BY KAYLA ZAWISKI
The slight fizz of homemade yogurt on my tongue. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee – roasted locally at Planet Bean. Fluffy slippers on my feet. The sound of my hosts – London House Bed and Breakfast proprietors Sheila and David – whipping up breakfast. It’s not even nine in the morning and already I know that this will be the perfect day.
Just two weeks ago, TOQUE’s Cai and Chris invited me to come to Guelph and spend the night at London House and then explore Quebec Street in the downtown core. ‘To experience the city’s beating heart,’ suggested Cai. To be sure, the Royal City is not new to me. Although I now call Kitchener home, I was an undergrad at Guelph so the city certainly has a place in my heart. And now I find myself at the beginning of my Guelph adventure. But first – a recap of my arrival the night before.
I travelled from Kitchener to Guelph via Wroute – the fabulous micro transit program that connects the two cities with a fleet of sexy Teslas. As soon as I arrived at London House – a stately century-home with a splendid wrap-around porch overlooking Exhibition Park – I felt embraced by the space, and immediately at home in the Masters suite. Its antique furnishings, enormous bed and high thread count sheets were just what I needed. I ordered in: delicious Buon Gusto pizza paired with my favourite Elora beer. Then I began to fantasize about the next day, when I would tour this town I once called home.
After breakfast I enjoy a bit of morning relaxation before Chris arrives to pick me up. He’ll be my guide for the day. We make the short trip from London House to Quebec Street for our first stop: lunch at Miijidaa, tucked in beside what’s arguably Guelph’s cultural hub, The Bookshelf. Since it’s still too cold for Miijidaa’s fantastic courtyard patio, we stroll past the restaurant’s long bar into the sun-drenched dining room. Perfect.
Celebrating the influences that have shaped Canadian cuisine, Miijidaa’s menu features culinary gestures from the First Nations to the French and English, the Portuguese to the Vikings. We decide on a number of dishes to share. To start: an elk scotch egg with market greens, gouda cheese, and pickled cranberries; and hay smoked arctic char with celeriac puree, sunchoke chips, pickled onions and kale ribs. Then a pizza with elk sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and basil. Mouths stuffed with local goodness, Chris and I plot out how we’ll tackle the rest of our afternoon.
Back onto Quebec Street, we make a beeline for IF.. Footwear – located right in St. George’s Square where Quebec begins. My search for the perfect Chelsea boots has me entranced by all the killer styles Joel and his IF.. team have in stock. I splurge on a pair and, boots in arm, find Chris scouring the store’s Red Wings section. He’ll be back, he remarks, as I manage to peel him away. Just up the square from IF.., past the picturesque café, Capistrano, and pottery workshop, Play with Clay, we duck into Knar Jewellery, where Chris darts straight toward the timepieces. I am captivated by the John Hardy display, and try on a spectacular necklace that makes me feel instantly cosmopolitan. After only a few minutes, Chris urges me to keep moving. ‘Quebec Street may only be a block long,’ he advises, ‘but there’s lots left to see.’
The next couple hours we are alternately beguiled and inspired by a series of locally-owned shops that leave me overwhelmed with feelings of pride and abundance. I envision each of the founders of these remarkable ventures and begin to realize that the kind of creative energy I feel up and down Quebec Street is what initially pulled me from a nomadic existence to planting my roots firmly in this region. The Truth Beauty Company (an eco beauty and lifestyle shop for the conscientious shopper), Shop B (a chiq boutique featuring fabulous accessories), Grey Rock Clothing (a B Corp-certified shop specializing in sweatshop free eco fashion), and a host of other brilliant enterprises. I love the passionate, driven, humble and simply wonderful people who create places like this. They spread positive energy and put smiles on people’s faces. Makers and changemakers. Community builders.
Utterly exhausted, Chris and I eventually find ourselves at [RE]Fresh Juice Co, in front of a fridge stocked with raw, unprocessed, cold-pressed juices. I grab an Eye Opener (with carrot, apple, ginger and lemon) while Chris chooses a Savoury Greens (kale, romaine, cucumber, celery, lemon and sea salt). I leave Chris to catch up with himself while I step back onto the street, anticipating a special indulgence.
I stroll into Acqua Salon. Its luminous, elegantly-appointed Quebec Street location is a perfect place for taking a load off. Master stylist Brianna greets me at the door, pours me a flute of Proseco and introduces me to my stylist, Mikayla. For the next hour I’m in heaven. Magnificently pampered. My tresses exquisitely washed, cut and styled, I leave feeling energized. Alluring. Powerful.
I am enfolded and content after my afternoon in this city that had, almost a decade ago, taught me to explore and be open. Sure, Guelph and I have both changed a little, matured and grown in our own ways. But this was the town I once embraced as my first love. Thankfully, it remains the dear friend that never got away. After all, it’s just a short drive down the road. And even by Tesla, if you want.
Until next time, old friend. Until next time.