Story and Photos by Gary Crallé
MILVERTON, ONTARIO — Country drives, frost on the pumpkins, and roadside vegetable stands. It’s autumn and those are some of the charms of being in Ontario at this time of year. Perth County is proud to be part of that tradition, supporting an amiable group of small communities two hours’ drive west of Toronto. Like a country compass, each part of Perth County — North, South, East and West Perth — holds its own surprises. The county shares a museum with Stratford, is home to a large Mennonite community, and sports an array of eclectic family businesses including some notable culinary delights.
Discover Listowel’s Delights
At Life’s a Party bakery and gift shop, the kitchen hums with activity each morning. Behind coffee and decorative baked goods, lunches and a thriving catering business are mother and daughter co-owners Leanne and Michele Deniet with a dedicated staff doing what they love.
I found more good eating at Diana Sweets Restaurant, where I enjoyed the lunch special: a Coney Island hot dog with dill and carrot soup, fries and gravy on the side. Served with a contagious smile by Heather.
For shopping finds, stop at BK’s Brand Name, an old-fashioned department store with rooms full of clothes, shoes and décor. Manager Lois Stewart stopped to chat as we poked around and read one-line truths to live by.
Justin Bieber Gets the Museum Treatment at Home
Thanks to the crowds, Stratford Perth Museum is extending its blockbuster Justin Bieber “Steps to Stardom” hometown exhibit (he grew up in Perth County) until October 2019. Bieber grew up in Perth County, and his family and the community have generously contributed many personal articles that follow his days from busking on the steps of Avon Theatre to international pop fame.
The Stratford Perth Museum hosts contemporary exhibits that “tell a story” such as the Anne Frank House and Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird. The latter is a visiting exhibit from Monroe County Museum, Alabama. A movie setting invites visitors to take a selfie where Gregory Peck sat for a scene in the movie adaptation of the novel.
Renowned Stratford theatre and local history are the museum’s foundation. Volunteers from “Off the Wall” celebrated their recent gift: a life-size recreation of steam engine 6218, the last to be repaired at the Motive Power Shops in Stratford.
Finding Comfort in Mennonite Country
The Buggy Booth at Anna Mae’s Restaurant in Millbank is so popular that patrons are asked to vacate the table on the hour. Love that hearty Mennonite cooking. Our server couldn’t have been more attentive despite wearing a button that said, “Thanks for your patience. I’M NEW with Anna Mae’s.”
For a place to stay, head to Windbreak Farm B&B, which is Victorian comfort without pretension. The house has been renovated with original wood throughout, and owners Bob and Cathy Hutton make you feel right at home. Cathy’s Windbreak B&B breakfasts could carry you through a day of heavy farm chores. The recipes are substantial enough to be in her cookbook, available for sale at the farmhouse.
Local Fare Is a Daily Affair in Milverton
Highway 19 becomes Main Street on its way through Milverton. Small shops, two Mennonite bakeries and some larger stores line the block of this picturesque hamlet that dates to the 19th century.
The Lil Fry Pie Shoppe is aptly named. It’s a simple small room with Mennonite fruit pies lined up and scooped off the counter by a loyal clientele. Directly across the street is the other Mennonite bakery, Guenther’s, which has been serving the community for more than 124 years.
Play’s Not the Only Thing in Shakespeare Country
Partners Linda and Robert pair their expertise for a memorable experience in their Harry Ten Shilling Tea Room (serendipitously named after coins minted by Henry VIII to pay his troops). It’s a class act in the tiny crossroads community of Shakespeare — from beautiful cups to a page-long menu of teas to exquisite food in a designer setting.
Meanwhile, just like Apple, Shakespeare Brewing Co. is starting out of a garage. Owners Kate and brewmaster husband, Ayden Gautreau, churn out quality small-batch suds made with 100 per cent Ontario hops and barley in their 1-year-old craft brewery. What better advice than to “Eat and drink as friends.”— The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1 Scene 2.
After that beer, satiate your hunger at Stonetown Artisan Cheese. Master cheese maker Ramon Eberle is the son of a fourth-generation Swiss cheese maker who “broke out of the mould” by working in North America and eventually immigrating to Canada. He engages in hands-on production at the cheese shop. Stonetown is a slice of the Alps brought to Ontario by owners Hans and Jolanda Weber. Emigrating from Switzerland in 1996, they founded the company near the town of St. Mary’s. The business is named after the town’s historic limestone architecture.