The Lake Erie Shore in Ontario includes Elgin County, the city of St. Thomas, Norfolk County, Haldimand County, and Brant County. It is a largely rural part of the province, with a strong summer tourism sector in towns and villages strewn along the lakeshore.
- 1 St. Thomas — where the famous elephant, Jumbo, died in 1885, it has a couple of sites of interest to railway fans.
- 2 Aylmer — a centre for Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities, and for tens of thousands of Tundra Swans who stop over in the late winter
- 3 Bayham, which includes Corinth, Eden, Froggetts Corners, North Hall, 4 Port Burwell, Richmond, Springer's Hill, Straffordville, Vienna and Wadger
- 5 Port Stanley — it has a beach, lighthouse, summer theatre, and water gardens
- 6 Delhi — known as the "Heart of Tobacco Country"
- 7 Port Dover — the big draw is its beach, where palm trees thrive in summer, and the cordial gatherings of gentlemen (and ladies) who are aficionados of the motorcycle that takes place every Friday the 13th
- 8 Port Rowan — officially named the birdhouse capital of Canada
- 9 Simcoe — the largest community of Norfolk County
- 10 Waterford — an agricultural community, where tomatoes, tobacco and corn are the chief crops
including Caledonia, Dunnville, Hagersville, Jarvis and Cayuga
- 1 Long Point — a sand spit on the north shore of Lake Erie, about 40 km long and about a kilometre across at its widest point
- 2 Turkey Point Provincial Park — great beach in the village of Turkey Point: shallow, buoyed swimming, great for kids
The region has the most fertile land in Ontario. With a mild climate and lengthy growing season, the region has long been the centre of the Ontario tobacco belt. However, many farmers have begun diversifying their crops to include fruits and vegetables, lavender, ginseng, hazelnuts, and wolfberries as tobacco consumption continues to decline.
A significant natural feature is Long Point. It plays an important part in eastern North American bird migration, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1986. More than 25% of Norfolk County is considered to be forested; especially near the major communities and hamlets that dot the county.
- Elgin County — population of 50,000 (2016)
- St. Thomas — population of 39,000 (2016)
- Norfolk County — population of 64,000 (2016)
- Haldimand County — population of 46,000 (2016)
- Brant County
By 1669, Europeans had reached what is now Port Dover, the French explorers De Galinee and Dollier de Casson. They erected a cross with the arms of France claiming sovereignty for King Louis XIV over the Lake Erie region in 1670.
The first European to live in the area, with the Neutral First Nations people, was William (Billy) Smith. He settled near the current Port Rowan in 1793. This was in the first community, the Long Point Settlement (near what is now Port Rowan), where mills were built by United Empire Loyalist settlers. In the subsequent years, sawmills and grist mills were opened and the population increased.
The county had an important role during the War of 1812. Fort Norfolk was built in 1813 with accommodation for 300 troops. The Battle of Nanticoke, against American troops, was an important event in 1813. In August 1812, Major General Isaac Brock gathered a force of about regulars and militia at Port Dover. Using boats on the lake, they reached Amherstburg (also in Upper Canada) and then attacked and captured the American Hull's Army at Detroit. The American forces later burned Port Dover. The Americans forces also burnt Port Dover, Port Ryerse and the Walsingham settlement in 1814.
Because the Norfolk County county was heavily forested, logging became a major industry between 1860 and 1880. Agriculture was even more important however, with wheat being the primary crop until 1880 and then corn and oats. By the early 1900s, orchards and canning crops were more typical. A major switch to tobacco began in 1920.
By the 1920s tourism was an important contributor to the economy. Summer resorts in Port Dover, Port Ryerse, Normandale, Fisher's Glen, Turkey Point and Port Rowan were attracting many summer visitors. However, Norfolk was primarily agricultural with fruit and vegetables the primary crops. There were a few factories too, in Port Dover and Waterford, while Port Dover was a major fishing centre, with fish shipped within Canada but to the U.S.
Toronto Pearson International Airport is the nearest major airport. It has connections across Canada, the United States, and Europe, and some flights to Latin America and Asia. Hamilton and London (Ontario) have smaller airports with mostly regional flights.
By car, the fastest access is through Brantford, which is on Highway 403 at Highway 24, 90 minutes from Toronto, 45 minutes from downtown Hamilton, accessible by several major roads. From the west, Highway 403 comes from Woodstock.
Ride Norfolk operates bus service with a daily Simcoe route and daily Brantford route. All buses are accessible and are bike and service animal friendly. There is no Saturday, Sunday, Statutory Holiday or Civic Holiday service.
Daily service (M-F 7:45AM-6:30PM year round):
- Monday – Simcoe, Brantford, Delhi, Windham Centre, Waterford
- Tuesday – Simcoe, Brantford, Walsh, St. Williams, Port Rowan
- Wednesday – Simcoe, Brantford, Delhi, Courtland, Tillsonburg, Langton, Greens Corner, Bill’s Corner
- Thursday – Simcoe, Brantford, Delhi, Bill’s Corner, Port Dover
- Friday – Simcoe, Brantford, Port Dover, Port Ryerse, Turkey Point, Vittoria
The fare is $10 for trips from Brantford. For trips within the county, the fare is $6 for an adult, $4 for a senior (55+) or student (6-18 with school ID). In-town trips are $2.50 adult, $2 senior/student. A day pass provides unlimited trips within the county. Children ages 5 and under ride free. Fares as of June 2020. Exact cash fare is required. Bus drivers do not carry change. Tickets can be purchased for cash only at any Norfolk County Public Library.
A total solar eclipse on Monday 8 April 2024 crosses this area from 3:16PM local time. The track of totality is northeast from Mexico and Texas to Ohio, straddling the Canada–New England border through Lakes Erie and Ontario, then across Maine, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
The region's primary tourist attractions are the ports, towns and villages along Lake Erie, including Port Dover, Port Stanley, Turkey Point and Long Point.
Lighthouse Festival Theatre produces live theatre at Port Dover's old town hall (under the clock tower), and stages a variety of events, including concerts, public meetings, community fund raisers, dance recitals, workshops, band rehearsals and classes. The Port Stanley Festival Theatre has good summer theatre too.
Wilsonville’s Whistling Gardens, in the northeast Norfolk County, is a publicly accessible botanical garden and one of the few that are privately run in Canada. The Moore Water Gardens, in Port Stanley, specializes in waterlilies and aquatic plants.
The Port Dover Harbour Museum thevtown's commercial fishing industry, Lake Erie shipwrecks, ship building, Long Point, the War of 1812 and other aspects of lakeside life in this community. The Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum, in "the Pickle Factory", exhibits the social, industrial, and agricultural history of the area through the use of interactive and engaging exhibits.
The Eva Brook Donly Museum is a Victorian-period historic house museum in downtown Simcoe that features displays of local history. The museum also has an extensive archival collection of local genealogical historical material. The Teeterville Pioneer Museum is a museum devoted to pioneer life in the 19th century. It includes antique farm equipment, and home and garden tools.
The Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre displays the artistry and science of tobacco farming during the Golden Years of growing tobacco. The Backus Mill Heritage and Conservation Centre, an open-air museum featuring a historic grist mill and a nature center, is a National Historic Site.
Housed in the Lynnwood National Historic Site, the Norfolk Arts Centre is Norfolk County’s public art gallery. The Norfolk Arts Centre has regularly changing exhibits featuring local and regional artists, diverse arts programs and special events.
In St. Thomas, the Elgin County Railway Museum and the Canada Southern Railway Station and North America Railway Hall of Fame make interesting stops for those interested in railway history.
On a hot summer's day, go the beach, haven an ice cream in the beach town, visit the lighthouse, then find a waterside restaurant or bar for the evening. Port Dover, Port Stanley and Port Burwell (in Bayham) are great choices for this.
Fishing, birding, hiking, camping and cycling are popular activities in the county.
Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show is Canada's largest county fair, and has been running since 1840. It is held every Thanksgiving weekend (mid-October) in Simcoe. In addition to traditional agricultural and arts competitions it features major Grandstand shows that include Demo Derbys, Monster Trucks, Tractor Pulls and concerts.
Other festivals in the county include the Waterford Pumpkin Festival in October, the Friday the 13th motorcycle rally at Port Dover, and the Simcoe Christmas Panorama in December. The Donnybrook Fair in Walsh is an annual two-day event that has been running since 1857.
Ride the Port Stanley Terminal Rail, which provides excursion service June to October, with special trips in Apr May Nov Dec. This heritage railway runs between St. Thomas and Port Stanley.
Agri-tourism is another expanding attraction for tourists coming to Norfolk County, with a few wineries in development and numerous farmgate retailers.
Norfolk County is also known for its attraction to boaters and fishers. Turkey Point has the largest freshwater marina in Canada.