There’s no rule that says you have to travel hundreds of kilometres to enjoy a day vacation. The Town of Pelham in the Niagara Region offers many rewards.
Pelham with a population of about 16,500 was created in 1970 when five historic communities, Fonthill, Effingham, Ridgeville, North Pelham and Fenwick were unified into one community. Residents of each of these communities still proudly say they live in each respective community.
Fonthill was founded in the 1840's by a settler from England who said that it looked like Fonthill Abbey in England. This is the heart of the town. Here you find the municipal buildings, and the only plaza with a number of businesses. A major food market and fast food restaurants are next door to the plaza. The village is also the location of The Fonthill Bandshell at Peace Park. One of our favourite things to do on Thursday evenings is to visit the bandshell and enjoy free concerts. Each concert is sponsored by a local business or organization but there is a loose change collection. Concerts begin at 7 p.m. and end at 9p.m.The Pelham Farmer's Market also takes place before and during the concerts. Get here very early because parking is at a premium.
In Effingham, you'll find exceptional scenery as the seven kilometre Twelve Mile Creek slices its way through Effingham's Short Hills Provincial Park. If it's a clear day, pull off Effingham Road at the top of the valley and enjoy a spectacular view of both Lake Erie and Ontario. This is the highest elevation in the Niagara Region. Along this route you'll find a few fruit and vegetable stands. Check out the old red outdoor British telephone booth nestled in trees beside the road as you descend into the valley.
While you're in the area visit the St. John's Conservation Area. When we walked this area we experienced silence and a sense of calm. This nature area also provides a hot spot for seasonal trout fishing, bird watching and nature education.
Ridgeville is not to be confused with Ridgeway, a part of Fort Erie. The hamlet in Pelham was named in the 1800's because it sits on the ridge of the Short Hills. Over the past few years there have appeared a few interesting shops selling everything from fresh baked goods to one of kind items. Pelham is known for its orchards of cherry, apple and peach trees and lots of green space.
North Pelham is home to the Comfort Maple believed to be about 530 years old, making it the oldest Sugar Maple in Canada. The tree towers about 24 metres (80 feet) at the crown with a trunk circumference of 6 metres (20 feet).Over the years, the tree has been repaired with bricks, concrete and guy wires. The tree had been in the hands of the Comfort Family from 1816 until 1961 when the family entrusted it to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. It's hard to see from the roadway, so look for the small Niagara Peninsula Authority's sign at the side of 1732 Metler Road, Fenwick. The tree is at the end of a long driveway.
Fenwick is a blink and you'll miss it village. We happened to be travelling through Fenwick on a Wednesday afternoon and stumbled upon their weekly Farmer's Market which was set up in the parking lot of a church. It's a very small market but there was a variety of vendors featuring organic garden produce, fruit and freshly baked goods. It had the feel of a church social. The market is scheduled every Wednesday afternoon between 4:30 and 8:00 p.m. until the last Wednesday before Canadian Thanksgiving, October 12th.
There is a small, newly renovated downtown with a dozen or so businesses. It was near supper time, and we popped into the Broken Gavel Restaurant at 785 Canboro Road. They’re open during the week at 11 a.m. and on weekends at 10 a.m. We settled for a great burger and fish and chips on the patio. For dessert we finished with a slice of pie freshly baked by the nearby Fenwick Pie Shop.
On our way back home we stopped at Ryan's Auto Body Shop (Corner of Hwy 20 and Balfour Street) to check on a potential car problem and were pleasantly surprised to meet the owner Jim Ryan who was leaving for the day. I mentioned I was writing a travel piece on the area and his face lit up as he told me about his mini-museum found inside his store. This is a place you have to visit. The shop was filled with antique motorbikes, motor cars, western memorabilia like Roy Rodgers' toy guns, and old saddles. Antique Roadshow would love this place. Jim says everyone is welcome to drop in and take a look. There's no charge. The shop is open daily, except Sunday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Look for the antique cars found in his front yard off Highway 20.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.