4 Magical Reasons You Should Visit First Light in Midland

The night was dark. But the moon, set high in the sky, held hints of wonders to come. Driving up the lantern-lit drive I could already feel the electricity of magic wash over me. I’d wanted to visit First Light in Midland, Ontario and held at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons for years. And I finally made it!

But I didn’t know just how huge and awe-inspiring attending First Light would be until it was too late. So, I’ve come up with some great tips for attending First Light at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, to make your night a magical success! And four reasons why you should visit First Light in Midland.

First Light in Midland lantern

What is Sainte-Marie among the Hurons

First off, what is Sainte-Marie among the Hurons? Located in the charming small Ontario town of Midland, Sainte-Marie is the location of Ontario’s first European community.

It was a settlement of the French Jesuit on the land of the Wendat, the Huron Wendat people, back in the mid-17th century. The old mission has been recreated and now operates as a living museum.

At Sainte Marie among the Hurons you can see early Canadian pioneer life by wandering their barracks, church, and workshops. And most importantly you can learn about the Canadian Martyrs and Wendat nations, their interactions, daily lives, and history.

In 1920, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. If you’d like to learn more about the site, the Martyrs, the Wendat, and history click here.

What is First Light?

But what is First Light? Every year, for over 20 years, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons comes to life by candlelight. They started out with 1,000 candles and 1,000 visitors. Now the pathways, buildings, and more are lit by over 5000 candles, attracting thousands of visitors.

For many, First Light in Midland is the beginning of the Christmas season. Families, couples, and more descend on these historic grounds to celebrate, learn, craft, shop, and sing and dance. It’s also one of Ontario’s “Top 100” Events! And it’s one of the top places to experience lights in Ontario!

Martyrs Shrine

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Why You Should Visit First Light in Midland

The Magic

A visit to First Light will enchant you. Lanterns line the pathways guiding you through the historic site of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. Buildings made of wood are lit by candlelight and the warm glow will comfort you. So will the rich smells of stoked fires and warm apple cider. Dance to the beat of the drum. And join in with carolers. This is the magic of First Light.

The grounds of Sainte-Marie among of the Hurons is not the only place to explore during First Light. There is a lantern-lined trail under the bridge and up the hill to Martyrs Shrine. The Shrine is consecrated to the memory of the Canadian Martyrs, six Jesuit Martyrs and two lay persons from the mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. It is one of nine National Shrines in Canada.

There on the hill basked in a royal blue glow is the Shrine. It looks like something out of a dream, especially with a nearly full moon hanging over. And right out front is a towering tree stringed with lights. Be sure to climb the steps and enter the chapel. The pathway to the altar is lined with more lanterns. There’s a calm and peaceful quiet within. And along its walls, you’ll find brilliant stain glass windows with images of the Huron Wendat and Jesuits who once lived here.

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A Great Cultural Experience

When you visit First Light you’ll be transported back in time. To the 17th century and early pioneer times. When fire was your heat and straw was your mattress. Wander the buildings, talk with the men and women in period clothing and learn all about what life was like in those days.

Learn about the Huron Wendat. Enjoy Indigenous drummers and be sure to visit the longhouse to be regaled by storytellers. Did you know that Canada’s first Christmas hymn was called Huron Carol? It was originally written by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf in the native language of the Huron Wendat people.

And don’t forget to check out the array of multi-cultural displays of what Christmas looks like around the world.

Support Local Artists

Take a bit of the magic of First Light home with you. Every year dozens of artisans set up shop in Sainte-Marie museum. Here, amongst the museum pieces are tables and displays full of art, jewellery, decorations, First Light inspired pieces, gifts, and more made by local artisans as well as Aboriginals. Good luck walking away empty handed.

This more important than you may realize. Supporting local business, artists, and people in your community allows the money to go directly to them. Not some company CEO or big box store. Your money goes to real people. And, most likely you’ll be purchasing a one of a kind piece. That makes for a better gift or memento for yourself!

Your Donation Helps

Admission to First Light is only $15 with a donation of a non-perishable food item. These donations go to help the local food bank. And especially at this time of year, it’s incredibly important to give back.

How amazing is it to enjoy a magical night while knowing you’re helping to give a little something for someone in need?

Things to do at First Light in Midland

Things to do at First Light in Midland

There is so much to do during your visit to First Light. From exploring the candlelit grounds of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons to visiting Martyrs Shrine, you’ll be kept busy when you visit First Light.

The buildings are full of treasures, like the stables with animals, and the blacksmith with demonstrations going on. There’s also a cookhouse full of the delightful smells of baked goods to try.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and buzz of First Light. There is so much going on, your senses will be on overdrive. And First Light is great for families with young ones.

There are places for children to make crafts, like corn husk dolls. And Santa is on site to get your picture taken with.

Along with the drummers and storytellers, there are carolers, Franco-Ontarian folksingers, and local choirs. There’s a reason First Light is one of the top things to do in Midland. And don’t forget to make time to browse the artisan market within the Sainte-Marie museum.

Talk to the artists, hear their stories, and what their inspirations are. And on Thursday nights there is even a firework display!

This is only a brief glance at all that First Light has to offer.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons candles

Tips for Visiting First Light

Take the Shuttle

The easiest way to get to Sainte-Marie among the Hurons to attend First Light is to take one of the shuttles. There are designated shuttle pick up spots, from downtown Midland, and the Walmart on Highway 12, that offer free parking, and no hassle free shuttle service directly to the site.

The parking lot at Sainte-Marie is not equipped to handle the carloads of visitors. And taking the shuttle helps with traffic. Another thing I noticed by taking the shuttle is the magic starts here. Everyone is excited, eager, and you may even find yourself singing carols.

Get there Early

First Light runs from 5:30pm to 9pm. That’s only three and a half hours to explore the grounds, the buildings, walk up to Martyr’s Shrine, and shop the artisan market. In one visit you won’t see it all. But getting there early – as in right when it opens, is key to making the most of your First Light visit.

Saturdays are always the busiest. So, consider visiting on a Thursday night instead.

Dress Warm

First Light takes place during the end of November and early December. And temperatures at this time can be anywhere from 5 degrees to -5. At night it could be even colder. And most of your time at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons will be spent outside, so be prepared to bundle up. Layers, scarves, mitts, toques, and even hand warmers will help you stay comfortable so you can focus on enjoying your night.

Wait for Snow

You never know when we’ll get snow in Simcoe County. During my first visit to First Light there was no snow. But I’ve seen photos of the site with a soft blanket of snow with the thousands of lanterns and it looks outstanding. So, if you have the opportunity to visit Sainte-Marie among the Hurons’ First Light when snow is on the ground – jump at it!

What to Know Before You Go to First Light in Midland

Where – Saint-Marie among the Hurons off Highway 12 in Midland, Ontario

When – November 16, 17 and 18; November 23, 24 and 25; November 30, December 1 and 2 – from 5:30 to 9 pm

How much – Admission is $15 per person, with a donation of a non-perishable item. And Kids under 5 are FREE!

Have you been to First Light in Midland? Or have you experienced a similar event?


4 Magical Reasons to Visit First Light in Midland, Ontario
Guide to First Light - A Magical Event in Midland, Ontario


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for travel, the great outdoors as well as coffee and books. I hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Traveling mostly solo, I love to explore my own backyard of Ontario as well as exotic cities around the world.

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