It’s been nearly four years since an F3 tornado hit Goderich, sweeping up from Lake Huron, killing a worker at the Sifto salt mine, leaving a swatch of destruction along West Street and through the famous town square before landing finally in Benmiller. Along the way, homes, churches and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Now, heading into another tourism season, Goderich has dusted off and completed an impressive rebuilding.
It’s a nice drive to Goderich, about an hour and a half from London, north up Highway 4 to Hensall, where we stop at Metzger Meats for some smoked sausage, prize-winning bacon and 28-day aged beef, for the coming BBQ season. Then on to Goderich, following Highway 21 along the lake from Bayfield. Pulling into Goderich town square, the sight of the rebuilds is astonishing. New buildings made to replicate their historic neighbours fill the huge holes left by the tornado. Good-sized trees and a creative band-shell fill the courthouse park. Shops such as Culinary Poet and Shanahan’s Meats remain vibrant.
Our destination is West Street, a spoke off the square (actually an octagon), to check in on Culbert’s Bakery, West Street Willy’s Eatery, The Park House Restaurant, and finally, down to the lake for a sneak peek at Beach Street Station restaurant taking shape inside the old CP railway station.
Darin Culbert maintains the family history of baking at Goderich’s oldest and most famous bakery, which dates back to 1877. When the tornado took out part of the bakery, Darin was able to keep his hundred-year-old oven but had to replace some of the equipment which couldn’t pass new codes before he could re-open. Spurred on by huge public support on social media, Darin rebuilt through many struggles and today you need to get there early before the famous crème puffs, honey-dipped donuts, fruit pies and cookies sell out. We don’t dare come home without a box.
Calories of another kind await across the street from Culbert’s at West Street Willy’s. The diner is housed on the main floor of a historic brick building owned by the Cornish family. They decided to restore the hurricane-damaged building instead of tearing it down, which led to a long but successful campaign to maintain the look and feel of West Street. Pete and Pauline Wick closed the restaurant for 10 months — normally a death sentence in the food business. However, the Wicks came back strong with their fresh take on hearty diner food — landing a spot on the TV show You Gotta Eat Here in February 2014. Pauline’s perogies are outstanding, served with red cabbage and piled high with fried onions. Even this Ukrainian-raised perogy expert gives them the two-thumbs-up. The Wicks are famous for breakfast — including the Morning After Poutine (home fries, bacon, sausage, peameal, onions, tomatoes, cheese curds topped with over easy eggs). This huge meal is enough for two people! Or, you may prefer Red Velvet pancakes, or Ella Bella waffles served with Robinson’s Maple Syrup, or peanut butter French toast. Fully licenced, West Street Willy’s stays open until about 9pm, when the Wicks go home to their three kids.
At the end of West Street is the longstanding Park House Restaurant, one of Huron County’s oldest buildings, dating back to the 1830’s. Perched on top of a hill overlooking Goderich Harbour and adjacent to a park, this is a favourite place to view the water year-round while enjoying cold drinks, perch, pickerel and pub favourites. The ever-hospitable Herb Marshall greets everyone and runs an efficient restaurant and patio with live music.
Herb takes us down the street to his pet project: the restoration of the 1908 CP Station House (from the former Guelph-Goderich railway line) into a beach front “premium casual” restaurant. It’s been four years and two-million dollars in the making, with a projected full opening this fall. However, Herb is anxious and excited to open the patio by June for summer visitors. The Beach Street Station will seat 100 on the patio, 75 on a wrap-around deck, 35 inside at one end for coffee, breakfast and baked goods, and another 100 in a sunroom and stationmaster’s office for private dining. As well, a full basement will be used for meetings
and receptions. The spectacular 30-foot ceilings with crown mouldings, medallions and chandeliers compliment the heritage colours inside. The kitchen is constructed for a 60-foot grill. “Pretty well everything has been preserved,” says Herb proudly. He painstakingly moved the 400-tonne building 300 yards, to be closer to the water. “It looked a little lost back there,” says Herb with a chuckle, as he points to the back end of the lot. “Here, it is a happy building with full light all day long,” he says. All of Goderich is anticipating the unveiling. Further plans include a beach front hotel and conference centre.
There are some accommodations options in Goderich but for an authentic West Street experience go one block north to the Colborne Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Suzanne and John Anderson. A perfect combination of modern rooms with private baths is situated inside a Victorian era manor. The former manse of the Presbyterian church has three stories with four suites, a guest parlor and breakfast room, enclosed front porch and lovely English gardens. Suzanne serves a full breakfast including locally supplied produce from the Goderich market in season, Metzger’s bacon and yummy homemade baked goods. She has rightly earned an award of excellence from TripAdvisor and Bookings.com
There is so much more to explore in Goderich beyond West Street including the fabulous Thyme on 21 fine dining restaurant, Samuels Hotel in nearby Saltford and the Benmiller Inn about 20 minutes away. Just remember to make time for a stroll along the boardwalk before heading back in the car.
Jane Antoniak is a regular culinary travel writer for eatdrink. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations, King’s University College, London.
Bruce Fyfe contributes photographs on culinary travels. He is also Librarian, Weldon Library, Western University, London.