Elora, Ontario

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Unincorporated community
Elora Mill 2014.jpg
The 1832 mill in 2014; it is being restored to a luxury Inn
"Tempus Rurum Imperator"  (Latin)
"Time commands all things"
Coordinates: 43°41′06″N 80°25′38″W / 43.68500°N 80.42722°W / 43.68500; -80.42722
CountyWellington County
TownshipCentre Wellington
 • Total7,756 (estimated)
Time zoneUTC−05:00 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−04:00 (EDT)
Forward sortation area
Area code(s)519 ,226 and 548
NTS Map040P09
Elora on the Grand River

Elora is a community in the township of Centre Wellington, Wellington County, Ontario, Canada. It is well known for its 19th-century limestone architecture and the geographically significant Elora Gorge.

Elora is no longer an independent entity. In 1999, the Township of Centre Wellington was formed by amalgamating the Town of Fergus, Ontario, Village of Elora and the Townships of Nichol, Pilkington, West Garafraxa and a part of Eramosa.[2] In 2011, the community referred to as Elora had a population of approximately 7,756.[1]


Roman Catholic missionaries first visited this area in the early to mid 1600s "to Christianize" the indigenous people, particularly the Neutral Nation on the old Attiwandaronk Lands. The first settlers arrived in 1817 and Roswell Matthews built a home here the next year.[3][4]

Captain William Gilkison (1777-1833) was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and emigrated to North America in 1796. He served with the British forces in the War of 1812 as an assistant quartermaster-general, and in 1832 purchased some 14,000 acres of land in Nichol Township. He selected this area at the falls of the Grand River as a town site for his proposed settlement and named it Elora. It was laid out by Lewis Burwell, deputy provincial land surveyor, late in 1832, and the following year Gilkison established a sawmill and a general store. The founder of Elora died in April, 1833, before the full results of his foresight and enterprise were achieved.

Elora was officially founded in 1832 by Captain William Gilkison, originally from Scotland, who was a British officer recently returned from India. He had also served in the War of 1812. He bought 14,000 acres of land on the Grand River and settled on the east side of the river. The plan for the settlement was laid out by Lewis Burwell, in late 1832, when it was called Irvine Settlement. By 1833, Gilkison had opened a sawmill and a general store.[5] Gilkison named the community after his brother's ship, which was itself inspired by the Ellora Caves near Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.

Charles Allan and Andrew Geddes laid out a town site on the west side of the river. By 1848, village lots were being sold and the settlement was incorporated into a village in 1858. The commercial area was near the grist mill, by the waterfalls (Mill St.) and eventually moved further up the hill.[6]

The Smith's Canadian Gazetteer of 1846 describes Elora as having a beautiful waterfalls and a deep channel carved by the river in the limestone rock. At the time there were only 100 inhabitants but two churches, three mills and a Post Office. Otherwise there were a few tradesmen and a single tavern.[7]

Voluntary regiment in May 1862 in Elora, Ontario. The army consisted of 30,000 men in 1870, intended to defend Canada against a possible attack from the United States

In the 1850s and 1860s, Elora was a major agricultural marketplace. Stores in the downtown area sold many types of goods. The flour mill and saw mill were powered by the Grand River. In 1869 the population was 1,500.[8] By 1870, several other mills, two distilleries, a carpet factory, tannery and two furniture factories were operating.[4] While there were some earlier private providers of electricity on a small scale, more extensive provision of power, by Ontario Hydro, began in 1914.[9]

Elora Mill[edit]

Still standing, the five-storey original Elora grist mill from the 1830s was a sawmill, a distillery and a flour mill over the subsequent years. In the 1970s, it became a luxury hotel, the Elora Mill Inn, but closed down in 2010. Plans were made to convert it to condominiums and a hotel by the new owners of the property, Pearle Hospitality. The company, originally called Landmark Group, also owns and operates other high-end facilities such as the Ancaster Inn and the Cambridge Mill.[10]

In June 2016 however, the owners' web site indicated that the facility would open in late 2017.[11] A Toronto Sun news report in February 2017 provided additional specifics: "Elora Mill Inn and Spa, a $120 million project expected to bring a world class resort and 250 jobs to the area when it opens in Spring 2018.[12]

A street in Elora after an ice storm; early 1900s.

David Street (Irvine Creek) bridge[edit]

In 2002 the Township of Centre Wellington announced that for safety reasons it would be necessary to demolish the historically important David Street Bridge over Ivrine Creek. The structure and its pier had been built in 1868 by Charles Lawrence, a stonemason. The structure was "the first cantilever bridge in North America". (A more modest earlier bridge had been built over the Irvine Creek in 1848.) It is described as one of the few remaining open-spandrel concrete arch bridges and is listed in the Ontario Heritage Bridge Program.[13][14] Concerned about the preservation of Elora's culturally significant architecture, the group Elora Heritage was founded. They received over 1,000 names on a petition. They met with representatives from town council as well as the provincial and federal governments.

It became apparent that the bridge was beyond preservation; however council agreed to preserve the pier and build a replica bridge in 2004. The project presented numerous engineering challenges but was successfully completed. This structure is similar to the 1921 bridge; the 1867 stone pier was retained as had been planned.[15]

From "poorhouse" to museum[edit]

In 1877, the County opened the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, or Poorhouse as it was called, on Wellington Road 18 between Fergus and Elora. Over the years, approximately 1500 "deserving" poor, including those who were destitute, old and infirm or suffering from disabilities were housed here. The sixty bed house for "inmates" was surrounded by a 30-acre "industrial" farm with a barn for livestock that produced some of the food for the 70 residents and the staff and also provided work for them. Others worked in the House itself. According to a 2009 report by the Toronto Star, "pauperism was considered a moral failing that could be erased through order and hard work". A hospital was added in 1892. A nearby cemetery has 271 plots for those who died. In 1947 the House was converted into the Wellington County Home for the Aged and in 1975 the building reopened as the Wellington County Museum and Archives.[16][17][18]

A historic plaque was erected at the museum, indicating that the "government-supported poorhouse" was "the shelter of last resort for the homeless and destitute, who traded spartan accommodations for domestic or agricultural labour".[19]

Raceway and slots controversy[edit]

In 2000 a proposal was made to bring a standardbred horse racing track with slot machines to Elora, by creating the Grand River Raceway. The plan became the subject of much debate. The Centre Wellington Citizens Coalition was formed in opposition to the race track, primarily because of the inclusion of gambling facilities. A 4–3 decision to approve the opening was made by township council. It came down to a 3–3 decision and the mayor at the time voted in favour of it. The Grand River Raceway eventually opened in Elora in 2002, with Slots At Grand River Raceway offering 200 slot machines operated by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG).

Grand River Raceway is owned and operated by the Grand River Agricultural Society (G.R.A.S.), a not-for-profit corporation, incorporated under the Agricultural Societies Act of Ontario and operated by a volunteer board of directors. The Society operates the racetrack and other facilities. It leases space to the OLG for the slot machines; the OLG is the operator and employer for the slots operation.[20] In 2009, the business paid $1.6 million in taxes and the OLG paid the Township an additional $1.78 million, being a share of the profits.[21][22][23]

A plan for substantial expansion, approved by Township Council in February 2017, will include gaming tables (up to 52) and many additional slot machines (up to 1200 in total). Some councillors were strongly opposed to the plan. The rationale for the majority decision was the revenue benefit; since the slots opened, the Township has received over $22 million from the currently small operation.[24]


One of Elora's many tourist attractions, the gorge also has the architecturally significant David St. Bridge; it was saved from destruction by active citizens.

Many tourists visit Elora on day trips, attracted by the historic nature of the town or the Grand River Raceway with horse racing and slot machines. It has many small shops, pubs, cafés, restaurants and art galleries. These are often in buildings from the mid 19th century. The Gorge Cinema is Canada's oldest continuously running repertory theatre.[25] The annual Elora Festival & Singers event is particularly popular. The Elora Mill Inn & Spa should reopen in 2018.[12]

The Elora Gorge and its Conservation Area are at the edge of town. The park offers canoeing, paddleboat rentals, hiking, camp-grounds, fishing and picnicking.[26] Some of the limestone cliffs are 80 feet high. At the eastern end of the village is the Elora Quarry Conservation Area, a scenic former limestone quarry, is now a popular swimming area.[27]

Restored buildings on Water St., (shops and restaurants), line the Grand River in the downtown area.

In 2001, a group of citizens organized to develop a century school, whose headmaster had been at one time David Boyle who was well known as an educator in the late 1800s, into an arts and cultural centre, the Elora Centre for the Arts.[28] Doctor Frederick Banting, A.J. Casson, Harold Town, and Corbett Gray were all admirers of Elora.

The township of Centre Wellington has an active historical society and operates the Wellington County Museum and Archives in a historic stone building in Aboyne, halfway between Elora and Fergus, Ontario.[29] This two-storey Italianate-style stone building was the oldest known state-supported poorhouse or almshouse in Canada, called the House of Industry and Refuge when it opened in 1877. The museum opened in 1975 and the building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995.[30][31]


Elora has a humid continental climate (Dfb) under the Köppen climate classification with cold winters and warm summers.

Climate data for Fergus (1981−2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 15.6
Average high °C (°F) −3.6
Daily mean °C (°F) −7.4
Average low °C (°F) −11.1
Record low °C (°F) −35
Average precipitation mm (inches) 67.9
Average rainfall mm (inches) 27.8
Average snowfall cm (inches) 40.1
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm) 19.7 14.9 14.0 14.6 14.4 12.0 11.5 12.4 13.9 16.5 17.4 18.3 179.5
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 4.7 4.5 7.4 12.9 14.3 12.0 11.5 12.4 13.9 16.3 13.1 6.8 129.7
Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm) 16.5 11.8 8.2 2.8 0.15 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.73 5.6 13.2 59.0
Source: Environment Canada[32]


Elora is situated on the Grand River, approximately 20 km (12 mi) north of Guelph, and 20 km (12 mi) northeast of Kitchener-Waterloo.


The Canada 2001 Census was the last Canadian census to record Elora as a separate community. In the Canada 2006 Census, demographic statistics were published only for Centre Wellington.

According to the Canada 2001 Census:[33]

Population: 3,796 (+13.4% from 1996)
Land area: 3.54 km²
Population density: 1,072.3 people/km²
Median age: 39.1 (males: 37.4, females: 39.1)
Total private dwellings: 1,447
Mean household income: $29,473

Data extrapolated from the 2011 Canada Census report indicates that at the time, Elora had a population of about 7,756.[1]

No data for this community was available in the 2016 census, but the population of the entire Centre Wellington Township was 28,191, and this included the population of Fergus which was 20,767 at that time.[34][35]

Local government[edit]

The Centre Wellington Township council includes a Mayor (Kelly Linton) and six councillors. Three of the latter live in Fergus while one lives in Elora.[36]

The Township is also represented on the County of Wellington Council which is made up of seven mayors and nine councillors. Kelly Linton was elected Warden, the head of this council, in December 2018.[37]


Centre Wellington is heavily agricultural but is also the home to industries, manufacturers, retailers, health care services and trades people. The local economy also benefits greatly from tourism.[38] Data is not available for Elora alone but at the time of the 2011 Census, 6.4% of the workforce of Centre Wellington was involved in agriculture and other resource-based industries/utilities, 24.8% in manufacturing and construction, 19.8% in health and education and 13.2% in wholesale and retail trade. The top three categories for employment (in order of importance) were in manufacturing, Healthcare and Agriculture. The major employers in the township include Jefferson Elora Corp., Nexans Canada, Polycorp Ltd., Groves Memorial Hospital, Wellington Terrace and PR Donnelly.

Centre Wellington encourages the filming of movies and TV shows; quite a few productions have taken advantage of the historic look of Fergus, and especially Elora, for location work.[39][40] In 2016, parts of the 10 part mini series, Canada: The Story of Us, were filmed in Elora which was a stand-in for scenes of WW II skirmishes in Holland and France.[41]

The Elora Quarry was used to film a couple of scenes in the movie Angel Eyes and more recently, for a scene for It (2017 film).[42] Parts of the Grand River in both Elora and Fergus were the site for some of the scenes filmed for the 1994 movie Trapped in Paradise.[43] The Elora Quarry and nearby West Montrose Covered Bridge were featured in the 2017 movie It.[44] Other productions have also done filming in Elora.[39] These include the 1979 TV movie, An American Christmas Carol[45] According to Centre Wellington, Elora or Fergus was also featured in The Village Green (2012), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Dead Silence (2007) and Mrs. Soffel (1984).[40] Simon Birch 1998 Quarry scenes


Elora has a very active lawn bowling club that offers programs for all ages. The Elora Rocks Lawn Bowling Club is a member of District 7 of the Ontario Lawn Bowling Association, and more information about the club may be found on the District website.

Elora is also home to the Elora Mohawks lacrosse team, the Elora Rocks hockey team.

At the community level, Elora also has a skating club, a curling club, a girls' hockey team (Grand River Mustangs), minor hockey team (Centre Wellington Fusion), soccer (Fergus-Elora District Soccer), a ringette team, and a few baseball teams, as well as several other sports clubs and organizations.

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Smart Growth Elora + Fergus". Infographic SGEF Canada. SGEF Canada. 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Local History". Wellington.ca. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  3. ^ Connon, John R. (1906). THE EARLY HISTORY OF ELORA, ONTARIO, AND VICINITY. Elora: Digitized by the Internet Archive, 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Fergus-Elora: A history shaped by the Grand River". Southwesternontario.ca. 5 July 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  5. ^ "Plaque #22 - The Founder of Elora". Waynecook.com. Archived from the original on June 26, 2006. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  6. ^ "About Elora, Ontario". Elora-ontario.com. Town of Elora. 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  8. ^ McEvoy, Henry (30 November 1869). "The Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory: Containing Concise Descriptions of Cities, Towns and Villages in the Province, with the Names of Professional and Business Men and Principal Inhabitants, Together with a Full List of Members of the Executive Governments, Senators, Members of the Commons and Local Legislatures, and Officials of the Dominion, and a Large Amount of Other General, Varied and Useful Information, Carefully Compiled from the Most Recent and Authentic Data". Robertson & Cook. Retrieved 30 November 2018 – via Google Books.
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  16. ^ "When 'poorhouse' wasn't only an expression". Thestar.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  17. ^ "The Bank Barn and the Industrial Farm" (PDF). Wellington.ca. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
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  19. ^ "Historical Plaques of Wellington County - Plaque 17, The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge". Historical Plaques of Wellington County. Wayne Cook. 2015. Retrieved March 13, 2017. This is the earliest surviving example of an important 19th century institution, the government-supported poorhouse. Erected in 1877, it was the shelter of last resort for the homeless and destitute, who traded spartan accommodations for domestic or agricultural labour. With changing attitudes and the introduction of alternative forms of social assistance, its function shifted to the care of the elderly and infirm, and additions were built to respond to their special needs. Closed in 1971, this building and its history illustrate the Victorian roots of the 20th-century social security system in Canada.
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  29. ^ "Museum and Archives". Wellington.ca. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  30. ^ Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge. Canadian Register of Historic Places.
  31. ^ "Plaque #17 - Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge". Waynecook.com. Archived from the original on June 26, 2006. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
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  37. ^ "Meet Your County Council". Wellington.ca. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  38. ^ "Economic Development". Township of Centre Wellington. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  39. ^ a b "IMDb: Filming Location Matching "Elora, Ontario, Canada" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  40. ^ a b "Filming in Centre Wellington". Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  41. ^ "Elora set part of filming of Canada: The Story of Us". Wellingtonadvertiser.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  42. ^ Hunter, Ian (8 September 2017). "Local landmarks shine on the big screen in 'It'". Therecord.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  43. ^ "Trapped in Paradise (1994)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  44. ^ "It (2017)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  45. ^ "An American Christmas Carol (TV Movie 1979)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 30 November 2018.


  • Carter, Floreen Ellen, Place Names of Ontario, London, Ontario, Phelps Publishing, 1984, ISBN 9780920298398

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°41′6″N 80°25′38″W / 43.68500°N 80.42722°W / 43.68500; -80.42722