Huron’s tourism operators get a night out

22 Oct

waynepettiBy Diva Heather Boa

BAYFIELD – A cluster of women have turned their chairs away from tables recently cleared of the remnants of another fine dinner at The Ashwood and they face indie rock musician Wayne Petti, who commands the small stage.

He encourages them to sing the chorus “If I live, or if I die” while he lays his vocals over top, accompanied by guitar. Their voices carry to the far end of the bar, where others attending the Fall Harvest Dinner hosted by the Huron Tourism Association chat over after-dinner drinks.

It’s a Thursday night in this quiet village, but nearly 40 people have gathered here for a three-course dinner and to hear this talented Canadian singer-songwriter from band Cuff the Duke, just another musician in an impressive lineup of performers who hit the stage at The Ashwood. (Royal Wood with Peter Katz on Oct. 29 is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Northern Pikes – yes, the same band that sings She Ain’t Pretty – on Nov. 12., and The Ashgrove on Nov. 14.)

The Ashwood is a fine example of the effort local tourism operators put into creating experiences that attract tourists.

Kim Burgsma, President, Huron Tourism Association

Kim Burgsma, President, Huron Tourism Association

In fact, Kim Burgsma, who is the president of the Huron Tourism Association, tells those tourism operators gathered for dinner that tourism brings $60 million annually to Huron County, with 94 per cent of visitors coming from less than three hours away.


Want to be in the know about what’s going on in Huron County?

Here are a few ways:

  1. Follow Ontario’s West Coast’s Facebook Page
  2. Follow Ontario’s West Coast’s Twitter Page @onwestcoast
  3. Sign up for the Huron Tourism Association weekly listing of upcoming events by emailing


Ladies on Leave – or LOL – create a weekend getaway in Huron County

22 Oct
Ladies on Leave (LOL) find a weekend getaway in their own backyard.

Ladies on Leave (LOL) find a weekend getaway in their own backyard.

By Guest Diva Darlene Empey 

Eight ladies set out on their annual Mystery Tour get away recently (Sept 11, 12 & 13). The theme of the weekend is to see some things we haven’t seen, participate in some new activities and, generally, just have a nice three-day weekend away.

This year the planner (me) wanted to discover or rediscover attractions in our “own backyard”. Only the planners know where the tour is taking the group, making the element of surprise part of the fun.

We started out in Goderich and here’s what we did:

Sometimes fun comes in the simple things - like mini-golf.

Sometimes fun comes in the simple things – like mini-golf.

First stop, Jillian Walden opened her at-home studio to us, for an hour of simple yoga poses, healthy eating tips (plus a healthy drink and snack) and advice on a host of topics raised by our 50/60-something group.

Jillian energized us for our busy day ahead.

Next we went to the Huron County Museum. It is amazing how much local history is contained here. Most of us had not been to this museum for years, we won’t say how many, but, suffice it to say that the two-headed calf was my most vivid memory.

By the time we were finished at the museum we were hungry. Pat and Kevin’s, on Court House Square,welcomed us for lunch. Everything was ample and delicious, and we all had a complimentary side of Mayor Kevin’s wit.

We then went to the Huron Historic Gaol. Again, a great history lesson and a sobering glimpse into the past.

I have lived in Huron County all my life and had never visited the gaol.

Now, to add a little culture, we visited Sharon Johnston who gave us a lesson playing the harp. Sharon patiently introduced us to an instrument that sounds beautiful no matter what you play, and, even if I do say so myself, our rendition of Three Blind Mice sounded pretty good. But, it paled in comparison to the solo Sharon played for us that sent musical shivers down my spine.

We dined at Beach Street Station, in its private room; the food, service and the view were delectable.

Off to Samuels, in Saltford, where we stayed for the night…beautiful rooms, cheery staff, nice continental breakfast and complimentary cupcakes!

Saturday morning we headed to the beach to see the newest attraction in Goderich. The Inuksuk display is impressive and a monument to the community spirit within Goderich, “Pretty Strong Town”.

We picked up our deli sandwich lunch at Shanahan’s, on the Square, and headed north on 21 to do something we hadn’t done for years….we played mini-golf at Point Farms Market.

Then we visited Susanne and Bill Robinson, at Robinson’s Maple Products. We sampled maple butter, fresh from the spout and toured the facility. This family operation has grown from a maple bush, supplying the neighbourhood with maple syrup, into a business providing dozens of maple products locally and internationally. It was clear from our visit that their secret ingredient is “passion”.

A tour of Blyth Farm Cheese was one of the weekend highlights.

A tour of Blyth Farm Cheese was one of the weekend highlights.

Next stop was Blyth Farm Cheese. Most of us didn’t even know that this award winning cheese plant existed just outside of Blyth. Paul VanDorp gave us a tour of the facility and explained the art of cheese making, the regulations and what he was planning for the future. But, of course, the best part was the sampling. We tasted several varieties of cheese and they were all amazing; my favourite was the “Drunken Goat”.

So, now we were tired and looking for a place to put our feet up. In Blyth? On the Threshers weekend? Yes, indeed. We stayed above the Queen’s Bakery, a lovely, spacious getaway, with a fully equipped kitchen and living room area.

Fine dining is always one of the highlights of our weekend (because we don’t have to cook). Just a few steps from the bakery we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Part II Bistro, including the chef’s complimentary appetizer.

Then, right across the street, we took in the final performance of the Blyth Festival season; the touching story behind “Mary’s Wedding”.

Sunday morning, we enjoyed not getting up too early and nibbling on the fruit, cheese, muffins and cherry loaf put together for us by Scrimgeour’s Food Market in Blyth.

On the last day of our LOL weekend, we headed off to Brussels. We are kind of worn out by this time, but no worries. Kathy McNeil Nichol and her staff at Solace Spa opened the doors at their beautiful historic location to welcome our group. We spent most of the day being pampered with pedicures, massages and reiki. It was a lovely, relaxing day, including lunch from the Jam Jar.

By the end of our weekend we were all impressed, and maybe a little surprised, to discover and rediscover all the things to do and see in Huron County within such short distances of home (and we barely scratched the surface). Talent, art, history, fine dining, accommodations and successful businesses, all just waiting for you to experience them, right in your own back yard.

Thanks to all the people & businesses that made this a great weekend for us!

Countryside inspires artists in Huron County Art Show

19 Oct

groupshotBy Diva Heather Boa

GODERICH – Cows. It doesn’t matter if they’re Jerseys or Holsteins. Just cows.

It seems those four-legged cud-chewing creatures figure prominently in the imaginations of artists here along the Lake Huron shoreline. Why else would curators of the Huron County Art Show have to strategically arrange the exhibit to separate paintings of cows, relegating one to each wall? They are separated by barns, trees, wildlife and all sorts of other pastoral scenes captured in a variety of media in this 15th annual show, with this year’s theme: Our Creative Countryside.

David Taylor

David Taylor

“It was a great pleasure to jury this show and I was very impressed with the high standard that you’ve developed here,” said David Taylor, during the show opening at the Huron County Museum this weekend. Taylor served as curator of various public art galleries before retiring in 2006 and now volunteers to assist the curator of collections at the Tom Thompson Art Gallery in Owen Sound.

In front of a crowd of artists, family and friends, he announced six honourable mentions along with the first and second prize winners, whose artwork is purchased by the County of Huron and becomes part of its art bank for display in county-owned buildings.

The exhibit features 36 artists from across Huron County, including 11 new artists.

farmallFirst prize went to Scott Ramsay for Ole Faithful, an acrylic “portrait” of a ’58 Farmall H.

“Each well-earned wrinkle and blemish is creatively reproduced to express the love, use and reuse by the owner,” wrote Ramsay in his description of the artwork.

Second prize went to Julie-Anne Lizewski for Field of Promises, an encaustic on wood panel.

“This painting was inspired by a recent tour of a friend’s Huron County farm, overlooking a field, with a feeling of great joy and hope for the future.

fieldencousticThe art show is funded by the County of Huron, which recognizes culture as one of the pillars of economic development.

“Aristotle once said, the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance,” said Paul Gowing, the county’s warden, during the opening ceremony. He said the art in the show highlights the inward significance, putting a different light and frame on subjects.

happyfarmLater in the evening, Lynn Haygarth’s liquid acrylic piece, Happy Farm – Plough, was announced as the winner of the People’s Choice Award, based on ballots cast by those attending the opening evening.

A final award winner – the one that will make the poster of the 2017 International Plowing Match Rural Expo – will be announced during the summer of 2016.

The Huron County Art Show runs until Dec. 20. Entrance is free with museum admission.

Hiking in Huron

17 Oct

By Diva Cindy Fisher

Well, okay. . . there have been a few flurries in the forecast for this weekend but don’t let that discourage you from hiking in the fall colours in Huron County – Ontario’s West Coast.

There are still weeks of good fall weather for hiking and if you pick up a County Hiking Guide or view it online. You will see that there are over 25 hiking destinations featured from all over this great County. Put them all on your bucket list!

Menesetung Bridge.

Menesetung Bridge.

Let’s start at the lake, with a recent photo of the Menesetung Bridge captured this week by Debbie Carroll. If that doesn’t hustle you out the door, I don’t know what will! I appreciate this bridge over the Maitland River and am so thankful that it was saved from demolition when the CPR line was abandoned – I can’t imagine Goderich without it.

This converted railway bridge in Goderich will link you to several great trails:

– the GART (Goderich to Auburn Rail Trail) – 13 kms and beautiful pastoral scenery;

– the Sifto Loop – 1.6 km – follow the blue blazes off the north end of the Menestung Bridge;

– the Menestung Trail – 1.8 kms – follow the yellow blazes off the north end of the Menestung Bridge, and;

cindy&friends– the Maitland Trail – You can follow the white blazes off the GART near Tiger Dunlop Tomb entrance. The trail is a total of approx. 50 km but you don’t have to do it all in one day J. Some people do, but I prefer a more relaxed approach in my enjoyment of the outdoors; it was pretty fun to do ½ of the trail (25 km) on the Camino weekend event at the end of September – hundreds of people agreed! And here I am with my neighbours, happy and hiking!

Goderich also has the Millennium Trail (about 3 km along the Maitland River in Goderich) and the Maitland Woods behind the Columbus Centre – and also great trails behind the Maitland Cemetery.

So many trails……so many trail snacks!

On the way to Bayfield you can check out Naftel’s Creek Conservation Area, right on Highway #21 between Union Road and Kitchigami Rd – can’t miss it.

In Bayfield, you will find three great trails there – Sawmill, Heritage and Woodland. The Sawmill starts north of the village and river, at the end of Sawmill Rd. Heritage and Woodland start from Clangregor Square.

Near Bayfield you can find the beautiful Varna Trails starting at the Stanley Recreation Complex just west of Varna on County Rd. #3/Mill Road. Who doesn’t love the 2 kms at Bannockburn CA just east of Varna – a real fall jewel.

There are great trails near Exeter (McNaughton / Morris Dam); and I haven’t even mentioned Hullett Provincial Wildlife Area or the Lobb Trail near Clinton. Wingham has a clever trail associated with the former CNR Bridge and Blyth has a nice greenway trail on a former rail bed. Benmiller boasts the Falls Conservation Area.

I love living here…year round…next time I will share some great local spots to cross country ski.

If you like to go on guided hikes, check out what is happening on: or at . Both of these trail associations also have pretty sweet detailed trail guides so that you won’t get lost. If there is signage regarding hunting this season, asking you to not use a particular section of trail, then don’t – here are lots of other hiking spots around.  So get off the couch (unless you’re cheering on the Blue Jays), go out the door and walk – you will be glad that you did.


Oct. 18, 2015 – Editor’s Note: Cindy sent in this photo after a fall hike on a snowy day.


Annual Bayfield Fall Foto Fest: Your imagination in focus

9 Oct

IMG_2722By Diva Shari Parsons

BAYFIELD – Nature photography is one of my passions, particularly using macro shots. This past weekend I was able to learn some new skills in the area of macro photography and digital video at the Bayfield Fall Foto Fest.

The Foto Fest, organized by the Photography Club of Bayfield (PCoB) and Photo TourTrekkers offered a variety of workshops over the weekend. I chose to attend two workshops on Saturday. Pre-registration was required and I did mine online.

Participants were invited to wander around the temporary photo gallery in the town hall and view the photos entered in the photo IMG_2678contest. There were photographs to suit almost every subject taste from nature, people, domestic and exotic scenes, reality, digitally enhanced artistic impressions, stark black and white to vivid colour.

I had a quick chat with Jack Pal, president of the PCoB. We both agreed that photography is very subjective. One viewer may see or feel something different compared to another viewer looking at the same photo. While it was evident that talent was present in the creating of all the photos, I can’t say that I liked all of them. There were definitely a few that spoke to me more so than others. I like photos that make me smile or say “oooooh” automatically without thinking about it.

My first workshop was macro photography, which is close-up photography, usually of very small objects, in which the size of the IMG_2692subject in the photo is larger than actual size. The instructor was Nancy McRae from Sarnia, who is not only an avid photographer but also a potter, gardener, world traveller and nursing educator.

Nancy gave us a short but interesting and informative blurb about herself and some tips on macro photography. She shared some of her “tricks of the trade” such has carrying around a small spray bottle of water to spritz on flowers and spider webs for IMG_2759a dewy look or applying a drop of thick glycerin in place of a runny water droplet. Dark coloured backgrounds, especially black, make colours and shapes pop. Small
mirrors can be used for lovely reflections. Interesting “modern art” can be created by
shooting multi-coloured paper through a glass plate of vegetable oil and water. She also gave us some great tips on how to avoid spending money on expensive photography equipment. Tricks like using large embroidery hoops with white, silver or gold fabric to make light reflectors or using a Pringles chip tube with one end cut out to fit over a flash and the other end covered in wax paper as a flash diffuser.

Nancy had several work stations arranged around the room and she bade us to jump right in andIMG_2735 have fun experimenting. There were several “water droplet” stations where you could try to catch an image of the droplet splashing as it hit the water. Some of the water was coloured and one was made using cream. A couple of stations had small mirrors that we used to get shots of reflections of butterflies, flowers and jewellery. There were a couple of stations set up with black backgrounds and one with a royal blue background inside a small, white fabric “tent” lit from the outside. I found the most amusing station was the one with the coloured paper, oil and water. The resulting shots made me think of planets in another galaxy.

This workshop was a little challenging for me as my camera does not take different types of lenses. I could only use the macro IMG_2698function on my camera, which does not work as well as an actual macro lens.

Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

My afternoon workshop was digital video taught by Tony Shantz, a freelance cinematographer from Sarnia. We started with a discussion about some of the differences and similarities between photos and video. Tony told us that video is made up of a rapid series of still images, 24-30 per second, which gives us the illusion of movement.

IMG_2738Tony showed us a still image of a blacksmith working in his shop. He then gave us the task of thinking about how we would tell the story using various video images. An important step in preparing to shoot a video is to build a “shot list” which is the sequence of scenes being shot to tell that story. He also told us to think about the composition of the shots such as wide angle or close-up and how to use tilt or pan to show movement.

Tony then taught us how to set up our digital cameras so that they could be used to record video images. We were told that it is important to remember WISA – White balance, ISO, Shutter speed, and Aperture.

The workshop ended with a discussion about some of the online and computer programs available for editing and sharing videos.

IMG_2724Although I was not able to attend, the Foto Fest also offered a keynote speaker, a wine and cheese reception and a movie by local filmmaker and environmentalist Jennifer Pate.

The cost of attending the workshops was $50 for one day and $70 for two days and included two workshops each day, keynote presentation and wine and cheese reception.

Next year’s Foto Fest will take place Oct. 1 and 2, 2016.

New leadership, subtle changes enhance Oakwood’s off season offerings

5 Oct


Dave's PubBy Diva Jennifer Mossop

GRAND BEND – I recognized him instantly, and my jaw dropped as I took in the scene before me. Mark Craft, the owner of the renowned Church Restaurant in Stratford was clearly giving directions to the dining staff at the Oakwood Inn Resort in Grand Bend.   My curiosity well peaked, and the former journalist roused, I made it my business to find out the story.

overheadshotofpatioAfter about three decades at the helm of one of Stratford’s flagship fine dining establishments housed in a stunning old Baptist Church, Craft has sold the business. And, now he is at the helm of the food and beverage operations of this 130-room resort on the sandy shores of Lake Huron.

Under his care are three main services – the conference and event business, the Oak Dining Room, and Dave’s Pub and Grill. Sitting in the Pub there is no visible indication of a change. The airy room is pleasing and welcoming with plenty of wood, stone and massive windows overlooking the picturesque golf course. The server is cheerful and efficient. But there is more change. Craft is not the only new face. The kitchen is now under the culinary baton of Chef Chris Howard.

Opening the 4-page menu, it’s evident the new leadership understands change doesn’t have to be dramatic. The offerings have a Dave's Pub and Grill Oakwood Resortfamiliar feel but there are enhancements and a few new offerings in the generous list, which make it easy to find something for everyone. The new California Burger, colourfully adorned with a swirl of rich guacamole, is moist and flavourful. The return of Fish Tacos is a welcome favourite.

Food and drink come together each weekend in the Chef’s Table Menu, where ever-changing kitchen creations are well paired with new wine list options. For example, the most recent weekend offered Mediterranean Pasta with sundried tomatoes, green olives, artichokes, arugula, red onions, rosemary olive oil, served in multigrain olive bread, paired appropriately with Ruffino Chianti. Duck Breast with orange maple glaze was married with a Jackson Triggs Merlot, and the Grilled Mahi Mahi brought a Ruffino Pinot Grigio.

While the new fall and winter menus provide plenty of choices to test over the coming cooler months, it should be noted that Oakwood will be hosting its annual traditional Thanksgiving buffet ($37.95 per person, $17.50 children five to 12, free four and under – plus taxes and gratuity) in the Oak Dining Room on Saturday, Oct. 10 from 5 p.m. to p.m. It’s a great option for those who’d rather not spend the long weekend in the kitchen but perhaps, instead, on the golf course or at the Lakeside Spa. Maybe even a dip in the indoor pool, which is now open for seasonal memberships and one off visits.

And then maybe, just maybe, the pace will settle down just a bit for the new food and beverage guru. Craft admits that things are going so well he has yet to make the one block walk to the private beach to take in one of Lake Huron’s legendary sunsets. But perhaps he’ll get there before the winter winds transform the aquamarine waves into an Alaskan landscape, and the torches outside Dave’s Pub and Grill once again beckon winter wanderers to cozy up by the fireplace for a satisfying sip and sup.

First-ever Bayfield Volkfest: Love, peace and fun, fun, fun

30 Sep


By Diva Shari Parsons

BAYFIELD – This past Sunday my hubby and I enjoyed travelling through a time warp when we visited the first-ever Bayfield Volkfest in Clan Gregor Square.

As it was the first Volkfest, we weren’t sure what to expect but we were both very pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of vehicles present. We love camping and exploring so our favourite vehicles were the camper vans or buses. A few of them were in a “well matured” state while others had been lovingly restored. Some of the campers featured fun little vignettes complete with funky rainbow tie-dye interiors.

secondleftThere were also VW Beetles, including Herbie the Lovebug Jr. My favourite “bug” was a red convertible – perfect for summer cruising with the top down. There were a few more exotic species present as well such as the VW Thing, some dunebuggies, and an interloping Porsche. My favourite “exotic” was a lime green 1972 VW Karmann Ghia, which had been lovingly restored from the wheels up.

firstrightvwSome of the vehicle owners and a few visitors were dressed as groovy as the vehicles. There was a scent of incense (legal) wafting on the breeze and folk music playing in the background. A few vendors were situated around the park offering health food, locally roasted coffee beans, groovy jewelry, brightly coloured clothes, VW memorabilia, and apparently the grooving hippy’s choice of instrument – the ukulele.

A small stage was available for live music performances. While we were there a cute little girl in pigtails was singing her heart out while accompanied by someone drumming on an amplified wooden box and another musician playing the guitar. In the audience, several little children grooved to the beat including one little girl who twirled a rainbow coloured garland in time to the music.

Festival organizers Ryan Somers, Jen Reaburn and their eight-week-old daughter, River.

Festival organizers Ryan Somers, Jen Reaburn and their eight-week-old daughter, River.

I chatted with festival organizers Ryan Somers and his partner Jen Reaburn, owners of Elephant Juice, Juice and Smoothie Company of Bayfield. Inspired by Bayfield’s Vette Fest and obsessed with VW campers (funnily enough Ryan does not own a VW but he hopes to soon), volkfest4Ryan thought that it would be a great idea to put together a Volkfest. Incredibly, the festival was literally thrown together in about six weeks! Ryan started it off by creating a Facebook event and emailing a few friends to see if there was any interest. Social media was the driving force behind the success of this festival. Apparently classic VW owners are a friendly bunch who like to get together so news of the event spread quickly.

A few area businesses jumped on board. Smackwater Jack’s Taphouse in Grand Bend organized a brunch and group drive. The Ashwood Inn of Bayfield provided the stage and music set-up. Shopbike Coffee Roasters of Bayfield helped to spread the word.

This was a free, fun and relaxing event that was suitable for all ages. My hubby and I left dreaming about what adventures we could get up to if we owned a VW camper.

Next year’s event is already planned for Sept. 25, 2016.


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