone buildings and homes throughout the town
St Marys Town Hall
Location: 175 Queen Street E | A 5-minute walk from St. Marys Station | Built in 1891
The Romanesque Revival style architecture was built of local limestone with red sandstone as the contrasting elements for window arches and checkerboard effects in the façade. Its towering height makes it an important part of the town’s skyline.
Location: 15 Church Street | A 1-minute walk from Town Hall | Built in 1904
The local limestone building was made possible due to a $10,000 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish American, was a very important industrialist and philanthropist in the 19th century and became one of the richest Americans in history.
The four-arched bridge spanning the Thames River is impressive. It serves as the backdrop to incredibly scenic Little Falls. An area where there are several very tiny waterfalls over the local limestone. It’s a pretty sight, especially seeing the abundance of lily pads floating on top of the calm waters.
Location: Queen Street across the Thames River | A 5-minute walk from Public Library | Built in 1865
Fun Fact | Did you know that Arthur Meighen, Canada’s 9th Prime Minister is buried in St. Marys Cemetery
St. Marys Museum
Location: 177 Church Street South| 10-minute walk from the Victoria Bridge | Built in 1854
The former residence of George Tracy, one of the earlier settlers of St. Marys. The Georgian architecture with its smooth large blocks of limestone looks especially grand as it sits in a prominent location atop of a hill. Visit here to learn all about the history of this town through its archives, historical photos and stories.
James Carter House
Location: 67 Peel Street South | A 5-minute walk from St. Marys Museum | Built in 1883
The James Carter House is one of four mansions built by local businessman George Carter. By 1868, George Carter had acquired the town block encircled by Jones, Peel, Elgin and King Streets with intentions to build several homes for his family on this land.
His other homes can be found at 224 Jones Street East (1869), 217 Jones Street East (1875); and 236 Jones Street East (1881). The James Carter house is the most advanced and stately building of its time in St. Marys.
End of Your Self-Guided Walking Tour
Walk along Peel Street for 3 minutes to Queen Street and you are back downtown.
STROLL THE CHARMING DOWNTOWN
A walk through the historic streets of St. Marys, Ontario offers a first-hand look at the stunning limestone architecture and vibrant downtown core. Take a stroll along Queen Street, St. Marys downtown, full of cute specialty shops and cafés. Some of my favourite shops to visit are The Chocolate Factory, Millie’s Kitchen, The Floor Mill and Bungalow.
Fun Fact | Did you know that Timothy Eaton, of the Eaton’s department store fame, opened his first retail business here and in the nearby village of Kirkton
SHOP AT THE FARMERS MARKET
One of my favourite things to do on a Saturday morning is going to a Farmers Market. If I’m day tripping, I skip my hometown and head to the local one of the places I’m visiting. St. Marys is definitely a fun one to visit. First, it’s set up in the most idyllic setting by the Thames River in The Flats, or Milt Dunnell Field. And, it not only features your typical farming produce and baked goods, but also some cute lifestyle vendors and even someone from St. Marys Museum.
VISIT THE CANADIAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
If you are a baseball fan you’ll want to visit the museum dedicated to preserving Canada’s baseball heritage dating back to 1838. The museum was moved from Toronto to St. Marys in the late 1990s. Why St. Marys you might be wondering? Apparently, the first recorded game of baseball in North America took place in Beachville, not far from St. Marys on June 4, 1838. The game appeared in Sporting Life magazine and was written by St. Marys native Adam Ford, who was the town’s mayor and doctor.
HIT THE TRAILS
Enjoy the more than 25 km of trails perfect for walking, running and biking. The most popular ones follow the Thames River and Grand Trunk trail of the old railway. Check out the trail map and explore one for your next visit.
SWIM AT THE QUARRY
Be sure to visit Canada’s largest outdoor freshwater swimming pool. The St Marys quarry dates back to the mid-1800s, when the former limestone quarry closed in the 1920s it was converted into a public swimming area. It includes cliff jumping, SUP boarding, and beach volleyball.
PADDLE DOWN THE THAMES RIVER
Explore the 5 km of paddling routes on the Thames River and Trout Creek waterways. St. Marys offers a free kayak loan program through Yak Shack, reservations are a must, making it accessible for anyone to enjoy.
Other Small Towns in Ontario Worthy of a Visit
If you love exploring charming small towns as much as I do, check out these before you go to help plan your visit.
As a holidaymaker…
As the slogan reads on its water tower, “St. Marys, The Town Worth Living In”, offers locals and tourists alike a lot of interesting history as well as things to do. But what makes St. Marys an extra special small town is its people. The locals are extremely welcoming and friendly. They are the heart of this charming small town and the reason why I like to return over and over again.