As we drove up the hill, Anne told me about the myriad of activities available at the Elmhirst’s Resort. Summer activities include walking, bicycling, horseback riding, various water sports, and even golf at the golf club right next door. Sea planes offer sightseeing tours. In the winter, Rice Lake becomes a skating rink, and snow shoeing and cross-country skiing entice the outdoor adventurers. Snowmobile and ATV safaris are offered to the adrenaline junkies, but many guests prefer to indulge in the couch-potato package, lazing the day away in their comfy cottages.
The riding horses come and say hello to Anne
At the top of the hill the Free Spirit Riding Stables came into view where Angie, the trail guide, explained that they have 11 horses that go out on several walks with the guests a day. Beautiful Black Angus beef cattle with shiny black coats were grazing freely on the pasture. Continuing further up the hill, the view over the rolling farmland and over Rice Lake got even better. Anne said that some of their European guests can’t believe it when they find out that the land as far as you can see belongs to the resort.
The top of the hill provides an awesome view over Rice Lake
To make things easier for resort guests who enjoy walking on the property, they have set up a bench by a tree on the hilltop. “Cowboy picnics” are held in a small meadow area on the hill and urban dwellers can really get away from it all to enjoy the country life. Then we headed back on one of the many forest paths and Anne told me about the “Wild Women’s Weekends” that the resort puts on for groups of female friends. During these getaways six to eight women will stay in a cottage, drink fine wine, eat great dinners, do nature activities, embark on ATV safaris, go horseback riding, get pampered in the spa and more recently they have even added a pumpkin shooting target practice to the program.
Guests fly in to have lunch at the Elmhirst’s Resort
Our final stop was the wine cellar which also holds a tasting table. Anne explained that the cellar is home to some of Canada’s best vintages from places like the Niagara Region, Prince Edward County, the North Shore of Lake Erie and British Columbia’s Okanagan Region. These are wines that can only be purchased at the winery or here at the resort as they are not available in the liquor store. Wine tastings are offered every week, and wine dinners have become a very popular event among the guests at the Elmhirst’s.
The wine cellar offers select Ontario vintages
After my whirlwind tour of this amazing family-owned resort, my head was still swirling with all the things to see and do at this resort. I have rarely seen such a broad range of activities and services offered by a hospitality establishment.
Arthur Elmhirst, World War II test pilot and one of the hospitality pioneers at the Elmhirst
Now it was on to my last stop of the day: an outdoor theatre performance at the locally renowned 4th Line Theatre. I drove about half an hour west from Keene to the village of Millbrook.
My evening program was a performance of “The Right Road to Pontypool”, the little known yet true story of the nearby village of Pontypool that became a summer haven for thousands of Jewish immigrants between 1916 and the early 1960s. Keep in mind that this was in an era when the signs at Sunnyside Beach in Toronto still said “No Dogs or Jews Allowed”.
The serene country view at the 4th Line Theatre, all part of the stage!
The 4th Line Theatre has been in existence for 19 years now and produced many award winning shows that focus on historic Canadian themes. Director Kim Blackwell explained to me the origin of this creative endeavour: Robert Winslow, the Artistic Director, is an actor, and inherited the 160 year old family farm from his mother in the 1980s. Not inclined to go into agriculture, he decided to turn the farm into a barnyard theatre and staged his first play there in 1992.
Kim Blackwell, the director of “The Right Road to Pontypool”
After two months of performances in front of completely sold out crowds it became clear that the audience was hungry for topics of historical Canadian relevance. Since then the theatre has held 22 world premiere productions that sometimes take up to 4 or 5 years to come to fruition. The theatre is unique in that it uses a combination of professional actors and local volunteers. The biggest production had a cast of 84 people, and today’s production involved 37 professional and amateur actors.
The barns are part of the backdrop at the 4th Line Theatre
All parts of the 100 acre farm are used – the three old barns as well as the surrounding fields. The action came at me from everywhere, and I was thoroughly impressed by the acting, the music and the complex choreography involved in coordinating so many actors. The atmosphere in this outdoor venue in the rolling hills of Peterborough is magical, and the Canadian topics definitely strike a chord with the audience.
Even the parking lot presents a romantic image at sunset
As the sun was setting, the play finished and the audience was slowly dissipating. To cap off the evening I stopped off in the charming historic village of Millbrook which was celebrating “Ladies Night”, a yearly event that closes off King Street with music, dancing, shopping, food and socializing. I had had another fascinating day in the Peterborough area and was looking forward to one more full day here.
The lovely country village of Millbrook