Grant Howes passed away suddenly on Saturday. Without notice. At 60, he was far too young. He had too much yet to do. To know Grant at all, was to understand he was driven to build, to struggle, to fight. It makes this loss so much harder to bear.
Apples have been grown and cultivated at Waupoos for more than 150 years. But it wasn’t until Grant came home more than 20 years ago, that the course of the family farm would change forever. In 1995, he used a portion of the crop to make cider—hard cider. Ciders have been made for many centuries—but wading into the minefield of alcohol regulation and production had felled many strong folks before.
Some people, however, thrive under hardship and struggle. Grant was a bull. Strong. Hard-headed. Unrelenting. He pushed through the endless battles with faceless bureaucrats, brimming with determination and a dollop of charm. He did so with a smile on his face. It signalled to his regulatory foes that he would outlast them, he would challenge every antiquated rule that time had made irrelevant, every regulation that rewarded the big and punished the small and every policy that threatened to diminish the enchanting experience he created on this escarpment overlooking Lake Ontario.
He fought hardest, not out of self-interest, but rather a sense that regulators, left unchecked, tended to make a mess of things. That if he and others didn’t fight back—if we didn’t resist the encroaching thicket— we all would be bound up and, eventually, find ourselves unable to move or act without permission from an appointed authority.
Meanwhile, the cider business flourished. By 2002, the entire crop was dedicated to cider production, and the business was growing rapidly. The County Cider Company now boasts an array of popular brands of hard, sparkling and non-alcoholic ciders spanning an array of fruit. It is available in more than 150 restaurants and bars and LCBO stores.
Every step a struggle. Every new distribution channel the result of tireless and unrelenting pushing.
It is an understatement to say that Grant cleared the path for other small, artisanal cider makers to follow in Ontario. Many, rightly consider him the pioneer of their burgeoning industry. That’s because it takes a special person to persevere—to get up every day determined to push back against the grey forces arrayed against you and your dream.
He worked alongside winegrowers in the County and recruited many to his fight. He knew in his bones that many of the marketplace barriers he, and others, faced every day had been erected decades earlier out of fear and ignorance. He understood, too, that left unchallenged nothing would change—that there is no introspection or reconsideration in government regulation. There is only rules and enforcement. Change would only come about with a fight.
I made my way down to County Cider several times a year. Not enough, it seems now. It is my favourite place to be in Prince Edward County. A magical place. Sitting on the terrace amid the orchard and vines, perched up on the escarpment affording astonishing views of Lake Ontario—nothing but blue sky, blue water and green foliage. An ice-cold cider softening the edges of deadlines not yet met, of obligations untended. Just this moment. Here and now.
It didn’t happen by accident. Bit by bit the experience that is County Cider Company has grown and drawn more and more folks to this corner of the County. Late last year, Grant and Jenifer expanded again—opening a larger retail store in the adjacent barn.
Though transformed by necessity, the century farm remains a farm. The barns and outbuildings have been cleaned up and made safe and sanitary—yet they remain barns. They remain true. There is no façade. No effort to persuade the visitor that this is anything other than a working orchard and vineyard. Just a great product, served in a great location.
Grant knew that was enough. And if it wasn’t, that was okay too. For he wasn’t interested in fitting other people’s expectations. He knew who he was, what he wanted to do.
The terribly sad bit is that he leaves us with so much yet to do.