Discover Ontario

Summer 2007 CSANews Issue 63  |  Posted date : Aug 07, 2007.Back to list

When our friends from Denmark wrote to tell us of their plans to visit us last September, we were delighted. Another chance to show off our country, we thought. But they had only 10 days to spare, so our tours would have to be restricted. We decided to concentrate on our own province, Ontario.

Step number one: we got in touch with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism. Their office sent us an armful of material, and another to Kurt and Guri to look over in Copenhagen. They had been to Canada about 20 years earlier and we had then had the pleasure of taking them on our favourite route to Niagara – through Hamilton's Botanical Gardens, followed by the wine district to Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the way to the Falls. Of course we took them to see Toronto from the observation deck of the world's highest free-standing structure, the CN Tower. So what was left? Plenty!!!

The Ydings told us that they would like to see some Ontario wilderness and perhaps, go to a play or two. They left the itinerary up to us. Okay, where do we start? The idea of learning about Canada's First Nations peoples always seems to intrigue overseas visitors, so we headed out for Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Huronia Museum in Midland. We took a drive to Killarney at the top end of Georgian Bay. "South Pacific" was on stage at Stratford. The Thousand Islands offered beautiful vistas of our autumn scenery. We scheduled a stop at Cobourg for a look at one of our older communities, and ended with a drive through some of Toronto's ethnic areas. When the Danes saw our ambitious plans, they realized that they should have booked a 10-week vacation instead of 10 days. We did, however, manage to do the entire exercise, and even shoe-horned in a couple of days to catch our breath and relax for a while, using our Oshawa home as the hub from which to centre our activities.

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons was a great beginning. The 10-minute video to start the tour was a wonderful background for the story of the Jesuits who braved the New World to bring Christianity to the Ouendat, who became known as Hurons. The Jesuits' place in history was established in the early 17th century after settling at the southern end of Georgian Bay. Heroics of the Brethren at Sainte Marie and the converted native peoples were brought to the attention of Canadians when the province rebuilt the settlement on its original site in 1946. Fourteen buildings were surrounded by a typical stockade erected on the four-hectare plot. There is a chapel for the priests, and costumed young men play the part of Jesuits and their indentured helpers. Today's Ojibwas demonstrate the arts and crafts of their forefathers and tell of life as it was lived in the 1600s. There are farm animals to delight the children (school groups were present while we were there), and gardeners will appreciate the plots of maize (corn), beans and squash. Called the three sisters, an interesting stew using these vegetables is available at the attraction's cafeteria.

At the Huronia Museum, Jamie Hunter oversees a variety of exhibits pertaining to the area and its original inhabitants. These include many arrowheads, clothing, beadwork, moccasins and knives. A native longhouse is on display, as is another garden, again with the three sisters. Tobacco grows here as well. The Hurons used it as an item for trading with other groups.

Just down the road, Penetanguishene is home to Discovery Harbour, established in 1821 as a naval and military base. Staffed during the tourist season, costumed university students demonstrate historic games and dances, early 1800s cooking, sailors' rope work  and writing with quill pens. There is a full-sized replica of the ship H.M.S. Bee, plus dockyard demonstrations.

To satisfy our love of nature, we drove to Killarney Mountain Lodge, about an hour south of Sudbury. The highlight here was a three-hour cruise aboard the sailing ship "Stormy Night", with Captain Rick Embleton and Evelyn, his mate. While telling us of earlier times at Killarney, Rick weaved his way among and around rocky islands topped with forests of evergreens. Originally a trading post, the settlement became a fishing centre; its other industry being a quartz mine that still operates today. After-dinner drinks around a roaring fireplace in the carousel bar completed a wonderful experience in Ontario's near wilderness.

Laura and I first saw "South Pacific" in New York City in 1951, while on our honeymoon. What a delight it was to see it again at the 2006 Stratford Festival. Our Danish friends were impressed, not only with the professional Avon Theatre presentation, but with Stratford itself, especially the city's lovely parks along the river Avon, where the Festival theatre was built to showcase the plays of William Shakespeare. Every one of them has been produced during the 30 years of the festival's existence, many more than once.

The beauty of the St. Lawrence is there to be seen in any season, but the area is at its finest in autumn, when Mother Nature puts her colourful wonders on display. The river presents its kaleidoscope of beauty along the Thousand Island stretch downstream from Kingston to Brockville. A river boat from Gananoque or Rockport is the best way to enjoy a few hours of cruising among the isles. There are more than 1,800 of them! The most famous is Heart Island, where American millionaire George C. Boldt built a castle for his beloved wife, Louise. Unfortunately, she passed away before the mansion was completed. Boldt was the owner of New York's world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. While cruising through the area on his yacht, he asked his chef to prepare a special dressing for his salad. He liked it so much that he served it regularly at his Manhattan hotel. Thousand Island dressing is now available virtually everywhere.

The Ydings returned to Europe pleased that they had seen so much of Ontario. You know, so many people only see what is in their own backyard when guests from far away come to visit. And that is a shame. We should get out and discover the vistas, the historical sights, the wilderness and even experience the man-made attractions which we have. Here are a few suggestions. Unless you have limitless time and money, perhaps you should divide your travels into segments that you can comfortably handle – day trips, a week or two here, another week there, and so on.

Canada's capital: Ottawa has a multitude of things to see and do. Visit the Parliament buildings, whether the House is in session or not; cycle or walk along the Rideau canal (or skate – in winter, it's the world's longest rink); see your loonies and twonies being made at the Royal Canadian Mint; the National Gallery; the Museum of Photography; the Canadian Aviation Museum; and cross the Ottawa River to experience the Museum of Civilization.

The North: Ride the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee and take a motorized cargo canoe to Moose Factory, established as a Hudson's Bay trading post in 1672.

Thunder Bay: Two communities (Fort William and Port Arthur) merged to form this lakehead city. See the Sleeping Giant, an island in Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Drive to Kakabeka Falls for photographs and a picnic. Lake of the Woods is not far. You might want to canoe the region's many waterways at Quetico Provincial Park. Minaki, built in the wilderness, is a stop on VIA Rail's cross-Canada run.

Eastern Ontario: Learn about the St. Lawrence Seaway; ride the stagecoach at Upper Canada Village; see native pictographs at Bon Echo Provincial Park; stay at Sam Jakes Inn built in 1861 in the picturesque town of Merrickville; and see the spectacular sunset ceremony at Kingston's Fort Henry.

Toronto and beyond: tour the Historic Distillery District; learn all about the sugar industry at the Redpath Museum; call at the William Lyon MacKenzie Home for tea and history; walk through High Park and take a tea break at Colborne Lodge (seasonal); Drive to Oshawa and see Parkwood, home of the late R.S. McLaughlin, founder of the automobile company that became General Motors of Canada. While in the motor city, visit the Canadian Automobile Museum; move on to Peterborough and photograph the world's highest hydraulic lift lock on the Trent Canal; then call at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Niagara region: There are so many things to see and do that you could visit every year and never tire of viewing the Falls. Try your luck at the Casino and have fun in the city after you get used to the carnival atmosphere of the main street. Niagara-on-the-Lake is charming, with its small-town feel and Shaw Festival. There are many wineries for tastings.

Southwest Ontario: did you know that Dresden is home to the cabin that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin"? There are many historical spots in and around Buxton relating to the 'Underground Railroad' used by escapees from southern slavery; birders should schedule a spring or fall migration visit to Rondeau Provincial Park, Point Pelee and/or Pelee Island. On the island, Canada's southernmost inhabited spot, you can tour the vineyards and hospitality rooms of Pelee Island winery.

I hope that you are now itching to experience these places. But as the old saying goes, we have just scratched the surface. Get in touch with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and they will send you an armful of material to help with your plans.