Wilno: A little slice of Poland in the Madawaska Valley

Blink and you might miss Wilno, a small village on Highway 60 between Eganville and Barry’s Bay. But then you would miss out on a fascinating slice of Ontario history, a great craft gallery and some of the biggest pierogies I’ve ever seen in my life. So don’t blink, OK?

Heritage homes and furniture are part of the collection at the Wilno Heritage Park. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Heritage homes and furniture are part of the collection at the Wilno Heritage Park. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

In the 1850s, immigrants from the Kashubia region of Poland settled these scenic but rocky hills. It wasn’t an easy life, but they hadn’t had an easy time of it back in Europe, either, where they were a minority in a region riven with political turmoil. They eked out a living in the Madawaska Valley and managed to build a big church. When that one burned down in 1936, they immediately built imposing St. Mary’s, which dominates Wilno to this day.

Shining up one of the spires on St. Mary's Church in Wilno. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Shining up one of the spires on St. Mary’s Church in Wilno. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Not far from the church, you can learn tons about the Kashubs and their Canadian descendants at the Wilno Heritage Park, built on what was once the site of the local train station. (The station and tracks are long gone, and the rail bed is now a recreational trail.) At this open-air museum, you can find out about famous Kashub-Canadians, see gorgeously painted wooden furniture and colourful embroidered items, and pore through old photos. Even if you don’t have a Polish bone in your body, it’s way more interesting than I’m probably making it sound. (Check the website for hours.)

Markers on the grounds of the Wilno Heritage Park celebrate the history of the region's founding families. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Markers on the grounds of the Wilno Heritage Park celebrate the history of the region’s founding families. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Shopaholics should head next to the Wilno Craft Gallery, where I once spent the better part of an hour perusing everything from ceramics and jewellery to paintings and toys, all made by one of the store’s roster of more than 170 Canadian artisans. The pieces range from traditional acrylic landscapes and turned wooden bowls to some downright quirky items; I came home with an eye-catching necklace that incorporates a few empty silk cocoons. (I fell in love with it before I realized what they were. When I wear it, I try not to think about the cocoons too much.)

A huge variety of crafts and artworks is on sale at the Wilno Craft Gallery. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

A huge variety of crafts and artworks is on sale at the Wilno Craft Gallery. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

If all that shopping has made you hungry, you’re in luck: the Wilno Tavern won’t leave you hungry. Pizza, burgers, sandwiches and other staples are on the menu, but you can also get Polish fare like cabbage rolls, Polish sausages, pickled herring and the aforementioned pierogies. If you can’t decide, drop by for the all-y0u-can-eat Polish buffet on Saturday and Sunday nights from May through October.

Bring your appetite for the rib-sticking food at the Wilno Tavern. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Bring your appetite for the rib-sticking food at the Wilno Tavern. Photo by Laura Byrne Paquet.

Accommodation options in Wilno are few, but you’ll find a wider selection in Barry’s Bay, 10 kilometres to the west.

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If you go

Distance from Ottawa: 180km

More information: The Wilno Villager

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10 Responses to Wilno: A little slice of Poland in the Madawaska Valley

  1. Sand In My Suitcase June 12, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    Gosh, we haven’t eaten pierogies in years! We’re fellow Canadians but haven’t heard of Wilno. Guess there are probably hundreds of unsung but interesting little towns about this great country of ours…

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 13, 2014 at 12:01 am #

      I’ve lived in Ottawa for almost 30 years, but I’d never heard of Wilno, either, until a friend of mine who grew up nearby told me about it a few years ago. You’re right–in a big country like this, there are lots of fascinating stories.

  2. Edgar Ladouceur October 1, 2014 at 7:43 am #

    Thanks for high-lighting this great destination , I have been frequenting the area for 35 + years participating in cottage openings and closings exploring the country side, Barney McCaffrey fiddling at the Wilno and many a famous Polish Feast. Truly a great area to visit.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet October 1, 2014 at 7:46 am #

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Edgar–thanks! Wilno really is an undiscovered gem.

  3. Suzanne T Hamelin April 15, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    The food is so excellent and the service makes you feel like you are family. You have to make the Wilno Tavern a place to stop and enjoy the food. But first visit the heritage museum.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet April 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

      Yes, the tavern and the museum are both great, Suzanne!

  4. Julie July 18, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    I don’t know if it still is, but when I was young, Wilno’s slogan was “If you don’t know, you Wilno!”

    • Laura Byrne Paquet July 19, 2015 at 11:28 am #

      Love that slogan! Reminds me of the slogan for Biggar SK: “New York is big, but this is Biggar!”

  5. Phil Norton September 1, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Great photos, Laura, especially catching the steeple repairman on ropes! I stumbled upon the Wilmo region after a trip to Algonquin Park this summer. As you have shown, the village is so unique and also the forested, rolling hills surrounding it, reminiscent of New England, and my homeland, western Pennsylvania, where the Poles settled in coal mining country. Polka music plays regularly on Pittsburgh radio. My photography group will visit Wilno this weekend for Labour Day in honour of those hard-working Canadian pioneers. Keep up the good work!

    • Laura Byrne Paquet September 1, 2015 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks, Phil–I’m so glad you enjoyed it! A friend of mine who grew up in nearby Killaloe first introduced me to Wilno, and I was totally charmed by the place and its history. Enjoy your trip this weekend! Lots of great photo possibilities up there, especially if the trees have started to turn.

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