In 1986, I moved from my parents’ house in the suburbs to the third floor of a warehouse apartment at 393 Water Street.
At the time, I was working as a waitress at Fancie’s Dessert Café, just a few doors down from the massive, sparse, commercial building once home to the local Masonic Order.
“The masons used to congregate here,” explained Joe Stable, my neighbour across the hall, as he guided me down the apartment’s corridor into the massive kitchen that featured a pass-through window. I wondered aloud if members of this secret society served burgers and fries at their meetings.
The kitchen’s walls were covered in dirt, brightly colored paint, and original works created by members of an artist collective called The Acme Art and Sailboat Co. (also former tenants).
After a few short weeks of moving in, the block on Water between Hunter and Simcoe Streets soon became my home. Similarly, all of the store owners who chose to live and work on this side of Peterborough’s downtown became my friends.
I purchased an extensive wardrobe of vintage kilts and beaded cardigans from Barb and Chris at Last Tango. I saved up all of my tip money from the café and splurged it on a pair of orange flats from Wendy at Bannerman’s (Water Street was the first location for her successful business).
My parents wanted to be supportive, but I knew they thought I was wasting my money living in a communal-type environment where we divided the grocery shopping and the cooking between the four of us.
But for me, life on Water Street symbolized my initiation into a world of art, music, culture, and independence I had not experienced growing up in the suburbs.
Fondly, I refer to this time as my era of firsts: the first time I bounced a cheque, the first time I had sex, and — eventually — the first time I learned to balance 20 glasses of draft on a tray, when I left Fancie’s to work as a waitress at the Pig’s Ear.
That was more than 25 years ago. And while it’s undergone some changes, Water Street remains an enclave of talented artists, craftspeople, entrepreneurs, and restaurateurs dedicated to being stand-outs in their fields.
- Le Petit Bar — just below where I once lived — is known for its rare and remarkable wines, hand-crafted cocktails, cheese and charcuterie, all served on a zinc bar akin to those found in Paris.
- Chasing The Cheese‘s owner Julie Austin, a.k.a The Cheese Lady, carries more than 100 varieties of farmstead organic and artisanal cheese.
- Sympathy for the Rebel is one of the most beautifully appointed vintage clothing stores in the area. Owner Ryan Kennedy hand-picks everything — from retro-print dresses and shirts to cowboy boots.
- Mike Andrews, owner of Mike’s Tattoo, has a five-month client waiting list. All of the artists he employs are accredited as well as hard-working.
- Needles in the Hay‘s Bridget Allin is as lovely as her little yarn shop that welcomes customers to “Knit in the Round” while discovering “Disaster Management Skills for Knitters”.
- Bloodline Parlour features four of Peterborough’s most beautiful and talented hairstylists — three of whom also happen to be sisters.
- The Planet Bakery is as famous for its flavourful and hearty breakfast fare, soups and sandwiches, as it is for feeding more than 300 people a day.
If you haven’t recently, take a walk over to Water Street. The street isn’t normally filled with people because they’re all in the shops, discovering what makes this side of the downtown so diverse and truly authentic.