I actually get paid to write about my vacation. Since my readers live in Mapleton and Springville Utah the chances of them actually going to Ontario are pretty slim. Oh well, the Travel Tips column often features my travels which means it has to be about places I visit. I try to add humor to keep 'em reading so enjoy an abbreviated version of some travel in south western Ontario, and who knows you may want to go there now!.
Visiting the Frozen North – Ontario Canada
Coldest Summer Since 1816!
We really did holiday in Ontario during the coldest summer since 1816. That’s something to brag about, eh? Yes, there is more than one province (that’s like a state) in that vast northern country across the border worth visiting and you do need a passport now. We spent a week in southwestern Ontario in a 60 degree cloudy drizzle which is actually unusual for the end of July. Often it is hot and humid but this time is was only humid. We were visiting St. Thomas (home of my Canadian ancestors) and Niagara Falls (very near the home of my Canadian sister).
Starting in St. Thomas, halfway between Detroit and Toronto, the big event is Jumbo Days which eases the Canadian culture shock for the American visitor. Like Art City Days or Strawberry Days here in Utah, Jumbo Days celebrates the only thing this little city is famous for. It’s unfortunately the death of a circus elephant in the 1800’s. There is even a dramatic bigger-than-life sized statue to remind everyone that Jumbo the elephant died on the train tracks nearby. What, you didn’t remember this international tragedy from September 15th, 1885? Barnum and Bailey’s circus came to town and ironically Jumbo crashed with a locomotive from the Grand Trunk Railway following the evening performance. There is also the Railway Museum, but that’s pretty much it. Visit the nearby historic village of Sparta which was originally a Quaker settlement and has maintained many of the early 1800’s buildings including a blacksmith shop and a Quaker Meeting House. My grandparents came from the state of Virginia to farm tobacco in this area since the sandy soil and warm humid climate make it the number one cash crop here. Ninety percent of the tobacco grown in Canada is raised in this area called the tobacco belt. I don’t know whether to brag that I come from the tobacco belt of Canada or the town where Jumbo departed this life.
A few miles down the tobacco country road is Aylmer where you can visit the Mennonite market and sales barn on Tuesdays. There are delicious pies and breads baked in wood stoves and the best cheese in North America. You could also pick up a pig or any other livestock you need but remember no meat can go back across the border and I am talking not even a chicken sandwich folks. On the way back to St. Thomas stop and buy a piece of beautiful pottery at the Pinecroft Gallery and eat lunch at the Green Frog Tearoom. Potters Selma Caverly and Jimmy Clennel started the pottery in 1948 in her father’s log cabin surrounded by 85,000 pine seedlings planted back in 1920. Now a 54 acre forest preserve on a serene pond, offers a peaceful break on a warm afternoon. It also has the historical significance of being the pond where I was baptized, so more family history.
Visiting Port Stanley on the north shore of Lake Erie is another highlight for any Ontario trip. After waiting for the historic King George VI Lift Bridge to go down across the road (once every hour for tall sailboats), head to a great sandy beach. There are actually two beaches at Port as we call it. They are creatively named Little Beach and Main Beach. Little beach is the small beach and Main beach is the main beach. Canadians like to keep things clear and simple for American tourists. Ask any Mountie in a red coat on his horse and he can give you directions to the beach but don’t park illegally because remember they always get their man. Ok, the harbour (that’s how it’s spelled in Canadian) is charming and the shallow waves are refreshing, but the most important part of your day is eating home style fries in front of Mackie’s restaurant on the sand. Mackie’s has been on the beach since 1911 and still has the bright royal blue paint with orangeade trim so you can find it every year. Their fries have the best sauce in the world. Forget about that catsup/mayo combo, this sweet tangy fry sauce is fabulous. I’m pretty sure the secret ingredient is a little of their famous orangeade but I cannot find their top secret recipe anywhere online. Mackie’s Orangeade and fries in a big paper cup, brings back those good old days at the beach.
Our excursion to Niagara Falls was this year’s big day trip. In Ontario the natives call it daytripping. You need to be able to speak the language so I am just helping you out. Remember too that everything is in English and French since there are two official languages in Canada which is extra helpful if you happen to speak French. Magnificent Niagara Falls is the most famous tourist attraction in Ontario, after the Jumbo statue of course. It’s true that the Canadian side is better where you have the best view of the huge Horseshoe Falls, which are shaped like a horseshoe. On the American side there are two sets of falls. Bridal Veil Falls which are shaped like a bridal veil, and American Falls which are not shaped like an American. The falls were formed when glaciers receded during the last ice age and carved out a path to the Atlantic Ocean leaving the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls behind. It is the most powerful waterfall in North America and the second largest in the world. With 6 million cubic feet roaring downward each minute over the crest it makes the falls a tourist attraction and a great source of hydroelectric power. You too can learn these facts in the very loud, very large, IMAX theater presentation: “The Falls Movie: Legends and Daredevils”. Apparently only 16 people challenged the falls, 11 have walked across on a tightrope and 22 have gone down the rapids on purpose in barrels. The first person to climb into a barrel and plunge over the falls and live to tell about it was a 63 year old school teacher named Annie Taylor. Why in the world… Seven year old Roger Woodward didn’t go over the falls on purpose wearing only a life jacket but he also survived. Parents, here is a useful bit of advice, watch your kids by the falls. I’m not sure why Niagara Falls also became the honeymoon destination or how romance could possibly tie into daredevil behavior, the generation of electrical power or the wonders of nature, but it’s still one of the top hunnymoon spots.
After Niagara we drove to a section of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Canal and watched a huge Ocean Going Vessel being piloted through the narrow locks. Completed in 1959, the passageway between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Superior is more than 2,000 miles long and includes 15 locks to compensate for the change in levels between the sea and the Great Lakes. We watched the metal doors of the lock close and heard torrents of water being pumped in from below as the huge tanker rose 90 feet in just minutes. We also listened to the sides of the ship scrape painfully up the sides of the metal walls of the lock as it rose. Honestly, it was amazing to witness man’s engineering ingenuity conquer a problem of geography. That ship will definitely need some new red paint along the stern when it gets to port.
Southwestern Ontario is just across the border from Michigan, or you can cross at the Rainbow Bridge by the falls through New York. It’s more than a few climate zones away, more Old Anglo than the rest of Canada and a unique place to visit in the summer. I’m sure my family would love to have you come and stay with them for next year’s Jumbo Days or take you daytripping to the falls.