Once again, ladies and gentlemen; we find ourselves quickly approaching that #festive time of year. The trees are being raised in every town square, colourful lights are hung from the lamp-posts with care – and that all familiar music suddenly fills the air. [Read more…]
The Rideau Heritage Route is a beautiful area that has become popular with millennials, as the entire region is completely Instagram-worthy. With stunning landscapes, unique local shops and amazing food, I highly recommend visiting this region.
We began our first day in the region with breakfast at Hotel Kenney, which is also where we were staying during our trip. Hotel Kenney is located in Jones Falls and right on the water. They have different rooms to suit your budget and a menu that changes every day!
After breakfast, we walked to the Jones Falls Lockstation, which is about a thirty-second walk from the hotel (probably not even that far!). There are two separate locks, which change the elevation by 18 meters. The lock system was handmade, which completely blows my mind! Another incredible aspect to this location is the hydroelectric power generation, which resulted in what looked like a very strong waterfall.
We also took a walk to the blacksmith’s shop, that’s just a stone throw’s away from the lock station and watched the blacksmith in action. He talked to us about the history of the building and we also learned about his craft. Scott and I even got to help a little bit!
The blacksmith suggested we stop in at Sweeney House; which was a defensible stone house built in 1841. Once there, we learned about the life of Peter Sweeney, who was the lockmaster from 1839-1871. Sweeney documented the early history of the canal operation in his personal diary and his life is now interpreted at the house. At Sweeney House, historical interpreters in period clothing take you back in time to the 1800’s when Peter Sweeney’s was at the lock station.
After all of the walking, we were a bit hungry so we headed to Westport for lunch! We went to The Cove Country Inn Restaurant & Boat Launch, which is beautifully located on the water. The menu was vast with lots of options, so everyone in our group found something to their liking! After exploring Westport a bit, we were off to Wendy’s Country Market.
Wendy’s Country Market is located inside a historic schoolhouse that was built in the late 1900s, and offers organic and locally grown produce from over 70 local farmers and artisans. There’s a wide variety of options, from fruits to cheese and everything in between!
We had a really unique experience while we were there, that was a lot of fun. Chef Mark, showed us how to forage for our own food, then that food was included in our Farm to Table dining experience! I learned a lot about which weeds could be eaten and the nutritional benefits of foraging. It was incredible and so tasty!
The meal had many different courses; starting with an incredible charcuterie board, an entree with boar and chocolates handmade by the chef. The entire experience is difficult to describe in words – it was magical. We sat outside the herb garden under a white tent eating this meal from the land around us. Wendy chatted about the renovations that her and her business partners are doing at Furnace Falls Farm, which is located across the road. They’re re-using as many of the old materials as possible, while still making it fresh. When they are finished, this cool space will be a B&B, with cooking classes! I’m excited for them to open and I’m definitely booking a night there.
We started the day by traveling to Merrickville, which is a beautiful town filled with unique and quaint local shops; many of them offering handmade items. Our first stop was Nana B’s Bakery, where we had some incredible butter tarts (I went back to get seconds a few days later). They were amazing and tasted like honey. My favourite was their plain butter tart, although there was nothing plain about the flavour!
After filling up on more butter tarts that we probably should have eaten in one go (so worth it!), we headed to Gray Art Glass Glassblowing for a glass blowing demonstration. We learned a lot about this art form and were amazed to see how talented these artists are! If you had a chance to see my Facebook Live video, you’d know that we watched an artist make a horse out of absolutely nothing! Needless to say, we were all stunned by what we saw.
Next stop: food! We headed to the Yellow Canoe Cafe, which was delicious. The food was incredible, tasted fresh and there were so many different options. Everyone loved their meals and their patio had a great atmosphere.
After lunch we jumped in the car, traveled to Chaffey’s Lock and hopped on paddle boards with Rideau Tours. We paddled in the area above Chaffey’s Lock and it was a lot of fun! I’m not the strongest swimmer, so water sports always make me a bit hesitant, but paddle boarding felt secure and steady. It took a bit to get the hang of it, partly because I was distracted by all of the fish and turtles that were swimming underneath but soon I was off! We finished with a “Flavours of the Rideau” gourmet picnic and guess what they included? More, butter tarts, yum!
We quickly went home to change and then headed to the Opinicon Dining & Resort for dinner. This restaurant has a beautiful ambiance, decorated very crisp and white and the food was amazing. After our meal, we went into the tiki bar area, where we played some board games, met some other travelers from Brockville and enjoyed our last night on this journey.
And sadly… that’s a wrap! We had a blast and I hope you follow in our footsteps and plan your own trip to South Eastern Ontario regions! You will not be disappointed.
I’ve never been to Cornwall before. I’ve driven through it multiple times on the way to Montreal and I’m glad I had the opportunity to check it out during this trip! Now, I not only have a place to stop through on my travels, but it is now one of my new destinations!
Before our “official” leg of the trip in Cornwall began, we had an amazing meal at Sheep’s Head Bistro. I have since been dreaming about the Reese’s Pieces cheesecake we had there and craving their poutine. It was by far the best poutine I’ve ever had; the cheese curds are mixed in with the gravy while it’s cooking so the cheese gets really soft and gooey. It’s amazing. If you’re a poutine lover, make sure you head to Cornwall to grab some poutine at Sheep’s Head Bistro!
In the morning we headed to Love Love Food Cafe for breakfast and man oh man, this was a fantastic way to start off a day. We had french toast waffles for breakfast, served with farmhouse sausage and maple syrup. Not french toast and waffles, but waffles that were dipped into french toast batter. They were incredible.
We then had a bit of a break until it was time for lunch at Mindful Cookery & Food Market. We’ve had so many wonderful meals during this trip and this restaurant didn’t disappoint. Everything was fresh, organic and wholesome. As a lover of cold press juice, it was a fantastic stop on our trip.
After lunch, we headed to the Historic Cornwall Jail. With a penchant for history, especially crime-related history, I was excited to learn about the inmates and hangings that happened at the jail. Built in 1833, the jail operated until 2002. Many areas of the jail are set up as they would be when it was a functional prison, such as the cell blocks and common areas. There were a few hangings that took place at this prison, the most notably of Peter Balcombe, who was the last of the hangings.
After a fantastic experience at the Cornwall Historic Jail, we travelled to Rurban Brewery. Rurban Brewery is an independent family owned small batch brewery. As Cornwall hasn’t had a brewery in over 100 years, Rurban Brewery brings unfiltered and unpasteurized beer into the community. My favourite beer that we tried there was “Sit, Russ” (say it fast, do you hear the dad joke?), which is an American wheat, featuring lime zest, mandarin orange and kumquat juice! I can certainly say that before drinking this beer, I don’t think I’ve ever had a beer (or any other drink) with kumquat juice. It was a perfect summer patio drink.
To finish the night, we headed to Truffles Burger Bar. This restaurant has such a powerful backstory. Within months of opening, the historic building Truffles was located in burned to the ground. The owners powered through and rebuilt their business from scratch, even adding an additional restaurant, Table 21, above Truffles. Truffles has some incredible burgers, most notably the Solid Gold Burger, which was beef and foie gras, with black truffle shavings, 23 carat gold dust (yes, actually!) and a glass of champagne. They even have some exotic burgers, such as rabbit, duck, llama camel, alligator, kangaroo, boar and more!
To begin our day, we headed to Nautica Grill and Wine in Dundas and Glengarry County. Located on the water, the patio offered a beautiful view of the area. Nautica is a family run restaurant, with a casual setting.
Before heading to Upper Canada Village, we toured the Long Sault Parkway. We stopped at a few different locations such as a park and beachfront and both were calm and serene.
Upper Canada Village, located in Morrisburg, had been on my to-do list for quite some time. I’ve been there a few times in the winter when the village itself wasn’t open, so it was amazing to be there when the lively village was in full swing. Time for another history lesson! In 1958, construction of Upper Canada Village began, which required the permanent flooding of ten communities now known as the lost villages. Upper Canada Village was part of the heritage preservation plan, and many buildings were transported directly from The Lost Villages. If you visit Upper Canada Village, any of the buildings that have an arrow on their plaques were moved to Upper Canada Village.
We started our day by having breakfast at Island View Restaurant in Rockport. We sat on the patio that overlooks the water and enjoyed the beautiful view. We arrived just after the restaurant opened, so it was peaceful and quiet. We then walked over to the Rockport Boat Line, which meant I was finally about to take the tour to see the inside of Boldt Castle! (If you’ve had a chance to read my Gananoque post, I’ve basically seen Boldt Castle from every angle – both sky and water – but haven’t yet been inside). The smooth ride to Boldt Castle took only 30 minutes on the Rockport Boat and I’m happy that it was a short ride because it meant we arrived at Boldt Castle quickly. If you’re not familiar with Boldt Castle, it is the physical memento of a tragic love story.
Time for a quick history lesson! Bold Castle was created by George C. Boldt, the millionaire proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. He loved spending time near 1000 Islands and as such he wanted to create a grand castle as a display of his love for his wife, Louise. Starting in 1900, construction began on the 120 room castle that would be six stories high. In January 1904, Louise passed away, leaving Boldt broken hearted. He couldn’t imagine his castle without Louise and commanded workers to immediately stop construction on the castle. From 1904 to 1977, the castle was left to be destroyed by vandals. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority then acquired the property and have put millions of dollars into rehabilitating Boldt Castle.
When we arrived at Boldt Castle, we quickly went through customs and finally were able to see the castle! It kind of felt like seeing the castle from Beauty and the Beast- it is incredibly majestic and beautiful. We walked into the castle and toured various rooms and reconstructions of the castle. It was interesting to see the contrast of the rehabilitated rooms of the tower, compared to the old rooms that had not been redone and were still covered in graffiti. I personally hope that the entire castle doesn’t get rehabilitated, just so everyone can see what the castle looked like compared to the rehabilitation. Both are beautiful, in different ways.
The ride back to Canada took us an hour, as the boat takes a different path to get back to Rockport. After docking, we quickly changed and headed to Skywood Eco Adventure Park, which was by far the most adrenaline-packed adventure of our trip!
Located in Mallorytown, Skywood Eco Adventure Park is Canada’s largest aerial adventure and zip line park. I had mistakenly thought Skywood only had zip lines, but it has so much more. It is basically an extremely fun obstacle course up in the trees. Being at least 15 feet off the ground navigating through the forest canopy on wooden planks or ropes is super fun (and for some less daring, possibly a bit scary). We started with the beginner course and made our way up to intermediate. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to conquer the advanced course, which means I’ll be heading back there soon! After the course, we zip lined back to the base. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend checking it out with your family or friends. Pro tip: Take bug spray with DEET and water! You’ll need both, I promise.
After quickly freshening up, we headed to Tall Ships South Coast Grille for dinner, located above the Aquatarium in Brockville. Not only does this restaurant have a beautiful view of the water but the menu is incredible with lots of options.
I’m a huge animal lover, so I get really excited to see animals regardless of if they are land or water dwellers. It made my day when we started off the morning with a visit to the Aquatarium in Brockville. Scott and I raced on antique row boats (I obviously won) and then we began to explore the aquarium. There were so many creatures, but my favourite animals were the otters! They were incredibly adorable and it was a fun experience to watch them get fed. I would never have known, but the Aquatarium also has a high ropes course! At first, I thought it was designed for children as it was themed to resemble a ship, but as soon as I started climbing, I realized that it was actually fairly difficult! It was a good challenge. Similar to Skywood, it was a lot of fun and it makes you feel preeeeetty invincible!
After the Aquatarium we headed to The Brockberry for lunch. The Brockberry has a southern inspired menu, with items such as “Southern Fried Buttermilk Chicken”, “Memphis Pulled Pork”, “Low Country Cornbread” and more. They also have some fantastic traditional unsweetened iced tea that they make in house.
Then we were off to Fulford Place. We had driven by this beautiful mansion a few times and now we were finally able to go inside and explore. Another quick history lesson: Fulford Place was built by Senator George Taylor Fulford, who made millions of dollars from “Pink Pills for Pale People”. It was a patented medicine he created in Brockville and sold around the world. With his success, he was able to build the 20,000 square foot Edwardian mansion, Fulford Place, between 1899 and 1901.
The house is incredibly beautiful, with original tapestries, paintings and more items collected during their world travels. It’s very grandiose, with large rooms and expensive decor. Fun fact: The family often hosted many Canadian Prime Ministers in this house for dinner! And last, but not least, we ended our leg in Brockville by having a sneak peek of the railway tunnel. Man oh man, I had seen a few sneak peeks of this on Instagram before, but it was absolutely incredible. It felt like we were transported to a different world, and the lights and sounds were absolutely beautiful.
Canada’s first railway tunnel was built in 1860 in Brockville. It was completed 21 years before the Canadian Pacific Railway and was very controversial for its time. It is now being restored for access for the general public and act as a connection from the Trail at the city’s waterfront, through the Gorge, and to other sections of the Trail. Be sure to check out The Railway Tunnel!
Photos: Mike Hector
Before we get started, I should be completely honest with you. I have lived in Kingston, Ontario for the better part of my life – so, naturally, this particular experience was on familiar territory. After spending a sunny afternoon with Kingston Food Tours, however, I was amazed at just how much I didn’t know about the Limestone City. [Read more…]
I am always amazed by the sheer number of remarkable places here in The Great Waterway that are often hidden in plain sight. While touring the staple routes and attractions, it’s easier than you think for some truly captivating locations to slip right by.
While some readers may be familiar with a few of these, there are some that even I hadn’t heard of and – it’s inspired me to want to find them all. For now, here are over a dozen great places to check out during your travels!
Minutes away from Upper Canada Village is a primordial playground that owns a piece of my childhood. Prehistoric World has been captivating the imaginations of kids for thirty-five years now. Technically, they’ve been doing this since before Jurassic Park was even a thing.
This attraction offers a lovely walking trail through the surrounding forest where adventurers will come face to face with life-sized dinosaur statues. The statues are all designed by the owner and fashioned from wire frames with moulded cement bodies. It’s eerie how they loom among the trees and ferns which blanket the ground as you traverse the stone path.
This is a great place to take the family. Immediately upon entering the park, you’re greeted by the coolest sandbox ever – where kids (and adult bloggers) can dig around for fossils. Also in the central area is a series of picnic tables where you can relax and enjoy lunch in the company of giants. Be sure to have cash handy though, because the gift shop and admission counter do not have debit.
Doran Bay Model Ship Museum
Having opened in September of 2011, the Doran Bay Model Museum is a rather new gem along the waterfront route. Arranged within the beautifully restored 1880’s house is a marvellous collection of model ships.
This private collection is the largest I have ever seen in one place and also has a vast collection of hand painted military figurines featuring soldiers throughout the ages. Kids and adults alike will find this to be a fun and educational detour as they explore the 1000 Islands region.
Cardinal / Prescott
Battle of the Windmill Historic Site
Close to Prescott’s famed Heritage site: Fort Wellington – there is another site of significant historical value: The Windmill. In November of 1838, a group of nearly two hundred insurgents consisting of Canadians and Americans attempted to invade Prescott.
The invaders were confident that the locals would support their goal of ending British tyranny, only: they were wrong. It wasn’t long before a particularly bloody skirmish broke out between local militia and British soldiers – resulting in the eventual surrender of the would-be invaders.
The windmill, in which the attackers were holed up in and fought from over the course several days still stands. The windmill also withstood a lengthy bombardment from Navy gunboats which lasted over two hours.
Today, visitors can go inside, explore the windmill and learn more about this pivotal event in our nation’s history.
The Brock Trail
The Brock trail stretches out over six kilometres and is a prime cycling route for the family. The trail is also part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere and presents plenty of opportunities to observe several bird species, and explore several historical points of interest along the path.
The trail works its way north from Brockville’s waterfront and through the downtown area as it hugs Buell’s Creek. The terrain is mostly flat and ranks as an ‘easy’ trail – so it won’t be intimidating for kids or people who want a long but non-strenuous walk.
Brockville Railway Tunnel
While exploring the Brock Trail – make sure you check out Canada’s first railway tunnel! Constructed between 1854 and 1860 the tunnel completed a crucial link for the fledgeling Brockville & Ottawa Railway Co.
The addition of the tunnel had a profound effect on the town’s overall development. It’s proximity to the downtown area and waterfront makes this a really cool historical stop while exploring Brockville.
Old Stone Mill National Historic Site
North of Gananoque along County Road 42 lies Delta Ontario, a town famed for its annual agricultural fair – and a restored and fully functional stone mill. Originally built in 1810 this marvel of construction and engineering still works today!
During the summer months, the mill grinds heritage wheat flour using the original millstones that are over two hundred years old. Visitors can take tours and learn about the advent of Canada’s industrial transition. While a bit of a detour – this is most certainly worth the trip!
South of Jones Falls along Highway 15 is a visually stunning loop trail named Rock Dunder. Once the property of Scouts Canada the area was purchased in 2005 by Rideau Waterways Land Trust and has been available for hiking since.
There are three trails of varying skill level, but each is sure to offer some fantastic views, opportunities to observe local wildlife and take photos.
Sculpture Park (Confederation Park)
Mere steps away from Downtown Gananoque is a great little destination of the artistic variety. Located within the town’s Confederation Park is a collection of amazing sculptures.
After a scenic cruise or perhaps after dinner, this park is a great place to spend time and unwind. Share a romantic walk among striking artwork and picturesque fountained ponds as swans swim around like something out of a fairytale.
Land O’ Lakes
Canada’s Oldest General Store
Trousdale’s General Store in Sydenham makes for a nice detour while exploring the emerald and blue wonders of the Land O’ Lakes region. The store first opened in 1836 and has been owned by a member of the Trousdale family ever since!
This old-fashioned epic store has everything you would expect. The creaky floors, and the layout and décor of a lost period. The shelves are packed with interesting items ranging from old style toys and games to socks, soaps, and snacks.
Land O’ Lakes Rescue Petting Farm
The team at this dedicated animal rescue are happy to welcome visitors to their petting farm for tours. Here you’ll meet and interact an assortment of adorable creatures including ducks, rabbits, pot belly pigs, Llamas and more!
This remarkable rescue farm also depends greatly on the generosity of donors, and the funds gathered by their entry fees. A trip here will not only promise a lasting memory for your kids, but also continued hope for the animals under the care of the staff and volunteers.
Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area
Along the Loyalist Parkway between Amherstview and Bath, you will find Parrott’s Bay Conservation Area. This emerald parcel of land is an ideal destination for hikers, anglers and in the winter; cross-country ski and snowshoe enthusiasts.
There are two entry points; one located off Taylor Kidd Boulevard – and the other is off Bath Road. It’s important to note that this is a conservation area so stick to the marked trail to avoid poison ivy and the occasional patch of wild parsnip.
Prince Edward County
Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park
Referred to by the Mohawk Nation as the “Altar of the Gods” – the Lake on the Mountain presents an awe-inspiring if not enigmatic example of nature’s artistic design. While there are geological explanations for the lake’s formation – it remains a sacred and surreal place of spiritual significance and respect.
The park offers picturesque views of Lake Ontario to the south, as well as picnic areas and a lookout point. Motorized boats are forbidden on the lake. However, guests can bring a canoe should they wish to explore the lake.
Wellington Rotary Beach
While Sandbanks Provincial Park is likely the County’s best-known and popular summer destination, Wellington Rotary Beach offers a great alternative that is also fully accessible.
Wellington features a boardwalk which extends the length of the entire beach, and a parking area offers ramp access making this particular beach an ideal alternative for visitors with mobility challenges.
Photography enthusiasts will also enjoy the opportunity to take some amazing panoramas here as well, in addition to great swimming and relaxation on this charming beach only steps away from Wellington’s shopping & dining area.
Honey Pie Hives & Herbals
This quaint apiary was recommended by chance while visiting the County for this very article. (Thanks @TheCounty!) It also goes without saying, that if you’re allergic to bee-stings, you might want to pass on this one. If you aren’t, and have no fear of bees – the delicious mead(s) are more than worth your time.
Honey Pie’s parking area is flanked by a metropolis of bee hives arranged like little skyscrapers. It’s a surreal experience to stand among thousands of honeybees as they come and go about their various routines.
Inside the house is a lovely shop reminiscent of a bygone era with a certain Victorian atmosphere. Here you can taste their lineup of delicious meads – and browse their selection of herbal teas, herbs, lotions, and of course pure, unpasteurized honey. For more info – check out their website.
Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area
At the Southernmost tip of Prince Edward County is a secluded and fantastic wildlife reserve that is teeming with life. During migratory season this place offers a bounty of birdwatching opportunities, and also is host to a magnificent shoreline.
The sprawling pebble beach which embraces water’s edge is a fun place to have a picnic, search for fossils and explore. The water is so shallow and clear that it’s at times hard to remember that you are not somewhere in the Caribbean.
Little Bluff Conservation Area
East of Point Petre you will find Little Bluff; a great little conservation park which offers amazing views from an 18-metre high bluff made entirely of limestone. Also within Little Bluff is some great cycling, fishing, picnic areas and swimming. The waters are prime for a dip, but be aware that there are no lifeguards so be safe!
This list serves as but a small sampling of the near infinite list of things to do, taste and experience within The Great Waterway. To help you get started on planning your stay, our Destinations Page offers several convenient search filters to help plot your course.
Do you know of any hidden gems or favourite spots you would like to share with our community? Tell us all about it in an email, social media or hit up the comments below!
The sky is flawlessly blue and the June sun shines high overhead, but I feel chilled in the limestone passage way of the 138 year old Kingston Penitentiary. Part of it I know is a logical chill – the rock walls keep out most of the heat. But the other part is an emotional reaction to going behind the walls of the historic jail. I’m holding my breath, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m nervous or excited, and chances are it’s a bit of both.
Guided tours of Kingston Penitentiary is the result of a partnership between the Correctional Services of Canada, the City of Kingston and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, which operates and sells tour tickets. In 2013, all of the 18,000 tour tickets available sold out, making this one of the most sought after travel activities this summer. Many dates this summer have already sold out, but last minute tickets are sometimes available, and visitors buying a Kingston K-Pass will unlock tickets to sold out tour dates and received preferred pricing on tickets.
Our tour starts in the VC – Visitor’s Centre for short – where we’re given bracelets so we don’t get lost or left behind (it’s a fast-paced 90 minute walking tour covering more than kilometer of the prison’s labyrinth of ranges).
Knowledgeable guides share many of Kingston Pen’s most notorious facts and figures: The institution opened in 1835 and was built mostly by inmates; there have been three riots over the years; in the Metal Shop, inmates made everything from padlocks for the public to wrought iron for the parliamentary library; escapee Norman “Red” Ryan scaled the wall in the recreation yard at its lowest point.
What sets this tour apart from any other tour is that your guides aren’t just guides, but former guards and skilled storytellers at that. Corrections officers, most having spent at least 30 years working at the Pen, add colour to the stories. For me, this vibrancy is unexpected and adds a decidedly human touch to a tour that could lapse into recitation of those notorious facts and figures.
“Don’t get me wrong. It was a hard job, you know? It’s a prison after all. But we had some good times in here, we had some laughs with the guys,” recalls a guard who leads us through the G Range, the block of 32 cells that are open to the public. When referring to Kingston Pen, he uses feminine pronouns, giving me the feeling that guards and inmates here developed a relationship with the jail.
And though there are cells on the G range that are set up to look as those they would have when the prison was open, it’s tiny details that connect you with what life was like here.
A tattered net hanging from a basketball hoop on the yard.
A message to Kingston Pen written in black marker.
Faded footprints in the Shop Dome where inmates had to stand before being allowed in or out of the shops.
Shreds of sheets tied and still hanging from the bars of Cell 13.
A multi-coloured clown painted on the crumbling wall of the VC.
And that’s what everyone should take away from Kingston Pen Tours, is that it’s not just one story of the Pen, which follows a neat timeline from it’s construction to its closure. More accurately it’s a collection of stories, and yes mysteries, that you should try to unravel yourself.
One guard explains the tours best.
“You can go on Wikipidia or Google and read about the Pen. Go ahead. But this is your jail too, and the limestone will get into your bones as your walk through here. Ask questions, lots of questions, because that’s the only way you’ll really get to know her the way we know her.”
It’s safe to say that The Aquatarium is one of Brockville‘s most eagerly anticipated attractions. An ambitious $25 million dream five years in the making, the 27,000 square foot interactive learning centre is dedicated to showcasing the waterways and wildlife of the St. Lawrence and 1000 Islands. Excited by the prospect of peeking inside a warship, seeing river otters up close and trying out the ropes course, I recently visited The Aquatarium with my 6-year old daughter and 9-year-old son. While each of the exhibits garnered comments like “this is so cool!” from my children, we consider these seven to be must-sees at The Great Waterway’s newest family-friendly attraction.
Ropes Course and AquaDrop
If you’ve ever imagined climbing the rigging of a tall ship, the Ropes Course is your chance! My agile and fearless son loved the course, which features rolling barrels, narrow planks and a mast. Instructors fit you with harnesses and a helmet and give you a short lesson on how the carabiners work, plus follow along behind you to ensure your safety. When you’re finished, take the gentle slide or the much more exciting AquaDrop – the 40 foot harnessed and controlled drop to the ground. Age restrictions are enforced for safety reasons (no, your mature and tall 7 year old should not do the ropes course).
Power of Water
Two hands-on exhibits make a splash here (literally). At one, the St. Lawrence River is re-imagined as a kid-friendly water table, complete with the Thousand Islands Bridge, the Lost Villages and functioning lock systems – and children can float foam ships down the seaway. At the second, kids learn the complexities of generating hydro electricity as they try to harness the power of water with miniature dams (go head-to-head with another family to see who can generate the most power from their dams). Plastic aprons are available, but your kids will love getting wet here.
Salt Water Touch Tank
Sea stars, spider crabs, star fish, anemones and more are housed in the salt water touch tank near the Creation exhibit. While these creatures are not native to the region, it’s a rare and fascinating opportunity to see them up close. Knowledgeable Aquatarium ambassadors help small hands gently pick up tank residents – but mind your fingers with the crabs!
Singer Castle Library
Singer Castle is one of the River’s most recognizable landmarks and its mysterious library is recreated here (can you find the secret passage?). It’s a quiet escape from the busier exhibits, with colouring and activity sheets, iPads and quiet toys when you need downtime, making it a great spot for kids who are easily overstimulated.
A replica of the British warship that was shipwrecked on October 31, 1780, this version of the HMS Ontario is full of nooks to hide in, rope ladders to climb and the interactive Captain’s Table. Kids (and adults) will be amazed at the touch-activated artifacts that cue up videos about the region’s watery legends. Nearby is a sensory bin of kinetic sand that will keep wee hands busy while bigger kids explore.
The St. Lawrence’s most playful residents, river otters, are the stars of the show here. You are most likely to see the three otters during the 1:30 pm feeding, so you may wish to plan your visit accordingly. During our visit, one shyly poked her head out of the water and swam towards my kids during a break in the crowds.
As avid fishermen, we all loved this exhibit because it was a chance to see our most common catches up close. Three tanks representing the region’s lake, river and shore habitats house bass, perch, pumpkinseed and sturgeon. The crawl tunnels underneath Aquaria let kids (and curious short adults like myself) poke their heads up into tanks for a unique look.
Know before you go
Location: 6 Broad Street, Brockville.
Driving time: From Ottawa 1 hour, 15 minutes / From Kingston 59 minutes / From Oshawa 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Hours of operation: 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week
Best time to visit: We visited in the late afternoon on a weekday and the crowds had fallen off by 2:30 pm. Expect The Aquatarium to be busier during fish and otter feeding times.
Admission: Adults $19.95 / Senior (65+) $14.99 / Youth (13-17) $14.99 / Child (4-12) $9.99 / Child (3 & under) FREE / Groups (15+) $12.99
Ropes Course: admission fee + $7.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids 8-12 years old must be accompanied by an adult)
Aqua Drop: admission fee + $5.00 (minimum age 8 years old, kids can do this one solo)
Save on admission fees: An annual Family Pass is $149.97, a worthwhile investment if you plan on visiting more than twice per year, a family of 5 or kids age 13-17. Brockville residents can checkout an Aquatarium pass at their public library with a valid City of Brockville library card.
Speed up the Ropes Course process: download the waiver forms here and fill them out before you arrive to minimize wait times.
Parking: There are several pay-per-hour parking spots within a short walk of the Aquatarium which accept credit cards or coins. Two-hour complimentary parking spaces throughout downtown Brockville are available, but you will spend more than two hours here and the parking bylaws are enforced (you will be ticketed if you exceed the time limit). Park in the facility’s heated underground garage (great for families with little ones) for $2 per hour.
Family-friendly factor: Elevators and family bathrooms are roomy for strollers and visitors requiring wheelchairs. Washrooms are all equipped with change tables. Exhibits for the most part are child-sized, and when they aren’t stools and benches help kids get the most from their experience. Staff go out of their way to make sure that you are having fun and learning.
What to (and not to) bring: Snacks are not permitted inside The Aquatarium, so make sure your children are well fed before starting your adventure! Your kids WILL get wet – a change of clothes and small towel will come in handy for the hands-on water exhibits. If you plan on doing the ropes course, bring a pair of running shoes (flip flops are not permitted).
For as long as farmers in The Great Waterway have been able to work the land, there has been beer (those unfortunate dry years during prohibition aside, of course). The tradition of brewing in Upper Canada is centuries old, with the first barley seed arriving in Canada in the 1600s and the barley export boom during the late 1800s. In recent years, craft brewing has experienced a renaissance and for brewers and beer lovers, it is an exciting time to live in The Great Waterway. The geographical location lends itself to ideal conditions for growing barley, rye and even the humble hop, allowing brewers to include local ingredients in their beers.
With consumers reaching for spicy and hoppy India Pale Ales and refreshing, innovative seasonal beers, breweries here have responded enthusiastically. I caught up with Gananoque Brewing Company, Barley Days Brewery and Rurban Brewing to find out what India Pale Ales they’re most proud of and what exciting seasonals they have in store.
What India Pale Ales are you working on right now?
Kristina Miller, Gananoque Brewing Company: Bell Ringer IPA, a west coast-style IPA can be found on tap in Kingston, Toronto and Gananoque or at our brewery in Gan. Made with Canadian-grown Cascade, Chinook and Centennial hops, it is hoppy, unfiltered, unpasteurized and raw. We use local hops when we can, which are grown on a farm located 20 minutes from the brewery.
Brett French, Barley Days Brewery: Our IPA is actually brewed as a seasonal beer. County IPA is a very aromatic beer, with a highly fruity and floral aroma. Prince Edward County was once a known hop growing region, and in the past few years more and more hops are being planted. Our County IPA is grown with 100% Prince Edward County hops, and depending on the kind of growing season we’ve had, County IPA could be out as early as September.
A.J. Rorabeck, Rurban Brewing: As the first brewery in Cornwall in almost 100 years, we are excited to be in the final stages of getting ready to start brewing in our 10-barrel brewhouse. As early as August, an India Pale Ale will be ready. This fall, we will have an American Pale Ale, named “Late”, that could be said to walk the line into IPA territory. We currently source our hops from the larger producers, but there are local producers with whom we have been chatting, and we’ll be excited to work them in the future!
What seasonal beers are you excited about?
Gananoque: Our Rusty Shark Session Ale is exciting because it made from locally grown ingredients, including Red Fife Wheat, Rye Malts and hops grown and harvested at Ironwood Organic Farms. Part of our “Terroir Series”, it is light in alcohol yet retains a taste familiar to craft beers. We are also piloting a Rye Pale Ale and a Cream Ale, with the Rye Pale Ale made using locally grown rye.
Rurban: We plan on brewing 16 beers a year, a takeoff on a a traditional German seasonal rotation of beers. With four beers per season reflecting four seasons of the year, we can pay some Canadian homage to each.
Barley Days: Two fun seasonal beers I’m proud of are the Sacred Mule Sparkling Ale and the Eye of the Beeramid. Sacred Mule is a beer that was fermented with a sparkling wine yeast from Lighthall Vineyards. Eye of the Beeramid is a collaboration with Pyramid Farms, who specialize in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and Kombucha. When we first started talking about the idea of a collaboration the idea of a kraut beer or kimchi beer, it just didn’t have the same appeal as a Kombucha beer. This is a beer that you still get the health benefits of Kombucha from!
What do food do you like to pair your India Pale Ales with?
Gananoque Brewing: The spice in our Bellringer IPA pairs well Indian dishes, like a coconut-based curry. I’ve also made a jalapeno hummus with our IPA!
Rurban Brewing: IPA can be a tricky beast to pair with food, because of its intensity. I’d pair our IPAs with anything fatty and intense, like grilled red meats, Southern BBQ, cheesecake or blue cheeses. I’d also just as soon pair an IPA with itself!
Barley Days: My favourite IPA pairing would have to be with English fish and chips or anything really spicy!
Both Barley Days Brewing and Gananoque Brewing Company offer tastings and tours at their breweries, so you can try their IPAs and take home your favourites. Barley Days new patio is the perfect place to enjoy a flight or a pint and Gananoque Brewing even offers delivery to Gan or Kingston. Follow the breweries on Twitter (@barleydaysbrews, @ganbrewingco) for news on the launch of their seasonal beers.
In May it got a whole lot easier and cheaper to experience the Thousand Islands from a helicopter. The reason: local helicopter tour agent Kouri’s Kopters opened a new facility just off Highway 401 near Gananoque, not far from the heart of the islands themselves.
In the past, they were based at the Kingston airport, which is over twenty kilometers away from where the 1000 Islands really begin to show their numbers and their diversity. Now Kouri’s Kopters is about two kilometers away from there and offers three tours ranging from $99 to $199 that last between ten minutes and a half hour (find details about each tour at the end of this post).
They also have a new welcome centre with a comfortable lounge for you to wait, a patio for watching helicopters take off and land, and a gift shop. Outside, there’s a huge parking lot that can fit buses, RVs and cars.
Whichever tour you choose, it will be “breathtaking,” says Ewelina Sobala, the sales and marketing Director at Kouri’s Kopters. Even those who were scared to hop in a helicopter for the first time drastically change their tune by the time they land. “Initially, they might not have wanted to go on at all,” says Sobala, “but after, they always say they want to go again.”
Even if you’ve never flown over the 1864 islands, you can likely imagine why it would be that fun. The eighty-kilometer-long archipelago stretches from Kingston to Brockville, and when you’re up in the air, you can actually get a sense of what that breadth actually means. You can also quickly see why it’s one of the continent’s most bio-diverse areas. From one window it might be an osprey taking off over a marsh; from another, a white tail deer near the shores of a bigger island.
And if you take one of the castle tours, you’ll understand why it was called the summer capital for the rich and famous in the early twentieth century. The six-story, one-hundred-twenty-room Boldt Castle alone is an architectural treasure with tunnels, Italian gardens and a children’s playhouse within a tower. Singer Castle is almost as opulent. Built from 1902 to 1904, the four-story, twenty-eight-room granite castle has a four-story tower, a two-story ice house (once perfect for entertaining high society), three boathouses, and multiple dungeons and underground tunnels.
Castles or no castles, however, each tour will leave you in jaw-dropped wonder. Take it from Ewelina Sobala: “Everybody that comes off consistently says, ‘Oh my gosh, why didn’t I do this before?’”
88 County Rd. 32
Leeds & Thousand Islands, Ontario
Toll Free: 1-855-855-4354
1000 Islands Helicopter Tours has three voyages for you to choose from, each with a different price, duration and lineup of sights (and you don’t need a passport for any of them).
Thousand Islands Tour
$99, 10 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge
Boldt Castle Tour
$149, 18 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge, Boldt Castle
Two Castle Tour
$199, 30 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge, Boldt Castle, Singer Castle