Great Books and Café: A Taste for Great Books from Jarvis Street to the Williamsford Mill

Great Books and Café is located at 316070 Highway 6, Williamsford, Ontario.

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The first thing one notice when visiting Great Books and Café at the Williamsford Mill is the serene beauty of the building. Located in the small village of Williamsford, Ontario, the bookstore is housed within a converted mill constructed in 1850 on the banks of the North Saugeen River. The structure offers all of the rustic charm of a building nearly two centuries old; the timber framed interior maintains a welcoming, country-chic aesthetic which lends itself to the surrounding woodland landscape. The mill’s warmth, however, is owed entirely to the passion of owners Peter and Tamara Bolton.

No strangers to the book business, the Boltons opened their first store in 1977 on Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto, later relocating to Newmarket, and finally moving to Williamsford with the idea of retiring. “Rather than totally retiring,” Peter says, “we ended up here running our bookstore from a really beautiful farming community.” After four years of renovations, Great Books opened in 2010, with the main floor dedicated to a gourmet café. A love of the culinary arts runs a close second to the couple’s bibliomania. Tamara is a self-proclaimed foodie who has studied cooking and baking, specializing in the preparation of organic, local foods, and the café’s menu reflects this philosophy. You could think of the mill as the epicurean version of the big-box café-bookstore; it’s the same basic model, but with a lot more soul.

The upstairs is reserved for the books the couple has been collecting over their 36 years in business. “We pride ourselves in the depth of different sections,” Peter muses, “whether it’s Canadian Military or Poetry.” The breadth of their collection was evident to me when I first became lost in the upper floor’s labyrinth of rooms, each dedicated to a particular genre. Shelves are packed floor-to-ceiling, ensuring that there is something for every taste; fans of campy 70’s sci-fi novels can get their fix, so too can art buffs and seekers of modern first editions. One section which sets Great Books apart from the average shop, however, is its extensive stock of Canadiana. With works focused on specific regions, cities, and local histories, this has been a niche market the couple has specialized in since opening their first shop on Jarvis.

“The neat thing about being in the book business,” Peter says, “is that people come in and maybe they’re looking for something on quilting, or maybe beekeeping, and they share their passion with you.” In return Great Books reciprocates the favor by sharing their literary and culinary expertise. What makes the business worth it when the couple could have just as easily retired? “It’s the satisfaction that you get putting that book into the right hands, and making that connection, and sharing that passion,” answers Peter. “You could do a lot worse than looking after books.”

About the author

Lindsey Burke
By Lindsey Burke