There’s No Place Like Home

Alexandra Lucier | October 26, 2015

I’d been hoping for a better day for a road trip. Steel-grey sky shaded my plans as I packed a picnic blanket, a couple bottles of water, the camera and GPS. Going to pick up my companion, I was relieved to see snatches of blue out the windshield of my beat-up Ford Focus. By the time we were navigating the tangle of freeways that had once been Huron Church Road, the sky was the kind of denim-periwinkle hybrid you only see on October mornings.

We headed south toward Leamington, and immediately hit a snag as the construction on Highway 3 sent us off-course. We zigzagged, followed parallel gravel roads and finally strayed far enough to pick up an alternate route. A facet of Essex County I’d always appreciated is that it’s built like a grid. As long as you stick to a straight course, you’ll eventually run into what you’re looking for, or water.

The detour gave us more of an opportunity to enjoy the scenery. No matter how many times I’d seen it, I was always surprised when the vibrant greens of summer flushed burnt sienna. Shamrock cornfields hardened to a crisp gold, giving the white blades of the wind turbines an entirely new contrast.
It was migration season for birds of prey. Along with the requisite red-winged black bird, it wasn’t unusual to glimpse a bald eagle cruising high overhead, or a red-tailed hawk perched atop a telephone pole like a king on his throne. We were only a few minutes behind schedule when we passed Leamington’s outlying greenhouses, “Pumpkins-4-Sale” hand-painted on plywood, and abundant apple and tomato stands.

Bradt’s Butcher Block was on a nondescript side street in the heart of town. Inside was a compact but fully-stocked Italian grocery and deli. Thanksgiving decorations bookended imported pasta, Valerie’s spice rub and port wine jelly on the shelves. In the prepared foods section, we found pasta and potato salads, quiche and coleslaw. We selected local kielbasa and prosciutto from the deli counter, an ambitious hunk of Friulano cheese, a demi-loaf of ciabatta and six pecan butter tarts, made fresh in the in-store bakery.

We admired the cottages on the lakeshore, passing mom-and-pop ice cream parlours and Birdie’s Perch food truck – now closed for the season – on the leaf-strewn road into Point Pelee National Park.

Ironically, the temperature dropped as we neared Canada’s southernmost point. I suspected this had as much to do with our proximity to white-capped Lake Erie as it did with the rallying wind and cloud cover. This combined with the fact that I’d forgotten to pack utensils made lunch a bit of a challenge. A challenge we embraced with growling stomachs, ready fingers and good humour.

In the summer you can see frogs, fish and painted turtles from the marsh boardwalk. Birdwatchers take full advantage of the telescope in the watchtower, if the spectacular view isn’t enough. We were lucky to spot two great blue herons, brought together in the reeds by an eerie mating call.

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After dropping off my lunch date, I was looking for an opportunity to duck out of the cold. There’s No Place Like Home Antiques, a country flea market in a renovated barn, was just down the road. There I feasted my eyes on hidden treasure: vintage hats and jewellery, collectable coins and brass dollhouse miniatures, old-school glass Coke bottles, records, WWII memorabilia and even VHS tapes of the Fox and the Hound and Mrs. Doubtfire. From there I made my way to a similar outfit nearby, Williams Nurseries. Along with antique garden and home décor, prices were being slashed on perennials, evergreens, bagged stone and soil for a final fall clearance. I was sure to note Williams would be reopening in November for the Christmas season.

As afternoon cooled to evening, my stomach began to complain again. Craving a hot meal, I remembered Kingsville wasn’t far away. Jack’s Gastropub’s cozy, wood-panelled interior is nestled inside a stately family home built in the late 1880’s. Its history, along with its wide selection of local wines, craft beers and made-from-scratch, gourmet pub grub was what drew me and the rest of Essex County up the porch steps to its swinging screen door.

I took advantage of the complimentary Wi-Fi while I waited for my food, the sweet cinnamon spice of my pumpkin-Kahlua martini warming me from the inside-out. The daily soup was cabbage roll-in-a-bowl. With hearty chunks of smoky bacon, it was a meal in itself. My burger arrived speared through the top with a steak knife. I’d seen some intriguing seasonal offerings on the menu like Roasted Squash Masala Fritters and Maple Roasted Duck Perogies with bacon jam, but ultimately settled on a classic. The Spicy Jack Burger differed from the original in that it featured hot peppers instead of mushrooms along with a sweet, tender pile of caramelized onions, crispy smoked bacon, jack cheese and Jack’s signature sauce on a sesame Kaiser. The crescendo of flavours was unbeatable, and the perfect choice to raise my core body temperature.

Jack’s was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Kingsville’s rich and storied past, and I decided to see some more of its Victorian architecture while I walked off my dinner. I began at 111 Division St. S., an 1884 Gothic Villa that was the town’s first property designated under the Ontario Hertiage Act. Following that was the Curtis J. Green House, a Queen Ann home which was the first to boast indoor plumbing. Beyond that was the Negro Cemetery, the final resting place of escaped slaves from the southern United States; the Mettawas Cottage, a summer getaway for the family of Hiram Walker; and the Kingsville Railway Station, opened in June, 1889.

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Watching the sun touch down on the flat, tawny expanse of the prairie, I considered all the places I’d been, some more, some less remarkable. World travel had hardwired my mentality for exploration and discovery. Like an antique shop brimming with treasure buried in dust, my eyes were opened to the wealth of what Windsor-Essex had to offer. I felt lucky to call it my home.

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