St. Thomas Ontario is a small town with big connections. What looks like a small industrial town on the outskirts of London, actually has a rather distinguished history in linking locations through its ever important railway junction. A junction that at one point had 26 railways running through it. One might even call it, a Canadian connection. These days the town of St. Thomas is connecting Canadians another way, through culture, learning and the arts. I was recently invited to enjoy the St. Thomas Ontario Arts Crawl in South Western Ontario. A weekend where a variety of locations throughout the city open their doors to local artists and the public. Just about every type of art is represented at the St. Thomas Art Crawl, providing an experience you should definitely be adding to your Ontario events calendar.
So Where Exactly is St. Thomas Ontario?
First things first, where is St. Thomas Ontario? This town has a population of around 41,000 people. It is located just 20 minutes south of busy London, making it one of London Ontario’s attractions. If you are ever looking to take a moment to escape the big city, St. Thomas is available for your exploration. It is also located just north of a popular cottage country destination on the shores of Lake Erie. Port Stanley is only a short 2.5 hour drive from Toronto.
Why do they Call it the ‘Railway City’?
St. Thomas is located in a crucial position in Ontario. During the days of railroad prominence, St. Thomas was the hub for multiple railways, including those operating between Detroit and Buffalo in the United States. In the early 1900’s, this small town of 2000 people was seeing over 100 trains roll through their community per day. The business of trains transformed the city into what it is today. When you visit St. Thomas, it is easy to see how trains have influenced the infrastructure of the town. You cannot miss the gorgeous CASO station right downtown, as well as Jumbo the train marking the entrance to St. Thomas. There are train tracks left right and centre, and an overwhelming pride of locomotive history looming in the air. There is no doubt that St. Thomas Ontario is the Railway City.
Finding Culture in Small Town Ontario
It was the St. Thomas Arts Crawl which drew me to check out this little city. There is an erroneous notion that locations which play an industrial roll in Canadian economics, do not possess the culture of a booming metropolis. The St. Thomas Arts Crawl draws talented visual artists, performers, musicians, and dancers from the surrounding areas and integrates them into one first class community run art show. The amount of people who came out to embrace culture and the arts was astounding, their appreciation, inspiring! The Arts Crawl is a perfectly plausible reason to take a road trip from Toronto.
The St. Thomas Ontario Arts Crawl
We began our artful experience at Railway City Tourism where a lovely winter bonfire surrounded by Muskoka chairs complete with blankets and was burning . Here, we ran into the wine maker from Quai Du Vin Estate Winery, 2016’s “graper” of the year. Wine making is definitely an art albeit with a dash of science. After glass of wine by the fire and we were ready to start our Arts Crawl. We peaked inside Railway City Tourism to start our trip. We were pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to visit with a wildflower honey maker as well as to enjoy a unique cookie from a stand which sold paintable cookies. Personally I am a bit of a sugar fanatic so this was off to a great start. Hello food art, my name is Kim.
We left Railway City Tourism, relaxed and sugar’d up. We made our way down the street to the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre where we were amazed by a group of ladies singing popular coffee shop tunes exquisitely. Who would have thought? Inside this gallery, we enjoyed a cup of coffee while checking out the wall sculptures of Patrick Thibet. We took a trip up to the top floor where we were pleased to find an interactive art installation. Are you kidding me? I love instagram and this was perfectly instagrammable. Artist Laura Woermke created a hand drawn black and white mural with matching capes and suits which visitors were encouraged to put on in order to hide within the art. A very thoughtful piece it was.
Our next stop on the Arts Crawl was the Railway Museum. The history of trains is displayed beautifully in this museum. With full sized trains of different styles lining the walls and sweet fairy lights coming down from the ceiling, this venue would peak one’s interest in railway history. If we had more time, I would have instagrammed right there on the spot. We were there for the art however, not the trains, so on to the Art Crawl we continued. Inside the museum, there were a few tables of artists working on their craft. You could observe a gentleman who was carving things out of wood, another who was working with scrap metal, and a woman who was making prints from a paper-like material. It is a privilege to be able to watch artists at work and marvel at their techniques and skill.
We finished our night off with a visit to Rail City Brewing, a popular brewery creating beers sold throughout Ontario. Creating delicious craft beer is definitely an art. For the Arts Crawl, local chef Serge Lavoie set up shop in the brewery. His kitchen produced four delicious pasta dishes for visitors as part of his Bonjour & Yum dining experience. Food art again, yes please! While enjoying brews and noodles at Rail City Brewing, we were serenaded with live music, and surrounded by art! Five different artists displayed their work at the brewery. Rail City Brewing was a great way to top off the night with beers, noodles, music, art, and good vibes. Sounds like one of the best weekend trips in Ontario to me.
The next morning we headed to Streamliners Café to enjoy a little breakfast art. What is breakfast art you say? Well, aside from enjoying the art displays of a few visual artists while we ate our breakfast, we were also lucky to experience a latte art showdown! If there was ever an event I wanted to be part of, this is it. The concept? You order two latte style drinks, and two baristas battle it out to create the best latte art possible. When they come to your table at the same time, it is winner by vote. A fun way to start the day.
Our Next stop might be the most instagrammable location in the city, the CASO Station. The Canada Southern Station in St. Thomas was the largest of 31 railway stations built in Ontario during the 1870’s. This grand station might even remind you of those in New York and Chicago, except this one is in small town Ontario. Big city photographers might consider this for short trips from Toronto. Inside the station, is a museum as well as the North American Railway Hall of Fame. At the Arts Crawl however, it was filled with visual artists. Here we saw acrylic dip art, photography, burlesque dancing, drawing, and even some guitar making. I bumped into an instagram friend and artist, Dennis Kalichuk, whose group of seven inspired works were also on display in the station. What a fun coincidence.
On to the Medlyn Studio down the street. Here we had the opportunity to visit a stained glass workshop and display. Ideal for me, as I come from a family of stained glass artists. She had a super fun selfie wall for guests to enjoy as they visited, and was giving away a stained glass art class opportunity for a deserving individual.
Across the street was the Destination Church. I had a lot of fun here. What is more fun than getting involved in the art of dance, especially salsa? As soon as I opened the door, I knew this exhibit was going to be fun. There was a young Colombian man giving salsa dance lessons in the middle of the room, surrounded by art. You could hop into the dance lesson at any time, or simply explore the art exhibits in the building. There was a guitar maker, a few painters working on fresh pieces, and possibly the coolest artist of the whole Crawl, a 10 year old who invents his own style of art every year.
Another stop was The Nook. This location had pottery artists inside its already cool space. The artist, Dora Foster, was actually sitting in the studio spinning gorgeous clay bowls. I watched her work for a while and still can’t contemplate how she made them so perfectly, so quickly.
Limitless Tattoo was a stop just down the street from the Nook. Most things on the Arts Crawl are within walking distance which is ideal. This location showcased some tattoo art, which was phenomenal. Other artists were painters, including one, Irvin Loewen, who was burning art into wooden skateboard decks. This was clearly where the cool kids hang out.
We then took a break to warm up at Why Not Cookies Café where we enjoyed a warm cup of coffee while being entertained by the sounds of guitarist and singer, N. Bishop MacDonald. There were artists and art exhibits in the café as well, including some who made beautiful jewelry, and one who made natural soaps. After we warmed up to some live music, we headed to our last artful stop of the day.
Laing Studios across the street had a really cool display of miniatures. These miniatures were so detailed that if photographed, you might think they were real places. Sarah Van Pelt, the miniature artist, had her work protected by creative ‘do not touch signs’. This studio also displayed the art of super talented 10 year old, Claira Fletcher, whose work was beyond my adult ability, and owner Grayden Laing who takes his inspiration from dancers and yogi’s on the streets, my kinda work.
We ended our Art Crawl with an incredible meal at Le Cafe Siam, a Thai restaurant in town. Who knew you could get authentic Thai cooking in small town Ontario? Well, Canada is multicultural after all. This food was so delicious. I will be bragging about it for a long time.
Not surprisingly, the 88 different artists being represented at the Railway City Arts Crawl in St. Tomas, Ontario, prove the arts definitely extend beyond the big city. When considering places to visit in Ontario in winter, and winter festivals in Ontario, the Railway City should not be missed, especially during the Arts Crawl. A prime example of a community getting together to stage an event which inspires and showcases creativity in a variety of mediums.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank team at Ontario South West and St. Thomas for hosting me as media for the weekend. All of the opinions are my own.
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