Blog

Tobermory Ontario: Top 5 Things to See And Do

One of my family’s favourite summer destinations is Tobermory, Ontario on the Bruce Peninsula. The first time we visited was in the summer of 2017. We designated Tobermory as a two-night stop on our way to Lake Superior Provincial Park from Toronto.

We subsequently visited Tobermory in the summer of 2018 as we loved it so much and enjoyed everything the area has to offer. The Bruce Peninsula is stunning. The town of Tobermory is quaint. The grotto is right out of this world!

 

How To Get To Tobermory From Toronto

The drive to Tobermory, Ontario from our home in downtown Toronto is approximately 4 hours. However, with the rate at which my children (and ex-husband) need to exit the vehicle for a pee, hunger and leg stretching, it honestly took closer to 6, yes SIX hours at that time.

The most direct way from Toronto is north on Highway 427 to the 401. Take Highway 401 westbound to the 410 and then take the 410 north. That highway eventually becomes Highway 10 and you will drie north on it until you reach a set of lights with a Champ Burger on one corner and a Super Burger on the other corner. We highly recommend Super Burger. Turn left and drive towards the town of Shelbourne. Follow the street signs that point north towards Own Sound. Once you reach Owen Sound, follow highway 6 north.

To get to that part of Ontario, you’re not driving on mega highways with rest stops. You will be driving through small towns. Once you head north of Orangeville, the next biggest city is Owen Sound. If you wish to purchase any groceries for your stay, Owen Sound is the best bet. If you want to pick up a snack or meal at a fast food place or use a washroom, again, Owen Sound is the safe bet.

We enjoyed our time in Tobermory in the summer of 2017 so much that we decided we would return in the summer of 2018 as well. And you know what? It is safe to say, I will return again. Tobermory boasts an abundance of things to do!

Tobermory, Ontario Lighthouse at Big Tub Harbour

Top 5 Things To See And Do In Tobermory, Ontario

Here is the list of the best things to do and see in Tobermory, Ontario with kids. This is based on the activities my children enjoyed there. By no means is this a list of everything to do in Tobermory. When we return to Tobermory, I will definitely look into renting kayaks and snorkelling over the shipwrecks.

1.) Take a Boat Tour to see the two Shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour

Tobermory is one of the best places to see shipwrecks in Ontario! Really and truly, nothing beats scuba diving shipwrecks if you are a certified diver. If you are not a diver or a snorkeler or you are travelling with your children and do not have other care for them while you are on a dive, then viewing from a boat is the next best thing here. The two wrecks you can see in Big Tub Harbour in Tobermory are called Sweepstakes and City of Grand Rapids.

The Sweepstakes went down in 1885, spoiler alert – no treasures left and currently lies in roughly 6 metres of water. It is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks of its time in the Great Lakes. The City of Grand Rapids wreck is from 1907, it was a double-decker steamer that caught fire while mooring. It was released from the dock and left it to burn in the harbour. It sank where it lies.

Totally worth seeing – see if you can get on one of the glass bottom boats to do this! Note – the boats can get very crowded fast. Either get a seat up top for premium viewing over the side or stay down below at the glass bottom.

Sweepstakes, shipwreck in Big Tub Harbour, Tobermory - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario With Kids

 

2. Take a boat to Flowerpot Island

Flowerpot Island is only accessible by boat from Tobermory, Ontario and is one of the best experiences in Fathom Five National Marine Park! The island is famous for its natural “flowerpot” rock pillars, caves, historic light station and rare plants. This is a great spot for easy to moderate level hikers – my kids had no problem. Here you will find great swimming and snorkelling, picnic areas and overnight camping if you are adventurous. Be sure to bring your bathing suit in a day bag with you and have sturdy shoes. Hiking pro-tip: I don’t recommend that you come in flip-flops and try to do the hiking.

Flowerpot Island - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario With Kids

We were not prepared for the beauty here – it is so awe-inspiring! The water really is the colour of these photos – no filter! The rookie mistake we made when we went was not packing a cooler. There is really nothing to purchase here, bring your own food and water! Also, there are not a whole lot of places to dispose of garbage here, so please plan to take back with you what you bring.

Word of wisdom to the Instagram Models of the world – please do not try to climb the Flower Pots. It’s dangerous to you if you fall, but it’s also disruptive to nature. Imagine being the asshole who damages one of these natural structures so terribly that it changes the appearance?

Flowerpot Island 1 - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

How To Get To Flowerpot Island

There are a couple of boat charter companies to get you here from Tobermory, Ontario. You do have to pay for tickets to get out to the island and back. You can combine a shipwreck viewing tour or simply take an express boat direct and they have ticketed return times when they drop you off. According to the Parks Canada website, they recommend that you spend 4-5 hours hiking and see it all. Plan to spend the day – at least an afternoon, please don’t short change yourself on time here. Buying tickets from any of the suppliers in the harbour area of the town in advance is a good idea to ensure your plans for the day are not disrupted.

Flowerpot Island 2 - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

 

3.) Visit The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto, found in Bruce Peninsula National Park, just outside of Tobermory, is a place that is so popular, we couldn’t get in the first year we tried. I severely underestimated that it is one of the top attractions in the province and that just showing up would suffice. It turns out it requires a little more planning to be able to see and experience this magical place.

We did our planning and did get into the Grotto in the summer of 2018. During the peak season of July and August, there are a couple of ways to make sure you are in Bruce Peninsula National Park and can access the Grotto:

1.) Be there already as a camper at one of the backcountry sites along Georgian Bay or in Cyprus Lake Campground.

2.) Reserve parking in advance if coming from outside the park. Parking is assigned by time blocks and only a certain amount of cars are permitted per time slot.

3.) Head up there in the off or shoulder seasons of April/May/June or September/October when the demand to visit is much less.

There’s a twitter hashtag you can follow for more information – #GrottoParking

As of June 1, some Parks Canada places began a safe, gradual reopening of some outdoor areas at national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.

Grotto rockface, Tobermory Bruce Peninsula National Park

Covid Protocols and The Grotto, Tobermory

Reservations for parking at the Grotto for the summer of 2021 will be available online on April 29th at 8:00 a.m. EDT. Important to note – Visitors will not be permitted to climb into the Grotto since physical distancing is not possible. Parks Canada is asking that you enjoy the view from above.

feet over ledge at grotto - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

 

4.) Have ice cream at The Sweet Shop on Bay Street

There’s this sweet little ice cream shop with a lot of brilliant Canadian flavours of yummy ice cream. Located at 18 Bay Street, overlooking Little Tub Harbour, the locally owned Sweet Shop makes candy, fudge, chocolate and brittle onsite. Come after dinner, sit and relax! Walk around Tobermory and see the boats in the harbour with ice cream in hand, you won’t be sorry!

5.) Visit Singing Sands Beach

Singing Sands Beach is located off of Dorcas Bay Road south of Tobermory. This large sandy beach with shallow waters is part of Bruce Peninsula National Park. I admit, when my family rolled up to this beach, we were not impressed. It looked like it was full of weeds, there were not a lot of people there and it was windy. My family is a little spoiled. The kids are used to Prince Edward County and Caribbean beaches.

The water was warm and you could walk really far out before the kid’s lower bodies became submerged. The kids even had a good time. For those who are squeamish about things touching their feet in the water, I recommend wearing a pair of water shoes. It’s not really so bad once you walk out in the water for a bit. Admission here is free.

Tobermory Beach, singing sands beach - Top 5 Things To Do In Tobermory, Ontario #topfivelist #tobermory #singingsandsbeach #provincialpark #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #parkscanada #smalltownsinontario #familytravelvlogger #familytravelblogger #ontariobloggers #ontarioroadtrips #thingstodoinontario #thingstodointobermory

And as a bonus for you history buffs – there are historical walking tours available in town.

Tobermory Brewing Company

If you’ve been reading my blog posts and following me for a while, you know what a craft beer lover I am. In fact, Ontario craft beers rank as some of my favourites in the world! So no trip to Tobermory is complete without finding a brewery. And I found Tobermory Brewing Company. It’s Tobermory’s first and only brewery, a restaurant and a beer store. Sweet find, definitely worth a visit to sample the brew. The older woman hostess wasn’t over-friendly – I think she wanted me to leave because I had children with me, but the beer made up for it.

Women with children enjoy craft beer too. We enjoy the artisan work involved. Trying to turn us away with your 40-minute wait and it’s really crowded speech is a big mistake.

Tobermory Brewery Flight Sampler on the patio facing the sunset

These are my family’s Top 5 Things to Do in Tobermory, Ontario! We cannot wait to return to the Bruce Peninsula to discover more of the area to see.

mariner's monument on Bay Street in Tobermory, Ontario

For those of you looking for the video blog – here you go!

 

Where to Stay in Tobermory, Ontario

My kids and I have stayed at the Blue Bay Motel as well as another location we do not recommend. We are booked to return to the Blue Bay motel this coming summer.

Take your family on a road trip – check out BOOKING.COM today (affiliate link, I make a small commission if you make a booking at no extra cost to you)


Booking.com

#TOP5THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN #TOBERMORY, #ONTARIO #brucepeninsula #flowerpotisland #thegrotto #bigtubharbour #littletubharbour #tobermory #discoverontario #parkscanada #grotto #brucepeninsulagrotto #tobermorygrotto #hikingthebruce #brucetrail #dangerousplaces #rockyterrain #bestfamilytraveltravelblogger #ontariofamilyadventures #yourstodiscover

Florida Bucket List For Post-Pandemic Travel

This past winter was the first one in many years that my kids and I did not feel that Southern Hemisphere sun on our pasty, cold Canadian bodies. Double pain for me, I used to travel to Florida every winter growing up to visit my Grandparents who were snowbirds and had a place to live there. In the spirit of missing those Florida sunsets and weather, with the help of VISIT FLORIDA, I’ve put together a Florida Bucket List of travel for Canadians to set their sights on once we are able to safely travel to the sunshine state again. This list will not include the theme parks.

The places I’m listing below are places the kids and I have NOT visited. If you’re looking for inspiration for where we have visited, you’ll have to check out Sanibel Island here (a favourite of the kids), our resort review of The Island Inn here, read up on how I fell in love begrudgingly at a Walt Disney World Resort value level hotel here or how I had an amazing time hanging out with Republicans at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort here.

Florida sunsets are the most inspiring I have ever seen. Especially Sanibel Island sunsets.

Florida Bucket List

Visit Florida certainly put together an amazing list of things to see and do there. Once our border restrictions are lifted, there’s a lot of Canadians who are going to flock south for some post-pandemic travel. You can count on the kids and me lining up at the airport! Here are some of the places we want to see and experience.

FORT PIERCE

If it’s not already, you will want to add St. Lucie – and the historic city of Fort Pierce – to your Florida vacation list. Located on the East Coast, approximately halfway between Orlando and Miami, in downtown Fort Pierce you will find a rather unusual sighting of birds… not seagulls or pelicans, but wild peacocks. And it’s not just a few, but dozens of these beautiful, brightly coloured birds. The Peacock Arts District – named after the birds that have been here since the 1970s – is gaining notoriety for its emerging, dynamic art scene. Vibrant, terracotta pots hand-painted by local artists line the main corridor. Murals, decorative banners, street murals and various works of art are now adding colour to the once-empty storefronts and are reinvigorating this historic area while still managing to maintain that “Old Florida, small-town” feel. 

downtown Fort Pierce wild peacocks
photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

TATE’S HELL STATE FOREST

Along the Gulf Coast near Carrabelle, the Tate’s Hell State Forest in Franklin County is well-known for being a wild place. Its name is derived from the legend of a lost farmer who vanished in the wilderness. It is also home to one of Florida’s most unusual nature wonders – a dwarf cypress swamp featuring 300-year-old cypress trees no taller than 15 feet. The Ralph G. Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk is the best place to visit this natural phenomenon. Managed by the Forest Service, the boardwalk provides a safe and accessible area to take in the views, including this unique strand of cypress trees often referred to as Bonsai or Hat-Rack Cypress. If you’re looking for a bigger outdoor adventure, the forest also encompasses more than 202,437 acres with designated camp areas, hiking trails, paddling trails, salt and freshwater fishing, five boat ramps and several canoe/kayak launches. 

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by VISITFLORIDA (@visitflorida)

MAXWELL GROVES

Known for its fresh-squeezed orange juice, family-owned Maxwell Groves in Sebring has been a staple for locals and popular with visitors since its establishment as a fruit stand in 1935. Along with the famed OJ, the shop here also features various fruit wines and some of the best citrus-flavoured treats, such as preserves, jams, honey, and a dairy-free orange soft serve ice cream. Be on the lookout for Mr. Maxwell himself who will be happy to tell you stories about his family, the business and the citrus industry over the past several decades. Once refreshed, the area is also home to the Sun ‘N Lake Preserve, the go-to place for hiking and biking trails. This area is home to a variety of fauna due to its collection of ecosystems on-site, including freshwater marsh, cypress swamp, cutthroat grass seeps and other biomes. 

Maxwell groves florida
photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

JACKSONVILLE’S NEIGHBOURHOODS

Often overlooked and driven right by on the I-95 as visitors enter Florida, Jacksonville is made up of an eclectic collection of neighbourhoods that each offer their own small-town feel and southern hospitality. Whether visitors are looking for a charming, historic place to retreat to, or a casual beach town to explore, the city’s neighbourhoods offer unique and diverse experiences to immerse yourself in local culture. Within minutes you can tour urban hotspots, experience breathtaking natural landscape, or hit the water on a boat or paddleboard. Jacksonville’s new “Neighborhood Conversations” video series takes you through three of the city’s most popular areas – Riverside Avondale, San Marco and The Beaches.

I’ve also recently learned that Jacksonville has a huge craft beer scene so that automatically means I’m interested in this city for many reasons!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Visit Jacksonville (@visit_jax)

UNDERWATER MUSEUM OF ART

The United States’ first permanent underwater museum of art is located off the coast of South Walton in about 17 metres underwater. In addition to providing a site for SCUBA diving that is unique to the world, the sculptures are designed and selected with their suitability as marine habitats in mind, so even in the absence of divers, the Underwater Museum of Art is certain to have many visitors, including schools of bait fish, grouper, sea turtles and dolphins. Earlier this month (Feb. 2021), the museum added eight new sculptures, featuring artists from across the country.

THE STETSON MANSION

The Stetson Mansion, located in West Volusia County, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker John B. Stetson, and is often hailed as Florida’s first luxury estate. The home was lost to the public for years but has now been renovated and updated and is open for tours and celebrations. It’s been named “Florida’s Most Popular Attraction” and one of the “Top 10 Places to Visit in Florida” by TripAdvisor. 

 

QUIRKY STOPS IN NW FLORIDA 

Amid the rural roadways, historic towns and pristine waterways, there are plenty of surprises in Northwest Florida, which stretches from east of Pensacola westward toward Tallahassee, along Interstate 10 and beyond. Many visitors come to enjoy the paddling, diving and fishing in the local waters, however there are also some quirky, one-of-a-kind sites here. In Carrabelle, you can stop in at the world’s smallest police station, which was upgraded from a call box bolted to a building to a cozy telephone booth in 1963; while the possum monument in the town of Wausau was erected in 1980 in honour of the marsupial, praised for providing both food and fur to the region’s early settlers.

Possum Monument, Florida
photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

BEAN POINT

Located on the idyllic barrier island of Anna Maria Island, Bean Point is one of the destination’s top hidden gems and is arguably one of the quietest, intimate settings on the island. This beach features power-soft white sand, sweeping views of Tampa Bay (and the iconic Sunshine Skyway bridge), and an unobtrusive, relaxed atmosphere that is so difficult to find on most public beaches. While in the area, be sure to check out The Village of the Arts in nearby Bradenton, a vibrant community of artists featuring a collection of restored 1920s and 30s cottages, that is home to more than 30 businesses, including galleries, studios, cafés, healing arts, jewellery, fashion, books and more. 

THE KEY MARCO CAT

On extended loan to the Marco Island Historical Museum by the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural Museum of Natural History, the world-famous Key Marco Cat – a half cat/half-human figure – is considered one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America. Standing just 15 centimetres in height, the feline has captured the public’s imagination for over a century. Carved from native hardwood, the Key Marco Cat was created some 500 to1,500 years ago by Southwest Florida’s early Calusa people, or their Muspa ancestors, and was discovered on Key Marco in 1896 by a Smithsonian-sponsored archaeological expedition led by archaeologist and anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing.

Marco Island Historical Museum 2021-02-09 17.57.58
photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

SNORKEL SILVER GLEN SPRINGS

I’ve heard that some of the best snorkelling in all of Florida is to be had is in Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest.

Enough said. Put this on your Florida Bucket List. I’m coming with my fins!

Snorkel Silver Glen Springs bass fish
photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA

PADDLE BLUE SPRING STATE PARK

I’m totally inspired by the amazing paddleboard and kayak adventures my friend, Rob and his family have around the area of St. Augustine. If paddling with manatees hanging out peacefully in the water by you is your idea of a good time Blue Springs State Park is the place to go! And that’s exactly where we want to be.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Rob Taylor (@paddleyourstate)

From pristine beaches and historic preserves to local treasures and diverse neighbourhoods, there are plenty of surprises just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed in Florida. It’s a big state with a lot of exploring beyond the theme parks. Any recommendations of what else to see that we should add to our Florida Bucket List? Add them in the comment below!

 

How Facebook Fails To Protect Kids

Here’s a huge lesson for us all on how Facebook does not protect the users, our intellectual property and Facebook fails to protect kids. I never thought this could happen to me, but here we are. This is my experience and this is what I am trying to do about it.
On February 26, one of my followers pointed out to me that someone had stolen photos of me and my children taken from my branded Facebook page (or potentially my Instagram page) and are using them on a fake profile using the name Solphie Ann.
The profile picture in this stolen account is me and the kids atop the Duomo in Milan. The cover photo is of my children on a boat cruise in Norfolk County, Ontario.
This is the facebook account that stole my photos of my children and I and is passing them off as themselves.
There are photos of my daughter sitting on my Jeep, my friend Kasia and I drinking beer in Latvia. My girlfriends and I at a social media conference in Los Angeles. My kids and I hiking at Mount Nemo here in Ontario.
More from the Facebook Profile that stole my photos

I and numerous friends have reported the profile and the stolen photos to Facebook. I have messaged the account and asked them to remove my photos, no luck (the scammer has blocked me and blocks everyone who messages them about this). At this point, the account and the stolen photos have been reported over 100 times. Believe it or not, Facebook has repeatedly told me that this account DOES NOT go against their Community Standards.

Friends and family of mine are commenting on the photos staying they are stolen, but that account has not been removed or reprimanded and the images of my children remain on this account. The images of my children and myself cannot be associated to this spammer account any longer. My children are quite terrified that they are going to be damaged by this in the future. I am terrified that this will be detrimental to my personal online footprint and existence.

Facebook has yet to take action. Facebook is failing to protect my children. This is an exploitation of my minor children and myself. It’s incredibly baffling that Facebook does not find this to be a violation of their community standards.
One of my followers saw the scammer profile in a group selling tickets to an art show. She decided to bait them for me. This screengrab is their message exchange on Facebook.

One of my followers saw the scammer profile in a group selling tickets to an art show. She decided to bait her for me. This screen grab is there message exchange on Facebook. Conversation with one of my followers with the Fake Profile

This account is stealing money from vulnerable families posing as a seller of tickets to an artist’s workshop and I’m not the one behind it. According to my follower, this account stole $100 from a young family in her community.
At this point, I have pretty much exhausted ALL of my options with Facebook’s platform. There is no phone number to call to complain. Not a single live person has responded to a single request for help with the spammer. My ex-husband, who is livid that these photos of our children are being used in a fake profile and aren’t being removed has reported this story to several media outlets with this story, however, this is something that happens with great frequency on Facebook, so it’s not news.
Facebook ignoring all of these reports - I have pages and pages of emails of friends of mine reporting this profile and Facebook responding that this does not go against their community standards.
Can you imagine that this happens so much that not a single media outlet seems to care anymore? A friend of mine was able to obtain an email address of someone who works at Facebook through a family connection and I have sent them a detailed email. Truly I hope this gets resolved.
Honestly, I always thought I was moderately careful with my posting and my children. Sadly, their likeliness is now associated with a crime. Going forward, here’s how I am changing my approach to posting photos on my branded Facebook page:
  1. I will not be showing my children face on, not even on paid campaigns
  2. Every photo I post on my Facebook page will be watermarked
  3. My personal Facebook profile is completely locked down and I have begun unfriending people I don’t really know anymore.
  4. I am utilizing the services of Copytrack to find stolen images on other websites and enforce copyright
Aside from this bogus art fair ticket scam, I can’t help but wonder how else our photos are being used? Is my face on a fake dating profile catfishing someone? Did someone set this up to collect welfare funds? Trick someone into paying child support? One thing is for sure, I am relentless and if I have to ironically set up a fake profile to catch this jerk, I will.
If anyone finds my photos anywhere else, please do let me know. And if a profile with my picture is trying to sell you tickets to an art fair in Denver, it’s definitely not me. Please continue to report the profile.

Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre – behind the scenes

*COVID-19 TRAVEL ALERT – I am writing and providing you information on Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre.

I am not encouraging you to travel there right now. It is currently closed due to the pandemic* ⁠

Chances are good, if you have been to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario in the past couple of decades, you may have been to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre. It opened in 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Algonquin Provincial Park. Algonquin was the first provincial park in the system in Ontario. Created in 1893 as a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure ground.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitor centre building exterior face on - photo by Brian Tao

As a city-dwelling camper, one of the perks of visiting the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre is the flush toilets and free wifi! Aside from that, the Visitor Centre is a wealth of knowledge and exhibits about the Park’s natural and cultural history, has a quick service canteen type restaurant, a bookstore maintained by The Friends of Algonquin Park and an excellent observation deck with panorama views of the park.

Algonquin Provinicial Park visitor centre kathryn on panorama observation deck

How To Find The Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre

I’ve embedded this Google Map for you here. If you are diving up to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre from Toronto or any other place in Ontario (or Canada), click on “directions” and type in the address you are starting from.

To get from Algonquin Provincial Park to Toronto, the drive is approximately three hours south on Highway 11. The same in the inverse, it takes approximately three hours to drive north from Toronto to Algonquin Provincial Park via highways 400 and 11.

What Is Inside The Algonquin Park Visitor’s Centre?

Some say this is one of the best visitor centers they have been to in Ontario Parks. There are lots for every age kids to be entertained. In the foyer, there is a large board displayed where you can add your wildlife sightings for the day. During winter, even if you’re not actually seeing the wildlife, you can feel it all around you because you can see their tracks in the snow or on the ice. It’s the kind of feeling you don’t get other seasons of the year.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitor centre wildlife sightings board in foyer

It is a very large visitor centre and doubles as the Algonquin Park information Centre. Here you can pick up park maps, canoe route maps, get information on camping. The displays are all very detailed, exhibits are interactive and there is a theatre as well. Educational programs are run out of the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre.

Algonquin PP visitors centre bear exhibit

One of the coolest things housed in the building is the archives of the park. Even cooler is the flora and fauna specimen room downstairs. It’s actually not open to the public. Assistant Park Superintendent Rick Stronks – who is incidentally the Chief Park Naturalist, gave me and my friend and photographer, Brian Tao a backstage tour that blew our minds.

Algonquin Park visitors centre chief naturalist and assistant park superintendent, Rick Stonks behind the scenes tour with Kathryn

Rick’s job is to manage and administer the Natural Heritage Education program, oversee all operations of the Algonquin Visitor Centre, Logging Museum, Art Centre, Staffhouse and Outdoor Theatre. He coordinates the procurement of all natural and cultural history records as well. On this day, it was also to provide us with incredible entertainment and stunning knowledge.

Algonquin Provincial Park visitors centre bald eagle reports circa 1990

What is contained in this room is a record of every single type and species of bird, fish and mammal to have graced their presence into the park. It’s a huge catalogue. The undertaking of a job for Rick and his staff to have organized this over the years is gigantic. Some of the taxidermy and written records we saw are more than 50 years old.

Bird specimen taxidermy samples in the basement of the visitor centre in Algonquin Provincial Park

It’s incredibly important to mention that these specimens were not captured in any way. We were assured that each one of these specimens was already deceased when found. By and how whatever natural reason they were already dead and preserved for learning and cataloguing. Each specimen that is brought in is treated with care and respect and restored.

Algonquin PP visitors centre behind the scenes with Rick Stonks showing a mammal skull

Naturalists are wildlife specialists who track and study animals. Every single one of these specimens is used to track the movements throughout the park and area. The primary role of naturalists is to educate the public about the environment. They also maintain the natural environment on land specifically dedicated to wilderness populations. Their primary responsibilities are preserving, restoring, maintaining, and protecting the natural habitat.

Algonquin PP visitors centre behind the scenes with Rick Stonks showing a collection of flora

What To Do At Algonquin Park In Winter

Some of the hiking trails closest to the Algonquin Visitor’s Centre and handy to some of the Algonquin Provincial Park Campsites are Spruce Bog Trail, Beaver Pond Trail, Big Pines Trail and Lookout Trail. If you’re looking for a good place near the Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Centre to launch your canoe, you’re in luck. The Sunday Creek Access Point is in the vicinity. A map of Algonquin Park can be obtained at the Visitor Centre when they are open. Or check at one of the gate offices when they are open.

Algonquin PP Blue Jay visits camp site

Please note that this is not the place to go if you want to rent snowshoes or other equipment. Head to East Gate Gatehouse for those. During the lockdown, these facilities are not available. Before heading into the park, please consult the Ontario Parks website. Be sure to check which facilities are open to the public at this time.

You can read about my experience camping in a Yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park by clicking here. If you would like to read about my favourite hikes on the Barron Canyon Trail with my kids, you can do that by clicking here.

If you aren’t into glamping, or any other Algonquin Provincial Park camping and lodging options, there are some alternative accommodations. Look to try accommodations on the outskirts of Algonquin Provincial Park. Check out some of these accommodation options (this Booking.com site pays me a commission for booking at no charge to you!):



Booking.com

The Friends of Algonquin Provincial Park have an Algonquin Park Wild Bird Live stream on Youtube. If you’d like to see who is at the feeder, check it out there:

If you have been to Algonquin Park in Ontario, you may have been to the Algonquin Park Visitor Centre. It opened in 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Algonquin Provincial Park

Oldest Countries In The World

Having my kids home for virtual school is kind of interesting. It’s fun when I’m not totally stressed about them using my computers, while I am requiring their usage myself. Back in the spring, a random question of “What’s the youngest country in the world?” (click here for that answer), sent us on a research mission that opened a can of knowledge worms. It was cool looking up the answer to that one and so I took on their other thirsty knowledge questions. To the opposite of the younger countries on earth, and by request, now we present the Oldest Countries In The World (by nation’s age, not population).
Beautiful Italian Coast, stock image on wordpress

The Oldest Countries in the World

After all the research we have done off and on over the months, one thing is for certain, it’s almost impossible to get an exact list with dates of confederation or incorporation of some countries. Over the thousands of years, borders have changed, wars fought, islands and peninsulas conquered. Governments, dictators, dynasties and monarchs have come and go. It might be impossible to detect the oldest country in the world on earth on record. This list contains what we know are some of the oldest and ancient countries in the world.

Ethiopia

Most historians will agree on Ethiopia being one of the oldest countries known in the history of the earth. Recorded monarchies appear BC and it’s seemingly a common agreement that the country itself actually developed sometime around 980 BCE. Skeletons and human life have actually been recorded millions of years and kingdoms ago.

An interesting fact about Ethiopia – Ethiopia is the only African country to have never been colonized by European countries. While once occupied by the Italians for a short period in the 1930s, every time they defeated their invaders.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Alessandro (@imbrunare)

Greece

The borders of Greece as we know them today are different from Ancient Greece. Independent from the Ottoman Empire since 1821, and before that conquered by the Byzantine Empire, there’s no question that Greece is one of the oldest nations in the world but has changed hands and the borders have shrunk over time. Ancient Greece was an architect to the modern democratic electoral systems we live by today. Like other ancient civilizations, there are ruins of art, literature and medicine proving that they were indeed an advanced society.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Visit Greece (@visitgreecegr)

Japan

Japan has laid claim to being one of the oldest countries in the history of the world and there isn’t a single soul out there who will dispute it. On record, one of the first Japanese Emperors ascending to the throne was been listed at 660 BCE. References to Japan appear in text from China in 300 BCE. Like other countries, there have been many hands who have ruled over this land, but this country has had staying power.

Egypt

How old is Egypt? What would be your guess?

2000 years old?

Is Egypt 3000 years old?

Egypt is actually older than that. Egypt is more than 6000 years old!

At different points throughout history, what we know as Egypt today was occupied and ruled by the Persians, Nubians, Greeks and Romans. Quite a tumultuous history!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Experience Egypt (@experienceegypt)

 

China

One thing is for sure – China is one of the great cradles of civilization and the country itself has always been united. Well, it hasn’t broken up, so that’s what’s meant by that. China’s first dynasty, the Xia Dynasty is on record from 2070 BCE, making it one of the oldest in history.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by @visitchina

San Marino

San Marino is one of the oldest countries in Europe and the smallest! The founder of the country was escaping Croatia for his beliefs in Christianity and founded the Republic of San Marino around 300 CE. The country is landlocked by Italy and now operates as a microstate. The constitution of San Marino was written in 1600 CE, also making it one of the oldest in the world.

Iran

The Persian Empire – now known as Iran – has been around since before 550 BCE! The current country of Iran has observed it’s current borders for hundreds of years. Iran was known as Persia until the 1930s. There is evidence of civilization in the area all the way back to the Bronze Age and at one time was the biggest empire in ancient history!

France

As a country, France is not as old as some on this list, but France does have a record of being a Kingdom since 481 with the accession of King Clovis. Traces of human life date back to the landmasses that are now France over 1.8 million years. West Francia became the Kingdom of France officially in 987.

Interesting fact – Marseille is actually France’s oldest city. The colony of Massalia (now known as Marseille) on the Mediterranean Sea was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC.

My daughter fell in love with Paris, France after we visited in April 2019. I know for a fact that one day we will be back. Check out some of our adventures here:

Best of Western Europe With Kids – Portugal, Spain and France

Doors of Lisbon, Barcelona and Paris

I personally have been to the Alps as well. Read about where you need to stay if you are in that area:

Club Med Les Arcs Panorama – Summer Fun In The French Alps

Armenia

Although Armenia is part of the former Soviet Republic, it gets a place on the list of the oldest countries on earth. Some of the first mentions of Armenia appear in texts from 600 BCE and is one of the first states to accept the concept of  Christianity. Technically making Armenia over 2600 years old.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Armenia (@armenia)

India

Arguably – I will be including this country, India. The current form of India, with its current borders was founded in 1947. That was when India was finally free from the rule of the British Empire who ruled and robbed the land for a few hundred years. This is where we can argue about whether or not India belongs on this list.

The subcontinent of which India finds itself has been inhabited for an estimated 5,000-6,000 years. The regions developed their own language, culture and religion. It’s the second most populated country in the world and the seventh-largest landmass.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by JACOB RIGLIN (@jacob)

Portugal

Portugal is definitely not as old as a country as Iran or Greece or Ethiopia. What makes Portugal stand out is the stable and unchanging country borders they’ve held since 1139. Meaning Portugal has seen a thousand years of stability.

The capital city of Lisbon is said to be older than Rome, in Italy. Prior to being established as Portugal, and before being on record is officially the oldest country in Europe, the land areas passed through a lot of different colonizers, empires and civilizations.

 

My kids and I visited Portugal in April of 2019. It’s one of their favourite places! Check out our archive of experiences here:

Lisbon Itinerary – How To Do 3 Days Without A Real Plan

Lisbon Castle – Castelo Sao Jorge, A Must See Attraction

Exploring The Marionette Museum In Lisbon – Museu da Marioneta

What About Peru?

The civilization in the area of Peru has definitely been documented over the past couple of thousand years. No argument that the Inca empire, which pre-dates the colonization of Peru is one of the oldest civilizations on earth. But, Peru and other countries in South America were colonized by European countries and did not have the defined borders or governments in place to qualify them areas as countries before that.

machu picchu aerial in peru, one of the oldest countires in the world, also one of the oldest civilizations in the world

Have you been to any of these older countries on the list? Do you have any other suggestions on what the oldest nation in the world could be? Leave a comment below and please let me know.

What are the oldest countries in the world? Which civilizations date back farthest? How old is Egypt? How old is Iran? How old is China? Read on to find out!

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.