Katrina Clarke | May 11, 2015 | Toronto Star
Toronto’s newest “It” neighbourhood is an outpost in Prince Edward County where the city’s trendiest bars, restaurants and people are flocking.
But the influx is causing a few growing pains in the close-knit community.
The Dakota Tavern, a popular Dundas St. W. and Ossington Ave. saloon, is the latest Toronto establishment to hitch its proverbial horse to a venue in the picturesque rural community 2.5 hours east of Toronto, joining the likes of the Drake Devonshire inn.
“It’s like the Dakota throwing a big barn party,” said Shawn Creamer, one half of Dakota Tavern’s husband-and-wife duo, speaking to the Star from his waterfront property in Cherry Valley, a hamlet in Prince Edward County. “We want to bring that Dakota party up here to the county.”
Creamer said he fell in love with Prince Edward County — he calls it a “hidden gem” — two years ago while visiting a friend. After a decade in Toronto, he craved a slower pace of life and more quality time with his two young kids.
Creamer and his wife, Shannon Kohlmeier, began searching for land to build a cottage on, when they unintentionally stumbled on the Hayloft property.
“One day, there was a spot that came up and it was a barn. And the barn had a liquor licence in it,” Creamer said with a chuckle. “It was almost like God said the Dakota needed a real barn.”
On Friday, the Hayloft Dancehall opens its barn doors to the public.
With performances by Elliott Brood and The Beauties, the grand opening cements the live music venue’s place among Toronto-standard venues in the quiet, rural community.
It’s this growing invasion of Toronto venues and people that’s proved a bumpy adjustment for some local residents.
“With places like the Drake catering to the Torontonian crowd, it’s (causing) a bit of rift between your county folk … and the transplants,” said Karen Condison, an administrator with the Prince Edward County chamber of tourism and commerce. “They just don’t like the way it’s going.”
Condison said some local residents complain about Drake Devonshire customers taking up parking spots and say they feel unwelcome at upscale establishments wealthy Torontonians frequent.
“That’s not the case and that doesn’t seem like a very successful business strategy to me,” said Abigail Van Den Broek, senior manager of public relations with Drake Hotel Properties. “We’ve made every effort possible to be something that appeals to the local community and tourists.”
Van Den Broek said the hotel and restaurant — which had a soft launch last September and marked its grand opening on May 1 — made a point of hiring local people and regularly holds events open to the public, such as open mic nights. They’re also trying to manage the parking issues, she said.
There’s no denying the community of 25,000 has undergone significant change in recent years. There are fewer family farms and more wineries and the stream of Toronto people — retirees and increasingly, younger people — relocating remains steady.
About 700,000 tourists also visit in the summer months.
“There’s a change happening and when there’s change it can be a little unsettling for people,” said Sandra Latchford, past president of the area’s chamber of tourism and commerce. “You’re going to have some tension.”
Things may get worse before they get better.
“I’m still hearing (complaints),” said Creamer, one week before the Hayloft’s opening.
He explained that before he purchased the live music venue, it had a long-standing reputation as a bar catering to drunk teenagers who’d wander the roads on Saturdays.
A few neighbours are still worried about noise and disorderly conduct since his venue will be open Friday and Saturday nights until 2 a.m. from May to October, he said.
“I’ve taken precautions to soundproof it … although my neighbours don’t believe me yet,” Creamer said, adding that shuttle buses will be on hand to transport partiers to villages, cutting down on traffic and ensuring people get home safely.
It’s yet to be seen how the Hayloft Dancehall fares in the close-knit county — with a sold-out opening night ahead, it looks promising so far — but regardless, Creamer plans to stay in Prince Edward County permanently.
It’s a place where 10 of his Toronto friends have already moved, where his kids can play outside safely on their own, where sandy beaches looks like the Bahamas and where everyone stops what their doing to watch the electrifying sunsets, he said.
“It really tugs at your heart when you come up here,” said Creamer. “I feel like I’ve lived here forever.”