toronto finds its hampton’s

In with the inn crowd

By Maureen Littlejohn

Edward and Amy Shubert know what it takes to be good innkeepers. In the seven years that they’ve owned Merrill Inn, the couple have made their 13-guestroom historic country property in Picton, one of Prince Edward County’s prime destinations, and have won accolades in Toronto Life magazine. It’s solid innkeeping experience that the Shuberts are willing to share with those who want to follow in their footsteps.

“A lot of people don’t have any exposure to the industry,” says Edward, “so we put together a program to show how it all works.” The couple are well versed in the hospitality business, having held executive positions at some of Toronto’s top hotels including The Sutton Place and Park Plaza. Their Aspiring Innkeepers Adventure package costs $350 per person and includes two nights’ accommodation, meals, a two-hour session with the innkeepers and a behind-the-scenes tour.
Is this a good time to think about owning a B&B or inn? “It’s an up-and-down business, and location is very important,” notes Kathy Nichol, executive director of Ontario’s Finest Inns & Spas. “For one-tank trips from urban centres, the market is growing.”  

The secret of Prince Edward County is not so secret anymore

September 04, 2008

It started almost by accident. In 1983, Rita Kaimins and her partner, Ed Neuser, purchased a picturesque strip of waterfront property in sleepy Prince Edward County, two hours east of Toronto, thinking that it would eventually be their retirement property. In 1992 they planted a smattering of grapes, “something like a third of an acre,” remembers Rita, noting that “we were just having fun with it.” Their intention was simple: to give those grapes to a friend to turn into wine. Then on June 15, 2001, after the better part of a decade of viticultural experimentation, Rita and Ed opened Waupoos Estates, Prince Edward County’s first winery.

Looking back on that day now, seven years later, it must seem to the people of Prince Edward County like the moment a starter’s pistol went off. Today, the region boasts 14 wineries, four restaurants that are mentioned regularly in swank Toronto magazines, and the tony status of officially becoming one of the hottest retirement destinations in Ontario.
“Prior to the influx of merchants and wineries, Price Edward County real estate was rising [more slowly] than the rest of the Quinte region, “says Doug Row, president of the Quinte & District Real Estate Board. “Now that trend has been reversed.”
Visit Prince Edward County and it’s hard not to see why. Almost completely surrounded by Lake Ontario, “The County,” as it’s known to locals, offers 800 kilometres of shoreline, excellent beaches, fertile limestone-rich soil, a climate moderated by the lake, and a town—Picton—that contains some of the best examples of Loyalist architecture in Canada.
The County’s Taste Trail, as that string of restaurants and wineries running along Highway 33 has come to be known, can be driven in an afternoon or cycled in a day on rented bicycles. Throw in lighthouses, sheep, birdwatching, B&Bs, conservation areas, a thriving artists’ community, agricultural fairs (such as the County Pumpkinfest taking place this year on Oct. 18) and the quite-recent and long-overdue opportunity to procure a decent latte, and the County becomes almost irresistible.
After Waupoos appeared in 2001, the winds of change blowing through the region picked up considerably. Along with the slew of wineries, noted Toronto chefs such as Michael Sullivan and Michael Peters took up permanent residence in Picton, lured by the pastoral charms and the easy, daily access to top-quality local produce. “I cook only with stuff I picked that morning,” says Sullivan.
The County’s already fast-developing reputation as a foodie mecca was cemented in 2005 by a revelatory article in Toronto Life by culinary and wine writer James Chatto, after which the area became bona fide.

Torontonians tired of the overcrowding in Muskoka and Haliburton (not to mention the torturous weekend commute) finally had another option. Prince Edward County was a place where they could escape for the weekend or for forever, a place with the big-city amenities like great food and great wine but still swimming in small-town charm.
It seemed like in Prince Edward County, Toronto had found its Hamptons—more so than even with cottage country. Real-estate prices were quick to corroborate this: after years and years of sluggish growth, County housing prices have soared a steady 8 per cent a year since 2001—comparable to Toronto itself.
Even more telling are the prices of high-end homes. Seven years ago, no house had sold for more than $1 million; this year, the area record was shattered when a home sold for $2.7 million. Meanwhile, the County’s average residential housing price has doubled between 2001 and 2007, from $125,000 to approximately $250,000. (This figure may skew deceptively high, as it includes highly coveted waterfront property, which, not surprisingly, has skyrocketed in price compared to non-waterfront.)
Mary Jane Mills, a Remax Upper Canada broker in the County area, estimates that the portion of people buying properties in the County specifically for retirement is about 65 per cent. Notes Mills: “If anything, the change is that more people are buying property in advance of retirement now and letting the kids use it in the meantime.”

As with every charming small town that gets sniffed out by the big city, there is a balancing act between preserving the old and embracing the new. Edward Schubert and his wife, Amy, bought the Merrill Inn in downtown Picton in 2002. It has since become one of the premier destinations for weekenders from Toronto and Ottawa. He remains adamant about preserving the County's charm and values.
 Any talk of tension between old and new in Prince Edward County is quickly dismissed by both sides. If anything, the new arrivals are more proactive than the old guard. Consider that a recent proposal to build wind farms was vigorously opposed (and defeated) by the newcomers, but tacitly supported by the farmers, who could have used the rent money.
 It’s hard to say what the region will look like in 10 years, but in the meantime, 15-year resident Jill Parker has this wise advice for people thinking of moving in: “Look around, recognize why you came, and if you came because you found it beautiful and restful, try to keep it that way.”  

Made on a Mac
Made on a Mac