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November 13, 2004
Apples rule! Brighton on the Bay in Eastern Ontario celebrates its agricultural prowess with the luscious globular fruit in September with a bushel of fun and peck of good-eating at its annual AppleFest. The charm of the small community shines like the waxy bloom on a freshly picked, just polished fruit; the town is as sweet as a crisp McIntosh apple. And when a visit is timed to take in “AppleFest”, you’re in for some really “good eats” as one enthusiastic resident said while dishing up a piece of warm apple pie topped off with a thick slice of cheddar cheese.
It’s not by a fluke that the area is now known for its apples. The first orchards were established when United Empire Loyalists, who began settling the country during the late 1700's, realized that climatic conditions on the north shore of Lake Ontario made it an ideal fruit growing region. The well-known McIntosh apple was developed not far from Brighton by a man named John McIntosh who in 1811 found a small apple tree on an overgrown farm near Dundela and from it built a juicy empire.
Although there are quick ways to get to Brighton - Highway #401 comes to mind - your option should be to drive the old Loyalist Road, Highway #2 through towns like Port Hope, Cobourg, Colborne and Grafton - driving from west to east. Eastern Ontario is noted for stone and brick Federalist, Georgian and Victorian architecture so keep an eye out for significant structures. While driving through pretty towns and villages, don’t opt for marked “truck routes” because if you do, you’ll miss the best these communities have to offer. Meander through their established heritage neighbourhoods and traditional main streets which are real feasts for the eye. Stop at a local “mom & pop” restaurant for a meal. Browse country stores. You won’t be disappointed.
In many places along your route, orchards line both sides of the road. Fruit stands, especially during the summer and autumn months, sell fresh vegetables, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers and the king-of-fruit - apples. Rundle Farms Roadside Market on Highway #2, just west of Brighton overflows with the bounties of the earth - in-season fruits, juices and vegetables, preserves, pickles, relishes, sauces, jams, jellies, honey, teas and other specialty products. Their in-house Bakery & Deli offer the best cheeses and baking in the area. The on-site Apple Crate Tea Room and Café serves fabulous lunches and desserts. If listed on the menu, try their leek & mushroom soup followed by a ham, apple & cheese sandwich or an apple butter & roast pork sandwich on your choice of home-made bread. End with a slice of warm apple pie or pumpkin-pecan crunch and a pot of hot freshly brewed tea. Choose a tea for brewing the right way and, from an extensive display, a special teacup to sip it from. With the exception of reduced hours during January, February and March, the Apple Crate Tea Room is open seven days a week.
Brighton’s AppleFest is very much a community event. A huge midway is set up for the entire weekend in King Edward Park on Elizabeth Street where Friday evening’s Family Fun Night also takes place. This is the evening that entries are accepted at Proctor House Museum for AppleFest’s baking contests. For those inclined, the alternative to Friday’s Family Fun Night is the annual autumn community theatre production at Brighton Barn Theatre which provides great entertainment at reasonable prices. This intimate 120 seat theatre is one of the jewels of Proctor Park Conservation Area. The second gem, the above mentioned Proctor House Museum, is a c1860's Italianate-style house that has been restored to depict family life during the c1840-1899 period. The pleasure of the Park, Theatre and Proctor House is that they are all within walking distance of Main Street.
AppleFest Saturday dawns early on Main Street where a huge pancake and sausage breakfast can be enjoyed while watching the action in both Memorial Park and at the Street Fair. Although the Fair officially begins at 10:00 a.m., the street gets very busy by 8:00 a.m. with folks who can’t wait to browse booths featuring antiques and unique crafts, baking and apple products. By noon-hour the street is so crowded it’s difficult to get near the booths. My advice is to go early and adopt a buy-when-you-see attitude, especially at those booths that feature baking and apples. If you see, and like, apple dumplings, buy them on the spot. While devouring the tantalizing dish, wander over to Memorial Park where live entertainment is featured at the Gazebo throughout the day.
Take time before lunch to see the huge “Show & Shine Car Display at the Brighton School Grounds on Elizabeth Street where more than three hundred cars, most from the 1950's and early 1960's reign supreme. It’s difficult to walk around the grounds without twisting & dancing to the music of the live in-theme band on the main stage. You can get a bite to eat here which might be a good idea because Main Street can be a hectic place around the noon hour. If your plans include a street lunch, eat early. Lines are extremely long between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at all the vendors - and there are quite a few - who sell food.
Your alternative choice is to duck into any of the town’s restaurants for a sit-down meal, but again do this early for several reasons. One of them, Brighton’s AppleFest parade, begins at 2:00 p.m. and marches right down Main Street, parting the crowds as it goes. And what an interesting parade it is because again the entire community participates. The theme is of course, apples which translates into anything red! People begin to line the parade route one hour before the show.
After the parade, Memory Junction, a privately owned railroad museum, can be an interesting diversion. You can walk to Memory Junction but it’s faster to hop the free shuttle bus for a ride around Brighton before getting off at Maplewood Avenue. You can’t miss the museum. You’ll see the engine, rail cars and c1857 station. The railroad played an important role in the apple growing industry as what would amount to thousands of bushels, and sapling trees too, were shipped by rail to all parts of North America. Proctor House Museum is also open for tours on both Saturday and Sunday. It’s here that you can taste the fruits of the contest. As a fundraiser, all pies entered into the contests are served up to the general public with cheese or ice cream.
For supper, those in the know hop on over to the Royal Canadian Legion, located right off Main Street for their Whole Pig Roast, a succulent Brighton tradition. If line-ups are too long at the Legion, make your way to the Curling Club on Elizabeth Street for the giant Beef & Pork Dinner then roll on over to the Arena next door and dance the night away. A live band and friendly folk make great company!
Sunday’s events move to King Edward Park where the Arena and Curling Club are taken over by a huge Arts & Crafts Show and Sale, and a pancake breakfast is served in the Lion’s Club building. Pets are showcased at Proctor House which hosts one Pet Show for cats & small animals and another for dogs. Strongmen pit themselves against almost impossible challenges in the Municipal Parking Lot by the Legion Hall. Children love the mini-tractor pull at Rundles Farmside Market. And on Sunday people enjoy visiting the c1840 Lighthouse and two Interpretive Centres at Presqu’ile Provincial Park which is a ten minute drive from downtown Brighton. Presqu’ile Park is best known for its spring and fall bird migrations.
Our home away from home during AppleFest was the Brighton Inn B & B, an1897 grand Victorian home with high ceilings, lovely stained glass windows, original wood floors, doors and surrounds. This beautifully restored home is owned by Helen and Trevor Marshall. Original paintings by Trevor, decorate the home’s walls. Three lovely rooms are available, all with ensuites - ours had a Jacuzzi. Brighton Inn B & B is within walking distance of most attractions in town making it a very desirable choice during the busy festival time.
The choice of restaurants in Brighton and area is excellent. Dougalls on the Bay is great for casual and family dining. As the name suggests, the family run restaurant with its outdoor summer patio overlooks Presqu’ile Bay. You can always tell when folks are having a good time in a restaurant by the “hum” of the chatter around you. Dougalls has great ambience and excellent food too. Specialties include Salmon-on-Cedar, broiled halibut and catch-of-the-day, all nicely prepared and served with a smile. Their house-made Key Lime pie and apple-caramel Cheesecake come highly recommended for dessert.
For fine dining, and special occasions, “The Gables”, housed in a c1872 former Victorian home on Division Street is the place to reserve your table. With ancient trees gracing lawns, marble fireplaces, large bay windows overlooking gardens and original woodwork, “The Gables” is an architectural gem. As dining has become such a casual affair, it’s a real treat to dress “up”a bit for dinner. Tables are beautifully set. Food is well prepared. Warm crusty mini-loaves of bread are delivered to the table first and can only be described as melt-in -your-mouth delicious. If listed on the menu, try smoked, sliced duck breast served on-greens as an appetizer, entrees of Pork Medallions with tender seasonal vegetables and angel hair pasta with shrimp. For dessert, “The Gables” Creme Brulee is excellent as is their house-made apple strudel.
Brighton’s motto is “Where the Past Greets the Future” and such is certainly the case in this pretty, historic town. Tree-lined streets boast fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture that match the community’s small town ambience. Agricultural heritage is indeed acknowledged and celebrated at AppleFest. People are so friendly you’re “nae a stranger lang, lassie” as one elderly Scottish gentleman said when we shared a park bench. And he’s right. If for no other reason, I’ll return very soon for the Apple Crate’s apple pie served with a slice of well-aged cheddar cheese. Ambrosial!
IF YOU GO:
P.O. Box 1421
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0
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