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Beautiful places to stay, wonderful history and Joel Plaskett; more Grey County travels

I’ve never counted the threads on the sheets in a hotel room. I don’t know Egyptian cotton from French linen. And I can’t say I know the difference between goose down duvets and a Walmart special.

But when I laid my head on the pillow during a recent stay at Millhollow B & B in Meaford I was immediately struck by the sweetest scent. It was pure heaven; fresh and crisp and clean and oh-so-soothing.

The Millhollow B&B is a lovely spot in Meaford, Ontario. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Millhollow B&B is a lovely spot in Meaford, Ontario. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I had a great night’s sleep and woke up the next morning to have breakfast with my hosts, Milan and Paula Stepan.

“What do you do with your sheets,” I asked. “They smell amazing!”
“Um,” Paula replied. “We don’t do anything. We just hang them out to dry in the fresh air.”

A swing and a miss for the urbanite and seasoned travel writer. But a definite win for old-fashioned hospitality; something you’ll find by the bushel full in and around Grey County.

I recently spent three days bouncing around the county, exploring places to stay and also some very cool cultural spots, including a black history exhibit that tells tales of perseverance and incredible patience and also a fantastic night catching a Canadian star at the Meaford Hall.

The sheets at the Millhollow were something else. So was the breakfast, where they served up moist, flavourful and perfect scrambled eggs along with fruit, yogurt, pastries and strong coffee.

My bedroom at the Millhollow B&B. Nice! - JIM BYERS PHOTO

My bedroom at the Millhollow B&B. Nice! – JIM BYERS PHOTO

It’s a lovely brick home on a quiet street a few blocks up from Meaford’s tidy main street, with a small river across the way and hardly a speck of traffic. My room had a nice bathroom and a turret with comfy chairs, and the main floor is a beautiful spot to read a book.

“People come up to Meaford from the city and say, ‘I wish we had more time,’” Paula tells me. “Folks from London and southwest Ontario can’t believe the geography around here; Georgian Bay and the big hills.”

My other night in the area was spent at the Pretty River Inn, which sits in a stunning valley a few short minutes from Collingwood. I’d never driven through the area but I was struck by how high the surrounding hills are on the Niagara Escarpment. I later checked online and found they’re around 500 meters in height; quite sizable for Ontario. It’s close to town but, feels like your miles from anywhere.

The Pretty RIver Inn is a gorgeous property in Grey County, Ontario. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Pretty RIver Inn is a gorgeous property in Grey County, Ontario. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

It’s a beautiful inn, with a big fireplace in the main building and a comfortable living room/sitting area with comfy chairs and sofas and games. They also have a wide array of DVD’s you can use. My room was in a separate building a short walk away and featured a queen bed, a balcony and a loft with a pair of single bds. Not to mention a huge indoor tub/spa that made for a sensational soak.

The reindeer at Pretty River Inn are a big hit at Christmas. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

The reindeer at Pretty River Inn are a big hit at Christmas. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

They have several adorable Icelandic horses and also keep a small group of reindeer in a nearby paddock; a huge hit with the kids, especially at Christmas. I had a nice breakfast of French Toast in the sunny dining room the next morning before heading out to the Sheffield Park Black History Museum.

It’s a nice facility, with a big barn used to house African artifacts and displays about the chilling horrors of slavery. No matter how many times I see those artist depictions of human slaves crammed into filthy holds on a creaking ship I still feel my nerve-endings go numb. It’s just so insanely and unbelievably awful to see. But important to remember.

I wandered around the grounds for a while checking out small homes that have been turned into display spaces on the area’s maritime history and athletic feats. There’s also a mockup of a small church and a school house. The final building on the circuit contained a series of books and clothes and other goods for purchase. On one end of the room, however, were impossibly racist postcards on display; depictions of black children with their pants down and supposed jokes about eating watermelon. To say they’re offensive is a monstrous understatement.

An old advertisement for slaves on display at the Sheffield Black History Museum in Grey County. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

An old advertisement for slaves on display at the Sheffield Black History Museum in Grey County. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

“I can’t believe these cards,” I tell curator and museum co-owner Carolynn Wilson.

“And those,” Wilson replies, “got sent through Canada Post.”

Just south of Owen Sound you’ll find the marvellous and spacious Grey Roots museum, where they have a display on the area’s black history. There are tales of fully qualified black nurses being refused a job in the area, forcing her to go to Guelph to work.
There’s also a bit that explains how the Ku Klux Klan had meetings in the county as recently as 1926. On the other hand, Owen Sound had a black mayor by 1982.

In addition to the black history exhibit, they currently have a splendid exhibit on Egyptian history and Tutankhamun, complete with glittering gold artefacts from his tomb. It’s hugely impressive.

They also have an historical exhibit called Saints and Sinners that explains Owen Sound’s long history as a “dry” city that didn’t allow alcohol. Other displays illustrate the history of the area’s Scottish, German and Irish immigrants.

Outside the museum, in season, is Moreston Heritage Village, with cool old school houses and old-time gas stations and more.

The Scandinave Spa at Blue Mountain is a perfect spot for soaking your cares away. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

The Scandinave Spa at Blue Mountain is a perfect spot for soaking your cares away. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

I was lucky enough to get a couple hours at the Scandinave Spa, where they have gorgeous outdoor pools and steam rooms and lovely saunas with wooden benches that are perfect for relaxing on a fall day. The pool temperatures are just-right and there are tons of hammocks (aaaahhhhh) and chaise lounges to lie on between dips.

I didn’t have time but they also have massage services and yoga. A new, 1,500 square foot solaria and indoor sauna/relaxation facility is slated to open in mid-January.

I also got a tour of Meaford Hall Arts and Cultural Centre from manager Susan Lake. It’s a gorgeous facility with only about 300 seats. It was built in an era when fine craftsmanship meant something and fully renovated 10 years ago, and it’s a beauty.

“We treat everyone the same” Lake tells me. “We provide nice accommodations and we get them the meals they want. People think Meaford is a small town but this is a substantial facility. We make people as comfortable as they can be away from home and when they’re comfortable and relaxed they perform well.”

Meaford Hall is a lovely facility in Grey County. - JIM BYERS PHOTO

Meaford Hall is a lovely facility in Grey County. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

They had Bruce Cockburn play earlier this year, as well as Alan Doyle. I’m lucky when I’m in town as Canadian singer Joel Plaskett is in town. He must have enjoyed his pre-concert meal and the green room amenities, as he’s in a fine mood and appears to have a wonderful time.

He’s a charming performer and sings entertaining, quirky tunes about how Yellowknife is so warm in summer that it’s “the new California in July.” He also entertains the crowd with funny stories of camping in Nova Scotia as a boy and trying to call up members of Led Zeppelin in a group séance.

Joel Plaskett put on a great show in September at Meaford Hall in Grey County.

Joel Plaskett put on a great show in September at Meaford Hall in Grey County.

I don’t know his music very well but I enjoyed the jangly, folksy tunes with slightly off-kilter lyrics. I loved his lines “This is your number, it’s all I got. This is me standing in a parking lot.”

Wonderful places to stay and things to see. And a great night to finish off a great visit to Grey County.

Got a comment or complaint? Email me at jim@jimbyerstravel.com. You also can follow me on Twitter @jimbyerstravel and on Instagram @jimbyerstravel1.

Grey County Tourism paid for my visit but did not review this story prior to publication.

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