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Out and About In Essex County
Where To Visit This Summer So You Can Stay Local, Support Local & Also Have A Good Time!
Supporting a local hospitality and tourism industry, devastated by the effects of a lengthy pandemic, as it prepares to navigate through the various steps of Ontario’s “Roadmap To Reopen,” is a major challenge for area tourism organizations.
For Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI), the battle to help local businesses survive and thrive is being fought on a number of exciting fronts.
The tourism organization recently launched its 2021/2022 Official Visitor Guide, which has been re-imagined as the “Staycation in Windsor Essex Guide.” It features tips on where to go across the county, where to eat, where to stay and ideas for outdoor attractions, socially-distanced experiences and remote locations.
“As the tourism industry continues to reopen (after provincial COVID-19 restrictions are lifted), our Official Visitor Guide is one of the top advertising pieces we use to promote our region,” says TWEPI Chief Executive Officer Gordon Orr. “The guide highlights the most relevant information about the region with things to do, all the while keeping safety paramount.”
This year’s guide will be a great asset to locals, as well as visiting friends and family, as they plan to explore the great attractions and businesses right in our own backyard.
Orr adds that the tourism industry was hit first and hardest by pandemic restrictions and it will likely be the industry that takes the longest to recover.
In an attempt to boost tourism across the region, TWEPI also launched, in June, the “W.E. Heart Local” digital passport. This initiative is designed to help consumers go on a unique journey through Windsor Essex, to learn more about the growing agri-tourism scene in the region, and support local while doing so.
Destinations include farms with roadside stands, craft beverage producers, shops, markets, butchers, wineries and restaurants.
“Our destination has a much-celebrated history with food,” Orr expresses. “By having one of the longest growing seasons in Canada, we are truly blessed with a diverse offering of produce alongside, meat, honey, wines and beer.”
The digital passport is free to access and requires no download to use. It is instantly delivered via text and email and those interested in signing up can do so on: WeHeartLocal.ca .
Once users have registered they can check in at one of 70-plus participating locations, while they take a self-guided tour across the county.
Possible suggestions include: Amherstburg Farmers Market; Black Bear Farms of Ontario Estate Winery; Colio Estate Winery; Green Heart Kitchen; Hylander Farms; Little Foot Foods; Muscedere Vineyards Estate Winery; Pelee Island Winery; Thiessen Orchards and more. (Next up in this story are four other places described in their own sections).
Incentives for users include recipes, reusable produce bags, a barbecue paddle and “W.E. Heart Local” ball cap.
The program is a partnership between TWEPI and the Essex County Federation of Agriculture (ECFA) with sponsorship from Libro Credit Union.
“Our vision to connect consumers and farmers has developed into a new and exciting digital format,” states Leo Guilbeault, President of the ECFA. “The passport gives all the details to plan a visit to the county and enjoy our plentiful products, which are produced locally.”
Lori Atkinson, Regional Manager for Libro, says the credit union has a 75-plus-year history of supporting local farmers and the agricultural community.
“We actively advocate for local food accessibility and the improvement of food systems to increase local food for all,” adds Atkinson. “We regularly support programs promoting local and sustainable agriculture, community gardens, farmers markets, local food sector initiatives, food processing and distribution projects throughout Southwestern Ontario.”
In early June, TWEPI was awarded a Destination Marketing Accreditation Program seal from Destinations International, a global organization representing 600 destination organizations in 13 countries.
“Achieving this elite designation through each critical standard, demonstrates the dedication by TWEPI staff in going above and beyond defining quality, accountability and professionalism,” says Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, who is also Chair of the TWEPI Board of Directors.
His sentiments were echoed by City of Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, in his statement: “Much like the numerous industry awards they have received, this is another fine example of TWEPI showcasing their leadership, industry skill set and mindset to achieve this prestigious status.”
The provincial government has also jumped into action by launching the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant, which offers between $10,000 and $20,000 to eligible small businesses in the hard-hit sector.
Eligible businesses include hotels, motels, travel agencies, amusement and water parks, hunting and fishing camps, as well as recreational and vacation camps. Small businesses which received the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, were not eligible for this new grant.
The deadline to apply for the tourism and travel small business grant was July 9, 2021. For further information please go online.
Recently the federal government announced the Recovery Fund for Arts, Culture, Heritage and Sport Sectors providing $300 million over two years to organizations that are still struggling due to the pandemic. And the Reopening Fund will provide $200 million over two years through existing programming to help Canada’s festivals, cultural events, outdoor theatre performances, heritage celebrations, local museums, amateur sport events and more.
Regardless of the level of government and sector-specific support from tourism agencies, the best support small businesses can receive is from loyal customers itching for a chance to shed long-time COVID restrictions and to get out and enjoy themselves again.
So, while Ontario has the “Roadmap To Reopen” businesses safely, Biz X magazine presents its version of the “Roadmap To Fun” (with all safety protocols observed of course).
What follows are possible ideas of where to go this summer to experience the best Essex County has to offer!
Sun Parlor Honey
Closing in on their 100th anniversary, the owners of Sun Parlor Honey are looking forward to a busy season, even though they’ve been open throughout the pandemic because they sell essential goods such as honey and beeswax.
“We’re expecting business to increase because more and more people are out and about now that some rules have been relaxed,” says Tracey Congdon, who owns the business along with husband Tom whose grandfather Frank opened Sun Parlor in 1925.
The onsite store at 238 County Road 14 in Cottam, sells a variety of honey-based products including liquid, buckwheat, combed and white cream honeys, as well as bee pollen. They also sell a variety of bee-keeping products for people interested in establishing their own hives.
The apiary is also participating in Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island’s “W.E. Heart Local” digital passport initiative, which has drawn together more than 70 businesses and attractions for people to visit throughout the year.
“We’ve been part of the organization’s ‘Buy Local’ campaign for a number of years and it just made sense to get involved with this new idea,” explains Congdon. “Anything which helps bring in new customers and helps people become more aware of what’s available in the county is a great idea.”
Sun Parlor has only a few hives on their property, but has more than 1,400 in Guelph, Chatham and Windsor.
“We used to have an observation hive so we could show people what we do, but because of COVID that’s no longer available,” adds Congdon. “However, we do have photos and we can explain what we do and how we make our products and tend to the hives.”
The Little Cider Company
Open since the beginning of June, The Little Cider Company in Harrow is slowly finding its way as people are now hitting the road to see what’s going on across the county.
Owner Mary Beth Little says the cidery was years in the making, accompanied by experimenting with different kinds of apples.
“It was a steady progression and ultimately enabled me to get all of my stored cider out of my parent’s basement,” says Little, laughing. “To make a good cider, you need a good blend of acidity and sugar in your apples and that’s part of the experimentation process.”
Little uses McIntosh, Empire, Fuji, Mutsu, Kingston Black, and Dabinett apples for her ciders, which are bottled in wine-sized containers.
Customers can buy bottles and drink on the cider’s patio, but Little’s licence doesn’t allow her to sell ciders by the glass.
It can take a little over a month from fermentation to enjoying a good cider. However, Little informs us that ciders can also be aged for as long as two years.
As a new business owner, Little is grateful to be part of TWEPI’s “W.E. Heart Local” initiative, which encourages area residents to take a trip across the county to enjoy what the region has to offer.
“Anything which encourages people to visit your business is a great idea,” believes Little whose husband David Wright owns Wrightland Farms, along with his family.
The cidery is located at the farm at 957 Ridge Road in Harrow and you can learn more about this new biz on their social media page: Facebook.com/TheLittleCiderCompany.
Cured Craft Brewing Co.
Established in July 2020 during the pandemic, Cured Craft Brewing Co. is finally beginning to build some momentum with the opening of patio dining, followed by indoor dining since rules were recently relaxed by the Province of Ontario.
“It feels as if we’ve opened four businesses instead of one because of the open-close-open nature of the rules we’ve had to follow,” says brewery Co-owner Lisa Bradt. “It’s been a difficult process, but here we are.”
Cured Craft is also a participant in TWEPI’s digital passport initiative, which encourages people to visit local businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism sector.
“It’s a great idea because anything that drives customers to your door can only help,” comments Bradt, who owns the brewery, along with husband Scott.
Located at 43 Mill Street West in Leamington, the brewery offers a variety of beers, including lager, pilsner, port, stout, cream ale, IPA and wheat beer. There are six classic beers always on tap and five others which rotate on a seasonal basis.
The brewery also offers a large patio serving pub food, including prime rib, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, pretzels, nachos and charcuterie board appetizers, as well as a variety of pizzas and salads.
Bradt’s Butcher Block
Next, we shine the spotlight on another participant in TWEPI’s “W.E. Heart Local” campaign. Bradt’s Butcher Block opened in 1995 and offers a variety of meats, deli items, baked goods, produce, prepared foods and pantry selections.
Owners Lisa and Scott Bradt have been able to remain open throughout the pandemic because the store is an essential food business, but with more people expected to venture out now that rules are being relaxed, business is expected to improve.
The store is located at 34 Mill Street West in Leamington.
Camping Under The Stars
Now that pandemic rules have been loosened, many Essex County campgrounds are back in business, which helps our next profiled business, Cozy Camper Rentals, 7047 Giardini Side Road in Cottam.
Drew Bastien, an owner at Cozy Camper Rentals, says the company offers onsite trailers for rent and also rents trailers that people can take away and seek their own destinations.
They also offer towing services (for a set fee) for people who rent their campers, but don’t have a vehicle capable of towing them to a campground or property located in Windsor and Essex County. Deliveries and pickups outside the region have additional charges.
“It’s been a stressful few months since we weren’t allowed to be open, but now that rules have been changed, we’re expecting a busy summer because people are getting the itch to get out and do something fun,” says Bastien.
The company was established in 2014 with Bastien and some fellow owners taking over about a year ago.
Bastien says his campers can accommodate between four and nine people.
So, now that you rented a camper (or perhaps purchased one from Leisure Trailer Sales), where should you head off to?
Here are a few suggestions.