Stop and read the signs

Gillies Bridge, Carleton Place

If you look around, there are signs everywhere but sadly, not many people stop and read them.

I do, I always have. I’m not sure if it’s the historian in me, or just an innate curiousity–I figure if someone thought it was important enough to erect a sign in a certain place, then it’s worth reading. It’s a trait that drives my family crazy.

On Friday, I went for my usual pre-game walk in Carleton Place before Clare’s hockey game. I was familiar with Carleton Place because Clare had competed in regattas there many times, but the arena was in a different part of town.

I started walking on a section of the Trans Canada Trail and came across a bridge that spanned the Mississippi River. There were several interpretive signs on the bridge, so I stopped to read them. Directly across from me was another bridge named Gillies Bridge in honour of John Gillies who built it in 1884.

Interpretive sign

John Gillies was the name of my father. Not the same John Gillies who built the bridge, and no relation to my knowledge, but it immediately caught my interest.

According to the Lanark County tourism website, lumber was king in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century and John Gillies “was one of the industry’s crown princes”. He acquired the first sawmill in Carleton Place in 1866 and built the operation to employ 200-300 men to produce more than 20 million feet of board lumber a year. His mills eventually covered 300 square miles and spanned the greater part of six townships.

His Gillies Machine Works was his retirement project. After selling his mill operation, he built the Machine Works in 1875, manufacturing steam engines, water wheels, gearing, shafting and boat engines.

I thought this was ironic given Dave’s and mine luck with boat motors.

I stopped to admire the old abandoned millworks on the island, and then kept strolling, taking pictures of the old stone buildings since it was such a gorgeous sunny morning.  

It was interesting to read about this famous namesake, and in a strange way, made me feel closer to my Dad, who has been gone for more than 20 years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stop and read the signs some time. You never know what you’ll discover.

Abandoned mill
Mill property
Old sprinkler on Mill

Ein prosit!

Oktoberfest beer hall in Bavaria

There’s nothing that says fall more than Oktoberfest.

Each year at this time, I start dreaming of swilling pints of beer from froth-filled glasses, eating warm, freshly-baked pretzels, and singing ein prosit by the hour with newfound friends.

While Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world, most local Oktoberfest celebrations can’t capture the magic and spirit of the authentic German festival, except Canada’s grand celebration in Kitchener-Waterloo.

I’ve been to Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest many times and to the real Oktoberfest in Munchen, Germany. Many people don’t realize that in Germany, Oktoberfest actually kicks off in September. This year it runs from September 17 until October 3 and is expected to attract six million visitors.

In Germany, it is a national celebration with the whole country shutting down or taking vacation to celebrate for two weeks. In Munich, the festival is held on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds with dozens of beer tents, performance stages, carnival rides and attractions to keep festival-goers entertained between pints.

The first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, we arrived at the fairgrounds around 1 p.m. That’s another big difference between Germany and our Oktoberfest celebrations—in Germany, many of the events are in the afternoon, so you start drinking early. We sat down in one of the festival tents and quickly made friends with a group of German men who were visiting from out of town.

Fraulein servers in traditional colourful Bavarian costumes, their biceps bulging out of their costumes, wound their way through the crowded tables, carrying six gigantic beer steins in each hand. On stage an oom pah pah band played polka music. There was lots of toasting, singing and every hour, you’d sing ein prosit, and raise a hearty toast and chug to the cry of Oans, Zwoa, G’suffa! 

Truth be told, I don’t remember how we made it home that night, but I do remember the memories that have lasted a lifetime.

Here are three Oktoberfest celebrations in Ontario to check out:

  • Kingston-Waterloo: on now through to October 15. While the Concordia Club is generally considered the most authentic hall, both the Alpine Club and Transylvania Club provide authentic experiences. Bingeman’s used to be more the draw for the university students in town.
  • Prince Edward County Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1
  • Toronto Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1 at Ontario Place

This week’s #HappyAct is to get your leiderhosen on and raise a toast to fall. Ein prosit!

Down east sayings to make you giggle

Man holding bottles of wine
Terry with his favourite wines

The West is beautiful, but you can’t beat the warmth, humour and light o’ life attitude of Easterners.

When we arrived in Antigonish a few weeks ago to spend a few days with Danette’s parents, her Dad Terry greeted us with a big hug and holding two bottles of wine in his hands, Four Skins and Kiss Me Arse.

The next day Terry walked out wearing a t-shirt that said, “It’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits”.

We visited one little fishing wharf where every building had a funny sign on it, some even upside down. There was The Lost and Found Bouys shack and the Little River Fisheries and Heritage Museum, Closed for Innovations.

Lost and Found Bouys fishing shack

We sure had lots of giggles on our trip and thankfully not the shits. We learned “The older the crab, the tougher its claws” and if someone was running late, they were “off like a herd of turtles”.

Yes, we can all learn a thing or two about keeping life light and happy from our friends down east. And remember, if yer not happy where yer is, yer never will be happy where yer to.

Long may your big jib draw. Til next week…

Sign on lobster shack

Walk on the ocean floor

Girls at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
Me, Danette and Leslie at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to walk on the ocean floor?

Last week at this time, I was walking on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in New Brunswick on the way home from an epic two-week vacation to Cape Breton with my girlfriends Leslie and Danette.

Hopewell Rocks is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Canada. It is known for its iconic flowerpot rocks and for being located on the Bay of Fundy which has some of the highest tides in the world. Twice a day, the bay fills and empties of a billion tonnes of water during each tide cycle—more than the flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers combined.

Flowerpot rocks at Hopewell Rocks

The tides rise and fall between 40-50 feet at Hopewell Rocks. The entrance fee to the park is actually good for two days, since many people like to come back to see both low and high tides, or kayak between the rocks during high tide.

We arrived mid-afternoon and descended the massive staircase to the ocean floor. It’s a bit of a strange feeling to know that the rocks and beach you’re strolling on will be completely underwater in a matter of minutes. The tides rise so fast there, they now have park staff monitoring different sections of the beach to make sure stragglers make it back to the stairs to return to the surface in time.

We arrived as the tide was coming in. I stood and watched two exposed rocks to see how long it would take for the water to engulf them. I probably only watched for about five minutes for the rocks to fully disappear—that was how fast the water rose.

I was fascinated by the shape of the rocks, their unique patterns and colouring and the barnacles that covered the rocks like blankets. They were rubbery and uniform and dry to the touch. Some say the flowerpot rocks will eventually crumble, but they’ve lasted for thousands of years so my guess is you still have plenty of time to see them if you plan to visit.

Girl in front of rocks
Barnacles on rock

Many visitors don’t take the time to explore the many viewing platforms from up above, but I highly recommend it. When we first arrived, we watched a young deer trying to manoeuvre its way through the vast dark brown sand to the more lush green vegetation on the banks. It struggled to move through the quicksand and seemed disoriented in the loamy soil left from the receding waters. It was still trying to escape to safety when we moved to the next viewing platform.

There we saw a mother peregrine falcon perched on a tree limb stretching out over the Bay’s waters. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a peregrine falcon in the wild. We were very close, so we got a great view of her.

View of sandy soil and a deer
It’s nearly impossible to see, but the tiny dot in the estuary of water between all the brown loamy ocean soil was a deer trying to find its way to safety
Mother and baby peregrine falcon

As we were admiring her stately helmet and stature, one of her babies came flying in beside her. They screeched an exchange for a few minutes, then both settled on the limb. One of the park staff later told me there were four babies. Babies often stay in the same area as their family after leaving the nest, flying with them while hunting. The staff member showed me a bunch of photos he had of the falcons on his phone—he said this is one of the first years they’ve had peregrine falcons at the park and the park staff were clearly very proud of their newest residents.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan a trip to walk on the ocean floor, or visit an iconic park landmark in your area. Happy travels!

Rock at Hopewell Rocks
Rock at Hopewell Rocks
Muddy ocean floor

The legend of the jacket

Golfer in jacket
My brother Don, three-time TBW champion

A few years ago, we were sitting in a restaurant when I happened to overhear the conversation at a table next to us. The person was telling the story of a time when he was on vacation, and this group of golfers came in to the restaurant, and did a special jacket presentation like they do at the Masters. I smiled, because I knew he was talking about my brother. The story was the legend of the jacket.

For the past 15 years, my brother Don has organized a guys’ golf trip. It started out as The Boys Weekend, an exclusive invitational of three or four days of golf, with a bit of drinking mixed in for good measure. In the last decade, TBW has morphed into The Boys Week, an annual event where Don and 11 buddies rent a villa somewhere in North America and golf for seven days straight to see who reigns supreme on the golf course and wins the coveted jacket.

There is a trophy. One of the guys stole an old trophy out of their Board Room and every year, a new plaque is added with the TBW Champ’s name. But it’s the jacket that is the true prize and symbol of victory.

The jacket itself is an old brown herringbone blazer Don found in a thrift store years ago that mysteriously has the ability to fit every winner like the old pair of jeans in the movie The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

Each year, it is handed over to the champion to wear with pride. The keeper of the jacket is responsible for getting their name and year embroidered on it. One of the boys fell down on his duties one year, so the new reigning champ kindly embroidered it for him—on the inside lapel.

Lapel of jacket with name embroidered on the inside

My brother has won it three times. The boys just got back from TBW in Prince Edward Island this year and I asked Don if the jacket came home with him this year. Sadly, Don said his game “fell apart like a cheap suit on the final round” and Bubba won it this year. Here’s a picture of Bubba in the jacket sporting his Anne of Green Gables look.

Congratulations, Bubba, and the entire TBW 2022 crew!

Golfer in jacket
Congratulations to Bubba, the 2022 TBW Champ!
12 golfers on a green
The field at the 2022 TBW Invitational in PEI

Explore a new neighbourhood

Graffiti
Street art installation on the Waterfront Trail at the Cataraqui River in Kingston

About a month ago, I started a new job. One of the perks of changing jobs is I’ve been able to explore a new area of Kingston on my daily walks at lunch.

This isn’t the touristy part of the Kingston. You won’t find photos of the north side of Princess Street in the glossy travel brochures, but I‘ve found my new little neighbourhood has heart and soul in spades and is full of hidden gems.

My first stroll took me down the Waterfront Trail along the Cataraqui River near the old Woolen Mill. There were dozens of swans gracefully swimming in the river, and turtles basking in the sunshine on the shore. A group of school girls were having their photos taken on the big grassy area by the water and people were out jogging and walking their dogs.

Across the trail was a street art installation with the most amazing graffiti. The sign said people were free to paint over any of the sections, but you could tell the graffiti had been there for some time.

Graffiti
Graffiti

The next day I walked up some of the back streets, past brightly coloured orange, yellow and green houses like you’d find in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, and homes with kiosks out front saying, “Take what you need, leave what you can”. I found a poetry garden with a poem by Lorna Crozier and sidewalks with chalk signs that offered up lemonade and free dog biscuits.

Green coloured house
Yellow coloured house

Another day, I was walking along Rideau Street and saw a young woman walking a dog with gorgeous black, brown and white markings. The dog promptly stopped and sat down at the corner. I was curious why the dog stopped so I stood and watched. The girl looked over and smiled and waited.

The door to a house across the street swung open and another young woman emerged and crossed the road with a plastic bag full of dog treats. It was clear this was a daily routine. It was a beautiful moment that I felt lucky to witness that showed how deep and caring the connections were in my new neck of the woods.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore a new area of your city. You never know what hidden gems and stories you may find.

Food lending library
Poetry garden
Sidewalk sign lemonade and free dog treats

Immerse yourself in art

Van Gogh immersive exhibit

Last weekend, my girlfriend Leslie and I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Toronto.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but was quite interesting. I expected to walk through a gallery of rooms of Van Gogh’s art projected on walls, but you actually enter one room and stay there the whole time as the theatrical experience engulfs you.

It was a massive space—the exhibit is showing at The Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street and I suspected the space on the first floor was the former printing plant.  

The first time we watched the 35-minute production, we simply admired Van Gogh’s masterpieces paired with classical music as they surrounded us in 360-degree views projected on the walls and floor.

Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, lilies and almond blossoms surrounded us, followed by a starry night, scenes of fields and cafes, and portraits of courtesans, farmers and compatriots of his day.

The second time we watched it, the images transformed in a new way, dancing across the walls, rising and falling, coming to life. The smoke from a cigar billowed upward, a steam train rolled across the countryside, and a windmill slowly turned amongst threatening clouds as the animated images immersed us in their beauty and brushstrokes.  

Art aficionados and purists may balk at commercializing works of art and masterpieces, but for me it created a new and wondrous appreciation of the work of Van Gogh.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. The Van Gogh 360 exhibit is on until May 30 in Toronto and this summer at Lansdowne Place in Ottawa. Be sure to put it on your summer vacation happy act list.

Van Gogh a starry night
A starry night
Van Gogh painting
Van Gogh art
Van Gogh lillies
Van Gogh masterpiece
Van Gogh's lillies

Explore a deserted beach

Driftwood on beach

At the end of April, we travelled to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia for our annual family vacation. We’ve become enamoured with the barrier islands in the Low Country and this beautiful island south of Savannah didn’t disappoint.

One of my favourite days was exploring Driftwood Beach on nearby Jekyll Island. Located on the northern end of the island, it’s unlike any other beach you’ve been to. It’s quite isolated and stretches for miles and is strewn with pieces of driftwood, each one unique, interesting and amazing.  

As I walked down the beach, I felt like Robinson Crusoe or a castaway member from Gilligan’s Island. There wasn’t a soul around, and it was very dystopian. I wandered through nature’s art gallery examining the different pieces of driftwood.

There were ancient trolls guarding the beach, dolphins leaping amongst the waves, sea turtles nesting on the beach, wolves howling into the wind and warriors lifting their swords high into the sky.

While my little lake at home is nothing like Driftwood Beach, I get a similar feeling of being an explorer when I paddle into our back lakes where there are no houses or cottages, just me and my kayak, the sun on the water and the herons, vultures and beavers keeping me company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get lost on a deserted island or beach. Happy exploring.

Ancient trolls guarding the beach

Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Driftwood
Grace on the beach
Driftwood
Driftwood art sculptures
Two wolves howling at the moon and a dolphin jumping in the waves

Advice from a sea turtle

Girl walking on a beach

I’ve been dreaming of white sandy beaches and palm trees lately. It made me think of one of my favourite passages, “Advice from a sea turtle”:

Swim with the current
Be a good navigator
Stay calm under pressure
Be well travelled
Think long term
Age gracefully
Spend time at the beach

Have a happy week!

Top ten travel happy acts for 2022

Stormy beach in North Carolina
Carolina beach before the storm

Normally in December, I do a round-up of my favourite happy acts of the year. But as I’ve said more than once during COVID-19, it’s tough blogging about happiness during a pandemic. So this year, I’ve decided to choose my top ten list of travel-related posts to give us something to look forward to in 2022. Some of these are great staycation ideas, others involve finding adventures further afar.

  1. Explore the backroads and hamlets of Eastern Ontario in Take a Scenic Drive and Visit an Amazing Place.
  2. Experience the feeling of skating until your feet chafe in The world’s longest skating rink turns 50 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
  3. Bridgerton fans: experience what life was like in Regency Europe by visiting English and Irish manors in Of manors and mansions when lords and duchesses attended balls, paid morning visits and strolled in stately gardens.
  4. On a glorious autumn day, there is no better experience in the world than picking grapes and helping with the harvest in Harvest the grape.
  5. In Walk through a sky with a thousand suns, we explored a sunflower farm in Prince Edward County.
  6. The Carolinas have always held a special place in our hearts, find out why in Carolina on my mind.
  7. On a wintry day, one of the best places to visit is an aquarium. Read about my girls’ weekend winter getaway to Ripley’s Aquarium in Discover an undersea world.
  8. There’s a reason why British Columbia has “Beautiful British Columbia” on its license plates. See why in Happy in beautiful BC.
  9. Hamilton, Ontario, a great tourist destination, really? Explore all it has to offer in Challenge a steadfast belief.
  10. Make a date to explore your local zoo or one of the smaller zoos in your region where you can get up close and personal with the animals in Have a Zootastic experience.

Where do you plan to visit next year? Leave a comment and here’s to a happier 2022 with many more travels and adventures ahead!

Daughter Grace in a garden in South Carolina
Grace at a manor house in North Carolina
Daughter Clare in a sunflower field in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Clare in the sunflower field in Prince Edward County