Grand-Metis isn’t much of a town, in fact, it’s a speck on the map on the north side of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. But there is a long family tradition here being upheld by a fourth-generation owner, and it’s a place that attracts 60,000 visitors a year to tour the gardens and enjoy dining and events in the old family mansion. It’s the Jardins de Metis, also known as Reford Gardens.
We met Alexander Reford, whose great grandmother, Elsie Reford, created the gardens between 1926 and 1958. The site was originally a fishing lodge owned by George Stephen, Reford’s uncle. He later gave the property to Elsie. While she was recovering from surgery, her doctor suggested that she take up gardening as a less strenuous alternative to fishing. The family at the time had exclusive fishing rights fish for salmon to the Metis river, until the 1940s.
The property was taken over by the government in 1962, and today the gardens are run by a non-profit foundation. The Estevan Lodge, the former family home, is a top notch restaurant run by chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry where you can enjoy brunch and dinner. Many weddings and other events take place here.
Alexander is a busy man, and it seems everyone needs to speak to him. Still, he was gracious with us as he told us the story of how he came to run this family legacy.
While she was not a botanist, Elsie poured her heart and soul into making the 200 acres a lush paradise of perennial and annual plants, with a stream running through the middle with views of the St Lawrence River. Alexander was 33 years old, working as a professor in Toronto when he got the call to return to his family estate and run the place in 1995.
He explained that before 1931, the Gaspe was a huge tourist draw for Americans and others who wanted to escape the summer’s heat. There was no air conditioning before that year, and that made cool Gaspe a popular place. William Howard Taft and Georgia O’Keefe were among the many visitors who summered here.
Sixty-five staff gardeners and other workers keep it all in top shape, and there are three cafes which are partly supplied by a kitchen garden on the premises.
Reford has written several books about the gardens and he took quite a chance by moving to Grand-Metis, with a population of 330 from the big city. Today he seems quite at home running the place and sharing his acquired knowledge of botany and the great history of the gardens.
While he doesn’t have his own children, he hopes that a nephew who has been working there might be groomed to be his successor.
At the Gardens there are whimsical touches that add to the fun. A series of 7 mock telescopes dot the lawns and gardens, peer inside and you get a tiny black and white image of Elsie posed in the same location.
Alexander recalled the golden era of the big family home when his grand mother would send a car and they’d take the long drive up from Montreal to the cool seaside estate. “They would come for a month by train, Elsie stayed here from May to October. “It’s all a work in progress, something’s in bloom all of the time.”
Visit Jardins de Metis in Grand Metis: 200 Route 132, Grand Metis 418-775-2222, open every day from June to mid-October.
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