Blog

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Here’s Houdini enjoying the morning sunshine. #highparkzoo

A post shared by High Park Zoo (@highparkzoo) on

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The Irish Famine memorial in Toronto #haunting

A post shared by Kevin Dunseath (@kevindunseath) on

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Talking bout a heatwave 🔥 📸: @whats_niu

A post shared by The Waterfront BIA (@towaterfront) on

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!

 

PIN ME FOR LATER

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

High Heels, Harvest Moon, Rimrock and A Monster Truck – My Montana Moment

Getting to Billings, Montana was a complete and total cluster fuck. “Someone’s trying to tell you something” my mom texted me. Turbulence, rerouting, delays, missed connecting flights. Like it wasn’t meant to be. My determination made it so it was. Everything accumulated to me not making it in time for my media pre-conference tour and I was gutted. Either way, if I had not gone to TBEX in Billings, Montana in the pre-COVID travel world I would not have had this incredible Montana Moment.

Incredibly new to the online dating world at this point, I’m skeptical and definitely not an active participant. “Swipe right on that guy” my friend, Monica coaches me over lunch. “Go for it” she urges. See, I’m the Queen of the left swipe, quick trigger. It’s not uncommon to get to the very end of the list in my filters and I will have swiped left – as in “no thanks” on almost every single gentleman presented in front of me. 

Leading Up To My Montana Moment

Under my girl friend’s guidance, I swiped right on 5 or 6 guys. Boom, within minutes I had matched with 4 of them. Shit, now I need an opening line. I freeze. What the hell am I doing? I’m literally in Billings, Montana for three nights for a travel bloggers conference. I should be schmoozing with the tourism board reps at the bar at night. But instead….

“What was the best live show you’ve ever been too?” I toss that line out to all of them. I got a couple of boring answers (George Strait, The Wiggles with my daughter – YAWN) and then one stood out “No Doubt opening for GooGoo Dolls and Bush. No Doubt blew them both away”. I look back at his profile. Tall, cute, 43 years old, works in construction. His bio profile reads that he describes himself as “fit and fun. Spontaneous and generally up for anything”. Well, dude, you’re about to meet your match and then some. Let’s have an adventure.

I respond that I think that would have been an awesome show. Immediately he is asking what my plans are for the night. Excellent. Tossing caution to the wind, I invite him out for a drink. I took him off guard and he was pleasantly surprised. He gave me his cell number and we make plans to meet in an hour at a bar in downtown Billings. I excused myself from the TBEX party, left my cell phone information with a couple of colleagues (safety first!), made sure I had some cash in my wallet in case I needed to jump in a taxi and made my way to Hooligans. Beating him there, I grab a table close to the door and drop my pin on Google maps, sending it off to a couple of my friends telling them what I was doing along with a screengrab of Montana Man’s profile.  Let’s call him Strider.

“Have fun, be safe” is the response from both. 

Strider from my Montana Moment night

Hooligans

Strider comes in, baseball cap, jeans, blue and grey plaid shirt, cute as cute can be. He is tall and fit. Damn, that is a fine, fine man.

I’m completely upfront that I am in town for work for a couple of nights, I’m Canadian and leaving on Saturday because I love my healthcare and Liberalism, so even if we hit it off, I’m out. It was right in my Bumble profile too, so if he actually read it, he would know. The conversation flows easily. We talk about all the places we’ve lived in and travelled to. What we do for a living. Turns out, both of us have backgrounds in martial arts, both played rugby, we both have children, we talked about the political climate, favourite concerts, Y2K, Canadian television (he’s a Letter Kenny fan), cheesy romantic comedies (I promised him I would never divulge his favourites to the world), and of course one of my favourite topics –  craft beers.

I’m smitten. Strider’s smile is adorable. By the time we order our second beer, we’ve already decided we’re getting out of here. I want to see Billings I tell him. Strider said he knew just the place and not to worry, he wasn’t going to get “handsy”. 

As we leave Hooligans in downtown Billings, he asks if I knew what a “fuck boy truck” is. He explains that he won his vehicle in a poker game. I’m so intrigued. A block away, there it was. This gigantic, red behemoth of a monster truck. I’m in 3-inch heels, a dress and I’ve got to climb my way in and out of that? Challenge accepted.

The fuck boy truck, a big red monster truck

Swords Rimrock Park

It takes about 10 minutes and we arrive at our destination – Swords Rimrock Park. In the parking lot, there are a couple of foggy windows of people making out in their cars – no wonder he said he wasn’t going to get “handsy”, this is a make-out point for the locals! I question what’s going on here when we park and he assures me to not worry, just hop out, he’s got a surprise for me. Okay, I open the door and figure my way out of the truck in my heels. 

“So it’s a bit of a hike, not far, only 50 or so feet downhill”. Let’s recap – I just jumped out of a monster truck, it’s dark, I’m in three-inch heels, with someone I just met on an online dating app a mere few hours ago. Strider offers to piggyback me, but because I’m so damn independent and an expert hiker, I’m going to do this on my own. Managing to not roll my ankle in the process, we make it to the rim. The surprise? A stunning vista of Billings. From our vantage point, we can see it all. And a bonus? A harvest moonlight tops off the night. 

Yes, this picture is really shitty, but you can see my beige heels on the left as proof this story really happened.

My Montana Moment, at swords rimrock park overlooking Billings, high heels, a harvest moon and a monster truck

 

The Montana Moment

The great conversation continues and there are lots of laughs. He confesses his real name as he used initials on the dating app. I pulled out my SkyView app and found our birth sign constellations. Maybe it was the moonlight, maybe because before I met up with him, I was already a drink or two in, but we just looked at each other, our eyes locked and he came in for it. And he’s a good kisser. Really good kisser. 

We hung out on the rimrock for a while longer, but the night time temperature wasn’t exactly tropical. I fought it for a while, claiming my Canadianism as my shield to the cold temperature, but at a certain point, we had to give up pretending we were even remotely warm. And we both had to pee. Climbing back into his truck, he asked if I’d ever driven anything like his truck before. Nope. We parked at a gas station so we could run in to use the facilities. As we exit, Strider tosses me the keys. “You’re up”.

HELL YEAH! You can take the girl out of Belleville, Ontario, but you can’t take the Belleville out of the girl. Giddy as a teenager, running off of the high of making out with this super hot guy, I climb up, close the door and start it. I peel out of the gas station and down the road. Yes, I’m driving a “Monster Truck” in Billings, Montana and loving every second. Up and down the highway we went, I mastered the three-point turn in that baby at a dead end (it took me a few attempts). Pulling back into the front of my hotel after 1:00 am in the morning, I didn’t want to part company because we were having such a good time, but it was the sensible thing to do.

 

The Fun Of Travel…

This is where the story with Strider ends. I thought about seeing Strider the following night, but let’s be realistic about the situation. I would be heading back to Toronto in two short days. 

But, who would have thought that the most charming, winsome, down to earth, adventurous, captivating and HOT man could be found in Billings, Montana? Oh and the view from the rimrock? So incredibly worth it!

Pro-tips about online dating:

  • never meet up with someone that you have met on an online dating site without leaving your cell phone number and pin-drop location with another person
  • screengrab the profile of who you are meeting with and send it to a safety point person
  • do not arrive without a charged cell phone, cash in your wallet for emergencies and a credit card or a $20 bill stashed in a pocket as a just in case fall back

 

Where To See Fall Colours Around Belleville and Trenton, Ontario

From Brighton to Trenton, Frankford and Belleville, the fall colours are coming out in full force!  It’s the time of year where the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go. And that we do. Quite frankly this is the time of year I love to be outside the most. The amazing array of colours spoil my eyes. Coupled with still moderately warmish days,  it’s a shame to stay inside and miss it. Before the short days of winter, get outside and get that final vitamin D boosts from the sun. While you are at it, enjoy the splendour of October. Here are some of the best areas to see the fall colours around Belleville and Trenton in the Bay of Quinte Region of Ontario. 

“How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”

  • John Burroughs

HR Frink Centre red leaf on a rock on Thrasher Road, Plainfield, Ontario

Where To See Fall Colours Around Belleville and Trenton, Ontario

Want to know where to go for the best viewing spots for seasonal colour in the areas between Brighton to Frankford to Trenton to Belleville? I have my favourites that I will disclose to you here. So read on to find out where I like to be for optimal colour viewing from east to west of the Bay of Quinte Region!

 

Presqu’ile Provincial Park

How lucky is the town of Brighton to have neighbourhood access to one of the best provincial parks in Ontario? Presqu’ile Provincial Park boasts Lake Ontario access, bird migrations, amazing camping and lovely areas to wander. The wifi isn’t weak here though, cellular reception is fairly decent.

The best place to wander for fall foliage viewing in Prequ’ile Provincial Park though is the Jobes Woods Trail. It’s only a kilometre long so no complaining that it’s too arduous. Getting out for a half-hour walk isn’t that wrong is it? While the greens stay strong for a long time here, when they turn, is’s a brilliant canopy of golden hues overhead.

If you’re ever interested in roofed accommodation camping at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, check out my experience camping with my son there: Presquile Provincial Park, Falling For the Minka Tent

One of the best places to catch sunsets in Ontario is from here as well. Curious to know where? Read Where To Find The Best Southern Ontario Sunsets

 

Presqu'ile Provincial Park in fall on the Jobes Woods Trail

 

 

Frankford Tourist Park and Lock 6 on The Trent Severn Waterway

When I was growing up in Belleville, I missed a high opportunity to explore the area of Frankford. Now that I am older and my mom has relocated there, I’m sure glad she has. About 15 minutes driving north of Trenton, Frankford Tourist Park is a great place to park the vehicle. From there, you can stroll the banks of the Trent River on the west side. At Lock 6, there are picnic tables and places to rest and take in the beautiful setting.

Frankford Lock 6 looking north at the Trent River on the Trent Severn Waterway. One of the best places to see fall colours in Belleville and Trenton area!

Not only is this one of the best places to view fall colours around Belleville and Trenton, this is also one of the best places to catch a sunset in Southern Ontario. I mean come on, look at that still water reflection! Read Where To Find The Best Southern Ontario Sunsets

Frankford, Ontario Lock 6 on the Trent Severn Waterway

Sager Conservation Area

Roughly 30 minutes by car north of Trenton and tucked in behind the Oak Hills Golf Course is Sager Conservation Area. From the top of the lookout tower is one of the best places in all of the Bay of Quinte Region to view the fall foliage.

It’s a challenge to get up there! The hike from the parking lot to the tower is only half a kilometre and there are stairs involved as the trail is steep.

Sager Conservation Area TOWER - one of the best places to see fall colours in Belleville and Trenton area

While this is a great place to go with the family, this area is not stroller friendly or good for the mobility impaired. There are 48 additional steps going up the observation tower after the steep trek. For the able-bodied, it’s worth the 30-foot climb for the panoramic views of the Trent Valley. On clear days, you can see all the way into Belleville, Trenton and Campbellford.

This happens to be a favourite spot of mine in the winter as well Sager Conservation Area Trail: Easy Winter Hike With Kids

“Wild is the music of the autumnal winds amongst the faded woods.”

  • William Wordsworth

Sager Conservation Area selfie from tower, with orange, yellow and red leaves in background

 

Mount Pelion

Here’s full disclosure on Mount Pelion, I’ve spent some time up to no good here in my teen years. Mostly it was late at night and I was trying to impress some friends. I didn’t appreciate how awesome the view was then.

Every local in Trenton knows how to get to Mount Pelion. The pity is, I don’t know how many actually go up there.  The other day when I was there, it was empty except for a runner who whizzed by. Of course, it is early in the fall foliage season. Great for the curious wanderers, visitors to the lookout point are well rewarded with a perspective of the area that nowhere else can provide. It’s a short, but steep, uphill hike, that is worth it.

From the vantage point of the 30-foot lookout tower on top of Mount Pelion, you can see all of Trenton, into Prince Edward County and even all the way to Belleville. In the fall, it’s the perfect great time to see the autumn hues colours that blanket the city. 

Mount Pelion early autumn look out view, one of the best places to view fall colours in Belleville and Trenton, Ontario

 

Riverside Trail Park

Fall is always one of my favourite seasons. The time when trees burst with its last beauty. As if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale. Riverside Trail Park is definitely where this is true.

On the trail that runs alongside the Moira River, there are several rest spots along the way to enjoy your surroundings. Pack a lunch, stroll with no destination in mind. You can park and start at the Canada flag planted on the hill that is used for toboggans and make your way along the river south and back again.

Bay of Quinte Riverside Park Trail autumn leaves

 

HR Frink Centre

This conservation area has a ton of lovely trails you can hike. I think I have some memories of my days as a Girl Guide on day trips here, that’s a lot of years ago by the way. Being a conservation area rich in a lot of trees, that’s a lot of colour bursts coming your way! There’s a marsh, a boardwalk trails in the woods and a ton of canopy tree cover. It’s a romantic spot for a socially distant date as well.

HR Frink Centre hiking trails to see the best fall colours around Belleville and Trenton, Ontario

For more ideas of what to see and out around the Belleville and Trenton area, be sure to visit the Bay of Quinte tourism website. Happy autumn hue hunting!

Where to find the fall colours in Belleville and Trenton and surrounding area. The most beautiful autumn hues in the Bay of Quinte Region.
PIN ME FOR LATER

How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands

Tourism 1000 Islands hosted me to vacation with my kids in the

1000 Islands during our Stage 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our opinions are always our own and as always we aren’t coerced into having a good time.

I was incredibly fortunate to have grown up in Belleville, Ontario. Looking back now, the close distance proximity to the Thousand Islands was something my parents took great advantage of. And I’m all richer for it. We had a motorboat, a Regal. Not a large one, but we used to tow it behind our Oldsmobile named Gertrude and subsequently behind a station wagon I think my dad named Bessie and we took “Bypass” the boat to the Thousand Islands and dropped her in at the Ivy Lea boat launch summer after summer while we camped in the area. These are some of my favourite childhood memories.

Welcome to Gananoque, Ontario. Sign on road driving south to downtown.

The Canadian Gateway to the Thousand Islands is Gananoque in Southeastern Ontario.  Fortune was mine when I had the opportunity to take my own children to Gananoque for an end of summer adventure. I get to have the chance to show my kids around and reminisce about the camping, hiking and boat tour spots of my youth AND take them to a couple of new places I had yet to be.

I love Gananoque tourist picture

How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands

We stayed and based ourselves in Gananoque during our stay. Nothing in Gananoque is far away from each other. An easy 5-10 minute drive really anywhere. Or you can walk really. The one surprising aspect of this town of slightly more than 5,000 people was the location of Tim Hortons. It was on the far east side, not central. However, that means that locally owned businesses in the downtown, high pedestrian trafficked area have a chance to flourish. And they are worth it!
Downtown Gananoque
Miss M, Little Man and I got a pretty cool itinerary set up that includes a helicopter ride, a hike, kayaking and a scenic boat ride. That means we get to explore the islands from land, from the sea and from above.
Kids in front of the dam in Gananoque
The town of Gananoque is quaint and family-friendly. The waterfront park area is built around a park that boasts a splash park and play structure for the kids. As a single parent, I look for “easy” places to go and experiences to have so a lot of my time isn’t spent chasing two children at two different developmental and age stages in life. Taking kids on vacation in the Thousand Islands satisfies that. Logistically, it’s a good idea for a couple of days, trust me on that, especially during the COVID-19 time frame we find ourselves in. Plenty of opportunities in uncrowded areas to practise social distancing.
Splash pad at Joel Stone park in Gananoque in 1000 Islands
We must acknowledge that the name “Gananoque ” has a couple of meanings and is indigenous land first; “ Water Rising over Rocks” or “Garden of the Great Spirit”.
If anyone is inclined to learn about the history of Gananoque, it was a Loyalist stronghold base and supplies can in and out of The St. Lawrence River between Montreal, Cornwall and Kingston. There are remains of the canons that were used to protect the town are there. You’d have to picture that from here, you would be able to see American forces coming from across the water.
kids on a canon

Where To Stay In Gananoque, Ontario

During our stay, we are at the Colonial Resort and Spa, in the west end of Gananoque. Price point wise, this is a very affordable place for families to base themselves from.

Here is what I liked about the Colonial Resort and Spa and especially during the COVID-19 travel time frame:

  • Motel-style parking outside your door. We did not have to go into any internal hallways or pass by other guests inside
  • Outdoor pool for the kids to play in
  • Ample outdoor space for the kids to stretch their legs and play
  • The gift shop at the check-in desk area – could purchase bottles of water and sweaters for late summer air chills so you didn’t have to travel elsewhere
  • Free wifi throughout the grounds. Great in the room, seemed a little slow by the pool.
  • Fairly contactless interactions and a clean room when we arrived.
My jeep at the Colonial Inn and Spa where we stayed in Gananoque

 

Here is what surprised me about the Colonial Inn and Spa:

  • There were more Quebec license plates than Ontario plates parked in front of the rooms. I normally would not have been bothered by this but since it’s not encouraged to travel province to province right now, I was taken aback. There’s no law or rule saying it cannot be done, so game on I guess.
  • On the first day we had arrived, there was a large group gathering taking up all that common area space. This was a huge family group. I suspect it may have been more than one family and they did not pay attention to the signs stating the maximum amount of people permitted at the pool area. No one from the hotel seemed to be monitoring the situation. There were timed entry sign up sheets that were basically blank.

Kids playing in exterior pool at Colonial Resort and Spa in Gananoque

This is what I disliked about the Colonial Resort and Spa:

  • Construction crews working on adjacent rooms
  • The worn inside state of the room. It’s not fancy or new by any stretch. Trust me when I say the kids don’t mind.

Interior room and beds in Colonial resort, Gananoque

Thinking of booking a trip to Gananoque? Compare pricing and locations in the handy map below from Booking.com. I might make a small commission if you choose to book your accommodations through this link.

Booking.com

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours

Have you ever thought about taking your kids for a helicopter ride? You can in Gananoque and soar over the 1,864 islands in the St. Lawrence River and quite honestly, the view you are going to have is unrivalled. 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours and Kouri’s Kopters is the best way to see the islands, both Canadian and American from the air and give you the absolute best views.

Stunning 1000 Islands from helicopter

Up to 3 people can join the pilot, so I and my two kids work out perfectly. You must wear your facemasks for safety purposes.

Little Man, who is now 6 years old declared this helicopter ride as the best time he has ever had. EVER! He will be talking about this and the “poop lake” to all his friends for weeks to come.

Kathryn and son selfie in helicopter over 1000 islands

Truthfully, this was my first time in a helicopter and it was pretty damn exciting. Like a trip of a lifetime exciting. Like having a private chauffeur in the air! He knew the region, gave a personal narration and was very professional.

There is something extremely mesmerizing of seeing the 1000 Islands from the air. Seeing the islands, the colour of the water, the boats, the cottages and houses. Believe it or not, the water is fairly clear!

Approaching 1000 Islands in a helicopter

1000 Islands Helicopters offer a dozen tours of historic landmarks and regional activities. Their 20-minute Boldt Castle tour is a Destination Ontario Signature
Experience and their 30-minute Two Castle tour is a Destination Canada Canadian Signature Experience. What I wouldn’t give to see Boldt Castle from the air too! Next time for sure.

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours

Gananoque, Ontario from the air

 

1000 Islands Kayaking With Kids

The kids and I had an incredible morning on kayaks in Gananoque. One of the best ways to see the 1000 Islands National Park is by curving in and out of her channels and inlets by kayak. This was Miss M’s first time on her own in a kayak and she’s a natural. Little Man came tandem with me and sometimes dipped his oars into the water because it was the thing to do. It’s alright, he’s six years old.
kayaking with kids in the 1000 islands #1000islandskayaking
You know what? I am so glad we got to share that experience together. Miss M constantly surprises me with what she can do, she’s a lot stronger than she looks.
Family kayaking selfie in 1000 Islands

Our guide, Danni was super helpful and friendly and took the time to make sure the kids were cool. She knew the waterways expertly. I would absolutely recommend spending time on the water with them. They rent you the gear as part of the package so you don’t have to worry about having to strap your own to the roof of your car. The boats, life jackets and paddles are all cleaned and disinfected between usage. Kayaking is a very safe, socially distant activity, just stay in your own boat.

Wildlife as seen from kayak in 1000 islands
1000 Islands Kayaking offers fully guided full-day, half-day and overnight kayaking excursions along the mighty St. Lawrence River for all experience levels. Personally, I cannot wait until I get back out into the water there. I feel like I’m Moana and it’s calling me.
https://www.1000islandstourism.com/experiences/kayak/
Entering the harbour at Gananoque by kayak

Go For a Hike With The Kids In 1000 Islands

My dad was the driving force in my youth to getting me outside, camping, on the trails, on skis, at a campfire. I work hard to give my city kids the same experiences I was lucky enough to have as a kid. Whether they appreciate their time in nature or not, that’s a conversation for another time. Anyway, I had plans to get them hiking, but didn’t tell them ahead of time and did not dress for the part as part of the element of surprise.

Hiking trails in Landon Bay, 1000 islands

On our way to Rockport for an island boat cruise, we stopped at the Landon Bay Centre and hiked to the lookout point. This gem of a view is barely a kilometre hike from where you park and super easy for kids to get to!

hiking in Landon Bay 1000 islands

There is an extensive trail network at Landon Bay. Quite honestly, you could spend an hour like we did or you could hike all day there.  But I will tell you, the view from the Lookout Trail has long been recognized as the best natural view in the Thousand Islands area.
Hiked to the Landon Bay look out in 1000 Islands with kids for the best view

1000 Islands Boat Cruise on Rockport Boat Line

Another way to explore the islands is from a sightseeing boat. We headed over to Rockport, where incidentally the kids and I also enjoyed some ice cream at a picnic table and wandered by their marina in hopes of seeing some sunfish. Spoiler: ice cream is good. Fish sightings? Few and far between by the kids wanted to keep looking anyway.
take the kids to rockport, ontario for Rockport Cruise Lines sightseeing in the 1000 islands
All passengers are COVID screened before boarding and you must purchase reserve and purchase tickets in advance. The cruise we took was 90 minutes long and masks were required at all times onboard.
The cruise took us around islands, we saw Boldt Castle – which as a child I was lucky enough to arrive there by my dad’s boat and explore. Unfortunately, we are unable right now to dock and get off to visit Heart Island as it is on US soil. What we did see though, was outstanding! Brought back so many memories for me.
https://www.1000islandstourism.com/experiences/rockport-boat-line/
Boldt Castle on Heart Island in 1000 Islands as seen from Rockport Cruise Line sightseeing boat

Those Coveted Thousand Islands Sunsets

You might know the 1000 Islands for the waterway and St. Lawrence River, but what if I told you that some sunsets from Gananoque, Ontario are parallel to none?

Sunset at the marina in Gananoque, Ontario in 1000 islands

Until I saw it myself, I had no idea. These photos were taken at Joel Stone Park in Gananoque. What’s awesome about this area is that the kids can play at the park and catch the majesty of the sky.

Sunset at Joel Stone Park in Gananoque, Ontario

Where to Eat in Gananoque

The food menus here are fairly decent. The Tinder menu, not so much, too many photos of men holding up fish. On that note, let’s strictly focus on the food. The kids are I were in Gananoque for two dinners. We ate at Muskie Jake’s Tap & Grill and had a nice sunset view from the balcony.
We also ate at The Maple Leaf Restaurant, which is famous for authentic Czech cuisine including schnitzel, pierogis, and spaetzle.
Be sure to drop by Panache Bakery & Café at 162 King Street East for coffee and pastries in the morning.
exterior of Panache Bakery & Café at 162 King Street East, Gananoque
For a small town, this Gateway to the Thousand Islands has it all. Gananoque and the 1000 Islands region is a welcoming place with plenty of open-air and distance. Never did the kids and I feel unsafe, smothered or that we were in danger. There were plenty of activities to satisfy their interests and it’s a very outdoorsy place.
How To Vacation With Kids in the 1000 Islands, from kayaking 1000 islands to helicopter 1000 islands, hiking 1000 islands and where to stay in the 1000 islands

How To Camp With A Dog

I was fortunate enough to have grown up with a dog. His name was Sarge and he was a Sheltie. Where we went, Sarge came along. Road trips and stays in motels along the way? Yep. We had a pop-up trailer and a couple of tents we camped in for most of my formative years and drove to Newfoundland and back again to our home in Belleville. Sarge was along for the ride too! My children and I are on waiting lists for a dog and I cannot wait to get out and camp with a dog.

Lots of people must have adopted dogs and pets during the pandemic and quarantine. I am seeing so many posts where people are saying they’re going camping with a dog for the first time! Since I have years of experience in my formative years and I am in prep mode for next summer for taking our new family pet camping, here are some things you need to know.

 

How To Camp With A Dog

Straight up, camping with a dog is different. You’re going to have to accept that you have a little less freedom and if you have camped with toddlers, this is something you should basically understand. For purposes of my own expertise, I’m going to speak from the experience of tent camping. I cannot speak from the experience of bringing a dog RV camping.

how to camp with your happy dog - wordpress stock image

Don’t Leave Rover alone

The first thing you have to realize, your dog cannot be left on your site, in a tent without a human. RVs and trailers are a different story. Dogs bark. So even though you think and know that you have a well-behaved pooch, you have no idea what could set your dog off in unfamiliar territory. A squirrel or a blue jay coming too close to the tent might upset your dog. Essentially, the campsite is their new turf. So anything on their turf is fair game to protect from. Long story short, if your dog is zipped into a tent and you leave, the dog could bark a lot, get upset, rip through the canvas, get lost and has the potential to upset other campers.

Unless your dog is coming with you; not everyone can leave the tent site. If you need an escape from your kids, this is a good thing. 

The author with sister and dog as children

Leash Your Dog

It’s a good idea to keep your dog on a leash at all times. Most parks indicate this rule via signage. No one’s dog is an exception to the rule, not even yours because they don’t run away. It doesn’t matter how awesome your dog is, you cannot account for the potential of other animals. If you are going camping, you’re in the woods and in the woods live foxes, coyotes and other wildlife.

Also, don’t forget that adults like to break rules themselves when camping so you cannot account for poorly trained humans that you might run across. Kindly keep your dog on a leash or a long tie when at the campsite

How To Camp With Your Dog - dog tied up outside a tent, wordpress stock image

Bring The Dog Into The Tent At Bedtime

This should probably go without saying because it’s just like the whole idea of leaving your dog alone in unfamiliar surroundings. That and bugs and animals outside all night with your dog is like a recipe for disaster. It’s just not a good idea to have your dog tied up to your picnic table or chair all night when you are cozy in your tent.

Children sleeping with dog in tent

Your Dog Needs Food and Water Too, But Don’t Leave It Out

It’s a good rule of thumb to store your dog’s food where you store your food. Most experienced campers know how to protect their food from coyotes, bears and other wildlife, so do the same for your dog’s food. And seriously, same with their toys. Don’t leave a chew toy or bone out, it’s bait for wild animals.

Just like at home, your dog will need lots of clean drinking water. Possibly more so than at home as your dog won’t have access to being inside air conditioning. Lake or river or creek water is not always best for your dog to drink because their stomachs could get upset due to the chemicals, e coli and whatever else is floating around in there. Think of it this way, if you wouldn’t grab a glass and drink it, don’t offer it to your dog.

family at campfire with dog

Water Baby

A lot of places that you find yourself camping at have natural bodies of water and they might have a beach that dogs can access. This is good, bring the dog, have a blast there. 

If you do your research ahead of time and find that the beach where you are does not welcome dogs, don’t be that person who brings the dog anyway and cleans up after them. One, you could be asked to leave by park staff. Some parks may levy a fine against you. Other campers might not like your pooch as much as you or some people actually have canine fear due to past experience in life and might be there because the beach is canine free.

wordpress stock image

In the end, your dog will just want to be where you are and will likely be a happy camper. As long as the dog is with his people, is exercised, loved and fed, it should be a positive experience for the family. Hope this helps you to prep for your future and how to camp with a dog.

 

 

How To Camp With A Dog - You’re going to have to accept that you have less freedom and if you have camped with toddlers, you will basically understand. Food, sleep, water, it's all covered here

 

 

Ride The Bine – Safe Wine and Beer Tours in Ontario

Amanda from Ride The Bine hosted me (again) and my colleagues on this tour so we can witness first hand how to safely take beer and wine tours during our current times.

Welcome to the summer of 2020. It will affectionately be forever known as the summer where we couldn’t go anywhere except exploring in our own backyard. While the past few months have been utter emotional garbage for many, including myself, I’m turning my thoughts to the silver linings. There are a lot of positives on staying local, less travel time in the air with the kids and hearing them ask “are we there yet?”. I’m becoming an expert in southern Ontario. Seeing some of the same highways in different directions and at different times of day means seeing something new all the time. In that vein, once again, I find myself in Norfolk County.

Happily, I’m back on Ride The Bine, a fully guided beer and wine tour with my friends and fellow co-founders of the Toronto Bloggers Collective, Chris Mitchell and his wife Bri, Chris Rudder and Kevin Wagar. We are safely, in our new COVID style world order, reconnecting and enjoying some social distancing fun.  It’s been months since we’d all laid eyes on each other in person and I cried like a baby all over Chris Rudder’s shoulder. For real, wrecked my eye makeup before I even left Toronto. This period has been hard on everyone.

Back to our day trip – Ride The Bine was started in March of 2017 by Amanda and Susan – 2 local girls with a passion for all things Norfolk. Amanda was our tour animator for the day and she is FUN!

We are just about to board the Ride The Bine van at the Sobey's in Simcoe, it's bine time!

Ride The Bine New Safety Measures

Since the last time I had been on Ride The Bine, there’s been a bit of a change in the world. A global pandemic, health safety measures, that kind of thing. Not to sound too blase about the whole scenario, but at this point in the journey, we have to have a laugh about something somehow. And really, I need a laugh, so bear with me.

Boarding the Mercedes Benz sprinter van, all passengers are required to put their masks on. There is a clear plastic barrier between the driver and the passengers in the back. I’m going to admit, it’s right out of a strange parallel world. I’m a hugger and very physical. Yet, I’m restricted from touching others. Hands to myself! I can do it, I can do it…

Boarding the Ride The Bine van with hand sanitizer

We were limited to a maximum group amount of eight people. In total, our group size was 5. We were able to safely spread out between the four rows of the cab. We also had generous amounts of hand sanitizer pumped into the palms of our hands as we boarded. Hand sanitizer was everywhere we stopped.

Inside the sprinter van with Ride The Bine - barrier between driver and passengers

Stop # 1: Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery

Like many places in Norfolk County, Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery is a former tobacco farm. As we were lucky enough to visit in July, the lavender fields were IN FULL BLOOM. Like, perfect. Lavender is in bloom from approximately the last week of June through to the first week of August here.

If there is a reason to come to Bonnieheath in the summer, this is it. Excuse me, here are some obligatory lavender field photos with us.

The founders of the Toronto Bloggers Collective in the lavender at Bonnieheath Lavender and Winery
Photo courtesy of Ride The Bine

Bonnieheath Lavender and winery, Kevin Wagar dancing through the lavender fields

Bonnieheath Lavender field with me in it. Photo taken by Kevin Wagar

Onto the winery! I visited Bonnieheath two summers ago and fell in love with their ciders. Happy to say that they are just as good as I remember! Known for their Folkin’ Hard ciders – named after the county of Norfolk, they are a blend of 100% Norfolk apples, along with other local seasonal fruits including sour cherries, blueberries, and strawberries. Good information to note – Amanda from Ride The Bine is an apple grower and her apples go into the cider blend. Hometown proud!

The tastings here were done in their production facility, which is inside. We were served by the owner who was wearing a face mask and a face shield.

Tasting the ciders in Bonnieheath, owner is wearing a face mask and shield, safety first!

We sampled their Fresh Apple, Cherry Bomb (cherry), True Blue (Blueberry and Lavender), and their Sweet Lips (strawberry and maple syrup) ciders. My favourite is Cherry Bomb by a long shot. It’s all for sale in their shop and yes I bought a couple of bottles to take home. 

Also for sale in the shop is lavender products! Lavender is harvested and distilled in former tobacco kilns on-site. From there, they create their array of lavender products including soaps, pillow sprays, essential oil and sanitizer.

Bonnieheath Lavender and winery 3 - the ciders, We sampled their Fresh Apple, Cherry Bomb (cherry), True Blue (Blueberry and Lavender), and their Sweet Lips (strawberry and maple syrup) cider

Stop #2: Burning Kiln Winery

 

For the third time, I find myself at one of the biggest and best wineries in all of Ontario – Burning Kiln Winery. The wines here pay homage to the farm’s history as they are named after some element of tobacco farming. 

Before I talk about the wines, I’m going to tell you about their safety measures. In a usual year, Burning Kiln is host to multiple outdoor concert events and the vineyard provides a stunning backdrop for hosting weddings. The tastings were taking place in the outdoor canopy as weddings are not happening on the property this year. The staff all behind plexiglass poured the sample into a shot glass and then the shot glass into our sample glass. The sample glass was reusable and we all got to take our individual glasses home with us.

Burning Kiln winery safely serving us the sparks

Having sampled some wines there in the past, I know a little bit about what I like the most here. Normally I go for a red, however since it’s summertime, a chilled white wine is my preferred drink. On this day, my favourite was the Sparks, a sparkling rosé made in the Cuvée Close method. Since I was there, I also bought the flagship red wine, Kiln Hanger. At $50 for a bottle, kiln-dried grapes, and barrel-aged for close to 3 years, it results in an incredibly flavourful and complex red. I’m going to save it for a special occasion.

Burning Kiln social distance tastings

Lunch: Canned Heat on the Patio at Burning Kiln

Canned Heat is in its 2nd year running food service on the patio at Burning Kiln Winery. With a huge focus on local food and ingredients and showcasing the best of what Norfolk, Ontario’s Garden has to offer, daily menu items feature local seasonal produce and a great variety of local fish fresh from lake Erie and local beef and lamb. Spoiler – I had the lamb burger and it was divine!

 

Stop #3: Hometown Brew Co. at Long Point Eco-Adventures

A couple of summers ago, my kids and I stayed at Long Point Eco-Adventures. Some craft beer on-site would have been nice. My wish has seemingly turned into a command!

Started by 3 local young guys in their 20s, here you can sip on brews and enjoy incredible views of the Turkey Point marsh, Lake Erie and Long Point. Hometown Brew Co. has several beer styles available to try including their famous Blueberry Saison featuring blueberries from the farm of one of the owners. The logo for Hometown Brew Co. features a lighthouse – reminiscent of the one in Port Dover and also Long Point. Being “home” at the lake is huge for Norfolk County folks – many residents own boats, cottages, or simply just enjoy being down at the beach after a long week of work, or a long hot day of working on the farm.

Hometown Brew tasting flight at Long Point Eco-Adventures

Here physical distancing is not a problem. Lining up for your beer, you have to adhere to markers on the patio. Tables are spaced fairly far apart so you can cheers your friends from a distance.

My favourite beers to try here are the Southern Ale and Southern Light. I also sampled the IPA and the Blueberry Saison.

Hometown Brew cheers to Christopher Rudder from Rudderless Travel

Stop # 4: Inasphere Wines

 

Want to know where to enjoy incredible views of the Inner Bay of Lake Erie and Long Point? It’s at Inasphere Wines? Currently a family-run, working vegetable farm and winery, this is the lowest elevation farm in all of Norfolk County.

Ryan and his wife Shantel, are the 3rd generation to own and work the farm. Ryan is a winemaker and studied at Niagara College and Jackson Triggs to hone his winemaking skills. What’s incredibly unique is that he has grown up on the property, manages the vines and also produces the wine. Very intimate knowledge of the land and what he is putting in bottles for people to enjoy.

Admiring the view with my glass of wine at Inasphere Winery in Norfolk County

We didn’t enter their building except to use the washroom, we conducted tastings outside from a distance. We sampled their Dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Grey Area (lightly pressed Pinot Noir – red grape but produced as a unique white wine), and also their Cabernet Franc. Grey Area was fantastic!

Enjoying the view at Inasphere winery

Having done this tour with Amanda and Ride The Bine, I can unequivocally say that our safety, social distancing and hygiene were of the utmost importance. I have confidence recommending this tour to anyone wanting a safe and enjoyable guided beer and wine tour with a fantastic animator who knows everything there is to know about the area!

CHECK OUT OUR DAY HERE – VIDEO COURTESY OF RUDDERLESS TRAVEL:

And as a bonus, you might even be able to get a stop at Cider Keg Farm Market, a popular stop for boaters and cottagers to grab fresh, local produce to enjoy on their way to the lake. Ice cream, baked goods, meats, snacks, cheeses, preserves and a plethora of local produce is available for purchase. Heck, you’re in Ontario’s Garden, enjoy it!

Ride The Bine - Safe Wine, Beer and Cider Tours in Norfolk County. We safely re-connected, sampled some of the best cider, beer and wine Ontario has to offer and enjoyed some social distancing fun #itsbinetime #ridethebine #beertour #winetour #ontariosgarden