Friday, 31 July 2015

Solitude Nature Reserve – A Reprieve from the Digital Age

Every year Canadians are spending more time indoors in front of screens and less time in the great outdoors. We spend an estimated 90% of our lives indoors and as a result we have disconnected from the natural environment. According to the Connecting Canadians With Nature study, done by the Canadian Parks Council, this disconnect has caused higher levels of depression, chronic anxiety and learning issues in adults and children across the country. This disconnect is what prompted Phil McNamee and his wife Mary Hanley to open Solitude Nature Reserve in Central Elgin.
McNamee has 10 years of experience leading wilderness backpacking adventures for adults to locations such as Gross Morne National Park, the Grand Canyon and Killarney Provincial Park. This experience has made him keenly aware of the positive effects that nature can have on people.
“People slow down when they spend time in nature,” said McNamee. “They don’t worry about what is happening at the office, and they are more relaxed.”

Solitude Nature Reserve seeks to provide campers with a true backwoods, wilderness camping experience close to home. Visitors won’t need to travel hundreds of kilometres to have authentic encounters with nature. Campsites are located far away from one another – the idea is to enjoy nature and not your neighbours. The use of electronic devices is not permitted except in the case of an emergency. McNamee wants solitude nature reserve to be a reprieve from the stresses and distractions of the digital age. He wants families to reconnect with nature and with one another.    

It took two years of searching before McNamee and Hanley found the perfect property. They chose 35 acres of natural bush and trails located at 45388 Dexter Line between Quaker and Yarmouth Centre Roads. McNamee increased the hiking trails and added 6 campsites each equipped with a 16’x16’ tent deck, a picnic table, an iron fire ring with a grill and a composting toilet. Fire wood is available on-site but campers are required to bring their own food and drinking water and a wagon will be available to help transport camping gear from the parking lot to the campsites. Currently 3 of these sites are available to the public with 3 more scheduled to open by late August. Campsites will be free of charge on a first come first serve basis but interested campers will need to get a permit from McNamee to be on-site. The campsites will only be available Friday and Saturday nights from July to September but the property is open for day-use from dawn until dusk 7 days a week, year-round.

Solitude Nature Reserve is conveniently located with in close proximity to a number of Elgin County tourist attractions, giving campers the opportunity to explore the area when not on-site at Solitude Nature Reserve. The area is home to fantastic roads for cycling, wineries, quaint fishing villages and the scenic coast of Lake Erie.
For more information about Solitude Nature Reserve including trail maps and campsite bookings visit their website or like them on Facebook.

The Savour Elgin Passport – A Culinary Journey

Summer is truly a time when Elgin County’s agricultural bounty is evident.  From tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet corn to raspberries, peaches and cherries, the variety of fresh produce available is astounding. It is the perfect time of year to browse farmers’ markets in search of the ripest, most delicious fruits and vegetables; learn the secrets of winemaking at one of Elgin’s wineries; and finish off the day with a relaxing and hearty meal at one of the area’s fine dining establishments.

In celebration of local food, Elgin County is pleased to announce the first annual Savour Elgin Passport Tour, a culinary adventure for tourists and locals alike. The passport encourages people to hit the road with friends and family to passport stops across the County. At each location participants will get their passport stamped for a chance to win a weekend getaway in Elgin County. Participants must visit at least four locations to be entered into the draw. Elgin County encourages participants to take photos along the way and use the hashtag #savourpassport to record their journey.

“The passport encourages people to get out and enjoy Elgin County’s quality culinary attractions while offering them the chance to win a great Elgin County getaway,” said Tourism Services Coordinator Lindsey Duncan. “Whether you are a visitor to the area or a local, a getaway to one of Elgin’s tranquil inns or B&Bs is a relaxing and welcome escape from the pressures of daily life.”

Passports can be picked up and dropped off at any Savour Elgin location or at the Elgin County Tourism office at 450 Sunset Drive, St. Thomas until February of 2016. For more information visit and click on events. 

Bee Loved Gardens - Flavourful, Nutrient Dense Vegetables

An intense respect for the natural world and the health of those in it, prompted Deanna Van Den Dries to start Bee Loved Gardens, a small, diversified farm in the heart of Elgin County. The farm produces a variety of naturally-grown vegetables, fresh cut flowers, culinary herbs and pasture-raised pork and poultry.

Using all natural farming methods, Van Den Dries applies the principles of regenerative agriculture on her farm. Her ultimate goal is to produce nutrient dense vegetables that improve not only the health of the people that eat them, but the health of the soil that they are grown in. She does this by balancing the minerals and increasing the microbial life in the soil, working with instead of against, a variety of native insects and pollinators. The farm’s name Bee Loved Gardens is a tribute to the crucial role that pollinators, especially Bees, play in the production of food.

The results of these practices are nutrient dense vegetables that have a higher level of minerals and a higher Brix Rate than those you would find in a traditional grocery store. The Brix Rate refers to the measure of sugars in produce. The higher the Brix Rate, the greater the flavour. The majority of Van Den Dries’ vegetable varieties are heirloom meaning that they come from older, more diverse varieties of vegetables often no longer available in grocery stores. 

“There are lots of people who have never experienced home-grown vegetables,” said Van Den Dries. “They taste amazing and there is so much variety available.”

In 2014, Bee Loved Gardens started a CSA program where participants sign-up to receive a box of vegetables, flowers and herbs every week throughout the summer. Each customer is able to choose what they would like in their box based on seasonal availability. The program has become so popular that all CSA spots were quickly filled in 2015; however, those wishing to get a taste of Van Den Dries’ flavourful fare can purchase vegetables directly from the farm on Saturday mornings throughout the summer months. Bee Loved Farms will also soon be setting up a vegetable delivery route in the St. Thomas and Port Stanley areas.

Those who are interested in learning more about Bee Loved Gardens’ nutrient rich produce can sign up for their newsletter online or like the farm on Facebook.

Strong Arm Forge Inc. – Transforming Lifeless Steel into Something Beautiful

Being an Industrial Millwright isn't usually associated with artistic creativity; however, that is exactly how Artist Blacksmith Scott McKay honed his metal working skills preparing him for his future career as an artist.
McKay began creating art in 1997 after seeing a metal sculpture and thinking he could use his skills to create something similar. His first pieces consisted of metal parts assembled to look like animals. Transforming lifeless, cold materials, such as steel, into unique and beautiful works of art has become extremely rewarding for McKay who now creates art full-time out of his shop and studio northwest of Shedden, Ontario. 

He is a graduate of the Haliburton School of the Arts Artist Blacksmith Course and has taken many additional courses from experienced blacksmiths in the United States. McKay is continuously studying art so he can apply new techniques to his work. He has a keen eye and his work takes on many different forms. His sculptures are often dreamed up in his imagination and driven by the materials he uses to create them. He is continually scouring scrap yards for the perfect pieces and has the innate ability to recognize when he has found something unique.
"If something at the scrap yard looks like a bird's beak, I will keep it and down the road it might end up as a beak or tail or nose of a sculpture," explains McKay.
By merging traditional forging techniques with contemporary technologies of plasma cutting, modern welding and computer design, McKay is able to create pieces that are both beautiful and functional.

He enjoys working with clients to create commissioned pieces. In addition to sculptures he also fabricates functional items with creative flare such as fences, stair railings, lighting fixtures and fireplace grates. McKay wants to give people an affordable alternative to products that are mass produced in big box stores. The commission process begins with an in-depth consultation followed by the sketching process and perhaps the creation of a small scale model if the project is large. A 3D model helps the client visualize how the finished product will look. Examples of McKay's work can be seen on his website

Visit Strong Arm Forge Studio at 11555 Lawrence Road, Southwold Ontario or call 519-630-5155 to begin the consultation process to own a one-of-a-kind Scott McKay original.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Whiskey Throttle MX – Elgin’s Only Motocross Specialists

For Jay Honsinger and Greg Cross, co-owners of Whiskey Throttle MX, motorsports aren't just a business they are a lifestyle. The pair are avid snowmobilers and motocross riders themselves and they enjoy riding and fixing recreational vehicles so much that it was a natural next step to start a business. After mulling the idea over for awhile, the two friends opened Whiskey Throttle MX in April of 2015 with a shop and showroom located at 43718 John Wise Line in Central Elgin.

Whiskey Throttle is a term that many dirt bikers are intimately familiar with. It means to give so much throttle that the rider slips off the bike causing it to lose control. Honsinger and Cross cleverly chose the name because if someone “Whiskey Throttles” their bike, they are most likely going to need some repairs.

Part sales and repairs are Whiskey Throttle's main services; however, they also build and sell custom motorcycles. Honsinger, Cross and a licensed mechanic that works on-site have a combined 40 years of experience between them.
“We take great pride in doing high quality work and repairs,” says Honsinger. “When you leave the shop it is going to be right.”

Before the shop opened, there was nowhere in Elgin specializing in motocross bikes forcing those who needed parts or repairs to drive to London for service. Whiskey Throttle MX has filled this much needed gap by stocking a variety of parts for snowmobiles, motocross bikes, ATVs, and motorcycles. The shop also stocks oils needed for ATVs and motocross bikes. 
Although the business is taking off, Honsinger and Cross are true enthusiasts who make time to ride every weekend.  The pair are also currently working on putting together a team of local racers that will include well known riders Kassie Boone and Brenden Bishop who will compete at Gopher Dunes Raceway, Walton Raceway and in Quebec.

For more information about Whiskey Throttle MX visit , like them on Facebook at and follow them on Instagram @whiskey_throttle_mx.