Peterborough & the Kawarthas in 48 Hours
Spend 48 hours indulging in an authentic taste of arts, culture, and local cuisine in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.
This itinerary was written by Jim Byers, and inspired by his article: Suprising, Artsy and Oh, So Delicious: A Look at the Rice Lake Area near Peterborough
This blog was originally published 2020. Updated in 2021.
Deanna Bell-Hall and Colin Hall run this fabulous coffee shop/restaurant in the adorable town of Millbrook. You’ll find beautiful, wood floors, soaring ceilings, bicycles hanging from the walls, local art on display, and the delicious, beckoning smell of baked goodies and strong coffee. Everyone seemed to know each other when I went, which made me feel like I’d wandered into an Ontario coffee shop version of “Cheers.” Look for lemon cookies, servings of bread pudding the size of a softball and a special “Flaky Friday” pastry. The town is equally delightful.
Cavan Art Gallery and Academy
Just a few feet from Galerie Q is this gallery, run by Valerie Kent, an affable artist who does truly spectacular work in bright, primary colours. Her street scene paintings from around the world are strong and evocative, and she does amazing work by pouring cans of paint over tables. She also does more traditional water colour paintings and teaches workshops.
Lunch at Rolling Grape Vineyard
Rolling Grape is a new winery in Bailieboro, run by a terrific couple; Jon Drew and Katie Dickson. Not only do they make some very good wines, including Chardonnay and a fruity Pinot Grigio. In addition to the wine, Drew and Dickson dish out terrific food, including charcuterie trays loaded with great meats and cheeses and amazing pizza made in their wood-fired oven. The charcuterie pizza, with house-made onion jam, prosciutto, calabrese salami, mozzarella and parmesan, is to die for.
ZimArt’s Rice Lake Gallery
This place near Bailieboro is, to me, one of the wonders of Canada. You drive in on a dirt road past farmer’s fields and suddenly you’re confronted with a deep green garden filled with wondrous pieces of art. Fran Fearnley brings art over from Zimbabwe on a regular basis and displays the works in her garden. She also brings over a Zimbabwean artist every year to lead workshops and talk about their art. You’ll find carvings of mothers with babies, entwined lovers, and other evocative pieces of art scattered amongst a wonderful garden with bright flowers and shrubs and towering trees. Talk about your hidden gems…
Doo Doo’s and a Coffee
You can get into serious trouble in Peterborough & the Kawarthas when you start talking about who’s got the best butter tarts. After all, this is a place with an entire TOUR dedicated to the gooey, sticky, sweet, and oh-so-Canadian dessert. I can’t say theirs are the best, but I’ve never had better. Their trophy case is stuffed with awards to show just how good everyone else thinks they are. Try one with bacon and a good cup of coffee for a mid-afternoon treat.
Dinner at Elmhirst’s Resort
Elmhirst’s Resort not only has wonderful cabins where you can practice social distancing, but they make terrific meals, too. The hotel is a member of the FeastON program, a certification program that recognizes businesses committed to sourcing Ontario grown and made food and drink. They also raise their own beef, ducks, and turkeys on the family farm next door. They source local cheese and, of course, use Kawartha Dairy for their ice cream and other dairy needs.
Breakfast at the Speak Easy
The Speak Easy Café in downtown Peterborough is renowned for its breakfast menu, with everything from Greek omelettes (feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, and more) to amazing Eggs Benedict and, of course, Canada’s most famous contribution to breakfast, peameal.
Perfect Pottery at the English Potter
The English Potter in Lakefield (about 20 minutes from Peterborough) is a marvellous shop just a few metres from the village’s main street. Owner Gail West makes lovely pottery of all kinds, but including some beige-coloured bits with small streaks of black, which turn out to be horsehair that she adds during the process of making her pottery, which she has sold to high-end restaurants in Toronto and to celebrity chef Lynn Crawford. It’s a smart, attractive shop, and West is a lovely, engaging shop owner with a “come in and make yourself at home” kind of smile you often find in this part of Ontario.
Lakefield Lunch at the Canoe & Paddle
The Canoe and Paddle is a warm, comfortable British pub a few steps from the Trent-Severn Waterway. Start with their Nutty Goat Salad (in small or large), which features mixed greens, red pepper, candied salmon, goat cheese, toasted almonds and maple balsamic dressing. It sounds like a lot going on, but it all works beautifully. The pulled pork sandwich is moist and tasty and quite filling, as is the fried chicken. They also have a wide array of local, craft beers. You can nip next door for a lick of Kawartha Dairy ice cream at Stuff’d Ice Cream, Bakery and Café. Or stay at Canoe and Paddle for their marvellous, sticky toffee dessert.
Indigenous Culture and Shopping at Whetung Ojibwa Gallery
Curve Lake, Ontario
The Whetung Ojibwa Centre is a massive and engaging retail store, art gallery on the Curve Lake First Nation outside Peterborough. You’ll find colourful artwork of all kinds, dozens of styles of moccasins and sparkling jewelry, not to mention walrus skulls and marvellous, old black and white photos in the small museum in the basement. They also have a great collection of locally made jams and jellies. If you can’t find something here to take home, you’re an incurable non-shopper.
The Canadian Canoe Museum
This is a tremendous museum that pays homage to one of the most important vessels in the history of Canada. It’s also home to the largest collection of canoes, kayaks and paddled watercraft in the world. Visitors can find displays that tell incredible feats of fortitude and bravery from Canadian outdoors types and check out dozens of styles of canoes. You can gaze at the Little Canary Yellow Boat that Gordon Lightfoot once sang about, as well as admire former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s old buckskin jacket.
Native Canadian craft also are on display, and you can learn a great deal about the lives of aboriginal Canadians with a visit to the museum. You’ll find canoes from across Canada, including Quebec and British Columbia, as well as craft used in Fiji, Florida and Polynesia.
Dine on the Patio at Publican House
Publican House is a fine brewery, restaurant and bar in downtown Peterborough, which is increasingly lively and engaging these days. They make a wide range of beers, including lagers, flavourful ales and IPA”s that don’t make you feel as if you’ve bitten into a pine tree. Being close to the Canoe Museum, they’ve named one of their beers Paddlers Ale. They donate a portion of the proceeds from every can to the museum to help keep it going. I had a tremendous black bean and sweet potato curry when I visited, and a very good wood-oven pizza with ham, smoked pineapple, red onions and just the right number of hot, green peppers. They had a duo playing lovely live music when I visited.