Come Wander

Jack Brezina

Former Editor in Chief of Minden Times, President of the Highlands Summer Festival

Minden, Ontario – Haliburton Highlands

On June 4, 1979, at the age of 32 and on the cusp of his career, Jack Brezina purchased a local newspaper, the Minden Times. As summer was coming into full bloom, he and his wife packed up their life in Northern Ontario and moved to the quaint rural village of Minden, Ontario. Originally, he wasn’t set on small town living. But the beauty of the area, the trees, the lakes, the hills, and – most importantly – the unique stories, quickly convinced him otherwise. Almost immediately, Jack knew this was home.

Now, nearly 40 years later, he has watched, and actively participated in, the evolution of #MyHaliburtonHighlands, an area that is alive with adventure and natural beauty. To the bright-eyed, ambitious young man, this was a place of opportunity; to the happily retired storyteller, it still is.

As the voice of Minden for close to four decades, how would you describe the tone and voice of the Haliburton Highlands?

It’s relaxed and easy going. Maple syrup mellow, as I like to call it.

Looking back, from 1979 to now, surely you have seen a huge evolution of the area. Can you speak to some of the changes you have noticed – in the types of stories that there are to share?

Well, in our first year here, my wife and I noticed that on Thanksgiving day, it was as though the stage curtain had dropped, and it stayed that way until the following May long weekend. And that has changed immensely! Winter is no longer a quiet time. We have embraced our Northern spirit and there is so much to do here in the winter – snowmobiling, skiing, ice fishing, hiking and snowshoeing. It doesn’t seem like there is a quiet weekend at all now in the winter or any season for that matter.

That must also mean there’s a lot more buzz around town? What are the best spots to strike up an interesting conversation with a local?

Hmmmm, probably any of the local coffee shops. Or, in the winter time, both McKeck’s in Haliburton and the Dominion Hotel in Minden welcome snowmobilers with hearty meals and warm hospitality. People are lingering; they always have a few minutes to spare, and, chances are they will recognize someone who is new to the community, and not be shy about introducing themselves or saying, “Hello!” If you are receptive, they are more than likely to let you in on a local secret not highlighted on the maps.

What kind of local secrets?

I always tell people not to miss Ritchie Falls; it’s a hidden gem. It’s down a trail that doesn’t look very “public” or overly accessible, but little do you know, it’s one of the best spots to explore.

The Sculpture Forest in Haliburton Village’s Glebe Park is also a gem well-worth searching out. A variety of sculptures are speckled along, on an easily accessible trail through the woods. Be sure to pick up a guide at the entrance because each sculpture has an interesting story.

After 38 years of living in one area, you must feel like you’ve seen and done everything 100 times. Is there anything about the Haliburton Highlands that still makes you feel like you are experiencing it for the first time, every time?

I occasionally catch myself driving along and then realize that the hills are ablaze with colour or the hard frost that came in overnight has turned everything into diamonds. We look at it on a regular basis and think, “Oh, it’s just another day”. But when you really think about it, think about the natural beauty that is expanding out in all directions around us, I think, “This is why I live here. To have these experiences. To be surrounded by this.”

Is that how you unwind at the end of a busy week? By connecting with the nature around you?

On a Friday night, I just like to sit on the deck with a book and a glass of wine, drinking in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world, just over the deck railing. It’s all right there. That’s what makes for the perfect end of the day or week for me just a deep breath of fresh air.

On the weekend, I like to get out and do some hiking or canoeing and find a deeper level of quiet out on a lake or in the bush somewhere.

What is one wandering tip you would offer a visitor?

Don’t be afraid to get off the main roads. You may seem to be wandering off into nowhere, but you can find some lovely vistas, some rural settings that will surprise! That’s where you find those little gems, on the back roads that some people may be hesitant to take. I like to do that: go down a road I have never travelled before just to see what the heck is there. Because you just never know sometimes.

Some of the best stories are found in the most unexpected places, would you agree?

Oh yes, spontaneous moments and discoveries. Sometimes it’s those little moments in between that inspire a story to take a new turn or make for a truly memorable day.