Photos and Story Submitted by Serena Maclean
Bancroft in the off-season shows a slightly more relaxed side of itself without losing some of its off-beat charm. It still attracts visitors through its arts community, restaurants, nature, and shopping but also draws MEC-enthusiast ice climbers and cross-country skiiers as well as bold snowmobilers on the town sidewalks.
A Day in Bancroft
We start the day off with lunch at Vito’s Pizzeria, a local restaurant that we rarely fail to visit. The menu features many hearty Italian dishes, including chicken parmigiana, lasagna, fettuccine and, of course, pizza. Often the pizza toppings are laid on so thick that you often cannot get the whole experience without using a knife and fork to hold all the toppings together. This pizza even taught me to eat vegetables I have never liked – seriously, it’s that good! With homey decor, feisty waitresses (sassy!), and Bancroft’s radio station, 97.7 The Moose, blaring 70s classics and 80s pop in the background, I have never felt more at home and satiated. You see, I’ve been visiting Bancroft on the weekends since I was five years old, and The Moose has grown to be an essential part of the fabric of cottage life.
Next, we pass by the Bancroft General Mercantile, where we pick up some requisite junk food, including 30 flavours of salt-water taffy. It’s kind of quiet in the candy shop compared to the summer, but it has practically any sugary delight you can fathom. Onward, we meander down the street to Ashlie’s Books, the aptly described “last bookstore for 103 km”, is a cozy hideout essential for stocking up for a week in the deep woods with your family (without a reliable Internet connection). The shop features work by local authors and maps of all the local lakes, along with current and classic books.
I play guitar and trumpet, so we definitely take the time to stop by Guitar Nuts, a charming music store run by Steve Wright that offers lessons, music books and, of course, instruments. The walls feature concert posters, memorabilia and special editions the owner has collected throughout his lifetime. This is where I bought my first guitar but, alas, on this visit, all I could do was look and admire and eventually settle on a set of picks.
A Day on the Trail
The next morning, we wake to find there has been another deep-freeze overnight, and the world is softened beneath a clean blanket of white. I take a step forward into the drifts and I easily sink up to my knee. I hear an engine starting in the distance and know my dad must have had the same idea as me.
I pull on my boots, snow pants, and helmet while my dad waits outside. I jump on the seat behind him, cling onto him and we are off, up the hill, and into the trees beyond. Snowmobiling can completely turn my perspective of a day on its head. A day that first seemed to be cold, gloomy, and dull can turn into perfect conditions, wind whipping through my hair, snow-covered scenery, and that feeling of happy exhaustion that only comes from a day in the snow.
The trail we choose is less like a snowmobiling path and more like a highway. It stretches from Belleville and Lake Ontario, through Bancroft and the Millennium Park bridge, and all the way up to Lake Saint Peter in Maynooth, and beyond. Baptiste Lake, too, we discover, has frozen over and we see other snowmobilers more daring than us tearing across the lake deeper into the woods.
The wind whips by and the trail and sky feel like they could go on forever. But, alas, we arrive back at the cottage, tired but happy.
An Evening at the Cottage
We pull into the cottage as it begins to get dark, content and ready for some supper and quiet time. Embers still grow red in the wood stove and the cabin feels warm and safe as we strip off our wet outer layers and lay them out to dry. The kettle on the stove lets out a whistle causing my stomach to grumble in anticipation for hot chocolate.
Dinner is ready shortly after ― mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, ground beef, and carrots all layered into a deliciously warm and comfortable shepherd's pie. Candles glow, while we discuss what my little brother wants to do in the area. He’s five-and-a-half years younger than I am, and he chooses a stop at the Bird’s Creek Diner for breakfast, a visit to the Stedman’s toy section, an adventure to the Bird’s Creek public playground, and a trek to the High Falls dam waterfalls.
As I reflect on all the extraordinary weekends I’ve had in Bancroft, as a family, we play Scrabble and watch Harry Potter for the hundredth time (my fave!). My parents are more talkative, animated, and relaxed at the cottage than usual, and we really take the time to reconnect. As the conversation fades, I gladly take the opportunity to climb into my bed for some quiet time and to catch up on the book I purchased but, once I’m there, I find that I can’t keep my eyes open and I surrender to sleep.
Story and Photographs by Serena Maclean
Serena Maclean is a high school student who has lived (on weekends) in Hastings County since she was five years old. Serena enjoys swimming, kayaking, hiking, music, and reading at her family cottage on Baptiste Lake.