Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
THORNBURY, ONTARIO — Little Toronto.
That could easily be the nickname for the friendly, welcoming area a short west drive from the Village of Blue Mountain. On Georgian Bay, Thornbury is populated by former Torontonians like Casey Thomson, who retired from a career in sales and marketing, and decided to start up a fromagerie.
“I missed having the choices I do in Toronto, like a good cheese shop, so I opened this one,” Thomson says while working in the Cheese Gallery, a fantastic little place that truly would fit right in alongside any of the boutique stores in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood. “You’ll find a lot of us up here who are from Toronto and trying to find the things we miss about the city.”
That includes art, where neighbouring Clarksburg has welcomed so many galleries in recent years that it has been nicknamed Artsburg. The first was the Loft Gallery, which showcases the work of acclaimed artist Debra Lynn Carroll. She and her husband, gallery manager Phil McCormack, made the move from Toronto five years ago, and were initially concerned.
“Some people we know laughed at us when we said we wanted to have an art gallery in Clarksburg,” McCormack says. “There was nothing here, and when we had our grand opening party, pretty much no one came.”
Then the gallery sold a painting for $9,000 and McCormack and Carroll started to breathe easier. Thanks to their influence, the area — known as the Georgian Triangle in the Town of the Blue Mountains — has become a growing arts centre and Clarksburg’s Marsh Street hosts an annual Artsburg Day in the summer. (The nickname also originates from a poster first displayed at the Loft Gallery.)
“It’s still not been gentrified,” says McCormack of Marsh Street and Clarksburg in general, “but it’s improving. You do see more Torontonians coming up here, and they’re professional people, they take pride in where they live.”
About 10 minutes away is Georgian Hills Vineyards, a new winery that has been growing grapes for six years. Manager Vanessa McKean, who studied viticulture in the Niagara Region, understands the surprise and skepticism some people have when they hear this part of Ontario has entered the wine industry.
“They think all we have is apples up here.” McKean walks through the vineyard of the tiny property that would prove doubters wrong. It contains 12 acres and has the Vidal grapes that create ice wine. Georgian Hills, which is partly owned by Murray Puddicombe of Stoney Ridge Winery in Niagara, makes its own form of sweet dessert wine called Frozen to the Core, created from peaches and apples, of course.
Ontario’s Newest Wine Region is Georgian Bay
“The conditions are very good for wine, because of the soil and the coolness of the temperature, and the wind coming off of the bay,” says McKean, a young woman whose knowledge of wine-making and of the Niagara Escarpment is impressive. You can have the opportunity to learn about her and the nascent wine scene growing at Georgian Hills with an exceptionally priced 75-minute tasting that features five wines paired with five food choices. It costs just $20 per person. There’s also a $145 helicopter tour of the Georgian Bay area that includes a landing on the winery’s grounds that precedes the tasting.
“They are doing some really great things at that winery,” says Thomson of the Cheese Gallery, which stocks Georgian Hills products.
Despite the big-city assets of the Blue Mountains, there are still things transplanted Torontonians crave. Thomson misses the variety of ethnic cuisine that so defines dining out in Toronto while McCormack still feels the area has a long way to go in order to support more arts and culture. Still, as more people retire or spend extended stays in the region, it continues to attract visitors and potential residents. Thornbury co-hosts the annual Peak to Shore Music Festival, features a picturesque harbour, a charming bridge over a dam and a terrific bar, Bridges Tavern, that’s known for its live music. The area is also on the Apple Pie Trail.
“People from Toronto don’t just land here,” Thomson says while serving up a delicious grilled cheese sandwich that will be enough to convince you the 90-minute drive was worth it. “It’s by choice we end up here. Once you get a feel for Thornbury, you find out how special it is.”
More About the Cheese Gallery
Location: 11 Bruce S, Thornbury, ON
Contact: Telephone: 519-599-6699; website: www.thecheesegallery.ca
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 10 am-6 pm; Friday, 10 am-7 pm; Saturday, 9 am-7 pm
Prices: $7.95 for a grilled cheese sandwich; $21.95 for a platter for two. Numerous choice of cheeses from around the world, as well as local artisan products and home decor items.
More About the Loft Gallery
Location: 183 Marsh Street, Clarksburg, ON
Contact: Telephone: 519-599-5912; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.loftgalleryart.com
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-6pm (open daily in July and August)
More About Georgian Hills Vineyards
Location: 496350 Grey Road 2, The Blue Mountains, ON
Contact: Telephone: 519-599-2255; email: email@example.com; website: www.georgianhillsvineyards.ca
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, noon–5 pm
Prices: Frozen to the Core dessert wines are $20 each; the Seyval Blanc ($16) is the winery’s best-selling variety.
A Map Showing Each of the 3 Businesses Mentioned in the Article