Break­fast in Bloom­field

Rob and Gil­lian Leek miss friends and the Tiger-Cats but they love new home in Prince Ed­ward County

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - Paul Wil­son’s col­umn ap­pears Tues­days in the GO sec­tion. PaulWil­son.Hamil­ton@gmail.com Twit­ter: @PaulWil­sonInHam

Former Hamil­ton cou­ple’s B&B is a boom­ing suc­cess

HE LIKES TO TALK, she likes to cook — in short, the per­fect cou­ple to open a bed and break­fast.

So six years ago, Rob and Gil­lian Leek did just that. They said good­bye to Hamil­ton and moved to Prince Ed­ward County, a place they scarcely knew ex­isted.

Home now is Bloom­field, pop­u­la­tion maybe 700. On their wrap­around ve­randa, with a cran­berry spritzer and pear bread fresh from the oven, we’ll see how this B&B ad­ven­ture is work­ing out.

A lit­tle back­ground. A wed­ding brought Marnie and me to what peo­ple here just call The County. It’s a me­an­der­ing-coast head­land that stretches out into Lake On­tario south of Belleville.

It feels like the Mar­itimes, and thanks to the old Mur­ray Canal, it’s tech­ni­cally an is­land. They still farm here, and some fam­i­lies go back seven gen­er­a­tions. But now there are new­bies. And sud­denly, sev­eral dozen winer­ies.

Daugh­ter Carly chose to get mar­ried here, on WooHoo Farm just out­side Pic­ton. On a Satur­day evening, un­der a moon just a whis­per short of full, we dined in a field, danced in a barn. Carly and Josh planned all this. Much could have gone wrong, and noth­ing did. Pure en­chant­ment.

Marnie and I stayed on a few days in Pic­ton. And one morn­ing I drove to Bloom­field, eight kilo­me­tres away. The Leeks knew I was com­ing. A cou­ple of peo­ple in Hamil­ton men­tioned them to me af­ter learn­ing we were headed for The County.

I emailed Rob Leek, told him we would be in the area for a July 16 wed­ding. He wrote back to re­port a co­in­ci­dence — on that very date, 45 years ear­lier, he and Gil­lian mar­ried at the McMaster Chapel.

Rob, born at the Hen­der­son and raised on the west Moun­tain, met Gil­lian Bryce at West­mount Sec­ondary. The guy who was sup­posed to dance with her in a school pro­duc­tion of “My Fair Lady” got sick, Rob stepped in and the die was cast.

Rob ended up in the ex­ec­u­tivesearch in­dus­try, and even­tu­ally owned a firm down­town. Gil­lian be­came a statis­ti­cian, with a long ca­reer teach­ing at Mo­hawk. Along the way, they raised two daugh­ters — Heather and Ken­dra.

Rob and Gil­lian were big fans of Strat­ford, and the B&Bs there. They loved sit­ting around the break­fast ta­ble with another cou­ple or two, Rob says, “talk­ing about the sub­plots of King Lear.”

For years, the pair con­sid­ered a new life as pro­pri­etors of a B&B. They looked around Strat­ford, and Ni­a­garaon-the-Lake too. Very ex­pen­sive. Then daugh­ter Ken­dra in Kingston said: “Don’t for­get about Prince Ed­ward County.”

In re­cent years, Toronto dis­cov­ered The County and now it’s hot. But in that sum­mer of 2010, Rob says, “we were kind of the van­guard.”

So they moved into a fine home on the main drag that of­fered pri­vate quar­ters for them and three hand­some guest suites at the top of the stairs.

In­flu­en­tial travel site TripAd­vi­sor shows a five-star rat­ing and rave re­views. Peo­ple love the break­fasts, the beds, and most of all the hosts. At about $150 a room, Loy­al­ist Land­ing has all the busi­ness it can han­dle.

Rob has a col­lec­tion of 400 flags, and loves to sur­prise visi­tors. See­ing her gold-sun ban­ner fly­ing on the front lawn brought a guest from Kaza­khstan to tears.

Ev­ery day, there are bam­boo sheets to iron — Gil­lian’s job. And toi­lets to scrub — Rob’s duty. No paid staff here.

“It’s re­lent­less in the sum­mer,” Rob ad­mits. “It’s like a per­for­mance. We have guests and we need to be en­er­gized.”

And, yes, there are things they miss about Hamil­ton. Old friends. The city’s di­ver­sity. And the Cats — Rob was a sea­son-ticket holder.

But The County has claimed their hearts.

“There’s a sense of com­mu­nity, a sense of place,” Rob says. “The de­sire here is to keep it just the way it is.”

There’s a sense of com­mu­nity, a sense of place. ROB LEEK

PHO­TOS BY PAUL WIL­SON, SPE­CIAL TO THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Top: The Leeks’ B&B is on the main drag of Bloom­field and there are al­ways flags fly­ing out front. Rob has 400 in his col­lec­tion. Above: The Quinte Room, one of three guest suites at the top of the stairs at the Loy­al­ist Land­ing. Right: Gil­lian and Rob Leek left Hamil­ton be­hind six years ago. Top left: The cou­ple: Rob and Gil­lian Leek. The place: the McMaster Chapel. The day: July 16th, 1971. .

PAUL WIL­SON

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