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Glamping in Bonnechere Provincial Park

Some of the best memories of my life have involved camping. Sadly, I can’t say the same for my children.

Every summer growing up, my parents packed up our Bonair pop up camper trailer, hitched it to the back of our Oldsmobile and our subsequent Pontiac station wagon, threw us kids into the backseat and off we went for weeks on end, starting from our home in Belleville, Ontario mostly to the east coast going through Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Some of the best memories of my childhood involved those camping trips.

I am not new to camping or even glamping. Back in March, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in a Yurt at Mew Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. It was my first glamping trip.

My kids however… they are a different story and my personal failing as a parent. Miss M can count on one hand the times she has been camping in her life – two of them include Girl Guide camp and for Little Man, this was his first time. Yes, we are an urban family, but there’s no excuse for an outdoor lover like me to have been so neglectful in my duty to expose them to everything. When Ontario Parks offered us one of their four rustic cabins to try out glamping at Bonnechere Provincial Park, I knew that would be the perfect opportunity to introduce my kids (ease them in) to the camping experience.

 

 

What is Bonnechere Provincial Park?

 

Bonnechere SignBonnechere Provincial Park, which was established in 1967, is a smaller sized campground in the Ottawa Valley with a limited number of campsites and 4 rustic cabins. There is car camping in three sections of the campground – Tall Pines, River Loop and Sandy Flats (radio free and no electricity in this section).

All campers have access to a large central comfort station (showers), laundry facilities and water taps. Mini comfort station are also available with showers. Facilities with toilets and sinks to wash hands and water taps also exist throughout the campground.

Walking on blue assessibility mat to bonnechere beach, photo by brian taoThe beautiful and scenic Bonnechere River meanders through the park and one of the best features of the campground is the gorgeous, accessible beach on Round Lake. The park has floating wheelchairs that you can borrow from the camp store, there is a blue mat that makes a pathway from the day use area across the beach to the water to make the beach barrier-free for people with wheelchairs, walkers and parents with strollers. Big win for anyone who has ever had problems getting through the sand in the past.

There is a hiking trail called FIT (footprints in time). FIT is based on the traditional local First Nations way of teaching and explaining history. The trail takes you in stride with 13 giant foot prints, marked by posts with interpretive and educational text designed to be informative and engage you and your family along the hike. It’s a 2km loop trail and super easy for all hikers – kids included.

Bonnechere Book treeAnother neat park feature is the “book tree” outside the park store near the beach. It’s like a little outdoor open library and the windows and shelves are at the height of the intended reading level – my kids loved it and enjoyed taking the books out (they were returned as well).

 

 

Where is Bonnechere Provincial Park?

 

Bonnechere Provincial Park in Renfrew County is approximately 20 minutes north of Killaloe, Ontario and 45 minutes west of Pembroke, Ontario. It’s also just south of the far east tip of the more well known Algonquin Provincial Park.

 

The Rustic Cabin Glamping Experience

 

bonnechere cabin, photo by brian tao

 

The rustic cabins have two bedrooms, one has a bunk bed and they are full size mattresses, the other bedroom is a double bed. You will need to bring your own bedding.

bunk beds in bonnechere provincial park

 

The bedrooms also have a functional wardrobe, score! You might be camping, but can actually hang up your clothes.

 

 

 

There is a small living area with sofa and a propane fireplace.

 

living room in cabin at bonnechere

 

 

The kitchen has an electric bar fridge and microwave, seating is a custom pine dining table and there is an outdoor BBQ for cooking. There is no sink or running water – this is the rustic part!

bonnechere cabin bbq

 

You are responsible for bringing all of your own camp cutlery and cooking equipment.

 

bbq at bonnechere

 

Bathroom facilities and water are not provided directly at the cabins – bring your own jugs of water to cook with and wash up dishes. The cabin we stayed was a short walk to a toilet and water tap.

As far as introducing the kids to the real camping experience, this was a good start. My daughter kind of has high standards for her tender age (read this as she has a lot of experience with high end resorts) and I knew that a tent would not be the best way to encourage a love of the great outdoors. My son is super content wherever he is, whatever he is doing, so I have a feeling he is the outdoors child in the family and he and I will have a lifetime of experiences together doing things like this. 

my kids outside the cabin at Bonnechere

Our cabin, The Sandbar, was located right on the river and a canoe and paddling equipment are provided.

mom and son canoeing on bonnechere river

 

The canoe was utilized and enjoyed by my son and I!

 

canoeing on bonnechere river

 

Firewood comes with the cabin, but unfortunately there was a fire ban during our stay so no fires and s’mores for us this time. Due to the fire ban, the BBQ got used a lot, we were really happy to have it. We had brought a propane stove too just in case, so we were not lacking any cooking options.

 

bonnechere fire ban

 

Then park store does not sell groceries, so please make sure you have all the food you need or be prepared to go shopping.

Most important to note for tech junkies like me – cellular service on my network was pretty much non-existent at our cabin, which I found to be a blessing (YAY, I’m disconnected FOR DAYS!) and a curse all at once – that meant no scrolling Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or checking email after the kids were in bed.

 

Once we were in for the night, I either had to go to sleep or read a book. A few places here and there I managed one bar 3G service, but they were very few and far between – I could maybe get a text message out and possibly receive one. The only place in the whole campground where I had LTE service was on the beach.

My kids did a video tour inside our cabin at Bonnechere you can see here (I apologize for the shaky camera work, it was done by the kids, not me):

 

Things To Do Near Bonnechere Provincial Park

bonnechere beach at round lake, photo by brian tao

If you are at Bonnechere Provincial Park for just a weekend or short stay, you’d likely not want to leave as there is enough to do between kayaking and paddling the river or hanging on the beach. However, if you are there for a longer stay like we were or if you’re just like me and don’t know how to sit still and you can fit many activities into a few days, here are some places to hit in the area that we did:

 

Visit the Birthplace of The Beaver Tail!

About 20 minutes away from the campground is Killaloe, a small and quaint town. This place is the birth of the Beaver Tail, a fried, dough pastry in the shape of a beaver tail that’s been served to President Obama when he was visiting Canada in 2009. It’s full of calories and trans fats and tastes like kindness.

my kids with beaver tails in killaloe, photo by brian tao

 

Spelunking in the Bonnechere Caves

About an hour away from Bonnechere Provincial Park, close to Egansville is the Bonnechere Caves. Yes, I just took my kids to the Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves a couple weeks ago, but these ones are way longer, which means on a sweltering hot day, you spend more time in a cool place, literally and figuratively. Also, you can grocery shop at the Foodland on the way back to the park.

 

Hike the Barron Canyon Trail

my kids at Barron Canyon cliff

Despite the map showing the Barron Canyon Trail location as a straight shot directly north from Bonnechere Provincial Park, this is just over an hour drive away. It turned out to be one of the most awesome views I have ever had on a hike and it was a trail my kids could handle. HOWEVER, this trail visits cliffs and there is no barrier at all. KEEP YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THE EDGE.

hiking the barron canyon, photo by brian tao

No, I didn’t lose one of mine, but that ledge is hella tempting for a four year old who wants to urinate off it just like Mighty Eagle in the Angry Birds movie. Yes, I have a picture of this incident. No, you can’t see it.

family hike on Barron Canyon Trail, photo by brian tao

 

Do We Recommend Glamping at Bonnechere Provincial Park?

 

As far as a glamping experience for a family, this is a top notch place. The cabins have a lot of space and are clean. The windows are screened and did not hold the heat in too much. The temperature sleeping at night was comfortable and I typically like it on the cooler side at home. Having access to a canoe, paddle equipment and the river is great and is a nice way to take the kids to spend time together.

One thing I haven’t mentioned at all is that the area by the cabins was super buggy. Like mosquitos and black flies everywhere, no escape. For my daughter, it was almost like a horror movie for her (a dark comedy for me) to get from the cabin to the toilets in the evening. We have super strong repellent that worked well and I have to warn anyone going there that you will need it.

Despite the bugs, the facilities, beach and amenities of the park make up for it tremendously. I highly recommend taking your family glamping at Bonnechere Provincial Park.

To reserve a cabin at Bonnechere, please call 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275) to visit online here.

 

 

 

Pinable image Glamping at Bonnechere Provincial Park

Disclaimer: We were guests of Ontario Parks during our visit in Bonnechere Provincial Park. Our views remain our own.

And a mega thank you to my friend, photographer and pseudo-uncle to my kids, Brian Tao for coming along!

 

Bonnechere lights, photo by brian tao

 

 

Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

I got a flat tire and then the car battery died. On a trip with my kids. I’m the queen of being prepared and in this instance, I was not. Learn from me.

It was last Sunday afternoon, we were making good highway time driving between home in downtown Toronto and Bonnechere Provincial Park – the intended destination for the week. The kids were enjoying the drive for the most part, my friend/photographer/pseudo uncle to the kids, Brian was with us, we had just stopped at Honey’s Diner, outside Apsley for ice cream and leg stretching.

slashed tire on ford escape

Then, about 18 km away from reaching Bancroft on highway 28, a sudden “bump in the road”! The low tire pressure warning on the dashboard came on and it was serious judging by the thumping noises coming from underneath the car. I did what any responsible driver would do – I googled how far away we were from a gas station to get air in the tires. Seeing we were on the map, I pulled over, assessed the situation and luckily we were in a cellular service area so In called CAA. Dispatch initially said a tow truck would arrive in about 45 minutes, so we waited, I got impatient and the kids were getting restless strapped into the back seat still, so we took a closer look at the flat, unloaded all of our gear from the back of the vehicle and located the jack and tire iron.

PRO TIP – There are two hidden compartments in the trunk of a 2011 Ford Escape.

It turns out that each wheel had a security lug-nut on it, and the key was nowhere to be found – it was at one time in my trunk, but wasn’t at this moment (I did locate it once I got home, wah wah). This meant only four out of the five nuts could be removed, but the wheel itself would not be coming off. Now I have to tell you, I’m the queen of being prepared and in this instance, I was not. Learn from me kids.

Flat tire ford escape

By this point, one gentleman driving by had stopped to lend a hand and helped us extract the spare tire from the underbody of my Escape. This gentleman was an absolute gem, genuinely wanted to help and see us on our way. I have to admit, I was surprised to this selfless act of kindness. We had been stuck on the roadside for almost an hour at this point and I didn’t expect anyone in the least to slow and check in to see if we were okay. The whole idea of taking time out of your day to assist someone else just isn’t something we do anymore unless there is something in it for us.

We were at a stalemate, the tire wouldn’t come off and we had no way to extract that last lug-nut. CAA’s online status page now said the tow would not arrive until 7:30 pm, and that was still about two hours away! I called to verify this was a fact or a digital blip and unfortunately, it was a fact.

While we were all standing around wondering what to do next, I learned a few things about this gentleman, whose name I never caught. Last year, his daughter was driving from the Prairies to Tobermory in a Volkswagon Jetta, when she hit a moose on the TransCanada highway just outside Thunder Bay. She was banged up really bad and one of the nurses at the hospital knew a guy who had a storage facility and could store her stuff. Instead of storing it, the guy from Thunder Bay DROVE it himself all the way to Tobermory to help out, staying with friends and family along the way. The gentleman who stopped to assist us was simply just trying to pay it forward in life. Our situation was not nearly as dire or even on the scale of desperate, but he still saw someone in need and decided to help.

kindness of strangers

At just the right time – and by right time I’m talking about the kids wanting to run amuck and get out of the car, a second guy pulls up on the shoulder behind us. He runs up, assesses the situation, dashes back to his van, pops his hood, and starts running an extension cord towards us. As it turns out, he just happened to have an impact wrench along with a 12-point socket and a small sledgehammer, and was able to remove the locked lug-nut with brute force. Turns out he’s a mechanic on the side, that was super handy for us.

And then… One jack wasn’t enough to raise the car body high enough off the shoulder, so a second one was used underneath the rear strut to raise just the wheel assembly high enough to replace the blown tire with the spare. This of course was all figured out on the fly without any hesitation from our helpers.

 

While they were lowering the jacks, a third vehicle pulled up to our little roadside party. Turns out it was the second guy’s family who were swimming at a nearby lake, wondered why dad hadn’t showed up yet, and drove back to see what was going on. We were done at that point, so he packed up all his gear and drove off with his wife and kids leading the pack – he left before we could get his name or offer a token of appreciation. The first fellow stuck around for a bit longer to chat, declined a bottle of wine as a thank you and soon he was on his way as well.

It was 7 pm now, approximately two hours since we pulled over. Nightfall was still a few hours away and the weather was great. I called CAA to cancel the tow, Brian and I packed the stuff back into the trunk and we both got back in the car. We could still make it to Bonnechere before the park office closed for the evening at 9 pm… except now the car wouldn’t start! FFS, for real. The hazard lights had been on the whole time. Normally that shouldn’t cause any problems, but it turns out that there was a dead cell in the car battery and would need to be replaced. At that exact moment of my about to lose it into a anger induced tirade laced with profanity, the tow truck from CAA pulled over… A quick blast from the portable jump starter and we were finally on our way again!

But what really made the difference was the generosity of two strangers, strangers that likely held different political ideals than us, who likely had different careers and upbringings and that didn’t matter to them, who took an hour out of their Sunday evening to help us out.

Neither took any payment, so all we can offer them is our thanks and a promise to pay it forward. And we will.

*** Much of this post has been compiled from Brian’s comments on a Facebook photo album of the debacle. I have edited and added some details here and there ***

 

 

Spelunking With Kids in Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves

Have you ever taken your children spelunking? I took my children spelunking for the very first time last week in Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves.

What is spelunking? It is literally the hobby or practise of exploring caves.

entrance to tyendinaga cavern and caves

Growing up in Belleville area, I definitely did not take advantage of everything that was in the vicinity and even now, I’m only learning about all the cool attractions and things to do. Visiting the caverns and caves of Tyendinaga, that opened to the public in 2008 has been high on my list of places to go and now that I have the time with my kids to take take in these sights, we are!

The Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves are located on Mohawk Territory, take the 401 east of Belleville, exit and head north at Shannonville Road for a couple kilometres, then turn left on Harmony Road.

From the road, it looks completely unassuming, much a like any other farmer’s field that you would drive past.

 

This property is touted as Ontario’s oldest natural cavern.

 

Tours are guided, start every 20 or so minutes and prices are:

Adult … $12.50
Youth (13 to 17) … $10.00
Seniors (65 and up) … $10.00
Kids (5 to 12) … $9.00
Children 3 to 4 … $5.00

 

spelunking with kids tyendinaga

The tour starts outside under a wooden shelter with a display of medium rocks, but what they are really doing is showing you fossils (nautiloids, corals, crinold rings and ammonoids) that were found on the property. The age of the caves is also talked about – it’s estimated to be at least 100,000 years old. You’re shown samples of stalactite -a type of formation that hangs from the ceiling of caves, drip stone/soda straws – tubular stalactites, “cave carrots”, flowstone and “cave mushrooms”, all found growing in the cave.

 

sink hole indicating a cave

Next, you’re shown a couple of medium sinkholes that were found on the property. Sinkholes come in all shapes and sizes, some are small and simply look like dips in the land, while others are so large that entire city blocks collapse into the ground. These ones on the property might be large enough to swallow a car if one drove over top. These sinkholes were indicators to the property owners that there were caves and caverns underneath.

 

 

spelunking with kids

Finally – we descended into this large cave that was only 10 degrees celsius, while we were the middle of an intense heat wave. It was welcome relief!

Keeping that in mind, you might want to bring a sweater if you visit and wear shoes that are decent, the walls are hard and really are rock formations, tripping in flip flops would be painful (also note, you’re not supposed to touch the walls here as oils from skin can affect the geological growths). The stairs and floor are all concrete – man made. There are handles on the stairs, but I would not recommend this trip for anyone needing mobility assistance.

 

wishing well in spelunking cave

The entire cavern is roughly 300 feet, the largest chamber, 35 feet below the surface, measures 22 feet floor to ceiling. It is dark in there, the guide does have a flash light and there is a lighting system inside, but if you have a smart phone with a flashlight, keep it in your pocket just in case. If all the lights went out, you would not be able to see your hand in front of your face, it’s that dark!
The entire tour runs between 35-45 minutes depending on size of group. No one will get lost and there isn’t far to wander, so parents have no fear about kids who like to explore on their own. This really is a cool place to take kids if you’re passing by the area and want some time out of the car to see fossils, learn about flow stone deposits, cave curtains, discover a place where time stands still and give your kids a whole new experience – spelunking!
caves and cavern visit with kids

Put On The Damn Bathing Suit and Quit It With Excuses

Here’s the scene; Sandbank’s Provincial Park in Ontario, Dunes Day use area off West Lake. Hundreds of families on the dunes, in the water, splashing, laughing, swimming, having a great time. The beach is just gorgeous, like I remember in my childhood, the dunes a discovery of immense flora, memories of geology and geography classes in high school spent here, the water clear and warm and welcoming.

put on the damn bathing suit
photo courtesy of sandbanks provincial park

Mothers are with their children in the water. They’re wearing bathing suits of all different sorts – the women are. Moms. With mommy bellies, with cellulite, with saggy boobs, with all the imperfections we deem unworthy or shameful to ourselves.

Except in this scene, no one gives a damn. These moms put on the damn bathing suit. Bikinis even. Mid-drifts showing here and over there. Strings tied on the hips, around the back of their necks. These women with post-partum bellies are wearing bikinis. The horror!

Or is it?

Laughter. Memories being made. Kids jumping up and down in the water, gleefully holding Mom’s hand. Mom smiling with their children. Buckets of water being dumped on each other. Sand castles being built.

No hang ups here.

So where are these insecurities we keep pushing to the front? Do they only exist here, in this interweb space? Is this the space where we continue to make it a thing? I saw lots of women in the water and lounging on the beach where it wasn’t a thing. If they cared what they looked like, it didn’t show in their demeanour.Home for the summer with this guy

And here’s me watching over my two kids and another friend of theirs. Bathing suit covered with a sham, partly for sun protection, partially so no one sees my roll. Sitting on a chair in the shade, toes swirling circles in the sand… “What a waste of time, I should be playing with them. Screw it, I’m going to play with them, I don’t care if someone is looking at me or not, I’m hot as hell, Mom bod and all” I tell myself.

Out I go.

Moms, put on the damn bathing suit and quit it with excuses. Go make memories with your kids, they’re counting on you. Set an example for your daughter, let her see you smile, be confident, roll in the sand. Show your son how beautiful Mom is with her enjoyment.

Just go do it.

 

I’m Home With The Kids For The Summer and I’m Terrified

I’ve been a working mother for almost nine years and I think I balance it all okay. File me under one of the “world’s most okayest working moms.” If it wasn’t for the father of my children, I’d be in the category of “mom who enjoys work more than life itself.”

Aside from the foggy, sleep deprived, lactating, painful, hormone-filled maternity leave that we enjoyed, I have never, ever been a stay at home mom with my kids. I work from home during the day, my children are at school and daycare and after-hours care until 5:30 pm. But summer is approaching, and this is the first time that I will be taking the time to mother them all day long for a full two months.

 

I’m terrified.

 

Home for the summer with this beautyI made the decision to keep them at home as a bid to save money by not paying the outlandish thousand dollar fees of summer camps and daycare. I’m choosing instead to bond with the kids over camping weekends, mid-week hiking excursions and trips to theme parks on Fridays (mostly to “save” money).

But now I am questioning if I thought out the reality of what I signed up for. Two children, one aged nine and one aged four, home alone with me…the grumpy Mom who is always on a deadline and cursing under her breath at the insane messages and job performances of certain colleagues.

Now, I have significantly cut my work contracts back this summer to accommodate all of the incredible bonding time I am going to be spending with my children, but I cannot cut all work off completely or else I will be broke. And if I am broke, then I’m no further ahead (I know, I know, time I will never get back with my children, it’s priceless, etc…I also have a mortgage and electricity bills to pay, people!)

Today’s case in point; My four-year-old son is home sick. He’s already watched 3.5 hours of television while I responded to emails, did an hour video conference call and attempted to edit some footage into a timeline as I have an episode of a show I’m working on due tomorrow. In this time alone, I believe I have gotten for him four cups of water, three hot dogs, and two additional snacks. Not all at once. Individual requests peppered between assistance getting new show started on Netflix, turning on the light in the washroom, locating a misplaced train toy, convincing him my iPhone is not suitable to dunk into a bowl filled with water and cleaning sand out of a dump truck.

How do I entertain them?

 

Uninterrupted work time as of 2:18 pm: 8 minutes.

 

Home for the summer with this guy

Eight minutes of work is not even worth invoicing for an hour. It’s disjointed, uninspiring and panic-inducing. Literally, nothing got done. This is a taste of my summer to come. My emotions are aplenty.

Send free help or lottery winnings… PLEASE!

 

My words were originally posted on Reality Moms and have been reprinted with permission here.

Best Diaper Bag For The New Dad

Back in the good old days of when I was having my babies (as in the long, long time of 9 and 4 years ago), all of the marketing schemes and ploys were directed at just the women and designer diaper bags were number one on the list as the “MUST HAVE ITEM FOR THE NEW MOM”.

our super awesome diaper bag hanging from our stroller I had this really awesome brown diaper bag with pink trim and pink skull and crossbones sketched on the front pockets that my girlfriends had gifted to me at our baby shower. I was so in love with it – It had three front pockets perfect for stashing extra bottles with formula or milk (or a beer) and a spacious inside that could hold an iPad, 8 diapers, wipes, change of clothing for baby, extra shirt for me, vaseline, moisturizer, hand sanitizer, a folding change pad, toys and a couple wooden books. In fact, I think I could still find a use for it as a laptop bag or overnight bag for one of the kids.

 

It looked cute on me or hanging off the stroller for sure, but that diaper bag slung over the shoulder of my baby daddy?

 

Kind of ridiculous.

I guess the thought had never crossed our minds to actually go out and buy one specifically for him. I mean, the selection out there was all pink, pastel, flowery or just plain old geared towards the woman. I guess a quasi laptop bag might have worked? It wouldn’t not have been ideal though.

E.C. Knox diaper bagThankfully, someone stepped up to the plate and has designed the best new diaper bag for Dads. The Ellison Diaper Bag by E.C. Knox is fashionable, designed by a hip New York male and grows from a diaper bag to a messenger bag once those diapers, board books, blankies and sippy cups are no longer required. It’s a super evolved bag that literally meets the demands of parents EVERYWHERE.

Check this out:

For Baby      

Removable, washable, liquid-resistant liner featuring E.C. Knox signature paisley

Zip-out changing flap – includes removable changing pad

A removable liner that can be washed, replaced even removed so the bag grows with dad (or mom) as a stylish messenger bag devoid of baby reminders.

Quick-access to wipes from side of bag (magnetized shut to keep wipes moist)

Integrated fold-out changing pad

Four pockets for diapers, creams and changes of clothes

 

For Daddy

Bag grows into professional messenger bag…much more smoothly than baby grows into professional drama queen

Two more pockets to hold a bunch of things you’ll forget you even packed

Padded computer sleeve

Three more pocket slips to hold wallets, sunglasses or pens

Inner carabiner holds keys and your collection of fuzzy key chains

Includes a flashlight for particularly desperate midnight searches for that one special pacifier the little screamer demands

 

E.C. Know diaper bag giveawayNow, to help out all those brand new dads out there, we have an awesome giveaway!  Enter below to win an E.C.Knox diaper bag of your choice… and lets get this parenting thing off to a good start!  Open USA and CA. Item will be sent from brand.

 

 

 

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