Growing up in Prince Edward County, I always knew I was living in an Eden. Up the road were the Sandbanks, for example, the largest bay mouth sand bar on a freshwater lake in the world. Near Picton: Lake on the Mountain, where clean, fresh water flows from no apparent source. And all across: rolling fields of corn, asparagus, tomatoes, you name it.
Thankfully that Eden still exists, and every day it’s getting lusher with the help of new transplants bringing more wine, craft beer, farm-to-table cuisine and accolades from the likes of The Globe and Mail, which called the County “the gastronomic capital of Ontario.” The artists flocking here, like musician Justine Rutledge, are spurring its growth, too.
All of which is to say, you might need a guide to point out the County’s best bounty. So keep reading.
Food and Drink
The County’s agricultural roots stretch back to the eighteenth century, and by the mid-1800s it was known as “Barley Days” around here for how lucrative that crop became for farmers supplying the American brewing industry (there’s now a brewery here with the same name). Later, when the grain trade collapsed, fruits, vegetables, livestock and dairy farms took off.
And then came the grapes — and all that wine — around the turn of this century. There are now over 30 wineries and plenty of cheese to pair all that vino with from Black River Cheese and Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. There’s now a booming restaurant scene as well featuring local, seasonal ingredients plated by some of Canada’s best chefs, like Drake Devonshire’s Matt DeMille. Seek out those ingredients yourself with this guide to locally-produced goods.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
From the Farm Cooking School: Pick the season’s best produce from local farms and then head to an 1830s farm house to learn how to cook it.
Wine Tour: Sit back, relax and learn all about County wine on a half- or full-day tour of wineries across the region. Accommodation options with dinner also available.
Take the Taste Trail: Can’t decide where to take those taste buds? Let the Taste Trail be your guide, linking you to sustainable farms, cheesemakers, wineries, cafes and restaurants.
Although the County has that quintessential laidback island pace, you won’t be lacking for options to explore its shorelines, forests, lakes, fields and wetlands. Sandbanks Provincial Park has the County’s best beaches, but don’t forget about nearby North Beach Provincial Park, which has 2 kilometres of the sandy stuff. There are also 14 conservation areas here, along with trails and parks — all perfect for picnicking, hiking, bird-watching, cross-country skiing and more.
Prefer to be on the water instead? Click here for everything you need to know about fishing, boating, diving, and other ways to explore the waters in and around Prince Edward County.
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
Sandbanks Provincial Park: The world’s largest bay mouth barrier dune formation; three large sandy beaches; a mecca for bird watchers; walking trails; daily interpretive programming. Need I say more?
Millennium Trail: Walk, run or bike all or part of this 49 kilometre trail that goes from Carrying Place to Picton, linking communities like Wellington and Bloomfield, and passing by farmers’ fields, marshes, creeks and forests.
Shipwreck Diving: Head to “The Marysburgh Vortex” off Point Traverse, where two-thirds of the shipwrecks that occurred on Lake Ontario during the schooner and early steam era can be found.
Arts and Culture
With all of that natural beauty, rural charm and creative culinary spirit, it’s not surprising that a thriving arts and culture scene is alive and well here, too. One of the pillars is Picton’s 95-year-old Regent Theatre, where you’ll see everything from Hollywood movies, to stand-up comedy, to opera beamed live from New York’s MET.
For music, try The Hayloft, The Acoustic Grill, The Speakeasy or The Barley Room. For theatre, you have plenty of options: Festival Players, The County Theatre Group, The Marysburgh Mummers and Prince Edward Community Theatre. And for visual art, hop on the Arts Trail to meet almost 30 talented artists and gallery owners from across the region. Don’t know what arts experience you want? Start with the Prince Edward County Arts Council.
3 Best Arts and Culture Experiences
The Hayloft Dancehall: An old-school dance hall in a rural barn. Re-opened this summer by the proprietors of Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. Expect guitar-heavy and alt-country bands, local food, brown liquids, and a foot-stomping good time.
Festival Players: Likely the area’s most popular theatre group, Festival Players matches plays with places in the County and performs them there in the summer.
The Regent Theatre: Once the setting for 25-cent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, now a community gathering point for festivals, theatre, music and way more.
Festivals and Events
All of that food, wine and culture means Prince Edward County’s festival and events lineup is full no matter the time of year. In the spring, there’s an authors’ festival, Countylicious and the only pan-Canadian showcase of artisan cheese, for example. In the summer, there’s a lavender festival, a comedy festival and a salmon derby. Fall has the Picton Fair, Wassail and an indie music fest. And winter: Sandbanks SnowFest, Christmas Parades and Junior A hockey. This is just the tip of the County’s events iceberg, though, so stay tuned to this events calendar for everything that’s happening.
3 Best Festival and Events
TASTE!: A September showcase of the County’s fresh food and drink at Picton’s glass beauty, The Crystal Palace. Tastings, seminars, a Chopped-like competition and more.
PEC Jazz Festival: One of the most respected in jazz fests in the country. Performances at The Regent Theatre and 30 restaurants, wineries and churches across the County. August.
Maple in the County: A celebration of the first maple harvest. Sugar bushes and other hosts offer up everything from pancake breakfasts, to taffy on snow, to sugar bush tours, to food tucks, to a lumberjack show. March.