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Spanish River Inn

We started off our March Break on Saturday with fine dining. It was a wonderful evening. The food, the setting , the company , and the musical entertainment were all excellent and very memorable. My wife is less satisfied with my cooking efforts now, sigh. I even made sour-dough banana pancakes Sunday morning, but she kept talking about the food from the night before. So we will have to return again …, and again, and again to The Spanish River Inn.

For those who are not that familiar with the area, the community of Spanish, Ontario, is located in an area that is known as the North Shore (above the North Channel of Lake Huron). As you drive west from the Sudbury District , along the Trans-Canada Highway, 17 and enter the Algoma District you will pass through Spanish, but don’t do it ! Stop at the Spanish River Inn & Restaurant. Better yet, stay a while and enjoy the food, hospitality, and area. (Town of Spanish Home page )

The Town of Spanish is situated at the mouth of the Spanish River where it empties into the North Channel of Lake Huron. This river and its ecologically rich delta have had a positive impact on the development of the community of Spanish. The river has played an important and continuous role in the local economy from the days of the fur trade, through the timbering era,  fishing, and now contributes to the tourism industry.

According to legend, the Spanish name was derived around the year 1750. As one of the many theories goes, Ojibway warriors penetrated the South-West to Spanish-occupied territories, and on their return to the North Channel, they brought back with them at least one person who spoke Spanish. Marrying into the community, possibly a local chief/community leader, they raised a large family. Whatever the truth is, French explorers and traders discovered that the native families in the area had Spanish words, names and phrases as part of their vocabulary, hence the French referring to the Spanish River and the community of Espanola.

Early settlement of the area gained momentum in the latter part of the 1800’s with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in February 1884, between Lake Nipissing and Algoma, now known as Algoma Mills. According to an article in the Ontario Gazetteer, by 1903–1904, the Spanish River Station (the railway designation for Spanish) had a population of approximately 200 with two timber companies operating in the vicinity: Huron Lumber Co. and Spanish River Co. W. H. Graham operated a general store, William Coget ran the hotel and the local blacksmith as well as the Postmaster was Gustavo Hamilton.

The Spanish River Inn Retaurant & Motel stands on the location of the original hotel. The ghosts of the past may walk this modern establishment, but that is because of the hospitality, wonderful foods, and lively entertainment that is provided here.

Wooden Quilt Hanging at Spanish River Inn

As I said in the opening we started our March Break with a delightful evening. It wouldn’t be us without a small glitch in the plans. Our respite worker got the times a bit mixed up and her cell-phone had a hissy-fit, more like a no hiss/dial/reception fit. So we had to convince our daughter that we couldn’t wait and she was going on an outing with mom & dad instead. What can I say, it was a full moon week – see last Thursday’s post .

We passed friends & teaching colleagues on their way out, as we entered. They had huge smiles on their faces. They commented on the banner sign my wife had made that was hanging up inside. (The banner was for a special gathering of in celebration and reconciliation of Native Residential School students that was occurring this weekend).

Inside we were greeted by the owners,  Marine Fabris and her husband Brent St. Denis. You could feel the warm and inviting atmosphere that was established for all visitors to their establishment. My wife presented them with a paddle that she painted in honour of our visit that it could be added to the work that was already hanging on the walls of the dining room. What you see first on the walls are enlarged photographs of Spanish in the early years of development.

Tasha & Martine at the Spanish River Inn

The dining area is open and spacious. Previous owners of the motel tended to emphasize the fishing tours and trucking trade. The atmosphere at that time reflected this male gathering place. Now it is warmly lit and no longer feels like a dark smokey man’s den. If you weren’t assured that this was a whole different world, you just had to look at the special of the evening.

My wife chose the special, my daughter had the chicken tenders and home cut fries, and I had the steak. Like my wife’s meal, it came with asparagus and a warm potato & cabbage slaw. The medium rare steak was perfect and was complimented by the peppery slaw and vegetable side.

Martine’s son, David Hillis, is the chef. I know you are thinking, well this is a small community clinging to the highway, so the chef is just a cook, au contraire. David Hillis is a , a 23 year old graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa . He has taken extra studies in pastry making and as part of his training had the opportunity to prepare food for the Governor General, the current Prime Minister of Canada (I don’t hold that against him), and dignitaries.

Spanish River Inn Raspberry Strudel

The challenge that David faces is taking all his skills and adapting to his range of clientele . With retires on fixed incomes, to tourists, fishermen, and truckers, it is an intriguing challenge. His goal is casual fine dining. Fortunately, David’s background includes a maternal grandmother who was famous for her huge Friday night family meals. Her family dishes of rustic French cooking prepared him well. He understands both the fine dining and the family kitchen tradition on which it is based.

David is also an accomplished musician and singer ( Hint: CBC/Food Channel there is a tv show waiting to happen here). His other goal is develop a cultural hub of food, visual arts & entertainment. This brings us to the musical portion of the evening.        See: Chef wants restaurant to grow into cultural hotspot

The featured performer for the evening was Rusty McCarthy. He is a blues/folk/jazz guitarist who has performed with Mary-margaret O’hara and Allannah Myles .

Well we had promised my daughter Tasha music. Where there is music and Tasha there is also dancing. After dancing with her mom, she dragged Brent out on the floor and eventually got to dance with the chef.

So what else can I say. We topped the meal off with fabulous desserts My wife had the raspberry strudel and I had the Deep Dish Pecan Pie. You know, I can remember when David and my son were taking swimming lessons at the Elliot Lake Community Pool. In fact, I can remember being a newly minted green teacher with a study period that had a grade 12 student named Martine.

I think I’ll just stop now and leave you with the smiling face of our waitress, Tara Muncaster. Martine says Tara is gold and would like to clone five more of her. What do you expect, but a golden employee at a gold standard restaurant ?

Note: You can see larger sharper images if you click the photos. You can find the Auberge Spanish River Inn on facebook. If you come to visit  be ready to dance.


25 responses

  1. You are so nice to treat the Mrs to such a wonderful weekend albeit you will have to keep her happy with fine cuisine in the future. A beautiful place to take time to absorb. Such a mild winter will make it easier for our Ontario friends to migrate back north.

    March 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    • elmediat

      The snow is slowly going with grey skies and light rain. Actually I and my wife were treated by Martine & Brent. We will be he returning later this week , if plans work out. More casual fine dining and daylight photography. 🙂

      March 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm

  2. Excellent post – enjoy your March break.

    March 12, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    • elmediat

      Thanks ! 🙂

      March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

  3. What a wonderfully documented start to your break! It sounds like you’re all having a fantastic time. The Spanish River Inn sounds great. Enjoy the rest of your March Break!

    March 12, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    • elmediat

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

      March 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm

  4. Looks like a wonderful time! And beautiful photos, too. 🙂

    March 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    • elmediat

      Thanks. It has such a wonderful atmosphere. They are going out of their way to create something extra special in a place where most people would not expect it.

      March 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      • It sounds like they’ve succeeded…. 🙂

        March 13, 2012 at 5:23 pm

  5. It sounds like and looks like you all had a great time. 🙂

    March 14, 2012 at 1:46 am

    • elmediat

      Yes it was. Tasha can have a way of opening up a room. Mind you when she has one of her bad days she can shut down more than a room. All part of day to day living for us. 🙂

      March 17, 2012 at 11:18 pm

  6. It really does sound like so much fun!
    Sounds like a wonderful experience… and some great memories (and a terrific excuse to plan making future ones there, too)!

    March 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    • elmediat

      We have been there again. Some of my wife’s art work is now on display & for sale at the Inn. they plan on developing a gallery setting for local artists. I will be posting about the second visit in the next couple of days.

      March 17, 2012 at 11:16 pm

  7. George Weaver

    Well. A great history lesson, photos of the family, food, and an intro to Mr. McCarthy and the Spanish Inn. You are going to be hired as the PR person for Spanish, for sure. I loved this post. You didn’t scare me once! Your photo tribute to the waitress is lovely. What a handsome woman.

    March 16, 2012 at 3:44 am

    • elmediat

      Thanks George. You may have got a hint of a possibility – I may have opened a door to post retirement activity, will see where it goes. So glad you like the waitress photo, I was trying to emulate those wonderful portraits you did on your blog. 🙂

      March 17, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      • George Weaver

        It was an entirely captivating portrait! Do more of them. I really liked the combination of family, history, place and people in this one. Nothing sentimental here….and that is hard to avoid in such pieces. This is a great idea for you and something you will be very good at doing. I am looking forward to more! YES! 😉

        March 17, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      • George Weaver

        BTW, that was a striking portrait of the waitress. I found myself studying it. You captured her beauty so very well. She would be happy to have it. Send it to her. 😉

        March 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    • elmediat

      Martine has told me that Tara has acquired some local fame. People now come in asking to see the smiling waitress from the blog. As to PR, Brent and Martine have asked me to fix up their web-site and they would like me to do some photography of special events that are coming up. My retirement is getting busier and I haven’t even started yet.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

  8. A good time and a wonderful memory. No one could ask for more. Thanks for sharing, left me with a smile.

    March 18, 2012 at 8:38 am

    • elmediat

      Most welcome elena. 🙂

      March 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

  9. Pingback: The Spanish River Inn -Again! « Dark Pines Photo

  10. This was an interesting blog post. I am a big fan of old photographs, so those were a special treat. And that wooden quilt was a unique addition to your post. Good job, anyway you look at it. Thanks for the insight into the Spanish River and for sharing your find. 🙂

    March 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    • elmediat

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Glad you found the post of interest & value.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:28 pm

  11. j3ssi33ss3x

    Reblogged this on The Three G's.

    March 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm

  12. Loved reading the story and seeing the photos. Congratualtions to all the gang at the Inn for creating such a special place in a small town with a big heart, Hope to get up to the North Shore soon, one of the most beautiful areas in the province.
    Paulette & Laurent Thibault.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am

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