Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where our food comes from ... Maple Syrup

This is the start of an occasional series of blogs explaining the story behind some of the food we serve at Number One Grafton Street.
Prince Edward Island has such a wide range of local food produce ranging from potatoes to lobster and from honey to wine we thought it would be interesting to find out more about where the food comes from. In this blog we describe our visit to a local maple syrup producer.

The majority of the world's maple syrup is produced in Canada. Over three quarters of the world output comes from Quebec. The largest production area in the US is Vermont with around 5% of world production. The quantities from PEI are small but the production methods are very similar.

Woodlands have a sugar shack in the woods in Woodville Mills, near Cardigan, PEI. We visited them on what proved to be the warmest March day in history. As a result the amount of sap flowing was only small but they could still produce maple syrup.

 Syrup can be produced not only from the Sugar Maple tree but from other trees such as birch but the yields are not as good. That is why the sugar maple is so popular.

The process begins by tapping a tree with a spile that allows the sap to drip into the bucket. Larger production regions have long runs of piping to connect the tapping points and collect the sap but due to the small quantities and the lack of a slope to allow the sap to flow downhill this location uses a series of collection buckets fitted to the trees.

The sap tastes like water with a slight sweetness but it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. For every 40 litres of sap collected, once the water has been evaporated there only remains 1 litre of syrup. The buckets are fitted to every tapping point with lids to prevent insects from falling into the sap. Insects love anything sweet.

Once the sap has been collected and filtered it is fed into a large evaporator that was manufactured in Quebec. This is where the magic begins.

The sap is heated in the evaporator and during the process passes through numerous stages where the water is gradually evaporated off and the syrup is concentrated.

The evaporator is heated by burning wood from the forest which means the process is not only efficient but sustainable. And there is no shortage of wood .....

Finally the syrup is checked for quality and then bottled for sale. The maple syrup is so popular that they manage to sell all their produce locally rather than relying on retail sales.

And how do you find them? Drive out from Cardigan on route 311 to Woodville Mills and look for the sign!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Social media tools and innkeeping - the story so far

Since opening Number One Grafton Street, our B&B in Charlottetown, PEI in June 2010 we have been intrigued by the number of different social media tools available to the innkeeper. Here is the story of our experiences so far in social media.

Number One Grafton Street opened on June 14th 2010 with a website that included links to an online booking system BookPEI from Tourism PEI and our blog. Our website was designed by InternetWorks and we have received some great feedback from guests on the clarity of the site and the absence of distracting clutter. The booking engine from Tourism PEI has proved simple to maintain and apart from a few upgrading issues has proven to be very reliable. The majority of our reservations are made online, therefore the availability of a reliable booking system has been essential. 
Our blog has been fun to create but as with all blogs the difficulty has been having the time to create enough posts to keep it interesting. This is where the other social media tools become useful as the mechanism to let a wide variety of people know about us. A blog is great but if it is only read by people who visit our site then we are missing an opportunity. It would be ideal if people found our site by reading our blogs.

Once our guests started arriving we began to receive visit reviews through our TripAdvisor account 
Innkeepers in general have mixed feelings about Trip Advisor. They enjoy to read the positive reviews that guests write but are continually concerned about the 'rogue review' that could appear on their site.

Following our first summer season we decided to commit ourselves to the wider world of Twitter and Facebook. Setting up the accounts was easy and before long we were being 'followed' and 'liked' by people across the globe. We are still learning how to gain our 'voice' on both Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is not the tool for blatantly advertising your property. We occasionally tweet about our different rooms and facilities but it really works well as a means of linking interested parties together on a topic. But opening a Twitter account is not a passive exercise, you must respond to mentions immediately. Tomorrow is too late!

Facebook on the other hand is a better tool for displaying what you have to offer. We have linked our Twitter account with Facebook so that our tweets are automatically posted to Facebook. This keeps the Facebook site refreshed. We seem to have two distinct groups of Twitter and Facebook users with little overlap and therefore communicating regularly with both groups is essential.

 We next became involved with Google+ and our experience so far has not been too promising. The site was easy to set up but it doesn't seem to have many users actively engaged in it's use. If we have to make a decision to remove one of our accounts than Google+ would be the one to go.

Finally we have started to use Pinterest and what is there not to love! For a Bed and Breakfast the visual image is the main attraction to the business. A potential guest can only imagine the hospitality of the innkeepers, the quality of the amenities and the great food, but guests can see the photos and Pinterest gives them great photos and links. Is it here to stay? Who knows? But there are a group of people actively exploring images of travel locations, architecture, interior design, food who love images of Bed and Breakfasts.

 So finally where are we after nearly two years of experimenting. Here are some of our initial observations:
  •  Spend your time initially improving your website.  Before getting involved in social media make sure you have a good website.
  •  A picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure you have attractive photos of your property.
  • An out-of-date account is worse than no account. Make sure you have time to post to your Twitter and Facebook accounts
  • What are we missing about Google+ ? Unless something changes soon we think we will close it down.
  •  Try to engage your visitors rather than just tell them how good you are.
We would be really interested in hearing of other people's experiences with some of the social media tools we have mentioned, both from innkeepers and from other users.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Artist's View of Number One Grafton Street

The location of Number One Grafton Street on the corner of Grafton and West Street makes it very popular for photographers who want to record the beauty of Historic Charlottetown.

But it has also attracted the interest of artists. Earlier this year we were contacted by GG Gallery in Charlottetown www.gggallery.ca/ to ask if we would agree to a painting being made of Number One Grafton Street. The resulting picture is an incredibly colourful rendition of our property.

Recently whilst searching with Google we found that another painting had been produced. It is titled "Caroma Lodge" which is a previous name of the property. The artist is David Thauberger, a member of the Order of Canada who lives in Saskatchewan. www.davidthauberger.com/  David explained by email the presence of the church in the distance on the right "The painting of your place "Caroma Lodge" is one of a number I have made of houses in Charlottetown. I wanted to situate it 'on the Island', so included the church at Milton as a 'locater'..."

Interestingly the church at Milton was also designed by William Critchlow Harris who also designed Number One Grafton Street.

We are very grateful for receiving permission to show the images of the paintings from the artists. If anyone knows of any other paintings that have been produced of our property we would be very interested in hearing from you. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Style at Home

We were delighted last year when we received a visit by Margot Austin from Style at Home when she was on PEI to carry out a photo shoot. The shoot was at a property that had been designed by Susan Snow who helped in the interior design of Number One Grafton Street.

It was a pleasure meeting Margot and her husband Kevin and their photographer Stacey. 

We are delighted with the review that Margot has included in the August edition of Style at Home that is now available in stores. 

On page 120 is a great photo of Number One Grafton Street and some very kind words on our inn.


It is an honour to be included in Style at Home, thanks to everyone involved.

William and Kate visit PEI

The visit to Prince Edward Island on July 3rd and 4th 2011 was a special event that deserves recording in our blog. William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to visit PEI as part of their Canadian Tour. It was reported that Kate had always been interested in the story of  Anne of Green Gables that is based in Prince Edward Island
The Duke received his own personal flag during his visit to Canada.

The Royal couple arrived on the island during Sunday evening and after attending a press reception were driven to Government House to spend the night.

During Sunday afternoon the citizens of Charlottetown were enjoying the lovely warm weather.

 But by 8pm crowds had appeared hoping for a glimpse of William and Kate.
We had walked the short distance from Number One Grafton Street just in time to see the convoy arrive and managed to get a quick glimpse of Kate as she waved before entering the house. For that one night we were the closest Bed and Breakfast to William and Kate, being situated only 300m away.

Security was tight but not overpowering with a combination of human and electronic detection devices.
The next morning we were waiting outside Government House at around 10am for the convoy to leave, taking William and Kate to Province House.

This time we got a better view of them getting into their limousine.

Security was still very tight. Here was one of the security guards on the roof of the provincial government buildings.
Once William and Kate drove out onto Grafton Street we got a much better view of them.

Then we were off to Province House to see if we could get a better view. The crowds were quite large when we arrived and the international press were ready and waiting.

But it wasn't too long before William and Kate appeared outside Province House to cheers from the crowd waiting outside.

After a series of speeches William and Kate went for a walkabout to meet the crowds. William came to our side. 

He worked his way along the edge of the crowd and seemed very relaxed and enjoying the experience. Everyone appeared very pleased to welcome him to Charlottetown.

Before leaving we managed to get one good photo of the two of them together.

They left Province House in a landau to travel down Great George Street. Some friends of ours managed to capture a photo of them as they passed by.

It was a very good day in the history of Charlottetown and one that everyone who had shared the occasion will remember. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Springtime on Prince Edward Island

After the challenges of winter on Prince Edward Island it is always exciting to see the signs of life returning.
Spring officially starts at the end of March and there is often still snow on the ground and ice on the beaches.

Panmure Island  - 31st March

But most of the snow soon melts by early April, except in the sheltered valleys and under trees. Unfortunately once the snow has melted the grass underneath is not the beautiful green colour we expect to see on PEI.

Number One Grafton Street - 3rd April

Of course spring is a very variable season and occasionally winter tries to fight back. A covering of snow in April is not unusual but fortunately it does not usually last for very long.

Number One Grafton Street - 20th April

Even after the ice melts the water around the island takes some time before it is able to warm up and when the air is slightly warmer this is the perfect condition for the formation of fog.  The Confederation Bridge is shown here above the fog forming on the Northumberland Strait.

Confederation Bridge - 28th April

But eventually the sun works its magic on the soil and the spring colours begin to emerge. Gardens in Charlottetown become a patchwork of colour.

 In sheltered rural locations Mayflowers and Marsh Marigolds begin to appear at the start of May.

And by mid May the leaves are beginning to emerge on the trees. The speed at which plants recover on the island is truly amazing. 

By early June the blossom appears on the apple trees ready for another crop of beautiful fruit.

But by the end of spring the grass is green, the trees and covered in leaves and PEI is ready for summer again!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wintertime on Prince Edward Island

Many of our guests in the summer ask us what the winters are like on Prince Edward Island. We thought this winter we would create a blog showing how the winter was developing. Usually the winters on the island are cold with plenty of snow but last year was unusual and the snow was late arriving and the quantities were rather small.
The average daytime high in Charlottetown is around minus 3 degrees Celsius in the winter and the nighttime minimum is around minus 12 degrees Celsius. Overall each winter Charlottetown receives a total of 3 metres of snow, with January typically the snowiest month.

This winter the snow did not arrive until after Christmas but it has wasted no time in building up. These cars were parked near to the Farmers Market in Charlottetown.

At the start of the year the water was still unfrozen, as you can see in this beautiful view of the lighthouse on Panmure Island.

But before long the daytime and nighttime temperatures fall well below zero and the water around the island begins to freeze over. This is the view from Victoria Park across the frozen harbour to the rear of the houses on West Street. 

But just because the weather is cold it doesn't deter walkers and runners from enjoying the clean, fresh air while they are on the boardwalk.

Due to the amount of snow that has fallen the sign at Number One Grafton Street is gradually becoming buried...

...and it does make the clearing of the sidewalks an almost daily activity.

Another amazing sight across the island is the length of some of the icicles that form on buildings. PEI may receive a lot of snow but it does also enjoy numerous sunny days. Due to the sun having some warmth even in February it causes the snow on roofs to melt but as the air temperature is well below freezing then huge displays of icicles form.

Travel across the island is generally good but you need to remember if the road you want to use has been ploughed or not!

But if you travel around the island you can find some wonderful old buildings.

There are also some of the best sunsets.

At night after a heavy snowfall, Charlottetown takes on an almost magical appearance. The snow hangs on the trees and everything becomes silent.

But at the end of the winter the ice begins to break up and forms large floating blocks.

And if you look very closely you can sometimes see a seal that is enjoying some of the warmth from the sun.

Prince Edward Island is a special place throughout the year. Most people only manage to see the beauty of the island in the summer. If they are fortunate they spend time here in the autumn and enjoy the mild temperatures and beautiful colours. But if they are very lucky they get to see the island in winter. Yes it is cold and yes, it snows but it still has a charm unlike anywhere else.