One of Canada’s leading travel writers, Chris Ryall, came to Perth and enjoyed the Classic Theatre Festival’s historic walking tour, The Maid and the Merchant, as well as The Lonely Ghosts Walk. “Affordable and entertaining theatre with a distinct local twist as the productions take you past Perth’s vast collection of architectural styles.”
CUTTING THE CHEESE
08 SEP 2015: Sometimes your travels can take you to the most unlikely of places. This happened to me recently. I found myself in the tiny hamlet of Balderson, Ontario about an hour’s drive southwest of Ottawa. Here I was standing at the renowned Balderson Village Cheese gourmet foods store just a few from a decorative display of various aged cheddar cheeses. For me it was a Wes Craven horror movie in Smellovision. I should explain. Cheese and I have an unhealthy relationship.
As cheese ages my gag reflex increases. Cheese culture was taste bud damnation. Blame my mom and grandmother who were the same way. I have the cheese aversion gene. So why torture myself and venture into enemy territory – a gourmet cheese store?
I was going to visit my favourite aunt in Kingston on this trip and she appreciates fine aged cheese – I was told this was the place to get it.
Family commitment and not my gag reflex takes priority. If only I was a synchronized swimmer and could have had a trusty nose plug handy. Luckily my friend, a cheese aficionado, takes over the task to buy the right cheese.
T’S GETTING CHEESY
Balderson Village Cheese is not only a well-known Ontario cheese institution – it’s an area cultural icon as well.
Before becoming a general store it was the site of the original Balderson cheese factory dating back to 1881. It is in the heart of the Ontario Highlands region (www.ontariohighlands.ca) which is not only cheese country but the nearby Lanark County is the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario – now we’re talking!
Before indulging in a series of maple treats I pay homage to the almighty cheese god – the full-scale reconstruction of the 22,000 pound original Mammoth Cheese monument that is displayed proudly in downtown Heritage Perth.
Back in 1893, twelve local area cheesemakers contributed a day’s of milk each to make the “World’s Largest Cheese,” for the Chicago World’s Fair. The milk came from 10,000 cows! Personally I would have used that milk for something tastier – the biggest ice cream cone, bowl of whipped cream or vanilla milkshake.
Fortunately there is more than a cheese culture here. Theatre plays a starring role in the Perth’s daily life for both residents and visitors. Despite only about 6,000 townsfolk in Perth, it boasts a bustling arts and cultural scene with local art and craft galleries featuring the talents of many area artisans.
At the cultural centre is the Classic Theatre Festival. This summer it put on productions ranging from Barefoot in the Park to Wait Until Dark. I joined the Festival’s two one-hour outdoor walking tours.
Perth Through the Ages is a Nancy Drew like tale with 18th century historic characters in costume as you help try and solve one of Perth’s infamous mysteries.
I didn’t see Casper the Friendly Ghost but still did enjoy The Lonely Ghost Walk, discovering Perth’s ghostly past. I found it inspirational how the town (and visitors) support and encourage the local theatre scene. Affordable and entertaining theatre with a distinct local twist as the productions take you past Perth’s vast collection of architectural styles.
A SPIRITED HISTORY
The town of Perth dates back to 1816 when it started as a military settlement. It celebrates its bicentennial in 2016 with many special events planned throughout the year. Spirits – ghosts and distilled – have been an integral part of its history as well.
In the mid-1830s Perth despite its small population had eight taverns, seven liquor stores, three distilleries and a brewery to the delight of some residents but consternation to others. The “spirit”, so to speak lives on today with Perth Brewery making a variety of craft beers including a Maple, Eh amber ale. Thankfully no cheese infused brews!
There are many casual and fine dining restaurants to please any palate. A popular place is Fiddleheads Bar & Grill located in an historic limestone building which features a patio overlooking Stewart Park.
A formidable statue of Big Ben and Ian Millar, Canada’s famous Olympic equestrian pair captures diners’ attention.
Enjoy an eclectic menu from escargot pizza crisps to fennel risotto to pan seared pork medallions. A short walk away drop by the SunFlower Bake Shop and treat yourself to a bounty of baked delights including a decadent white chocolate mousse cake guaranteed to lift your spirits and calorie intake).
Perth isn’t just theatre and dining. It’s an outdoor play land as well. With the Tay Canal leading into the Rideau Canal hiking, kayaking, boating, and other outdoor activities are available nearby. Accommodation from cozy historic inns, traditional motels as well as some untraditional accommodation like Parks Canada, oTENTiks – a combination of a tent and cabin. I can do without plumbing and electrical but this old body of mine wants more than a sleeping bag separation from ground to bed. Yes I need a bed.
Just a few minutes outside Perth you can enjoy an oTENTik – complete with propane BBQ, two Muskoka chairs, deck and dining table – nature and water is free. Or, about 20 minutes away from town, for a bit more creature comfort along with creature laden décor why not sleep in a treehouse. Not a treehouse of your youth – this eco-friendly and recycled two-level Sheridan Rapids Treehouse comes with electricity, lots of beds, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and all the comforts – but with a forest setting overlooking the Mississippi River.
For those with exhibitionist tendencies you will love the refreshing outdoor shower – when I took my morning shower the forest animals didn’t seem impressed but I did attract a few flies and mosquitos.
I’ve travelled to the ends of the earth over the years but on visit to the Ontario Highlands region I found sometimes we don’t have to travel thousands of miles to find a cultural treasure. Sometimes it’s close by – we just need to open our eyes wider.
“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made clearer. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – British novelist Freya Stark.