A Guide to Brockville: City of 1000 Islands

Brockville courthouse
Just chilling outside the Brockville Courthouse.

Why Brockville?

With a population of around 22,000 people, Brockville has the structure of a city with the feeling of a small town. The founding of the settlement (Elizabethtown) that became the village of Brockville arose from the first wave of Loyalist refugees who were displaced from their homes during the American Revolution. Today, Brockville is a thriving community along the St. Lawrence River, and the big brother among the communities of the 1000 Islands.

My personal connection to Brockville is through Rotary International, an organization I have been involved with for many years. Back when I lived in Ottawa, I came to Brockville for conferences and events, and was always impressed by the hospitality and laid-back nature of our hosts. My friend Andrew (who I met through Rotary, and also known as Brockville’s Best Unofficial Ambassador) made me promise to come back and “do Brockville” properly one day, so this trip is the direct result of his excellent persuasion skills.

Since this post is dedicated to Andrew, I would be remiss not to mention that Brockville is home to the impressive Brockville Railway Tunnel, Canada’s oldest railway tunnel. The tunnel, and its sound and light show, is something that Andrew is very proud of. I will admit, it is pretty cool. Not only is it a free attraction (donations accepted), but it is also a great place to cool down in the summer.

Brockville Railway Tunnel

Restaurants to Visit

One thing I kept hearing over and over from Brockville residents was how much cheaper the food was here, compared to Toronto. I think that is…partially correct. You can get a $10 breakfast (or bowl of ramen, or Turkish eggs) in Toronto just as easily as you can in Brockville, but the difference is the overwhelming reliability of wholesome, local ingredients. I’ve talked about Ontario’s efforts to highlight local fare in my #FeastON posts, and Brockville is right up there with the best of them. Brockville’s restaurants may not be numerous or varied in their approach to cuisine, but the ingredients will make you feel totally grounded. Here are a few that DW and I were able to try on this visit.

Cosies British Tearoom and Café: 45 King St. W., Brockville, ON https://cosiestearoom.com/
A family-run business that truly is the epitome of cosiness. You can get a Full English Breakfast here, but don’t forget to order the freshly-made scones. The bathrooms were actually an unexpected highlight!

Bud’s on the Bay: 17 Broad St., Brockville, ON http://www.budsonthebay.com/
This is a great place to come for the waterfront views (there are surprisingly few places to do so) for simple, no-fuss brunch staples such as hashbrowns, sausages and eggs. Reservations are recommended for the upstairs patio.

Bud's on the Bay hash browns and BLT

The Noshery: 209 King St. W., Brockville, ON https://www.facebook.com/stefandkaren/
A quirky neighbourhood lunch and dinner spot that doesn’t even have a website, but does have Trivial Pursuit cards on the table for entertainment. The menu changes constantly (I didn’t love the lamb chops, but the bacon-wrapped jalapeños were scrumptious) but always features uncomplicated, comfortable fare.

Fat Les Waterfront Patio: 30 Block House Island Pkwy, Brockville, ON https://www.facebook.com/30blockhouseisland/
Yes, this is basically just a glorified chip stand, but the view here can’t be beaten. We were also pleasantly surprised by how delicious the fish and chips were (local Perch). I recommend coming here a few minutes earlier than the lunch rush to secure a nice spot, particularly if there is a group of hungry-looking cyclists coming down the same path. A good spot to come for lunch or afternoon drink.

Fat Les Waterfront Patio Beer

Local Food to Explore

Brockville Farmer’s Market: https://www.brockvillefarmersmarket.ca/
The best experience we had during our weekend trip was exploring the Brockville Farmer’s Market. The open-air market is open every Thursday and Saturday from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM between May to December.

In line with the old proverb, “you are what you eat”, you could really walk away from the market with a full Brockville food report. All of the ingredients that were used in our breakfast that day were clearly sourced from the six or seven farmers’ stands here. There are also vendors selling prepared food (Thai and Indian dishes), handmade crafts and gifts, as well as random things you never knew you needed like donkey milk soap.

While all of the vendors had something great to offer, there were two standouts for me. The first was Gibbons Family Farm, with incredible maple syrup that comes in a variety of containers (great for souvenirs).

The second was Mark Beacock. Mark is a bit of a one-man show, who started his food business with a focus on foraging but has really expanded his baked goods selection. He makes the most incredible butter tarts I’ve ever had. For those of you who are not from Ontario, butter tarts are a regional, calorie-dense butter-based pastry filled with maple syrup and/or brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and more butter. Mark’s are so delicate, and use the highest quality ingredients. They were so good in fact, that DW bought two boxes, and was disappointed to find that Mark had sold out by the time he came back for a third box.

Mark Beacock’s butter tarts

Tincap Berry Farm: http://www.tincapberryfarm.ca/
Raspberry picking is such a fun activity during the summer, and our visit to Tincap Berry Farm was even more delightful because Amber (Andrew’s wife) was able to bring their daughters along for the adventure. Honestly, the simplest things are always so much more entertaining with little kiddos in tow. You can find Tincap’s produce (they have a lot more than just berries) at the farmer’s market, or come directly to the farm and explore the offerings for yourself. We arrived at the height of August corn season so I bought a dozen cobs to take home to Toronto. Andrew’s mom had the same idea, and I was more than happy to chomp down on a few fresh cobs at the family home that night.

Amber and the girls.

Hall’s Apple Market: http://www.hallsapplemarket.com/
If you’ll be visiting Brockville in the Fall, a stop at Hall’s Apple Market and Orchard is a must, especially if you have kids with you. Think pumpkins, pies and cider too.

Local Places to Drink

1000 Islands Brewing Company: 65 King St. W., Brockville, ON https://thousandislandsbrewery.com/
This brewery and bar literally opened the night we arrived and was already bustling. I think it’s going to be a nice excuse for more people to stay downtown in the evening.

The Georgian Dragon Ale House & Brew Pub: 72 King St. W., Brockville, ON https://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgianDragonAleHouseAndPub/
We arrived fairly late on our first night but were able to come here for some British pub classics and some live music. The food was not bad (some dishes better than others), but the spot is clearly a local favourite.

BUSL Cider: 75 Quabbin Rd. Mallorytown, ON, https://buslcider.com/
We had the opportunity to visit neighbouring village Mallorytown to check out BUSL Cider (pronounced “bushel”) during their opening weekend. It’s an incredibly hip family-run spot that reminds me of the style of the newer operations in Prince Edward County. I’m interested to see how they evolve and grow over time.

Where to Stay

If you’re planning an overnight or weekend trip here, you should book your accommodations as soon as possible. Brockville is still fairly residential, and many of its visitors come for daytrips, or with their boats. The only boutique hotel here isn’t set to open until this Fall (I’m talking about the Rob Thompson Hotel. Let me know if you end up staying there!).

We also considered staying at the popular and fairly affordable O’Sheridans, but both of their suites were booked that weekend. If you don’t mind sharing a bathroom with fellow guests, there are three other “non-suite” guest bedrooms. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Airbnb trend hasn’t fully taken off in Brockville just yet. We ended up staying at the good ol’ Comfort Inn, which was ideal in the circumstances (and we somehow managed to get the last room, leaving the hotel with zero vacancies over the entire weekend!) For the full list of major accommodations in Brockville, visit this page.

Getting There

Brockville is located 340 km west of Toronto, 210 km east of Montreal, 110 km south of Ottawa, and 22 km by highway from Northern New York State. If you want to drive to Brockville from Toronto, it’s easiest and fastest to take Highway 401, which takes you straight into the city. However, I recommend that you take the Thousand Islands Parkway, a scenic road that runs right alongside the St. Lawrence River and parallel to Highway 401. You can find a number of lookout points along the Parkway to take photos, and if you’re really ambitious, even fit in a hike or beach picnic at Brown’s Bay. You can also easily combine a trip to Brockville with a trip to Kingston, Gananoque, or a river cruise.

Via Rail is also an excellent option, as there is a railway station located right in Downtown Brockville.

Final Thoughts

In addition to the local pride for ingredients, something interesting I noticed about Brockville is that the city’s economy is built up by its families. From Hall’s Apple Market to the Noshery, each of these businesses has a story that stems from wanting to create something with their loved ones, for their loved ones. Honestly, that’s a pretty rare thing nowadays. Personally, I know that I will keep coming back to Brockville to visit with one of my favourite families, but next time, I’ll probably line up a visit with a few of my favourite butter tarts as well!

For more information on what to do in Brockville, visit Brockville Tourism’s Website. When you arrive in person, you can also visit Brockville Tourism’s office, located at 10 Market St.

Please note: this blog post was created in partnership with Brockville Tourism. However, while I was provided with some gift certificates, the majority of the trip was paid for out of pocket, and all opinions are my own. A special thanks to Rebecca from Brockville Tourism for showing us around town!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *