Being an outsider has its benefits.
Just ask residents of Clarington, Ont. The easternmost municipality in Durham Region may sit on the area’s periphery, but being about an hour drive from Toronto and surrounding suburbs has its perks.
“Being out of the rat race, I think people move a little bit further in this direction to get out of the craziness of the city,” said Karen Evans, resident of Clarington for 22 years.
“But we’re not that far. If you want to go into Toronto, you just hop on the train.”
Evans lives in Bowmanville, one of four urban communities in Clarington, added to Newcastle, Courtice and Orono. But many of the municipality’s near 80,000 residents also inhabit the more than 20 rural communities also in Clarington’s bounds.
And while Clarington isn’t the haven of hustle that Toronto is, Evans says her stomping ground is growing in population and business, citing the recent development of a Home Depot; an important addition she said is necessary for Clarington.
“If you have a few of those bigger stores that keep people here, they don’t have to go to Oshawa or further away to get those kind of things that they need.”
“Few” is the key word. Ascending Bowmanville’s downtown mound, one finds few franchise stores and restaurants, but rather a profusion of independent retailers that contribute to the small town feel. Antique shops inhabit several of the core’s red brick buildings, some of which contain artistic mural renderings of Clarington history.
The area’s past is also well documented in the municipality’s museums. Downtown Bowmanville sports the Bowmanville Museum, a Victorian-furnished, Italianate styled nine-room house that local café employee Samantha said is rumoured to be haunted. The nearby Sarah Jane Williams Heritage Centre holds historical artifacts and a research area, while the Clarke Museum in Kirby, Ont., largely features ancestral agricultural tools.
Samantha, 22, works at Espresso Legato, on the main strip. She said Clarington’s not so geared toward people her age, but that hasn’t stopped the young lady from finding her place in the community.
“Now that I work here and have worked here so long, I know everybody that works downtown — business owners, artists, musicians — everybody,” she said. And after hours, she knows where her and her co-workers can go to feel included. “The Espresso girls? We go to The Village Inn,” she said, referring to a nearby Irish pub. “It’s kind of like Cheers — where everyone knows your name.”
Samantha also hails the number of trails and forested areas in Clarington. But the rural focus is more prevalent outside Bowmanville, in the heavily wooded residential retreat near the lake in Newcastle, just a 10-minute drive east.
Dense, presently leafless trees for miles and grand, sparsely spaced houses mark the community. Bordering Lake Ontario, the Port of Newcastle is a relaxing destination to watch the waves crash on the shore, or enjoy conversation on a parkette bench.
The scenery is bolstered by the 95-year-old Newcastle Horticultural Society, which aims to protect the natural environment through advocacy programs and its civic beautification committee. The group holds regular meetings and flower shows, with an emphasis on growing gardens.
Fifteen different kinds of apples grow on the estate owned by Sandy and Fred Archibald. Their sprawling Archibald’s Estate Winery is located in north Bowmanville, just outside rural community, Tyrone. Archibald’s has an orchard where visitors can pick their own apples, a nine-hole golf course and the winery, featuring fruit and ice wines and seasonal preserves and sweets.
While it’s off the beaten path, Sandy Archibald said distance from downtown buzz makes life a little more interesting.
“Sometimes you just need to make your own fun and get back to nature. That’s what we provide here,” she said. “You can actually see apples don’t grow in plastic bags. They grow on trees.”
Archibald emphasizes community — among residents and business — as what divides Clarington, however spread out, from other close by locales.
“The openness and friendliness of the community is one of the amazing things about Clarington,” she said. “If you want to buy local and support the farmers, there’s a huge community here. The business community likes to work together, in cooperation rather than competition with each other.”
And to Archibald, like westward communities are no competition to Clarington. “Because it’s east, Clarington is unknown and sort of one of those best kept secrets … untouched and authentic.”
Best baked goods
Espresso Legato (50 King St. E., Bowmanville). This endearing café features chalkboard menus, contemporary decor and personal touches, like warming up your portable coffee mug, pre-pour. The coffee’s cheap — $1.67 for a medium — but the homemade baking reigns supreme. Try the trail mix-y, chocolate-touched “rocky road” cookie for just $1.75.
Fruit, Wine & Food Festival (Saturday, May 30). In support of Big Brothers & Sisters of Clarington, this festival gathers a selection of Ontario wineries and chefs to the Archibald Estate Winery in Bowmanville to showcase the best in local food and beverage. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $12 at the door.
Being an outsider has its benefits.