After last night’s entertaining and informative Candlelight Graveyard Tour I had a wonderful night of sleep at the Garrison House. In the morning before breakfast I was already able to log onto the wireless network to check all my messages, conveniences that a writer on the road always enjoys. At 7:30 I was ready for a hearty breakfast and I went downstairs into one of the dining rooms. I requested 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 Garrison House’s owner, joined me at my table. Patrick first filled me in on the history of the Garrison House: it was built in 1854 on the former grounds of the Lieutenant Governor. Annapolis Royal is one of the most historic towns in Canada and served as Nova Scotia’s capital until 1749 when Halifax took over that role.
The property became the “Temperance Hotel” from 1854 to 1870 when it was turned into the “American House” from 1870 to 1920. Then it was purchased by a physician with a large family who converted it into a medical practice until 1970 when another individual turned it into a bed and breakfast. Patrick finally bought it in 1980 and spent more than a year renovating the entire property and brining it up-to-date. This meant completely rewiring the building, redoing the plumbing and modernizing the seven bedrooms and the common areas that today make up the restaurant.
The Garrison House finally opened in 1982 and since then the property has undergone minor transformations on a regular basis. Most recently a porch has been turned into a screened-in veranda, providing a beautiful open-air dining space with a perfect view over Fort Anne.
Patrick himself is not from Nova Scotia. I was surprised to hear that he actually hails from Oakville, Ontario, and spent his early years in Toronto where he went to school. He later attended university 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 individuals who were opening the first wine bar in Toronto and, enthralled with this business, Patrick decided to get into the wine trade and became a wine merchant.
Of his move to Nova Scotia in 1980 he says that it has been a wonderful experience. In his words, the people of Nova Scotia are a “throwback to the old values of civility, friendliness, openness and helpfulness. People here are self-reliant and multi-talented.” Patrick’s love for his chosen home town and its people shines through.
He went on to say that the tourist season here consists primarily of summer and fall. Accordingly, the Garrison House is open from early May to late October. During the past few winters Patrick has been traveling a lot and he has visited places as far away as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. He has fallen in love with these places and feels that in many way people’s mentality in the Far East is similar to that of Nova Scotia.
As far as food is concerned, Patrick is a consummate chef and his restaurant has garnered various 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 a chance to speak with the other chef, Norah Folks, who has been working with Patrick now for the last 20 years.
His trips 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 indicates that the richness of Asian cuisine and the opportunities to learn about cooking are extensive in Asia and could in theory be compared to the Caribbean. However, the cost of an extended stay in Asia is much less expensive than that of the Caribbean.
So during the last few years Patrick has chosen the Far East to recharge his batteries and to come back to Nova Scotia with fresh ideas for his restaurant. Along the way he has not only learned about Asian cuisine, but has also gained a good understanding of the various South East Asian countries, their history and current state of development. He recounts visiting a French colonial town in Laos, which is just starting 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. Obviously Patrick is committed to continuously innovating his cuisine.
Of his home in Nova Scotia he says that a lot of new people are moving into the area. Many people from the British Isles and the European mainland are moving here and buying a lot of properties. When speaking of his personal choice to become a bed and breakfast owner in Annapolis Royal he said that you definitely do not come here to get rich, but you get rewarded in so many other ways. Patrick has discovered a unique historic area with special people and a special mentality.
I would soon have a chance myself to see more of this special region by continuing my drive along the Evangeline Trail down to Yarmouth. So I thanked Patrick for his time and hospitality, packed my car and set off on a new day of discoveries…