A Down-to-Earth Experience in South Eastern Ontario
Stretching along the St. Lawrence River from the Quebec border all the way to the eastern edge of Lake Ontario is the region known as South Eastern Ontario. It encompasses Kingston, the country’s first capital city, and is famous for the features that can be found along its pretty waterways: the Thousand Islands, the sand dunes in Prince Edward County and the historic UNESCO Rideau Canal that connects Kingston to Ottawa. Diving deeper into the region, you will find strong agricultural communities, with farmers and chefs that have embraced the farm-to-table movement.
It was this deep connection to farm life that first attracted Eleanor McGrath and her husband Finbarr McCarthy to a 118-acre property located in a tiny hamlet of Apple Hill, Ontario. The couple was looking to grow a sustainable farm while creating a unique experience for those wanting to connect to the earth through food and farming. They found their dream property just outside of Cornwall, where the farming lifestyle is vibrant and robust. The crown jewel on their property is a 200-year-old barn, complete with hand-hewn beams and a tin roof. When the sun hits it just right, the light coming through the aged beams creates magic inside.
“The barn was built by this community over 200 years ago,” Eleanor says. “The tin was manufactured in the city of Cornwall. It is a privilege for our family to own and restore it.”
Growing an Agri-tourism Business
Since taking possession of the property in early 2014, the couple has not only restored the barn with the help of local tradespeople but also created a thoughtful and sustainable agri-tourism business. They’ve built a new barn for their onsite market. The barn also houses a farmhouse table that invites you to sit down and enjoy the fruits of the farm. They’ve grown vegetables and oats in abundance. And to top it all off, they’ve erected a cozy off-grid yurt that allows visitors to stay the night and really get a feel for life on the farm.
“We often find our guests remarking that they were in need of a ‘reset,’” Eleanor says. “A place to relax, hike and enjoy the sounds of bird and nature they find at Springfield Farm.”
Having lived in the city most of her life, Eleanor fell in love with the pace of life on the farm. She found solace in the peaceful sounds of farm life and the joys of long walks and star-filled night skies spent around the fire.
“There’s something special about getting up with the sun, letting the dogs out and then making a fresh pot of coffee while you try to map out what to do first,” she says. “From jumping on the tractor, weeding or a wood project — the work in the farm is neverending but it’s always a creative challenge.”
Visitors to Springfield Farm can spend the night in a cozy yurt, eat a farm-fresh meal at the onsite Gunpowder Market Cafe or get their hands dirty by joining in the activities of a traditional organic working farm.
Built around a vision of sustainability and community, Springfield Farms is indeed a balm for the harried soul.
New Experiences Each Season
“We are fortunate to have repeat guests and many who add a stay over at the yurt to start their holidays,” Eleanor says. “Each guest has been attracted to different regional highlights such as fishing on the St. Lawrence or renting paddle boards and enjoying the sunshine along the waterfront. Some seem to want to stay at the yurt to catch up on their reading and some bring along a guitar and sing campfire songs — it really is the perfect site to unwind.”
And with each season, the farm offers visitors new and exciting experiences.
“From fall walks to winter cross-country skiing through our fields and forest trails, each season brings new offerings. In early March is the joy of maple syrup making and in the summer, time spent in a slower-paced part of the world.”
An Ontario Connection
Eleanor and Finbarr continue to run a Toronto household while living their country dreams in rural Southeastern Ontario. They were drawn to the Cornwall area in part because it is serviced by the VIA Rail network, a company that they proudly support. “We are huge fans of VIA,” Eleanor says, adding that both of them are now Premier Level Reward Members. Travelling between their two homes has been made easy by the train service — and they use it often.
While exploring the region, discover some of Eleanor McGrath’s local recommendations:
And if you are planning to visit Apple Hill and the surrounding region, Eleanor recommends a stop at some of her favourite places.
Eat: Buvette du marche, Alexandria
See: Williamstown Fair, South Glengarry
Walk: Long Sault Waterfront Trail, South Stormont
Can’t Miss: Native North American Travelling College, Akwesasne