Living large in small towns of Prince Edward Country, Ontario… Ontario’s culture vulture centre

By Barbara Kingstone

Prince Edward County
Relaxing in the gardens of Waring House,
Wellington Ontario
Prince Edward County
Lavender field at Lavender Inn

Up until this year, I thought going out of the city for a few weeks at a time was the ultimate way to spend the summer months. However, after the long queues, air cancellations and layovers, the alternative perhaps could several but fewer days for getaways and by car.

With the car windows open, the lavender scent permeated the air. This was not Provence, France but Prince Edward County (not to be confused with Prince Edward Island, N.S) about a 3 hour drive east from Toronto. Soon I was standing in lavender fields, the florettes in their full, glorious scented bloom. The colour, the fragrances, touching the various varieties fulfilled many of my senses.

As a clearly self declared urbanite I couldn’t believe how delighted I was with just this part of what was to be a magnificent weekend and a first for many wonderful rural experiences. For instance, I had never stayed at a B &B and the aptly named The Lavender Farm in Hillier, Ontario near Wellington, was where we dropped our small overnight bags. The proprietors of this circa 1935 house are worthy of a column themselves. Rolande Ann Leblanc, a geographer born in the Gaspe, Quebec and Derek Ryles,a guitarists and craftsman from Ontario, met while both were working in the Yukon.

“Yes, it was cold but oh so beautiful,” Rolande told me of her years in that northern part of Canada.

“So why leave?” I asked.

“I am a believer that everyone should have a few careers in their life and when we visited Hillier a few years ago, we decided that this would be a great place to live”

Their subsequent visit took a life -renewing twist when they saw this then run down but architecturally wonderful house on a huge many acre property.

Both had travelled extensively around the world and knew if the soil was good enough for wine and vegetables, it would be great for lavender which they remember with great reverence during their trip to Provence.

Prince Edward County
Cooking school in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Prince Edward County
Picking herbs for the cooking class

With Rolande’s energy and imagination and Derek’s great ability to turn a piece of wood into something artistic, this was the perfect ‘palette’ for the twosome. By 2007 after a few years of renovations and adding to the existing house, they now have a large home that accommodates about 12 guests in the four guest rooms, their own living quarter and an extension for Derek’s parents.

And so looking from just about any window there is a view of either the stunning lavender and white plants or the huge herb garden. From these fields they produce soap, essence of oil, lotions, creams, sachet and lavender chocolate and adding just about anything they can think of that is lavender friendly.

The herbs are perfect for the splendid cook that Roland which we experienced at the next day at breakfast but also for the almost always sold out Herbes de Provence. The cozy house has a large living room with various instruments including an old gramophone on which Derek still is charmed by the old 78 record collection and a piano which Rolande plays when she finds a few minutes. Then there’s the den cum TV room which didn’t seem to be used since there is so much to see and do in this county that guests take advantage of the daylight. The formal dining room with shiny English style table and chairs is transformed in the morning where we 10 guests ate a gourmet breakfast prepared by Rolande and one of the four students hired each summer. Derek turned out to be the masterful waiter.

You can’t be near lavender and not add the essence or actual flower to some of the food and the fresh fruit cup starter was laced with this aromatic flavouring. Rolande’s frittata made with the garden herbs was accompanied with sausages, hashed brown potatoes and for décor the plate had a very professional twirled orange slice.

And as a major coffee drinker I was impressed with the imported Colombian freshly ground coffee. The four guests at my table from the Gatineau were at The Lavender Inn last year and plan to make this an annual weekend. During the week there are fewer guests but weekends must be booked ahead of time.

Prince Edward county is a well known foodie’s haven and we dined grandly at The Devonshire Inn on the Lake, in Wellington, which is attached to a smart small hotel (with Jacuzzis. Also wheelchair accessibly dining room). Overlooking Lake Ontario, that dreary, rainy evening, it looked more like the Atlantic Ocean as the white capped waves smashed against the shore making us feel a lot farther from home and was surprisingly picturesque. The restaurant lived up to its reputation and from the starter of Pork Pate and Fool on the Hill Wine Terrine with Huff Estates Merlot jelly to our main dishes, mine pan seared Sea Scallops with spiced lavender honey, and his char grilled Rib Eye Steak brushed with date and tamarind chutney and some local red wine we were sated but had to ‘taste’ the desserts just looked to too good to pass. Although we tried not to consume the entire crème Carmel and lemon tart, we didn’t leave a trace. Our conclusion was this meal could compete with any large city eatery.

Prince Edward County
Lavender field
Prince Edward County
Rolande in her lavender field

Even though I’ve taken cooking classes around the world from Hong Kong to Bangkok, from Santa Fe to Manihi in the South Pacific, Sunday morning, after driving through the buzzy downtown centre of Picton filled with art galleries and restaurants, only about 20 minutes away from Hillier, I went to the cooking class at Waring House where I had pre-enrolled in a three hour cooking class. This fine property also has a hotel with 49 luxury rooms and suites a, conference centre, Amelia’s restaurant and pub and a banquet hall. Our class took place in the kitchen of banquet hall where the young 35 year old chef Kelly, gave the 6 of us different recipes while he oversaw our hands-on preparation. Kelly was born in Picton but had spent the past 11 years in ‘kitchens’ out west where he learned to use local produce and travelling the world from Japan to Malaysia, gave him major an opportunity to learn about fusion cooking and an insight into food and preparation of various cultures -his favourite being Japanese.

Since this was only his third class, he didn’t stray from his predecessors recipes but intends to plan his own in the near future. The theme was Nordic staring with Pea Soup with fresh mint picked by us in the hotel’s large herb garden, a Cobb Salad with smoked apples, pan seared salmon and crumbled goat cheese, after preparation of the Scandinavian gravlax which needed a few days in the frig before eating, it was securely wrapped for us to take home, and my contribution was Finnish Cardamom Tea Loaf topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

This was certainly one of the best and a wonderful way to spend the morning. And the highlight was eating our output on the long verandah overlooking the in full bloom, colourful floral gardens and the vegetable and herb garden where we had picked our beets, carrots, parsley, dill, mint and whatever the recipes called for.

Since I had seen a wonderful painting in one of the region’s magazines, I had a willing and friendly waiter at Angeline’s in Bloomfield where we had our first day lunch of wonderfully fresh salad and thin vegetable filled whole wheat crepe, look up his number. Bert Henderson has a long C.V. as a dean of art and curator and studied with Alex Colville. Even though Henderson is in his 80s, he still paints several hours daily. At his apartment in Belleville, about ½ hour from Picton, he showed us dozens of his canvases stacked in closets, in his studio and what ever wall was available without cluttering up the newly moved -into apartment. All are worthy of exhibits. As it happened, he had 15 paintings at one of the local restaurants but being Sunday, it was closed.

That was the delightful and artistic conclusion to a very picturesque part of Ontario, which proved this weekend, a happy discovery finally discovered.