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