Peterborough is built on the shores of the Otonabee River, first known as Nogojiwanong, which is Ojibwa for “place at the end of rapids.” The Otonabee (or Odenabe, “river that beats like a heart”) isn’t the only waterway to criss-cross the city: a canal (part of the Trent-Severn Waterway) and a creek (Jackson) also run through it. So, Peterborough’s culture is intrinsically linked to this unique and striking setting.
THE CANADIAN CANOE MUSEUM — 10:00 AM
A CANOE ON EVERY CORNER
You know you’re in Peterborough when you spot a canoe on practically every corner. Some are land-bound, like the art installation Jiimaan’ndewemgadnong — The Place Where the Heart of the Canoe Beats, at the corner of King and Water Streets, by Anishinaabe artist Tia Cavanagh.
But there’s no better place to understand the canoe’s significance than the Canadian Canoe Museum. It’s the world’s largest collection of paddled crafts, filled with stunning, historic canoes and kayaks. The collection spans from the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest’s huge dugouts to bark canoes of Newfoundland’s Beothuk. In 2023 the museum is poised to expand in a new location and building on the water, with more exhibits to reflect its collaborative relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
HUNTER STREET CAFÉ DISTRICT — 12:00 PM
THE CAFÉ LIFE, PETERBOROUGH STYLE
Peterborough is a smallish city, with a population of 84,000 and change. But it boasts a vibrant café district along Hunter Street West. A couple of attractive blocks of bars, cafés and boutiques, it includes The Only Café, perched on the edge of Jackson Creek. The Only is an institution known for excellent sandwiches, eclectic décor, and as a favourite hang for everyone from students to politicians. Another long-running favourite is Black Honey Bakery — a homey, cozy café with tasty brunches and vegan options. On the shopping front, head to Hunter and George Streets for hip fashions (S.O.S.), locally-branded “Ptbo Northern Originals” wear (Flavour), or handcrafted jewelry and gifts (Hi Ho Silver).
HUTCHISON HOUSE — 1:30 PM
SEE HOW THE SETTLERS LIVED
Step back in time at Hutchison House, a short walk from Hunter Street. Locals built the home in 1837 to entice Peterborough’s first resident physician, Dr. John Hutchison, to stick around – they were successful. Now it sits filled with medical instruments, books and furnishings of the time. The museum also has memorabilia belonging to the good doctor’s cousin, Sir Sandford Fleming, famed engineer, scientist and inventor. Fleming’s design for a forerunner of the roller blade is one of the many charming artifacts on display. In summer, take tea on the terrace; in winter, sip beside the open hearth in the Hutchison House kitchen.
LIFT LOCK — 2:00 PM
THE WORLD’S TALLEST BOAT LIFTER
A marvel of engineering, the Lift Lock its the highest hydraulic lift lock in the world and is designed to lift boats nearly twenty metres. The Lift Lock Visitor Centre explains how that’s done, as well as answers all your Trent-Severn Waterway questions (the 386-kilometre-long canal that connects Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay).
Want to get inside the Lift Lock? A Lift Lock Riverboat cruise gives you a boat’s-eye-view. Or, for the jaw-dropping experience, bring your own kayak or canoe to join in on the annual Lock ‘n’ Paddle.
In winter, skate the canal beneath the mighty lock. In summer, picnic on canal banks.
ART GALLERY OF PETERBOROUGH — 3:00 PM
CONTEMPORARY ART ON THE (LITTLE) LAKE
Located south of downtown on Little Lake, the AGP is a little gem of contemporary art. Its permanent collection includes work by significant regional Indigenous artists (Mary Anne Barkhouse, Michael Belmore), as well as artists from further afield (Daphne Odjig, Carl Beam, Jane Ash Poitras, and Rebecca Belmore). While you’re there, drop into the Gallery Shop for regional one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, and fun stuff for kids too. For a restful summer afternoon stop, don’t miss ice cream by the river at the cottage-like Silver Bean, just a 10-minute walk north of the gallery.
CULINARY PETERBOROUGH — 6:00 PM
WINE, DINE, AND STROLL THE OTONABEE
Excellence and diversity are markers of the city’s culinary strengths, for instance La Hacienda’s Mexican cuisine (and adjacent mercado), Hanoi House’s Vietnamese food (and oysters) and Fresh Dreams (traditional Spanish Tapas). All are located in and around Hunter Street West, not far from the beautifully landscaped Millennium Park trail. A post-dinner easy stroll along the Otonabee includes sculptures and a display tracing the city’s Indigenous and colonization history.
LIVE MUSIC — 9:00 PM
FROM THE BLACK HORSE TO THE RED DOG — CATCH SOME TUNES
Peterborough is a music-loving town, and two venerable establishments are The Black Horse (jazz and blues) and the Historic Red Dog Tavern (reggae, rock, and hip hop). Yes, “historic” is part of the official name, opening as a hotel in 1883, and going on to become known as “the home of live music.” Many a legendary musician (Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Jeff Healey) have played the Red Dog, a tradition continuing today with both nationally-known and rising-star local acts.
NOGOJIWANONG TO PETERBOROUGH (AND BACK AGAIN) — 10:00 AM
AUTHENTIC CONNECTION TO LAND, WATER AND PEOPLE
Peterborough is known by many names: The ‘Boro, The Patch, Ptbo, Electric City, and increasingly by its original Ojibwe name, Nogojiwanong. For a deeper understanding of this Indigenous culture, take the 30-minute drive north to Curve Lake First Nation. Along your way, enjoy the scenic river views for most of your drive.
There you’ll find both the Whetung Ojibwa Centre and Curve Lake Cultural Centre. The Curve Lake Cultural Centre is dedicated to keeping traditions and ceremonies alive within the community. Immerse yourself in the history and culture of the people, the Michi Saagiig Anishnaabeg, and learn about their language, geography, history, and traditions.
Two minutes down the same road, the Whetung Ojibwa Centre offers a spectacular collection of Native crafts and fine art from both Curve Lake First Nation and across Canada. In addition to the shop, there is also a museum with totem poles, headdresses, moccasins, dreamcatchers and more, all within a 10,000 sq ft building. This centre is open seven days a week, and if you are in the area at the end of summer, you are welcome to attend the annual Pow Wow.
LAKEFIELD — 3:30 PM
TAKE THE SCENIC RIVER ROAD TO LAKEFIELD
Peterborough has enviable proximity to lovely lakes and charming towns. Lakefield combines both, just south of Katchewanooka Lake and right on the Otonabee. A twenty-minute drive along the winding Water Street from downtown brings you past Trent University and into picturesque Lakefield. The town’s literary history (authors Susanna Moodie, Catherine Parr Traill, and Margaret Lawrence all made their homes there) makes it the logical place for July’s annual Lakefield Literary Festival. (Resuming in 2023.) Shop Queen St., or make it your dinner stop. A few popular spots: Canoe & Paddle pub, Cassis Bistro (fine dining), and The Nutty Bean, boasting “the best verandah” in town.
PETERBOROUGH MUSEUM AND ARCHIVES — 3:00 PM
TAKE THE SCENIC RIVER ROAD TO LAKEFIELD
Finally reaching the north end of Peterborough on your drive back in, you’ll find the family-friendly Peterborough Museum and Archives tells the local story. From early Indigenous communities and the first wave of Irish immigration, and the city’s rise and fall as an industrial town and beyond, their collection speaks of it all.
For an early dinner, wander around the East City. One choice spot: Ashburnham Ale House for local beers and high-end pub grub.
JACKSON PARK — 4:30 PM
FOREST IN THE CITY — A CULTURAL HERITAGE LANDSCAPE
Jackson Park is one of a handful of Ontario parks with old-growth forest, and also a recently designated cultural heritage landscape. Yet it’s only a five-minute drive from Hutchison House. Stroll around the pond, a favourite spot for waterfowl and those wishing to photograph them. Pause on the restored, 1894 pagoda bridge. Or enjoy the 4.2 kilometre Jackson Creek trail, its rushing waters your soundtrack for walking, biking, or cross country skiing — Peterborough Nordic Club maintains classic ski tracks. Omemee (songwriter Neil Young’s hometown) is also a favourite cycling destination, the 44 kilometre round trip taking you over Doube’s Trestle Bridge with spectacular views of Buttermilk Valley.
MARKET HALL PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE — 7:00 PM
TO MARKET FOR MUSIC, OR THEATRE, OR DANCE
Located beneath Peterborough’s landmark clock tower, Market Hall is known for its theatrical and musical presentations, though it’s also a vibrant community centre, featuring political debates and more. Spacious yet still intimate, it’s come a long way since its 19th century days as a food market. Enjoy a show while testing out the local theory: the beautifully restored Market Hall hasn’t got a bad seat in the house.
WANT TO TAKE A DETOUR?
WARSAW CAVES CONSERVATION AREA
The Warsaw Caves Conservation Area (a twenty-minute drive from Lakefield) will satisfy almost any outdoor itch you want to scratch, with scenic hiking trails, camping, and paddling, fishing or swimming on the Indian River. You can even go spelunking in the seven namesake caves, which were formed at the end of the last ice age.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Art Gallery of Peterborough
The Canadian Canoe Museum
Jackson Creek trail
Lakefield Literary Festival
Lift Lock Visitor Centre
Market Hall Performing Arts Centre
Peterborough Museum and Archives
Showplace Performance Centre
Warsaw Caves Conservation Area
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This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please contact us.
All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.