They say that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Kelly Kurtz of Midland, Ontario, has definitely taken that expression to heart, launching Midland Food Tours in 2021 as a way to showcase the place she calls home and help people fall in love with it. But her food tour isn’t just a great way to sample the gastronomic goodies that the town of Midland has to offer – it’s also one of the best ways to get to meet the people who live here, explore the town on a more intimate level, and discover some of the nearby local attractions of Southern Georgian Bay. In other words, it’s a great Ontario getaway.
But first, let’s start with that food!
Breakfast of Champions in Downtown Midland
In my household, baked goods are a perfectly acceptable way to start any day, so I was very happy that our first stop on our Midland Food Tour was at Georgian Bakery for a butter tart. While this may seem like a strange breakfast choice for many, here in Midland a good butter tart is table stakes for any bakery in a town that is known for its Butter Tart Festival and competition. Georgian Bakery owner Geoff White understands this, and his recipe is certainly worthy of entry into the annual competition, where past champions have been known to sell up to 30,000 butter tarts in one day at their Festival stall!
Butter tarts are only one of the sweet treats offered here, as there is a wide selection of cakes, cookies, and donuts, as well as savoury baked goods and of course breads. But one of the most unusual things you’ll find in Georgian Bakery is behind the counters in the bakery itself: a giant 1950s Hubbard oven that is still operational, with the capacity to bake 64,000 loaves of bread daily! (Geoff’s daily quota is more like 2,000 with his conventional ovens, but he loves keeping the huge Hubbard for its vintage appeal.)
Plus, should the electricity ever go out, the fact that the Hubbard is oil-powered means that Geoff can keep calm and bake on with more than enough loaves to feed everyone in town!
GOING LOCAL: Georgian Bakery uses grain that is sourced right from Midland’s waterfront mill, and some of Geoff’s signature breads are served exclusively at other local Midland restaurants.
Good Food That’s Good For You
If healthy foods are more your choice for breakfast, MegaMindful Living is the place for you. (Perhaps it was because we started with a butter tart that Kelly took us here next!) This cafe/shop offers all kinds of vegan items, from breakfast wraps to soups, sandwiches, salads and even burgers. The mother/daughter duo who runs the cafe are a nurse and athlete respectively, so you know the food is both good and good for you. Their selection of smoothies and hot and cold teas are colourful and creative and you can always add healthy boosters to up their nutritional benefits even further. As guests of Midland Food Tours, we got to sample some of these smoothies which were a delicious way to balance our decadent brekkie!
On this Ontario Getaway, Anytime is Gourmet Chocolate Time
And speaking of decadent…while it may seem unusual to have a Belgian chocolate shop in a small Ontario town like Midland, The Elegant Gourmet has been offering delectable chocolate confections here for 25 years, along with homemade fudge, ice cream and more. Owner and resident chocolatier, Glen, happily shares the story of how he was converted to fine chocolate with his first bite of a ‘proper’ truffle after which he began learning to make chocolates as a hobby. Years later, his mastery of the craft can be tasted in every bite, and his artisanal truffles are always made in small batches to ensure they are as fresh as the Belgian chocolate, cream and other ingredients that go into them.
FUN FACT: ‘Belgian’ often refers to a style of chocolate and relates to the cocoa content (35%), fine texture and manufacturing process that goes into the production of this chocolate, vs the place where it is made. However, 90% of chocolatiers in Belgium would likely disagree, as they adhere to the 2007 “Belgian Chocolate Code” that requires the chocolates actually be made in Belgium to be classified as such. Either way, our strawberry truffles in Midland were delicious!
Lunch With a Tea-Totalling Chef Who Makes Drunken Jams
Bill Proulx didn’t necessarily set out to become a Red Seal Chef crafting menus for a restaurant/fromagerie/store in Midland. He just wanted to make jams and jellies that were inspired by popular cocktails (kind of ironic for the tea-totaller Bill is today). But his recipes for Rhubarb Margarita jam, Rusty Nail marmalade, Blackberry Gin and Tonic jam and others turned out to be a big hit, so when an opportunity presented itself to take over a space where he could showcase his “drunken jams” and his culinary skills, Chef Bill Presents on Bay Street, Midland was born.
Now Chef Bill serves business lunches here from Tuesday to Friday, dinner specials that change weekly, and even made-to-order charcuterie boards with products that pair perfectly with his drunken jams. We stopped by for lunch on our Midland Food Tour so we could meet him and sample some of his recipes like his Adult Grilled Cheese with Kapuskasing Cheddar and a tasty Black Bean and Rice Bowl– accompanied, of course, with the appropriate drunken jam! (You don’t have to worry about ‘jamming and driving’, however: the alcohol is cooked off during the jam-making process, leaving only the cocktail flavour behind, not the kick!)
Shop for Hops at This Bottle Shop
Any Ontario getaway wouldn’t be complete without sampling Ontario’s craft beers. So whatever your preference might be, you’ll want to stop into Noble Hops, a retail shop that recently opened in Midland’s downtown. You’ll find beers here that suit every taste with products from all kinds of Ontario micro-breweries, many of which aren’t carried in provincial liquor stores. There are also hard seltzers, ciders and even some local meads you can buy.
Stephen Pomroy is the owner and exactly what you would picture when it comes to the proprietor of a hip bottle shop: rock-and-roll beard, tattoos and a passion for all things malt and hops. His previous life was spent working in the music industry – so if his Noble Hops logo reminds you of a cool band logo or album cover art, it’s no accident – Stephen is also the artist who created it.
Of course if wouldn’t be a food tour without food, and in the case of Noble Hops, it’s their artisanal Italian sandwiches that get visitors’ mouths watering, including their signature New Orleans Muffuletta, made exclusively for them by Georgian Bakery. These sandwiches eat like a meal, and of course, pair well with any or all of the above beers. Especially on their tiny-but-soon-to-be-expanding outdoor patio.
One of the best things about Midland Food Tours is that as a longtime resident and former teacher, Kelly gives you a bit of history not just on the entrepreneurs or food locations you’ll visit, but on the town of Midland itself. As we strolled from one downtown spot to the next, Kelly pointed out fun facts about art installations, architecture and information about the many murals decorating the streets.
TIP: There are 40 or so murals in downtown Midland, many of which reflect the history of the town. Some are inspired by historic photographs by JW Bald in the 19th century. A blow-up of one of those original photographs is inside the TD Bank, if you want to compare it to the mural.
Don’t Miss Midland’s Waterfront
You can’t visit a town on the shores of Georgian Bay without visiting its waterfront, and Midland has done a great job of keeping this working waterfront both productive and pretty for locals and visitors alike. The TransCanada trail follows the shoreline here, there is green space for all to enjoy, a popular waterfront patio (at the Boathouse Eatery) and even the grain silos serve as a canvas for the largest outdoor historical mural in North America.
FUN FACT: When artist Fred Lenz planned this mural depicting Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, he used toilet paper rolls when designing his artwork so the positioning of the image would work on the convex surfaces of the silos.
There are other art installations near the waterfront as well, including a swan sculpture built in 2000.
Nearby at the foot of King Street you’ll find a sculpture titled ‘Sown’ that is meant to represent the unnamed heroes and people who helped shape Midland and planted the seeds for its future growth (hence the name). The supporting pillars represent the industries that were part of the community as well: logging, shipping, the railway, agriculture and manufacturing.
Because it has a mirrored panel on its underside, installing Sown required precise positioning so it wouldn’t reflect car headlights and blind drivers. Today, that mirror is the perfect spot to take a selfie and be a part of the community, too.
What’s an Ontario Getaway Without Shopping?
Midland’s main street, King Street, has just undergone a multi-million dollar facelift and is ideal for strolling with its wide sidewalks and intersections. And unlike many other small towns who have lost traffic to suburban malls or big box stores, Midland has maintained a healthy, vibrant downtown filled with boutiques and restaurants. Which of course makes for more interesting shopping.
For gourmands and cooks, drop into Olive Oil Co., a specialty store selling gourmet olive oils and vinegars, as well as other gourmet foods and gifts. If you thought olive oil was only for salads, you’re in for a delicious surprise.
A must-do in Midland for decor shoppers and vintage lovers is the historic Old Town Library, now repurposed as a beautifully-curated shop that sells both retro and modern items and collectibles.
You could seriously spend hours here browsing all the unique finds, so leave yourself some time if you are visiting. And if you need a little caffeine hit to keep your energy up, there’s also a cute cafe inside.
Take Your Food Tour on the Road, Too
Kelly’s guided walking tours are really just an introduction to exploring this Ontario town and its food purveyors. Kelly also has curated a self-driving food tour that directs visitors farther afield to explore the region and its food stops.
For locavores who love farm-to-table and want to pick something up for their own table, one of these stops is Farm2Door, a farm-fresh market store that has become a hub for local growers and producers of everything from honey to charcuterie, to baked goods and pickled spicy beans (Hail, Caesar!).
Farmer-entrepreneur Bart Nagel took over this former butcher shop location as a way for him to sell his garlic during Covid when restaurant demand for his produce dropped to near zero. Soon other farmers started adding to his inventory, and now, there are 80-100 local suppliers who stock the store with seasonal products that locals are literally gobbling up. In fact, the shop has become so successful Bart has had to put garlic farming on hold!
TIP: While on the driving tour, you’ll likely spot colourful ‘quilts’ on the sides of many barns. These are actually part of Simcoe County’s Barn Quilt Trail, and following them is another great way to see the countryside.
More Things to Do on Your Midland, Ontario Getaway:
Midland Food Tours may be your gateway to exploring Midland, but there is more than enough in this area to make a proper weekend out of this Ontario getaway.
For culture vultures, check out what’s playing at the Midland Cultural Centre, one of the region’s finest venues for live theatre production and concerts and home to the highly respected theatre company, the Huronia Players.
For nature lovers and bird watchers Wye Marsh offers a picturesque boardwalk that takes visitors out into the Georgian Bay wetlands (the boardwalk is also wheelchair and stroller-friendly). And kids and adults alike will love to get a close look at the nature centre’s rescue raptors (owls, eagles and hawks) that are permanent residents.
TIP: If you visit Wye Marsh In the spring, you might see dozens of Trumpeter Swans who gather here on their northern migration route.
For history buffs, there are 2 stops that are must-do’s in the Midland area. The first is Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons, a national historic site that was the first headquarters of the Jesuit Mission to the Hurons, dating back to 1639.
This site deserves an entire afternoon to explore to really do it justice, as there are so many interesting aspects to its history, including the agricultural and medicinal practices the Jesuits employed (most of which were taught to them by the indigenous Wendat people).
From a religious perspective, Jesuits still hold services here to this day in what is the oldest continuously functioning church in Ontario (St. Joseph). It is also home to the gravesite of St. Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit priest who was brutally martyred by the Iroquois and later buried here. Even Pope John Paul II came here to pray at that very site on his visit to Canada in 1984.
WEIRD FACT: When Brebeuf was canonized in 1930, almost 300 years after his death, both the local Jesuits and the Ursuline nuns from Québec wanted to claim his remains – his skull in particular – as a religious relic for their churches. The solution, ala King Solomon, was to cut the skull in half, and give each Order a piece.
The left side of the skull is currently housed in the Martyr’s Shrine church about 12 minutes from Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. If you look around the back of the display case where the skull is kept you can see that the back half is just a placeholder mold.
The right half of Brebeuf’s skull is located in the museum at Le Monastères des Augustines in Québec (which also operates as a wellness inn where people can book accommodations in the restored former cloister.)
Even if you’re not into bones of saints, the Martyrs Shrine is well worth a visit: the interior roof is meant to resemble an upturned canoe, and there are some lovely stained glass windows.
The second stop on your history tour is a very different one located in Penetanguishine, about 10 minutes from Midland. Here you’ll find Discovery Harbour, a former 19th century military/naval base that has been restored to function as an outdoor museum.
Although the site never saw any battles, there’s an interesting self-guided walking tour of the property that gives you a good idea of what life might have been like here for the soldiers and their families. Commercial and residential buildings have been rebuilt in the style of the day, as well as a full-sized replica of the H.M.S. Tecumseth. All are staffed by costumed docents who can tell you about the history of each place and the people who lived and worked here.
Don’t miss the officer’s quarters at the far end of the route: this stone building is all original and quite impressive with its luxurious rooms and furnishings (apparently life was good as an officer!)
TIP: For added fun, Discovery Harbour hosts lantern-lit ghost tours in the summer. And having spoken with some of the staff who are on-site here after hours, there’s definitely something paranormal going on here!)
A Bite-Sized ‘Best of Midland’ Ontario Getaway
When we were invited to be a guest of Midland Food Tours, Henk and I were expecting to visit some of the tastier spots in this Ontario waterfront town and end up with a list of recommendations of where to eat. What we left with was much more: a sampling of the generous hospitality of Midland’s people, a glimpse into the history and culture of this region, and the chance to explore some of the area’s most important and scenic attractions.
It turns out that food really was the way not just to our heart, but the heart of Midland.
(FYI, they had me at chocolate!)
P.S. One More Place to Eat in Midland:
We would be remiss if we didn’t include Dino’s in any article about food in Midland: this is much more than a downtown deli – Dino’s is a Midland institution and one definitely worth trying, but come hungry.: their mile-high sandwiches are literally big enough for two. (go for the pastrami or corned beef, and good luck getting your mouth around even one half!)
Day Trip or Overnight Getaway?
Midland sits on the southern shores of Georgian Bay, just over 2 hours’ drive northwest of Toronto. It’s a great destination for a day trip from anywhere within that radius, with plenty of time to fit in a food tour and a bit of exploring.
To see a little more, why not make it an overnight Ontario getaway, so you’ll have more time to explore at leisure more of what the area has to offer.
TIP: If you live in Ontario. you can claim the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit, for any overnight accommodations booked in 2022.
Where to Stay: Rawley Resort
Rawley Resort Spa & Marina is a 20-minute drive from Midland, and located right on the Trent-Severn Waterway near Port Severn. Rawley’s history goes back a century to when it was built as a 3-storey fishing lodge in 1922. Generations of visitors made memories here, and the original lodge still remains, albeit having been completely restored and modernized. The property is set on beautiful waterfront grounds with luxuriously spacious rooms, suites and 2-level townhouse-style accommodations. There are also 3 pet-friendly ground-level suites with 2 bedrooms. As the ‘Marina’ name suggests, there are also docks if you decide to come by boat, with discounted mooring fees if you stay at the resort.
While at Rawley, enjoy drinks on their large patio, climb the lighthouse for spectacular sunset views, or just relax by the bonfire pits or on your own balcony. It’s the best of cottage life without having to cook, because the dining room can take care of that for you, as well. Including pretty yummy breakfast options!
Special thanks to Kelly Kurtz of Midland Food Tours, who hosted us on our visit. Full details of her guided and self-driving tours can be found on the website.