Water, Wine and Nature

Annual Events

Prince Edward County is host to a large selection of festivals year-round, including music, theatre, heritage, arts, natural and culinary events.

Music lovers should check out the Quinte Isle Bluegrass Festival and the PEC Jazz Festival. For the art lover, there’s the Art and Craft Show and the Markers Hand, both held at the Picton Fairgrounds.

In the fall, there is the two-weekend PEC Studio Tour. More than 40 artists throughout the county open their studios to the public. Pick up a map, head out and look for the old fashioned green bikes in front of the studios.

For foodies, the Spring Countylicious (now in its 10th year) celebrates The County’s culinary community by offering prix fixe menus at nine participating restaurants. Celebrate the first harvest of the season at the Maple in the County Festival in March. Starting in November, the Wassail Celebration pays tribute to the area’s plentiful wineries.

In July, the Lavender Festival held at PEC Lavender Farms in Hillier (open from May to December) features site tours, distilling demonstrations, live music, herb sales and baked goods made with fresh herbs. Their boutique has a large selection of products, including lavender salt, herbal teas and body care products. Check them out during the peak times of June and July when the lavender is in full bloom.

Other annual events include the Authors Festival (April), County POP Community Music Festival (April), Walleye World Fishing Tournament (May), Spring Birding Festival (May), Welcome Weekend (May) and the Great Canadian Cheese Festival (June). For more festivals, visit prince-edward-county.com/events.

Resources

Prince Edward County Chamber of Tourism and Commerce
800-640-4717
pecchamber.com

Prince Edward County
800-640-4717
prince-edward-county.com

The Great Waterway
613-344-2095
thegreatwaterway.com

Wine County Ontario
905-562-8070 x221
winecountryontario.ca

Prince Edward County
Arts Council
pecartscouncil.org

Prince Edward County
Studio Tour
pecstudiotour.com

Resources

Water, Wine and Nature

by Margaret Steiss
01-Jun-2016
One of Lake Ontario’s true jewels is the island that makes up Prince Edward County. From the main town of Picton and the small hamlets, to the many wineries, walking and cycling trails, beaches and numerous marinas, there really is something for everyone. Rich in United Empire Loyalist history and architecture, a strong art and cultural community, excellent shopping, dining, numerous festivals, a lavender farm and the mysterious Lake on the Mountain, Prince Edward County is a special place to travel to by land or by boat.

The night sky is spectacular with stars — there are no big city lights to drown out the sights in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Although the island is rural, there is growing city sophistication. The island is located on Lake Ontario just south of Belleville. With 500 miles of shoreline surrounded by the Bay of Quinte to the north and east, the island features three main towns and numerous little villages.

The newest designated viticulture area in Ontario, Prince Edward County — or as locals call it, “The County” — is also considered Ontario’s gastronomical capital and has been recognized by numerous publications as being one of the province’s top vacation spots. In 2015, Time Magazine named The County one of the best places in the world to visit. Excellent restaurants, wineries and a large population of artists, combined with a rich heritage, unique natural sites and friendly locals make Prince Edward County a wonderful place to visit.

Unwind in Picton

Cruise into Picton Bay, the wide, natural harbor in The County’s largest town of Picton. The Prince Edward County Yacht Club is a small, friendly club that offers transient docking and has reciprocal agreements with many local clubs. Across the bay is the Picton Marina, offering dockage, fuel and a launch ramp. The Picton Harbour Inn, positioned at the head of Picton Bay, has limited docking but can accommodate a boat up to 52 feet. Wake up in the morning with a tasty breakfast at the Inn’s Lighthouse Restaurant, considered the best breakfast in town.

After docking, take a short walk up the hill to Main Street for some shopping or fine dining. Perhaps the hardest part of dining in Picton is deciding which of the many restaurants to choose. Head a little farther inland and you’ll find the Waring House Inn, where you can dine at the upscale Amelia’s Garden, known for its seasonal gourmet fair, or at the casual eatery, the Barley Room, which features regular entertainment. The Waring House Inn also hosts recreational cooking classes on-site for chefs of every skill level at The Cookery School.

Down the street is The Naval Marine Archive, which features a vast collection of books and research materials available to the public. The building also houses works by the Canadian Society of Marine Artists.

Stop over at the historic Regent Theatre, which first opened its doors in 1922. Today, the theater stands as a rare example of an intact Edwardian opera house, hosting musicals, plays and movie screenings year-round.

Perhaps you’re a bit tired after all the shopping and museums, or have sore muscles from sailing. Check out one of Picton’s relaxing spas, including the Claramount Inn, Spa & Restaurant and Caruso’s on King Serenity Spa.

Even though you may be sailing the bay in your own boat, I recommend the Picton Pontoon Boat Tour. The captains are knowledgeable and you will learn more about the city’s history than you could on your own.

A look back in time

Picton was originally two villages separated by a marsh and a creek. Most commercial enterprises were in the village of North Hallowell, while South Delhi was more rural but had a number of churches and a courthouse. Although it was not a universally popular move, the two villages were combined in 1837. Nor was the choice of the name Picton. It was chosen by prominent citizen Reverend William Macaulay and named after General Picton, who died at the Battle of Waterloo. Although much admired by Macaulay, he was reputed as an unkind man. Picton is where The County’s most famous lawyer and Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, managed a law office. In 1830, the Reverend built the Macaulay House, which serves as an excellent example of Loyalist-style architecture. It has since been restored and is now open to the public as part of Macaulay Heritage Park. The former Church of St. Mary Magdalene is also in the park, now operating as the Prince Edward County Museum.

The County has a rich United Empire Loyalist history; following the American Revolution, about 500 settlers arrived in Marysburg. The Loyalist history lives on in Prince Edward County’s structures; it is the second largest area of Loyalist-style architecture, second to Willamsburg, Virginia.

Shipbuilding was of major importance to this region’s history. The first cargo was lumber, with Prince Edward County’s large trees being used for masts. The first schooner, The Prince Edward, was built in 1798 and was later used in the War of 1812. By mid-century, grain was the main cargo. Unfortunately, with it being harvested in the fall, transporting it was particularly dangerous. Many ships were lost and the area around Point Petre and Main Duck Island was known as the “Graveyard of Lake Ontario.” Two-thirds of all wrecks in the lake are here.
Fishing was also important, mostly lake trout and whitefish. The Marine Park Museum commemorates the rich marine heritage of the island, which has also become a major diving destination.

With the introduction of Prohibition, first in Canada then the U.S., rum running became prevalent in The County. Between the Coast Guard and the dangerous waters it was a risky profession. But the rewards, as much as $800 a run, were equally great.

The Waupoos Canning Company closed its door more than 31 years ago. In the intervening years, Waupoos Marina grew on the same site on Prince Edward Bay and is now a safe haven and destination point for boaters.

The Canning Company provided work for many locals and was a hub for people in the eastern part of The County. Everyone would catch up on local news and issues of the day as the farmers waited their turn to drop off their wagon-load of vegetables. After 27 years, Waupoos Marina has revived the long tradition as a place for people living in or visiting The County to gather on this historic spot. Sailors refer to Waupoos Marina as “the best kept secret on Lake Ontario.”

Thriving vineyards

The newest venture in agriculture is the emergence of wineries — there are now more than 30 wineries in The County. The first winery to plant its roots was Waupoos Estates Winery, which was opened in 2001 by Ed Neuser and Rita Kaimins. Taste their famous Baco Noir wine, specialty crafted chocolates and gelato while overlooking the Prince Edward Bay. A unique feature is the dock; it’s small and only 4 feet deep, but it’s adequate for docking a small powerboat. The on-site Gazebo Restaurant features works by local artists.

TerraCello is a small and relatively new winery. Owner Anthony Auciello learned the art  of winemaking from his Italian father and grandfather. When giving a tour, Anthony starts with the vines before heading into the winery for tasting. During the summer, the winery also prepares pizza in a traditional stone oven. Enjoy it on the beautiful patio overlooking the vineyard.

Harwood Estate Vineyards in Hillier is Canada’s first and only winery operating entirely on solar energy. The logo, which feature an old sailing mast, will appeal to boaters as much as the excellent wine will.

Hinterland Wine Company specializes in creating sparkling wines using traditional methods. They have now branched out into craft beer with the County Road Brewery, located right next door to the winery.

Picton’s Three Dog Winery — named after owners’ John and Sacha Squair’s three golden retrievers — offers a dog-friendly place to enjoy a glass of wine.  The estate covers 100 acres and currently offers four wines: Sweet Sister Late Harvest Vidal, Dog House White, Dog House Red and Pinot Grigio.

Also well known in Picton is Barley Days Brewery — an ode to the area’s barley history. For those who prefer spirits, check out 66 Gilead Distillery. The tasting room is in the historic Cooper-Norton House and they specialize in whiskey and gin.

The County was once known as the “Garden Capital of Ontario,” with a rich history of growing apples. In 1911, it’s estimated that there were 10,407 acres of apple orchards with nearly half a million apple trees. It’s no wonder that cider is popular in the area. County Cider Company produces several ciders, including the Waupoos Cider found on tap in most Prince Edward County pubs.

Charming small towns

Just up the road from Picton is the charming town of Bloomfield, which has excellent shopping, restaurants and art galleries. Indulge in homemade ice cream at Slickers. Long lines are the norm but it’s worth the wait. Try lunch at Saylor House Café or dinner at the Agrarian Bistro and Speakeasy or The Hubb at Angeline’s.

Cycling is popular in The County and Bloomfield is home to the Bloomfield Bicycle Company. They have bikes for rent and will deliver and pick them up anywhere in The County.

The nearby town of Milford is home to the historic Black River Cheese Company, which is the only standing original cheese house in The County.

Equally charming and closer to the water is Wellington. Small and quaint, it offers a good choice of accommodations, restaurants, galleries and a museum.

The Drake Devonshire Hotel and Restaurant offers wonderful views from its patio, a beach, and is complete with a fire pit and regular entertainment. The East Main Bistro offers wonderful food in an elegant atmosphere: Reservations are highly recommended. The Stache on Main is a fun, funky art gallery and piano bar. It’s small and intimate with fantastic performers who can truly engage the audience. Enjoy fair trade coffee, herbal teas and homemade baked goods and sandwiches at the popular gathering place, The Tall Poppy Café.

At Wellington Park, there is a truly magnificent playground reflecting the maritime heritage of the area where kids can climb, slide and play in a boat-shaped sand box. The park is host to the Wellington Farmers Market.

West Lake, on the southwestern coast, is known for its excellent fishing — the locals are quite protective of the large population of swans. The area is rimed with everything from reeds, magnificent homes, sandy dunes, farms and campgrounds. After a long day of fishing, have a bite to eat or a drink on the patio of Sandbanks Bar and Grill overlooking the full-service marina.  

Route Des Arts

You’ll find art everywhere in The County: Inside restaurants, displayed in modern galleries and exhibited at many wineries. From pottery to oil paintings and photography inspired by the local landscapes, the art culture in Prince Edward County is flourishing.

Tour the many studios, galleries and artists within The County while traveling The Arts Trail,  or “Route Des Arts” (artstrail.ca). The trail begins at Wellington Pottery, where you can find unique porcelain pottery and jewelry. Continue on to Mad Dog Gallery in Picton, which showcases contemporary fine art by local artists. The last stop on the tour is County Studio in Ameliasburgh, owned by artists Barb Hogenauer and Terry Culbert, where you can observe textured, colorful and whimsical paintings.

Mother Nature

Prince Edward County is a nature lover’s paradise, known for its abundance of wildlife and unique natural features. Perhaps the best known is Sandbanks Provincial Park. It features the largest baymouth bar in the world. Visitors can camp, hike or enjoy the beach. North Beach Provincial Park is quieter than Sandbanks and features about 3,937 feet of sandy beach on Lake Ontario and another 2,624 feet of beach on North Bay.

Part of the Macaulay Mountain Conservation area is Birdhouse City. In 1978, Doug Harnes, a former superintendent with Prince Edward Conservation (now Quinte Conservation), created a birdhouse replica of the Massassauga Park Hotel. It turned out so well he decided to create more. Various groups got into the act and Birdhouse City was born. There are about 100 birdhouses faithfully maintained by volunteers. Most are replicas of local buildings, including Picton Fairground’s famous Crystal Palace, which is a scaled-down version of the Crystal Palace in London.  

Long considered the most mysterious of Prince Edward County’s unique natural features is Lake on the Mountain. The Mohawks called it O-no-ke-no-ke, meaning “Lake of the Gods” (the gods being the Three Sisters representing corn, beans and squash — the staples to the area’s agricultural history). Even though there is no visible source of water, the lake levels remain constant. The seemingly bottomless body of water is in fact 121 feet deep and is fed by underground springs. The lake’s origins are still debated, including being formed by a meteorite or the crater of an ancient volcano. Visitors to the Lake on the Mountain can have a meal at The Inn Restaurant or the Miller House Café. Enjoy a pint of one of their beers, brewed on-site and available only at the two restaurants.

If you want to take in more of The County’s spectacular nature, walk, run or bike on the Millennium Trail. The former railway was transformed into a 30-mile, multi-use trail. Millennium Trail starts in Carrying Place and winds through The County.

Prince Edward County is truly a jewel of a place to visit. No matter what your interests are — wineries, fine food, art, history, fishing, diving or nature — you will find plenty to see and do in this special place. The County is a destination you’ll want to come back to over and over; one visit is definitely not enough. 

 

CLICK HERE to see a video about Prince Edward County.

 

 

 

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