Hidden gems await in Niagara on the Lake

As Canada turns 150, deputy editor Alex Laws looks back on having lived a decade in this country — her 10-year Can-niversary — and reflects on seven spots that have stolen her heart. In this first instalment, the surprises that awaited in Ontario’s Niagara on the Lake.

My first impression of Niagara-on-the-Lake was that its manicured appearance made it seem as if it were a model village blown up to scale. But when I looked beyond the prim fence posts and pristine white shutters, I was impressed by the real personality of the place. 

Hidden in an unassuming strip mall, Backhouse is an open-plan farm-to-table restaurant with a wine list as attractive as its cow-hide apron uniforms. The hip wood-filled interior would look good in any city, but here, in Niagara on the Lake, it houses a unique combination of flavourful flair and family-like hospitality; when proprietor and general manager Bev Hotchkiss caught wind that a friend and I were running late for the opening of Alice in Wonderland at 2016’s Shaw Theatre Festival, she borrowed the chef’s car and drove us there herself. 

I experienced a similar warmth and openness during my first wine tastings in Canada at the Trius and Inniskillin wineries. Unlike what I’d experienced in Europe, the hosts and sommeliers were young and seemed less judgmental, which led to comfortable, casual conversations about wine and made me want to explore it. Stepping outside of my very dry comfort zone I discovered the Late Autumn Riesling at Inniskillin, which remains one of my favourites to this day. 

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