Want to pack some fun into your Christmas shopping? A short road trip to Bayfield may be just the answer. Only an hour’s drive from London along some picturesque side roads, and located on the shores of magnificent Lake Huron, the historic village offers interesting shopping alongside unique dining and accommodations. For the foodie, it’s a place to enjoy craft beers and local cuisine, and to pick up culinary gifts, all while supporting independent businesses.
The annual event Christmas in Bayfield kicks off on the weekend of November 8th and continues every weekend until New Year’s. Main Street merchants celebrate by lighting Christmas trees in Clan Gregor Square beginning on November 7th. Some businesses offer discounts, including no-tax specials and draws for baskets of goodies.
The joy of heading to Bayfield lies in the ease of the destination. With ample angle parking up and down the wide main street, it is a popular road trip for those who like ease upon arrival. Situated on Highway 21 between Grand Bend and Goderich, road trippers like to make Bayfield the central location for a weekend get-away, even in the off-season. It is one of the few lakeshore villages where most shops, restaurants and Inns remain open year-round.
Upon arrival visitors will notice the newly opened, modern LCBO store adjacent to the new Foodland grocery store on Highway 21 just south of the main entrance to the village. If you are staying in the area, these are great new additions.
There are several outstanding options for overnight accommodations. The Red Pump Inn — known widely for its restaurant, operated by Bayfield legend Harry Israel — has seven luxury suites. Each is individually decorated with a European flair and features unique artwork. All have private balconies or patios.
Across the street from “The Pump” — as locals call it — is The Little Inn, now under the new ownership of Joanne and Mike Oliver. The historic Inn was opened in 1830 and claims to be the longest continuously operating Inn in Ontario. There are rooms and suites in the main building, which also houses a lovely sitting room, bar and restaurant. Or, guests can stay across the road in the Guest Cottage. Some rooms offer fireplaces and soaker tubs. There are also B & B’s in Bayfield and private cottage rentals. As well there are some local area hotels with unique offerings. The Hessenland Country Inn in St. Joseph’s on highway 21 offers guest rooms along with delicious German and European cuisine. About 25 minutes’ drive away is Samuels Hotel in Saltford, which offers modern guest rooms, some of which have a view of the Maitland River.
Dining options in Bayfield are diverse, especially considering the small size of the village. Pub-lovers flock to the Albion Hotel, another historic building, for wings, fish and chips and sports screens. Next door is the revered Black Dog Bistro operated by cookbook author Kathleen Sloan-McIntosh and her husband Ted McIntosh, in yet another nineteenth-century building. It’s a special place to kick back and enjoy a relaxed atmosphere while sampling from a choice of 21 draft beers or sipping one of 150 whiskey offerings. This time of year, an Irish Whisky speciality coffee whipped up by bar manager Peter Meades is just the remedy after a day on the road. “There are eight speciality coffees in all and we sell a lot of them during Christmas in Bayfield,” says Meades. Having tried one, it’s easy to understand why. The bistro makes some great burgers, including one that comes with buttery deep-fried onion rings.
Next to the Bistro is the Black Dog Pantry where Kathleen and her daughter Alysa King produce take-away pot pies, assorted cookie boxes and fruit and nut Christmas cakes. “People also place special orders for mincemeat tarts and we try out best to meet the demand,” says King. The baking and cooking is done in an open kitchen inside the pantry shop, adjacent to an impressive cheese display cooler. All you need for a home party awaits you here.
For shopping, the street offers a wide variety of merchants and merchandise from books to original art. Hive is a funky newer addition. Owner Jenn Wallace proudly offers “an eclectic mix that is vintage-inspired, bohemian,” including home accessories, clothing and jewelry. Her slate cheese boards from The Slate Company in Scotland are a perfect gift — you can write on them with chalk! Hive also has a nice collection of tea mug and strainers plus serving trays and dishware.
Across the street is Charles St. Market, operated by Jenn’s brother Graham Wallace. Here you can buy cheese and crackers for that new cheese board along with a full line of Sugar & Spice chocolates made in nearby Exeter. The asparagus tortilla chips will make your Christmas party a bit different. The Market also sells Olive-Me & Co oils and balsamic vinegars, from London.
“We see a lot of people return to their cottages in the weeks leading up to Christmas, “ says Wallace. “It’s a good weekend get-away to relax before Christmas gets too busy.”
A warm cup of coffee awaits at Shop Bike Coffee Roasters where owner Leanne Kavanagh also sells unique “retro” candies from Britain and the US. She roasts her own beans and sells cups of coffee and beans. Her coffee would be great with the delicious offerings of The Pink Flamingo bakery, across the road from The Little Inn. Owner and author Erin Bolger makes fantastic cupcakes and much more. She gained fame on Dragon’s Den with her hilarious book The Happy Baker: A Daters Guide to Emotional Baking. Now she lives in Bayfield and delights customers with her humour and goodies.
Bayfield can be the perfect location for a short road trip that combines culinary and shopping in great accommodations. Full details and a schedule of events can be found at www.villageofbayfield.com
Jane Antoniak is a regular road warrior contributor to eatdrink. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College, London.
Bruce Fyfe is a photographer for eatdrink magazine and Librarian at Weldon Library, Western University, London.