After last night’s entertaining and informative candlelight tour of the cemetery, I had a wonderful night’s sleep at Garrison House. In the morning before breakfast I was already able to connect to the wireless network to check all my messages, comforts that a writer always enjoys on the road. At 7:30 I was ready for a hearty breakfast and went down to one of the dining rooms. I asked one of the friendly waitresses to put me in touch with the owner because I always like to learn about the people behind the destinations.
I had just ordered my delicious breakfast – homemade organic granola with berries and yogurt – when Patrick Redgrave, the owner of Garrison House, joined me at my table. Patrick first told me about the history of Garrison House: it was built in 1854 on the former land of the lieutenant governor. Annapolis Royal is one of Canada’s most historic cities and was the capital of Nova Scotia until 1749, when Halifax took over that role.
The property became the “Temperance Hotel” from 1854 to 1870 when it became the “American House” from 1870 to 1920. It was then purchased by a physician with a large family who converted it into a medical practice until 1970 when another individual turned into a bed and breakfast. Patrick finally bought it in 1980 and spent over a year renovating the entire property and bringing it up to date. This meant completely rewiring the building, redoing the plumbing, and modernizing the seven rooms and common areas that make up the restaurant today.
The Garrison House finally opened in 1982 and since then the property has undergone minor transformations on a regular basis. More recently, a porch has been converted into a screened-in lanai, providing a beautiful alfresco dining space with a perfect view of Fort Anne.
Patrick himself is not from Nova Scotia. I was surprised to learn that he actually hails from Oakville, Ontario, and he spent his early years in Toronto, where he attended school. He later attended college in Kingston, Ontario, to study history and political science. His original intention was to become a lawyer, but during one of his trips to Europe, Patrick worked in vineyards and as a waiter, and fell in love with French wine. After his return to Toronto in 1977, Patrick connected with people who were opening the first wine bar in Toronto and, fascinated with this business, Patrick decided to enter the wine trade and became a wine merchant.
He says of his move to Nova Scotia in 1980 that it has been a wonderful experience. In his words, the people of Nova Scotia are a “throwback to the old values of civility, kindness, openness, and kindness. People here are self-sufficient and multi-talented.” Patrick’s love for his chosen hometown and its people shines through.
He went on to say that the tourist season here consists mainly of summer and fall. Consequently, the Garrison House is open from the beginning of May to the end of October. Over the past few winters Patrick has been traveling extensively, visiting places as far afield as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. He has fallen in love with these places and feels that in many ways the mentality of people in the Far East is similar to that of Nova Scotia.
When it comes to food, Patrick is an accomplished chef and his restaurant has won several awards. Fodor’s has recommended the Garrison House restaurant as the best place to eat in the area. I certainly enjoyed my dinner last night where I had the opportunity to speak with the other chef, Norah Folks, who has been working with Patrick for the last 20 years.
His travels to Asia give Patrick new inspiration for his own restaurant. Patrick loves Asian street food and refers to his culinary experiences as an “assault on the senses”. He points out that the richness of Asian cuisine and the opportunities to learn how to cook are vast in Asia and, in theory, could be compared to the Caribbean. However, the cost of an extended stay in Asia is much less expensive than in the Caribbean.
So for the past few years, Patrick has chosen the Far East to recharge his batteries and return to Nova Scotia with new ideas for his restaurant. Along the way, he not only learned about Asian cuisine, but also gained a good understanding of the various countries in Southeast Asia, their history, and current state of development. He remembers visiting a French colonial city in Laos, which is just beginning to develop its tourist infrastructure. There he found some of the best French baguettes in the world. He also told me about a French fusion cooking school located in Laos. Patrick is obviously committed to the continued innovation of his kitchen.
From her home in Nova Scotia, she says a lot of new people are moving into the area. Many people from the British Isles and mainland Europe are moving here and buying lots of property. When he talked about his personal choice to become a bed and breakfast owner at Annapolis Royal, he said you definitely don’t come here to get rich, but you get rewarded in many other ways. Patrick has discovered a unique historical area with special people and a special mindset.
I would soon have the opportunity to see more of this special region as I continued on the Evangeline Trail to Yarmouth. So I thanked Patrick for his time and hospitality, packed up my car, and set off on a new day of discovery…