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?
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
Accommodation options in Wilno are few, but you’ll find a wider selection in Barry’s Bay, 10 kilometres to the west.
Want more tips on road trips from Ottawa—including info on hotel discounts, contests, festivals and other cool news? Subscribe to our free weekly e-newsletter! We will never spam you—promise.
If you go
Distance from Ottawa: 180km
More information: The Wilno Villager