For the past year and nine months, I’ve had the honour of travelling throughout South Eastern Ontario and writing stories about the brilliant variety adventures and experiences here. So far, we’ve explored The Great Waterway by car, on foot and upon the waves of the mighty St. Lawrence River.
For this particular chapter, Heidi planned out an epic day trip to The 1000 Islands, Gananoque where we would take our adventure to new heights! Or should I say: altitude? Last summer, Heidi and I explored the 1000 Islands Parkway from Gananoque to Mallorytown Landing – stopping to explore nature trails and witness the legendary St. Lawrence River up close with a boat tour in Rockport.
This time, we were going to get a birds-eye view of the region with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours!
Get to The Chopper!
Since childhood, I’ve been lucky enough to fly in various types of aircraft from small propellor planes like Cessnas to jetliners, helicopters and even gliders during my brief time as an Air Cadet.
Heidi, on the other hand, has only flown twice in her life. Once, when she was a kid, and again in 2009 when we flew to the East Coast for our honeymoon. Both were on commercial flights, so this would be her first time in a smaller private aircraft and a helicopter no less.
The day of our flight turned out to be cloudy with a low altitude ceiling, but otherwise excellent visibility and calm winds. Our pilot was none other than Jordan Mol – who is the Chief Pilot with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. Our aircraft would be a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter, which is a top of the line machine and one of the most popular and highest safety-rated civilian choppers on the market.
After a quick safety briefing at the helipad, we climbed aboard the Raven II and got strapped in while Jordan ran through the preflight diagnostics. As the whine of the engine filled the air, and the rotors kicked in there was a distinct sensation of raw power. Flying in a helicopter feels similar to flying in an airplane, but the takeoff sequence is entirely different.
During dustoff, there is a momentary sensation of gravity’s pull, similar to going up in a fast elevator. One moment you’re on the ground, and then quite suddenly, you’re floating. The pilot then pivots the copter toward it’s intended takeoff vector, throttles up – and suddenly you’re achieving a thrilling and steady rate of climb that to this day, gets a “WOO HOO!” out of me every time.
I could tell by the ear-to-ear smile on Heid’s face that she was feeling the same rush that I felt on my first helicopter flight.
A fresh layer of snow had blanketed the ground, making for some genuinely spectacular aerial views of the 1000 Islands region during midwinter. Despite the grey and snowy horizon – there were still warm signs of spring everywhere. The once thick layers of ice on the river and surrounding lakes were receding steadily – and the water was so clear, that in some instances we could make out the shapes of rocky shoals beneath the surface.
The sensation of flying, combined with the breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River was exhilarating. Not only was it visually captivating, but it also gave a definitive impression of just how immense the 1000 Islands region is – and just how small we really are. Flying is one of those things that you have to experience for yourself.
There is nothing quite like it.
Coffee & Treats at Panache Bakery
After safely returning to earth, we were ready to grab a coffee and sit down for a breather. Our hearts still pounding with excitement, we made our way back to town.
I’ve said it before, that no trip to Gananoque is complete without a visit to the Panache Bakery & Cafe, and I meant every word of it. It’s pretty much mandatory in my book. Of course, when it comes to the shiny case filled with baked treats, resistance is indeed futile. At the ordering counter, you’re instantly faced with a mouthwatering selection of baked finery fit for royalty.
I went with an irresistible raspberry turnover, while Heidi selected the standard by which all cinnamon buns should be judged. Seriously, it was life-changing as far as cinnamon buns go. The bright and cozy cafe was the perfect spot to sit, enjoy a hot drink and reflect on our adventure in the skies.
It was also a good opportunity to go through some of the photos from our helicopter tour and post a few to social media. We couldn’t get too comfortable though because the next part of our itinerary would have us exploring the Town of Gananoque by foot in an interesting self-guided walking tour!
Take a Stroll Through History
Gananoque is a beautiful riverside town that is rooted in Canadian history. To appreciate Gan’s impressive selection of architecture, we decided to take the Heritage Walking Tour which would take us to many of the town’s landmark buildings. It was a relatively warm afternoon, which made for a fantastic afternoon stroll through time.
We didn’t exactly follow the tour in order but started at the iconic McDonald House (above, left) which was built in 1831 by prominent businessman John McDonald. In the years since it has been used as a courthouse, a jail and today houses municipal offices.
Nearby, the Chrysler House with its vibrant red roof and amber-hued brickwork is a fantastic example of The Victorian Age’s sublime sense of design and class. Today, it is home to Beaver Hall Bed & Breakfast. Also notable, is the Parmenter House which is situated at 45 King Street West. It was erected in 1800 for the relative of a prominent industrial tycoon – and is now the home of Gananoque’s premiere dining venue: Riva.
At 110 Stone Street South is a magnificent turn-of-the-century brick and mortar building that was built to replace the town’s original Post Office. Not far from there is the Gananoque Clock Tower. This profound red brick spire was presented to Gananoque from the late Charles Macdonald as a gift in 1903. A short walk from the tower will also bring you to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, which is the town’s oldest first built in 1854.
The last stop on our mini tour of Gan’s historic buildings was the former Spring & Axle Company (above) at 21-9 King Street East. Today the building houses the Axle Works and Bell Tower Mall. This gorgeous limestone building is home to Steel Style Garage a clothing retailer – and a yoga studio called the Ledger Room.
It is also the location of a particularly famous dining venue and our next destination!
Conquer Your #FoodieGoals at Laverne’s Eatery
Formerly the Socialist Pig Food For Everyone! This eclectic cafe and diner is now known as Laverne’s Eatery after a shift in ownership. It’s still the same fantastic food that fans of The Pig knew, with the same relaxed and casual vibe that keeps you going back for more. I’ve spent the past 11 months or so drooling over their Instagram Posts and was already a Laverne’s fanboy before I ever set foot in their diner.
For lunch, Heidi had the California Club sandwich which combines roast chicken, avocado, bacon, and pea sprouts tossed in a zappy grapefruit vinaigrette. This epic clubhouse also came stacked with cheddar, fresh tomato, cranberry tomato chutney, cilantro and sriracha crema. It was as awesome as it sounds, turning the conventional concept of a club sandwich on its head in a good way.
I chose the irresistible Bahn Mi sandwich which married smoked beef brisket with BBQ ginger chilli sauce, pickled veggies, and fresh cilantro on a grilled bun. Real talk: it was the sandwich version of what it probably feels like to win ten million dollars. Extreme satisfaction and joy, followed by the fear that now that I had it, everybody else would want some.
For dessert, we couldn’t pass up on a nice hot Americano and a piece of these butter tart square things that made for the sweetest end to an already monumental lunch. I forget what those awesome desserts were called, so let’s just dub them: Epic Squares.
Confederation Park & Sculpture Gallery.
After a wonderful lunch at Laverne’s, we crossed the street to check out some more local landmarks at Confederation Park. Standing watch by the Visitor’s Information Centre is the famed Engine 500 AKA Susan Push. This antique engine stands to commemorate the long gone 1000 Islands Railway.
The visitor’s centre itself (above, left) was built in 1840 and was once the Victoria Hotel & Jones Shovel Company which operated until the mid 1900’s. Today it also houses the local library in addition to the tourist information centre. Just beyond that, is the outdoor sculpture gallery and Confederation Park.
Inside the sculpture park is an excellent selection of contemporary artwork, including some works created by local artists. My favourite would have to be the giant iron Blue Herons by Bruce Mellon of Wolfe Island. Amid the overcast afternoon light, it gave Heidi the opportunity to take some cool, moody photos.
As we left the park, I found myself rather thankful that there is no such thing as 7 foot tall Great Blue Herons. If there were, I likely wouldn’t leave the house without a battle axe or full body armour.
Good Things are Brewing in Gananoque!
Our final stop was a visit to the Gananoque Brewing Company which was conveniently right across the street from the sculpture park. When we arrived at the brewery, we were met by none other than the owner himself: Bruce Davis, who treated me to a tasting, and a tour of the brewery. It was great to speak with Bruce, and learn more about his fantastic business!
Gan Brewing is located in the historic Bell Tower Mall which was first built in 1860. It was originally a manufacturing plant for the springs and axles used in horse-drawn carriages. The shimmering gleam of the fermentation tanks, combined with the stone and wooden beams give you an overall sense of history, and of course, the giddiness that comes with touring a really cool craft brewery.
I sampled a small selection of beers, including the Thursty Pike Pilsner which was a smooth traditional Czech-style beer with a crisp flavour. Also in the flight was the robust and smoky Black Bear Bock which was an instant favourite. I also quite enjoyed the Cooper’s Hawk American Pale Ale which I am enjoying a pint of as I write this portion of the article. It is a perky but not overtly hoppy APA with a pleasing citrusy finish on the palette.
Bruce’s operation makes high-quality craft beer in small batches, resulting in a rotating selection of delicious beverages that are truly unique. What I enjoy the most, is that many of them, including the American Pale Ale, appear to be unfiltered which results in a cloudy appearance but otherwise vibrant taste profile that only a well crafted real beer can provide.
By the time we wrapped up our tour and tasting, we were starting to lose daylight, so it was time to bring our amazing day trip to an end. But, not before stocking up on a few cans of beer first!
Take Your Adventure to New Levels!
One of the best things about exploring South Eastern Ontario is that there is no shortage of unique and delightful experiences that will leave you with beautiful lifelong memories. You never know what you might find, or who you might encounter by simply exploring your own backyard so to speak.
As always, thanks for reading! We’ve compiled this blog’s itinerary in a handy Google Map to help inspire your next adventure. If you enjoyed this or any of our stories, why not give it a share on social media, or better yet – drop us a line in the comments! Until next time, keep wandering!
Photography: Heidi Csernak