One morning, I awoke with a great sense of excitement and energy. The reason was obvious – visions of a day trip out of the city, taking all the scenic backroads, were dancing through my head. I planned to walk through the Historic Village of Sparta, take in some great local shopping opportunities, and enjoy a hearty lunch, freshly prepared.
The drive from my hometown of Kitchener, in the Region of Waterloo, was not far. My little Hyundai Accent flew by roads of vibrant green farm fields and trees swaying gently in the wind. Within 45 to 60 minutes, I was pulling into the town of Sparta. I felt like I was stepping away from the busy, crowded, angry, and impatient world of the relatively ‘big city’ that I hail from and emerging into a more welcoming place.
The Village of Sparta began in 1813 when Jonathan Doan fled from the United States to escape persecution during the tumultuous American Revolution period (Historic Village of Sparta). A Quaker (Religious Society of Friends), Johnathan Doan refused to take sides in this conflict and sought peace by purchasing increasingly larger plots of land from James Baby (Sparta Walking Tour). Although Sparta prospered for many years, economic focus shifted to St. Thomas in the 1870’s with the construction of two major railways (Sparta Walking Tour).
Ample free visitor parking is available in Sparta. There is a little parking lot which connects to the main street, Sparta Line. Where Sparta Line crosses Quaker Road, the visitor can stand in the beating heart of this community. It is a spot where signs are placed to raise awareness of upcoming events, and major highlights of the town can be seen.
You can see two of the installments of the Southwest Ontario Barn Quilt Trails at this intersection. These murals are part of a historical tour spearheaded by the Elgin, Oxford, Norfolk Association of Museum Curators and Directors; each mural is a colourful, decorative representation of historical points of interest (Southwest Ontario Barn Quilt Trails).
One of these installments is on the side of Morgan Nina’s Gifts and Crafts store along Sparta Line. It’s a collection of four panels showcasing two interlocking red and white patterns, representing the ‘Drunkard’s Path’. The quilt showcases the struggle with drinking which shook Sparta to its core in the late 1800s, a problem resolved only through lifting the license from the last remaining bar in town (and a drunken mob facing down a shotgun).
Walking through Sparta brings you back in touch with all the engaging features of this small town’s historical past. You can follow along the Sparta Walking Tour, which is available online here, in paper format at most of the shops in the village, and in beautiful signs in front of most of the buildings. Rather than destroying or ignoring their heritage, the residents of Sparta are thriving with its remembered influence.
This has attracted artists to the town, and visitors are welcomed into these studios to browse the amazing painting, sculptures, prints, and more which are available for purchase. There is the Peter Robson Studios, where beautiful and moving paintings of the Canadian landscape have gained regional and international attention, to Julia Hansford’s Sparta Studio, which has a fun, creative atmosphere and recently opened.
As you head to the Sparta House Tea Room and Restaurant for a traditional Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding lunch, you might meet the village cat. While walking through the town during my visit, I recalled meeting a friendly and relaxed cat with a white chest. Lo and behold, that same cat was still sitting curled up on the front porch of an attractive single-story house on which a sign encouraged visitors to ‘Cherish Family’. I enjoyed greeting the cat and spending some time scratching his belly.
If you feel like doing some shopping after your lunch in Sparta, you can walk a short distance over to Anything Used & Sparta Candles. This huge store offers a wide range of merchandise, and first-time visitors are given a special welcoming gift of a complimentary candle sample to take home with them. I was impressed by the knowledgeable and friendly staff members throughout the store, and spent a significant amount of time wandering through the many large, themed rooms on the two floors of this building.
Although candles are not needed for our daily lives in the modern age, they are still widely used to enhance celebrations, heighten the senses during times of romance or joy, or adding extra solemnity to ceremonial events like birthdays. This makes it well worth the time spent sniffing all of the different candle scents available!
For both veteran and first-time visitors to small Ontario towns, Sparta is an excellent destination choice. I woke up on the day of my trip to Sparta filled with energy because I knew that my experience would be personalized with local character and leave me with great memories.
Here are a few reasons you might consider visiting Sparta, in its quiet country setting, rather than a big city:
- Walking through a busy city will make you feel tired, drained, and perhaps paranoid about your personal safety.
- Walking through a small Southwestern Ontario town will make you feel engaged, hopeful, and curious about what it would be like to live in that area.
- Visiting a shop in the big city will make your bank account smaller, and your spending anxiety will go up.
- Taking the time to browse through a small town shop will give you time to interact with the owner of the establishment, and you’ll leave with good-quality products that don’t hurt your wallet.
- Going to a restaurant in a big city will force you to look out windows onto parking lots and pavement, with food that’s hurriedly prepared and served.
- Eating at a restaurant in a small town will give you the opportunity to look out windows fronting onto forests and fields. The food will have connections to local farmers and the people who worked hard to grow it.
See also the infographic below for a fun visual representation of these three reasons!
I can promise you that you will go home with great memories of the incredible local people and history of Sparta, Ontario! Start planning your visit today on their home website: http://www.villageofsparta.com/about.