“BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” The sound of an alarm going off has Rylee Lachance Linklater scrambling to remove the microphone we have asked her to wear for our interview, as she makes her way over to a large oven and removes a fresh batch of apple pies. The tantalizing aroma has been making my mouth water since we arrived at her family’s bakery in Heathcote, a small village on the banks of the Beaver River. The drive out is beautiful, following Grey Road 13 as it winds its way through the lush valley, flirting with and eventually crossing the wide, meandering waterway. This is the heart of apple country and pie is a pretty big deal, especially in Rylee’s family. Her parents bought the bakery more than a decade ago, and she has been working here since she was 11 years old.
Heathcote is tiny, even by small town standards, with only a few houses and a single intersection. When we pulled into the gravel parking lot the air was alive with country sounds; birds chirping and singing accompanied by the steady thrum of a distant tractor as it made its way across a neighbouring field full of grazing cattle. An old dog was languishing in the autumn sunshine as we crossed the parking lot; a regular customer I assume.
Rylee’s parents, Paul and Michelle, bought the business from the previous owner but were quick to make it their own and have recently moved to a much larger building down the street from the original bakery. Their eldest daughter Emma came up with the name, drawing on the classic nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Six Pence” (a pocket full of rye/ four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie) and the family’s own love for birds. There are also a lot of black birds in the area, and if you keep your eyes open in the spring and summer, you may see a red winged blackbird sitting on a fence post. If you’re really lucky, you may even glimpse the orange flash of a Baltimore oriole!
Since then, The BlackBird Pie Company has become synonymous with quality baked goods and products all over the Beaver Valley area. You find can find their frozen entrees, including savoury lasagna, shepherds pie, mac ‘n cheese, and (my favourite) tasty tortiere in the freezers many of local retailers. This includes another Trail Stop, Goldsmith’s Orchard Market, located just outside of Thornbury. Of course, you can also stop by the bakery anytime between 9-5, where along with their wide variety of frozen meals and soups, they serve an assortment of delicious sandwiches on oven-fresh bread all day long. There are lots of sweet treats to choose from as well, and with harvest in full swing many of them are loaded with local apples. This is the busiest time of year for anyone with ties to the apple business, and the bakery is no exception. When I ask about this Rylee laughs and says, “With Thanksgiving coming up, we are going through a couple hundred kilograms of apples per week… it’s pretty crazy!”
My favourite treat, and an absolute staple of any paddling adventure down the Beaver River (okay, in all honesty pretty much anytime I drive by the bakery), is the apple crumble muffin which boasts chunks of real local apple topped by a brown sugar and cinnamon crumble.
Many of Heathcote’s local population frequent the bakery on a daily basis, whether for lunch or just for a morning coffee and muffin. However, with only a few houses, a town the size of Heathcote doesn’t have many locals. This means that Blackbird depends greatly on people going out of their way to make the journey out there.
“The fact that people take that extra few minutes to make the drive is a testament to the quality of our products” says Rylee. “We make it worth our customers while to come in and see us.” They certainly do, and despite the hustle and bustle of the busy bakery, the warmth and friendly nature of the staff make it feel as though we’ve wandered into a friends kitchen for a cup of coffee and slice of pie.
About 400 metres down the road, Free Spirit Tours, a paddling outfitter and guide company which sits right on the Beaver River, also provides a draw to the town. Many people either start or end their canoe trips with a quick walk down the road to the Blackbird Pie Company. The bakery is also a hub for cyclists, people hiking various parts of the Bruce trail, and of course, local farmers stopping for lunch. The drive itself is particularly spectacular in the fall with the valley providing gorgeous views of autumn colours in all directions.
No matter where you are coming from or where you are going, taking a moment to stop in at the Blackbird Pie Company provides a moment of respite in a world that is often moving faster than we would like. The only person who hurries in Heathcote is Rylee when the oven alarm is going off, and she does so with joy and a warm apple pie smile.