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Falling for Downtown Dunnville

By Tara Shannon

It’s Saturday morning and the signs that fall has arrived are everywhere. From the crisp cool air, the changing colour of the leaves, to the advertisements for fall fairs and pumpkin spice everything – it’s my favourite time of the year. And today, coffee in hand (which may or may not be pumpkin spiced) we set off for Dunnville and the surrounding area.

What’s on tap for our day? Well to start, a visit to the farmers market and then, The Queens Merritt Room on Main Street for a light lunch. Later we’ll head over to Debb’s Cuisine on Queen for dinner and in the morning, The Minga for breakfast ahead of our drive home.

The Dunnville Farmer’s Market has been an institution here since 1860. These days you can visit the market Saturdays or Tuesdays from 7am to 12pm. We made it with an hour to spare and I’m immediately transported to fall harvest heaven! There are pumpkins, cider, pies, tarts, preserves, fresh fall veggies, canned goods, wine, candles, and crafts. Everything to celebrate fall and Thanksgiving is here and it’s wonderful to get to chat with the makers and farmers. We visit with the owners of Bains Road Cider Company, Purple Haven Lavendar Farm, Richardson’s Farm Market, and Morningstar’s Bannock Arts & Crafts. This Thanksgiving, there’s just so much to be thankful for and we’re going to celebrate, so we load up on all the goodness and goodies we find. It’s a good thing we were able to check in to our B&B early because we need to head back and unload our finds before going out again, this time for lunch.

The Queens Merritt Room, like our accommodation, is a historic location. Built in 1837, it belonged to William Hamilton Merritt for 9 years, operating as a hotel. William Hamilton Merritt was the lead builder of the Welland Canal, which revolutionized the shipping industry allowing for continuous travel through the Great Lakes. Prior to the Welland Canal, Cargo ships had to unload and reload as they made their way around Niagara Falls. The Welland Canal was completed in 1829 after 5 years of work, during which, William Merritt fell in love with Haldimand County and decided to stay. He even represented the area politically for several years from 1832 to 1841. Looking around the Queens Merritt one can appreciate its history with its tin ceilings, brick walls, and wooden bar. It has a warm and cozy atmosphere, topped off by a lovely large fireplace.

Warmed up and full, it’s time to explore the town. We need to work up another appetite before dinner. It won’t be difficult, there’s still lots to see and do, like visiting LVW Creative Barracks. I’ve been wanting to visit for a while as I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it. It’s the brainchild of Lacie Williamson, a self-taught professional artist and art educator. Lacie’s art studio, just steps away from the Grand River, has a lot to offer. Here, local makers both young and old are invited to create, play and share. There’s gallery space, store space, and an area for workshops, classes, and special events. I hate to say it but I’m starting to keep an eye out for unique gifts to give at the holidays and well, jackpot.

The quaint shops in downtown Dunnville are brimming with ideas and locally made items to decorate your home for the fall or to stash away for gift-giving fun yet to come. There’s Sweet Retro-Spect, with their delicious specialty popcorn, collectibles and retro candies and chocolates from Britain and America; Dee Ann’s Ladies Wear with their amazing seasonal home décor and gift ideas; Only Place on Earth, selling unique rocks and crystals; and The Minga… but I’ll dive more into The Minga tomorrow when we stop in for breakfast.

Several shopping bags in hand we stroll along the river back to recap our day and get ready for dinner.

I love Debb’s Cuisine on Queen. We don’t get here that often but when we do, it’s a real treat. It’s a cozy but upscale dining experience full of history and charm and the food! Not only does it look gorgeous and fresh, it tastes that way too. I always go for the Classic French Onion Soup and the Stuffed Olives and my husband loves the Crispy Avocado Fries. For our main, it’s the Blues Burger for my husband, topped with blue cheese, bacon onion marmalade and garnished with fresh baby spinach and tomato; and for me, the Beef Short Ribs, braised for 24 hours and served with fried cheese and herb polenta and seasonal vegetables.

In the morning, after a wonderful sleep, we make our way to The Minga. The Minga offers a welcoming inclusive space for people of all ages. Here you’ll not only find the best Fairtrade organic coffee but also great handcrafted vegan foods and a variety of locally made goods. We order two dark roast coffees and two vegan breakfast wraps. They’re loaded with sautéed veggies on a bed of spinach and look and taste like they’re made with eggs!

Fully invigorated by a great mini-escape, coffee, and delicious food right here in Dunnville, we have just one more stop to make before we’re home again. Just over the bridge and away from the downtown is Byng Island Conservation Area. It’s a great spot for a morning walk along the Grand River. Here you can really see the trees changing colour. It’s the perfect way to end our adventure and welcome fall.

Haldimand County gratefully acknowledges the support of FedDev Ontario for tourism businesses in Ontario’s Southwest.