Visit a Charles Dickens village

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

Our British Heritage runs deep in this region. Kingston was, after all, the first capital of Canada and north of Kingston, in the area once known as Upper Canada, there are dozens of quaint villages that transform into magical towns hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens at Christmas.

One of my favourites is the tiny village of Delta where thousands of visitors assemble each year to take an evening stroll through Lower Beverly Park to see the 90,000 lights, visit Santa’s workshop and take a wagon ride through the village. The local church hall serves hot meals, and in the centre of the village, the Delta Mill is open for tours.

The Old Stone Mill in Delta is a national historic site and treasure. It was built in 1810 and is still a working gristmill (they grind their own flour in the summer months). In December, antique candles light up the mill as they flicker in the six-foot window sills of each window.

Once inside, you are transported back to the days of Dickens. Caped carollers sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the smells of hot cider fill the air. Local volunteers share their knowledge and history as they take you for a tour and explain how flour is ground. You almost expect to see the ghost of Christmas past or Ebenezer Scrooge emerge from the mill’s shadows.

This week’s #HappyAct is to transport yourself back in time with a visit to Delta. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

The mill and park are open every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.

Some other great towns to visit during the holidays include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Merrickville and high on my wish list, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a Father Christmas Festival and transform their picturesque seaside village into a winter wonderland.

Old Stone Mill in Delta

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Two journeys in one

Grace and me at the top of Rock Dunder

One of my favourite seasons of the year to hike is fall.

Yesterday, my Ryerson Alumni Group hiked one of the most beautiful treks in Eastern Ontario, Rock Dunder, just south of Morton. This 230-acre property is owned by the Rideau Waterway Land Trust and rises 275 feet to a summit for a stunning view of the Rideau Canal and surrounding area. It was a former boy scout camp and has three log cabins on the trail.

We arrived just before 11 and started on the Summit Loop. The alumni magazine sent a professional photographer named Sarah Palmer to join us. A Ryerson grad, Sarah is a photo assignment editor for Macleans two weeks a month and freelances on the side. It was great getting to know her and hearing about her adventures and travels.

People at the trail summit

Even though it was unseasonably warm, the bottom part of the loop was wonderfully cool as we walked through the soft green canopy of the woods and explored the two worn log cabins used by the boy scout camp in the 80’s. Halfway to the top, we stopped for a swim and cliff jumping (well, Grace and my friend Mike cliff jumped—I chose to cheer them on from the cool water below).

The summit was spectacular—Rock Dunder definitely lives up to its reputation of being the best hike in Eastern Ontario.

At the top, we debated about taking the same trail back, or finishing the loop. We decided to complete the loop. My daughter Clare once said it’s always better to choose the path you haven’t been on before because it’s like taking two journeys in one.

For more inspiration to get you out on the trails this fall, see my blog post, Stand on a Rocky Outcrop.

Ed. note: Are you a Ryerson alumni living in the Kingston region? Join our group and follow us on Facebook to learn about all the fun activities we plan year-round.

Woman on trail
My friend Brenda at the top of the summit

Hiking group

Happy in Beautiful BC

There’s a reason our westernmost province has “Beautiful BC” on its license plates.

Last week, I vacationed on Vancouver Island with my girlfriends. While this was my third trip West, this was the first time I spent the entire week on the island.

Stunning, spectacular scenery, sunny skies, and cool breezes set the stage for an amazing week. Here were a few of the things I loved about BC.

  • Ocean views around every turn; on our last night, we just sat and watched the sun set at Otter Point on the bottom tip of the island.
  • The wildlife—I saw more baby deer in one week on the island than I have in Ontario in the past ten years; on one hike at Stamp River Provincial Park, we saw ten bald eagles in the trees and soaring up the river—some so close you could hear the air whooshing as they flew overhead.
  • Hiking—my favourite hike was the West Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, an easy 4 km loop with incredible coastal views with a lighthouse. Point of clarification: this is not the West Coast Trail which is further south and one of the most difficult treks in North America—I’m pretty sure some of my Facebook friends thought that was the trail I was doing!
  • Native art and traditions—one of my favourite “town days” was exploring the murals in Chemainus and seeing all the native art in the region

But best of all, I loved the laid back attitude and lifestyle so typical of islanders, and the fact there are NO bugs and NO humidity.

Butchart gardens in Victoria

Travel tips: if you go

  • Charter fishing: the best fishing seemed to be off the coast of Tofino this summer
  • Whale watching: I highly recommend Adventures by H.I.P. in Sooke. It’s a family run business, and Mike takes his high-powered camera on the trip so you can sit back and relax and enjoy the wildlife viewing. They’ll send you pictures after the trip for that million dollar vacation memory. Here’s one shot Mike took of a humpback cresting out of the water, with an ocean freighter in the background.
  • Chemainus: If you’re wondering whether the $20 horse-drawn wagon tour of Chemainus to see and learn about all the murals is worth it, it is—the longer trip takes you into the old part of town which many tourists might miss altogether if they’re just stopping in for the day.
  • Butchart Gardens in Victoria: Did you know there are free concerts every night of the summer at 8 p.m. at the gardens on the lawn?
  • Sooke: Don’t miss Sooke pier and be sure to check out the new microbrewery in town, Sooke Brewing Company.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a breather this summer, and getaway, or plan a fun staycation. Happy vacationing!

whale with tale out of the water

Sooke brewing companytotem pole

In quest of the ultimate tacky souvenir

Donald Trump bottle opener

This year for our family vacation, we spent a week in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina in April. As always, we had a great time exploring the area, hanging on the beach and enjoying some much needed sunshine after a long Canadian winter.

Just like most tourists, we scour the souvenir shops looking for the perfect souvenir to remember our trip.

This trip I SCORED BIG.

I found one of my favourite souvenirs of all time, and it didn’t cost me a dime. I ordered a Shark Bite, a refreshing mix of rum, blue curacao and grenadine, and it came in the most classic, Jaws-dropping, great white and blue shark mug.

And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a souvenir that scored 11 (1 better) on the tacky souvenir scale.

It’s a fridge magnet bottle opener of Trump with bright orange hair in a blue suit. The hole where you crack open your beer is Trump’s pie-hole flashing a ghastly teethy grin, like he’s hailing-to-the-chief expletives at Omarosa, Spence or Comey or defending himself at his impeachment hearing in Congress.

I will treasure it for always.

This week’s #HappyAct is to seek the ultimate tacky souvenir. I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. See if you can trump mine.

souvenir shark mug

Goodbye Rick Mercer and thanks for the memories

Like millions of other Canadians this week, I watched the final episode of the Rick Mercer Report Tuesday night.

For the past 15 years, Rick Mercer has been a staple in our household most Tuesday nights.

What struck me the most when I watched his final episode was how much his show personified what it means to be Canadian and the best about our country.

I’ve been lucky to see Rick in action twice over the years—once in Kingston when he did a segment on a national tree climbing competition in Lake Ontario Park, and last November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Both times he was engaging, funny, genuinely happy to meet and learn about people, and clearly proud to showcase the best about our country.

On Tuesday’s show, Rick did a special tribute to all the para-athletes he’s interviewed over the years. While we still have a long way to go in making Canada accessible, I believe thanks to legislation and guys like Rick, who have illuminated the wit, grace, and determination of people with disabilities, we are more aware and understanding of the needs and unique talents of this segment of our population.

Another segment was dedicated to politicians. There were some clips I hadn’t seen before (how did I miss the show where he and Bob Rae jumped into a lake buck naked?) I couldn’t help but contrast the relationship between Canadian media and our politicians with the United States.

While there is still an appropriate level of adversarial criticism and oversight, necessary for the media to do their jobs, the Rick Mercer Report personified how accessible our politicians are to the media, and the deep-rooted respect Canadians have for those who devote their lives to public office.

Through the Rick Mercer Report, we were able to explore the best of our country. From showcasing schools raising funds for Spread the Net to end malaria in third world countries, to the weird, wacky and wonderful events and people from coast to coast, Rick was our own personal Sherpa each week, taking us to new places and adventures across the land.

In his “Go See Canada” rant, Rick urged us to explore Canada, saying “I know in my heart of hearts, we would be better, stronger, and more unified if more Canadians could make it their business to see more of Canada.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to go see Canada. Thanks for the memories Rick. All the best in your next adventure.

And in case you missed it, I almost fell off my chair laughing this week watching Rick’s Seven-Day Forecast, especially since we’re frozen in this never-ending winter. Here it is again for your viewing pleasure.

Ed. note: A political note, thank you CBC for bringing Rick into our homes each week. Shows like the Rick Mercer Report would never exist if we didn’t have a publicly funded broadcaster. Keep them coming, and for all of you who fear going into withdrawal each Tuesday night, there’s still This Hour Has 22 Minutes, one of the best on television.

Ten fun free things to do in Kingston this Canada Day weekend

Canada 150 sign
We made this birthday card to Canada from all our employees last week at work

Happy #Canada150! It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of love and pride for our nation in our sesquicentennial year. No matter what your plans are this weekend, I hope it involves enjoying time with family and friends and doing something uniquely Canadian.

Like most communities, Kingston will be hopping. Here are ten fun free things to do in Kingston this Canada Day weekend. Enjoy!

  1. Take in any of the Canada Day celebrations. There’s live music Friday night, and all day Saturday in Confederation Basin with fireworks at 10 p.m.
  2. Get your arts on at Artsfest in City Park, Sat-Mon from 10-6. Ever since they moved the location from Confed Basin to City Park, this fantastic arts and craft fair has blossomed, featuring artisans from across Ontario and Quebec. Last year we bought this cool rummoli board there, but there’s no charge to browse.
  3. Tour the penitentiary museum. While the main Kingston Penn tours, which cost $35 are fantastic, this little free museum is still a great way to pass an hour and learn about Canada’s history in corrections.
  4. Enjoy a drink on an indoor courtyard patio. Kingston’s patios are the best! Some great indoor patios include Woodenheads, Amadeus, Kingston Brewing Company, the Toucan and Chez Piggy.
  5. Take a walk along the waterfront. Park at the Murney Tower at the foot of King and Barrie Streets, and walk towards the LaSalle causeway. Count the Martello towers, pay your respects at the Celtic Cross memorial in honour of the victims of the Irish Famine, stroll through Battery Park (my favourite lunch spot) and cross the LaSalle Causeway to see RMC and a view of Fort Henry.Chez piggy patio
  6. Tour Bellevue House, the home of Sir John A. Macdonald. Admission is free this year in honour of our 150th.
  7. Take the ferry across to Wolfe Island. The Wolfe Islander offers some of the best views of the city from the water, and it’s all free. Grab an ice cream in Marysville before the return trip and get a birds eye view of the windmills on the island.
  8. Take a walking tour of Cataraqui Cemetery. Visit Sir John A’s grave site, and the site of his purported mistress Eliza Grimason next to him, Rose Cherry, and Harry Traill, the first Kingston prison guard killed in the line of duty and son of author Catherine Parr-Traill. With 91 acres of gorgeous gardens to explore, you can easily spend an afternoon here.
  9. Visit the Tett Centre and its resident artists and studios.
  10. There’s no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston and now you can be the “I” in Kingston by getting your picture taken in Kingston’s latest tourist attraction in Confederation Basin.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore Canada’s first capital and have an absolutely spectacular Canada Day! Here is a tweet my friend Hollie Pratt-Campbell posted of her and her daughter with the new Kingston sign.

Rummoli board
Our rummoli board we bought at Artsfest last year

 

 

 

Challenge a steadfast belief

Women having lunch on a patioOne of my many faults is I tend to be a bit stubborn and steadfast in my beliefs. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to challenge a bias I’ve held for the past twenty years that Hamilton wasn’t a nice city on our annual spring girls’ weekend in Dundas, Ontario.

We arrived in Dundas at noon just in time for the start of the Dundas BuskerFest. The scenic main street of this little town, only a hop, skip and trapeze jump out of Hamilton was the perfect setting to watch street performers dazzle and amaze. We had a delicious lunch in one of the town’s outdoor patio courtyards and browsed the quaint shops on the main street.

Next, we headed to our bed and breakfast, SummitHaven a charming yellow brick church dating back to 1869, lovingly restored by its owners. Our lower level suite had three bedrooms, a full-service kitchen and lovely sitting area, the perfect base for touring the area.

Summit Haven bed and breakfastThe day was too spectacular so we set out to hike and discover Hamilton’s waterfalls. I’ve blogged about how much I love waterfalls before, and had been told Hamilton was the “city of waterfalls”. In the twenty years I’ve been visiting Hamilton, I’ve never gone to see a single waterfall. We visited three last weekend.

The first one was a small waterfall at the beginning of the main trail loop in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The 3 km trail was a perfect length for the end of a busy day, and featured a cascade, ruins, a meandering stream and gorgeous woods.

women standing in ruinsLeslie still wanted to see more, so we drove down to Sherman Falls, a stunning 17 metre waterfall tucked in the woods across from one of the best restaurants in the area, the Ancaster Old Mill. We ended the day back at BuskerFest, watching the fire show and grand finale of all the performers.

The next day, I dragged my besties to the historical reenactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek at Battlefield House and Museum. I have driven past this park many times, but never explored it before. It’s definitely worth the visit, but especially on this day when the park was transformed into an early 19th century encampment of military soldiers.

Sherman fallsWe met the Earl of Moira, learned how to load and shoot a musket rifle, and watched the 200+ reenactors play out the battle, which was a turning point in the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans.

Our last stop was another waterfall just up the mountain—the Devil’s punch bowl. Since we were running out of time, we just hiked the short path along the escarpment, but there is a 10 km hiking trail that looked very scenic.

The best part of the whole weekend, other than seeing Leslie and Danette of course, was everything was free.

This week’s #HappyAct is to challenge a steadfast belief. It might open up your mind and world to new adventures. Thanks Leslie and Danette for another great girls’ weekend!