Nicknamed the ‘Maple City’, with its name in Old English meaning a forest settlement. Speaking of England, Chatham itself is named after the Earl of Chatham, as it was built as a naval dockyard much like Chatham in the UK.
Chatham-Kent is also known as the ‘Classic Car Capital of Canada’ thanks to its economic past, which is still apparent today. It is also a city filled with beautiful landscapes, making it a great place for a holiday.
Whether you want to relax on a beach, go hiking in the wilderness, look at classic cars or go shopping, you will be able to do it here. If you are planning a visit to the city, these are the 15 best things to do in Chatham-Kent.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Chatham-Kent:
1. Visit a slave haven
The Buxton National Historic Site and Museum was a godsend to fugitive slaves escaping the USA. In fact, for many, it was the last stop on the Underground Railroad.
Rev. William King established the Elgin Settlement in 1849 on more than 3,600 hectares of land. The land was divided into 20 hectare lots that were then sold to former slaves who had 10 years to pay it off.
In 1967 the settlement was turned into a museum, complete with a schoolhouse, a log cabin and a barn. The main building displays exhibits about the history and the community that made up the settlement.
2. Spend the day at a park
Relax on a beach, go for a hike, catch fish or enjoy bird watching at the Rondeau Provincial Park. The park is the second oldest provincial park in Ontario and a great place to spend a day.
Rondeau Provincial Park is home to the largest area of Carolinian forest in Canada, which can be admired by walking along one its marked trails. There is also a trail through Pine-Oak Savanna, extensive marsh and along the edge of Lake Erie.
Rondeau Provincial Park also happens to be a premier bird watching destination, being home to 334 species of birds, including the endangered Prothonotary Warbler. You can also go boating, canoeing, fishing and swimming in the park.
3. Wander around an open-air museum
Like the Buxton National Historic Site, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site was also a safe haven for fugitive slaves that escaped the USA. Now a museum, it focuses on African American history.
The museum sits on 2 hectares of land, though the original settlement was built on 80 hectares. One of the biggest attractions in the museum is the home of former slave, author, minister and abolitionist Josiah Henson.
Other things in the historic site include the Underground Railroad Freedom Gallery, the Henson Family Cemetery and Harris House. There is also an interpretive centre with books and artefacts related to the life of Henson.
4. Go to the theatre
The Chatham Capitol Theatre is a 1,210 seat theatre that offers world-class entertainment. The theatre first opened its doors in 1930, and at the time it was the largest theatre in the region.
Today, the former not-for-profit theatre is run by St. Clair College and hosts a plethora of different spectacular shows. Visit the theatre’s website to see what is on while you are in the city.
Both live performances and cinemas are held at the theatre, some of which are especially appealing to families. The art deco theatre also boasts three lovely lounges.
5. Learn more about the city
If you are interested in the history and culture of Chatham-Kent, head to the Chatham-Kent Museum. The museum focuses on the history of the region.
There are numerous artefacts on display, including art and scientific specimens. It also features an archival collection and research area.
One of the biggest draws of the museum are the artefacts from the War of 1812. These, together with the Gray Dort automobile and world famous Sulman Mummy have helped put the Chatham-Kent Museum on the map.
6. Stare at classic cars
Chatham-Kent must stand up to its nickname the ‘Classic Car Capital of Canada’, and it does by holding the Blenheim Classic Car Show. The free show takes place annually in June.
The classic car show features cars that are older than 1988 and are completely unmodified. There are over 150 cars in the show, including a Firebird, Camaro and Fireball 8, amongst others.
The show is held in Downtown Blenheim, which is a district within the city. After staring at the classic cars there are plenty of places to eat and shop in the area.
7. Admire local art
The Thames Art Gallery promotes local artists, with its collection being made up predominantly of work by local artists. Visit the gallery and admire local art.
There are around 500 pieces in its permanent collection that consists of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography and installations. The gallery also hosts around 12 special exhibitions each year showcasing regional, national and international artists.
If you are interesting in taking an art class, the Thames Art Gallery offers classes at their adjoining ARTspace. This is a community setup that helps to promote and works with local artists.
8. Be awed by architecture
The place to do this is the Ridge House Museum, which is housed in a Gothic Revival home. The house was built in 1875 for Mr. and Mrs George Mulholland.
The house represents what a middle-class home looked like, what with its gable window, front and side porch, and clapboard siding. The home has been open to the public since 1975.
Ridge House Museum has been restored to keep its Victorian roots. This can be seen through the period furnishings and accessories displayed inside the home.
9. Have fun at the beach
There is a beach right in Chatham-Kent in the community of Mitchell’s Bay. This small community sits along the shore of Lake St. Clair, with its biggest draw being its beach.
The beautiful beach has warm shallow water that is perfect for kite surfing and windsurfing. It is also a great place to go swimming with kids.
If yachting is more you thing, there are two yacht clubs just outside of the city in Lakeshore. The town is also home to the Thames River Lighthouse and the Lakeview Park West Beach.
10. Cruise along the coast
Cruise along Lake Erie on a motorcycle, taking in all of the magnificent scenery. This route is not only beautiful, but will also take you to some of the area’s most unique landmarks.
The Cruise the Coast motorcycle route takes you along the lake’s shoreline from the American border to Lowbanks. Places to see along the way include the Crazy 8 Barn, Knights Beach and the World’s Biggest Mudcat Attraction.
This is not a long ride, though there are plenty of places to stay on route. There are also places to stop and grab a bite to eat.
11. Play a round
There are eight golf courses in and around Chatham-Kent that will make any golfer pleased. Courses range from public to semi-public and have varying degrees of challenges.
There are 9-, 18- and 27-hole courses, as well as driving ranges for those that just want to practice their swing. The courses feature water hazards, bunkers, sand traps and rolling fairways, challenging any avid golfer.
Ridgetown Golf and Curling Club is the most established in the area, dating back to 1923. Other great courses to try include the Links Of Kent Golf Club, Talbot Trail Golf Club and Deer Run Golf Course.
12. Shop till you drop
There are 23 communities in Chatham-Kent, all of which offer some pretty unique shopping experiences. If you want to, the city is not a hard place to spend your money.
Historic Downtown Chatham is home to artesian shops as well as chocolatiers and galleries. If you are a fashionista, head to Downtown Blenheim.
Ridgetown features specialty shops that are housed in lovely Victorian era buildings, while Tilbury is the best place to shop for antiques. In fact, Tilbury is home to southwestern Ontario’s largest antique mall.
13. Enjoy a festival
Chatham-Kent is not shy to hold annuals festivals and events, and there are plenty of them. Whether you are interested in food, the arts, music or cars, there is a festival that will suit you.
Blenheim Cherry Fest is a must, featuring midway games, rides and live entertainment, as well as a cherry pit spitting contest. Another great event for foodies is the 3-day Chatham Kent Ribfest And Expo.
The annual Wheatley Fish Festival celebrates the importance of the fishing industry, while RetroFest features classic cars and music. Other interesting festivals include the Ridgetown Festival of Porches & Verandahs and the Boot Hill Country Jamboree.
14. Get pampered
If you are in the city and really want to de-stress and get pampered, spend time in one of its day spas. Truly indulge yourself and relax for a few hours while getting a massage and other treatments.
Packages range from 2 to 6.5 hours of pure bliss. Get a pedicure, manicure, facial or body treatment, or opt to get the whole package.
Some day spas also offer a healthy lunch or a snack, which is a great compliment to an already rejuvenating day. Regardless, you should try to make an appointment in advance.
15. Visit a vineyard
Spend a lovely afternoon tasting wine at the family-run Early Acres Estate Winery. The award-winning winery is located right in Chatham-Kent.
Take a tour of the winery and even get your photo taken within the stunning grounds. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch, as you are able to enjoy it right on the grounds and can pair it with a glass or a bottle of their wine.
Early Acres Estate Winery has both whites and reds in a variety grapes, including Riesling, Vidal, Pinot noir and Baco Noir. It even produces fruit wines.