An eternal flame flickers next to a modest little home owned by a Canadian doctor who saved millions of lives around the world. It is one of the many attractions to be found in this town, about 150 miles away via the QEW from Buffalo.
The Flame of Hope, kindled by the Queen Mother (Elizabeth II's mum) on July 7, 1989, is dedicated to those affected by diabetes and honors Sir Frederick G. Banting. He conceived the idea for insulin after awakening at 2 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1920, in the upstairs bedroom of this Queen Anne style house.
"Thank goodness he wrote it down," said Grant Maltman, curator of Banting House National Historic Site of Canada at 442 Adelaide St. North. A copy of Banting's 25-word note about "Diabetus" is on display in his bedroom, and scientists and people touched by diabetes come from all over the world to get inspiration at the "Birthplace of Insulin."
Banting was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1923 at age 32. He shared the prize with John James Rickard Macleod, a Toronto professor who offered Banting space in his lab and provided advice on methods for extracting insulin.
A decorated World War I hero, Banting was also an accomplished painter and wood carver. Along with surgical instruments, his art works, military medals, Memorial Cross and a replica of his Nobel Prize are displayed in the museum.
"A bronze statue picturing him at age 30 honors his legacy," Maltman said, "and the Flame of Hope will not be extinguished until a cure for diabetes is found."
Banting House is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Admission: Adults, $5; seniors and students, $4, and families, $12. www.diabetes.ca.
> London's oldest home
Eldon House is the oldest single-family residence in London. Built in 1834 for John and Amelia Harris, this Georgian and Regency style manse is located at 481 Ridout St., and overlooks a fork in the Thames River.
The home remained in the Harris family for four successive generations until it was donated to the City of London in 1960. With all the furnishings, photos, diaries and antiques perfectly preserved, the house has a real "Upstairs, Downstairs" or "Downton Abbey" feel.
For example, check out the row of bells over the kitchen door for summoning maids and cooks. The rooms of the servants are smaller and more sparsely decorated.
The owners' quarters are filled with souvenirs of their travels like animal horns, Delft tiles, African spears, Japanese carved ivory panels and an umbrella stand made from an elephant's foot.
One visitor loved the "frozen-in-time interior," and suggested opening the door to the closets "to see all the old clothes hanging. It's like the former owner just popped out a minute ago."
A costumed interpreter leads tours of the house and gardens from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Admission: by donation on Wednesday and Sunday. Other days: adults, $6; students and seniors, $5; children, $1, and families, $11.
A drawing room concert is planned at 2 p.m. March 11. A "Behind the Ropes" basement and attic tour is May 6, followed by a Mother's Day Tea at 1:30 and 3 p.m. May 13. Daily teas, costing $7, are served on the lawn from June 26 to Aug. 28. www.eldonhouse.ca.
> Museum London
One block from Eldon House at 421 Ridout St., is Museum London, which is home to 5,000 Canadian artworks and 25,000 artifacts reflecting the history of the city.
The glass and steel building was designed by Raymond Moriyama, the architect for the Ontario Science Center and Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Skylights illuminate exhibition halls and floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Walter J. Blackburn Memorial Fountain with seven jets of water spraying out over the Thames.
Take in the great fountain/water view and a $10 lunch at the River Room, the museum's new cafe that opens at the end of March. Sunday is the best day to visit, with a free children's art program at Imagination Station at 1 p.m., followed by a free guided gallery tour at 2 p.m. and a free tour of Eldon House at 3 p.m.
Admission is by donation from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. For information, check www.museumlondon.ca.
> Cold beer here
For history buffs with a thirst of a different kind, there is a two-hour tour and tasting at Labatt Brewery, 150 Simcoe St. John Kinder Labatt started brewing beer at this same location more than 160 years ago.
His first brewery produced about 1,000 bottles of beer. Today, the Labatt facility operates 24 hours a day, five days a week and churns out more than a billion bottles of suds per year.
Millions of beer bottles form an endless conveyor-belt parade as they are sorted, cleaned, filled, labeled and packaged into Labatt Blue cardboard cases.
Tour guides are knowledgeable and good-natured, answering all sorts of questions and stopping to let visitors run their fingers through samples of raw beer ingredients like hops, malt and rice.
Labatt is now part of global brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, so sample brews include small cups of Blue, Bud Light, Budweiser, Stella Artois and Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale.
The weekday tours cost $10 and include a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the cool red 1947 Labatt Streamliner delivery truck. Guests must remove jewelry and watches and are required to wear closed-toe shoes for safety reasons.
All tours must be reserved at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (519) 850-TOUR (8687). And don't forget to bring proof of age.
> A Grand ghost
Along with being London's premier performing arts theater, the Grand Theatre at 471 Richmond St., is believed to be the haunting grounds of a rather dramatic ghost.
"Ambrose Small, a successful entrepreneur with a chain of theaters across Ontario, originally built the Grand in 1901 and sold it for more than a million dollars in 1919," said Marty Rice of Tourism London.
"The suitcase full of money and Ambrose disappeared shortly after the sale. He was never heard from again," Rice said. "Until people working at the theater began to notice strange things. Costume seamstresses saw a mysterious figure in the shadows, set designers were surprised by plates falling off tables, odd things like that."
"And when the theater was undergoing restoration in 1977, the backhoe mysteriously stalled as it was about to excavate the right side of the stage," Rice continued. "Workers with shovels kept digging and when they got down a few feet, they discovered the whole right side of the stage was resting on just three bricks."
"Had the backhoe been working, the whole stage would have come tumbling down. And as soon as the structure was shored up safely, the backhoe started right up."
During its centennial celebration in 2001, the Grand honored Small's spirit by hanging his portrait on its second-floor poster lounge.
The season runs from October to May and includes "The Great Gatsby" (through March 3), "Tempting Providence" (March 13-31) and "Hair" (April 10-May 13). Times and ticket prices at www.grandtheatre.com.
> Top concert venue
Another entertainment venue echoes more from slapped pucks than poltergeists.
John Labatt Centre at 99 Dundas St., is home of the Ontario Hockey League London Knights, a Junior A team with upcoming teenage NHL prospects. The facility seats 9,090, so fans are close enough to feel the action and hear every eager check into the boards.
The Knights' season continues until March 16. The team shares arena time with the London Lightning National Basketball League team, curling and skating competitions, ice shows, Broadway productions and big-name rock acts.
For game and event dates, check out www.johnlabattcentre.com.
> Places to shop
Across the street from the JLC at 130 King St., is Covent Garden Market, an indoor bazaar that has been serving London since 1845. With more than 50 vendors, it is a place you can eat your way through -- sampling chocolates, cheeses, butter tarts, cupcakes, fresh-roasted coffee, sausage, soup and farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.
Other stalls include a chair massage, shoe repair shop, homeopathy products, a tea house, ethnic restaurants and a Labatt Blue Lounge. There's a free skating rink in front of the entrance and more farmer stands outside in the warmer weather.
Market hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday (until 7:30 p.m. Friday) and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. On weekends, underground parking is free for two hours and on weekdays the first 30 minutes are free. www.coventmarket.com.
A few blocks from Covent Garden is Kingsmill's, Canada's oldest department store. Founded in 1865 by Irish immigrant Thomas Frazer Kingsmill, the store is still operated by his descendants.
The art deco, four-story building at 130 Dundas St., features tin-plated ceilings, leaded-glass windows, hardwood floors, a pneumatic tube system to send paperwork and an old-style elevator with a friendly operator. It's reminiscent of Buffalo's Hengerer's or L.L. Berger's stores. www.kingsmills.com.
Continue to 258 Dundas St., to Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery, Canada's largest contemporary Canadian ceramic gallery. The little storefront is unassuming, but the museum-quality exhibits of pottery, paintings and silver objets d'art go on forever in the 4,500-square-foot showroom. Owner Bancroft-Snell eagerly shares his encyclopedic knowledge about each piece and recently finished a new book on ceramic treasures. www.jonathons.ca.
> Out to eat
Braywick Bistro at 244 Dundas St., is a five-minute walk from the JLC and a good pregame restaurant. Some highlights from its fusion-based cuisine include hand-made spring rolls, Pad Thai, pineapple chicken curry and trademark "sweet potato stix." www.braywickbistro.ca.
Crabby Joe's Tap & Grill at 276 Dundas St., is a sport bar with lots of big-screen TVs, 39-cent wings on Tuesdays and pub fare like burgers, wraps and fajitas. Half-price appetizers are offered after 9 p.m. and kids eat free on Sundays. www.crabbyjoes.com.
Garlic's of London at 481 Richmond St., is adjacent to the Grand Theatre. The signature ingredient here -- garlic -- is in many culinary incarnations. Start with garlic and roasted onion bisque, followed by hot smoked garlic tagliatelle and finishing off with garlic ice cream (a perfect juxtaposition of savory and sweet). There are many other farm-to-table-inspired items. It's fun to crave the clove, just take a breath mint to the play next door. www.garlicsoflondon.com.
> Places to stay
Idlewyld Inn, 36 Grand Ave.Intermediate string overflow www.idlewyldinn.com.
Delta London Armouries Hotel, 325 Dundas St.
> If you go
London is 146 miles west of Buffalo or about a three-hour drive. Take Queen Elizabeth Way to Red Hill Valley Parkway Exit 88, then follow Highways 403 and 401 west, taking Exit 189 north onto Highbury Avenue to Dundas Street.