By MAGGIE M, Editor, thewedge.LIVE
Visiting Westport always leaves this writer smiling inwardly. Its locals are unpretentious, kind, relaxed and bubbling with creativity. I continue to say, “Westport is one spirit with different faces.”
On this beautiful day, the first after so much rain, I began my journey on Westport’s edge and circled around town visiting the local, ‘who’s who’. I was stunned, entertained, and utterly impressed.
My first stop was Scheuermann Vineyard & Winery (pronounced “shireman”) on Westport’s boundaries. It’s located at the Northwest corner; yet, they call it “the hidden corner.” Upon hearing this, I howled, “Le coin perdu!,” the name of a rare, ‘garage’ wine of unlimited value in the movie, A good year. It seems we share a love of this wonderful movie set in Provence.
A vineyard in Wesport is ‘local’ to the whole region. Beyond Prince Edward County, vineyards and wineries are scarce. A public push is on to source locally; so, the winery is in good stead.
I met with vintners, Francois and Allison Scheuermann, their staff, one of their five children, their pets Simba and Kupa and a few dozen hens and roosters. I am told a mothering hen is named, Maggie.
Allison hosted a personal wine tasting starting with a sparkling cider perfect for midday at 6% alc. Then followed my favorite, a cold, sparkling white, Les Bulles–it was similar to a perseco for its bite and flavor. My head began to swirl; so, crackers were offered. My palate was visited by four grape varieties, including a vidal, a pinot noir, a chardonnay, a riesling, and a popular, small batch ferment, Romatique. It is impressive what 6.3 acres can produce.
In 2011, the couple wished to draw value from their land, 19 acres in all, and a vineyard was the answer. They discovered their soil was rich in limestone, the catalyst to their start. Their first vintage, a chardonnay, arrived in 2013. They also grow garlic, an organic garden and cultivate honey bees. The couple plans to expand, building a cellar in their hills and offering garage tours.
Francois, born in Westport, trained as a Chef in Montreux, Switzerland. Accordingly, the winery features a tented dining area. The couple is adding an outdoor pizza oven to its woodfire grill. So pizza will be added to its current menu, platters, charcuterie and creative dishes like, lemon thyme chicken ginger with tapenade, and wine by-the-glass.
The view high above Sand Lake, the vineyard, great music, culinary delights, exceptional wines, and chickens pecking nearby blend into a unique, unforgettable experience at Scheuermann Vineyard & Winery. I hope when I visit again they will play, Boom, by Charles Trenet. How perfect.
I left to meet with the town’s renown potter, Angie Christy, who markets her creations from her shop, Acorn Pottery, on Main Street. It rears on water’s edge, Upper Rideau Lake.
She opened her shop in December, 2014, on the heels of a 15-year career as a medical administrator. She had taken pottery classes during her employ and learned it was an unrequited passion.
While Christy makes most of the pieces in her blended workshop and shop, a potter’s theatre, space is also reserved for her students’ creations in progress. She runs workshops year-round for locals and visitors: children, adults, girls’ parties.
Some of Christy’s creations are spread out on a table in ‘bisque state’. They have that faded, Mars color to them. This means they have only been through one firing in the kiln at the rear of her shop.
The kiln is an impressive, large, and shiny steel object that resembles a drum. So the bisque pieces await glazing and another firing. I muse, customers could commission their own glaze on these naked bowls, vases and chimineas.
Then I headed toward the West end, Bedford Street, to Glory Days Home Decor, a shop that always grips me, rekindling good childhood memories. Authentic artifacts and re-purposed furnishings from the 40s to 70s populate the small shop. In my opinion, the 50s were the ultimate glory days with its designs spilling into the 60s.
The shop sits on Westport Pond and is recessed from the road. It’s not instantly visible, as it competes with colours bursting on the sidewalk. This is what made my find all the more exciting. We are all innately treasure hunters when we shop.
It’s quite amazing how people snap up furnishings in pink, purple, turquoise or yellow. This is a hot trend evolving from recycling and reuse.
Cheryl Jackson, a former professional cook and baker from Kenora, opened Glory Days in July 2015. In true form, she served me the most delicious coffee cake as we raved about her finds. There are few more hospitable hosts than Jackson in my experience. When I asked why she made the move, her answer corroborated a trend.
“I couldn’t find employment; so, I took a business course, and opened one.”
Jackson adds, “I was an expert at renovating homes and flipping them.” Now, she renovates on a smaller scale, quelling appetites for artifacts and furnishings from days gone-by.
Just around the corner, exiting the driveway from Glory Days, I found a shop with a single, powerful idea. Everything in the Westport Bambooo Company is made of bamboo: dresses, hats, socks, towels, sheets, blankets, etc… When I learned the properties of bamboo from the shop owners, it pushed natural fibers like cotton, linen and silk aside in my mind.
Alison and husband, Kerry Parsons, founded the shop and its branded line, Booo Clothing, less than two years ago, on Bedford Street. They opened a second store in Almonte last May. I believe they are riding the crest of a wave.
The fuss about bamboo is real. It’s soft, it’s hypo-allergenic, and it breathes. More importantly, it prevents the growth of bacteria. I knew bamboo was virtuous for floors and furnishings; but, this shop opened a whole new understanding to my former, narrow view. Bamboo literally puts to an end, pesky body odor and sweat.
The couple have launched a clothing brand, Booo Clothing. It is the perfect travel item, soft, easy to wash and fast to dry. I have my eye on the purple a-line dress. Almost every product they market is made in Canada and they are quite vocal about this.
Lest I forget, they are clear about being, ‘Panda-friendly,’ i.e. their products are not made of the 4-5 species of bamboo that pandas feed on. Wonders never cease.
Then I crossed the street, remaining on Bedford, to visit a place that stunned me. Geologist, Ed Hinchey and his ‘sous-geologist’ spouse, Nola Goodman, opened Rox Rock Shop, commonly referred to as, “the Rock Shop,” in 2008. The space is replete with a broad selection of rocks, many collected by the couple since the 90s, from Canada and Southwest U.S. It feels and looks like a museum; but, all its treasures are for sale. The curating stories are part of the experience.
The couple have their own lapidary, special equipment to cut and polish the rocks, in their yard. It is surprising to consider how beautiful a rock appears when you polish its surface.
Listening to Goodman, I learned about a large community who collect, trade and meet at gem and mineral shows across North America. It is quite eye-opening to think an industry has risen from unearthed beauty under our feet. The variety of rocks here in Canada is astonishing.
Two rooms are well stocked in every rock and semi-precious stone imaginable. I tested Goodman on her stock, naming twelve biblical stones. The shop had them all–even chalcedony and sardius. Fossils are also showcased.
There is no limit to what you do with these rocks. You can put them on display or wear them around your neck as pendants.
Children will love the shop. A long table, covered in small stones is perfect for them to tinker. Cottagers should not miss this rare destination.
I swung the car up Bedford to Concession street to visit Creative Gardens, an established (11 years today) landscaping and maintenance company that opened its retail operation in 2016. Upon entering the town, this garden centre’s colors beckon.
Founder, Elizabeth Hess, makes the centre an exciting place to visit if you are lucky enough to catch her when she is not on a job site. She is full of energy and does five things at-a-time. When I was there she drove off the site on a forklift.
This Swiss-born force speaks ‘high German’; but, she looks and sounds Canadian. She wanted to come to Canada because of “the space,” she said. That, we have in spades!
I counted to ten in German, asking, “is it high or low German?” In true Europeean form, she chose her words carefully.
She showed me her landscaping designs, drawn beautifully by hand for her customers–no CAD software to slow things down–and photos of many completed projects. They were complex, beautiful and of considerable scale. Clearly, she is a leader in the domain.
When I asked why she opened a retail shop, she replied, “everything I need for our projects are now in one place.”
The shop has a drive-through lane where customers and staff can pick-up aggregates, large orders at the rear of the shop and ride out. It was busy when I visited, bordering on frenetic. Such fun!
You cannot wrap-up an adventure in Westport without a visit to ‘The Cove.” This full-service inn is legendary because of its acknowledged excellence in accommodation, dining and entertainment.
The Cove Country Inn is where you dine, sleep and listen to music in grand style. It is in my opinion, the beating heart of Westport. It draws people from great distances and coalesces the town’s 590 residents in a truly social place, where you can press hands and not keyboards.
Seamus Cowan is gradually taking over from his parents, Mary and Terry Cowan, who are scaling back to enjoy a slower pace and their grandchildren.
Cowan has two young sons, 2 years and 8 months. After mat-leave, his wife Meghan returns to her work at 4H Canada. He now oversees all tentacles of The Cove, and a blooming family.
Cowan is both a vocalist and instrumentalist. He plays bass in a duo with Spencer Evans (sometimes a trio with brother Jeff or Rob Radford). Ten years studying music, jazz specifically, at McGill, Montreal, equipped him well for The Cove stage. I dropped a few names, my favorites, Johnny Hodges and Bill Evans, and I believe my cred went up a smidge. He performed for me on his acoustic guitar. It is then I became aware, I was in the presence of a special soul. What prowess!
Among top talent, jazz notables, John Abercrombie and Chet Doxas, have graced The Cove‘s stage. There is no off-season at the inn; Blues on the Rideau brings feet to Westport well into winter months.
Two women are well-established figures at The Cove and serious cogs in its engine. The dining room is open all summer until 9:00 pm. and its kitchen is commandeered by Joanne Edwards, ‘Chef JoJo’. Her specialty is Southeast Asian food. Cowan also glowed about Events Organizer, Maureen Price, ‘Mo’. Many refer to the pair as, ‘MoJo’. You sense the inn’s ‘esprit de corps’ on his words.
Cowan is an individual I should profile on live film. Chivalry has not escaped this, “40 1/2 year-old,” (he was compelled to age himself by 6 months as I believed him to be 30 something). Self-effacing, kind, soft-spoken are qualities in my observations. Beautiful, chiseled features hide under black-rimmed eyeglasses, a face for the lens. Above all, he is the perfect leader to serve in hospitality. I witnessed, smiles on all staff faces and the usual calm that is characteristic of this idyllic town.
O! Westport. Parting is such sweet sorrow.