A touch of Europe in Ontario

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Posted July 20, 2012 by Adrian Brijbassi in Ontario
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Galt, with its 19th-century churches, sits like an architectural gem on the Grand River in Cambridge, about an hour’s drive from Toronto. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

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Apple dumplings are one of the big draws at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO — Each Saturday, Jon Cowie and the Wesley United Church Apple Corps set up shop outside the 19th-century church that marks one boundary of the Cambridge Farmers’ Market. The Apple Corps sells nine varieties of pies, along with apple dumplings that have about as devout a following in this neighbourhood as religion itself.

The apple dumplings go fast at the Saturday market and one bite will make you a convert. Each dumpling is the size of a giant snowball, packed with chunks of fruit and drizzled with a caramel apple sauce. They have so much sweetness you will end up praying for forgiveness. The Apple Corps began peddling the dumplings and pies about 20 years ago to raise funds to restore the church. (Thousands of dollars from the sale of the treats are also sent to three soup kitchens in South Africa, where some of the Wesley United Church members had struck a bond with a counterpart there.) In another community, they might get lost in the crowd but they’re a drawing card here and that adds more than a touch of authenticity to a market that dates 182 years.

“This is a real old-time farmers’ market. You don’t see this sort of thing anymore,” says Cowie, a volunteer for Wesley United. “The church and the market are still a focal point for the community, at least on Saturdays.”

He’s right about that — and the feeling that evokes Europe extends beyond the market. Galt has antique shops, pubs, even a curry place by the river. And it has bridges over that river, the Grand. The bridges aren’t the utilitarian, blank concrete edifices that populate so much of Ontario. They’ve got character, with a view of the river and the spires near it.

“The buildings here are really something. They managed to keep the historic element in the town. It’s why the School of Architecture is here. If you’re a student, you just look outside and see all kinds of examples of structures,” Cowie says, referring to the University of Waterloo facility that’s located on the west side of town, across the river from the farmers’ market.

When you think of Ontario’s most European destinations, it’s Stratford that most often comes to mind. The theatre town is tony and elegantly British, like its namesake. Galt, to a visitor’s surprise, has a touch of the same — without the dramatic arts.

MORE TO SEE BEYOND LANGDON HALL

This tiny speck of a municipality was swallowed up in 1973, when it, Preston and Hespeler were combined to form Cambridge. The amalgamated city now has a population of 125,000 people, making it more populous than the wealthier and much better known City of Waterloo. Galt serves as Cambridge’s main downtown area and in a part of southern Ontario known for its industrial manufacturing and Toyota plant, it has a charm that’s both refreshing and easy to embrace.

Visitors to this area often arrive because of Langdon Hall, the elegant country estate that’s home to the second-best restaurant in Canada. This summer, chef Jonathan Gushue and his staff are renewing their popular Friday Night BBQ series, a wonderful event that features celebrity chefs and wine experts, and runs weekly until August 24. For $69-$75 per person, patrons enjoy a buffet of grilled favourites from award-winning chef Jonathan Gushue and staff. Included on the menu are items such as albacore tuna and wagyu beef, along with all of the accompaniments that are staples of a barbecue — and then some (a decadent and never-ending dessert platter). For $590 per couple, you can stay overnight in this Relais & Chateaux property and receive a full country breakfast as well.

Those guests from Toronto and elsewhere who do spend the night at Langdon Hall often get right back on Highway 401 for a morning drive back to the big city. The market and downtown Galt, though, give them reason to stick around this part of Waterloo Region a little bit longer.

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Chefs put the finishing touches on the mouthwatering spread at Langdon Hall’s Friday night BBQ. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

“We have some people here right as soon as it opens in the morning,” says Alix Aitken, the market’s manager. Until October 3, the market runs on Wednesdays (8 am-1 pm) as well as Saturdays (7 am-1 pm).

Despite the draw of both the nearby St. Jacobs and Kitchener markets, two of the most famous in Canada, Aitken says the Cambridge market is able to co-exist because of its comparatively small size.

“We only have about 50 vendors here and people like that. They don’t have to deal with the huge crowds and they get some really terrific local produce,” she says. “All of the vendors come from within a 100-kilometre radius, so we’re really focused on this being about community.”

In the warmer months, vendors stretch out into the parking lot by city hall and the church, as well as occupy the long building that houses the year-round market vendors. There are a couple of activities for kids, including face painting, and you’ll get some unique finds at the stalls, although it will take you less than an hour to peruse the whole space.

“In St. Jacobs and Kitchener, there’s more of a flea-market mentality now,” says honeymaker Doug Eiche. “Smaller markets like this one are more authentic and the quality is very good, but it’s also hard to sell here. People think the prices are too high, whereas in Toronto they grin and tell me they can’t believe how cheap it is.”

What is a bargain are those apple dumplings in the church. They’re just $3, proving the church really does embrace the Christmas spirit year round.

“People will come down here on Saturday just for those apple dumplings,” Aitken says. “They sell out pretty much every week. Taste one, you’ll know why.”

MORE ABOUT THE CAMBRIDGE FARMERS’ MARKET
Location: 40 Dickson Street, at the corner of Ainslie Street
Hours of Operation: Wednesdays until October 3, 8 am-1 pm; Saturdays year-round, 7 am-1 pm.
Website: www.cambridge.ca/market

MORE ABOUT LANGDON HALL’S FRIDAY NIGHT SIZZLING BBQ SERIES
Dates:
Runs Fridays until August 24, with guest chefs, wine experts, cookbook authors and notable culinary experts joining executive chef Jonathan Gushue in preparing a casual, elegant and divine BBQ buffet experience that’s one of the most fun and outstanding gastronomic nights out you can enjoy in this part of the country.
Hours: 6-9 pm
Reservations: 1-800-268-1898 or visit the Langdon Hall website.

MAP SHOWING DIRECTIONS FROM LANGDON HALL TO FARMERS’ MARKET

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About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

 
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