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Urban Cowboy: Up the river with a new canoe and Creemore

​Wendy Button has given new credence to the saying "I think, therefore I am"
Wendy and canoe 062116 cropped
Wendy Button and her new canoe. Photo by Owen Roberts for GuelphToday.

Monday night, Wendy Button envisioned herself as an engaged, enthusiastic canoeist. Stroke after stroke after stroke, digging in, paddling heartily down the Saugeen River near Ayton, past her family cottage. Dip, dip and swing. Over and over and over.

The thing is, she didn’t have a canoe.

Instead, she was on dry land, landlocked at the Borealis Restaurant in Guelph, taking part in the 22nd annual Creemore Dinner to support the Grand River Conservation Foundation.

Wendy and canoe 062116Wendy Button at Borealis in Guelph with her new Creemore canoe. Photo by Owen Roberts for GuelphToday.

But that didn’t stop her from doggedly thinking "I am a canoeist," hoping to be among the last standing for a chance to win a special Creemore canoe. Dipping her imaginary paddle into the imaginary river, again and again, as the final names were called.

And indeed…hers was last.

Thanks to Creemore, the Neighbourhood Group of Companies (which owns Borealis, as well as the Woolwich Arms and Miijidaa) and some good luck, Wendy edged out me and 50 others who were vying to set the grand prize on our car top and drive away, following the four-course dinner and Creemore tasting.

In the end, I won a bottle opener. My wife, who’s actually from Creemore, won a cool brewery T-shirt.  

But really, winning was only part of it.

The proceeds from the dinner — about $11,000 — are part of The Neighbourhood Group’s commitment to donate $75,000 to the GRCF by 2018 (they reached the $50,000 mark Monday). The money is going to support an interpretive and nature centre being built at Guelph Lake.

And for the 22nd time, the event further raised the profile of the way craft beer and local food can be paired in a tasty way.

Although a lot has changed since the brewery and Neighbourhood Group founder Bob Desautels first got together — for example, Creemore is now owned by a multi-national company — the idea of complementary Ontario food and beverages is stronger than ever with Borealis, and others.

Consider Monday’s meal. Borealis chef Richard Hodge teamed panko breaded ale and aged cheese croquettes with Creemore Pilsner. Then came warm duck confit, accompanied by kolsch style ale, my new Creemore favourite. The main course was a half-rack of braised pork ribs with the beer that started it all for Creemore in 1987, premium lager. And finally, dessert, a baked, phyllo wrapped ale cheese cake, served with a fruity hefeweizen wheat beer. Great stuff.

The province has taken note of how the public is continuing to rally around the local food and beverage movement. 

Just last week, Jeff Leal, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, presided over an announcement in Prince Edward County during Ontario Wine Week that saw more than $850,000 of provincial and federal support dedicated to 20 wineries to expand production.

Before that, to kick off Craft Beer Week, he announced the province and Ottawa would invest over $1.6 million in projects at 20 craft breweries across Ontario to help them expand operations — covering a range of business development activities, from major capital investments to human resource development to marketing strategy.

Why so much help for local beverages?

Well, craft beer now directly employs 1,500 people in Ontario — mostly small business owners, considered the backbone of the provincial economy. The LCBO sold $69 million worth of craft beer last year, and will surely top $75 million this year, given revenues are rising about 35 per cent annually.

And since 2014, 84 Ontario wineries have participated in a farmers’ market program, selling nearly 141,000 litres of VQA wine, which is local by definition (only Ontario grapes are used in its production).

Guelph was a pioneer in the local food and beverage movement. It continues to shine with events like the Creemore Dinner, which supports regional farmers, creates jobs, contributes to community development…and this week, put a canoe on top of Wendy Button’s car.