I had really enjoyed my first-hand introduction to pioneer life at the Lang Pioneer Village this morning and arrived late at my next stop: the Elmhirst’s Resort in Keene, about 25 km southeast of Peterborough and just about 90 minutes east of Toronto. I was greeted by Stephen Elmhirst, a member of the fourth generation of Elmhirsts that have been running this resort. His great-grandfather purchased this huge 240 acre property in 1903 and originally ran it as a fishing camp. His grandfather then built cottages and developed the waterfront. And during the 1980s his father started an aggressive expansion of the resort and added the Hearthside Dining Room.
The Elmhirst’s Resort, a great destination on Rice Lake, 90 minutes from Toronto
Today the Elmhirst’s Resort has 30 cottages, a luxurious spa, an indoor and an outdoor pool, riding stables and a health club. Stephen explained that the resort is also an extremely popular destination for weddings and special events, with its gorgeous location on the north shore of Rice Lake. Naturally, watersports are extremely popular with the guests, who can use canoes, kayaks, paddleboats or hydrabikes or even rent different types of powerboats. Every afternoon Stephen’s nephew takes guests out on his boat for waterskiing.
Loads of fun for the guests at the waterfront of the Elmhirst’s Resort
In the upstairs banquet room Stephen showed me the phenomenal view out over Rice Lake through the giant picture windows. With a length of 32 km and a width of 5 km, Rice Lake is quite narrow and shallow, and it is extremely popular with fishermen due to its rich stocks of large-mouth bass, walleye, and muskey. The name of the lake is derived from the wild rice fields that were once cultivated here by native tribes.
In addition to power boating, all sorts of watercraft are available for the guests
Prior to joining his family’s business, Stephen was an air traffic controller, and when his family asked him to come back to the resort he decided to take up cooking and became the kitchen manager for the operation. But aviation still runs in his blood as I found out when Stephen took me to the Wild Blue Yonder Pub. This popular watering hole is decorated in the memory of his grandfather Arthur Elmhirst who was a test pilot in World War II. The resort even features a 2500 foot landing strip where pilots often fly in to have lunch in the aviation-inspired pub.
The bar in the aviation-inspired Wild Blue Yonder Pub
Stephen also touched on another important point: the resort’s commitment to farm-fresh locally grown food. To that end the Elmhirst family raise their own Black Angus beef on the property, have a ½ acre kitchen garden and their own free-laying hens. The pub serves local beers such as Publicans from Peterborough, the Church Key Brewery from Campbellford and Steam Whistle from Toronto. In 2009 a spacious patio that is surrounded by luscious flower beds was added to the pub where guests can enjoy casual meals and a drink in the warm outdoor sun.
Chef de cuisine Michael Sterpin prepared my lunch
As Stephen had to leave, he took me over to the Hearthside Dining Room where I had a chance to meet chef de cuisine Michael Sterpin. My table was set up in the corner with a gorgeous easterly and southerly view over Rice Lake and Michael started to explain my lunch to me: my starter was an heirloom tomato salad with Mariposa Farms goat cheese and a broken balsamic vinaigrette, followed by a Linwood Acres Farm cold poached trout with yellow tomato salsa. Healthy, tasty cuisine using high-quality local ingredients is a priority at the Elmhirst’s Resort. Michael said he only needs to walk into the kitchen garden to pick farm-fresh home-grown produce.
My appetizer is ready for me: an Heirloom Tomato Salad with local ingredients
After a delectable lunch with a gorgeous vista over Rice Lake, I headed to the spa and met Anne Marshall to learn more about the spa services. Anne indicated that the spa is new and is run by Spa Director Martina Linde, a specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, Tui Na massage, nutrition and herbology. Martina is also part of the family as general manager’s Greg Elmhirst’s wife. The spa offers various massage treatments, acupuncture, hand and foot treatments, facials and waxing services. While we were talking, two ladies were enjoying getting pampered on their comfortable spa chairs, right in front of huge picture windows overlooking Rice Lake and the swimming pool.
Anne Marshall welcomes me to the spa
Then Anne and I walked outside onto the lakeside patio that is a frequent location for weddings. The grounds of the Elmhirst’s Resort are immaculate with their perfectly groomed lawns and colourful flowers. Two full-time gardeners take care of the gardens at the resort. A huge life-size chess board is located on the west side of the main building, the location of many father-son chess lessons. Anne added that guests come here from the Greater Toronto area, from Peterborough and many other parts of Canada. During the soccer world cup the resort hosted guests from Argentina, Germany and the UK, which made for very interesting discussions at the bar.
The huge outdoor chessboard – a popular gathering place
Next we hopped onto an ATV as Anne promised that “now we are going to see the horses”. We quickly drove to the air strip and Anne mentioned they have a regular guest from Dubai who flies his own plane here from Toronto and stops for lunch at the pub. In the distance she pointed out a building that holds the pool and office heating system which burns environmentally friendly biomass. Environmentally sustainable operations are important here at the Elmhirst’s Resort.
Anne and I head off on our tour of the resort
Adjacent to the airstrip is the sizeable kitchen garden where guests can pitch in with the daily harvest in the morning. Then we turned around and started to head eastwards up into the hills. We stopped at the chicken coop where Anne called the chickens with a cheerful “Come here, girls”, and sure enough, 48 chickens started to come over to greet their human friend. These chickens lay 60 eggs a day which are all used by the resort’s kitchen.
These friendly chickens lay 60 eggs a day!