By Wendy Waaf
Photo: iStock/Jonathan Nicholls.
s an English teacher in northern Ontario, Ann Meuris often brought students down to Niagara-on-the-Lake (a.k.a. NOTL) to attend plays during the Shaw Festival. Today she and her husband, John, a retired teacher, live in the picturesque community, and they couldn’t be happier with their adopted home.
The relative affordability of real estate in the area was one factor that drew the couple to the area. After Ann’s mother was widowed, they began looking for a place closer to her Burlington home where the three of them could buy a house large enough for two separate households. They hadn’t even considered NOTL, assuming it to be out of their price range, until the realtor they contacted found them listings there that fit both their must-have list and their budget. Ultimately they bought a spacious home in the village of Virgil, in a neighbourhood with a nice generational mix that includes young families.
“We’ve been surprised at the wonderful community here—they’ve been very welcoming and kind,” Ann says.
Then there are the recreational activities: indoor or outdoor, you can probably pursue it here. “The horticultural society is terrific,” Ann says. “You can grow everything. Apparently there are varieties of peaches you can grow in Niagara-on-the-Lake that you can’t even grow on top of the Escarpment.” There
are conservation areas and parks for nature-watchers and hikers to enjoy, an extensive system of paths for cyclists, a sailing club, and a golf club.
The Meurises live near a park that’s perfect for walking their dog, as well as a sports complex that features a soccer pitch, a baseball diamond, and walking trails. “The community centre has a fitness centre and a walking track,” Ann says, and it offers classes in activities such as yoga and tai chi. And then there are the clubs catering to a variety of other interests. “There’s a bonsai society, a radio-controlled-aircraft group, badminton, jazz, dancing...I can’t imagine how anyone could be bored living here,” Ann says.
Lovers of culture can enjoy theatre at the renowned Shaw Festival (Ann and her husband are members), art exhibitions at the RiverBrink Art Museum, and music at a variety of events including Music Niagara, Bravo Niagara, and Concerts in the Vineyard. There’s a similar wealth of opportunities for amateur historians, from lectures (including a series focused on the First World War) and museum exhibits to re-enactments of key battles in the War of 1812.
A year-long roster of festivals offers opportunities to celebrate and savour some of the area’s agricultural bounty, from icewine to peaches, or simply to brighten a dark winter’s night. For example, at Diner en Blanc, held in January, guests congregate outdoors (the exact location is kept secret until the last minute) and dine on an elegant picnic dinner while wearing the signature colour of the evening—white. During this past year’s event, Janice Thompson, executive director of Tourism Niagara, overheard an attendee from out of town say wistfully, “I want to live here.” “That’s the highest compliment anyone can give,” Thompson says.
Home to more than 60 wineries and three microbreweries, the area has a farm-to-fork culture that’s attracted a host of talented chefs, making it a foodie paradise voted Canada’s No. 1 wine and culinary destination by TripAdvisor. Events from January’s Shop, Sip, Sample, and Savour to May’s Sip & Sizzle (featuring grilled food and wine pairings from 26 area wineries) provide chances to sample a variety of offerings from vineyards and restaurants at modest prices. The Meurises are wine club members, which allows them to treat visiting friends and family members to free tastings. “I have to say, people love to visit us,” Ann laughs.
When the urge to venture away from home hits, the Buffalo, NY, airport is only about an hour away by car, and a weekend jaunt to Toronto is as easy as hopping on the GO Train.
As for health care, Ann says the local family-health team has earned its first-class reputation. “The medical help there has been excellent.” Services such as cardiology, comprehensive cancer care, and emergency and urgent care are provided at a brand new hospital in nearby St. Catharines. Nancy Brazeau, a local realty broker and president of the NOTL Newcomers Club, says that when her husband needed urgent medical attention, EMTs got him there within just 14 minutes. “That’s probably faster than in Toronto,” Ann observes.
All in all, she says, “It really is a wonderful place to retire to.”
Other photos: Courtesy of OTMPC.