By Vanessa Chiasson
They say that the lion is the king of all beasts, but in eastern Ottawa the king may just be an irresistible cat named Beast. The countryside around Orleans and Cumberland is known locally for its farming, food, and history, but a closer look reveals that an abundance of animals are working, living, and lounging in the area’s farms, museums, and wineries.
And when it comes to working, living, and lounging, Beast is doing all three. With six toes on each paw to aid his adventures, this nimble kitty is the king of the castle at Domaine Perrault, a gorgeous small winery and vineyard just 25 minutes from the heart of downtown Ottawa. From 1,000 vines planted back in 1999, Domaine Perrault has grown to a production capacity of 11,000 bottles and 14 different wines, including a delicious rose and a semi-sweet dessert wine.
While all operations at Domaine Perrault are undoubtedly conducted under Beast’s watchful eye, it’s sommelier Julie Richard who guides guests through the process of sampling the wines, which are made from hybrid grapes specially bred to thrive in cold climates such as Ottawa. Julie’s passion for wine and enthusiasm for the tasting process will have even the most particular of guests requesting refills.
A refreshing glass of Domaine Perrault’s Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc is even more delicious after a visit with some of the other animals of the region. Beast has some big competition! At Bearbrook Game Meats, just a 10-minute drive from the winery, young buffalo calves and young elk friskily meander through the fields and sassy hens and ducks will let you know what’s on their minds. Visitors are welcome to drive or walk through the lanes to see the farm’s free-range animals, and visit the shop for organic, chemical-free game meat, including elk, wild boar, buffalo, venison, and more. There are even prepared side dishes to choose from, including spectacular homemade spaetzle noodles, the perfect accompaniment to their tender buffalo stew in black currant sauce. While you’re unlikely to see many farm cats here, there is one special pet you won’t soon forget - magnificent white peacocks! These stately birds are more than happy to strut their stuff for guests.
Bearbrook Game Meats’ pet peacocks may just be the most exotic animals in town, but they face some stiff competition from the residents of Cumberland Heritage Village Museum. The Museum, which showcases local life in the 1920s and 1930s, gets every detail right, down to the working blacksmith shop and sawmill. And, of course, there are plenty of animals! At the Foubert House, which dates back to 1915, Chantecler chickens - a Canadian heritage animal specifically bred to thrive in our climate - happily scratch around in the dirt. Nearby, Angora rabbits, another heritage breed, show off their gorgeous fur which early residents used for spinning. Neighbouring homesteads feature the critically endangered Ridley Bronze turkeys and Dexter cattle, the favourite breed among early settlers.
But between farm animals, work animals, and family animals, the hardest working and most important animal in all of rural eastern Ottawa is the one you’re least likely to see. Caanan Blueberries has some 90 beehives placed at farms all around the area, including their own where the bees lend a helping hand for blueberry pollination. Visitors are welcome to pick their own fresh, highbush blueberries while in season, but it’s the bees who are the true workers here, making sure that the blueberries are in bloom each and every year. Happily, their honey is every bit as pure as their work ethic, making it the perfect finishing taste to the region’s meat, wine, and fruits.
The food experiences of Cumberland are fresh, flavourful, and fun, but there’s no denying that the region’s furry, feathered, and fuzzy friends are star attractions in their own right, from the smallest to the biggest “beasts”.