Historic village of Delta rejuvenates downtown with two new store openings

The waterfront park project in Delta, Ont., with the historic Delta Mill in the background. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

A rural village in eastern Ontario is in the middle of a transformation, with new businesses opening and another development project well underway.

For years, the section of downtown Delta, northwest of Brockville, known as the Jubilee Block, sat empty.

"For the last decade, it's been left to be very derelict," said Tao Hipwell, owner of Fern & Fox Wellness.

"I wanted to be localized in my community and this row of buildings had been really calling to me as needing and wanting a fresh face, so we decided to take the risk and invest in this dream of ours and have a cool meaningful chapter in the life of the Jubilee Block."

Hipwell bought the end unit which she turned into a wellness centre, where you can practise yoga in the back and buy locally sourced items up front.

"People have been incredibly supportive, people are coming to yoga which is all I could hope for and I've just received a lot of positive attention and affirmations," Hipwell said.

"You would drive through Delta and get a real sense of the days gone by. So the windows were all boarded up, there were some signs on the windows," Hipwell said. "It took a lot of gutting and we had to remove 12 bins of garbage from the interior just to try and get it into a working space."

The pandemic actually helped the renovations, giving her and her husband more time to finish up the interior.

"She's an old dame, you know," Hipwell said. "She needed a lot of attention to detail and thoughtfulness to make the space work, so I was actually grateful for the extra time."

Hipwell also owns the neighbouring store, now a bakeshop run by long-time Delta resident Amy Gray.

Both held their grand openings last week.

It was wonderful. We had tons of people," Hipewell said. "There were line-ups outside, especially for the bake shop next door which I'm so excited about. We sold tons of yoga passes and feeling very well received."

"I wasn't sure what to expect. It is a smaller town, so the idea of bringing sort of a wellness centre or yoga studio in I wasn't sure how the response would be," Hipwell added.

"All day long it was lined up, the street was busy," said Township of Rideau Lakes councillor and lifelong Delta resident Cathy Livingston.

"Now we have another issue, which is parking! So I'll be going to council with help for that!"

"When the last one closed it was really sad for the community because everything started to decline and then when that happens, people leave and the go somewhere else. So it's great to see this happening," Livingston said.

Livingston hopes a restaurant will be moving in one of the empty buildings as well, to add even more to the downtown.

Right across the street, more construction is already underway with a waterfront park development, now in phase three.

"This development is creating better docking for people from the islands to come into town, shop in the grocery store, liquor store, grab their mail at the post office, visit the library. All of those wonderful things," said Liz Priebe of the Delta Community Improvement Committee.

"In the centre of this park will be an amphitheatre, so we'll have an opportunity to showcase our local musicians, have storytelling activities, activities for children, dance, song, music. It'll be a space that will come alive and it will really be a community space."

Priebe moved to Delta 20 years ago from Ottawa and felt the community was a great place to raise a family.

When the original businesses left, it's been a long wait for something new to open up.

"I'm so excited about this. To see this rejuvenation happening we're just so excited about that. It's really a big deal," Priebe said.

She noted the start of the waterfront project was really the kickoff for the Jubilee Block transformation.

"Once that was underway, then we had some development over here in the beautiful Jubilee Block," Priebe said.

"Linking the Jubilee Block and our waterfront park and our beautiful national historic site, the Delta Mill, it's just such a wonderful space down here in Delta. I'm so proud of our community we've really worked hard."

The historic Delta Mill is also planning to re-open this summer, after staying closed in 2020.

For a village that relies on summer tourism and sits on a main road between Westport and Brockville, it's a sign of a community bouncing back in the midst of a pandemic.

"I'd like this to be a place that people feel like they can come to centre themselves and buy some sustainable, cool stuff and contribute positively to our micro economy that exists here in Delta," added Hipwell.

"I'm grateful to be here and I feel very fortunate to have this role in my community for my family, for my friends here, and I'm just looking forward to seeing it blossom."

Fern & Fox Wellness can be found online at fernandfoxwellness.com.