PEC, as it’s called by the locals, has deep roots in modern Canadian history.
Prince Edward County is an island community of about 25,000 located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It’s not far from where the great lake narrows into the mighty St. Lawrence River on its way through central and eastern Canada to mix with the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean; 1000 miles down-stream.
The county was created by Upper Canada’s founding lieutenant-governor John Graves Simcoe in 1792. It was a popular destination for some of the earliest United Empire Loyalists fleeing the United States after the American Revolution. Canada’s first prime-minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, lived and practised law in Prince Edward County. Place names in the county include Demorestville, Ameliasburg, Carrying Place and Waupoos.
Prince Edward County has always been a comfortable place to live and work. Things grow well here. The climate is relatively mild and making a living from the land has always been a viable proposition.
It’s a pastoral and relaxed place. Millponds and restored grist mills can be found amid vineyards and market farms. Creative types have set up art studios, galleries, antique shops and live theatre. The creativity of the local Native population is well represented. Main streets in the towns and villages are masterpieces of restored and maintained colonial architecture. Local libraries and museums record a colourful history of commerce, culture and chicanery.
With its many offerings and proximity to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, the tourism business thrives with over 100,000 visitors every year. Sandbanks Provincial Park has remarkable sand dunes and beaches. The sport fishing in Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte is spectacular.
Prince Edward County can be considered the gastronomic capital of Ontario (With strong competition from the Niagara region of course. That’s another story.). The county’s reputation for good food goes back 150 years. What’s more, much of what was popular then is popular again today.
Preserves for instance. Sweet condiments and spreads are served with Prince Edward County signature dishes and bottled and sold all over the island. Cooking and preserving classes are popular with local residents and tourists alike. This area was once the Canning Capital of Canada. From the 1890s-1950s fully one third of canned fruits and vegetables in Canada, the UK and the US came from here. Damson plums, sour cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, peas, corn, green and yellow beans and pumpkins were all produced, canned and sold in the county.
Along with preserves and canning, wine and beer, Prince Edward County also produces cheese with great passion. The Black River Cheese Company started operations in 1901 and there are plenty of other small producers. Cheese festivals and competitions in The County are a regular occurrence.
Around the corner from The Waring House in Picton, a farmer named Calhoun became the first to grow tomatoes for canning in the 1850s. Today, Vickis Veggies is known far and wide for its heritage tomato varieties. George Dunning, a nursery salesman and Wellington Boulter, a local entrepreneur, started the canning craze in the early 1890s. Dunning left the trade but Boulter stayed on and made a fortune. The Claramount Inn in Picton was originally built for the canning tycoon’s daughter Clara. Boulters’ Lion Brand labels are true works of art and worth seeing. You’ll find them in the Wellington Heritage Museum’s prized canning collection.
Prince Edward County’s Barley Days preceded the County’s canning craze but was just as big a bonanza. County barley was #1 as far as US breweries were concerned and from 1860-90 up to 800,000 bushels of barley were exported by ship across Lake Ontario each year. Today, a gaggle of micro-breweries give the nod to those who produced the famous barley and hops. Brewery tours are often open to the public and local brown-pops are available throughout the region.
In the late 1990s, the Howe family opened the County Cider Company on their family farm. Howes have been growing apples here since 1850. Today they grow 15 different types in two orchards. Bulmer’s Norman, Ida Red, Russets, Northern Spy, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, Michelin and Tremlett’s Bitter are among the varieties they use to create their delicious ciders. If you’re in the county, swing by the cidery for a tour and tasting. It has one of the best views of Lake Ontario.
One of the first county wine makers was Dorland Noxon. He took home gold from the Philadelphia Exposition of winemaking in 1876. In the late 1800s the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Prohibition put a damper on winemaking and what was produced was done in secret. At least one county winemaker, the late poet Al Purdy, continued to follow his passion – producing five or six garbage cans full every fall. Today, over 30 wineries dot the county map.