Trot off to Jolly London -- Ontario, Canada, That Is
Byline: Mike Michaelson
Visit London, Ontario, and listen to "the sweetest music this side of heaven" at a tiny museum honoring one of the city's favorite sons, band leader Guy Lombardo. It is one of the unusual attractions that makes Canada's 11th-largest city an ideal destination for quick getaways.
That this is London, Ontario, and not London, England, means that this city of more than 300,000 is accessible by car. It is within two hours' drive of the Detroit/Windsor border and about seven hours from Chicago. Or fly in via Air Canada and Air Ontario.
Similarities with the British capital are numerous. Visitors can explore historic Covent Garden market and stroll down Pall Mall, Oxford Street and Piccadilly and alongside the River Thames that winds through the city. There are free concerts in Victoria Park, first-rate theater, world-class performing arts, lively clubs and pubs, tours on a bright-red double-decker English bus and side trips to see Shakespeare performed at Stratford alongside the pretty Avon River.
Guy Lombardo was born in London in 1902, the son of an Italian immigrant tailor. He went on to form the Royal Canadians, who became a New Year's Eve institution with broadcasts from the ballroom of New York's Roosevelt Hotel.
The small Guy Lombardo Museum, dominated by a lifelike cardboard cutout of the maestro replete in trademark scarlet blazer with gold maple-leaf crest, chronicles the childhood and careers of the Lombardo family with a video and displays of photographs, record albums, sheet music, posters and other mementos. The museum also traces Guy Lombardo's second career, speedboat racing, at which he won every major event in the United States and briefly held the world's water speed record. On display is Lombardo's huge speedboat, Tempo VII.
Performing and fine arts abound in London, including plays at the beautifully refurbished Grand Theatre, a 1901 landmark that has its own ghost. Occasional post-performance "conversations" with the performers, director and others involved in the production often are available. Its season runs from Sept. 30-May 2.
There are the symphonies and pops of Orchestra London as well as exhibits at the London Regional Art Gallery (also a pretty spot for lunch, with big picture windows looking out onto the river).
The Thames is popular with anglers as well as with canoers and scullers. The London Rowing Club consistently sends representatives to the Olympic Games and captured three medals at the Atlanta Olympics.
One relaxed way to enjoy the river is a cruise aboard the London Princess, a sleek boat that looks as though it would be at home on a European canal (and, in fact, was built in Zaandaam, Holland). It is operated as a family business. Ron Hodgkinson drives the boat and provides narration (including the story of Slippery the seal that escaped from a London zoo and made its way to Lake Erie). Wife Therese crews, also preparing and serving meals (she cooks eggs to order on Sunday-brunch cruises).
Cruises start at perennially popular Storybook Gardens, a theme park that brings nursery rhymes and fairy tales to life. Other diverse attractions include Fanshawe Pioneer Village, a living-history museum with more than 25 restored buildings, farm activities and special events such as Cider Days (held in September). It also has Eldon House, London's oldest house, built in 1834 and filled with period furnishings and serving traditional afternoon teas during summer.
Allow time to stroll through London's parks and admire the stunning brick homes on Pall Mall Street in a gentrified downtown neighborhood. Because its streets are prettily lined with 160,000 trees, London has been dubbed the "Forest City."
London surprises with restaurants as good as you'll find in major cities. Famous Eastown Pizza has captured the honors at a number of international competitions and when you taste its made-to-order pizza you'll know why. …