Written by Jim Bamboulis
A day filled with delicious grub, refreshing drinks and stunning art on a beautiful sunny day with friends? Sign me up!
It used to be the case that Toronto was the only place in Ontario where you could get a one-of-a-kind, fresh and deliciously authentic, ‘world-class’ meal along with an enriching cultural experience. People would make a weekend out of it, driving in to the big city for that big city experience. But in the past few years, many cities and small towns throughout Ontario have stepped up to the plate, offering incredible culinary and cultural experiences that have actually forced city slickers to look outside the city limits.
The focus on locally-grown ingredients – that in turn create locally inspired dishes with international flavour and flare – have taken centre stage everywhere from Ottawa and Thunder Bay to Sudbury and even Ayr, Ontario. Public art exhibitions have also popped up in many places and often feature local artists who – through their art – have added a refreshing touch of colour and style to skylines both big and small.
Ontario’s Waterloo Region took a bold step and decided to combine both art and food. 90 minutes west of Toronto, the proactive powers that be recently launched the Art Fresco Public Art Project. The aim: to unify both locals and visitors by showcasing the ever-evolving and ever-enriching travel, food and cultural experiences to be had in this beautifully quaint part of Ontario. And people from just about everywhere have taken notice!
Where Is Waterloo Region?
Waterloo Region is located about an hour and a half west of Toronto and is blessed with having everything from beautiful rolling hills and fairy-tale farmer’s markets to Grand River adventure activities and thriving German and Mennonite communities. Within its borders are picturesque towns such as Cambridge, New Hamburg and St. Jacobs.
Kitchener has become a huge tech centre over the past few years as both startups and big name companies such as Google have established offices here. But at its core, Waterloo Region is a cultural and culinary hub, still home to the 2nd largest Oktoberfest festival in the world, second only to Munich, Germany. A short and easy day trip from Toronto, Hamilton and London, there’s no way you’ll grow hungry or bored while here.
Lovers of food and drink, art and culture are in for a treat. Keep reading as I share the best of all worlds in Waterloo Region.
Eats, drinks and art fresco in Waterloo Region
Waterloo Region’s Art Fresco Public Art Project features 50 local artists, each of whom have passionately designed individual picnic tables, located at various restaurants around the vast region. You could easily spend the weekend enjoying countryside drives and city walks to see them all but if you’ve only got one day, this itinerary is perfect for everyone from couples to families looking to combine great food and stunning art.
Eats, drinks and art fresco. 1st stop: Graffiti Market in Kitchener, Ontario and the work of Artist Andy McGeoch
An Artist for 10 years, Andy McGeoch was living in San Diego, California when he serendipitously met his now wife who was visiting the city. They hit it off, fell in love and before he knew it, Andy moved to Kitchener, Ontario in 2019 and has since become a father. Amazing how a chance meeting can change your life direction.
“I did a piece for a gallery to auction off – all proceeds went to the families of everyone that was killed.” – Andy McGeoch
When the opportunity presented itself to participate in the Art Fresco Public Art Project, Andy jumped on it. Atypical, chaotically-structured and colourful, his pieces pieces can be found at various locations. The one in front of Graffiti Market is especially poignant as it commemorates the lives lost in the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016.
It’s only fitting that the Art Fresco Public Art Project would feature prominently outside Graffiti Market. Located at Catalyst 137 – the world’s largest IoT (Internet of things) manufacturing hub – it’s an incredible place where art, food, culture, drinks and tech mix and mingle. After all, it’s North America’s first-of-its-kind restaurant, retail market, microbrewery, coffee roaster and bakery!
Smart dining tables allow you to experience a restaurant environment in a whole new, evolutionary way, the surrounding art immerses you in all sorts of funky vibes while their Detroit-style pizzas, burgers and pastas will overload your senses and may even instigate uncontrolled salivating.
137 Glasgow St Suite 385, Kitchener, ON
Eats, drinks and art fresco. 2nd stop: Four Fathers Brewing Co. in Cambridge, Ontario and the work of Artist Andy McGeoch
Cambridge, Ontario is one of those mesmerizing places with a rich history, beautiful architecture and overall chill vibe. Its stunning, grand limestone buildings are visible at every angle and walking along the Grand River allows for many perfect vantage points. If you’ve watched ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ on Netflix, Cambridge might look familiar. It served as the backdrop for much of the series.
Along with more than 50 km worth of hiking trails, 400-million-year-old limestone cliffs and Mennonite settlements, Cambridge is increasingly gaining a reputation as an art and restaurant powerhouse. Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa is well known throughout the region but there are more and more hotspots to choose from, all of which offer an exceptional culinary experience with casual backdrops with a side of rich brew.
Artist Andy McGeoch – 2nd piece
Inspired by what he saw at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, Andy’s second piece features abstract devil rays. But his big picture inspirations include game-changers like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. When he’s not feeling inspired, he spends times with family along the banks of the Grand River.
“I got involved with the Art Fresco Public Art Project because if you’re pissed off or mad, I want my art to have a calming factor, hope it relaxes you.” – Andy McGeoch
Personally, he continues to be an insatiable force of growth which has paid off professionally – he’s expanded with colour mixtures and larger scale pieces which has led to a larger network circle and more exposure, including gallery showings. Not bad for a guy who moved here only last year.
Four Fathers Brewing Company
Four Fathers Brewing Company in Cambridge is an inviting restaurant/brewery that’s making waves for its quality and energy. It all started over 10 years ago when four hockey dads gathered to chat about and eventually create high quality, yet accessible craft beers that respect the art of the brew yet unafraid to take some risks.
‘It Takes A Village’ is a craft with hints of orchard fruit and baked bread, ‘Philly Eilish’ is a sour with apricot, coconut and vanilla notes while ‘Barrelgard’ is a white wine BA Kveik with a touch of peach juice and honey! Sure, drinks were enjoyed on the patio – and extra beers were taken home to enjoy later.
Four Fathers Brewing Company
125 Guelph Ave, Cambridge, ON
Eats, drinks and art fresco. 3rd stop: 1909 Culinary Academy in Ayr, Ontario and the work of Artist August Swinson
It’s fitting that an outdoorsy restaurant like 1909 Culinary Academy would host an outdoorsy piece such as Shore and Lake by August Swinson. I can’t quite understand how and why but there’s something about art featuring Indigenous symbols, meanings and reliefs that really move me. On a personal level, when I saw this piece, it hit me immediately for its striking colour and beauty.
“I hope that people get a sense of nostalgia and peace when they see my artwork. I want to portray a sense of old-fashioned goodness. I want people to feel a bit of peace for a little while.” – August Swinson
Drawing since he was a child, August’s art reflects inspiration through nature. A member of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, August grew up with his artistic Grandfather at an early age, setting the stage for his passion; he feels strongly that his Grandpa’s nostalgic style and approach to art is reflected in his own work. For August, getting the chance to participate in a community art project such as this one brings a joyous feeling, a connectivity to the community.
1909 Culinary Academy
Outside the busy cities of Kitchener and Cambridge, Waterloo Region features beautifully lush rolling hills, and country roads lined with fields of corn amongst endless horizons. Sunsets here are special as golden light glistens off flower petals and time seems to stand still. It is here, just outside the North Dumfries town of Ayr, Ontario where you find a restaurant as unique as the people you meet, the air you breathe.
Located on Trussler Road, 1909 Culinary Academy can be very easily missed if you’re not paying attention. But once you pull into the restaurant parking lot, you wonder how you could miss it to begin with. Owner/Chef Murray Zehr’s passion for his craft, enthusiasm for his community and commitment to heritage is unmatched! He’s transformed this former schoolhouse into a lovely dining destination and culinary academy ensuring that the next generation of soulful Chefs learn what it takes to run and sustain quality in the kitchen, in the dining room, on the plate.
Inside the beautiful building, original details are everywhere, including the blackboards, tin ceiling, light fixtures, hardwood floors, and original dual entry foyer. Outside, the patio is expansive, outdoorsy, inviting and inclusive.
1909 Culinary Academy
5183 Trussler Rd, Ayr, ON
Here, all you have to do is pick a direction and follow your heart. Waterloo Region has so much to offer, it’s perfect for just about anyone looking for a touch adventure with delicious food and pristine country drives.
If you’ve experienced the beauty, flavours and outdoor adventures in the Waterloo Region, be it the Art Fresco Public Art Project or any other festive event, drop by the TravelMammal Facebook page and share your experience with us.
For more information about the Art Fresco Public Art Project, artists involved, locations and restaurants included, please click on this link!
Disclosure: I was invited to explore Waterloo Region by Explore Waterloo Tourism. Thank you!