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The Ayr News

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~ Published by the Schmidt family since 1913 ~ North Dumfries • Blandford-Blenheim • Brant • East Zorra-Tavistock • Wilmot

Vol. 121 — No. 35


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Culinary academy to open at former Townline School west of Ayr by Irene Schmidt-Adeney The former Townline School on Trussler Road will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2019, coming back to life as a new school, trading pencils for paring knives and welcoming up to 30 student chefs a day to the 1909 Culinary Academy. The owner is Murray Zehr of Burlington, a celebrity chef, teacher, restaurateur, author, and entrepreneur. “When I saw this property I knew immediately that I had to have it,” said Zehr. In June, Zehr purchased the building from the Township of Blandford-Blenheim at a cost of $300,000. It is located just west of Ayr. Last spring, Zehr travelled along the Oxford Cheese Trail with Bernia Wheaton, Executive Director of the Rural Oxford Economic Development Corporation (ROEDC). Zehr was under contract by the ROEDC and presented a series of canning, preserving, and culinary classes over the summer. “These classes were wildly popular and had a fantastic response,” said Wheaton. “It is my hope that once the culinary academy is up and running, similar classes for the general public can be offered in the unique setting of the schoolhouse.” For the next few months, Zehr’s main focus will be the restoration of the schoolhouse. During his interview with The Ayr News, workers were busy in the background, in-

Chef Murray Zehr at the former Townline School. stalling 40 new custom made windows to replicate the originals, along with new plumbing, and telephone services. “The integrity of the building will be kept intact starting with the name of the school – 1909 Culinary Academy, with 1909 as the year the building was constructed,” said Zehr. “I couldn’t think of a better fit,

it is zoned Institutional in the front and agriculture in the back.” Mostly due to its setting, Zehr says this type of culinary school will be unique. “There will be a focus on agriculture, including learning to grow your own produce and herbs,” said Zehr. He added that the students will cook

with locally-sourced food and take advantage of farm tours offered by local farmers. The function of the academy will eventually be expanded to include recreational cooking classes and a retail outlet. He said 1909 Culinary Academy will be the flagship to launch “Choose Your Own Adventure”, which will become a series of his schools in different parts of Canada that focus on different types of food. The next academy is planned for Prince Edward Island, in a former church recently purchased by Zehr. If a student wants to specialize in seafood, they will attend a school that will be built in a former church on Prince Edward Island. Zehr changed his path last year, when he left a 20-year career teaching culinary arts at a Burlington High School. He was also an instructor at Brock University and the University of Toronto. During this time, he also operated eight restaurants in the Halton area, which were sold to invest in his new venture. “Murray’s accomplishments in the culinary world are extensive,” said Wheaton, “including working with the Food Network for the popular television show Chopped Canada, cooking for Prince Charles, Gordon Ramsey, and Emeril Lagasse.” While teaching in Burlington, Zehr took a one-year sabbatical for the McGuinty government, to become the Chief Education Officer, overseeing

a new school food and beverage policy, under the Healthy Schools initiative. It was no coincidence that Zehr chose this area for his new business. He was born and raised in Kitchener. His grandfather was the late Clifford Zehr, who owned Zehrs Markets along with his brother Lester. The Zehr brothers were raised in Ayr. They worked in the Zehr’s general store on Stanley Street that was owned by their father Emory. The family left Ayr in 1950 and the brothers opened the first Zehrs Market store on Highland Road West in Kitchener. The chain was sold to Loblaws in 1963. The former Townline School was known as Us. SS No. 10 and was used until 1965. A traditional one-room schoolhouse, it has remained virtually intact with original blackboards, windows, decorative tin ceiling, lighting fixtures, trim, doors, wainscoting, floors, and foyer. After the school closed, the property was assumed by Blandford-Blenheim Township and became the Townline Community Club. It was mostly used as a community gathering place and for 4-H events. The property was declared surplus by the Township of Blandford-Blenheim in April 2016 and put up for sale. A potential sale in December 2017 fell through following an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board that said the property could not be used as a residence.

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Ayr News  

Ayr, Ontario, newspaper, weekly, Irene Schmidt, Adeney

Ayr News  

Ayr, Ontario, newspaper, weekly, Irene Schmidt, Adeney