For thirty years, the all-women’s law firm where I practiced as a lawyer has treasured our Annual Firm Retreat. For two brief days, the existing partners join with those who have moved on or retired to relax, reconnect and recharge our batteries. Until this year, the retreat was held at the beloved country home of one of the partners, a sprawling property at Sturgeon Point near Fenelon Falls, which provided an idyllic setting beside the Kawartha Lakes. That property was sold last year, and we had to find another that would help wean us off what we had come to cherish.
The alternative this year was a trip to Amherst Island. Amherst Island is in northeastern Lake Ontario, west of the islands around Kingston and east of the more populous Prince Edward County. Although the size of Manhattan, the island has a permanent population of only 380 people, and is totally attractive to outsiders for its low-key, laid-back country charm.
We stayed at The Lodge on Amherst Island, a most comfortable self-catering former fishing camp turned guest house, with an extraordinarily well-equipped kitchen, expansive common rooms, well-appointed sleeping quarters, and beautiful grounds by the water. Owned by Molly Stroyman of Toronto, and often used for art shows, writers’ retreats and musical events, The Lodge was ideal for our purposes. Our lavish breakfasts we enjoyed while basking in the eastern sun flowing into the family room beside the kitchen. Dinners in the screened multipurpose room gave us the sunsets in the west.
The twenty-minute ferry ride from Millhaven on the mainland transports visitors to another world, where the pace is slower, the wildlife prolific, and the vistas of Lake Ontario pounding over the limestone of the south shore stunning. The prime economic life of the island is farming, raising dairy cattle and especially sheep. There are said to be 3,000-plus sheep on the island, not including the 1,400 lambs produced each spring. Topsy Farms, on the west end of the island, allows visitors to feed the newborn lambs, and to shop for quality products made from wool and sheepskin. Feeding newborn lambs is totally engaging, but hardly conducive to putting lamb on the menu.
The only hamlet on the island is Stella, close to the ferry. The General Store (seeking new management) is beside the Post Office; there are three churches, a public school, a couple of cafés, The Weasel and Easel selling crafts and local art works in the historic Neilson Store Museum, a radio station and the remnants of a blacksmith shop. Activities on the island include the Canada Day Parade, a Farmers Market during the summer, the Presbyterian Church Garden Party the last Saturday of July, a Book Sale in August, and numerous community dinners and teas held throughout the year. Besides The Lodge, there are four bed and breakfasts on the Island. In the past, I have stayed at premises offered by the Foot Flats Farm, and can vouch for the comfort and hospitality we enjoyed there.
Thanks to photographer Helen Feldmann for the wonderful photos.