Pretty Scary: Monster Month and Autumn Walks in Elora

LOCKDOWN KEPT US AWAY FROM ELORA FOR TOO LONG. Our favorite small town – and the “prettiest in Ontario” – came through the other side of the pandemic changed, and we wanted to get a look. It had been over two years since I’d been to Elora, on a job documenting the attractions available there and in neighbouring Fergus after the grand re-opening of the Elora Mill Inn & Spa, and we were desperate to enjoy the town again.

The biggest change was the demolition of the old Badley Bridge, taken down and replaced with a new bridge over the Grand River along Metcalfe Street. Replacing it was a controversial decision – the old steel truss bridge was one of the town’s trademarks – but some of the metalwork was retained to create a monument, while other bits of the old bridge have apparently been salvaged for future projects in the town. Inconvenience to visitors during 2020’s lockdown year was lessened slightly by the opening of the new pedestrian bridge just downriver, next to the Inn, which was finished but still closed during my last visit.

Elora Cataract Trail

We took Parkbus to Elora, and made a hike along the Elora Cataract Trailway – a 47 kilometre trail connecting the Grand and Credit River watersheds – our morning destination. We started at the trailhead on the outskirts of Elora and walked to where the trail branches off to the Wellington County Museum and Archives, the former county poorhouse which now houses a fine local museum that was, unfortunately, closed for the morning.

This section of the trail is level and often quite straight, as it’s built on the trackbed of a former railway. We walked the grounds of the museum and visited the ruins of a former pumphouse just across Highway 18, the road that connects Elora and Fergus. It was a lovely, refreshing walk, through woodlots and past farmer’s fields, the leaves just turning with the first cold nights of autumn. It’s the sort of easy trail you can recommend to beginners and casual hikers, full of lovely scenery even when the sky is low and steel grey.

We made it back to town again for lunch at the Elora Brewing Company, the craft brewpub that I’d been unable to visit on previous trips. It was worth the wait – a great casual menu and a fine selection of beers suited to pretty much any taste, from sours to IPAs to porters. I especially liked the hop vines growing around the patio – a clever touch. A must for beer fans, but there’s no shortage of dining choices in the town.

Just like our first family trip to the town and the Elora Gorge Conservation Area next door, we arrived during Monster Month – Elora’s celebration of autumn and Halloween. The town goes all out with celebrations – haunted walks and tours of cemeteries and private displays in front of homes, a corn maze, a market and a monster march (the last sadly preempted by Covid restrictions for the last two years, but due to return next year.)

The heart of Monster Month, though, is the Twilight Zoo – the menagerie of illuminated monster sculptures that take over the town at the beginning of October. Originally the personal project of Tim Murton, one of Elora’s many local artists, it grew every year with the creation of more monsters, and was finally officially adopted by the town five years ago when Sensational Elora bought Murton’s collection of creatures.

Elora knows what it has, and has become expert at organizing and promoting its attractions. A sponsorship program helps pay for upkeep and installation of Murton’s monsters, and the Twilight Zoo has spread as far as the Wellington County Museum in Aboyne, where “Nessie” has pride of place on the front lawn.

Monster Month is a great bridge between Elora’s summer activities – most of them based around the Gorge and the Grand River – and the town’s winter events. All of which are distinct from the town’s role as a hot wedding destination, which has become hotter since the reopening of the Mill. It’s a year-round town; it’s changing all the time and I missed it terribly during lockdown.

Grand River looking upriver from the Metcalfe Street Bridge

Photos and story © 2021 Rick McGinnis All Rights Reserved