Sense of community in a small town – Embro, Ontario

(Editor’s Note: Lillian Knoops has been working with Stittsville Central sharing our stories about local people, the community and events. Lillian was placed with us as part of her Algonquin College co-op program. We could not have been more fortunate and now that her placement is completed, we are excited to share that Lillian will continue to work with Stittsville Central. If you have stories or events you wish to pass on, please reach out as Lillian would be pleased to write your story. In her article, Lillian shares what is it like growing up in a small town that is similar to what was once a smaller Stittsville.)

Five hundred kilometres southwest of Stittsville sits the little village where I grew up: Embro. With a population estimated to be 826 in 2016, I’d say calling Embro small is rather fitting. Driving through the village takes, at most, only about one minute.

I consider Embro a hidden gem. Nobody really knows of the village outside of those who live in and around it. Anytime I’ve found myself abroad and the question of where I’m from inevitably comes up, I need to run through a list of nearby cities before people understand where it is I come from. Sometimes saying near Stratford or Woodstock (both about a twenty-minute drive away) is good enough. Other times I must move up to saying near London or Waterloo (each approximately a forty-minute drive away) to lead to understanding. And if I’m far enough away from Ontario, I’ll resort to saying near Toronto (around a two-hour drive away).

Despite being rather tiny, Embro has a restaurant, a grocery/liquor/beer store, a gas station, a library (town hall, home of Thistle Theatre, and fire hall can also be found in this building), a few churches, a legion, a bank, a butcher, a woodwork supply store, and a few other businesses offering various services. Recently, a café was even opened in the building where the co-op (agricultural supply store) used to be.

(The side of the Workshop Supply building, featuring an old advertisement for “sope.” Photo: Sumoflam Productions)

About five minutes north of Embro is Zorra Highland Park Public School, the K-8 elementary school that I attended for ten years. I was one of approximately 300 students attending the school. Needless to say, split classes were rather common.

Embro offers organized sports, with children (and adults) being able to join the soccer, baseball, and/or (of course, since this is Canada after all!) hockey teams. Despite begging my parents, I never played hockey. I did play soccer, however, and was perfectly mediocre at the sport. The community centre/arena/fairgrounds just west of Embro played host for hockey practices and games inside, and for soccer practices and games outside. One baseball diamond can also be found past the soccer fields at the community centre, and another is in Embro.

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Embro is the Highland Games. Held annually on July 1st, the Embro Highland Games are the oldest annual event of their kind across all of Ontario. When I think of this event, I hear bagpipes playing, I see the highland dancers and the tug-of-war competitions, I feel the heat (it always felt like the hottest day of the summer), and I recall the simple pleasure of eating ice cream while wandering between the many vendors set up around the community centre grounds. Of course, I also remember seeing tartan everywhere. Not surprising, being a Scottish event in a village with very Scottish roots.

(Highland dancers, wearing lots of tartan. Photo: Tourism Oxford)

The Highland Games aren’t the only annual event Embro hosts. The Embro Fall Fair (held the third weekend of September) was always one of my favourite weekends. Between the parade, the rides, the shows, the exhibits, and the events, there was always so much going on. Each year had its own theme as well. Consistent every year was the pumpkin contest. I believe it was at the end of each school year that all Zorra Highland students would gather in the gym for an assembly, where we would each get a packet of pumpkin seeds to plant and grow over the summer. Come the new school year, we would bring our grown pumpkins in to school to be weighed. The growers of the biggest pumpkins would be named the Pumpkin Prince and Princess. These expert pumpkin growers were crowned and got to ride on the pumpkin float in the Embro Fair parade. I don’t think I was ever too successful in these competitions. It was always a lot of fun regardless.

Another big Embro event occurs on the Friday and Saturday of the Civic Holiday weekend: the Embro Truck and Tractor Pull. My father is on the committee for this event, so I think he would be upset if I didn’t include it. The tractor pull involves watching tractors and trucks pull a shifting-weighted sled down a dirt track. You can watch modified (or “souped-up,” as I call them) trucks and tractors roar down the track. There’s something about seeing these tractors – the same huge machines you usually see either in fields or slowly rolling down the road in front of you as you try to pass – now possessing a whole lot of power that’s rather cool. Local farmers can also bring their own unmodified tractors down to take a shot at getting a “Full Pull”. In addition to watching the pull, you can get food (my favourite being beef on a bun) from the booths and hang out in the beer tent (always quite full) if you’re old enough. The popularity of the Embro Truck and Tractor Pull truly reflects that, above all, Embro is an agricultural village through-and-through.

(A pulling tractor in action. It’s surprising to see the front wheels still on the ground here. Tractors are typically roaring down the track on only their rear wheels. Photo: The Woodstock Sentinel Review)

I could very likely go on and on about Embro. It’s truly a wonderful place – though I may be slightly biased in thinking that! There is undoubtedly so much more to Embro than this. I will end by saying that the community is one I have always seen as incredibly supportive. For such a small village, Embro’s sense of community is enormous.


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1 thought on “Sense of community in a small town – Embro, Ontario”

  1. AWESOME, Lillian! Congrats on such a beautiful write-up of our beautiful Embro. We are proud of living in this supportive and loving community and so very proud of you praising our little town for the wonderful place it is. THANK YOU!

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