During his 25 year award-winning career as a chef with one of Canada’s premiere hotel chains, Louis Simard prepared fine cuisine for all sorts of celebrities – from professional athletes and tech titans to movie stars and royalty. Today, he’s chief cook and bottle washer at his family’s recently purchased farm in Rockville where he’s busy whipping up school lunches and changing diapers with his wife, Natalie Edward, living a long dreamed about life.
Louis grew up in a beautiful tourist area offering lakes, cottages, ski hills and golf courses in the Laurentians outside Montreal. It was there that he began working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant as a teenager. Within short order, he became a short order cook, a part-time job he continued until he went to postsecondary studies. Academically strong in maths and sciences, he was torn between studying medicine or engineering and opted for the latter. He dropped out before graduating, deciding he wasn’t cut out for the occupation – much to his parents’ distress.
“The restaurant I had been working at for years suggested I should go to cooking school. That was back before the days when being a chef was considered glamorous,” explains Louis. “My parents were devastated. It was as though I said I was going to clown school, although they came around quickly after seeing my career path.”
Louis attended Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec, which provides post-secondary professional training in tourism, hotel and restaurant management. That led to a co-op placement at the Hilton Hotel in Montreal. It was followed by an internship at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, which resulted in a full-time job offer. The hotel chain offered him work wherever he was interested. At the time, Western Canada was booming so he chose the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta.
After more than eight years in cold and snow, Louis was ready for something different and moved into a senior management role as an Executive Sous Chef with the Fairmont Santa Monica in California. “It was an extraordinary opportunity for a young Canadian chef,” he says, “but 80- to 90-hour weeks eventually took their toll. When I got a call asking if I was interested in moving to Vancouver to work at the Hotel Vancouver to prepare for the 2010 Olympic games, I leapt at the chance.”
Louis’s career would continue to soar, butit took second place to meeting the love of his life, Natalie, who worked as a personal assistant to a paraplegic man as well as a part-time bartender while attending Simon Fraser University full time studying communications. Louis dropped by the neighbourhood bar and was smitten at first sight, but Natalie – not so much. It took months of patient wooing to finally win her over and start dating.
“He was older than me, a smoker and I just didn’t date customers,” chuckles Natalie. A talented musician with the voice of an angel who plays both guitar and piano, Natalie was doing small gigs around the city whenever she could. “Louis offered some potential work as a musician at his hotel and that’s how he finally got my phone number.”
Natalie continued work as a musician when she graduated but also turned to self-employment as a communications consultant. She was hired by the not-for-profit organization that her paraplegic client worked for as well as some interesting start-ups in Vancouver.
Meeting Natalie meant discovering Manitoulin for Louis, as multiple generations of her family had owned property on Lake Manitou. Spending summers as a child and as much time as possible as an adult on the Island was at the core of Natalie’s life experience. Although her education and early years in the workforce were in BC, her heart was never far from Manitoulin.
That played a role in the couple’s decision to move back East, an opportunity they seized when Louis became Executive Chef at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa in 2013. By then Natalie had transitioned to the wellness sector, training and becoming certified both as a yoga instructor and doula – a labour assistant who provides physical and emotional support to people during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.
Several years later, Natalie and Louis celebrated marriage in a beautiful forest wedding on her parents’ Sandfield property and soon after began their family with the birth of a son, Henry, and daughter, Coralie.
“When Henry was born, I started coming up to Manitoulin for longer stretches, staying with my parents in the summer for a month or more. Louis would spend long weekends and come back as often as possible as he loved it here too. I always dreaded going back to the city.”
The couple was outgrowing their small Ottawa house and began looking for a place in the country outside the city. Natalie wanted chickens and goats and space for the dogs and kids to roam free. However, Louis said she couldn’t leave him with animals and acreage to tend to if she was going to be on the Island every summer. They shared a eureka moment when they concluded the only place that fit the bill – and the only place they really wanted to be – is Manitoulin.
That snap decision in April 2021 led to a rapid search for local business opportunities. Their initial idea was to establish an eco resort where they could put their culinary and wellness experience to work but they couldn’t find the right spot on the water to make it feasible. One of the real estate listings mentioned a lake on an agricultural property in Rockville near Lake Manitou. As they drove the long driveway of the Parkinson property, seeing a big house, hayfields, forests, barns and even a sugar shack, they knew they had found their new home.
By July 5-months pregnant Natalie had moved in with the kids while Louis continued to commute from Ottawa on his days off. He left the hotel business permanently in November and is now renovating their house and preparing the land for its new incarnation as a lavender farm.
“As a chef, I have done beekeeping and know that lavender honey is some of the best available. I will become a certified apiarist while we wait for our first crops to grow. We plan to produce honey and maple syrup in addition to lavender. Natalie will get goats to make lavender milk body products and is considering offering doula services to new mothers, including lactation support. I also am interested in providing personal chef services, offering luxury dining in individuals’ homes. With my national and global contacts, I can tailor menus to peoples’ tastes, whether they want international caviar and foie gras or locally produced, organic Manitoulin foods.”
Both are optimistic about their family’s prospects, one that has recently grown with the birth of their daughter, Teagan – the first “Haweater” in the Edward family after 100 years of having a local presence.
Natalie and Louis are fulsome in their praise for their many helpful and supportive neighbours who have shared their knowledge of the land and provided home-cooked treats in the first few months they’ve lived in the area. “This is such a great community, with people offering helpful advice and guidance as we move into this new phase of our lives,” says Natalie. “We couldn’t be happier or more excited about the future.”