By MAGGIE M, Wedgee-in-Chief, Editor, theWedge.LIVE 💙 TO SHARE click icons at story’s end. TO SUBSCRIBE go to upper-right column. TO COMMENT click upper-right of story.
THIS will be a September to remember. Among my travels, the marine town of Gananoque delivers a visceral experience that taunts all my senses.
This time ’round, I completed the wedge’s exclusive, “seven visits marathon,” seven of Gananoque’s business owners in the core. I pushed-in to learn about their personalities, their works and their connection to this sensory oasis, affectionately coined, “Gan.”
HEATHER HAYNES GALLERY
It is not a hyperbole to proclaim that Heather Haynes is a prodigious talent. I have gazed on her canvasses alongside her–my mouth agape. Her latest series with portraits from the ‘feel good’ mid-century must be seen. The closest description is “Warhol-esque”, but unique and profound.
Haynes like many artists experiences thematic periods: the tree period launched her vocation twenty years ago, the floral “reprieve” ensued, and the renown, Congo “Wall of Courage” works remains powerful–all still in-demand.
Her works hang on the walls of her own gallery in the heart of town. Her canvases tend to be large and her color palette is bold. Her works have been exhibited across North America and in Europe.
Haynes and husband (also Gallery Manager), Jeff Montgomery, curate other artists’ works for the gallery and host art shows or “vernissages,” periodically. Currently, the gallery includes works from three generations in her family. Her father-in-law, Peter Montgomery, paints large canvases that seem influenced by Turner (reportedly, he loves Turner.) I am no less an enthusiast. Montgomery’s canvases are impressionist in movement, exceedingly atmospheric and enchanting.
Hayne’s 21-year-old son, Whitney “Whit” Montgomery, is also exhibiting. Large portraits of friends are captivating in their form and expression. This young man could hold his own in great galleries around the world. He is very much a, “a chip off the old block.”
“He started painting when he was 16, but was always good at drawing,” Haynes reports. Painting, “Brody,” shown below (in red) already sold since I took the photo–for an impressive price; yet, Whit apparently takes it in stride while he continues his studies in art. This young artist has a following already–people who wait for his next show.
Heather Haynes’s paintings include her famous portraits from the D.R. Congo–those of people she has met and knows by name–especially numerous young orphans. A floral and lace texture motif runs through her works, even her favorite large diptych shown above, “She stands strong.” At first glance, you see a vase with peonies. There are layers in this painting–layers she painted over stopping at the feet of three children in this genocide-torn land.
“It is ghostly,” Haynes qualifies about the layers on this painting. “It is the second worst place to live in the world,” she adds.
This canvas may become a seminal work as demand for a “Haynes” escalates. It blends all periods up to this time–floral, lace, trees and Congo’s barbarism. The painting seemed to bleed yet a mundane floral arrangement obfuscates suffering.
Every visit to Gan is incomplete without stepping into the Heather Haynes Gallery. The works turn over quickly. You would be lucky to meet this artist, often present. If you miss her, she is likely covered in paint in her studio thirty minutes away.
GANANOQUE BREWING COMPANY
When you enter one of Gan’s oldest buildings you can pull a cord at the northwest corner and the bell in its high tower will chime through town making your presence known. You would be in the Gananoque Brewing Company–not church.
After you ring the bell, you can settle in for a frothy ‘Bell Ringer’ IPA beer in Gan’s only craft brewery right in the heart of town. This brewery is inclined to name its beers after oddities in its building. The ‘Coopers Hawk’ ASA was named after a hawk that had squatted in the rafter’s for some time–until the brewery’s owners scrubbed the building to a shine preparing for its grand opening in 2011.
The brewery is heavily frequented for its easy access, but also its alluring curb appeal. Its interior does not disappoint. Co-owner, Dr. Scott Peterson, has hewn most of its beams, counters and tables from trees. It is a beautiful venue for visitors to rest and enjoy its latest flavors.
The team at Gananoque Brewing company including brewer Doug Clarke, and tasting staff, Earl Steinbrecher and Lydia Spellman are a fun lot. Peterson is no exception; he is the ultimate “renaissance man”–a dental surgeon, a brewer and a carpenter–or “lumberjack” as he refers to himself humorously.
Peterson co-owns the brewery along with Red Line Asset Management (an investment company co-founded by Peterson’s son, Ryan) and Lynn Matthews, an octogenarian friend from T.O.
On my first visit to the tasting bar, “Black Bear Bock,” a darker brew, had me at the first sip. It’s an eisbock i.e. frozen in the final stages of conditioning, making the beer smoother and higher in alcohol–6.9%. It seems its distinctive coffee taste from roasted grains may be the source of my preference–except this one did not wake me up! I am an avowed “coffee-holic.”
I did not know to ring the bell to my chagrin–my next visit will be clamorous. I was happy to receive a growler of Black Bear on my departure. I have shared it with friends and they have concurred with my palate with a resounding, “mmmmm.”
As I write, I am enjoying a glass of Naughty Otter Lager, the first beer crafted and served at the brewery’s launch. A representative at the local LCBO glowed about the brewery–with no knowledge of my writing feat–selecting the Naughty Otter for my continued taste test. It was serendipity.
SIDEBAR : I spotted otters dunking in the river as I photographed the rear of this historic building.
The building was originally an 1850s stone iron factory, “pig iron” they called it, producing car springs. It was once a theater and finally, an antique shop.
“We finished gutting the building ourselves and pressure-washed from the top down,” recalls Peterson. I heard, “pigeon shit” among the targets. You could never tell, as every angle sparkles.
All Gananoque Brewing’s brands have been brewed on site since 2015. This potentially designated them as a “tied house,” as in tied to manufacturing and not limited in size of glasses served. Approximately five weeks ago. the brewery got its tied license also allowing them to serve other people’s beers and wine. Accordingly, they rotate their taps filling glasses, squealers and growlers, and six-packs and twelve-packs are well stocked. Seven of its beers are always in stock; others like the red fife ale are seasonal recipes. It’s those seasonal creations that excite master brewers.
At the risk of being corny, the place is hopping. Gananoque Brewing Company is charging toward its dream of becoming East Ontario’s best craft brewery–a dream shared by a burgeoning industry.
Mary Catherine Love opened MC Love last July 2018. The shop has two wings each their own door. The west wing features home decor and the east wing, fashion for women. This is no ordinary shop. Love visits showrooms and procures products that are scarce around here.
She refers to her stock as, “clothing art.”
Love carries sought designers and brands including April Cornell, Michaela Louisa, Maria Taylor, Tricotto, Bella Amore, Angels Never Die. Imports from Portugal, Germany, Turkey, Italy, France populate the racks and shelves along with Canadian brands like Cartise.
“I love buying trips,” Love gushes. She refers to garments as “art on a rack.” This art theme is in her linguistics. Indeed, our bodies can be canvasses. Fashion has become much more expressive and the stock in this shop from jackets, through jeans to dresses say, “I create.”
Love rhapsodizes about fabric quality–cotton, linen, natural fibres–the “more refined.” Art meets nature so-to-speak.
The selection of accessories overwhelm your sight line upon entering–scarves, jewelry, purses, belts burst from every angle–bold and unique. The place is stuffed with temptations. The jazz music that fills the air adds to the experience.
As I stood discovering her shop at day’s end, a couple from Oakville walked-in. The red leather purses were spotted through its windows. It seems red purses are in demand and Love can’t keep them on the shelves. This speaks volumes about the importance of window dressing. Love gets this–she knows what draws discerning buyers into the store.
In the west wing, the equivalent experience taunts the shopper with colours, form and purpose. Lampshades, floral designs, linens, rugs, candles, kitchen gadgets, ornaments are all procured with the same insight as the fashion wing, refined and unique.
Three luxurious change rooms line the store’s hall connecting both wings. A chaise longue for husbands and friends is perfectly placed to participate in relative privacy. Love has considered comfort earnestly.
MC Love is all too charming and sure to become the “go to” shop for women in the region. It is a tad uppety but very welcoming to all–Love’s way.
COLONIAL RESORT & SPA
Jean Cutcliffe and Michelle Vessey have been best friends since they were schoolmates in Grade One, Prince Edward Island. Every year they return “home” for a visit.
Today, they own and operate the Colonial Resort and Spa on the west end of Downtown Gananoque. They classify their resort on the wedge’s “Where To Stay” page as a motel, but let me say categorically that I have never visited a motel such as this.
The Colonial is the motel of motels. Sure you can drive your car up to the door as a motel entails, but the fifty-four rooms, the grounds, the amenities are simply out of the ordinary–resort-like. Its pristine white cottage style, red doors, red Adirondack chairs framed by towering trees, back from the road, were all too charming in my visual experience.
As you travel the grounds, a parade of goodies meet your eyes. The large pool is the centrepiece. You can sit in a shaded gazebo, take a walk in its paths, play bocce ball, shuffleboard, horsheshoes or tennis. That’s outside.
We encountered straggling senior guests as Cutcliffe toured me around the grounds–they were effusive. I know actors, but these were the real deal.
“It’s so wonderful,” they spouted, “We’re so happy!” Off they went toward the main building with a spring in their step. Cutcliffe took it all in stride. She gets this a lot.
In the Gananoque region, the Colonial is the preferred choice for tour groups–especially seniors. I note a distinct affection for them by the owners. I concur, there is hardly a better generation to serve than our seniors.
“We had so much fun with them, we did not want them to leave,” Cutcliffe said about the last group. “They are the heart and soul of our business.” The Elvis impersonator on their stage the previous night was the perfect storm for fun.
Inside the main building diversions include a library, a bar, a gift shop, a juke-box with mid-century tunes, a pool table, a spa with a sauna, steam room and whirlpool, professional spa services and here it comes, another pool–this one is heated. This pool abuts an artificial oasis, the “Serenity Room”–a charming creation that feels likes a Caribbean grotto of sorts. The building also features two dining rooms able to feed and entertain up to two-hundred on each floor and in one sitting.
The Colonial is ostensibly a resort, hence its name. As a group, you can stay within its ten acres and be satisfied. Nevertheless, these resort operators are also tour operators–they will push their visiting groups out to explore Gan and the world-renown, Thousand Islands. They also plan excursions up to two hours away including Ottawa, Prince Edward County and Smiths Falls.
Gan businesses have taken notice of the Colonial’s influx of guests. By all reports, the resort is cherished.
I was taken to Room 15, a deluxe suite with in-room Jacuzzi. It exceeded my expectations for a motel. I learned that the Colonial has upgraded its rooms with new beds, new carpeting and redone all the roofing among many improvements. This room was spotless and richly appointed–bathrobes were folded on the bed, a highly unusual perk at this price-point.
The team have owned and operated the resort, 1000 Island Tours & Travel–specializing in Senior Motorcoach Group Tour Packages, and all manner of groups and meetings–for ten years. They purchased the two businesses, Colonial Resort and Spa and tour company–from the retiring owners after sixteen years in their employ.
The resort may have been established in 1976, but it looks fresh. The main building is positively retro, but it suits its typically senior audience well. It feels like home.
CENTRE STAGE MUSIC
Centre Stage Music was opened twenty days in its new Gananoque location when I crossed its threshold to meet its owner, Scott Burns. Five years ago the founding shop owner of 26 years decided he wanted to retire, so Burns bought the Princess Street, Kingston, business in 2013.
Burns had thought his destiny was to become an architect, studying in his teen years; but, the experience of moving a ladder on a CAD drawing–over weeks–while co-oping with an architectural firm was a reality-check. He recoiled into his first love, playing the guitar–an instrument he knew and played well. His father had bought him a Cort acoustic guitar at a young age–the rest is history.
“Music school in L.A. seemed a pipe dream,” he shares. His parents responded though, sending him to the Musicians’ Institute in the distant cosmopolis at eighteen years-old. He admits the talent in the school was a humbling experience. Nevertheless, he returned home after a year immersed in music ready for the next adventure.
“I had no idea what to do,” Burns remarks. “People started to inquire about getting lessons [from Burns] at Centre Stage Music.”
Burns has taught guitar, mandolin and ukulele at Centre Stage Music and other schools since 1998. He knew the guitar world well. When he bought the business, he learned to manage stock, buying and selling. He was clearly undaunted.
He moved the business from Kingston to Gan because he lives in-town; yet, customers showed up from Kingston while I was present. “You are worth the trip,” I heard customer Paul Rappell exclaim.
Burns continues to teach in-store, locking the doors for uninterrupted lessons 30 minutes in duration. between 9am and 11am and after 5pm. Instead of the typical room isolated at the rear, seats are out in the open at the storefront.
“I have students from 7 to 87 years of age,” Burns says. “It’s not just a retail space.” Yet the store is chock-full of guitars, string, straps–anything guitar related.
A customer showed me a rare rosewood guitar beautifully inlaid and pricey. In fact, he accompanied my interview of Burns. It was hilarious to have “back-up” during our exchange.
There is also an operating table (my word) set-up for guitar repairs–bottles, pliers at the ready. A guitar rests awaiting outpatient surgery.
Suddenly, in walked musician, Jeff Montgomery, Gallery Manager and husband to Heather Haynes. Perfect timing. I recruited him to pose with Burns in a mock class. They soon forgot me when Burns taught a new chord to Montgomery–a A13. There is nothing to match an authentic capture (below.)
“A13 is widely misunderstood,” Burns said, the consummate guitar whisperer.
In his off hours, Burns plays lead electric guitar in a 4-piece band, The Stares. His fiancee, Kate, is the lead singer. We comically agreed that a tee-shirt, “We Gig,” would start the conversation, and garner gigs for musicians notoriously introverted.
“It’s all I know,” Burns concludes. As though I expected any more. This is the hallmark of musicians–invariably, humble in spirit.
Natasha Lux is a statuesque, stylish woman that dreams of raising sheep. I never expected this answer to my question about a distant future. People remain fascinating to me.
She was a financial analyst in a former iteration of herself. Later, she worked part-time for a Gan gardener with a storefront on King Street–a business she assisted financially. When they fell into hardship in 2010 Lux stepped in, started a new business, hired the staff and founded, Magnolia Flowers. She later moved the shop to its current location in the heart of town.
“To me, Magnolia is a family,” Lux emotes. She speaks with sincere affection of her staff.
“Magnolia” as it is more commonly referred to is a florist-slash-gifts-slash-home-decor business. Every imaginable event can be well-served here especially weddings and funerals.
The back-lit flower cooler is impressive by sheer size and a beautiful backdrop to the shop–each door charmingly re-purposed with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint™–which the store also carries.
“It is very hard to become a stocklist with Annie Sloan,” Lux admits. “You are vetted.” Re-purposing ugly, dated, worn furniture into objects of beauty is still trending. I spot turquoise pieces often and see no end to this trend as people clearly hunger for colour and vintage form.
Magnolia is a beautiful store with historic high ceilings, original wooden floors–an atmosphere that evokes memories of glorious days-gone-by. Natural scents permeate the air and every angle you cast your eyes offers a new staged theme–from vintage housewares through natural candles to stylish throw-pillows. It is a homemaker’s haven.
Lux is a superb floral artist. She likes to meet the brides and match up their style to a floral theme. No arrangement is ever repeated–each is unique to one bride. She creates all arrangements in a large backroom, tables spilling-over with flower clippings, ribbons, boxes and pins.
“I never recreate the same bouquet twice,” this artist says vehemently.
I watched as she assembled boutonnieres unlike any I have ever seen (below.) These included soft pink flowers from the “protea” genus (she knows the latin genus), “grown in Holland, yet native to South Africa,” “thryptomene” (she spelled it out) twigs and a teal ribbon. Lux is bold in her designs–nothing run-of-the-mill can be found in her ideas.
“I like our flowers to be visually pleasing to both women and men,” Lux says. “And lots of texture.”
Lux’s customers come from as far as Quebec, Morrisburg and Ottawa–and for good reason. This woman does not take herself too seriously. Magnolia Flowers is clearly in the daily pursuit of happiness–chuckling and smiling are evidently in the shop’s offerings.
MAPLE LEAF RESTAURANT
I am a long-time enthusiast of borscht and goulash, eastern European dishes. These are staples at the Maple Leaf Restaurant / Czech Schnitzel House on the main drag in Gan. The restaurant is renown in tourism circles and beloved in-town.
The restaurant is celebrating its 30th anniversary this November. In its upcoming celebration, owner Vladimir “Vlad” Kettner expects to play the drums–a long-held hobby. I hope to get an invite.
The 30th is the pearl anniversary. I muse, if you can’t afford pearls as a gift consider oysters.
Kettner was born near Prague, Czech. In 1985, he arrived in Canada, sponsored by one of his two sisters already settled in Kingston. He met his wife Dana, another Czech, on our soil. The restaurant, The Maple Leaf / Czech Schnitzel House opened in 1988. It’s a long name, but not a deterrent.
You probably won’t meet Vladimir and Dana Kettner as they work in the kitchen handling countless orders at one time. The choreography in their busy kitchen is something to watch–you can spot the couple from the dining area.
Schnitzel is in high demand and they prepare it the right way : thin, tender veal on the grill. Other meats can be used. The breading is a secret recipe. I have witnessed some restaurants use thick pork, fried. This is a dish you can mess-up “seven ways from Sunday.” Kettner’s description of his method was music to my ears.
“Grilled is the proper way,” confirmed Kettner. “Tender, thin and lightly breaded.”
Yet, I opted for the goulash and the borscht. He scoffed at the watered-down quality of borscht often served–there are many recipes. Ultimately, this dish is more beets and cabbage than liquids, and served with a dollop of sour cream. “Very healthy,” Kettner underscored.
The goulash served was melt-in-your-mouth beef in its sauce topped with pickled peppers on a bed of spaetzle, a pasta endemic to the region, and made from scratch in the restaurant. The dish can be served with dumplings or potatoes, but I like to do as the Czech do. The Kettners ceaselessly speak of preparing all dishes from scratch–cutting, chopping, pounding, grilling, roasting, steaming, poaching.
A glass of Czechwar, a rich lager beer, was perfectly paired with my meal. This beer is originally from the town of Budwar–the root word in Budweiser™ but no similarity to this mass produced brand. “Interesting,” I said to Kettner, all flinty-eyed and my curious nature aroused.
A Pavlovian response is manifesting as I write about my excellent meal–it involves involuntary salivation.
The Kettners reward themselves for their hard work, a grueling schedule, by escaping each year to their Belize holiday home. Retirement is in their thoughts, but not a plan. And drumming. Lots of drumming.