Our goal was to cover topics related to arts, music, food, entertainment, recreation, lifestyle businesses and events. Over the past decade, many people and organizations have worked to make interesting things happen under all of those categories – just a random smattering of examples:
- Many new art events and spaces have popped up across the county.
- Elgin County has developed well-travelled arts and culinary trails (which include both established and new eateries and art places).
- The St. Thomas Elgin Artists’ Guild started in 2007 and will hold its tenth annual show in November.
- Port Stanley Festival Theatre has expanded its space and success; three amateur theatre groups (West Elgin Dramatics Society, Elgin Theatre Guild and Aylmer Community Theatre) have continued to present local talent and a fourth, Periscope Playhouse, launched and this year found a permanent home in Port Burwell.
- St. Thomas Horton Farmers’ Market customers have seen on-going revitalization.
- Many eateries, including some new ones in 2016 make it a priority to use local on their menus and the number of food crafters with specialty honey, lavender, chocolates, herb blends, beers, foraged food products and more, has increased.
- Cycling and walking infrastructure and opportunities have grown; an enthusiastic group of cyclists formed the Railway City Cycling Club in 2016.
- Port Stanley continues to develop as a hot spot for tourists and locals; it was joined as a Blue Flag Beach location in 2016 by Port Glasgow.
- We got a submarine in 2012, saw it win some prestigious awards in 2013 and then submerge beneath a morass of controversy – hopefully some objective thinking will result in an assessment and plan which will turn this into a positive story rather than one of opportunity lost – not many places can say they have a submarine.
CREATIVE BLENDS OF OLD AND NEW
You will often find an intriguing juxtaposition of old and new as people discover ways of positioning their venture or approach against a backdrop of heritage appreciation. A piece by artist Ron Milton at the Elgin County Museum is a nice symbol of that with its old gadgets combined to create something new. (See our article on the Gadgets and Gizmos Exhibition.)
The St. Thomas Elgin Artists’ Guild Annual Show & Sale has been held every year but one of ten in the CASO Railway Station – it’s a show by artists who are our friends and neighbours set against the back-drop of a heritage building where the ancestors of many of our friends and neighbours once worked. For the first edition of the show, the building was beautiful but rough – it’s now just plain beautiful. In a nod to the importance of heritage, the two thoroughly modern business women of Las Chicas del Café opened their coffee roastery there in 2015 and both provincial and federal members of parliament have set up their constituency offices at CASO.
The new STEAM Innovation Centre found a home this year in a historic building, the former Wellington Street Public School. In West Lorne, the Arts & Cookery Bank opened in 2010, a hub of rural culture and food, housed in a wonderful example of the adaptive reuse of two historic buildings.
Our “culture” is strongly rooted in agriculture. There has been a noticeable increase in interest over the past decade in supporting local food and farmers, and sustainable farming.
Two prestigious awards saw “crownings” of two Elgin County residents this fall. In September, Anita Rastapkevicius, representing Elgin County and competing against twenty-five other candidates was crowned the 2016 Ontario Queen of the Furrow – the last representative from Elgin County was in 1960.
Also in September Quai du Vin’s Jamie Quai was named the 2016 Grape King by Farm Credit Canada, the Grape Growers of Ontario and the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, an award based on expertise of vineyard management and quality. It was only the second time in the award’s sixty-one year history that the honouree has come from outside the Niagara region. Jamie will act as Ontario’s grape and wine industry ambassador at events across the country in 2016/17. During the local installation ceremony at Quai du Vin Estate Winery, Jamie noted that his grandparents had waited two years for a property to become available on Fruit Ridge Line, “This was always the goal, for his grapes, and he was patient. And one of the things I am learning about this industry as I go on is that you have to be patient. It’s taken forty-two years of growing grapes and twenty-six years of making wine to get to the point where all of you wonderful folks could be here on a rainy Friday afternoon celebrating this award day.”
At the heart of the interest in local food is an appreciation of good taste. As Ellen Laing notes, “Once you really get a taste of good food – I just mean things that are fresh, that are simple but well prepared – it’s hard to go back.” (See our article about Orchard Hill and Ellen here ...)
Value is increasingly seen in food prepared, not in the fastest way, but in a manner that leads to more appealing flavours, textures and tastes. Two local bread-makers have found loyal followers for their fire-baked sourdough made with locally milled flour, along with other producers and chefs who take the time to craft highly flavourful products with an eye to artisanal methods.
The recipe for interesting ventures, it seems, is simple – start with a passion and a deep knowledge, appreciate the past, look to the future – and be prepared to be patient. Simple, yes … easy, no!