A thriving community in the heart of Ontario’s magnificent agricultural area in Huron County, Exeter is known as The Home of the White Squirrel.
Loved by residents and visitors alike, these cheeky, energetic, industrious little creatures are not albinos, but rather are believed to be a centuries-old genetic mutation of the common Eastern Grey Squirrel. In Exeter when you see someone driving slowly around residential streets, looking intently through rolled-down windows, they are most likely looking for an area celebrity – the White Squirrel!
Exeter boasts a proud history, including being the original home of the Verity Plow Co. In the mid-1800s the Verity family established its foundry in what was then Francistown. Known far afield (pun intended), the firm outgrew its location where the Shell station in Exeter today and moved to where the LCBO is now located. At its peak, it employed 60 workers in its heyday. The firm later became part of Massey-Harris, the well-known farm equipment company.
The first settlers in Exeter were Irish immigrants Jane and James Willis. A year later William McConnell arrived, opening the first roadside inn/tavern where the Presbyterian Church is located today. This industrious settler built a grist and sawmill and a dam. The first schoolhouse was built in 1838 in Francistown, now the north end of Exeter. By 1860 the Gidley Furniture Manufacturing firm was producing furniture and the Gidleys’ sideline was undertaking.
Where LUVU Naturally is today on Main Street, The Commercial Hotel was established; local lore says that one of the barmaids provided more than the basic hospitality services to travelers. The Exeter Times was first published in 1872, merging inn 1924 with rival newspaper The Exeter Advocate.
The colloquially-named Butter & Egg Express Railway Line opened in 1876, a boon for travelers as well as moving agricultural products. Another milestone was the establishment of the Exeter Canning And Preserving Company in 1906, near the railway stations. It ran for more than 100 years but closed in 2008 by then-owner Kraft Foods.
In 1931 Leavitt’s New Talking Picture Theatre began selling tickets to Hollywood dreams; the cinema was across from the Town Hall.
History buffs will enjoy a Heritage Home Tour that includes homes from the mid-1800s, still private residences today. The Heritage Walking Tour of Main Street is an opportunity to learn about the historic family businesses built by early settlers. Many of the original buildings are easily recognizable today. Check experienceexeter.ca for info.
MacNaughton Park is the beginning of the MacNaughton-Morrison Trail, accessed at the end of Hill Street. The South Huron Trail, an 8 km, all season trail winding through the Ausable River Valley links the MacNaughton-Morrison Trail and the Morrison Dam Conservation Area. Take a 2km, 4km or 8 km loop; in spring admire wildflowers, including red and white trilliums, dogtooth violets, blue, white and yellow violets and marsh marigolds/buttercups. Fall is delightful too with colourful leaves framing parts of the trail. Check out abca.ca/recreation/southhurontrail/ for info and maps.
From a variety of fast food restaurants to fine dining and international cuisine, you can indulge your taste buds in many different ways in Exeter.
Exeter has a variety of restaurants including ones offering Chinese food, Exeter Thai Cuisine, fine dining at Eddington’s of Exeter in the historic 1880s’ Thomas Carling home, fish & chips, pizza, Crabby Joe’s for a sports bar atmosphere, Huron Restaurant for home-styled meals and other eateries. Gregarious Cravings entices with decadent squares, butter tarts and other goodies to enjoy with coffee or tea; be sure to say hi to Lola – she’s a local celebrity with quite a large wardrobe and following!
Thursday afternoons there is a local market at MacNaughton Park by the river, with its manicured gardens boasting a variety of flowers and shrubs.
Exeter boasts many unique shops, including a quilt store, fabric shop, children’s, women’s and men’s clothing stores, jewellery stores, gift stores, a chocolate shop, two dollar stores, a Restore (Habitat for Humanity), thrift stores, a MacLean’s Home Hardware, Canadian Tire, drug stores, grocery stores and convenience stores. Several gas stations offer fueling-up options. Car dealerships, farm equipment, an equipment rental business, and a building centre are at hand.
Personal services abound – from hairdressers to nail salons, spas and RMT massage establishments, craniosacral therapy etc. as well as chiropractor and rehab clinics.
Events like the May Huron Waves Music Festival (formerly the Bach Festival) with its eclectic range of genres from both known and upcoming artists bring music lovers. The Exeter Ram Rodeo, marking 24 years in August 2020, makes a fun weekend for children and adults alike.
OVERNIGHT OR LONGER
The Ranch House Inn on Main Street is a 16-unit modern motel complex, a convenient location for excursions in Exeter and further afield. The Gregory Bed & Breakfast, located on a quiet residential street, offers a restful night and home-made breakfast goodies.
Exeter has several churches, all welcoming locals and visitors alike to their services and special events. South Huron Hospital has a 24-hour Emergency Department. The South Huron Walk-In Clinic is staffed by hospital doctors and nurses. An active library offers programs and also has several computer work stations.
Exeter Public Pool is open in the summer offering lessons and public swims.
For skating enthusiasts, public skating hours are scheduled for the general public, seniors and parents & tots at the South Huron Rec Centre, home of the Exeter Hawks. Walking programs, pickleball and special events are staples of the centre too.
Two golf courses are minutes away.
The Exeter Lawn Bowling Club was established in 1902 near where it sits today, in the heart of Exeter.
A broad range of accommodations are available – from affordable housing to upscale, luxury new builds. The town’s retirement communities offer easy-maintenance lifestyles in a range of price points. Houses throughout the town vary from heritage homes through war-time housing to brand-new custom dwellings. Rental accommodation is also at hand, including buildings designated 55+ non-smoking.
The Exeter Villa Retirement Living and Long Term Care Home provides residential care for private, semi-private and basic rooms, 24-hour nursing and personal care, and short stay options.