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Hiram Walker Whisky Tour – The J.P. Wiser’s Experience

One of the best things to do in Windsor, Ontario, in my humble opinion is The J.P. Wiser’s Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. When I think back on memorable experiences, this is definitely one of them. Not only do you get to tour through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation areas, the tour concludes with a whisky sampling session. Definitely worth it! Read on to learn about the history of whisky in Canada and what we sampled at the end of the tour.

I was hosted by Visit Windsor Essex in November 2019 with my friend, Kasia from Kasia Writes to cover the Windsor International Film Festival and have a girl weekend getaway. Whisky was a big part of the fun!

Due to the current public health crisis, the J.P. Wiser’s Experience Centre remains closed to the public and tours are suspended for the time being.  For more information, please contact J.P. Wiser’s Experience Centre directly. Be sure to visit when it is safe to do so!

Selection of whisky bottles throughout history in J.P. Wiser's distillery bar in the shop. The Hiram Walker whisky tour starts here.

Who is J.P. Wiser and Hiram Walker?

John Philip (J.P.) Wiser owned and managed farms in Canada and the United States. In 1857, he bought a distillery in Prescott, Ontario and the following year, he started importing corn from the United States. During this time he was growing his own grains – rye, barley and wheat and experimenting with flavours. After profiting from the American Civil War, he used some of his proceeds to purchase bushels of grain, new malt houses, a rectifier column, a copper tank receiver and a cooperate. By the turn of the century, J.P. Wiser was exporting whisky all over the world and was the third-largest distillery behind Hiram Walker and Gooderham & Worts.

In 1838, Hiram Walker moved from Boston to Detroit to work in a grocery store. Working his way up, in 1846, he began to operate his own store and started wholesale grain trading with local farmers. Seeing an opportunity, sometime in the early 1850s, Hiram was buying moonshine and using it to make blended whiskies to sell in his store. He was so successful that in 1857, Hiram bought 468 acres of land across the river, in Windsor, Canada. On it, he built the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery.

Canadian Whisky Barons

Other noted Whisky Barons in Canada are Gooderham and Worts and Henry Corby. In 1846, Gooderham and Worts singlehandedly changed the practice of distilling in Canada. Their double distillation method gave birth to a light, smooth whisky instead of the unbearably harsh moonshine. Their distillery is the famed, no longer in use distillery in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Henry Corby bought a flour mill on the Bay of Quinte in 1853. Four years later he began distilling the mill’s surplus grain in Corbyville just north of the city of Belleville, Ontario. Henry imported US corn for his light whiskey, but he also added his own homegrown rye to add flavour and his personal character.

"Hiram Walker" by In Memoriam: -Tripp- is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
“Hiram Walker” by In Memoriam: -Tripp- is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Hiram Walker Distillery

At Hiram Walker, 80% of whisky made in Canada is made at this distillery. So bear with me, J.P. Wiser’s Whisky is made at Hiram Walker, I’m going to go through and tell you why. And J.P. Wiser’s is not the only brand made at Hiram Walker. They can not tell us what other brands are made there because some are the competition!

J.P. Wiser's exterior at Hiram Walker Distillery, Windsor, Ontario

What Is Canadian Whisky? And Why Do We Call It Rye Whisky?

Canadian whisky is called rye whisky because long ago, rye was the predominant grain used in the mash. The first recorded whisky making in Canada is in 1769 at a distillery in Quebec City. By the 1830s, more than 250 distilleries were using surplus harvest grain to produce an oily, pungent moonshine.

Americans in the northeast referred to it as rye to distinguish it from American whiskeys like bourbon. (Note, Canadians spell it whisky – no “e”). Why rye? Rye is a very hardy grain that withstood the colder Canadian temperatures. Hence, Canadian Whisky came to be known as rye whisky.

J.P. Wiser's 15 year old Canadian whisky bottle

In order to be called Canadian whisky, the rules and legal definition is pretty simple:

  1. It must be made with a cereal grain (by international law, this is true of all whiskies). In Canada, each grain – rye, wheat, corn or barley – is fermented, distilled and aged separately and then blended together in different ratios to create a wide variety of taste profiles. It can be any cereal grain, not just rye.
  2. The cereal mash, distillation and ageing must take place in Canada. So it’s a true “Made in Canada” product.
  3. It must be aged in wooden barrels, 700 litres maximum for a minimum of three years.
  4. It has to be a minimum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), also known as 80 proof.

Canadian ryes generally have a higher rye content, but there’s no law that says rye actually has to be used.  Confused yet? It’s not rye whisky if it isn’t made with rye. It’s just called Canadian whisky.

J.P. Wiser's Deluxe Canadian whisky bottle

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is American whiskey that is made primarily from corn. Corn must make up 51% of the mash. Bourbon sold in the United States must be produced in the U.S. and stored in a new container of charred oak.

For reference, American rye whiskey must have 51% rye in the mash bill. So, Canadians use a variety of different mash bills – that’s a combination of grains (rye, wheat, corn or barley) in different proportions and then blend them after maturation to create different flavour profiles and a pretty damn smooth product.

The Myth Of The Brown Vodka

A terrible perception of Canadian whisky or rye whisky I have heard is that it is essentially brown vodka. I would argue that Canadian whisky is actually quite tasty and nothing like vodka at all. The process of Canadian whiskies is much like whiskies from other countries.

Canadian whisky is known for its smoothness, has flavour notes of sweet vanilla, caramel toffee. Often there are tasting notes of honey and fruit. Different flavours are attributed to different ingredients in the mash.

J.P. Wiser's Legacy Canadian whisky in a glass at the end of the J.P. Wiser's / Hiram Walker whisky tour. Definitely not brown vodka.

Why is J.P. Wiser Whisky Made at Hiram Walker?

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Most bourbon distillers in the U.S. were located in the south and that meant that their whisky could not be transported and sold in the north. So, Canadian farmers and distillers were needed to send whisky south of the border to satiate the thirst of the northern Americans. Whisky was also used by doctors and medics as a disinfectant for wounds. I’d be crying over spilling whisky on my legs!

BUT, following the Civil War and the First World War, in the United States was a long period of prohibition. Prohibition dealt a really heavy blow to the distilleries in the United States, the Canadian distilleries were no longer operating at full capacity and values dropped substantially, even with all the bootlegging that was happening. Not only was it illegal to sell bottles of alcohol, but the bars were also closed, rendering all sales of alcohol illegal.

Times were so bad, this allowed for one businessman, Harry Hatch, to buy four out of the five largest whisky distilleries in Canada: J.P. Wiser’s, Corby Distilleries, Hiram Walker & Sons and Gooderham & Worts. And Hatch did so within a ten year period. They were all sold for a basement bargain price. And this is the consolidation of the Canadian whisky industry.

J.P. Wiser's Rye Whisky on shelf in the bar at the brand experience. Picture taken at the end of the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour

Hiram Walker Whisky Tour – The J.P. Wiser’s Experience

Now, let’s get on with the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour! The J.P. Wiser’s Experience takes you backstage through the production facility. You get to experience the story of Canadian whisky – from its vibrant history to the craftsmanship and process behind making it.

We had a guide for the whisky tour group – obviously, they would not allow us to wander alone and unsupervised. All tour attendees have to be legal drinking age, which is 19 in the province of Ontario. In order to participate in the tour, participants are required to wear closed-toe shoes. The J.P. Wiser’s Experience is approximately 90 minutes long. Important to note – the whisky tour is not suitable for anyone with mobility, heart conditions or balance disorders. We climbed the stairs numerous times and there were some precarious walking paths on the plant floor.

I can’t give away too much of the behind the scenes information, because it’s on a need to know basis. As in, you will need to take the tour. I can explain the production process though.

J.P. Wiser's Hiram Walker Whisky tour - Canadian Rye Whisky tour guide

Production Of Whisky

First in the process is milling and cooling. In the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour, you get to go onto the plant floor. The grains are milled to a fine flour to expose the key component, starch for the cooking process. J.P. Wiser’s sources all their grain from Canadian farmers. Each grain provides a different taste in the whisky. Corn gives a sweet creamy taste, barley provides a nutty flavour, rye leaves a cinnamon and clove spice character while wheat is the bread palette.

The flour gets transferred to a tank where it’s cooked to 75 degrees celsius, to break it down into simple sugars. As mentioned above, Canadian whisky makers are free to use any combination of grains in their blends. J.P. Wiser’s whisky is made with corn and rye. Goooderham & Worts with corn, rye, barley and wheat. Lot 40 is made with 100% rye.

Kasia and I on the J.P. Wiser's Experience Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. We are inside where 80% of the whiskey in Canada is made.

Fermentation of Whisky

The J.P. Wiser’s experience next takes you to the fermentation area. The liquid called a mash is sugar-rich and is then moved to a fermentation tank. This is where yeast is added. The yeast consumes the sugar and transforms it into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide. After three days, the fermentation creates a distiller’s beer that will reach an ABV of 14-16% for corn and 8-10% for rye, barley and wheat. This process creates five different flavours: fruity, floral, grassy, soap and sulphur.

On this Hiram Walked Whisky Tour, I did get to stick my finger into the mash, which was distilled corn. It wasn’t boiling hot as I expected, but in true “what am I thinking” fashion, I licked my fingers. It tasted awful. I seriously need to stop volunteering to do things first.

J.P. Wiser's Hiram Walker Whisky Tour Kathryn tasting mash

Distillation of Whisky

The next stop on the J.P. Wiser’s Experience is the distillation process. This is where liquids are separated based on their boiling points. Science lesson, if you have ever cooked with alcohol, you will have learned that alcohol boils at 78 degrees celsius and water will boil at 100 degrees celsius.

Distilling in a copper removes the sulphur smell and flavour. Canadian whisky distillers use different types of copper stills, depending on the grain they’re using and the flavour profile they’re looking for. J.P. Wiser’s whiskey starts with one pass through a tall copper, cylindrical beer still, which boils the distiller’s beer and turns it into a grain spirit.

J.P. Wiser's Copper Stills in Hiram Walker Distillery

From here, depending on the blend, they move on to one of the three possible steps:

  1. Put into a cask to mature so it can be used as a flavouring whisky for blending with a base whisky
  2. Distilled a second time in a column still to concentrate the alcohol to 94.5% ABV. This creates a light and refined spirit that can then mature to form a base whisky.
  3. Distilled a second time in a copper pot still  – for rye whisky. It’s a slower process that gives the distiller the ability to increase the concentration of the fruity, floral and grain notes while retaining the spicy qualities of the rye grain.

J.P. Wiser's Lot 40 Canadian Whisky distill fermentation

What’s your favourite way to drink whiskey?

How do you drink your whisky? Neat? With water? On The Rocks? With Ginger Ale? Other?

The Hiram Walker Whisky Tour concludes with a sampling session of some of the award-winning whiskies from the distillery. It was like years of sweet history in my mouth. We tasted J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe, J.P. Wiser’s 15-year-old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek. Lot 40 is the one I liked the best. Notice the glasses in the photo below – we sampled with a snifter. Not to be confused with a wine glass, a snifter has a narrow top that traps the aroma inside the glass. The rounded bottom allows the glass to be cupped in the hand. Body heat from the hand warms the whisky.

The whiskey tasting selection at J.P. Wiser's distillery experience - we tasted J.P. Wiser's Deluxe, J.P. Wiser's 15 year old, Lot 40 and Pike Creek from Hiram Walker Whisky Tour

Prior to the J.P. Wiser’s Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour, I completely lacked all appreciation for how to properly taste whiskey prior to this tour. It’s a true art!

 

J.P. Wiser's Rye Whisky Hiram Walker Whisky tour tasting

One of the best things to do in Windsor Is The J.P. Wiser's Experience, also known as the Hiram Walker Whisky Tour. Not only do you get to tour through the cooking, fermentation, and distillation areas, the tour concludes with a whisky sampling session. Read on to learn about the history of whisky in Canada and what we sampled at the end of the tour.

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail – A Fun Hike With Friends

*COVID-19 TRAVEL ALERT – I am writing and providing you information on Watkins Glen Gorge Trail. I am not encouraging you to travel there right now * ⁠

Where am I happiest? Outside of course. Take me on a trail and I’ll love you forever and ever and ever. Take me to Watkins Glen Gorge Trail and we are on like Donkey Kong!

Total disclaimer – I am out of love with the guy I hiked the Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with. I was in my early 20’s and he’s ancient history. That hike was great though!

Photo taken by the uber-talented kevin wagar #chasingwaterfalls #momswhohike #friendswhohike #hikingday #waitwhatseries #waterfallchasers #myFLXtbex #watkinsglenstatepark #watkinsglengorgetrail #watkinsglengorge #upstateNY #fingerlakes #watkinsglen #racinghistory #upstatenewyork #iloveny #hikingmom #hikingadventures #womenwhohike #girlswhohike #sheexplores #empirestateofmind #empirestate #sheadventures #liveyouradventure #wildnewyork #hikeNewYork #choosewaterfalls #newyorkhike #senecalakearea
photo by Kevin Wagar

Prior to my registration and attendance at TBEX, which is a travel blogging conference that was held in Corning, New York in September in 2018, I was honestly not very familiar with the Finger Lakes area of New York State. And I’m a little ashamed of that because it’s only a 4-5 hour drive from Toronto.

In my defence, it is a different country.

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I can tell you that after spending a week in the area, it’s a place worth knowing. And the Fingers Lakes is a place worth revisiting. Between wineries, breweries, cute small towns, scenic lakes, a thriving arts community, stellar local cuisine and drool-worthy restaurants in Corning, you can easily create a 7-10 day itinerary and still not see it all.

The Finger Lakes are 11 glacial lakes, all of which are shaped like fingers. Located in the central region of New York state, the region is best known for its impressive gorges. The gorges were shaped by water and ice over some 10,000 years.

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Where is Watkins Glen?

Watkins Glen is an Upstate New York village in Schuyler County. When I think back about what I remember most of the village of Watkins Glen, it is the deep and proud race car history and Watkins Glen State Park. For a half-day activity, hiking the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is one of my top recommendations.

If you haven’t done the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail hike yet, it’s definitely worth the trek. This was my first time there and I say “first” because I did this with my friends, Kevin from the Wandering Wagars and Chris from Rudderless Travel, you may also know us from the spectacular web series, Wait What?! I know I’ll be back with my kids one day so they can experience the majestic waterfalls and scenery as well. There are some really iconic places there to take pictures! The experience of walking under the waterfalls, seeing the rock faces and formations from erosion, hold on… I won’t get ahead of myself.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail. #chasingwaterfalls #momswhohike #friendswhohike #hikingday #waitwhatseries #waterfallchasers #myFLXtbex #watkinsglenstatepark #watkinsglengorgetrail #watkinsglengorge #upstateNY #fingerlakes #watkinsglen #racinghistory #upstatenewyork #iloveny #hikingmom #hikingadventures #womenwhohike #girlswhohike #sheexplores #empirestateofmind #empirestate #sheadventures #liveyouradventure #wildnewyork #hikeNewYork #choosewaterfalls #newyorkhike #senecalakearea

Watkins Glen Gorge Trail

The trail starts at the Entrance Amphitheatre. Head up the stairs, cross the Sentry Bridge over the Entrance Falls into a section called Glen Alpha.

Watkins Glen State Park is one of the most well known in the Finger Lakes Region. Within the 2 miles of the trail, hikers can see nineteen waterfalls – 19! It’s truly amazing to see.

It took us approximately 4.5 hours to do the trail. I’d say 2.5 hours of that was dedicated to stopping to take pictures and some video clips. And moments of making fun of each other, we do that a lot.

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The entrance is located right in the Village of Watkins Glen on Franklin Street. There is a pay parking lot on site ($8 for the vehicle). If you’re up for an additional walk, you can park on residential side streets and walk over to the park entrance.

You can hike the gorge trail to the end and then turn around and go back the way you came. Or hike the loop – you can hit the end of the gorge trail and then head up the Indian Trail. From the Indian Trail, check out the gorge from above and come back to the park entrance. The hike is approximately 2.4 miles, which equals 3.86 kilometres.

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 It’s Classified as a Moderate Hike

This Gorge Trail hike is listed as a moderate hike. I found it to be quite easy as I’m in decent physical shape and I’m confident my four year old son and nine year old daughter could do this hike without issue. I would say that they have done more difficult treks with naked Barbies and Thomas the Tank Engine trains in their hands.

It’s a moderate hike because of the number of stone stairs that you are required to climb through the gorge – there’s a lot. I didn’t count them, but they were the thorns of my friend Chris’s existence that day. The terrain isn’t exactly even either. If you are not wearing the right shoes, the trail could be slippery as there is water everywhere.

Indian Trail is classified as an easy hike.

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Bring A Change Of Clothes

Do not expect to stay dry on this hike. If you have non-cotton clothing suitable for the outdoors to wear that keeps moisture away from your skin, that is best to wear. Clothing like that can be purchased at MEC. Also, prAna has clothing for outdoor adventurers that I love as well.

Have a change of clothes and shoes in your waterproof backpack or in the car so you’re not travelling anywhere after with wet underwear and socks.

Yes, I’m telling you this as a Mom. And as a decent human being who knows how awful it is to sit in wet underwear.

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When Is The Best Time To Go?

The Gorge Trail is heavily trafficked. We arrived there on a Friday, the second week of September, close to noon and I wish in hindsight that we had gone earlier in the day to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, we were all out the night before partaking in some libations with friends, so…. I’ve never been one to wake up early to see sunrises, but I’ve heard being here as early to dawn as you can is something to behold.

Due to the crowds, we waited to get the right picture and that often meant waiting for quite a few people to walk through at their pace.

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While it does look like you could dip your feet in the water here, but please note that swimming is not permitted in the gorge.

If you do the Watkins Glen Gorge Trail hike early in the morning you might find it less populated. If you do have an emergency, you need to make sure you have mobile phone service to call for help.

Important to note: we did have cell phone service through the Gorge Trail and Indian Trail loop. We all had Roam Mobility SIM cards in our phones which worked well in the larger population areas, but in some of the small towns and rural roads we passed through, our service was spotty. It’s fun to disconnect, but not when you want or need to have the service.

The Most Iconic and Picturesque Shot

beautiful waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail

Here it is, it is THE PICTURE everyone must get when going into Watkins Glen Gorge Trail.

I’m including a ton of pictures in this post as I am hoping to inspire others with the awesomeness that is Watkins Glen State Park so they can get out and see it for themselves. The pictures of this gorgeous hiking trail do not do it justice at all. There are so many layers of erosion that you can touch and examine, there is moss and new tree growth everywhere. It’s quite amazing.

Chasing Waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail with Christopher Rudder and Kevin Wagar

I’d like to thank my friends Kevin and Chris for spending the day out there with me. It’s amazing that we survived that week of road-tripping there, wine tour, the few days at the conference, eating almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner together, the day of hiking and then driving home. And we’re still friends.

What was awesome about being with them is I actually got pictures of myself that aren’t just selfies! Well, I took some of those too, but they also took pictures of me. They substituted as the perfect Instagram husbands for the day, hahaha.

Girls Who Hike - Kathryn Dickson in Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail
photo by Kevin Wagar

The Places You Will Go

I read to my kids a lot and a fallback story that I reach for is “The Places You Will Go”. It contains one of my favourite Dr. Suess quotes:
“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

That way. I’m just going to keep going that way.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York, Gorge Trail entrance from above

This hike is a seasonal one and the park closes in November for the winter. It will reopen again in April. This is not a place you’ll want to be sliding around when it’s frozen as gorgeous as I bet it would be.

Travelling to Watkins Glen and want to stay in the area? Check out some accommodation options (this Booking.com site pays me a commission for booking at no charge to you!):


Booking.com

What is the most epic hike you’ve been on? I’ve seen some great waterfalls and blazed some amazing trails around the world (like in Latvia and France), but I have to honestly say that my favourite people and places are within a five-hour drive from my home in Toronto.

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Hiking and Travelling in Ontario – Lockdown Edition

Hi readers! Happy New Year, it looks like we all survived and limped over the finish line. Please, pat yourself on the back, it’s well deserved. Despite all the difficulties everyone has been through, what has amazed me is the continual spirit of the travel community to keep the essence of adventure in our cores. Myself included. However, hiking and travelling in Ontario during this lockdown is a bit of a different beast. I’m not even talking about getting on a plane and going to a foreign country.

There is an ethical dilemma that has been weighing on me a lot as of late and I felt conflicted. I did not feel right writing anything new and publishing in the past month as COVID-19 cases around the Greater Toronto Area have been soaring. Simply put, I care a LOT about our outdoors and about my readers and if I am writing and providing you information, it’s meant for you to enjoy it. And enjoy it when it is safe to do so. Just because I have published a Guide to Hogg’s Falls in Grey County, I am not encouraging you to travel there from Windsor or Ottawa (or from any other distance of note) to visit right now. ⁠

Hoggs Falls in Grey County, Ontario
I love sharing trails, insider tips and insights with everyone. Getting out in nature is so good for our health and wellbeing, especially right now. Exploring Ontario is so much fun because there’s always something new I can stumble upon. Nothing brings me more joy than promoting counties and tiny towns in the province of Ontario. Or recommending restaurants and small businesses that everyone needs to know about. I’m constantly compiling and sharing information on where to see the Best Sunsets In Ontario or where to find the Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in Southern Ontario. They get updated every so often.

HR Frink Centre hiking trails to see the best fall colours around Belleville and Trenton, Ontario
On the other hand, information requests I have received for how to get into conservation areas that are closed for the season or due to Covid-19 measures or how to skirt paying for parking or admission in certain parks or conservation areas is not something I want to be known for. Please, do not ask me how to do that and please, do not attempt to do that.

Living through Lockdown Edition version 2021 in Ontario is not a plump bowl of cherries. I would love to pack up my Jeep and the kids and head back to Sudbury for some winter fun. It’s painful that we cannot. Full stop, I understand the desire to go out and explore. I am simply asking you to do so within the legal confines that we are currently faced with. I’m not the law. I cannot stop you from travelling from Toronto to take in a weekend away in Prince Edward County because you feel you need a weekend away.

Ethically, I will not encourage you to do that either.

Yes, I am acutely aware that transmission rates of Covid-19 from travel are low and it’s more likely to be spread indoors in close-contact settings.

Kathrynanywhere hiking in Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, Grey County. Hiking and Traveling in Ontario - Lockdown Edition

I will encourage hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and travelling safely while abiding by current guidelines⁠. If that means we are not supposed to venture far away from our home towns, that’s what I currently encourage. I’m going to resume publishing posts and have faith in the universe that soon it is safe for everyone to safely explore these destinations again.

There is hope on the horizon all. We just have to get there.

Be safe and see you on the trails at some point.

Pre-sunset at North Beach Provincial Park in Prince Edward County

Restaurants On King Street West – Best Take Out Options in Toronto

So here we are Toronto, back in lockdown. I don’t know about the rest of you, but cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of my life was never part of my plan. Yes, it’s healthy and yes we can argue that it can be more economical to do so. However, it takes a lot of time and energy. Time we could be listening to our children. Time we could spend out walking a few blocks and getting fresh air. In the interest of saving my sanity and investing in keeping local businesses alive as best we can, I admit to turning to my neighbourhood restaurants on King Street West for the best take out options. 

Restaurants on King Street West

From Strachan Avenue to Spadina Avenue these local restaurants on King Street West are in need of the love of the neighbourhood. Do your part and support local! If you can, skip the delivery fee, walk to pick up your meal or ride your bike. If that’s not possible all of these restaurants on King Street West use delivery services such as UberEats and Skip The Dishes. Here are some of my favourites and recommendations for you to pick from – not a single one is part of a chain or big box store. They are all locally owned and operated.

King Rustic

Gourmet Comfort Food at it’s finest! Dishes here are made from scratch, in the kitchen of the restaurant from recipes passed down from generation to generation.

You can order online from King Rustic here.

 

Beast Bogeda

Tucked onto a quiet street in a residential neighbourhood and basically behind a church is the altar of food. Get it, church, alter? Haha.

Anyway, Beast is the type of restaurant you can never get bored of. The originality and taste of the food is extraordinary. The price is good and while it is a carnivore’s dream, it is also vegetarian friendly. I’ll order from them again and again.

 

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You can order online from Beast Bodega here.

 

The Wheat Sheaf

The staple of the corner of King and Bathurst, The Wheat Sheaf is famous for its wings. While the price has gone up quite a bit since renovations between 2019-2020, they’re still tasty as all hell. And I’m a sucker for good wings. Other food options as well!

You can order online from The Wheat Sheaf here.

 

Rosina Restaurante

Hands down, the best pizza in the city can be found right here at Rosina Restaurante. My kids cannot get enough of it. This is the kind of place where the servers know your name and always want to return.

 

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You can order from Rosina Restaurante by calling them on the phone at 416-519-2994 after looking at their menu.

Bamboo Buddha Chinese Restaurant

There’s a very unscientific method to measuring how good a Chinese food restaurant is. This method is pretty much only mine and it’s not for others to take seriously… My measure is how good the General Tao chicken is. Bamboo Buddha manages to make and serve the best I’ve ever had. And seeing as though on a busy street such as King Street with a high turnover of dining establishments, this one has stood the test of time of being in business more than 15 years.

 

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You can order from Bamboo Buddha by calling them on the phone at 416-504-9311 after looking at their menu.

Oretta Cafe

The most divine desserts and pastries? Find them at Oretta. If you didn’t know before how badly you needed them in your life, you will after you taste them.

 

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You can order online Oretta Cafe here.

 

Wvrst

Normally, this is the place to go for communal beer hall good times where sausage is always on the menu. Pretzels and duck fat fries are also good. One of the coolest aspects of the delivery or take away options here is the massively extensive beer menu.

 

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You can order online from Wvrst here

 

Marben

For the farm to table food, it doesn’t get any better than Marben. And for takeout, they offer a couple of options which I think are amazing. You can do a same day order on Skip The Dishes and Ritual or you can do a custom hot takeout that has to be ordered a day in advance. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only for hot takeout, menu predetermined.

You can order online from Marben here.

 

Big Smoke Burger

Using top quality and local producers where possible, these burgers are amazing. And there are a few locations in Toronto. This one just happens to be walking distance from my front door.

You can order online from Big Smoke Burger here.

Patria

 

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You can order online from Patria here.

 

Hope this list of restaurants on King Street West in Toronto that provide take-out and delivery options has inspired you to support the local economy during this time. Of course, it’s safest to cook at home, but for the nights you need a break and you’re in downtown Toronto, consider some of these options.

Restaurants on King West - BEST TAKE OUT OPTIONS IN TORONTO I Stay home I King Street West Toronto I Toronto foodies I Home food order I Eating In I Skip The Dishes I Uber Eats I Take-Out I Gourmet Burgers I Sustainable Eating I Local eating I Eat local I support local I Toronto restaurants

Guide To Hogg’s Falls, Grey County

Hogg’s Falls, outside of Flesheron, is one of the many waterfalls of Grey County, Ontario. While some might call it a secret of the area, those of us in the know, call it a treasure to enjoy. 

The falls are in a secluded area on the Bruce Trail in the forest preserve area of Beaver Valley. Hogg’s Falls are fed by the Boyne River that you can hike alongside. The waterfall itself is 7 metres tall and flows year-round unless it gets cold enough for it to freeze.

The falls are named after William Hogg, who built a sawmill upstream of Little Falls – the original name of Hogg’s Falls in the 1870’s. That mill burned down in 1888. Hogg relocated further north in the Beaver Valley to Eugenia Falls. There is a legend that these falls are actually named after a world-class cricketer, William Hogg. However, I have yet to find the connection between the two of them.

Approaching Hoggs Falls on the Boyne River, just outside of Flesherton, Ontario in Grey County

 

How To Get To Hogg’s Falls

The address of the parking lot for Hogg’s Falls is 170566 Lower Valley Road in Grey Highlands. If you are driving from the  Toronto area, the simple directions are to take highway 10 north to where it ends at Champ Burger and Super Burger. At those stoplights, head west through the town of Shelburne. When you reach Owen Sound Road, head north to Flescherton. You’ll see the signs to head northwest on Collingwood Street and then you can follow signs to Hogg’s Falls from there, but your GPS on your mobile device is the best bet from coming from anywhere else in the province of Ontario.

Parking has been free in the past to visit, hopefully, it stays that way.

 

Hiking to Hoggs Falls

From the parking lot, it’s a short, half kilometre and gorgeous hike on the Bruce Trail alongside the Boyne River to the waterfall. It will not take you more than 5 minutes.

At the top of the falls, there is no viewing platform or fence. Please hold onto your children and exercise caution when viewing from the rockface overlook. You CAN however get to the bottom of the falls two ways. I have made the trek to Hogg’s Falls a couple of times and have done the viewing both ways.

There is a side trail that takes you down to the river. You can if you’re okay with risking getting wet, hike alongside the side trail. I always recommend bringing a second pair of shoes and socks in your vehicle when you hike. This way if you get wet, you have dry socks and shoes as back up. 

Hiking in the area of Hogg's Falls alongside the Boyne River, November 2020

The other way to get eye level with Hogg’s Falls is to climb down a rope that has been replaced quite a few times and is quite muddy. I have personally done the rope climb up and down a couple of times and while I do not find it to be difficult, it does require caution. Your hands will get dirty doing this. The rocks are always wet and that makes it slippery. I cannot vouch for the safety of the rope and definitely use it at your own risk. The drop is not far, but you are on wet rocks. There is always a risk of slipping and injury.

Here is a video of me climbing up the rock face at Hogg’s Falls so you see what it is:

The trail from Hoggs Falls continues through Lower Valley Road and there is a great 5.3-kilometre loop.

Hoggs Falls in Grey County

About Hogg’s Falls

Hogg’s Falls is on what is known as Crown Land. Crown land is the term used to describe land owned by the federal or provincial governments.  

The falls are classified as a plunge waterfall. A plunge waterfall means they are waterfalls that drop vertically without touching the underlying rockface. Another great example of a plunge waterfall in Southern Ontario is Decew Falls, close to St. Catharines.

A burning question a lot of people have – where is the washroom? There is a porta-potty at the parking lot. I’ve seen many people park and look for a place to get changed so they can take Instagram worthy pictures of themselves in flowing dresses. There is no changeroom here for that.

This is not the place to dump the garbage from your vehicle either, so please plan to take out with you what you bring in.

Hoggs Falls behind the author in August 2020

 

Winter In Hoggs Falls

It is definitely possible to visit Hoggs Falls in the winter months. While summer is always a good time to view waterfalls, the cold weather brings a certain calm and tranquillity. And fewer crowds! The trail is perfect for snowshoeing except for the stairs. Pop your equipment off there to go up and down. 

Hogg’s Falls are seriously picturesque in the winter. While I would not recommend getting in the water for any photos, you can definitely view them and enjoy them.

 

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Proximity and Hike to Eugenia Falls

Eugenia Falls is known to be the show stopper between the two waterfalls. Between Eugenia Falls and Hogg’s Falls, you’re more likely to find crowds at Eugenia Falls.

In the area around Hogg’s Falls, you’ll find many trails. Hogg’s Falls can be accessed from the Bruce Trail, which is one of the longest marked hiking trails in all of Canada.  The loop trail between Hoggs Falls and Eugenia Falls is 12.6 kilometres.

If you’re not in the mood to hike the trail or are physically unable to do so, you can drive between the two waterfalls in under 10 minutes.

Eugenia Falls, Grey County in early autumn, September 2020

 

Other Things To Do In The Area

Trust me when I say that a drive to Hogg’s Falls is only part of a day or afternoon trip. In Grey County, there are a lot of craft breweries, wineries, cideries, world-class hiking and attractions that are all worth seeing and experiencing. Hogg’s Falls is approximately a 45-minute drive from Scenic Caves and the village of Blue Mountain. You can also make it to Collingwood or to Owen Sound in an hour.

Guide to Hogg's Falls, hiking and viewing the waterfalls in Beaver Valley in Grey County, Ontario

Free Things To See In Toronto With Your Kids

On any normal weekend or summer day, it’s not uncommon for tourists to wander the streets of downtown Toronto. Out of towners can be seen armed with their maps application open on their phones and wide-eyed kids looking around. Many families from around rural Ontario and in non-pandemic times, New York State flock to Toronto on weekends or holidays. They crowd many of the top attractions like the aquarium or the museum not knowing how many gems that the locals know about. And of course, we know how to entertain ourselves for free all year long! I’m not talking about a one-weekend festival or street party. These are places that exist all year long. From the interesting to the strange, unusual and seemingly normal, here are some of my favourite free things to see in Toronto, Ontario with kids in all seasons.

Distillery district of Toronto Art Installation

Free Things To See In Toronto With Your Kids

You’re clearly here because you want to know some of the best spots to see interesting and free things in the city of Toronto and entertain your kids. Skip all the lines and admission costs and knock a bunch of cool and offbeat places on this list off. Again, there is no cost to enter and observe anything listed here. Local Toronto family secrets revealed!

For those who are going to ask – I actually live, work and play in the city of Toronto. I raise my children in downtown. They attend a downtown school. They are thriving artists and athletes. We do not live in a box in the sky. We actually treasure and utilize our local library. What to know more about our urban lifestyle? You can check out What It’s Like Living In Toronto With Kids here.

 

Leslieville’s Crazy Doll House – The Tchotchke House, 37 Bertmount Ave

If you want to feel like you’ve just arrived on the set of a Tim Burton movie, well, you’ve found it. Almost everyone in the east end Leslieville neighbourhood knows about the dollhouse on Bertmount Ave. Unlike the neighbouring tidy lawns filled with flowers and simple decor, the doll house’s front yard is full. It’s filled with everyone from Barbie to Homer Simpson, John Cena, and an unreal number of classic Disney characters.

Sounds cute, right? It actually looks a little creepy. There’s something weird about all the dolls tied to the fence and sticks in the lawn.

Next time you’re on the 501 Queen Streetcar, jump off at Caroline Avenue. Take a wander north on Bertmount Avenue for this fairly uncommon and certainly unsettling lawn decor.

An assortment of dolls on the fen of the creepy dollhouse in Toronto

 

St. Mary’s Cholera Cemetery – 130 Bathurst Street

Wait, what kind of a parent takes their kids to the St. Mary’s cholera cemetery? Uh, me!

At the beginning of the pandemic, I wanted my kids to learn what happens to people while illnesses don’t get eradicated. I’m not comparing COVID-19 to cholera. Secondly, we can walk there from our front door, so we did.

This cemetery was built as an emergency burial ground. Many graves unmarked during the epidemics that hit York (later known as Toronto) in 1832 and 1834. At that time, Bathurst Street (as we know it today in the west end of downtown) was far away from the emerging city and the important Fort York. Therefore the location was thought to be a safe place to dump the dead. The remains of those in this cemetery are thought to be British and Irish immigrants who contracted cholera on their transatlantic voyage to Canada.

These graves were forgotten for many years. Human remains in unmarked graves on the lawn of St. Mary’s church were discovered a few years ago during work to the foundation of the church. A little bit of historical digging proved who and what was there. While this is a slightly macabre stop, it’s a great history lesson on the founders of the city. This is what our ancestors went through in order to settle here and build the city of Toronto.

Headstone at St. Mary's Catholic Church on Bathurst Street marking the cholera cemetery

Necropolis Cemetery – 200 Winchester Street

Another cemetery? What on earth are we doing at the Necropolis in Cabbagetown, at the east end of downtown? Well, the Toronto Necropolis is one of the city’s oldest and most historic cemeteries. History buffs will be cool with this information – this cemetery is where you will find the graves of  William Lyon Mackenzie; journalist George Brown (of which a college is named after); John Ross Robertson, founder of the Toronto Telegram; former NDP leader Jack Layton; Anderson Ruffin Abbot, the first Canadian-born black surgeon; and world-champion oarsman Ned Hanlan (think Hanlan’s Point).

It’s one of the most photographed places in the city due to the Victorian buildings, gothic architecture, stained glass windows and historical significance. There is also a monument here for Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews. The duo was hanged in 1838 for their roles in the Mackenzie Rebellion. What was the MacKenzie Rebellion? Oh, you can read about that insurrection here.

Now, if your kids tolerated this geek fest of an excursion, there is a great ice cream shop kitty-corner to the entrance gates. Grab a cone and head to the next destination, which is right across the street.

Necropolis Cemetery Gate in Toronto with children in front of it

Riverdale Farm

Across the street from the Necropolis, it makes sense that there is an urban, working farm, right? Riverdale Farm is a 7.5-acre property that will give kids and parents a first-hand taste of real farm life. Everything happens here from raising and breeding livestock (cows, horses, donkey, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits, and farm cats) to the year-round craft programs in The Meeting House.

The farm also features flower, vegetable and herb gardens. There are wooded areas and ponds connected to the city’s rich ravine system to walk through as well. I used to come here when my kids were toddlers in the spring when the baby animals were out. It was pretty magical.

Kids with ice cream cones in front of Riverdale Farm gates in Cabbagetown Toronto

High Park Zoo

Kid you not, I walked up and down this little zoo hundreds of times with my kids in strollers. First was my daughter, then came my son. High Park was a favourite of mine to get my walks in while on maternity leave. And I was never alone! With over one million visitors annually, High Park is the absolute best in Toronto’s park system.

First opened in 1893, The High Park Zoo has eleven paddocks hosting a variety of animals including bison, llamas, peacocks, reindeer, highland cattle, emus and sheep. Let’s not forget the notorious tropical rodents known as capybaras that busted out of the High Park Zoo and frolicked in the neighbourhood like star crossed lovers for weeks back in May 2016.

Listen, the poop smells here, but the kids don’t seem to mind. Once you have strolled the zoo, be sure to hit the cafe for the breakfast or lunch special. Best priced and value breakfast in the city – in my honest opinion.

 

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Here’s Houdini enjoying the morning sunshine. #highparkzoo

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Hike the Glen Stewart Ravine

I’m all about hiking trails. And this one feels like a picturesque secret. The Beaches neighbourhood in the east end of the city has a much more laid back and into nature vibe than a lot of other places in the city and I am here for it.

You can find the Glen Stewart Ravine just south of Kingston Road, or just north of Queen Street East depending on how you want to describe it. In the summer, the canopy of green is just breathtaking, in the fall, the autumn hues are stunning. This 15-minute walk in the east end neighbourhood is a gem of a find in the bustle of the city. You’ll find wildlife and places to explore. This is where your imagination can run wild.

Kids in Glen Stewart Ravine, Beach neighbourhood Toronto

 

Distillery District Art Installations

The Distillery District in Toronto is hands down one of my favourite places to take the kids at any time of the year, for any occasion. To visit this area takes you back to the time of horse-drawn carts and industrial Victorian architecture. Mix with new design, modern cafes, tasty restaurants and you have a recipe of an area we are fortunate to be able to visit again and again for free.

What’s truly phenomenal about the area is that there is a constant flow of art installations. Yes, there are defined festivals and exhibits to see, but at any given time you are there, it’s a visual feast to the eyes and a playground for the children. The Distillery District truly is one of Canada’s best places to visit.

Outside art installations in the Distillery District, Toronto

 

Admire the tropical plants at Allan Gardens Conservatory


Originally opened in 1860 by the then Prince of Wales, the original Horticultural Gardens has been home to the Toronto Horticultural Society since 1834. This greenhouse located on Gerard avenue is open all year long and does not charge admission fees. The greenhouse here is filled with tropical plants and flowers that pique the interest of those from aged 1-99 years of age! It’s a really cool spot to come and hand for a while and just take in the smell and scenery around you.

 

Take Pictures in Graffiti Alley

On any day, at any time, you might see an artist creating a masterpiece in Rush Lane. Rush Lane is the other name for Graffiti Alley in the Queen Street West neighbourhood of Toronto. A half-block south of the southwest corner of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue is where you find the signpost to Rush Lane. No walk through here will ever look the same as the artists come and go and constantly are painting over old art and cover every nook and empty cinder block.

For kids who are budding artists, this is a mecca of inspiration. Graffiti, once shunned a spam art or undesirable spray paint tags is front and centre here as murals across an entire building and completely cool street art. This is a canvas for unlimited talent.

Free things to see in Toronto with your kids? Take a walk down graffiti alley and maybe see an artist at work.

 

Ireland Park

Part of my heritage is Irish, as my kids share my genes, they share that ancestory too. I think it’s extremely important that you understand history and knowing where you have come from.

This park, located at the foot of Bathurst Street, pays homage to the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who fleed to Toronto during the potatoes famine in Ireland looking for a better life. For many years, the Irish need not apply – meaning not only did those who survived starvation and crossing the Atlantic ocean face perils that most couldn’t handle, they arrived where they weren’t wanted.

It’s not a stretch to say that there are many prominent Toronto residents from past and present who have Irish heritage tracing back to that time.

 

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The Irish Famine memorial in Toronto #haunting

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HTO Park

HTO Park is an urban beach in Toronto. while you can’t walk out in the sand into the water here, it faces the inner harbour where you can see the Toronto Islands across the water. Grab a seat on one of the Muskoka chairs under the bright yellow umbrellas and watch the boats whiz by while your kids attempt to make sandcastles.

The sand isn’t deep enough here to be buried, but there is enough to get your toes into it.

 

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Talking bout a heatwave 🔥 📸: @whats_niu

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Plane Spotting across from Billy Bishop Airport

Plane spotting is probably one of the nerdiest ways to pass the time with kids in Toronto. And truth be told, the kids might not want to stay in one place long enough. However, if they try it and like it, it becomes a great pastime for any time of day, during any month or season. while Porter Airlines planes are mostly grounded during the pandemic, there is still a lot of private aircraft going in and out of Billy Bishop airport that you can watch from the William David Trail in Trillium Park.

Plane Spotting at Billy Bishop airport from William Davis Trail. Things to do in Toronto with kids.

Where can you find all these places? I’ve plotted them on a google map for you and will update it as I discover new and interesting places!

 

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From the interesting to the strange, unusual and seemingly normal, here are some of my favourite free things to see in Toronto, Ontario with kids in all seasons #CREEPYDOLLHOUSE #CHOLERACEMETERY #GRAFFITIALLEY #DISTILLERYDISTRICT #ARTINSTALLATIONS