SPECIAL COUNTY SECTION – The Summer Of Staycation
The effects of COVID-19 are still reverberating throughout Windsor and Essex County’s tourism and hospitality sector. Yet, there was a bit of good news on government funding to help deal with the fallout from the mandated shutdowns.
In late June it was announced that Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) was awarded $629,788.40 through the Regional Relief and Recover Fund (RRRF), part of the $30 million issued by FedDev Ontario and administered by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO).
“Tourism is a key driver of our regional economy in Windsor Essex, and this timely funding from our federal government allows organizations like TWEPI to help our tourism sector and the many businesses that depend on it, recover from COVID-19 and stand strong in our region,” states Irek Kusmierczyk, Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh and Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.
The RRRF was created to provide financial support to Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) across southern Ontario, like TWEPI, that have experienced significant revenue shortfalls since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DMOs are an integral part of local tourism economies and will help drive visitors back into local communities as our provincial economy re-opens safely.
This influx of visitors will help generate new revenues for tourism dependent operators and will be the catalyst for economic recovery across the province.
For now, it appears many area residents are staying close to home this summer instead of making extensive travel plans.
Luckily, there’s still plenty to see and do in our own backyard.
Day trips and short overnight jaunts can still be a great deal of fun, especially when they are taken so close to home in one of our many attractive and interesting nearby communities.
Even though our area awaits the move to Stage 3 of Ontario’s re-opening plan restaurants are back in business for patio dining, hotels and bed and breakfasts are in full swing, golf courses have re-opened and while most special events have been cancelled, communities are trying to fill the void with other inventive ideas.
Given the ever-changing landscape caused by the uncertainties of the virus, many restaurants can only offer curbside pickup, delivery or patio-only dining (at the time of writing in early July), but could be open for full service (with possibly limited seating) when the region is permitted to move to Stage 3.
Since the situation with the pandemic changes daily pertaining to openings and closings, please be sure to call ahead to confirm your destination is open the day you wish to visit and to also to learn of any COVID-19 measures required to enter.
Entrepreneurs in Amherstburg, Essex, Kingsville, Leamington and Pelee Island are eager to welcome new guests and old friends, so check out our suggestions in this feature story under the headers of STAY, PLAY & EAT . . . and don’t forget as well to do a little browsing at all the quaint shops in the region you come across on your travels.
STAY At the Bondy House Bed&Breakfast at 199 Dalhousie Street, hosts Carolyn Davies and Merv Richards are ready to greet their guests in one of three themed rooms — all designed to reflect the history of our region.
“We have a Magnolia room, which recognizes our town’s contributions to the Underground Railroad; a Victorian/European room, which reflects our French and English heritage and a Dreamcatcher room to recognize the contributions to the region by our First Nations people,” Davies lists.
Richards and Davies are currently working on some adjustments such as offering a continental breakfast instead of a full breakfast at a communal table.
“Having breakfast together is one of the many great attractions to a Bed-and-Breakfast, but we have to adjust as we go,” Richards states.
The owners have also put a rigorous cleaning and sanitizing plan in place and certain common-area amenities have been removed to reduce the incidences of contact between guests.
“We’re in a great location in the middle of town and reservations are picking up again,” says Davies. “This is a historic moment in time and our guests understand what we have to do.”
PLAY If you’re looking for something strenuous, yet relaxing or fun, but educational, you might want to try River Canard Canoe Co. at 9350 Malden Road.
They offer canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals, as well as overnight camping, along River Canard, plus special outings for corporate events, girls’ night out tours and ecology tours.
Floating serenely along the river, you will have a chance to see birds, butterflies, deer, ducks and waterfowl.
They also offer guided historical tours and a Moonfloat outing, which leaves before sunset and returns after midnight.
EAT Visitors to Amherstburg can enjoy “Open Air Weekends” this summer (Friday until Sunday) which sees a three-block area along Dalhousie Street set up as a pedestrian-friendly area, allowing retail shops to set up and restaurants to open extended patios.
“It was a remarkable first weekend (June 26) and a great example of collaboration between all our businesses that recognize they are in this situation together and will get through it together,” says Anne Rota, The Town of Amherstburg’s Manager of Tourism and Culture.
The designated area runs from Rankin Street to the Royal Canadian Legion building with King’s Navy Yard Park at its centre. Outdoor vendors can also operate in the designated area.
“We’ve been considering trying something like this for a few years and the current pandemic gave us a great opportunity to think outside the box and do it,” adds Rota.
Among the participating restaurants are: Chicano’s Tacos and Tequila, 219 Dalhousie; Waterfront Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt, 229 Dalhousie; Beacon Ale House, 239 Dalhousie; Riccardo’s Italian Restaurant, 238 Dalhousie; Rosa’s Restaurant and Pizza, 61 Murray Street; Nuccelli’s Frozen Yogurt, 63 Richmond Street; and Lot 10 Brewing Company, 263 Dalhousie.
Others include Artisan Grill, 269 Dalhousie; Lord Amherst Public House, 273 Dalhousie; Legion #157, 281 Dalhousie; The Salty Dog, 237 Dalhousie; Burger 67, 67 Murray Street; and Caffeine & Co., 238 Dalhousie.
STAY Business partners Gloria Cavenago and Linda Jeffery have owned the Magnolia Ranch in Harrow, at 178 County Road 50, since August 2019 and they’re looking forward to an uninterrupted summer and fall season.
“We opened in December last year and were just getting going when COVID-19 shut everything down,” explains Cavenago. “Over the past two weeks, we have been getting a lot of bookings and we’re filling up because people are looking for something fresh and interesting after being cooped up for so long.”
Situated on 10.5 acres of land with three rooms in the main house and another with a private entrance, Cavenago says guests have plenty of room to stay socially-distanced from each other.“We’re within a few minutes of walking to three wineries and we’re getting reservations from groups who want to do winery tours combined with dinners and an overnight stay,” she says.
The B&B includes a stunning bridal suite, which Cavenago mentions is still getting booked even though many weddings have been delayed or scaled-down for the moment.
Both Cavenago and Jeffery work fulltime in addition to running their business. They spent hours painting and making changes to the 30-year-old house and fortunately, according to Cavenago, “We have identical tastes in decorating, which has made the transition very easy.”
Michael and Roberta Pillon have taken a holistic approach at their Cedar Circle Bed and Breakfast/Holistic Retreat where, in addition to four uniquely decorated rooms, guests can get a Reiki treatment and wander 10 acres of property replete with wild turkeys and deer.
A master Sunrise suite features wall inserts with glass bottles, which reflect the morning sun; the Star room uses the same technique and is decorated with whisky bottles while the Blue Moon room uses blue bottles to create a unique ambiance. There’s another room in the lower level, which includes an ensuite bathroom.
“We’re also in the process of building an outdoor kitchen, which will feature a fireplace and pizza oven on one of our two expansive patios,” explains Michael.
Roberta anticipates accepting bookings in the near future when the re-opening process moves along a bit more.
“We’re close to area wineries, especially Oxley Estate Winery, and we’ll be helping our guests arrange winery tours to enhance their experience,” she adds.
The main building is constructed from cordwood with a unique grass roof. The property at 1270 Snake Lane in Harrow also has a number of bee hives, which guests are able to view with Michael’s guidance.
PLAY There are any number of activities to fill a weekend or a mid-week getaway, including Sutton Creek Golf Club where play exploded once the go-ahead was announced by the provincial government.
The scenic 18-hole layout at 2135 County Road 12 in Essex is booked solid most mornings before it eases off in the afternoon, according to General Manager Cory LaJeunesse.
“We had to scramble to get ready because the guidelines either kept changing or were not announced,” explains LaJeunesse. “For now, we require masks to enter the pro shop or clubhouse and we’ve adapted our flags (to avoid contact) and removed common items such as ball washers and rakes.”
He continues, “We have a great patio for a post-round beer and burger, but we can’t use our pavilion yet. Business has been crazy because we’re picking up a lot of golfers who in past years would have crossed the border to play.”
Even with a long list of new rules, LaJeunesse says golfers understand the situation and are just happy to be back playing.
For information on new guidelines, green fees and tee-off times, visit their website SuttonCreekGolf.com.
With the temporary closure of Colchester Beach because of social distancing infractions, Mike Drexler, Chief Instructor and Owner of Drexler Diving Tours, is pivoting and conducting diving tours in the Sarnia-Lambton area.
“We had about nine people last weekend (in June) who registered with us and then met us for the tours near Sarnia,” explains Drexler. “We’d love to be doing it off Colchester, but until the beach re-opens we’re restricted in what we can do.”
Wearing regulators and masks underwater, divers have virtually no chance of becoming infected, Drexler claims.
His store remains open for sales of marine products and can be found at Unit 2, 470 Jackson Street in Colchester and on the web.