About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”
Butter tarts, those delicious, flaky pastries filled with buttery, sugary sweetness that you can find in most supermarkets and country general stores across Ontario, date back to more than a century. In fact, recipes for them can be found in cookbooks dating from the early 1900s.
Ontario’s even got a couple of butter tart trails, including the Wellington County Butter Tart Trail and the Kawartha Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. For the ultimate autumn daytrip, we opted to try the closer-to-Toronto trail in Wellington County and explored a handful of its 23 stops.
In the morning:
Leaving Toronto, head west on Highway 401 before driving north on Highway 410. From there, continue along Highway 10 before turning west onto Highway 24 toward Erin. Make Holtom’s Bakery your first stop on your butter tart experience.
This charming spot has a nostalgic, old fashioned bakery aesthetic. Its family recipes, with everything baked from scratch, have been passed down for generations. Once you’ve picked up some of its butter tarts, spend some time exploring Erin.
This quaint town, and the surrounding communities of Guelph and Rockwood, has a picturesque Hallmark movie vibe – for example, it’s not hard to imagine bumping into that old high school flame while visiting the corn mazes at Thatcher Farms Butcher Shop, Bakery & Farm Market or Strom's Farm & Bakery.
Head next to Belwood Country Market in Belwood, located about a 30-minute drive northwest of Erin. This spot is renowned for its butter tarts – it sells upward of 270,000 of them each year – with choices ranging from plain to raisin and pecan. There are also several unique flavours, including Skor, Reese’s Peanut, white chocolate blueberry, coconut-raspberry and seasonal options, too (think dark chocolate cranberry for Christmas and maple bacon around Canada Day).
Next up, make the short drive to downtown Fergus to visit The Red Door and pick up some gluten-free butter tarts for your friends who can’t indulge in the traditional versions. Enter through the red door on the side of the building and be prepared to enjoy a delicious lunch. Its menu has options for everyone, including those on restricted diets, such as its dairy-free soup of the day or its vegetarian portobello mushroom sandwich.
In the afternoon:
After lunch, head over to the Wellington County Museum and Archives. This National Historic Site operated as a poor house in the late 1800s, providing shelter and a place of work for the homeless and destitute. Now a museum, it features nine galleries that share the stories of the people and places of Wellington County.
From the museum, head to Gerrie’s Garden Centre and Farm Market in nearby Elora. It’s the Mennonite-style market you wish you had in your neighbourhood for all of your grocery needs. Add some of their gluten-free tarts to your cart, and while you’re there pick up some fall decor for your garden.
If you’re feeling the need for some exercise, park the car and explore the Elora Gorge Trail, an easy four-and-a-half-kilometre path that delivers fantastic views of the gorge.
Drive next to the outskirts of Elora to Dar’s Country Market where you can score gluten-free butter tarts along with local produce and a selection of gourmet foods. You won’t regret picking up some its juicy barbecue ribs or freshly baked chicken pot pies to enjoy for dinner once you get home.
Next up, stop into The Right Spot Restaurant & Baked Goods in the town of Alma. This family restaurant sells classic butter tarts (plain, raisin and pecan) but is known for its apple-cinnamon butter tarts. Pastry lovers will also want to pick up a coconut cream or lemon meringue pie – customers have been known to drive for hours to enjoy a slice.
Next, drive to Drayton, known for its historic opera house from 1902, to pick up some butter tarts at À La Mode, a cute coffee shop located downtown. After, head north to Arthur, billed as Canada’s most patriotic village, is to check out its historical murals, including the Pioneer Mural (which features images of the community’s early European settlers) on the side of building that once housed the Arthur Registry Office.
Finally, make your last stop of the day HomeStyle Flavours in the community of Palmerston. This horse and buggy-style business will give you a glimpse into the local Mennonite culture and its traditional baking techniques. If you need a healthy fix to balance all of the sweet baked goods you’ve been sampling, pick up one of its hefty sandwiches to share on the drive home.
For the Drive
You’ll have plenty to listen to as you explore the Wellington Butter Tart Trail. For the drive out, listen to CBC Radio’s “The Butter Tart: Iconic Canadian Treat or Outdated Sweet?” in which foodies debate the dessert’s iconic status. And on the way home, check out North Americana Podcast’s “An American Foodie Dishes on the Ontario Butter Tart Trail.”
Note: Times are suggestions only
- 9 a.m. Leave Toronto
- 10 a.m. Holtom’s Bakery
- 11 a.m. Belwood Country Market
- Noon The Red Door
- 1 p.m. Wellington County Museum and Archives
- 2 p.m. Gerrie’s Garden Centre and Farm Market
- 3 p.m. Dar’s Country Market, The Right Spot and À La Mode
- 4 p.m. Arthur’s Murals
- 5 p.m. HomeStyle Flavours