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in the Valley
December 20, 2003
Occasionally you find a community that is so old-fashioned - in a very nice way - you are afraid to close your eyes for fear it is a mirage. Creemore, tucked in the valley of the Mad River and surrounded by the Purple Hills of Mulmur, is the quanti-essential small village that represents everything nostalgic about rural life in Ontario. It is one of those wonderful places where time seems slow down just a wee bit. You may be familiar with the name “Creemore” if you are a beer afficionado.
Creemore’s shady streets are lined with fine examples of Victorian residential and commercial architectural styles. Its main street is still a vibrant place with grocery store, meat market and deli, pharmacy, hardware store, book store, clock maker, cosy restaurants and some really nice specialty and antique shops. It is still a place where going from store to store is a real pleasure. Folks are super friendly. You’re not a stranger for long.
Tucked in a valley as Creemore is, most area country roads, with the exception of Cashtown Road which is County Rd #9/Louise Street, traverse steep hills before entering the village. Views from the tops of the hills are spectacular. A camera can’t begin to do them justice. At the bottom of one such approach, the old-fashioned bridge crossing the Mad River on Collingwood Street is indicative of an architectural style that remains viable and desirable when preserving an area’s built heritage. I would suggest that before visiting you write for a comprehensive map of the area and deliberately take back roads. There’s no better way to set the stage for Creemore than to enter the village via a scenic byway.
One of the best times to visit is when the popular celebration “Christmas in the Valley” takes place, usually on the first weekend in December. The first thing that you might notice is that there’s a subtle sophistication to the village’s character and charm. Residents know how to blend “old with new” in unique and interesting ways. Several fine examples of this blending are “Station on the Green” and the whimsical fountain close-by.
The fountain, dedicated to the children of Creemore is known as the “Children’s Dress-up Dance”. Designed and donated by local sculptor Ralph Hicks, the piece was inspired by the spontaneity of children. The fountain is located on Mill Street, which is Creemore’s main street, between the Horticultural Park and “Station on the Green”. You can’t help but smile at the freedom the figures portray as they dance around the perimeter of a fountain in their fancy-dress. The sculpture makes one feel very much like a child again.
on the Green” salutes the part that the railway played in village history.
For ninety-one years, until the line closed in 1960, trains linked Creemore
with Hamilton and Collingwood. The original station, built in 1906 and located
right behind Mill Street, became the hub of the community. Although the original
station burned to the ground in 1955, a reproduction was raised several years
ago and quickly became the focal point, and meeting place for Creemore. “Station
on the Green” is close to the memorial cenotaph, library and historic
jail. A path leads through the Horticultural Park, past the fountain to the
site making it so centrally located that events held in the building quickly
become part of main street “action”.
“Christmas in the Valley” encompasses a large number of venues throughout the village. The festival begins with a tree lighting ceremony on Mill Street on Friday evening. The street and shops are nicely decorated for the season. Area choirs entertain. Hot foods are served and the community tree is lit.
Saturday morning should begin with a visit to the Farmers Christmas Market at the Station. If you don’t get there early, you’ll miss out on the luscious pies, Christmas cakes, tarts and other pastries, preserves and pickles that are offered for sale. Looking for a unique gift? Choose from excellent one-of-a-kind jewelry, knitted sweaters, hats and mitts and well-executed art work.
Families gravitate to the Senior School where Breakfast with Santa is popular. Don’t think that this pancake and sausage breakfast is only for children. Arts, crafts and poinsettias are offered for sale. Children can make seasonal craft items. Interesting “Treasure Trays” are raffled and the jolly old man himself looks forward to visiting everyone.
Next stop should be at St. Luke’s Hall, attached to St. Luke’s Anglican Church where a wonderful Parade of Angels has been set up. More than 200 angelic figures in different mediums and styles have been donated for the weekend display. There are so many that it takes a while to fully appreciate this unique display. Take your time. Enjoy some hot refreshments.
Peek into the little church which is beautifully decorated for the season. If you’re staying the night be sure to enjoy the Saturday evening concert. Throughout December, St. Luke’s stages free concerts featuring local talent that includes Ian Leith, Fiddler par excellence; Shane Durnford and his tuneful bagpipes, Helen Smith on violin, Junior Choirs, Christmas readings, stories and poems. These evenings always end with a carol sing-a-long. What can be more old-fashioned, appropriate and appreciated during the Christmas season?
The most unique feature at St. Luke’s is “Creemore’s Canadian Creche”. As the brochure says, this fascinating moving tableau of life-sized children’s art is a “delightful, sightful experience”. Creemore’s Canadian Creche is a combination of Advent calendar and tableau. Each day between December 1 and January 6, “something unusual” is added to the lawn in front of St. Luke’s where a rustic lean-to and pine trees provide backdrop.
That “something” is one or two pieces of folk art - so special, so inspired, so whimsical that village folk visit every day to see what new has been added. And people have been known to drive several hours each weekend to take photographs of the changing tableau.
A rhyming verse goes with every piece. The wonderful wolf’s lines are - “A wolf at the top of a hill spread the word - Rang his howl - Have you all heard? There’s something spectacular about to come soon - And continued to howl in front of the moon” . And the Canadian bear is not forgotten either. “A furry black ball that resembled a bear - Was peacefully sleeping when outside somewhere - A wise old owl woke him and told him this . . “Whatever is happening is too good to miss.” Life-sized figures are patterned after village people. Oversized birds share trees with fanciful racoon and squirrel and other Canadian-inspired folk art wildlife. What a wonderful, delightful, not-to-be missed, thoroughly Canadian tribute to Christmas!
Lunch at one of Mill Streets restaurants but eat early because everyone has the same idea and there isn’t a lot of seating available. Better yet purchase food at one of the reasonably priced outdoor venues. What’s not to like about a sidewalk hotdog and cup of coffee, eaten while watching the world walk by on Creemore’s main street?
As Christmas is very much for children, they are not forgotten “in the valley”. Along with kid-pleasing face painting, children can decorate their own cookies, listen to interesting child-suitable stories and shop in their own store - a room where everything is under $2.00 and gift wrapping is free.
Of course, everyone looks forward to the parade which begins early afternoon. Mill Street is lined ten deep with people all waiting for the traditional pass-by. They are not disappointed. Creemore’s parade sparkles with nicely decorated floats, horse drawn wagons, marching children, old cars and fire trucks with Santa Claus bringing up the rear. While waiting for the parade, a really believable “Scrooge” walks among the crowd, sputtering his anti-holiday rhetoric, choirs entertain, merchants serve free fudge & cookies and the mood is festive and friendly.
After the parade, drop into the nearest bakery for hot chocolate and cinnamon twirls, mince meat tarts and hot tea. Visit Creemore Picnic for some great specialty foods. Browse the Curiosity House Books & Gallery. Buy some reasonably priced Christmas cards from the Village Pharmacy because you’ll sure be in the mood to send some after you enjoy “Christmas in the Valley.” Drop into Creemore Springs Brewery, right on Mill Street to see how the brew that put the village on the map is made. If you have time, enjoy a tour around pretty wintery streets, using the handy Creemore Walking Tour map for Purple Hills Arts & Heritage Society as your guide.
Creemore is still one of the few remaining really unique, old-fashioned communities in Ontario. For how long, no one can be sure. You’ll still not see the ambiguous “gruesome commercial strips and overwhelming malls”. Visit before the village is “discovered” - before it becomes so well known you can’t find parking. You just might fall in love with the place and not want to leave. If leave you must, your last stop for the day, if heading home, should be to stop at one of the tree farms along Airport Road to cut your own Christmas tree.
There are a number of bed & breakfasts in the village, and ample accommodation in Collingwood, approximately 20 miles away. Families would certainly enjoy staying in Collingwood where seasonal festivities take place during the same weekend as “Christmas in the Valley”. For those who enjoy skiing, Collingwood’s slopes and apre-ski amenities are second to none.
While in Creemore we were the guests of Inn at Creemore Hills, a small, exclusive, beautifully situated facility located approximately three miles from the village. The Inn’s advertising states that it’s a “luxury, social and corporate retreat”. Make no mistake, that it is!
The road to the Inn personifies everything nice about the Mulmur Hills and Simcoe County. As your vehicle climbs out of the valley, the vista opens up with pale hills on either side, and in the distance Nottawasaga Bay and Collingwood blending into the bluest of skies. Rolling hills are covered with pine and mature forest. Tucked into the landscape are a fair number of estate properties that belong to city folk who use them as weekend retreats because as Creemore advertising boasts, it is “a secret country hideaway, just a stone’s throw from the city”. The area has recently also been touted as Ontario’s version of the “Hamptons”.
The Inn sits on the heights at the end of a long poplar-lined drive, with magnificent views to all points of the compass. The present day structure was built around a century-old farm house whose entire second floor has now been turned into a lounge with comfortable leather chairs and cozy fireplace. Views from a third floor belvedere, accessed by a ladder in the lounge, are spectacular. With it’s six well-appointed rooms, the Inn is the perfect retreat for several days of relaxation and pampering. The Inn at Creemore Hills is the sort of exclusive, luxury corporate retreat that one would enjoy for special occasions - - a meeting-of-the- minds - a special anniversary.
The Inn presents special five course Fireside Dinner Series at various times during the year in a dining room whose main focuses are a huge wood burning fireplace, original art work and gorgeous views from large windows over miles of hill and dale. If interested, reservations must be made well in advance for dinners and accommodations. Be advised that a minimum of two nights stay is required and gourmet meals do not come at fast-food prices.
IF YOU GO:
22 Carolina Street West
Creemore, Ontario L0M 1G0
1823 6th Concession
Creemore, Ontario L0M 1G0
Creemore, Ontario L0M 1G0
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