Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just back from the west coast

The west coast of Ontario, that is. On Saturday afternoon I packed my suitcase and set my Garmin GPS for the Benmiller Inn and Spa, just north of Goderich, the site of the annual general meeting (AGM) of Ontario's Finest Inns & Spas. One of the things I like about the British lady living inside of my dashboard device is that she sometimes takes me on the road less travelled, giving me an opportunity to see things and go places that I otherwise wouldn't have. I also like the fact that if I grow tired of her somewhat nagging, bossy tone, I can press her "mute" button, knowing that she won't take offence, and won't pick up where she left off. We discovered a new game on Sunday afternoon - I set my destination as the place I was just leaving, and then drive in the opposite direction to what GPS girl is telling me. She keeps telling me to make the next safe u-turn, or turn left here, or turn right there and I just ignore her. Splendid. However, I keep an eye on the projected arrival time, allowing me to wander freely and know exactly when I will have to turn around if I want to make it back for my 3:00 massage. I must say, much of south western Ontario is very flat - farmland for miles and miles - somewhat boring, but reassuring at the same time - after all, these fields feed us. With the idyllic weather we had this weekend all the farmers were out in full force cultivating and spreading piles of very ripe manure left over from the long winter. Besides some very nice vistas of Lake Huron, and the odd quaint small village, this area also seems to be a real hot spot for wind generators. They look so graceful and hypnotic as they turn every so slowly. When you get up beside them they are absolutely huge. I took a drive around downtown Goderich and down to the beach - I wasn't overly impressed, but perhaps there is more life there in the summer months. I also made a visit to the local Walmart to buy a pair of slacks for dinner and at the check out found myself buying a country music CD, something I've never done before. It turned out to be just the right music for cruising the long country roads of Huron County with my windows open wide. I found myself missing my dog, my cowboy hat and the fact that I hadn't recently been dumped by an old girl friend. OK, back to the meeting; Ontario's Finest Inns and Spas is a mildly eccentric group of very creative and independent entrepreneurs, each of whom has created or inherited one of a wide range of wonderful and eclectic places to get away from reality for rest and relaxation. Our host property, the Benmiller, is a wonderfully restored woolen mill overlooking the Maitland River. Along with the Elora Mill, the Benmiller is now managed by Sequel Hotels, who are in the process of restoring their properties to their former grandeur. We enjoyed outstanding meals and four diamond accommodation, all pulled together by a warm, hospitable staff. Mark at the front desk, Kevin in the dining room, Cathy in the spa, and Innkeeper Scott provided especially memorable service. Our AGM is a time to do a little bit of business and discuss how we might better entice Ontarians to enjoy the many treasures that exist right here in our back yard. But by far, the best part of these get togethers is the opportunity to catch up with the many friends we've made over the years. When you do visit one of Ontario's inns or spas, you have to make a point of seeking out and chatting up the owner - these are some of the finest, and funniest people you'll ever meet. Here's a few to look for - Sue Murray at The Harbour House in Niagara on the Lake, Wolfgang Stichnothe at The Millcroft in Alton, James Orr at Sir Sam's, Holly Doughty at The Rosemount in Kingston, Gerda Della-Casa at the Woodlawn Inn in Cobourg, Jaques O'Shea at the Trinity House in Gananoque, Michael Kalmar at The Old Mill in Toronto, Helen Young at the Inn on The Twenty in Jordon, Troy Vedova at the Kettle Creek Inn in Port Stanley, Hugh Sibbald at The Briars in Jackson's Point, John Egan at Eganridge, John Keilty at the Gananoque Inn in Gananoque, Gayle Waters at The Little Inn of Bayfield in Bayfield, and Troy Loop at the Vintage Goose Inn in Kingsville - tell them that Jim sent you! Tonight I am back at Ste. Anne's - nice to be home. I took a walk along the pier on Cobourg's waterfront this evening - the picture above is taken at dusk looking back towards the town - quite pretty. In another couple of weeks the harbour will be full of boats, probably staying close to their moorings as the price of gas approaches another ridiculous record.

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