Life is Just Better in the Hills of Northumberland

Best Decision

July 2015 marks my fifth summer of living in Cobourg and working in Colborne and Brighton.  My city friends often ask about what life is like outside of the GTA. The landscape is different. The culture is different. The days unfold with a lot less noise and a lot more beauty. Life in the city has its benefits too–but living in a place where the natural world is so much a part of the human world grounds me in a way that the city can’t.

What Hooked Me

Years ago I had visited Spirit of the Hills as a guest to speak at a breakfast meeting. After the breakfast meeting a friend in the group asked if I’d like to go for lunch in Cobourg. Absolutely!

Sitting on the patio of the Oasis Restaurant on a perfect summer’s day I thought I could do this. I could live here. A few months later when I was thinking about applying for a new job, I applied in this region–and voila! Here I am!! Now I’ve bought a house and I feel like this is home–I will be here for a long time.

Victoria Beach, Cobourg
Victoria Park Beach, Cobourg

Things I love most about living in Northumberland

1. People know how to relax.

There is an easiness here. My first summer in Cobourg I walked down to the Harbour  and Victoria Park Beach from the West Beach. After years of working so hard I was stunned to see so many people out for a walk, cycling along the lake, sitting on a bench with ice cream. Although it’s cliché–I literally felt like I had landed on another planet. Everyone was having fun, relaxing, enjoying the day and each other. No one was working! (I also realized in that moment how much I needed a break!)

From Port Hope to Brighton, there is a quiet easiness within the towns and within the people who live here. Drivers are respectful. Strangers are chatty. Beauty pops from the diverse landscape.

It’s a blessing to live in a place where the majority of the residents are retired–the 55+ crowd know important stuff about slowing down, appreciating each day, and taking time to drive out the pier and gaze at the lake.

2.  Generosity.

Everyone I meet is a volunteer for something and the lists of volunteer work they do are astonishing! Volunteers make our communities kinder, more beautiful, and provide more opportunities for residents and travellers. From social justice organizations to dynamic arts groups to outdoors clubs, there is something for everyone. In our communities, most people contribute more than their taxes. Our communities are made up of generous, hardworking, heartfelt people who want street festivals and affordable housing and flourishing schools.

3. Sense of home. Peace.

Northumberland is not a sleeper community. People LIVE here. In fact, it hasn’t taken me long to make excuses to avoid the city. When I moved here I thought I would continue going into Toronto once a month to see friends, attend events. As the years have gone by the need to drive toward the city has slowly evaporated. Now I tend to get to the city once a season–and only in off-peak traffic!

It feels like home here. It has the peace of cottage country but with the convenience of a 20 minute drive to work and all amenities in town. Housing prices are better than the GTA so I was able to buy my dream house a few blocks from Lake Ontario.

We are proud of our communities. We feel a sense of connection because we are in this place. It’s important where we are from and how we came to be here, but it’s also important that we are all here. We are important because we exist here. My experience of Northumberland has been as a welcoming place.

4.  Food is delicious!

The culture of food in Northumberland is the best surprise! Surrounded by farms we have access to outstanding local produce. Everything tastes better. The 100-mile diet is rich and glorious! (And oh the baking!!!!)

Restaurants and coffee shops have character. Independent eateries are more popular than the suburban chains. As a friend told me, “There isn’t a bad restaurant in Port Hope.” Port Hope certainly has a number of tasty places to go but I’ve enjoyed amazing meals throughout the whole region too!

5. “You can’t walk a block without bumping into an artist or creative person.”

From galleries to theatre to concerts, there is always somewhere to go or something to do. Creative people are everywhere. I can’t keep up with the arts events in Northumberland–in fact, I can’t even keep up with the arts in Cobourg! I’m an arts junkie and try to do something 3-4 times a month to support the local arts culture but I’m often faced with tough decisions as there are so many great options.

Cobourg Harbour
Cobourg Harbour

My Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Cobourg/Port Hope

(in no particular order)

  1. MillStone Bakery in Cobourg. Amazing bread and baking. Try one of their ‘handwiches’ to go!
  2. Dreamers Cafe in Port Hope. Crazy Cookie–try one. Wowzer. (Also a lovely spot for lunch–or writing!)
  3. Cobourg Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. The most amazing honey and maple syrup you’ll ever try–among other delights.
  4. Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Lots of great shows all year long.
  5. Avid Reader Bookstore in Cobourg. Friendly staff, good selection, a book lovers’ paradise!
  6. Corfu Grill in Cobourg–the food tastes just like it did when I visited Corfu.
  7. Cobourg Harbour and Victoria Beach. The opportunity to be on vacation any day or every day.
  8. Ten Thousand Villages in Cobourg. So many treasures.
  9. Victoria Hall, Cobourg–lots of great shows. Fascinating history. Stunning building.
  10. Burnham Family Market and Moore Orchards–love them both!!

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault.

Love Locks
Cobourg Love Locks: These padlocks are an expression of hope and humanity connecting people around the world with the one thing that unites us all…LOVE.”


  • Derrick Cunningham


    I love reading this about my home town. Aside from University, I have never left this community and I completely agree with your outsider (but now insider) perspective! And thank you for the nod to Ten Thousand Villages. We were just selected this year’s Reader’s Choice Award for best gift store, so your shout out is particularly meaningful!

    • Jessica Outram

      Congratulations!!!! That is exciting news! I know that Ten Thousand Villages is my “go-to” store–I’ve picked up great gifts, house decor stuff, and jewelry there. At the holidays–a gift card for your shop is always on my wish list. Thanks for your comment and sharing the good news!

  • Pat Skene

    This is a wonderful reminder of all the good things for which people in the area should be thankful. Having lived there for 10 years (now living in Oakville) I couldn’t agree with you more. We miss everything in your list so much…and would not have ever moved if it wasn’t for family reasons. Good on you Jess for writing such a poignant piece. This should be published in the Northumberland News!! Then again, maybe everyone would want to live there and things would change…oh dear!

    • Jessica Outram

      You and Uncle Bob introduced me to so many of the wonderful things here! (In fact, I just stopped in at Moore Orchards today for a quart of the first raspberries of the season!) Thanks so much for your comment.

      • Nancy Roscoe

        Such a lovely read on my last Christmas in Toronto before I move to Cobourg this May! Can’t wait to enjoy everything you’ve shared. I’ll be taking advantage of the ViaRail, commuting to Toronto 4 days a week until retirement. Looking forward to no more sitting on the Gardiner!! Thanks for sharing this valuable information. Looking forward to bumping into you around town!!

  • Bill Prawecki

    Agree with all points Jessica. Just a couple of more points. VIA station in town for travel to Toronto , Ottawa and Montreal. Second point is that it is difficult to go out anywhere in town without bumping into someone you know.

    • Jessica Outram

      Thanks, Bill! Absolutely! Transportation east or west is a breeze. I think Northumberland being along the 401 corridor is excellent too–moving here on my own I didn’t feel as isolated from my friends in the GTA as I may have even in Peterborough or similar…

      I’ve just started bumping into people I know everywhere! Makes running errands far more fun!! Cheers!

  • Liz Morgan

    We have just moved back to Toronto after having lived in Port Hope and Cobourg for the last 12 years. It is a lovely area and great for walks, countryside, farmers markets and beautiful beaches. However I found it sad that the down town areas are full of empty stores and look somewhat depressed and the general shopping is lacking. Considering it is a tourist area, there is a lot more that should be done to encourage new business. If looking for a full time job, it is slim pickings!
    For ourselves, it is good to be living again where there is more ethic diversity, great ethnic foods and many cultural events, festivals etc within easy reach. However, I miss the silence of a small town .

  • Marie Prins

    Plus all the above, I love driving through the rolling hills of Northumberland, especially on a hot, sunny day in July, although spring and fall rides in this country are delightful too. We live in a beautiful spot of Ontario!

  • Cynthia Reyes

    Hi Jessica:
    I’ve written more about Northumberland on my blog and in my book, A Good Home, more than any other region of Canada. I love it, having lived in two different homes there.

    So you’ll understand my delight in reading your post about this wonderful area of Ontario.

    But Liz Morgan has a point: I wish the population were sufficient to support businesses and prevent them from folding. And it feels as if the very thing that helps towns and cities to thrive – the diversity of their residents – is missing in places like Port Hope and Cobourg. A blogger-friend who lives in England mentioned this just a short while ago: some of the very changes that small towns and villages fear are the things that keep them alive.

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