Near the shores of Lake Erie lies one of the most inspiring places in Canada - the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Ontario. When the Reverend William King, an Irish born Presbyterian minister, found that he had inherited the Louisiana estate of his recently deceased wife and become the owner of 15 slaves, he resolved to set them free and move with them to Canada where they would be safe. The settlement that he founded in 1848 became one of the largest black communities in Canada and attracted many more settlers escaping slavery in the United States.
All newcomers were welcomed - the bell that was rung to announce the latest arrivals still hangs outside the Buxton museum, which has also preserved some of the original buildings from the settlement. Each new family was assigned a 50 acre farm that they could cultivate and eventually purchase.
Education was one of the most important missions of the Elgin settlement. After black children were denied admission into local schools, the settlers built their own schoolhouse. The quality of teaching was so good that soon other parents in the area were clamouring for their children to to be admitted. Racial barriers were swept aside in the school and photographs of these well integrated classes hang on the walls of the schoolhouse today. Graduates of the school went on to become successful doctors, teachers and political leaders, both in Canada and the United States.
The sleepy charm of rural Buxton and the surrounding Chatham Kent area is best explored at a leisurely pace. Spend some time in the delightful village of Erieau where you can relax on the sandy beach or dip your toes in the warm waters of Lake Erie or explore nearby Rondeau Provincial Park where you can go hiking, fishing or bird watching.
The charming Retro Suites Hotel in downtown Chatham is a good place to stay if you want to spend a night or two in the area. It certainly lives up to it's name and is full of quirky and quaint pieces of decor. We were delighted with our stay there, as well as the amazing breakfast they served up.
One of the pleasures of taking a road trip in Ontario in late summer is seeing the gorgeous produce in the fields, just waiting to be harvested. When we passed field upon field of red, juicy, sun ripened tomatoes, it was all I could do not to stop the car and help myself! Luckily, there are many roadside farm stands for city folk like us who just can't get enough of all this farm fresh goodness! We returned home with our car stuffed with fresh picked vegetables, home made preserves, fresh pressed apple cider as well as smoked and frozen seafood from the lake.
If you are driving around the Chatham Kent area, you will find plenty of restaurants serving creative, outstanding food. A wonderful restaurant in Chatham, called Casabella on the Thames is housed in a lovely, gracious old building on the banks of the Thames river. We had exquisitely prepared, fresh seafood while gazing out at the water, admiring the sunset and letting the peace and tranquility of our surroundings soak in.
One of the best places to try local fish is at Molly and OJ'S, a family restaurant that has been serving up fresh perch (and other good food) to enthusiastic customers in the picturesque Erieau area, since 1966. Their crispy, flavourful fried perch is delicious and just one bite will make you want to keep coming back for more!
Chef Tom Vidler, co owner of Molly and OJ'S graciously shared his justly famous recipe with us. Easy and delicious, you can serve the perch with fries and coleslaw for the authentic experience or with a fresh sliced salad as I have done. It is fantastic either way!
1 cup all purpose flour
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten and lightly seasoned to taste
2 cups finely crushed soda cracker crumbs or bread crumbs or panko
1 lb yellow perch fillets (about 4)
1/2 cup unsalted butter plus 4 tbsp extra for de-glazing
1 lemon, juiced, plus extra wedges for garnish
Combine flour, salt and pepper in shallow bowl.
Place eggs and breadcrumbs each in separate shallow bowls. Place them all near the stove.
Dip each fillet of fish in the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in turn, coating completely all over.
Warm 1/2 cup butter in large frying pan set over medium heat.
Cook fillets, in batches if necessary, until golden and crisp, about 3-4 min per side, turning once.
Transfer fish to a serving platter.
Add remaining 4 tbsp of butter to skillet, along with the juice of one lemon. Stir to loosen crispy bits at bottom of pan. Cook until bubbling gently, about 30 sec.
Pour warm lemon butter sauce over fish and serve right away with additional lemon wedges.