Exploring Victorian Beauty in Owen Sound

Staying in a bed and breakfast is often the highlight of my weekend getaways. Every B&B is unique, the food is usually delicious and the conversations with the owners and other guests often provide memorable experiences. For our late summer escape we picked a country bed and breakfast located just about 20 minutes located of Owen Sound, the destination of our city break. After a full day of local explorations in this picturesque town on Georgian Bay yesterday we thoroughly enjoyed our restful sleep in our comfortable downy beds.

The Garden House Bed and Breakfast

This morning I got up early to take some pictures of the beautiful garden that surrounds the Garden House and I was looking forward to sitting down and exploring the background of the owner. Maria Sir was just about to start preparing breakfast when I caught her in her sunny and spacious open concept kitchen. Maria graciously agreed to sit down with me for a while to tell me about herself.

Maria Sir

Maria Sir came to Canada in the late 1960s from Bratislava in the former Czechoslovakia and originally settled in Toronto. Later she moved with her husband and two young children to a small town in Ontario and started a sheep farm that produced lamb meat. Maria explained that income in the sheep farming business was always very unpredictable so she started her own greenhouse operation and raised annuals and perennials to supplement her income. In addition, she started baking bread which she would also sell commercially.

The Garden House

After a serious illness, Maria decided to sell the sheep farming operation and focused on her greenhouse and bread-baking businesses. Then, a few years ago, things changed completely for Maria. She was driving on a major country highway near Orangeville, Ontario, when a car veered out of the opposing lane to pass a truck and crashed head-on into Maria’s vehicle. The other driver was killed in the accident while Maria suffered severe life-threatening injuries herself and was 20 minutes without oxygen. In Maria’s words “everything stopped”.

A green thumb in the living room

Maria explained that even after a long period of recuperation and rehabilitation, the head injuries continue to affect her memory and learning abilities and have caused long-term permanent functional impairments. But Maria had a fierce will to survive and to start a new life. She left the family farm and decided to become a bed and breakfast operator. Maria still wanted to stay close to Owen Sound and started looking for properties that would have three bathrooms. The long search made it clear that very few of these types of properties were available, but she found one place that met those criteria and decided to buy it.

Horticultural beauty at the Garden House

Once Maria took possession she realized that the house was in much worse condition than when she originally viewed it, forcing her to undertake extensive renovations on a fairly recently built structure from the mid-1980s. Among other things she had to rip out all the floor boards as they were rotten. Some of the windows were leaking and the drywall had started to deterioriate and Maria single-handedly did the dry walling work herself. Among many other things, the house needed a new roof and siding and will require new windows soon. Many of the trees in the backyard had to be removed and Maria had to start the garden completely from scratch. She concludes that that one of the most important suggestions for any home buyers is to get a home inspection before signing on the dotted line.

My spacious bedroom

In addition to her bed and breakfast Maria still helps out in a local greenhouse and her professional baking has become an important part in Maria’s weekly routine. Every Friday morning, from 3:30 am onwards, Maria starts making bread by hand-kneading dough for 12 different varieties of bread. Some of Maria’s gourmet breads include whole wheat, twelve-grain and dark rye bread and she also offers white and whole wheat buns. Her cheese bread is made with old cheddar and her raisin bread is to die for as I would soon find out.

Maria spends the whole day baking until 6 pm and then starts packing the bread. By midnight she is ready to load it in the car. Saturday morning she gets up at 4:30 am to do her exercises and by 6 am she drives to the Owen Sound Farmers Market where she sells her home-made bread. Although the market is open until 1 pm she usually sells out by before noon.

Bathroom featuring a claw-foot tub

In addition to being a master baker, Maria Sir is also an accomplished cook. On different occasions Maria has hosted fully catered dinners for up to 18 people. Some of her most favourite menus include quiche, schnitzel with rice, potato salad and coleslaw, accompanied by a pepper and zucchini relish, followed by a raspberry cream cheese cake. Maria’s apple cake is also very popular with her patrons.

We started talking about the bed and breakfast experience and Maria let me know that she just loves being a B&B hostess. Her guests have come from far-away places such as Japan, Scotland and Switzerland. Her season goes from about April to October and most of her business is on weekends. Many of her travelers come here to go hiking on the Bruce Trail and to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Niagara Escarpment. Owen Sound offers a well-known Garden Tour and some of the visitors at the Garden House B&B have come here to enjoy the horticultural treasures of the area. Some of her visitors are golfers; others attend local weddings and special events.

View from the wooden deck towards the brook

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