CANADA

Bayfield, ON

Victorian Charm and Signed Alice Munro Books

Bayfield, Ontario's Main Street reflected in window of Black Dog Pub & Bistro

The Black Dog Pub & Bistro at 5 Main Street North is Bayfield’s oldest building (1840). Once a tough bar for locals, it now serves single-malt whiskies and caters more to the Alice Munro book crowd.
JOHN MASTERS/Meridian Writers’ Group

THERE ARE TWO specific reasons and one general one to come to tiny Bayfield on the shores of Lake Huron about 220 kilometres west of Toronto.

First of all, if you love Alice Munro’s short stories, this is where her favourite bookstore is, the Village Bookshop at 24 Main Street North. Munro, who lives outside of Clinton, a nearby farming community of 3,000, has said that “this is the only real bookstore in the area,” Village Bookshop proprietor Mary Wolfe relates with pride.

Wolfe opened her shop in 2000, hardly dreaming that one of her favourite authors would become a regular customer. But one day the reclusive Munro looked in, liked what she saw and kept returning. Now, says Wolfe, “I know her quite well. She often comes in and she always signs all her books for me. In many cases, this is the only place in the world to find a signed copy of some of Alice Munro’s books.”

The second reason to come to Bayfield is to stay at the Little Inn, next door to the bookshop at 26 Main Street North. The hotel, a yellow-brick Victorian building with big white verandahs, built in 1862, epitomizes the century-old charm of Bayfield.

Bayfield, with a winter population of 900, was caught in amber 150 years ago and remains almost unchanged from those days of hoop skirts and horse buggies. It happened, says Little Inn manager Richard Fitoussi, because when the railroad was being built to the area in the 1850s, Bayfield’s town fathers decided they didn’t want any part of it. “They saw it as an instrument of the devil,” says Fitoussi. And something that would lower the town’s class.

So the railroad went to Goderich, 20 kilometres to the north, and until the 1980s Bayfield languished. Then, in 1982, it won provincial heritage status—just the fourth Ontario town to receive it. Soon after, boutiques, galleries and cafés began to spring up in what once had been banks, bakeries and the post office.

One of Bayfield’s more notable galleries is the Turner, at 25 Main Street North. It’s owned by local lad made good Brad Turner, an Emmy Award–winning television director who worked on shows like 24, Battlestar Galactica and Lonesome Dove, but got his start with with the classic CBC series The Beachcombers. Some of his own photography is on display, but two-thirds of the gallery’s space is given over to regional artists. There’s also a selection of work from Canada’s west coast, where Turner spent a lot of time directing.

A block and-a-half south at 5 Main Street North is the Black Dog Pub & Bistro. The oldest commercial building in town (1840), it was once the Admiral, a rough bar for locals. Today its owner is Ted McIntosh, a wine and spirits enthusiast whose interests translate into a long menu of high-end Ontario wines and single-malt and Irish whiskies. And a much classier clientele.

The railroad-banning town fathers, wherever they are, must be very pleased that their strategy has at last paid off.

 

ACCESS

For more information on Bayfield visit the village website at www.villageofbayfield.com.

For information on travel in Ontario go to the Ontario Travel website at www.ontariotravel.net.