Destination Ontario: Ontario’s Riviera Port Dover & Norfolk County
By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com
Photography, courtesy of www.norfolktourism.ca
Located on the north shore of Lake Erie in Norfolk County, Port Dover is one of Ontario’s best kept secrets with tropicallike beaches, fresh-water activities and fishing, as well as some of the province’s most beautiful scenery.
Motorcycle enthusiasts from across North America descend upon Port Dover every Friday the 13th. This tradition dates back 20 years. If the 13th falls during the summer months, more than 100,000 enjoy a festivallike atmosphere, making it the largest one-day motorcycle event in Canada.
Norfolk County includes eclectic villages, towns and hamlets, such as La Salette (1875), Waterford (1826), Port Rowan (1825), and the county’s main town, Simcoe (1795), which boasts a vibrant downtown, a lush park system and several historic sites. Turkey Point (1793) was previously the county’s capital, and is aptly named for the rafter of turkeys that used to roam the area.
LIFE’S A BEACH
Norfolk County is flushed with sparkling lakes – providing splashperfect destinations for swimming, fishing, boating and picnicking.
Named one of the Top 10 Beach Weekend Escapes from Toronto (blogTO, 2017), Port Dover touts white-sand beaches and shallow waters. Glorious days can be spent walking the shores of Lake Erie (known as Ontario’s South Point and Long Point), or renting a stand-up paddle board (SUP) from South Coast Paddle Sports.
Enjoy a cold one on the patio of The Beach House surrounded by whimsical palm trees that are planted every year by the owner. Other Port Dover restaurants include Lago Trattoria (Italian with a local twist), the 1946 Erie Beach Hotel (now run by the third generation), and Urban Parisian, which features authentic, French-style bakery items.
Port Dover has an extensive boating and fishing history, and once possessed the world’s largest fresh-water fishing fleet. Commercial fishing still plays a significant role in the local economy, and restaurants serve up tasty lake perch and pickerel dishes. Anglers can fish from the pier during the summer months, and come winter, ice fishing for pike is a popular past time.
The town’s marine heritage is celebrated at The Port Dover Harbour Museum.
The sandy soil and lake-moderated temperatures of Norfolk County are a perfect combination for grape growing. The area hosts 11 wineries, including Villa Nova Estate, Burning Kiln Winery and Bonnieheath Estate, which also grows lavender. Several area wineries have won international awards, both for their wines, as well as their hard ciders. In the process of getting their DVA designation, the region is now considered to be Ontario’s new emerging wine region.
Craft breweries are also jumping on board with local favourites from Blue Elephant Craft Brew House and Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm.
Turkey Point, Long Point, Port Rowan and Normandale are great locations for birding and for spotting wildlife. Long Point is home to Birds Study Canada and the Long Point Bird Observatory – considered to be one of North America’s most important waterfowl areas. Sightings include the rare Peregrine Falcons, Cave Swallows, Fox Sparrows and the Horned Grebe.
Norfolk County is one of Canada’s most diverse agricultural regions. Once a tobacco belt, the county is now the country’s top grower of asparagus, cabbage, ginseng and peanuts.
Seasonal, and year-round, farmers’ markets include Simcoe Market held on Thursdays, and Port Dover Lions Silver Lake Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
Great finds can also be found at Franni’s Actic. This destination features close to one acre of treasures and collectibles in a rustic environment, complete with tin ceilings and oiled, hardwood floors. More than 60 vendors carry up-cycled antiques, pottery, textiles, etc. at the Waterford Antique Market. Deer Creek Antiques & Creations sells beautifully aged, and repurposed, furniture.
One of the largest agricultural fairs in Canada, the Norfolk County’s Fair and Horse Show, features fabulous food, a midway and main-stage concerts. Come fall, Waterford hosts an annual Pumpkinfest, Port Dover hosts Beerstock, and Friday the 13th celebrations are a yearly tradition.