I grew up near Elora, in the town of Elmira. “Ooooh,” people would say when I told them my hometown. “That’s so pretty! I love the gorge.” Ah no, I’d auto-correct. I was from Elmira. You are thinking of Elora. That’s the pretty place.
Indeed it is. The Gorge was formed by the Grand River. Geology nuts can find out all the details by reading this information from P. F. Karrow from the University of Waterloo’s Department of Earth and Environment Sciences. The cliffs are as high as 22 metres and create a stunning landscape in any season. The town of Elora grew up around the Gorge, which was not always so cherished as it is today. Information signboards along one trail inform you that a century ago the Gorge was the convenient garbage dump for European settlers in Elora and its neighbouring village, Salem.
There is here, as in so many places in Canada, a renewed effort to remember that the first humans to love this place were not from Europe. A recent history of the Elora area by the Fergus-Elora News Express points out that this was “the very heart of the old Attiwandaronk Lands in the early 1600s — the powerful Neutral Nation. The Neutrals were the earliest inhabitants who enjoyed the abundant wildlife, fish and flora. The Grand River wanders through fields and forested areas, plunging over the falls at Islet Rock, also known as The Tooth of Time.”
I’m standing here on “Lover’s Leap”, an outcrop of rock now made safer with a modest stone wall. On a less-icy day, you can walk stairs down to the riverbed and hike along the Gorge.
As a teen, Elora appealed to the budding artsy type I eventually became. Many houses are made of stone; there were potters and hipsteresque restaurants long before those became a thing. The town had, and has, an embrace of European charm. In 1979, a music festival started, first called the Three Centuries Music Festival (those being centuries 16 to 18), which evolved later into the Elora Festival: A Celebration of Song.
There are hundreds of “Eloras” scattered across Canada — places of charm and history and unexpected beauty. But Elora was my first. And you always remember your first.
Photo: Chris Moorehead