If you grew up in the Highlands, comparing Minden to Haliburton was an amusing teenage pastime, worthy of epic (and rather silly) high school cafeteria debates. Of course, your loyalty always leaned toward the town in which you lived, which for me, was Haliburton. But now, living back in Haliburton after many years away, there are days that I seek out Minden’s understated warmth, unique charm and tranquil vibe.
If you don’t know a whole lot about Minden, it’s probably because this tight-knit, hard working community doesn’t have a lot of need to brag – the incredible spirit and unique moments around every corner speak for themselves. For long-time residents, the town’s attractions are self-evident, and many of its loyal seasonal visitors have been quietly coming back summer after summer for decades to relive old memories and seek out new adventures.
With its vast swaths of nature and a relatively small population, there are many places to hide in Minden if one does not wish to be seen. Rent a quaint cottage by the water and walk a local trail, drive to Panorama Park Lookout for a mid-day picnic, or take a dip in the clear, warm water at 12-Mile Beach during sunset.
But with Minden being recently recognized as one of the friendliest towns in the province, you may not feel like hiding out. Catch up with an old friend over a drink at the historic Dominion Hotel, or an award-winning craft beer and some homemade sausages (and if it’s a Tuesday evening, some Radio Bingo) at the Boshkung Social. Float down the Gull River on an inner tube with your shades on and watch the world go by. Drop by the famous Kawartha Dairy and witness kids squeal over a mind-boggling array of flavours while you make a mental note of the next kind you’ll have to try.
Wandering the Minden Farmers’ Market in the Municipal Parking Lot on a Saturday will give you an example of just where the town’s friendly title came from, with glowing smiles at every booth. You can get a sense of the community’s closeness by how slowly everyone meanders, frequently stopping for catch ups with one another. It’s the perfect place to break up the day with an authentic curry, Montreal style bagel or a rich espresso. You can also pick up some handcrafted jewelry, candles or scarves at the Artisan’s Market for prices you would never find in the city. From there, it’s just a couple of minutes to the Cultural Centre where you can check out the latest visual arts exhibition and stroll through picturesque Heritage Village. And if you’ve got little ones with you, the iconic River Cone across the bridge has a pirate ship play structure that, once visited, children tend to never forget. Even with big, beautiful Rotary park nearby.
There is nothing quite like celebrating the summer in Minden. The Haliburton County Fair has been held every June at the Minden Fairgrounds for over 150 years, and this year even boasts its first ever Comic Con. The Fairgrounds also host an impressive lineup at the Minden Hills Bluegrass Festival every July. And on Friday evenings in the summer you can find people dancing in the streets for Music by the Gull – free rock, country and folk music concerts framed by the stunning backdrop of the Gull River.
A newer local tradition, now happening every August at the Wild Swan B&B Inn, is the Lantern Festival of the August Moon which offers authentic Japanese food, children’s games, traditional dancing, and the creation and release of lanterns into the Gull River to honour departed loved ones. The sight of the glowing lanterns silently illuminating the river at dusk is transporting.
For those who like to stay on the move, my pick for a leisurely drive out of town has always been Gelert road, which runs between Minden and Haliburton. It’s a relatively straight stretch of highway with farm scenery that looks like it belongs in a movie. While the hamlets of Lochlin and Donald have retained their cozy feel over the years, you can now stop to check out pottery and yoga studios, bakeries and antique stores, or take a walk in Snowdon Park or the majestic Dahl forest.
Over the last three years since I’ve moved back to the Highlands, I have been become increasingly aware that Minden’s buzz is building, dynamics are changing, and the community’s laid-back vibe may not be here forever. But for now, I’m happy that I can usually still find a seat at some of my favourite restaurants and cafes, or drive just a couple of minutes off the beaten path to find my own private nature wonderland. The feeling is a mixture of both familiarity and discovery – gladly received by anyone with a wandering heart.
Storyteller: Amanda Duncombe-Lee. Hometown: Minden Hills, ON
Amanda is a lover of nature, photography, writing and data in every form. Her career background is in the non-profit sector and she worked and lived in Toronto, Edinburgh and Vancouver before moving back to the Highlands where she grew up. She currently resides in Haliburton with her husband and two adventurous young sons.