A trip to Shaw

What’s summer in Ontario without a trip to see a play at the Stratford Festival or the Shaw Festival (or Drayton, or…). This year, with Pygmalion on the bill, we chose Shaw in beautiful and historic Niagara-on-the-Lake. Touristy, boutiquey, yes, but great theatre. The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes in Shaw’s work and the work of his contemporaries.

Before I start on a rant about how pretentious the area has become with all the wineries “in town”, I’ll get right to the ice cream. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in Simcoe Park, home of Upper Canada’s first legislature, then wandered down the street looking for ice cream. Old Towne Goodies is right on the north side of Queen St., the main drag, a block down from the Prince of Wales Hotel. Great selection of London Dairy (not Londonderry) ice cream with decent waffle cones, if you prefer. Then we beetles off to Shaw for the show.

Great performance, updated to be contemporary with iPads, large screens – very multimedia, but in a way that did not detract from the performances. We felt the “low class” accents weren’t terribly accurate, except by Alfred Doolittle (Eliza’s father) – they were missing the “f” and “v” sounds in place of “th”s in words like three and weather (yes, many Brits really do mispronounce their ths).

On our way out of town, we decided to head up the Niagara Parkway to Hwy 405. This is a much smoother, straightforward and less “pokey” way of getting into and out of Niagara-on-the-Lake than going on 89 and 55 through Virgil. We’ll remember that for next time. I thought The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures sounded interesting enough to see without knowing anything about it!

Advertisements

Beautiful Westport

IMG_5412Driving home today from the cottage, we decided to take the old Perth Road rather than Hwy 15 down to the 401. The Perth Road has an extra bit of charm to it. Being geographers, we enjoy the leap-frogging of limestone-then-granite-then-limestone-then-granite-then-(finally)-limestone of the Fontenac Arch. But then there are the stone cottages built around the time the Rideau Canal was put through almost 200 years ago. There are even some log cabins that look near-original.

The rollings hills of granite and white pines through the Frontenac Arch area, some lovely farms and dozens of lakes and you have a combination seems to work its charm on us. Then, there’s Westport, a lovely village below Foley Mountain at the head of Upper Rideau Lake. A perfect place to stop for ice cream.

IMG_5411The Vanilla Bean Café & Creamery has Kawartha Dairy ice cream is right on the main drag and has over a dozen flavours. Its café side offers espressos, cappuccinos and cinnamon. You can eat in at the café tables or outside on the sunny patio. A lovely spot!

Paris in the Summer

On our way home from Canada’s “Deep South” (the north shore of Lake Erie – see GeoPhotographica for details of great nature spots), we passed through Paris just at the right time for ice cream or a bakery. Coasting downhill to where the Nith River converges with the Grand, we scanned Grand River Street for either. “There’s a bakery”, I shout out just before Laurie exclaims, “Ice cream – and it’s Kawartha Dairy” (her favourite).

Well, what to do – ice cream or bakery? Easy – I went to the Paris Bakery and Laurie entered the wonderful envelope of aromas at Chocolate Sensations to get her ice cream.

I must admit, the Paris Bakery was a bit disappointing in that it had no where to sit down, had mostly desserts and had only coffee (I could have used a cuppa tea at 4 o’clock in the afternoon). However, I surprised myself by ordering a Blueberry-Nut Bread Pudding which was in a large muffin case. I despise even the thought of bread pudding. While I love leftovers, I just don’t think of a dessert as leftover bread and eggs – that’s french toast! Well wasn’t I surprised by this – it was delicious.

Laurie had a scoop of Key lime on top of Moose Tracks. The Key lime was much more limey than the Key lime pie ice cream from London Dairy at Broderick’s Ice Cream Parlour in Port Stanley earlier in the week. Anyway, we both walked away satisfied and strolled down to the Nith-Grand confluence. Being geo-geeks, we had to see it. It was rather underwhelming with a green Nith joining a very shallow Grand. The Nith valley is beautifully forested at the that point and with the careful removal of unsightly wires (via Lightroom), it would make for a beautiful autumn photograph. However, the river itself needs a good flushing!

Soon we were on our way home having enjoyed downtown Paris in the summer.

Broderick’s Ice Cream Parlour, Port Stanley

People who live in London and St. Thomas know of Broderick’s, I’m sure! What a delightful ice cream parlour!

We were on our way from Windsor, where we had been walking the paths of the Ojibway Prairie Nature Reserve, enjoying the various butterflies and wildflower species, to Port Rowan to visit Canada’s best example of old growth Carolinian forest at Backus Woods. After driving through torrential rain along the 401, we headed south on Road 20 through Sheddon and Fingal down to Port Stanley. By then, the rain had caught up with us and it was about 4pm, so were thinking ice cream when we drove by Broderick’s. After a quick “round the block” we were back on the main drag, found parking, and made it to Broderick’s just before the heavy rain hit. What timing!

Their board was full of choices – anything one could want. Surprisingly, Laurie and I each had Key Lime Pie and Coconut Cream – and we ordered without the other knowing (scary, actually)! We sat at lovely marble-topped café tables inside while the rain came down outside. After 20 minutes the rain was down to a manageable rate and off we went dodging rain drops back to the car. Of course, we encountered the heavy rain again as we made our way eastwards to Port Rowan – a bonus, actually, as there is nothing like a great summer rain. Another great afternoon of exploring the country roads and small towns of Ontario.

Here at last – OntariosBest.ca

Twenty-four hours ago, my wife Laurie and I were cycling the Guelph to Goderich  Rail Trail between West Montrose and Elmira when a thought popped into my head. To be honest, it had been festering and building for some time, but suddenly it came into full fruition: build a website that mapped the kind of places we love to stop at when we are winding our way through the Ontario countryside: hand-scooped ice cream, tea rooms, bakeries and family-style restaurants. You can find it at OntariosBest.ca.

These places are hard to find! It’s easy to find ads and apps for Timmies and all the fast-food franchises (and we like Timmies – but not all the time). Their jingles remain in our heads for years! But what about the “Mom-and-Pop” places? The ice cream scoopers that support Ontario’s local dairies? The home-style bakeries that are now competing with all the “in-store” bakeries. The restaurants that offer real, home-cooked food and not the pre-prepared-frozen-reheated-and-served meals like so many roadhouses and franchises do. Those places are all about homogenization. I like my rhubarb pie fresh, in season, thank you very much!

Back around Canada Day, Laurie and I spent a few days away at an inn up in Grey County. In its rather pretentious way, dinners started at about $30 – each. While that would’t break the bank, we were looking for better value for our money and, after some searching, found a place just north of Chatsworth: Kettle’s Back Home Cookin’. Wonderful! Last month, we were touring Huronia with my wife’s cousin, searching out the various connections with Samuel de Champlain and the Wendat people as this year is the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s arrival in Ontario. We had a fine lunch at Mum’s Restaurant in Midland. The food was great, as was the service and servers.

The other problem here in Ontario, is finding a good cup of tea. Having lived in Britain for a few years, we came to appreciate how restorative a cup of tea can be after a day of hiking the Bruce Trail or driving around Bruce County. But good cups of tea and their associated tea rooms (with home-style baking, of course) are difficult to find here in Ontario. In England, every small town and village has at least one (as well as a pub, of course!) and if you’re visiting an English Heritage or National Trust property, there is always a tea room there or nearby. I know Ontarions don’t tend to be tea drinkers, but really, there is more to life than coffee and doughnuts. Apple crisp, peach cobbler, date squares, raspberry pie – exactly what good bakeries and tea rooms have and what we need after a day out and about.

It’s these kinds of places we would like to celebrate and put on the map. The easier they are to find – all in one place – the more likely people will visit them, eat and tell their friends about what great places they are. So, celebrate the great home-cooking, baking and hand-scooping we have here in Ontario. And, if you find place that’s not on our map, let us know about it by completing the online form. Bon appetit!