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The Boston Globe

Travel

ESSAY

The kind folks of Ontario’s Niagara Region welcome strangers

NIAGARA, Ontario — It was the final at Wimbledon. Roger Federer was poised to become number one again. I reluctantly left my comfortable sofa in Toronto, during a rain delay, to brave the highway in an effort to keep my first appointment in the Niagara Region of Ontario, two hours away.

OK, I’d be late, but the tennis score was preying on my mind. Did he, didn’t he? I pulled into Beamsville at around 1 o’clock.

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“Where is there a public TV in this town?” I asked some kid on the sidewalk. He pointed to a pub. I burst into the darkness of the Kilt and Clover to find men sitting around drinking beer, some of them glued to the TV perched above the bar, watching football.

“Switch the channel to the tennis match, to Wimbledon, to Federer,” I yelled.

All eyes turned to me in disbelief — a crazed woman on their turf. The bartender clicked the remote and Federer fell to the grass in triumph. Suddenly the others didn’t think me too crazy anymore and Danny Wooster, the bartender, and a few of the guys congratulated me. I was out of there in a flash, however, not because the boys weren’t my instant new friends, but because now I was really late.

In nearby Port Dalhousie a cottage overlooking a lake was waiting, but when I got to town I couldn’t find it — little country roads, poor signage, you get the picture. I stopped at a weathered farmhouse and asked the woman who answered my knock if she knew the place.

“Down the road, and up the dirt road, and over by the water,” she said.

Her directions were solid enough, but I still got lost again. Within a few minutes, that same woman, Maureen, caught up with me in her van to lead the way.

Kathryn, the cottage owner and Maureen’s friend, not only was the perfect host, but also the purveyor of all things practical. In my rush to get on the road, I had left my suitcase by my back door. I didn’t discover that until Kathryn, having asked if she could get my luggage from the car, announced that there was no luggage. Since I was there on assignment, that was a problem. Kathryn had me get in her car. After 10 minutes of driving, we ended up at Wal-Mart.

“Clothes,” she said.

It took no time at all to buy a sleeveless black jersey dress, a pair of calf-hugging black sweatpants, and a grey and white striped T-shirt. I had my uniform for the next three days.

The next morning, after a blissful rest in the fresh country air, I saw Kathryn driving across the fields in her golf cart and bearing gifts — homemade scones and tarts for my trip.

There are about 28 wineries in the Niagara-on-the Lake region. Most offer tastings combined with complementary cheeses. At one wine store, smack in the middle of the main drag in the town of Niagara, a guy called Ray gave me the best selections of tastings to date. Eight various shaped glasses, one after another, filled with samplings of wine from the lightest of rieslings to the ultimate velvetness of his specialty, icewine. However, he had no cheese to offer. I protested, like a spoiled tippler. He made amends by sending me off to the nearest and best cheese shop, Cheese Secrets, only to find it was closing for the day. I told the owner my tale. She rewarded me with the most delectable selection of cheeses, gratis.

After three days it was time to head home. About a half-hour along the highway, the steering wheel of my old car started to vibrate violently. I pulled into a town called Grimsby, where locals directed me to a full-service Canadian Tire outlet. Three guys were eager to help. One drove the car around the block and confirmed my concern. Two others inspected it on a hoist. It was the brakes. They consoled me by saying they were good enough to get me home if I didn’t put the pedal to the metal.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked.

“Nothing,” they said. “It’s on the house. Have a safe trip.”

I left in wonder at all the kindnesses I had encountered and drove with their parting words in mind.

Carol Ann Davidson can be reached at cdavidson002@sympatico.ca.
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