Pull into the town Unionville during the holidays and you might feel like you’ve arrived on the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie. In fact, the historic center is so suited to the screen that many productions, including “Gilmore Girls” and “Schitt’s Creek,” were filmed here.
Unionville captivates not only with its rich history and picture-postcard loveliness, but also with the sheer surprise of finding these delights — think 19th-century homes on tree-lined streets, cozy cafes and restaurants, and bucolic nature trails — in the middle of Busy Markham. Here’s how to spend a day in this tiny spot that is big on charm.
In the morning
Pop into Main Street’s Pod Coffee for a morning pour—tea and coffee options abound and the hot cocoa (made with award-winning Rebel liquid cocoa) is especially warming on a chilly morning.
Before exploring the shops and attractions of Main Street, take a short walk to Stiver Mill. This impressive, deep-red structure is one of the few remaining grain elevators and feed mills in Markham. Carefully preserved, it now acts as a cultural center and the site of a farmers’ market in the summer months. It sits beside the original train station (GO trains now pass through regularly), and offers a glimpse into the town’s agricultural past.
Return to Main Street for a stroll and a browse. Lemonwood, which features women’s cashmere collections, is a standout, as is the fashion-forward Tucci Armadio (yes, you can buy Tom Ford in Unionville). Great deals can be found at Susannah Designer Consignment, where Prada and Louis Vuitton are available at wallet-friendly prices, and men might want to check out Mariani’s Custom Clothier. If you’re bringing the kids, make a beeline for Crock a Doodle, a paint-your-own pottery studio (takeaway paint kits and pottery are also available).
Round out the shopping with a bit of art history by making a pit stop at the McKay Art Centre. This 1840s heritage home once belonged to Group of Seven Painter FH Varley. Some of the rooms are furnished as they would have been in the 19th century, while others showcase temporary art exhibitions. At one end of Main Street, the Varley Art Gallery boasts original permanent works by Varley, along with exhibits featuring local, Canadian and international artists. It’s worth booking a tour in advance to get a real sense of all that’s on offer.
Stop for lunch
Quality eateries abound, but The Old Country Inn, which opened in 1978, is a must for lunch. This old-school Austrian resto is set in a house that was built 140 years ago by the town’s doctor, who also happened to be the grandson of one of Unionville’s first settlers (many residents know it as The Doctor’s House).
Request a table in the bright, light-filled addition upstairs and order one of the inn’s bestselling schnitzels. There are eight versions of this paper-thin, perfectly fried breaded indulgence to choose from, but the classic wiener schnitzel is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The kitschy decor is like a time-warp in the best possible way; Veteran servers zipping out goulash soup and bratwurst sausages add to the charm.
In the afternoon
Take a hike along the Rouge Valley Trail, which runs behind Main Street and is accessible at a few different points. The wide, easy-to-navigate paths follow the river along Toogood Pond, and the nearly 11-kilometre trail is flanked by weeping willows and English oaks, and features flat and cascading pools and bridges. It’s a favorite spot for the remarkably friendly locals—one couple shared that this walk gave them 8,000 of their 10,000 steps every day.
Before leaving, pop into the Old Firehall Confectionary, an award-winning independent sweet shop serving up handcrafted treats. The sea salt and pistachio chocolate bars are a perfect sweet finish for the drive home.
• 9 a.m. Leave Toronto
• 10 a.m. Stiver’s Mill, Millennium Square
• 10:30 a.m. Main Street Unionville
• 11:30 p.m. McKay Art Center
• 12:30 pm Varley Art Museum
• 1:30 p.m. Old Country Inn
• 2:30 pm Rouge Valley Trail
• 3:30 pm Old Firehall Confectionery
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