Entertainment – County Style!

Lenni Stewart, local jazz chanteuse and County treasure

If you’re a music lover, the County always has something to offer – both day and night!

Many of our local wineries host live music on weekend afternoons, and in the evening there are plenty of venues where you can catch some of our local talent (and some internationally known artists too) on stages both large and small.

Concerts at The Regent Theatre

The historic Regent Theatre is well-known for hosting an eclectic range of acts, and in the past has featured Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Carlos Del Junco, Sam Roberts and more. Coming up this weekend, June 24th, there’s an Elvis festival you won’t want to miss, and Saturday July 1st, Canada Day, you’ll be able to catch The Rheostatics, which promises to be a fun evening with one of Canada’s best-loved bands, fronted in part by the iconic Dave Bidini. On the following weekend, July 7, lovers of blues and gospel won’t want to miss Toni Vani & The Holy Blues Band; or on July 15th, sing along to 70’s favourites with Abba Magic. The Regent is just a short walk from the Merrill Inn, making it easy to enjoy a night on the town without having to worry about driving home. Be sure to drop by the County Canteen on the way back for a cold craft brew and some local colour.

Party at The Hayloft

But the Regent isn’t the only place to get your groove on! The newly revived Hayloft Dance Hall, recently purchased by the owners of Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, hosts a heck of a shindig every weekend, featuring local artists like Villas (July 15), and Moon Sugar (Aug. 5), as well as guest DJs to help you dance the night away until the wee hours. There are some big-ticket shows on the calendar too – coming up, they’ve got Sloan (June 30), 54-40 (July 6), and The Sadies (July 28), peppered in with barn parties where you can rock out to acts like Dwayne Gretzky (Aug. 12), or step out with bluegrass from the Foggy Hogtown Boys (July 7). The Hayloft is a bit off the beaten path, but to make things super easy, they provide a free shuttle with pickups and drop-offs right here in Picton.

Local Musicians and More

The County’s hometown sibling duo Instant Rivalry

If you’re interested in discovering local talent in a more low-key setting, there are plenty of small venues that offer live music several nights a week. The Drake in Wellington hosts an open mic night every Tuesday. The Acoustic Grill features a revolving door of Canadian talent from Thursday through Sunday nights, and the County Canteen hosts Karaoke every Wednesday, solo acts on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as their famous Sunday afternoon ARVO Sessions (apparently Aussie slang for something to do when you’re hungover) paired with $5 Caesar’s all day long.

For fans of old-time music, don’t miss Peter Rea and The Reasons if you have the opportunity. They’re the County’s hands-down favourites when it comes to 50s and 60s music, dancing and sing-alongs, and you can usually catch them playing somewhere on the weekends. Next week, The Reasons are playing a free concert at the Gazebo in Wellington on Tuesday June 27 at 6:30pm, and they are traditionally the main attraction at Wellington’s Canada Day festivities on the main street. At the Picton United Church, you can even enjoy an old-time fiddle show on June 24; and speaking of churches, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, just a block south of us here at the Merrill Inn, often hosts classical, choral and jazz concerts and is an important venue during the PEC Jazz Festival in August.

Our local vineyards (and breweries) love to host music as well – all the better to sip by! You can enjoy music in the vineyard at Sandbanks Estates Winery every Friday from 4pm – 7pm, every Sunday afternoon at Huff Estates, and Saturday afternoons on the patio at Barley Days Brewery.

So there you have it – a music-lover’s extravaganza just about any day (or night) you choose! As you tour the County, don’t forget to tune in to 99.3 County FM, our community radio station, which always features local artists in their eclectic programming of music, local news and happenings.

Visit the Merrill Inn

Thinking about planning a trip to the County? We’d love to help. Check out our seasonal packages for great ideas about how best to discover our local culture.

Camp Picton: the Friendly Ghost up on the Heights

a birds-eye view of the old Camp Picton

If you’ve ever driven up over “The Heights” in Picton, you may have driven past or through the old Camp Picton, a wartime air base and gunnery school, now a multi-use business park called Loch-Sloy Holdings. History buffs would be interested to know that it was built in 1940 as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCAPT), and was a training camp for the Royal Air Force during WWII. Most of the original buildings remain intact, and while some have been renovated for modern businesses, much of it retains its historical cast.

According to the Loch-Sloy website, the Department of Defense pulled out of the property in 1969, and it was purchased by the H.J. McFarland Company for purposes that are unclear, as the camp fell into disrepair and was known mostly by local teenagers, who would race their cars on the overgrown runways. By 1999, Camp Picton was mostly derelict, with many of the buildings either vandalized or just plain falling down from neglect.

Imbued with a new life

It was at that time that it was purchased by the current owners, the Scott family. The decision to acquire it was partly out of nostalgia, as the elder Scott trained with the BCAPT in Paulson, Manitoba, at a nearly identical camp that sadly, no longer exists save for a small museum. Today, Scott’s son Jamie owns it, and the property is managed by Jacqui Burley and her brother Steven Everall. There are hopes of one day housing a military museum on the site, and to that end, many military artifacts have been purchased. Though there aren’t any advertised public tours, it is quite possible to get a peek at the buildings and their growing collection if you were so inclined, simply by dropping by and finding Jacquie, who, as a seventh-generation County resident and descendant of a United Empire Loyalist family, is a wealth of knowledge about the property and its historical connection to the County’s culture.

Summer weekends these days see a range of activities going on there, from drag racing on the runways, to motorcycle rallies, remote control flying events, special forces training, Air Cadets training (you will sometimes see their yellow gliders soaring over the road), tractor pulls, vintage car shows, and more. There is a private flying club that uses the airport as its headquarters, and you’ll often spot some interesting aircraft parked near the west gate, among them, a small flying boat!

Driving past, you’ll see several massive hangars, Quonset huts, administration buildings, the old hospital, barracks, a theatre, a dance hall … it’s all still there, flanked by 2,600 foot long runways. Some of the buildings are falling down, but many have been carefully refurbished to house various types of businesses, among them, a yoga studio, several artists’ studios, potters, photographers, a music producer, a marine repair shop, an auto body shop, an antique dealer, a pallet company, cabinet maker, a theatre company, a company that makes duck calls, and of course, plenty of storage for large items such as RVs, boats, buses, and other large items that require an oversized space to house.

It’s also been the backdrop for several films and television shows – most infamously, the first season of Canada’s Worst Driver, but there have been others.

A recent article in Watershed Magazine highlights the journey of one Brian Truswell, an Englishman on a quest to retrace his father’s footsteps through photographs he had left behind. Brian and his wife stayed at the Merrill Inn during this time, and we saw how excited he was to stand in places his father had stood. He was actually able to organize a small craft flight that allowed him to get a birds-eye view of the area, right down to the original bombing range. To say that he and his wife were over the moon is not an understatement: it was clear that they had been given the royal treatment by Jacqui, the pilot, John Douglas, and all involved.

History and heritage in Prince Edward County

If you are interested in exploring the rich history of the County, consider booking our History Buff Package. Along with accommodation, a 3-course a la carte dinner in The Restaurant at the Merrill Inn, a picnic lunch, breakfast each morning and afternoon refreshments, you will be invited to enjoy a walking tour with local historian Peter Lockyer, who may just be persuaded to get you an insider’s look at Camp Picton, up on the Heights. Call to book your stay today, and we’ll see you in The County!

Art in the County: 24 years of fine art in Prince Edward County

The Garden at the Merrill Inn, by Celia Sage

This week marks the 24th anniversary of The County’s annual juried art show, Art in the County. Starting June 23 and running through July 9, you can view and purchase works from Prince Edward County artists in all sorts of media, upstairs at Books and Company. The Merrill Inn has been a proud sponsor of this show for as many years as we have been in business, a tribute to our love of fine art, and an opportunity to support our local artist community. The show itself attracts thousands of visitors every year, and is an anxiously anticipated component of our early summer festivities.

According to the Art in The County website, the show began in 1993, and at the time featured only 2-dimentional works. Since then, the show has expanded to include encaustic, glass, fibre, ceramics and pottery, as well as mixed media, photography, wood, fabric sculpture and even jewelry. Admission to the exhibition is only $3, and (just a bonus) some of Picton’s best coffee can be had just downstairs at Miss Lily’s.

The Merrill Inn’s Curated Collection

As patrons of the arts ourselves, The Merrill Inn has been curating our own collection over the years, overseen by Amy, along with her mother, Claire Grant. We hang only local artists, and change up the selections twice a year. Interestingly enough, the very definition of “curator” is defined as somebody who not only manages the collection, but is in charge of the interpretation of heritage materials. While we believe that the onus of interpretation lies with the beholder, we do tend to support artists we enjoy a personal connection with. Almost every piece of art we hang is available for sale, and our door is always open for you to come and browse.

Celia Sage Opening at Mad Dog Gallery

One of our favourite artists is our friend Celia Sage, who happens to be opening this weekend (starting Saturday June 10 and running through July 2) at Mad Dog Gallery on County Road 11, near the Sandbanks. Best known for her oil paintings, her interpretations of our bucolic landscapes and riotous garden-scapes (one of which resides in our permanent collection here at the Merrill Inn) are instantly recognizable, provocative, and quite awe-inspiring. Whenever Celia has a new show, it’s always exciting to see what she has in store.

Celia herself is a dear friend – in fact, we travelled all the way to Florida last year on the invitation of her husband, Peter, to surprize her for her 60th birthday! As an artist, she is as humble as they come, and devoted to promoting art in The County in all its forms. She is a member of the Prince Edward County Arts Council as well as the Quinte Arts Council, and is a big supporter and lover of jazz music as well. Now that you know a little bit about her personally, we hope you will find your way to Mad Dog Gallery to check out Celia’s work for yourself!

Art is Everywhere in The County

No matter when you come to The County, there are always plenty of galleries to visit, artisans to discover, and new installations to be explored. The Prince Edward County Arts Trail does a great job of curating our local art scene, and it’s easy to plan a self-driving tour that will take you to every arty nook and cranny on the whole island. In late September, The Studio Tour brings thousands of art lovers to The County for a weekend of touring open studios. If you can’t wait until September, their brochure and map can be picked up any time from May onwards at The Local, a curated store that features the works of scores of our local artists and artisans under one roof.

Get away to The County!

Thinking about visiting to Prince Edward County for an art-inspired getaway? We’ve got plenty of one and two-night packages for you to enjoy. Centrally located in the heart of Picton, we are walking distance from many shops and galleries on the main street, each filled with treasures just waiting to be discovered.

Cheese, please! The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is back for a 6th year

It’s that time of year again – The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is one of the most popular County events: two full days of tasting, buying, pairings and cheese education galore. With more than 150 cheeses available to discover from 130 vendors, there is a little something for everyone.

You’ll be able to taste and buy cheese from Ontario, as well as Quebec and more far-flung parts of Canada, and discover surprising flavours and textures that you may not have ever imagined. On both Saturday and Sunday, the first few hundred ticket holders will get a free gift of cheese when they arrive, a nice entre into what promises to be a fantastic day of discoveries. Ticket holders enjoy free admission to all seminars and tastings, which include three different “tastings and pairings” events, one focused on pairing Canadian artisan cheese with wine, the second with craft beer and cider, and the third with a selection of Ontario spirits. The seminars are led by cheese sommelier Vanessa Simmons of Ottawa’s Savvy Company, whose passion for cheese, wine and all things delicious is palpably infectious!

New Vendors to discover this year

New food vendors this year include Jamie Kennedy Fries; the acclaimed chef has handed the gourmet chip operation to his very capable sons, Jackson and Niles, who will be serving up their legendary fries, as well as braised beef poutine and toasted garlic chips with fresh garlic aioli.

We’re also excited to see that the Quinte area’s favourite burger joint, Burger Revolution, will be on site with their food truck – if you haven’t experienced Burger Revolution yet, you’re in for a treat! Jeff Camacho and his wife Rayling come from a fine dining background, but have been melting hearts and palates with their fresh made Enright Farms beef burgers for several years now. They have been featured on TV shows like “You Gotta Eat Here”, and were recently bestowed the honour of “Best Burger in Canada” by Canadian Living Magazine.

Also new this year, our local distillery, formerly known as 66 Gilead, has changed hands, and is now called Kinsip House of Fine Spirits. They will be exhibiting at the festival as well as participating in some of the seminars and tastings, so be sure to check out what they have to offer. (Tip: their bitters are outstanding!)

Something for everyone

For kid of all ages, you’ll want to check out the sweet and gentle water buffalos, as well as the insanely great buffalo milk cheese by the Ontario Water Buffalo Company, which generally sells out quickly. Make sure you try their smoked gouda, as well as their fresh mozzarella, if you can manage to get your hands on some!

You’ll get a chance to meet Canada’s most renowned cheesemakers, and discover some of the County’s newest beverage entries, including craft beers, a wide range of ciders from near and far, spirits, great food, everything you can possibly think of to go with cheese, not to mention, lots of cheese. What’s not to love?

If you haven’t got your tickets yet, you can reserve online, or purchase at the Crystal Palace on either day. Just a short walk from the Merrill Inn, the Great Canadian Cheese Festival is one of the most popular events of the year in the County, so if you haven’t yet been, maybe now is the time!

Cheese Lovers Stay Here

The Merrill Inn’s featured one-night package is made just for cheese lovers! Through June 29, book for a mid-week stay, and get a 3-course dinner for 2, picnic lunches, breakfast in the morning, a $10 voucher for the County’s own Black River Cheese Factory, and while quantities last, a hand-crafted wooden cheese board for you to take home. We also include complimentary tasting vouchers for select local wineries, all for just $319 per couple! Call now to book your Cheese Lovers Getaway today, and if you can’t make it to the cheese festival this weekend, we will look forward to seeing you soon.

Edward Shubert, innkeeper

Around the County: Barn Quilts

If you’ve ever taken a drive around the County (what the locals call a ‘horn trip’), you’ve probably noticed large, colourful painted blocks on barns and other buildings that are made to look like quilts – in fact, they are called barn quilts, just for that reason. In the same way a traditionally stitched quilt often tells a story, barn quilts are dedicated to heritage, and so will often reflect a feeling of place and time.

Though this is a relatively recent phenomenon in the County, it has been embraced by residents, farmers and businesses alike as a way of telling the community’s stories.

The American Barn Quilt Movement

Even though it smacks of heritage and history, the barn quilt movement is less than 20 years old. It began in Ohio, where a lady named Donna Sue Groves decided to combine her love of quilts and barns to liven up the side of an old tobacco barn on her property. Just a few years later, it was adopted by her local community as an economic development initiative, and from there it grew into a national movement in rural settlements across America.

Barn quilts in Ontario

Barn quilts came to Canada via the village of Wardsville in South Western Ontario. The entire village pitched in to create a barn quilt storyboard to commemorate the town’s history at its bicentennial. From there, it gained in popularity, spreading outward from county to county, and in 2013, the Ontario Trillium Foundation funded the barn quilt trail movement for the entire province.

The County’s Barn Quilt Trail

The barn quilt movement is thriving in Prince Edward County, and it’s not too difficult to find evidence of that, pretty much everywhere you look. In September of 2015, the 100th barn quilt was placed at Hagerman’s Farm on Loyalist Parkway in Picton; the movement is often referred to as Canada’s largest outdoor art gallery, and for those who are interested in seeing the wide diversity of designs, it’s an afternoon well-spent.

Some locations are businesses, and some are farms or residences, and the PEC Barn Quilt Trail association has developed a map for those interested in a self-driving tour. The tour will take you all over the County – the biggest concentration being in the Picton area – but keep your eyes peeled for unmapped barn quilts, as they are everywhere.

Barn quilts: Just one more reason to visit the County!

If you’ve been thinking of visiting the County, there is no better time than the summer months to enjoy everything we have to offer. Call today to book your stay, and take advantage of one of our popular packages, including the Vine & Dine, which includes complementary tastings at local wineries, or our new Brew & Que package, for lovers of Texas-style BBQ and craft beer.

See you here!

Edward Shubert, innkeeper