As the county’s urban hub, St. Thomas offers many of the same shops, services and amenities you will find in metropolitan areas. Each region also has several towns offering necessities and services.
All major Canadian banks have branches in the St. Thomas area and many have locations in the county, making it easy to transfer seamlessly. If you do not have a Canadian bank account, ask about any available promotions for newcomers that can help you get started.
Food & Grocery
Large grocery stores stocking international ingredients are open alongside independent grocers stocking local products. As St. Thomas-Elgin is home to some of the best farmland in Canada, it is equally convenient to purchase food at a store or directly from producers. If you want to go out for dinner, you will find typical Canadian restaurant fare and several restaurants that serve ethnic foods, such as Japanese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Italian, and Thai.
Health & Wellness
You do not need to travel to access the same health and wellness services found in big cities. Complementary health services are available across the county, such as massage therapy, physiotherapy, day spas, and counselling.
National and regional newspapers, such as The Globe and Mail, National Post, and Toronto Star, are delivered throughout St. Thomas-Elgin. Many communities also have their own newspaper that reports local stories and events:
- Aylmer Express
- Elgin Life
- Establish Media
- St. Thomas Times Journal
- This Month in Elgin
- West Elgin Chronicle
National radio stations can be access in St. Thomas-Elgin, such as CBC Radio 93.5FM, along with local radio stations, including:
- My FM Radio 94.1 FM – a St. Thomas station which can be heard in Central Elgin and Southwold
- De Brigj Radio 105.9 FM– a radio station from the Mennonite Community Services in Aylmer with programing in Low German, Spanish and English
Television and high-speed internet services are offered across the county by several telecommunications companies, including Rogers, Bell, and Shaw. Contact providers for more information about rates and packages.
Like many regions in Canada, St. Thomas-Elgin has four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn (fall) and winter, which can be very different for newcomers that are used to more moderate climates. Temperatures can range from -20°c (-68°F) in the winter to 35°C (95°F) in the summer, creating dramatic changes in landscapes and lifestyle.
In St. Thomas-Elgin, spring generally begins as early as March and is a rainy season. Temperatures range between 5-18°C (41-64°F) and grow warmer day by day even though the nights remain cool. The rain and sun make the plants begin to bloom again in the spring.
In the summer months of June, July and August, the weather in St. Thomas-Elgin can be as hot as any tropical country, reaching 30°C (86°F) or higher. Summer temperatures begin rising in late May and last until mid-September. This season is hot and dry with occasional thunder and rainstorms.
The autumn (also referred to as ‘fall’) in Canada begins in mid-September. Fewer hours of daylight cause the leaves of many trees to change colour and fall off, resulting in stunning multi-coloured landscapes throughout the region. Temperatures begin around 20°C (68°F) and decrease to approximately 5°C (41°F). The first snowfall tends to occur in November, although it can be as early as October or as late as December depending on the year.
Winter is undoubtedly Canada’s most famous season. During the winter months of December, January, February and March, the temperature remains below 0°C (32°F) most of the time. Snow begins to fall in November and December and usually lasts until March of the following year.
St. Thomas-Elgin enjoys relatively higher winter temperatures that rarely drop below -25°C (-13°F) compared to other parts of the country that often endure -40°C (-40°F) temperatures for weeks at a time.
First Nations peoples have been living in southwestern Ontario for over 12,000 years and there are still several First Nations settlements close to Elgin County where First Nations communities live and share their cultural traditions. Learn more about the various First Nations communities in our area by visiting:
European settlers have been colonizing and settling in the St. Thomas-Elgin area since in the early 1800s. The cultural diversity has continued to change as immigrants from different parts of the world have moved to the area. Currently, 28% of the population in Elgin County is either a first or second generation immigrant; however, many immigrants come from largely Caucasian countries, such as Britain and United States, resulting in only 2.4% of the Elgin County population identifying as a visible minority.
In St. Thomas, English is a first language for 92% of the population, while French is a first language for 1% of the population. The most common first languages other than English and French are:
- Khmer (Cambodian)
For more information, see Statistics Canada's St. Thomas Census Profile.
In Elgin County, 13% of the population has a first language other than English or French. Other than English and French, the most commonly spoken languages in the county are:
For more information, see Statistics Canada's Elgin County Census Profile.
For more information about local cultural diversity, visit the St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership.
The St. Thomas Municipal Airport, located on Highway 3 east of St. Thomas, provides landing services for private planes. The airport also operates a flight school for both fixed wing planes and helicopters.
Nearby airports offering domestic and international flights include:
- London International Airport, 1750 Crumlin Road, London, ON, N5V 3B6
- Toronto Pearson International Airport, 6301 Silver Dart Drive, Mississauga, ON, L5P 1B2
Rail & Coach
Both systems have conveniently located stations in London, Ontario. Multiple departures are offered daily to eastern destinations, such as Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Buffalo, New York. Westbound trains make stops between London and Windsor and also connect to American rail and coach systems for US destinations.
Many individuals purchase or lease a personal vehicle in order to travel in the area. This method offers the greatest flexibility as the public transportation systems in rural areas tend to be limited. In order to drive legally, you need a driver’s licence, valid owner’s permit, licence plate with valid sticker, and insurance. For more information, visit the Ontario Driving website.
Public bus transportation operates in St. Thomas. Visit the St. Thomas Transit website for more information on routes, timetables and fares.
Individuals living with disabilities, who are unable to use the regular transit service, may be able to use Parallel Transit, a door-to-door accessible service within St. Thomas.
Many newcomers moving from metropolitan centres are surprised to learn that a balanced, affordable lifestyle full of vibrant arts, culture, recreation and nature is possible in St. Thomas-Elgin. There is a common misconception that smaller communities lack cultural opportunities, but this is simply not the case. Nature surrounds us in St. Thomas-Elgin, constantly inspiring our creativity and providing time for reflection. Whatever your passion, you will find opportunities to explore it here.
Arts & Culture
St. Thomas-Elgin has a strong artistic scene across all forms. Many artists and entrepreneurs have settled here or returned to the area after living abroad because they are inspired by the people, history and landscape. The lower cost of living enables them to pursue their passions everyday.
There are several award-winning theatre societies and art galleries that present shows in historic venues at a fraction of the price you would pay for a comparable event in a large city, such as:
- Elgin Theatre Guild,
- Aylmer Community Theatre,
- St. Thomas Public Art Centre,
- West Elgin Dramatics Society, and
- Port Stanley Festival Theatre.
Cultural events and attractions also showcase local artists in the region, such as:
- St. Thomas' Railway City Arts Crawl,
- Port Stanley’s Christmas in the Harbour, and
- West Elgin’s Arts & Cookery Bank.
These modern attractions blend seamlessly with heritage towns and buildings, such as the historic village of Sparta and the Aylmer Old Town Hall Theatre. Everyone is welcome to participate and volunteer in local arts and culture to create new attractions and events for everyone to enjoy.
For more information about arts and culture in the area, visit:
St. Thomas-Elgin offers recreational opportunities for everyone.
Every region in St. Thomas-Elgin has a community centre offering a range of sports, activities, clubs, and amenities at affordable prices. The St. Thomas Public Library and Elgin County Library systems also offer year-round programming related to literacy, hobbies, recreation, and mentoring. Communities also use facilities at local schools to organize activities for children, adults, and seniors.
In the summertime, residents play sports and exercise outside at parks and public facilities, such as basketball courts and soccer fields. Joining a sports team to play competitively or for fun is a great way to meet people if you are new.
In the winter months, our communities come together for indoor sports at local arenas. Arenas are usually located inside of, or close to, community centres and become a gathering place in colder months when children and adults play hockey, curling, and figure skating or simply watch from the sidelines with a steaming hot beverage. Even if you have never skated or seen snow before, don’t be afraid to try a winter sports league. Winter activities are as much social as they are recreational.
If you prefer to a specific type of workout, our region also has a great selection of fitness amenities, including gyms and personal training studios, yoga and meditation studios, martial arts and karate dojos, and indoor/outdoor swimming pools. You can easily continue your current exercise regime or create a new one.
For more information about local recreation services, visit Active Elgin.
To see community centres and libraries on a map, see the Explore the Area page.
Much of Elgin County is located in close proximity to Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes in southwestern Ontario. There are four award-winning beaches in the area - Port Glasgow, Port Stanley, Port Bruce and Port Burwell. Swimming, boating, fishing and water sports are popular activities in the summer months.
In addition to numerous parks and playgrounds in the region, Elgin County is also home to several conservation areas and provincial parks offering day use facilities for hiking, picnics, swimming and other activities, including overnight camping. For more information, visit:
Newcomers and immigrants arrive in St. Thomas-Elgin through various visa programs and circumstances. Some are family-sponsored and arrive directly in St. Thomas-Elgin, such as Frank and Iin, while others move from other parts of Canada, finding opportunities and making new friends when they arrive, such as Malichi and Gabriel and Doris.
Regardless of how you arrive in St. Thomas-Elgin, settling into a new area takes time and our local government-funded settlement agencies can help you through the process if you need it.
In St. Thomas-Elgin, there are two government-funded settlement agencies that provide free support and assistance to newcomers and immigrants in St. Thomas-Elgin:
These agencies help individuals and families with a variety of immigration tasks and processes, including:
- Citizenship: Information, application, and follow-up help through the process
- Other types of immigration help: Information on how to become a permanent resident, obtain a work permit, extend a visitor visa, etc
- Family Services: Assistance with government benefits, the school system, birth and death certificates, passports, driver’s licenses, social insurance numbers, etc
- Seniors Services: Assistance with Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan applications
- Referrals: Connections to other agencies that can help you with healthcare, housing, disability, Ontario Works, etc
- Interpretation and translation: Oral and written interpretation in various languages
- LINC English Language Classes: free conversational English classes for Permanent Residents
For more information, contact the organizations directly.
Mennonite Community Services (MCS) - 16 Talbot Street East, Aylmer, ON, N5H 1H4, 519-765-3020
YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin - 16 Mary Street West, St. Thomas, ON, N5P 2S3, 519-631-9800
Housing is a key consideration for newcomers to the area. Depending on your income and preferences, you may want to rent or buy a home. On this page, you will find information about how to find a place to live including both short- and long-term options.
Renting an apartment or house involves paying a set fee, usually monthly, to a landlord, who is usually the owner or caretaker of the property. As a renter, you do not own the property. You can browse rental housing listings online; however, we do not recommend sending payment to secure housing before you arrive in the area. If you need short term housing while you look for a rental property, see the short term housing section below.
When renting a property, you will be required to sign a lease. A lease is a legal document that describes the terms of the rental agreement with your landlord, including how much you are required to pay, whether utility costs are included in this payment and how much notice you must give your landlord if you choose to vacate the property.
Many leases require you to commit to living in the property and paying rent for at least one year before you can vacate the property. You should always read any document in full before signing. If you need help understanding the document, you can seek help from a local settlement agency listed on the Immigration & Settlement page.
If the lease states that utilities are included, this usually means vital services, such as heat (minimum of 20°C/68°F), hot and cold water, electricity, and fuel are included in the cost of your rent. Sometimes air conditioning/cooling and cable and internet may be included, but this is less common. If utilities are not included in your rent, you will need to pay these bills directly to the service providers in addition to your rental payment.
Regardless of whether you rent or own your home, you will likely have to pay for telephone, internet and/or television services. High speed services are provided by many carriers throughout the region.
The requirements to successfully rent a property vary depending on the landlord’s preferences. Some documents you may need include:
- Basic information about where you work
- A letter from your employer that includes your annual income
- A bank statement that shows you can pay rent for a few months
- A credit check – this means you give your landlord permission to access information about your credit history
- A guarantor or co-signor who can pay the rent in case you cannot
- References who can confirm you are a good tenant
A good rental property should:
- Be in a safe, well-maintained state
- Have access to utilities, such as heat, hot and cold water, and electricity
- Provide privacy – your landlord can only enter the rental property in an emergency or with written notification
- Provide a working smoke detector that will warn you in case of a fire
As a tenant you also have some responsibilities:
- Pay your rent on time
- Keep the rental property clean
- Repair damages you cause
- Be reasonably quiet
- Obey the law
- Follow the terms of your lease
Landlords cannot discriminate against you based on your race, ethnicity, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, family status, or disability.
Buying and owning a home means that the building and possibly the land surrounding the property belongs to you. Buying a home is a more permanent housing option that you may wish to consider if you have already found employment in the area.
Although it is possible to purchase a home in cash if you have the financial means, many individuals and families purchase homes in Canada by applying for a home loan known as a mortgage. Typically, mortgages are long-term loans that can be repaid over 20 to 30 years. There are many different types of mortgage lengths and interest rate arrangements available through banks and independent mortgage lenders.
In order to qualify for a mortgage, you will likely need to have an established Canadian credit history or significant financial means. To establish a good Canadian credit history, you should consistently pay your bills on time and pay at least the minimum required amount.
You can work with a bank or mortgage lender to find out the size of mortgage you will likely be approved for before you start looking for a house, although, keep in mind that the pre-approved amount if often much higher than many individuals choose to spend on a home in order to live comfortably.
Home ownership also comes with additional costs compared to renting. Maintenance, utilities, and property taxes are all the responsibilities of the home owners in addition to the mortgage loan. Maintenance and utility costs vary based on the size and age of the home. You will also pay less in property taxes overall in St. Thomas-Elgin because the average home price is much cheaper than other regions.
When you own your home you will have to pay for telephone, internet and/or television services. High speed services are provided by many carriers throughout the region.
Short Term Housing
If you only plan to stay in the area for a short time or need more time to find permanent housing, you may want to live in short term housing. Short term rental properties can be found online or through advertisements in local newspapers (see the Shops & Services page for a list of local newspapers).
Short term housing typically involves making daily, weekly or monthly payments to the owner or landlord that include all utilities and amenities, such as cable and internet. This arrangement can be easier for newcomers who may not be familiar with the local rental process; however, short term rentals are usually more expensive than long term rentals over time.
Hotels and motels are considered short term housing options and may offer reduced weekly or monthly rates for longer term stays. Search for local hotels and motels on Elgin Tourist or Railway City Tourism.
St. Thomas-Elgin has world-class healthcare facilities and a strong commitment to delivering services locally. You won't need to go far to access some of the most cutting-edge technologies and treatments when you need them most. Our local services include:
St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital
St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) is a 150+ bed facility that provides local residents with 24-hour services including emergency medicine, surgery, cardiology, palliative care, chemotherapy, clinical nutrition, diagnostic imaging, mental health, pediatrics, obstetrics, and more. The hospital is currently undergoing a $16 million dollar expansion to increase emergency, mental health, surgery, and medical device repair services.
Between 2010-2013, STEGH was awarded Gold or Platinum Level Quality Healthcare Workplace Awards by the Ontario Hospital Association and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The facility also boasts consistently lower wait times for emergency services, surgeries, MRIs, and CT scans compared to provincial averages, and is one of four designated Stroke Centres in southwestern Ontario, providing coordinated care to patients and families.
Elgin St. Thomas Public Health
Elgin St. Thomas Public Health provides health education and outreach programs and services with the overall goal of promoting and supporting the health of the people who live, work and play in Elgin County.
Featured programs at ESTPH include:
- Immunization clinics for children and adults
- Extensive prenatal, pregnancy and postnatal assistance for local families
- The Quit Clinic, designed to assist with smoking cessation
- Sexual health services, including family planning, testing and resources
- Preventative dental clinics and dental education in the community
Community Health Centres
Community health centres provide primary care services, health promotion, and illness prevention services in a coordinated manner. They have a strong community development focus that addresses social, economic and environmental problems negatively impacting people’s health. The two community health centres in St. Thomas-Elgin are:
- Central Community Health Centre, which provides services to St. Thomas, Central Elgin and Southwold, and
- West Elgin Community Health Centre, which services West Elgin and Dutton/Dunwich.
Staffing can include family doctors, nurse practitioners, Registered Practical Nurses, diabetes educators, social workers, mental health therapists, chiropodists, dietitians, health promoters, personal support workers, and community outreach workers.
Services offered at our community health centres include:
- Primary health care via family physicians and allied health professionals
- Mobile teams providing wellness programs, social work services, and clinics to smaller communities
- LQBTQ health resources
- Diabetes education and management services
- Mental health support
Family Health Teams
Family health teams provide residents with coordinated access to multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals, including family doctors, nurse practitioners, Registered Practical Nurses, chiropodists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dieticians, respiratory therapists, and social workers. Three family health teams service St. Thomas-Elgin:
Private Clinics & Services
There are numerous private clinics and service providers throughout St. Thomas-Elgin that provide primary and specialty care to our residents. For up-to-date listings, browse the following links:
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Doctor Search Tool
- Ontario Dental Association Find a Dentist Tool
- Southwest Healthline – Elgin Directory of Services
If you are interested in healthcare career opportunities, refer to the I am a Healthcare Professional page.
In St. Thomas-Elgin, there are three school systems that provide kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school education:
- Thames Valley District School Board - Administers public education. Children can attend school in English or French Immersion at all grade levels.
- London District Catholic School Board - Provides public education in English or through French Immersion. Catholic schools include spiritual development and religious foundations in the curriculum. Students from all religious backgrounds are welcome to attend.
- Private schools - Each private school in St. Thomas-Elgin has its own admission requirements and tuition fees and many offer faith-based education programs. International students and newcomers are welcome. For more information about private schools, visit the Ontario Ministry of Education website.
Elementary & Secondary School
Elementary schools provide education from Kindergarten through Grade 8.
When you child is approximately four years old, they can begin junior kindergarten and when they are approximately five years old, they can begin senior kindergarten.
Both the Thames Valley District School Board and London District Catholic School Board offer full-day kindergarten programs. You should begin the registration process as soon you can show proof of residency in St. Thomas-Elgin. Many schools begin registering new students in February, March, and April for programs that begin in September of the same year.
For more information about kindergarten, see Ontario’s full day kindergarten program.
Typically, when your child is six years old, they will graduate from kindergarten and transition to elementary school. Children begin in Grade 1 and move up one grade per school year until they reach Grade 8 and are approximately 13 years old. Subjects taught in elementary school include English, math, science and technology, social studies, art, music, and physical education. Instruction is available in English or French Immersion at select schools.
Children and youth who do not have strong English language skills may be able to access the English as a Second Language (ESL) program through the Thames Valley District School Board or the London District Catholic School Board. Students attend the regular classes for their grade, but will receive some time with an English teacher along with other students in the school who require support.
When your child graduates from elementary school at the end of Grade 8, they will continue their education at secondary school, also known as high school. Secondary schools offer Grades 9 through 12. Some specific courses are required in order to graduate, such as English and math, while other courses can be chosen based on the students’ interests and post-secondary plans.
To see local schools on a map, visit the Explore the Area page.
There are also options for newcomer adults who want to improve their English skills or complete a high school diploma.
Permanent Residents can learn basic conversational English through the free LINC program in St. Thomas and Aylmer. The program uses the Canadian Language Benchmarks system to assess adult learners and help track their progress over time. These classes are organized by YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin and are designed for beginner to intermediate learners. Contact the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin for more details about eligibility.
Adult ESL classes are available through the Thames Valley District School Board at the Balaclava Street Centre for Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education. These classes help adult learners earn high school credits that may be necessary for further post-secondary study or upgrading. Permanent residency is not required, although an intermediate level of English may be helpful for more advanced classes.
University & College
There are excellent university and college options close to St. Thomas-Elgin. Western University is a research-intensive, world-class institution located only 35 minutes away in London, Ontario. Western University is home to the top-ranked Ivey Business School and Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. The university offers many undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs, as well as numerous academic and research job opportunities.
St. Thomas is also home to Fanshawe College's St. Thomas-Elgin campus and is a short drive from the college's main campus in London. Fanshawe College is one of Ontario’s largest colleges, offering many skilled trades, apprenticeship, and training courses. Fanshawe College also offers courses to upgrade your skills or programs for adults who wish to change careers. The close proximity and range of full-time, part-time, and online programs makes it easy and convenient to study.
St. Thomas-Elgin is a great place to raise a family. We have world-class healthcare and educational facilities and open spaces and fresh air for children to play, learn, and grow. St. Thomas-Elgin offers the best of both worlds to growing families. On this page, you will find information and links about different services, amenities, and activities for children and families. One of the greatest resources for families in our region is the Elgin Children's Network Portal.
Pre-Natal & Birth Support
Several community organizations offer free or low-cost pre-natal programs and services in St. Thomas-Elgin:
- Elgin-St. Thomas Public Health Unit: Offers pre-natal health classes and services for expecting mothers and parents
- West Elgin Community Health Centre: Check the Event Calendar for upcoming pre-natal classes for West Elgin residents
- St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital: Six birthing rooms are available to local families
Early Childhood Education
From birth to six years of age is an incredibly important time in a child's development. Children should be introduced to new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. Free early childhood education programs are available in St. Thomas-Elgin to help parents promote healthy child development in these formative years.
- Ontario Early Years Centre for Elgin-Middlesex-London: Offers free, publicly-funded programs across St. Thomas-Elgin for children aged 0-6 years
- St. Thomas Public Library: Check the Event Calendar for children’s events in St. Thomas
- Elgin County Public Library: The Growing with Books program provides free books and resources to families with a newborn baby
There are several child care options in the St. Thomas-Elgin area, including private and publicly-funded providers.
- List of childcare providers in St. Thomas-Elgin
- St. Thomas-Elgin Child Care brochure
- Child care subsidy: Depending on your income and other factors, you may be eligible for a subsidy that lowers your overall cost for childcare; however, you must already be a St. Thomas-Elgin resident to apply so ask for more information once you have arrived in the area
Before & After School Programs
Many elementary schools offer on-site child care programs before and after school for a fee. These programs provide busy or working parents with greater flexibility when dropping off and picking up their children. Typically, before school programs run between 7:00am-9:00am and after school programs operate between 3:30pm-6:00pm. Schools can provide more information at the time of registration.
For more information about local schools, see the Education page.
To see local schools on a map, see the Explore the Area page.
Elementary & Secondary School Education
See the Education resource page for more information.
Our communities take great pride in offering children and their families a range of activities, sports, and arts programs. These programs help children and youth learn new skills, make new friends, and gain self-confidence.
Some groups and programs include:
- School clubs and teams: School-aged children and youth can participate in programs organized by teachers and fellow students held either before or after school. Opportunities include recreational and competitive sports teams, music, drama, environmental issues, and robotics. See the Education page for more information about local schools.
- Community groups and organizations: These groups are typically run by local adult volunteers, such as parents and teachers, on evenings and weekends at community centres or at outdoor locations. As a new resident, you are welcome to volunteer as a leader or simply register your children for programs. Some of our community groups are part of larger international organizations, so you may recognize similar groups from your hometown or county. A few examples are:
- Optimist Clubs: Organized sports leagues for children
- Scouts and Guides: Outdoor activities and leadership for children and youth
- 4-H Elgin: A “Learn to do by doing” philosophy to help children and youth become engaged citizens
- Privately owned businesses: Many local residents operate businesses that teach children specific skills, such as karate, dance, and piano.
- For youth and adults interested in science, engineering, arts, and math the STEAM Centre has programs to help you learn and explore. Learn by doing in one of the programs offered at the centre. Join a class, or get a membership to the space.
See Active Elgin for more information about extra-curricular activities.
Things to Do
In addition to clubs and sports, there are many family-friendly attractions and events, from time-honoured agricultural events to cutting-edge technology spaces for children to learn, play, and create.
- Traditional fairs and festivals: Every season, a variety of weekend events are organized by our local farms and orchards to learn about food and animals, play, and shop locally. Fall fairs with rides and games are also annual favourites and are hosted in towns across the region.
- Free fun: All kinds of free and low-cost classes and drop-in activities are available to St. Thomas-Elgin families. You can attend a little or a lot and you will always be welcome. Find free activities in the Elgin Free and Low Cost Activity Guide.
- Innovative spaces: In addition to book clubs for all ages, the St. Thomas Public Library and the Elgin County Libraries have maker space programs for children to learn about new technologies, such as 3D printing, digital media, and computer programming.
For more ideas, take a look at these popular tourism websites and blogs: