Make Ontario’s Southwest your go to for unique, high quality, and immersive tourism attractions.
You may already know about the tough diamonds within Ontario’s Southwest. Last year, we interviewed five local businesses that were forge by the pressure of starting a new business or offering during a pandemic (click here to read it). This year, we are excited to bring you the stories of some of our other local gems.
A local gem is a community pillar that’s loved equally by both the residents and the out-of-towners who can’t wait to return. They are the human connections behind our favourite places. The friendly smile you know is beneath the masks. The people that turn acquaintances into friendships and that make a place into a home. We’ve identified four very different tourist destinations with business owners and curators who demonstrate what it means to be a local gem in Ontario’s Southwest.
Kintore Coffee, Embro
Meet Todd Pearson, owner and mastermind behind Kintore Coffee Co. Todd is not only responsible for bringing delicious, high-quality drip coffee to a small-town café in Embro, he is now expanding Kintore Coffee products to grocery stores all over Ontario! Todd is a humble, kind, and energetic person that makes you feel cooler just by association.
The Kintore Coffee story begins in Hawaii, when Todd was working on a coffee farm, he became accustomed to high quality coffee, and struggled to locate an equivalent product when he moved home. So, he started roasting his own coffee using what he had available, an air popcorn maker. Using trial and error, what started as a fun hobby roasting excellent tasting coffee beans, became a great business venture, with an in-demand product.
Kintore Coffee Co. now has its own store front and café in Embro. The café is the perfect shopping destination for any travellers visiting Oxford County that want to immerse themselves in the local community. All sixteen vendors that have products lining the shelves of Kintore Coffee are local, unique, and produce items with outstanding quality. “The stuff that people are doing, it’s just absolutely incredible and I feel like they didn’t really have a stage to put their products out on. So, it’s nice having the brick and mortar for people to sell out of,” said Todd.
“Anybody can come in and shop. We have clothing, earrings, perfume, hot sauce, pickles, and meat.” And of course, they have a great cup of coffee for you to enjoy while you shop. Supporting local is what Kintore Coffee is all about! When you make a purchase at a small, locally owned business, the money stays in the community. Business owners are likely to support other local businesses in the area because they know what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and want to support each other.
If you are looking for other ways to support local, Todd suggests interacting with local brands online. Sharing or creating social media posts about the local products you love will mean a lot to the makers. “Things like that go a million miles. It just shows the support,” said Todd.
Make sure to follow Kintore Coffee Co. on social media (here) to stay in the loop! “We’ve got a lot of stuff in the works” said Todd, “cold brew season is coming up”. Right now, all their canned cold brews are black, but they are working on some exciting flavours to add to the line-up such as vanilla and maple. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for Kintore Coffee at your local Zehrs, Loblaws, Value Marts or Independents.
Seed Confections, St. Thomas
Meet Gen Kroeker, owner of Seed Confections and chocolatier extraordinaire. Her unique and intricately designed confections are equal parts stunning and delectable! Gen is a fun, genuine, and caring person that takes the time to get to know those who stop by her shop.
Gen wants visiting her chocolate and confections shop to be a memorable experience. When you walk into Seed Confections, the first thing you’ll notice is how “Instagram-worthy” the décor is. The kitchen is visible from the retail shop, and if you're lucky, you may visit at the right time to see them hand-painting chocolates. This really gives you an appreciation for the artistry that goes into each product.
Seed Confections is the sort of luxury you’d expect to find in the big city and that’s exactly where Gen was heading until her dad had a serious accident. “I decided that I was going to stay and help out my mom, but they weren’t sure if my dad was going to make it. Luckily, he made a full recovery. But it opened my eyes to what I should be doing with my time and where I want to live. The only reason that I didn’t stay in my hometown was because there was no business, and no where to work that I loved. Doing what I do, making chocolates the way that I like to make them,” said Gen. “So, I created it.”
“I’m just lucky that I found something that I love and that I get to do it everyday, it makes it really easy to come to work,” said Gen. Her favourite product to eat is the milk chocolate covered pecan praline. But her passion lies in the creating of the hand-painted bonbon chocolates. They take a lot of skill to create, and she enjoys the challenge.
Everything that Gen makes is created with care and a level of craftmanship that you won’t easily find elsewhere. When you visit a small business, you may notice that the prices are higher than you’d find at a chain. “We are paying higher prices because we aren’t buying in bulk,” said Gen. The cost of living has increased substantially, and Gen understands that people may not have the ability to buy local as often as they’d like to. If you want to support local without spending, Gen suggests writing reviews for your favourite local spots!
If you enjoyed reading about Seed Confections, make sure to follow them on social media (here) to stay updated on the new and cool products they create.
Update: As of October 8th, 2022, Seed Confections is closing their retail shop and will be selling their products online only.
Buxton National Historic Site & Museum - North Buxton
Meet Shannon Prince and Mariah Kaak, the Curator and Assistant Curator of the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum respectively. They are working hard to connect people to the stories of their ancestors and to bring the past alive in an educational and exciting way. Both Shannon and Mariah are both passionate, animated, and have a knack for telling stories that make you feel like you are there.
“The Buxton settlement, when it was founded in 1849, Reverend King was the impetus behind it, but it was the people who came who helped build it,” said Shannon. The Buxton settlement was where Reverend King hoped “to instill a sense of pride and dispel the myths about Black People being lazy and uneducated because he believed that if Blacks were given those same opportunities as whites, they could become self-sufficient and self-sustaining.”
The Buxton National Historic Site & Museum was created “to preserve the memory of the settlements but most importantly so that we can help educate society about the role of Black History,” said Mariah. “Black History and Canadian History goes hand-in-hand”.
Attending a tour at the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum will allow you to visit the settlement’s schoolhouse, which has become a symbol of the resiliency of Black Canadians. “It was built because the Black students of all ages were denied access to the local schools,” said Mariah. The schoolhouse in Buxton offered such a high-level of education that many schools in the surrounding area closed after parents sent their children to the Buxton school instead.
Shannon and Mariah love uncovering secrets from the past with the vast quantity of primary sources they have access to. These resources have been used to share the stories of the people that lived in these settlements and even helped guests make connections with their own family trees! “I’ve had the experience of being able to give someone their family tree who did not know that family tree existed, nor had been maintained,” said Mariah.
Shannon loves to share the stories of the people that lived in the settlement and are not as well known. “I’ve lived here all of my life and going down to the museum everyday is a new experience,” said Shannon. “Everyone has a different piece of this amazing puzzle it’s really nice to put those pieces of the puzzle together, to see how we’re all connected in some way. It enriches not only our lives but we’re hoping that the people that come through that door, they will be enriched as well when they leave.”
If you want to know how you can support the local museums near you, Shannon and Mariah suggest that you pay them a visit. “Everyone should take advantage of learning more about who you are, where we are, and be grateful for what we do have, and the country we live in,” said Shannon. Follow the Buxton Museum on social media (here) to get to know the people that lived there and learn about a portion of Black History in Canada.
Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages and Waterway Tours - Wallaceburg
Meet Stephen Tooshkenig, owner of Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages and Waterway Tours and gifted professional golfer. Stephen has wonderful memories spending time in nature at the Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages and wants to share the space with other families. He is thoughtful, warm, and embodies gentle kindness and positivity.
“I’m a professional athlete, so I’ve been able to travel to see some of the nicest places, golf resorts, you name it. If I wasn’t golfing or on the resort, I was out visiting in the community and seeing everything that they have to offer.” Stephen noticed that the places he visited offered many of the same things that he was grateful to have at home.
“Sometimes, or most times, we take for granted what we do have, and we always think that there is something outside that is going to bring us that ‘wow factor’. Until you really have an understanding that everything you look for is right here, within Southwestern Ontario,” said Stephen.
Stephen wanted to show people the “wow factor” available right here in his home. “I grew up on Walpole Island and I actually stayed right where my cottages are located.” Stephen reflected on how grateful he was to have access to the cottages to swim and enjoy. “Why keep this to myself when I can allow others to take part in this?”
When Stephen opened the Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages for the public to rent, people came from all over the world. “It started out with one cottage, and then we had two cottages, and now we are working on our third.” Stephen loves being able to provide families with a place to be together and enjoy each other’s company. “I always wanted to have people come and visit, and pay respect to the land, and pay respect to actually having fun with their family and making those memories.”
Staying in the Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages and experiencing a Waterway Tour with Stephen is a special and unique experience because of his knowledge of the area and the joy he exudes when he can share these gifts with others. He will impart his appreciation and respect for the nature, and your family will leave feeling more whole than you did when you arrived. Make sure that you are following the Walpole Island Riverfront Cottages on social media (here) to stay in the loop.
Local gems are memorable because of the people like Stephen, Shannon, Mariah, Gen, and Todd. The stories that they share and the connections that they make with their guests, no matter how brief.
We are so grateful for the people in Ontario’s Southwest that provide such rich experiences for visitors and want to make sure the local gems in the region remain for years to come! Shopping at small businesses, visiting local museums to learn about our history, leaving positive reviews, and being kind makes a big difference to the human beings behind these attractions.