Bayfield is a small historic village on the shore of Lake Huron. It combines the old fashioned charm of a quaint country town with modern day amenities. MacLean’s Magazine described Bayfield as “Paradise Found”. Harrowsmith Country Life magazine voted Bayfield one of the 10 prettiest towns in Canada.
For decades, Bayfield has been a favourite destination for both travellers and holidayers. The area’s beautiful scenery attracts visitors arriving by land and water. With fine sandy beaches, excellent shopping, dining and accommodations, there is much to enjoy. With four seasons of outdoor sports there is lots to do as well.
Having briefly visited a couple of years before, we decided to revisit Bayfield for a longer stay. And try a new experience at the same time – staying in our first bed and breakfast. We planned our trip around the Labour Day weekend, arriving early Sunday afternoon. First stop, Pioneer Park overlooking the beaches of Lake Huron. Neither the park nor the beaches were busy.
Plush Golden Sandy Beach
From Pioneer Park we descend the five flights of wooden stairs to the empty beach below. The sand is golden, plush and very clean. A couple hundred feet offshore, there appears to be a large rock jutting out of the water. On closer look, it’s actually the bow of an old sunken ship. I imagine this must be a popular destination for scuba divers. This IS a lovely beach.
Off in the distance, a few families are enjoying the warm waves lapping over the edge of the beach. Small kids run in and out of the water. A few people are sunbathing. There are miles of beach shoreline and it amazes me that there are so few people here. Though the water is a huge attraction in Bayfield, it seems few come here to actually swim in the water. In fact, we forgot to pack our own bathing suits. Carole, my wife, takes off her shoes and strolls along the water’s edge as we make our way to the Bayfield marina.
Best Kept Secret
Here, at the marina, we get an inkling of why Bayfield is so popular. Located on the north side of Bayfield, Habour Lights Marina, is Lake Huron’s best kept secret. Offering beautiful sunsets, sandy beaches and private and grassy docking areas. There are actually two marinas here. The private Habour Lights Marina is on the north side of Bayfield River. The larger, public Bayfield Marina is on the south side. Bayfield Marina is the largest pleasure craft harbour on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. It is main access point for the many Americans that visit each year.
The harbour is busy. Boats of every size and description continually come and go. Sea-doos race around the beach. Sailors socialize with each other, particularly in the more private sections of Habour Lights. At the end of the dock, the older locals relax with a fishing rod while some kids dive into the water on the beach side.
At the end of the dock we stop awhile and watch the activity. Looks like everyone is having great fun. Makes me kind of wish I didn’t care about how old I was so I could join them. We wander down to the docks to check out the luxury yachts as if we could actually afford one ourselves.
Once back in the Jeep, we head for the centre of the village, Clan Gregor Square and Main Street. Bayfield is one of the few Ontario towns actually built according to a formal plan. A rare distinction. Guelph and Goderich are the only two other such towns. Clan Gregor Square, now a beautiful shaded park, is the centre of the village. From here, streets radiate like the spokes of a wheel.
Under a Canopy of Mature Shade Trees
Heritage Main Street is one of these spokes. The street is broad boulevard connecting the square with the harbour. Historic buildings, like The Albion Hotel and The Little Inn, are restored to their Victorian elegance. Under a canopy of mature shade trees, visitors can stroll the boulevard and shop the many trendy stores. Others dine in fine restaurants or sip a drink on the patio of a historic pub. Not surprisingly, Main Street is always busy.
Bayfield’s history began in the 1830s. Baron de Tuyll, on the advice of a young Royal Navy lieutenant named Henry Wolsey Bayfield, purchased 3,000 acres along the Huron Tract. The area seemed like a natural centre for future commerce. But the harbour wasn’t a commercial success and the railway never came. First incorporated as a village in 1876, Bayfield lost its village status in 1927. It reverted to a police village of Stanley Township. It was not until 1965 did it again regain its village status. Now, its a favourite holiday spot for people looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Not just visitors from southwestern Ontario or Michigan, but from all over the globe.
In the Village Archives building on Main Street, you will find a complete history of Bayfield.
Fine Restaurants ¦ Pricey Menus
Like most visitors to historic Main Street, we parked the Jeep and strolled up and down the boulevard. Planning our agenda as we went along, we darted in and out of shops and read the pricey menus posted out front of restaurants,.
The Albion Hotel and Tavern, built in the 1840s, is the first building at the top of Main Street. Next door is another history building. The Admiral Bayfield is now a tavern and restaurant. Today, the Admiral is hosting a corn-on-the-cob eating contest at 4:00 pm. Sounds like a fun event. In the evening, a young, but talented blues guitarist named Chris Chown is performing. We plan to come back for both events.
Further down the street, we pop into the Marten Arts Gallery of contemporary Canadian fine art. As the saying goes, “I may not know art”, but I know expensive. All the art pieces are beautiful, though outside my price range. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for many of the patrons though. Of all the shops, Marten Arts Gallery generates the most interest.
Bayfield General Store and The Little Inn anchor the other end of the street. Both are lovely historic buildings. Baron de Tuyll sold the General Store on July 14th, 1853 to Donald Fraser. He completed renovations in 1855. Donald Fraser was Bayfield’s first postmaster. The original facade of this Georgian brick structure still remains. Over the years, the build served many functions. It has been an apothecary, doctor’s office, ice cream parlour, grocery store and post office. This historic info is posted on a plaque attached to an outside wall.
The Little Inn has been in continuous operation since built in 1862. The name has changed a few times. It has been “The Commercial”, and “The Lakeview” before becoming “The Little Inn”. Added in 1903, decorative verandah was torn down in 1950, but since restored to its original glory.
Renown Red Pump Restaurant
For over last twenty-five years, The Red Pump Restaurant has been serving fine cuisine. UPDATE: The Red Pump Inn & Restaurant is now The Lake House. This restaurant on Main Street was first a family home and flour and feed store owned by John Whiddon in 1881. By 1902 evolved into a grocery store and from 1922-1943 it was a barber and beauty shop. Now, the Red Pump Restaurant offers gourmet dining and many fine wines. One can feast in an antique filled dining room or on the patio under the stars. The business has expanded to also include exquisite gifts, and three bed and breakfast suites. Of course, everything here is expensive here. The Red Pump B&B Suites start at $325.00 a night. If you’re looking for convenience, The Red Pump is your place. If you are looking for something a little less expensive, fine accommodations are available minutes away in Varna. More on that later.
In Archie’s clothing shop I did the tourist thing and purchased a Bayfield tee shirt. There’s actually a good selection of sweats and tees not found elsewhere. And down the street, Carole purchased a pair of earrings at one of the Boardwalk stores. A couple of little mementos to remember our adventure.
We finished off our tour of the boulevard by grabbing an ice cream at one of the parlours along the street. We ate while visiting a lawn ornament store called Shared Time. We finished our stroll at a chocolate shop called Sugar and Spice. There are so many shopping choices in Bayfield that everyone is sure to find a unique treasure of their own.
Haven of Peace and Tranquility Found
In the afternoon, we checked out of the bed & breakfast inn where we stayed. We had never stayed in a bed & breakfast, so for this adventure we decided to give it a try. Magnolia Manor is a historic Georgian manor built in 1870 on a 100-acre farm. It’s a few minutes drive east of Bayfield in Varna. Remodelled in 1923, the estate went on to become a focal point for the war effort and church fundraisers. Until the 1960s, guests enjoyed various garden parties, socials and open-air concerts here.
Magnolia Manor is a haven of peace and tranquility. Nestled in a 3-acre southern plantation style setting, it opened as a bed and breakfast in 1992. Guests can swim in the outdoor secluded pool, or relax under a shady weeping willow. They may even discover a secret garden. Of course, there is always the magnificent Magnolia tree.
Our room is the “Rose Garden”. It is furnished with antiques and white wicker. The room features a queen size bed and a 3-piece ensuite bath and shower. There are three other guest rooms in the manor. Guests can enjoy a complimentary beverage in the bright sunroom at the front. Or relax in a great ‘sitting’ room with a 12-foot ceiling, original chandeliers and a massive fieldstone fireplace.
Charming and Helpful Host
As expected, our host, Carol, is both charming and helpful. She met us at the door when we arrived and gave us a brief history of the manor. She showed us around the house and led us to our charming room. My wife, Carole, immediately loved the manor, our room and the landscape. Knowing her love of gardens, there was a bit of planning on my part to ensure our first visit to a B&B was an enjoyable one.
We retired to our room to rest for about an hour before heading back to Bayfield for dinner. Our host, Carol, told us about the Harbour Fest celebration going on at the Marina. We decide to check it out on the way back to town. Arriving at the marina, we see the crowd gathered on the small island in the middle of the marina. Jerry Renolds is performing classic rock and country tunes. The music is okay, but not great. I’m guessing the band consists of local musicians, and I guess they are also all patrons of the marina. Everyone seems to know each other and all appear to be having a good time. We stick around for a half hour or so and them head back to Main Street for dinner.
Earlier, we planned on dinner at the Albion Hotel. We should have made reservations, but manage to get in without one. There are some great specials on the menu. I settle on a tomato basil soup, chicken and ribs (not too original). Carole has shrimp pasta with wine. The food is very good and affordable. The Albion is a restored 1840s hotel, which maintains much of its original charm. All the furnishings are antique and don’t match, but that’s part of the charm.
Cold Beer and Hot Blues
Following dinner we go next door for cold beer. Chris Chown is the entertainment for the night and we stick around for the first set. We first saw Chris Chown about 6 years ago when he was about 18 years old. At that time he was a hot, upcoming blues guitarist in the vain of Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s good to see he has moved away from trying to be another Stevie Ray Vaughan. But, in the process, he seems to have gotten a little complacent in his playing. Still a great player, though he doesn’t seem to be on fire as he once was. Still, we had an enjoyable time. Blues is a style that lends itself to being crude.
In the morning, Carol, our host, served an incredible breakfast. We started with a delicious blueberry parfait with peaches. The main course consists of English muffins with poached eggs covered in a sweet mushroom sauce. Topped off with juice, and coffee or tea. A great gourmet breakfast. From the comments in the guestbook, every morning is a different delight. After breakfast, we head back to Bayfield for a final quick tour around town before heading home.
Looking for a romantic getaway and something a little different. Then I highly recommend Bayfield, and a stay at the magnificent Magnolia Manor.