visit the Wool Shed
There are so many reasons why people enjoy a great outing to Amherst Island. It’s beautiful, with bountiful nature and water on all sides. It is a warm community, with an ‘old-fashioned’ feeling of people mutually supportive and closely interacting. There are many stimulating, interesting events taking place, places to go, a choice of accommodation, places to eat, public parks by water with picnic benches, and peaceful beaches. And there is a multitude of birds and animals.
The Island is very easy to access from Highway 401, points east or west, or for a day trip locally. It is about 2 hours from Ottawa to the ferry dock; 2 1/2 from Toronto; 1/2 hr from Kingston. See contact us for details or call us at 888 287-3157.
In the privately owned Owl Woods,
chickadees will perch on your head or hand to feed.
The public is given free access, asked to be respectful, and offered treats of sighting new species. The Ontario Field Naturalists own a good stretch of shoreline where many other bird species may be seen. As we are on a main flight path, we’ve had some unusual avian visitors all over the island. Photographers abound.
It is a fine cyclist destination also, with miles of shore road with limited traffic beyond the occasional tractor in working season.
Other creatures may be visited. Percheron wagon rides may be booked while thoroughbred trotters watch curiously from fields. We’ve several beef farms and one active dairy farm where one can see young calves in spring. The only known ‘cow count’ spotters in Ontario went out by horse wagon last year, gently spoofing our birders. We’ve had llamas and donkeys and goats. One of our neighbours even has a pet, litter-box trained, pig – named Kevin Bacon. The Island has free-range pigs too.
For a great outing experience, visitors may bottle feed and cuddle tamed foster lambs at Topsy Farms
all spring and summer. Later, the bigger galoots still enjoy an ear scratch in autumn. Contacting firstname.lastname@example.org will guarantee your being on a mailing list for invitations to shearing, to foster lambing and other specially planned events. See https://topsyfarms.com/seasons/family-outings-to-visit-lambs
Summer events pile one atop another. Canada Day is celebrated with a wonderfully wacky parade followed by games, strawberry shortcake and truly impressive fireworks. We have Fish Fries, and Spring and New Year’s Dances and others ‘just because’. Our Island museum recently had its first annual Island Fiesta, a day of over 20 workshops offered by a wide variety of talented Islanders. The St. Paul’s Garden Party is an annual joyful event, with renowned A.I. pie for sale by the slice or whole and many ’boutiques’ and events. The Wooly Bully race along the shoreline in August, http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/WoolyBully/ includes a 1 k for kids, as well as 5 or 10k distances. The Fall Festival, once a 4-H event, is still rooted in the rural active farm tradition. A Parade of Lights heralds Christmas, as does the ecumenical carol service.
Music is a vital part of our existence. The Waterside Summer Series www.watersidemusic.ca/ brings top caliber classical performers to the beautiful setting of St. Paul’s Church. The Emerald Music Festival http://www.emeraldmusicfestival.com/ in August provides informal camping facilities and an impressive lineup of Bluegrass, Country and Celtic music performers for a 3 day event. The older generation of Islanders grew up learning to dance with an Island band; we now have a group called The Islanders that performs at many big gatherings.
There are places of interest to visit. Topsy Farm’s Wool Shed https://topsyfarms.com/wool-shed
has the largest selection of pure wool blankets in eastern Ontario
as well as many sheepskin and other products hand-crafted of wool, as well as marvelous supplies for weaving, knitting and felting with wool. One of our venerable former stores has a new life. The Neilson’s Store Museum has professionally designed displays of our history, hosts Back Room Talks monthly on a wide range of topics, and houses our Weasel and Easel quality shop for hand created products. Artist Shirley Miller has recently published a book of her work, and welcomes visitors to the gallery in her home. She teaches painting to many eager students.
An additional service from Islanders to Islanders and visitors alike is the Internet Café, where expert computer assistance is available for a toonie donation.
Stella’s Café is a joyful informative oasis for visitors and hungry farmers alike, with some food locally sourced. Boaters who use our safe, deep harbours and fine public docks dine there. The owners fill their space with history and present day places of interest to visit, people to see, and a Friday night feast and singalong.
For a small population (about 450) our service groups abound. Visitors may enjoy the Women’s Institute bake sales on long weekends; the Amherst Island Men’s Society-sponsored weekly market; the Recreation Committee food, available at many events that pays for our Canada Day fireworks; the three churches services and wonderful feasts and bake sales. The Emergency First Response Team train intensively to provide quality support in an emergency ensuring safety for all.
Honouring our history, the W.I. trained volunteers in Irish traditional stone wall building. The group beautifully restored 5 walls. In Sept. 2014, the first of several planned weekend stone wall building workshops took place. In September, 2015 a Dry Stone Wall International Festival will happen.
CJAI, www.cjai.ca/ our local radio from a barn, features a vivid range of programming. It operates 24 hours/day, staffed entirely by volunteers. The Island Beacon, http://www.amherstisland.on.ca/Beacon/index.htm a monthly newsletter published by Topsy Farms, has been in production for over 40 years, bringing good news and sad news (but not bad news) to Islanders. Both are excellent sources for additional interesting activities for visitors.
A couple of things to remember if you are visiting: trust the ferry crew, they are skilled at their job. Have a wonderful time exploring but please – wave back to us.
3 1/2 inches of rain this morning – over 2 inches in an hour. The photos show Ian bailing water out of the Wool Shed entrance. (Click on the photos for larger versions.)
Nothing was ruined in the Wool Shed, but it was a bit close.
I was in the Shed with 2 visitors when the deluge ratcheted up. One woman kindly used a broom, sweeping at the rain hard after we failed to block the doorway with a garbage bag. (The other lady was happily trying on stuff and drawing my attention in a second direction.) Ian was sound asleep, getting over the previous day’s exhaustion. I hoofed to the house though the wet. The water was up to my ankles in the vestibule and dribbling past the barrier of mat etc I’d tried to construct into the main display area. I shrieked upstairs for him, grabbed the missing credit card machine and waded back. (Wool is warm when wet).
The building was constructed just after the turn of the century as an Ice House/Milk House, and is downhill from the laneway. We’ve tried to install adequate buried O pipe drainage, but it blocks. The building is way too low.
Ian brought the mop and pail then grabbed the containers of lamb towels he’d laundered and carefully stored in the barn. We shooed out the visitors with proper thanks, and he bailed in the vestibule while I got up everything I could from the floor level, and mopped overflow with towels. The water was just creeping across the main floor into the storage area for yarn.
Pretty exciting. By that time, my home care helper was waiting for me and thank goodness the rain was starting to slacken. After mopping the floor, I was bold enough to return with the camera to grab the shots before heading in.
In the spring of 2009, Sherri (an avid knitter) came to see us just after the lambs were born and took some photos of her visit. Her Topsy Farms flickr album can be found here.
Our pure wool yarn is soap-washed only to retain lanolin and to avoid chemicals. It is available at the Wool Shed, our at home store, or on-line. We also have fleeces, roving both natural and coloured, cheeses of pencil roving and knitted wool items for sale. Come visit, on line or in person, and take a look.
When a foster lamb is first introduced to the warmed reconstituted ‘milk’ (called lamb-o), it doesn’t taste right; smell right; feel right. Usually the first reaction is either passive resistance, or ptoooey.
The foster lambs instinct is to go under a warm ewe’s belly, to find a full but flexible nipple, to bunt hard if necessary to encourage the milk flow, and to sip often.
What they are offered is a powdered ewe’s milk substitute reconstituted with warmed water, a black rubber nipple, a beer bottle and people. (The beer bottle is used because we have a collection of old ‘stubbies’ which fit nicely in the microwave. Thanks to one Islander we have a lifetime supply.)
Here are our techniques to feed a reluctant lamb.
Hold the lamb under an arm, snuggled closely to the body. (It is easier on the lamb to not have struggle options.) Use the same arm to support the chin, using the thumb to open the mouth gently, and support the chin in line with the neck. Insert nipple. Wait patiently. Sometimes, Kyle baaaas gently, trying to find the note that mama might use. When the first trickle slides down the lamb’s throat, it may be all that is required for the lamb to start sucking eagerly. However, it often takes a lot of patience during the first feeding, occasionally squeezing the nipple to release a little more milk, just to get enough into the lamb to warm and encourage it. We are as gentle and comforting as we can, but it is obviously a foreign and scary experience. However, hunger is a great teacher, and most foster lambs are eager for the bottle (though still unskilled at finding it) by the next feeding. Ideally within a day or two, the lambs throng out of their nighttime cage, thumping eagerly at the knees of the person holding the bottle, and stand on their own feet to suck a bottle dry in no time.
What a difference a week makes.
We were all delighted to move the foster lambs operation out to the screened front verandah and wash the living room floor for the last time. We have two big dog cages on the porch; one for special needs. We change the newspaper bedding several times a day, and feed them four times a day – roughly every 5 – 6 hours. (Sally is up early; Kyle stays up late.) We also have a large outdoor pen for a ewe and twins, and a smaller fenced area for the fosters lambs to romp on the grass.
Although we lost a few foster lambs to illness, five fosters have now gone to one good home, and five more left yesterday. Some have been adopted back into the flock to a needy ewe, if Christopher can find one. Only one is at home at the moment, eagerly following the heels of anyone carrying a bottle, puppy-like.
“I’m very pleased with the wool blanket that I bought and I know that my niece and soon to be husband will love it and make use of it for many years to come. Also thank you for going the extra step by taking us to the barn to find the just the right wool blanket. It was very interesting to see where the shearing is done and how the fleece is stored until you need it. It would be amazing to watch the whole process during shearing time.”