I have been lazy lately and lulled by the site of green tomatoes slowly growing in my garden. A little sun might be nice, however, to actually ripen them up.

All this precipitation brings to mind the summer of 1992, when it rained 16 weekends in a row, and I walked around Peterborough with an umbrella practically implanted under my arm.

But there were sunny times then too, when my bare feet took to the sidewalk and I sat on the patio at the Only Cafe, sipping honey-coloured pints of ale (not at the same time, mind you. You know the rule: no shirts, no shoes, no service, and even in those post-Gwen Jacobs days, I was still pretty attached to wearing my top). If the patio was even built by then… I might be getting my memories confused but in the interests of creative non-fiction, I reserve the right.

Suffice it to say that I equate the town of Peterborough with easy-going summer-time days and am looking forward to an upcoming journey to those eastern Ontario parts. If you’re in the province and you’re looking for a local-ish getaway, get thee to Peterborough. And if you’ve never been to this artsy-fartsy riverside town, here are ten fun things to do (well, fun from my own experience), in no particular order.

  1. Hit the Peterborough Folk Festival – the free, all-day Saturday event in late August features loads of bands on various stages, an artisan village, workshops, psychic readings, a beer tent and more, all in a bucolic setting beside the Otonobee River. The whole thing starts downtown on Thursday night, and don’t miss the pub crawl on Friday – the best way to see both the city’s thriving musical culture and its great pubs and restaurants, including the Montreal House and the Gordon Best Theatre (pictured above), on top of the Only Cafe.
  2. Did you know that this city was once a canoe capital? For over a hundred years (1850 – 1960), factories like the Peterborough Canoe Company and the Rice Lake Canoe Company pumped out the iconic Canadian vessel. Practice your patriotism and go to the Canadian Canoe Museum to learn more.
  3. Speaking of boats – get in one. Climb aboard a faux riverboat on Little Lake and learn a bit about the long holidaying history of the Trent Severn Waterway as you rise from one level to another in the over-a-century-old Peterborough Lift Lock.
  4. See some art. For awhile I worked at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, researching artists, writing press releases and generally being amazed by this lovely lake-side gallery that I’d only visited once before then for a Cultural Studies class excursion.
  5. Speaking of class, anyone interested in architecture and/or higher learning should take a walk around the campus of Trent University. I decided to go there because it reminded me so much of the rock slabs and open spaces of Northern Ontario. Oh, and its reputation spoke to my hippiesque sensibilities.
  6. One of the other things I loved to do in the Peterpatch was take my moody self and head to the cemetery. On the edge of Little Lake, this pocket of parkland and gravestones is a great place to do some thinking. If being surrounded by dead people and silence isn’t your thing, take a tour with the Trent Valley Archives. Offered every Sunday, from 4 to 5 pm, these tours educate on a certain themes (Their Spirit Lives On in July, August features Tragic Tales). Tickets are $10 per person. For more information call (705) 745-4404. The archives is also doing other cool stuff, like historical pubcrawls. Only in Peterborough!
  7. Years back, some friends of mine and I packed up our lawn-chairs and headed down to Del Crary Park to see Buffy Sainte-Marie FOR FREE. She was playing the Festival of Lights. This year, if you’ve been wondering just what happened to Glass Tiger, you can ask them yourself when they hit the stage on Saturday, July 26th. Other upcoming performers include Ron Sexsmith, Michael Burgess and Justin Rutledge. Get there early!
  8. The first time I ever visited a farmers’ market was in Peterborough. Once, a little boy with a dirty face was carrying around a mess of squalling kittens in a cardboard box filled with straw. Of course I took one, but that’s another story… Active since 1825, the Peterborough Farmers’ Market is just as great as Orillia’s, with loads of vendors, lots of music and that same happy spirit.
  9. Writer Margaret Laurence described the Otonabee as a “river that flows both ways” in her novel The Diviners. It’s true. The currents flow back and forth like a weaving. Paying homage to this local natural environment, the Ecology Park is a must-see for anyone who loves the earth. Follow a nature trail, learn about native species and pick up some skills about effective composting and organic gardening. A great place to bring the kids!
  10. After all is said and done, head to Hunter Street and grab a pint or a giant cookie or just a slightly- cinnamon-scented coffee at the Only Cafe, home-away-from-home for underground artists, actors, writers, addicts and those wanting to bump elbows with the town’s artsy elite. When I lived in the Patch, I spent more time here than anywhere else, and have the journal entries to prove it.

If you’re from Peterborough or, like me, a long-time ex-pat who still misses the magical city, what do you do for fun within its boundaries?

Photo of Gordon Best Theatre (above the Only Cafe) by daniel_photographer

Photo of Ptbo Lift Lock by Derek Purdy

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