Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Summer at Keppel Croft

It’s been a fair while since I wrote anything – partly due to a lack of time and energy for writing and partly because I’ve been debating where to start! I spent the whole of August at Keppel Croft Gardens in Big Bay on the southern shore of Georgian Bay. The garden’s owners, Bill & Dawn Loney, are two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. A Canadian and a Kiwi respectively, they met while teaching in the Arctic and over the past 40 or so years they have turned the acres of what was a rocky extension of the lakeshore covered with a couple of inches of soil surrounding their house into some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. With a dry river bed, rock gardens, lawns, ponds, a henge, human sundial and a veggie garden, not to mention a large traditional barn full of sheep, chickens, guinea hens, turkeys, ducks and geese there’s plenty of work to do...and that’s precisely why I went there.


As part of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), it’s permissible to spend up to a month at a time doing voluntary work in Canada whilst on a visitor visa providing it isn’t the main purpose of your trip. In return for 4-6 hours of work a day you get bed and board and in this case, the opportunity to experience a unique slice of rural life in Ontario. So much so in fact that I hardly stopped the entire time I was there! 

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So for the most part we spent our time cutting and weeding and chopping and raking and spreading woodchips and concreting designs into new paths and digging holes for plants - well, if you can call excavating a square foot of stones with a small pick-like hand tool over the course of an hour ‘digging’ - and eating (a lot) and generally enjoying life. ‘We’ started off as me and a German wwoofer, Isabel, who was there when I arrived and since included various wwoofers who have come and gone. Life is never dull at Keppel Croft, it’s always busy. On Wednesday mornings we were joined by up to 20 local community volunteers who come to weed and water the veggie garden, which they have a vested interest in as all the produce from it is split equally between them, as well as work on other garden projects.

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It wasn’t all work though, in fact far from it. I’ve done more in the last month than I ever thought possible. We went to local fairs, auctions and markets, to beaches and for dinner and drinks with countless friends and neighbours. The community spirit there is incredible, as is the hospitality from everyone I met. We also visited caves and went hiking on the Bruce Trail that runs along the Niagara escarpment from Tobermory to Niagara. At Tobermory we took a jet boat out to Flowerpot Island (taking only a few minutes to cross the 6km of water at 40knots!) via the sunken shipwrecks in Big Tub harbour. The weather was amazing, for the most part blazing sunshine that makes the water shine a crystal blue-green against the white rocks, perfect for afternoon (and sometimes lunchtime) swimming in the lake.

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A couple of weeks ago (or maybe it was even the week before that...I have no grasp of time anymore!) Isabel, Bill and I went to Halfway Log Dump along the road to Tobermory. We’d actually planned to go to Cyprus Lake but upon arriving we discovered that the beautiful weather had drawn the visitors out and the parking lot was full so we were turned away. Instead we went to an area of shore known as Halfway Log Dump and it was quite possibly the most beautiful lakeshore I’ve ever seen. Brilliant blue water along a beach of white pebbles dotted with boulders, it reminded me very much of the Croatian coast. Rather than hiking along the trail we opted to walk along the beach, but this involved scrambling over rocks, climbing up and sliding down boulders, paddling through water where it was shallow enough and squeezing through cracks between rocks to get by. We laughed a lot, scratched out heads a lot trying to work out ways through and finally when we’d got as far as we were going to go we just sat on the rocks eating dried cranberries, almonds and chocolate chips watching the sun start to sink over the water. It really was a perfect day.

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As we made our way back to the parking lot we were lucky enough (or unlucky enough depending on who you ask) to come face to face with a black bear standing not 50 feet away from us between the trees. Being Europeans unused to the dangers of large wild animals I think Bill was somewhat bemused that our first reaction was to try and take a photo rather than escape the potential danger. Sadly neither of us managed to take a photo that even remotely resembled a bear but it was the perfect ending to a really lovely day. 

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These last few weeks have also been a place of many firsts for me...sea kayaking in Georgian Bay, a Pow-wow at Cape Croker Park Reserve and going to a Rodeo being just some of those things, alongside little things like finding snakes in the pantry and hearing the high pitched buzz of hummingbirds darting around outside as I sat and ate my breakfast on the porch. Far too many things to write about but have a look at the photos I’m starting to upload to Flickr now I’m back in the city and have a bit more time. Trying to pick a highlight of my month at Keppel Croft is impossible, there were too many to choose from. The only downside? The biting insects - mosquitos and deer flies ate me alive!

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Sadly my time there came to an end (a week later than planned!) and now I’m back in Toronto. In a way I was looking forward to being back in the hustle and bustle of the city but Keppel Croft and all the wonderful people I met there left a lasting impression on me and my time there is something I won’t forget. The hospitality, warmth and community spirit I found there are inspirational and I hope that one day soon I can return and see many of those people again. In particular I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bill and Dawn for opening their home to me this past month and for being such warm and interesting hosts. I’ve enjoyed my time with you immensely and can’t even begin to thank you for all the opportunities you provided during my stay at your beautiful home. I hope I’ll soon have the chance to come back and visit you again. 

For more information on Keppel Croft Gardens visit their website and to see more photos of the beautiful gardens and all the other places I visited while I was there check out my photos on flickr 

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