“There’s lots of great things to do in Ontario in the cities, but I’d like to take you outside the cities to a region that’s called the Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is the easternmost section of Lake Huron. And you can get to Georgian Bay from Toronto in about three or four hours. Georgian Bay is a great region to do a driving tour because it takes you around the lake and there’s all sorts of outdoor activities you can do: hiking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, even snorkeling. You can combine these outdoor activities with all sorts of different cultural experiences. Particularly if you’re interested in aboriginal culture as well as early North American history there’s lots and lots of places to discover around Georgian Bay. If you have about a week, or ideally 10 days, you can start and end in Toronto and make a loop around Georgian Bay.”
Carolyn starts us on the Bruce Peninsula which is the home to two national parks. “One of the things that was really dramatic about that area is that the water in the bay is blue like it is in the Caribbean.” The town of Tobermory at the end of the peninsula provides a good base for exploring the region. From here you can take a ferry to Manitoulin Island when the ferry is running from late Spring to early Fall. One of the two national parks is Fathom Five National Marine Park which is a water-based park that includes several unusual rock formations as well as numerous shipwrecks. Diving and snorkeling trips are run to these wrecks.
Manitoulin Island is a great place to connect with some of the tribes of the First Nations. There is an aboriginal tourism group called The Great Spirit Circle Trail that runs a number of interesting cultural adventures. The most unusual museum on the island may be the small Lillian’s Porcupine Quill Basket Museum.
From Manitoulin Island, you can return to the mainland and Carolyn recommends a stop at the colorful Killarney Provincial Park for some of the wonderful hikes like “The Crack”. “If you are really into serious backpacking Killarney also has a backpacking route that takes about a week.”
In Perry Sound, Carolyn took a floatplane tour of the 30,000 islands in the area. Some of those islands are protected as part of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park.
Near Midland, Ontario she recommends a stop at the Sainte Marie Among the Hurons where Jesuit missionaries built a mission in 1639. They only stayed for 10 years before they were caught in a local war between the Huron (Wyandot) and the Iroquois.
“What surprised me is how beautiful this part of Ontario is. it’s not grand in the way that the Rocky Mountains are grand but there’s definitely lots of beautiful things to see from the blue water of the bay to the pink cliffs at Killarney to the long sandy beaches. You are not really far from Canada’s largest city are there are still all these strikingly beautiful outdoor places to explore.”
Moon Ontario (Moon Handbooks)
Little Current Swing Bridge
Killarney Provincial Park
Georgian Bay Islands National Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Indian Head Cove
Fathom Five National Marine Park
Great Spirit Circle Trail
Ojibwe Cultural Foundation
Church of the Immaculate Conception
The Big Nickel
Killarney Mountain Lodge
Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons
Blue Mountain Resort
Moon Travel Guides
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Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 474. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about national parks, the first nations, and wilderness as we go on a road trip through Ontario.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. And with no further ado let’s hear about Ontario. I’d like to welcome to the show Carolyn Heller who is a travel writer, the author of the Moon Handbooks guide to Ontario and has come to talk to us about a road trip in Ontario. Carolyn, welcome to the show.
Carolyn: Thank you Chris.
Chris: So we’re heading outside of some of the cities that we’ve talked about in Ontario before, we’ve talked about Toronto, we’ve talked about Kingston, and we’ve talked about Ottawa so far. But you’re taking us someplace different, where are you taking us?
Carolyn: That’s right. There’re lots of great places to visit and things to do in Ontario in the cities. But I guess I’d like to take you outside of the cities to a region that’s called Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is the easternmost section of Lake Huron, which is one of the Great Lakes, and you can get to the Georgian Bay from Toronto in about three to four hours, depending on where exactly you start.
Chris: Okay. So we’re going to fly into Toronto and then you’re heading us I believe clockwise around the lake. Where are you taking us?
Carolyn: That’s it.
Chris: Where should we go first?
Carolyn: Georgian Bay is a good region to do a driving tour because it takes you around the lake, and there’re all kinds of outdoor activities that you can do: hiking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, even snorkeling which I can talk about. But what I think is one of the most interesting things about the Georgian Bay region is that you can combine all of these outdoor activities with lots of different cultural experiences. And in particular if you’re interested in Aboriginal culture, as well as early North American history, there’re lots and lots of places to discover along Georgian Bay. So if you have about a week or ideally 10 days, you can start and end in Toronto and make a loop around Georgian Bay.
Chris: When we say a loop, I think we want to put this in a little bit of perspective, as I look at Georgian Bay on the map, it’s somewhere more than 80 miles in length and Lake Huron itself more than a 100 miles long. So we’re not talking about a small bay in a small lake and I’m not sure that everybody has that in their mind.
Carolyn: Yeah. It’s a big bay that’s part of a really big lake, part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. Yeah. So this isn’t just a little quick drive around the lake, you really do need at least a week or ideally 9 or 10 days in order to do a full loop around the bay. And it’s a combination of a driving trip and involves a ferry as well. So I would start in the region that’s called the Bruce Peninsula, which is about three and a half to four hour drive from Toronto. And on the Bruce Peninsula there are two national parks that you can explore both on the land and on the water. From there I would catch the ferry that goes across to Manitoulin Island, which is the largest freshwater island in the world. The Manitoulin area is also home to eight of Canada’s First Nations Aboriginal people, and so there’re lots of interesting Aboriginal activities that you can do there.
From Manitoulin, you can drive back across to the mainland, and you cross an old-fashioned swing bridge on the northeast corner of the island. It’s kind of like a drawbridge except that it swings sideways instead of lifting up. And so it takes you back onto the mainland side and from there I would go to a provincial park that’s called Killarney Provincial Park which I think it has to be one of Ontario’s most beautiful destinations, especially if you’re into hiking and canoeing. After Killarney you can continue your circle around so you would turn south towards Toronto and I’d make a stop in the town of Parry Sound. And what’s interesting about Parry Sound is that the part of Georgian Bay that’s right near that town is known for having 30,000 islands. So if you thought that there were a lot of islands in the Thousand Islands, here there are thousands and thousands more. And I could talk a little bit more about how to explore some of those islands. Some of those 30,000 islands are actually protected as part of a national park, the Georgian Bay Islands National Park and that makes another really beautiful stopover. The park has these great little cabins where you can stay and you can go hiking and swimming around the island. And it’s also close to the town of Midland, which is another stop that has some interesting historic sites that you can visit on your way back to Toronto. So that’s the loop that circles the bay.
Chris: Okay, well thank you for coming, and we can do that in a little more detail actually.
Carolyn: Of course.
Chris: So we started up in the Bruce Peninsula.
Carolyn: That’s right, that’s right. And on the Bruce Peninsula . . . as I mentioned there are two national parks. One is called the Bruce Peninsula National Park. One of the things that I loved about that park is that there are a couple of fairly easy hiking trails which go out to the bay, and in particular there’s a place that’s called Indian Head Cove which is adjacent to another spot called The Grotto. And one of the things that was really dramatic about that area is that the water in the bay is blue, like it is in the Caribbean. And it’s really not what you would expect that far north. And Indian Head Cove is a little cove that’s surrounded by interesting rock formations and this just really super blue water. And next to it, The Grotto is this area that has kind of a cave that you can go into, it’s sort of carved out from the water. And it’s just a really unusual kind of rock formation. It’s an easy walk, it takes less than an hour and it’s a really easy trail. So it’s a good starting point.
Chris: Now, is there a place that you’re going to that we stay in this area while we’re here?
Carolyn: The town that’s closest to the Bruce Peninsula National Park is actually on the very end of the peninsula and the town is called Tobermory. There’re lots of little inns and bed and breakfasts around the harbor in Tobermory and it’s a good base for exploring the region. If you are into camping, the national park, the Bruce Peninsula National Park has a couple of different camp grounds, so that’s an option.
Chris: When you mention camping, that begs the question of when is the best time of year to do this loop?
Carolyn: The best time to do it is the summer or the fall. The ferry that goes across to Manitoulin Island, which we’ll talk about a little bit more, is a seasonal ferry and it starts running I believe usually in the middle of May, and ends around the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, which is the same as Columbus Day in the US in the middle of October. So in order to do the loop involving the ferry, you have to go from late spring through early fall.
Chris: So Manitoulin Island is much more remote in the winter or the spring that it is in the summer?
Carolyn: Absolutely, absolutely because the ferry doesn’t run. You can’t drive on to the island but it’s much farther like if you were coming from Toronto or anywhere in the southern area. It’s much, much farther to go all the way around by road. So yeah, it is much easier to do in the spring through the fall. My favorite time of year I think would be September, or the beginning of October when the leaves are all starting to turn and it’s beautiful, beautiful fall color. And it’s just a little less crowded. It’s a popular region to explore in the summertime, and in September after the kids go back to school if you are able to travel then, that’s a great time to visit both for the weather, and just because it’s a much more peaceful time.
Chris: And is there a time to avoid black fly heat season or something like that?
Carolyn: I guess the bugs tend to be worse earlier in the season. I was there last year in July and I would say in general the bugs were not terrible. There are definitely mosquitoes, but no black flies or anything nasty like that. Yeah, I guess I would say any time from July through early October would be comfortable. But the fall is my favorite time.
Chris: Excellent. Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor who is me. We’ve got another sponsor coming in about a month, but until then I want to mention the new video course that I’ve done. If you want to create your own blog, it doesn’t have to be a travel blog, you can take a new video course and listeners of the show can get half off by going to amateurtraveler.com/begin. You never know where your online presence can lead you. It can be good for your business, or can give you interesting opportunities as this show has done for me. amateurtraveler.com/begin for the beginning blogging with WordPress course. Check it out.
You had us in Tobermory.
Carolyn: So from Tobermory, there is another national park. It’s actually a marine park. It’s called Fathom Five National Marine Park and essentially it’s a water-based National Park that encompasses a number of off-shore islands just off the coast from Tobermory. And in particular one of the islands is called Flowerpot Island because there are several of these really unusual, tall rock formations that are shaped like gigantic flowerpots. You can stand next to them and it’s like standing next to a rock tower. And they’re unusual because they’re wider at the top than they are at the bottom, in the same way that a flower pot is. I think it has to do with the erosion, the way the water has eroded the rocks and so it’s just an interesting unusual rock formations to see.
But the other thing that I did in that area that I thought was really cool was, I did a snorkeling excursion and like many of the Great Lakes where the weather can be kind of changeable, the area of the Bruce Peninsula has a lot of ship wrecks and there are a number of dive shops that if you’re a diver you can go diving for the ship wrecks. But even if you don’t dive you can do a snorkeling excursion where you go out in a boat and then you swim right over a number of surprisingly intact ships, some that date back more than 100 years. So it’s like seeing this kind of what you would maybe imagine as like a wrecked pirate ship. And one of them really is, I mean almost the whole ship is completely intact. Even snorkeling without diving down to the ship you can see it very, very clearly.
Chris: And that’s something we can arrange out of Tobermory and we don’t need to do that ahead of time?
Carolyn: No, no. There’re several different dive shops in Tobermory that run that type of trip and it’s the sort of thing that you can do in part of a day. You’re not going very far offshore. I can’t remember I think my trip was probably about three or four hours and we went to a couple of different sites to snorkel. I thought it would be freezing even though I went in July, but you’re suited up in really warm wet suites. We actually wore two wet suits, one on top of another, with hoods and gloves and boots. So even though the water is really cold, you stay pretty toasty.
Chris: And would we also get a boat to go see the Fathom Five National Marine Park from Tobermory then?
Carolyn: Yes, exactly. The park service works with a couple of local boat operators that run little shuttle boats across to Flowerpot Island and then they run trips frequently throughout the day. And the only thing you want to be careful of is that you don’t miss the last boat back. There is a little campground on Flowerpot Island, so if you are prepared you can camp on the island. It’s pretty rustic though, there is no running water or anything, so you shouldn’t get stranded there, you should bring what you need if you’re intending to camp.
Chris: Well, at least you’re surrounded by a freshwater lake.
Carolyn: That’s right.
Chris: Excellent. Where to next?
Carolyn: Well from the Bruce Peninsula, from Tobermory, you can catch the ferry that goes across to Manitoulin Island and the ferries run several times a day, from spring through fall, as we were talking about. And it takes a couple of hours and in on Manitoulin Island there is an Aboriginal tourism group called the Great Spirit Circle Trail and it’s an organization that runs lots of interesting cultural adventures. One of the activities that I did on the island through the Great Spirit Circle Trail was hike with a First Nations guide and we picked up a trail called The Cup and Saucer trail where there’s a lookout at the top that has great views all across the island. But what was especially interesting to me was that along the way our guide talked about the native plants that we were seeing, and how they are used in traditional Aboriginal cooking and for natural medicine. And when we got up to the summit, our guide had brought a snack for us of bannock, which is a kind of a traditional biscuit and he brought jam to have with it, and it was a good refreshment as we looked out across from the top of the rock across the island munching on our bannock.
Chris: And you mentioned that the island was the largest freshwater island which I had not heard of and I was just trying to estimate how long it is. It’s not quite the size of Long Island but it’s pretty darn long.
Carolyn: Yes. It is very long and the roads on that island are really kind of meandering and not superfast. So it does take a good chunk of a day if you want to drive from one end of the island to another.
Chris: Well I was noticing, it even has lakes on the island that look like they’re roughly 12 miles long.
Carolyn: Yeah, yeah. It’s really big. The whole island measures over a thousand square miles or over 2700 square kilometers, so it’s a big island. It’s a big island when you can drive from one end to the other. Like you could do a circle of the island in a day, but it wouldn’t be very relaxing. You’d really want to spend at least a couple of days if you wanted to really explore the whole island.
Chris: Any other places that you would recommend to stay or to stop?
Carolyn: Yeah. There’re a couple of different things, kind of in the east central part of the island which is near where the Great Spirit Circle Trail is based, near a community which is pronounced something like the shgang, it’s actually spelled with an M, M’-C-H-I-G-E-E-N-G and the M is silent. So in that area around the Great Spirit Circle Trail office, there’s a museum called Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and Museum that usually has exhibits about the local First Nations or the history of the region, or sometimes they have art exhibits, contemporary Aboriginal art.
Across the street from the museum there’s an interesting church that’s called the Immaculate Conception Church and what’s unique about that church is it mixes the Catholic traditions with First Nations traditions. It’s a round structure. The roof is cone shaped, almost like a teepee, and it the door is painted really bright colors, it’s like a bright blue door with a yellow sun that also has a cross in the middle of it. So again, it mixes the Catholic and the Aboriginal religious symbols. And again you can peek in the church and often there’s a caretaker there who’ll tell you a little bit about it. Not too far from there, there’s a little shop. It’s part shop and part gallery and it’s called Lillian’s Porcupine Quill Basket Museum. [inaudible 00:17:45] Okay, so I . . .
Chris: Among the items that I think I don’t really want to be weaving with are porcupine quills but. . .
Carolyn: Right, right, you would think but that is a traditional First Nations crafts, is weaving with porcupine quills, and they have just the most amazingly intricate baskets and other pieces that are woven from these quills of the porcupine, and they’re very colorful. They’re not just like tourist trinkets; they’re actually very expensive because they’re very, very labor intensive. They do sell little souvenirs and things like that, but they actually have a museum of some of these really, really intricate porcupine quill baskets and boxes. Apparently, it’s art that not a lot of people do anymore, it’s very, very labor intensive.
Chris: I can imagine why.
Carolyn: Exactly. And I don’t know exactly how they get the porcupine quills, but the baskets are really, really beautiful and it’s definitely worth a stop at Lillian’s to see some of that.
Chris: Let’s just say I think it’s unlikely we’re going to see porcupines running around without all their quills on.
Carolyn: That’s right. Manitoulin also has some really nice beaches. The one that I think is the most beautiful is on the southern end of the island and it’s called Providence Bay Beach. It’s right along Lake Huron, and it’s just a really soft sand beach and there’s a boardwalk that goes along the edge of the beach. And it’s a nice place to just take a break and sit in the sand, or take a walk and rest up from all your other adventures.
Chris: Excellent. And where do we go after Manitoulin Island?
Carolyn: From Manitoulin, I would go back to the mainland, and the destination I would pick next is Killarney Provincial Park. And one of the things – Killarney covers a big area and some of the regions of the park are really different and one section that’s right along the bay has these really unusual pink rocks and like boulders really and there’s a trail that goes out to the water that crosses along these pink cliffs. And especially if it’s a sunny day, the color of the cliffs is just really dramatic, the sun reflects off the kind of pink rock and it’s just really, really beautiful. And that’s a fairly short hike to hike out to where the cliffs are. It takes two to three hours maybe, depending on how quickly you go, and how much time you spend just sitting on the rocks overlooking the shore once you get out there.
Killarney also has another very . . . more adventurous let’s say, a more adventurous day hike that is known as The Crack. It’s not called that because of any kind of a drug connection, but . . .
Chris: I would assume with the name Killarney that the crack would have to do with the other kind of crack; the Irish kind of crack.
Carolyn: No, no. I think it gets its name because as you approach the summit, the trail gets really, really narrow and you have to squeeze in between these high rock walls, like you’re going through a crack in the rocks. So most of the trail isn’t too bad but there is this section at the top where you have to squeeze yourself through the rocks. But the views at the top are really worth it. You’d look out really all across the park land, across the forests, across a lot of the cliffs and it’s a really beautiful, beautiful hike.
If you’re really into serious backpacking, Killarney also has a backpacking route that takes about a week through the park. So it’s a great place if you’re into a longer adventure. But it also just has a lot of day hikes like I’ve been talking about and so it’s a good place to just be outside. There’s a pretty lake in the park too called George Lake and it’s a good place to do canoeing, they rent canoes in the summertime, and you can just do a little paddle out on the lake.
Chris: Now, while we were saying this since I don’t know this region nearly as well as you do since I’ve never been there, I am trying to see where this is on the map as far as I can tell, Google Maps doesn’t think you can really get from the island that we’re on, Manitoulin Island, to Killarney, without going into great, big wide circle.
Carolyn: Well, you are making a circle, there isn’t a very direct way to go. So when you come off the island, you do have to circle around to the north almost up to the city of Sudbury, and then . . .
Chris: Okay, that’s what I was seeing.
Carolyn: [inaudible 00:22:32] to the South Highway 69 is the road that then goes south towards Killarney. And then from there you have to pick up Highway 637 which goes out to the point where the town of Killarney and the provincial park are. So in a boat, you could get a…
Chris: [inaudible 00:22:55]
Carolyn: There’s no commercial ferry service or anything like that that can take you between the island and the mainland there. So it is a bit of a drive circling . . .
Chris: It looks like from your drawbridge, from your swing bridge that it’s something like 20 miles or 230 kilometers by road. By air it’s about 20 miles.
Carolyn: Oh, okay.
Chris: Yeah, sorry.
Carolyn: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: As long as we’re doing that big circle route here, are there other places that we should stop along the way?
Carolyn: The biggest city along that route is the city of Sudbury, which is primarily industrial city, there’s a big mining industry there, but there are a couple of interesting reasons to stop in Sudbury. They have a great science museum called Science North. So if you’re traveling with kids, that would definitely make a really good stopover. And there’s also another museum in the Sudbury area called the Big Nickel.
Chris: The Big Nickel.
Carolyn: Yeah. It’s a mining museum, and so it tells you about the region’s mining . . . it’s a little bit of a detour off the highway into Sudbury, but that would be a place where there’re a couple things like that that you want to do, or it’s a place you could stop and get something to eat if you want to break up the trip. So where to stay in Killarney? The park itself is just a short distance from – there’s a small village of Killarney. So you have a couple of options. Again, if you want to camp, you can camp in the provincial park. If you’d rather stay at an inn or bed and breakfast in the town of Killarney, there are several places to stay. One of the places that I liked was called the Killarney Mountain Lodge, and it’s really like an old-fashioned summer camp kind of a place, that has these sort of old-time cabins and a great old dining room where you can take some or all of your meals and it’s been run by the same family I think for decades. And it’s definitely not fancy but it’s the nicest place to stay in the Killarney area. And you feel like you’re going back in time a little bit.
Chris: This may be a foolish question, but is there anything that I as an American should know in terms of tips for camping in Canada? I’m assuming it’s exactly the same experience but are there passes that I should be aware of? Or is there anything about the provincial parks that you would remind our listeners?
Carolyn: Well, I don’t think there’s anything that would be significantly different that you need to know than if you were camping anywhere else. You do need to buy a pass to the provincial parks, or admission into the national parks and there’re a couple of different alternatives. There are day passes, there are seasonal passes, there are other different options. And then usually there is a fee for camping as well, depending on whether you’re a tent camper, or whether you are RV with electricity, but I don’t think it’s significantly different than what you’d do if you were camping in the US.
Carolyn: So from Killarney I would keep going south, and I would stop in a small town called Parry Sound. And one of the things that I did when I was in Parry Sound was I took a float plane tour over the 30,000 islands, which was a very cool way to get the lay of the land. And you can tell that there’s a lot of islands from . . . if you’re in a boat, and there’re places you can take island cruises, and even from some points in the shore you can see a lot of the offshore islands, but you could really get the idea of how many islands there are when you see them from the air. And there’s a company in Parry Sound that runs short float plane trip so it’s a great way to see it. And if you are there for any kind of special occasion, they told me that they’ve done all kinds of special things. Like they’ve had people propose in their float planes, they do sunset flights and champagne flights, and stuff like that so you can make it be a really special thing. Or you can just say I just want to go out and see the islands and that’s pretty cool too.
Chris: Very cool.
Carolyn: From there you’re still working your way back south towards Toronto, and I guess the next place that I would stop would be Georgian Bay Islands National Park. We were talking about the 30,000 islands and some of those islands are protected as part of a national park and in particular one of the islands called Beausoleil Island, which has most of the park facilities. And there are campgrounds on the island and you can go for a day, the Park Service runs a boat that’s actually called the Day Tripper that will take you over to the island for the day. They have some cabins that they put in not too long ago on one side of the island in an area called Christian Beach. And they are just these really beautiful remote wood cabins, they’re pretty rustic, but the park service brings you water and then there are composting toilets nearby. And then there are showers in the main campground. But the cabins themselves are just really pretty, they’re overlooking the water, and it’s just a really, really peaceful place.
And you can do lots of different hiking on the island. You can go swimming, the park also rents mountain bikes. I’m not any kind of pro mountain biker, but there are paths that are . . .
Chris: Now that you’re anti-mountain biking but . . .
Carolyn: No, no, no. But I’m not any professional mountain biker I guess is what I mean to say. But I took one of the bikes and I did a little tour of the island, and it’s a kind of combination of dirt and gravel path. So you don’t need any particular mountain biking skills in order to explore the island that way. And it’s just yet another way of experiencing the bay and the beach and around the bay.
Chris: Excellent. And then we’re almost done with our circle here, you had one more stop though.
Carolyn: The last place I’d stop would be in the town of Midland, and one of the reasons that I would stop there is for an interesting historic site that is called Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and it’s a historic village on the site of the first European settlement in Ontario. And there’s an interesting story behind the settlement. In 1639, a group of Jesuit missionaries came over from France, and they ended up in what is now the area around Midland, Ontario. And they began building a village and their objective was to bring Christianity to the local First Nations people, the Wendat people who they called the Hurons, so that’s where Huron name came from.
Chris: I always assumed that was what they called themselves, but this is . . .
Carolyn: No. Apparently not, apparently not. So the Jesuits were there for about 10 years working with the Huron people, and they built a village, they built a school. Then the missionaries essentially got caught in a war between the Huron and the Iroquois.
Chris: Oh, did they go that far north?
Carolyn: Yeah. And two of the priests were killed rather dramatically. And so after 10 years, the Jesuits abandoned the settlement and before they left they burned the whole thing to the ground apparently, to prevent the site from being desecrated. So there’s now a historic village on the site that’s kind of a recreation or what the tour guide that I toured the village with called really re-imagination of the original village. And the reason why he called it that was because the Jesuits didn’t leave any written records of what the community actually looked like. So historians can really only guess. But if you are into history you can easily spend several hours exploring, because now they’ve rebuilt the village in sort of several different sections and they have staff who essentially reenact the roles of different residents who were there: the Jesuits, the Hurons, traders, teachers, and they show you things like how they managed to bring supplies by canoe more than 800 miles across the wilderness from Quebec.
And they were also First Nations people as well who will demonstrate things about their traditions. And there was a guy who did an interesting fire starting technique that I watched and things like that. So if you’re into history, I would definitely stop off in Midland on your way back to Toronto.
Chris: Excellent. A couple of overall questions. I’ve been to Toronto, so I’ve been nearby here. But obviously Toronto is a very different, very urban area, a lot of Canada’s population being in Toronto now. What’s going to surprise be when I get out into this area?
Carolyn: Well I think what surprised me the most was how beautiful this part of Ontario is. I live in British Columbia, which I have to say has to be one of Canada’s most spectacular [inaudible 00:32:35] but I was still blown away by the scenery around Georgian Bay. It’s not grand in the way that the Rocky Mountains are grand, but on a smaller, more compact scale there’re definitely lots of beautiful things to see: from the blue water of the bay, to the pink cliffs at Killarney to the long sandy beaches like Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island, and you’re really not very far from Canada’s largest city, and there’s still all of these really strikingly beautiful outdoor places to explore.
Chris: And if I was mean enough to suggest you pick your favorite spot in terms of the most beautiful spot in this whole loop you’ve done.
Carolyn: That would be real hard.
Chris: Which I would just be that mean.
Carolyn: I guess I would have to say it’s a tossup between the Bruce Peninsula, especially The National Park area and Killarney. So in terms of natural beauty, I would pick those two places.
Chris: And in the Bruce Peninsula you had two different spots you mentioned. One was the Flowerpot Islands and the other one was the blue, blue water of the north of the Peninsula.
Carolyn: That’s right. But I have to say I’m also partial to Manitoulin Island just because of the interesting Aboriginal culture and the different ways that you can explore that culture. Some of the things the Great Spirit Circle Trail, the Aboriginal tourism organization on the island does are – you can do hikes like I did but they also have other kinds of activities. You can sleep in a teepee, or one of the things that I did was I stayed in a cabin and that was part of a First Nations reserve. They also do different types of activities, sometimes they’ll have music or drumming workshops. They do traditional cooking workshops, they’ll organize canoe trips, horseback riding, all different ways of exploring the area’s Aboriginal culture.
Chris: We often ask the guest what do the guidebooks recommend that you would say pass on, but you wrote the guidebook. So that’s probably not a good question, but were there any suggestions that people had of things you should do that may not have made it in the guidebook because they really weren’t that quite as interesting as they were pitched to you?
Carolyn: Well, I guess . . . maybe let me answer that question a different way, because there was something I did that I think a lot of tourists don’t do, and that aren’t in a lot of the guidebooks. Although I have to say I put it in my book because I thought that it was a great thing. On the Bruce Peninsula I spent a really fun evening with a couple named Paul Conway and Leslie Robins Conway, and they run essentially a dinner theater in their house. And they call it Voyager Storytelling and they offer what they call Country Supper Storytelling Concerts. So you go over to their house, and they feed you this big family style home cooked meal, and then you move from the big dining room table into the living room, and they do an original performance that combines theater, storytelling, and music. And every year they do one or two different shows and it’s always different than it is the previous year. Even though this year 2015, it’s their 14th season they’ve been doing this, but I don’t think it’s on a lot of tourist’s radar.
But it was a great evening, and it was just a tremendous amount of fun. They’re great hosts and corky performers and it’s not something that I think you can do every day.
Chris: Excellent. Of course, that was a completely different answer for a different question. I think there’s a future for you in politics, but it was a great answer. Any warnings you would give? Something that people need to know before they take off and follow in your footsteps here?
Carolyn: You did ask was there anything particular that people need to know about entering Canada, and I guess the only thing I would say is that you do need a passport. Coming from the US you, you need a passport and from certain other countries you need both a passport and a visa. So definitely check that before you go. Other than that, I think the only thing that I might caution is against trying to do the trip in too little time, because there really is a lot to see and you’re covering a lot of area, and you don’t want to spend your whole time in the car, you really want to have enough time to get out and go hiking…
Chris: It doesn’t look like you’re going to get lost, because there really aren’t that many roads up in this region.
Carolyn: Exactly. It’s not really very difficult to find your way.
Chris: But for that same reason it looks like we’re going to be doing a fair amount of backtracking and things like that. As we’re coming from Killarney for instance, you said we go south, well we really go north because we can’t go south and all of those sorts of things. It’s going to take a little longer for that reason.
Carolyn: Yeah. It’s definitely not like a super direct driving kind of route.
Chris: So enjoy the journey.
Carolyn: That’s right. Absolutely.
Chris: Excellent. Anything else we should know before we get to say our last four questions?
Carolyn: If I were talking about food, I would have to start with dessert and that is . . .
Chris: I like your thinking here.
Carolyn: There is an Ontario specialty that you find all around Georgian Bay, and it is a dessert called butter tarts and until I moved to Canada, I did not know what butter tarts were. And they are not pies that are full of butter. They’re really more like little, individual size pecan pie, although they’re not always made with nuts, they can be, but they are that kind of sugary, buttery, dark custard almost, like you would find inside of an American pecan pie.
Chris: As sweet as a pecan pie?
Carolyn: Oh yeah, oh yeah. They’re gooey and they are really sweet, and they are addictive. And there’s one place I stopped for butter tarts that actually warns you not to eat them in your car while you’re trying to drive because they’re terribly messy and I did not heed that warning and I can tell you, you should not eat butter tarts in your car.
Chris: So if we’re going to eat the butter tarts, we really have to be doing the hikes is really what you’re saying.
Carolyn: Absolutely, or at least to pull over by the beach or by the shore. And . . .
Chris: I was just thinking in terms of calories, but . . .
Carolyn: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, that too, that too.
Chris: Are there other regional specialties that we should try?
Carolyn: Well, there are fish that come from the Great Lakes, perch and pickerel are the local fish that you see most often. And otherwise I guess I would just look for whatever fruits and vegetables are local and in season. In the summertime you get fresh blueberries, fresh blackberries, and things like that.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Ontario.”
Carolyn: I’m not sure this is an only in Ontario thing but it was a first for me. In the Georgian Bay region near the town of Collingwood, at the southern end of Georgian Bay, there is a mountain community called the Blue Mountain Resort, which is a ski hill in the wintertime. And in the summer they have all kinds of outdoor adventures. So it’s a place that if you were traveling with kids, it would be a great place to go. And they have this roller coaster-like ride that’s called the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster which takes you down the mountain; although I have to say that I was too chicken to try it out. But they do have zip lines and rock climbing, and hiking, and they have two different ropes courses, including one that with a low ropes course. And that was my first time doing any kind of a ropes adventure, and it was tame enough even for me. So that’s definitely not an only in Ontario thing, but it was something that I got to try for the first time. That was a cool little adventure.
Chris: Okay, one thing that I forgot to ask is when we talked about timing, any particular holidays or festivals that we might want to time our trip so that we’re either there at that time or not there at that time?
Carolyn: Well, on Manitoulin Island, a number of the first nations hold pau waus throughout the summer and they are open to the public. I’m going back to Ontario this month and I’m hoping to go to one of the pau waus on Manitoulin. So they’re usually weekend long events that include music, dancing, food, and a big fair and they’re open to the public. So I might try to time my Manitoulin visit around the pau waus schedule. The Great Spirit Circle Trail on their website has a calendar of events that includes the schedule of the pau waus throughout the year. And most of them are during the summertime.
Chris: Yeah, I would assume in this region a lot of the festivals are going to be in the summer.
Chris: Finish this sentence – “You really know you’re somewhere near Georgian Bay when,” what?
Carolyn: When the idea of going indoors just seems crazy.
Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize this drive that you have laid out for us in three words, what three words would you use?
Carolyn: Great outdoor adventure.
Chris: Excellent. Well, you may have just given us the title for the trip. And Carolyn, are there other places that people can read more about your writing?
Carolyn: They can find me on my website, which is C-B-heller.com. It’s just actually my first and middle initial and my last name. You can also read more about my book Moon Ontario at my publisher’s website, and that is moon.com, M-O-O-N.com.
Chris: Excellent. Well Carolyn, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing with us your love of Ontario.
Carolyn: Okay, thank you very much.
Chris: In News of the Community I want to acknowledge some of the recent reviews that we’ve had in the iTunes Store. I did get one three star review that “the host breathes way too much into his mic and the sound quality is pretty amateur but I guess that it’s fitting.” Well you should have heard it 10 years ago before we did the editing. But I had four five star reviews. Raham Brand [SP] said, “I really love this travel podcast. I cannot wait for the next one come out. Each time Chris does an outstanding job and great guests, good tips.” Mekleena [SP] said, “I travel quite a bit for work and love to get off the beaten path as much as possible. Thanks for the inspiration.” You are welcome. Tabitha says, “Listening to this podcast always makes me want to travel more.” Well that is my hope. And Puggy [SP] Chuck says, “Personally, not many of the podcasts are destinations that greatly appeal to me, but in those that do Chris’s interviews often bring out some real gems about those possible travel spots. When I hear an enhanced podcast the accompanying photos make the trips much more vivid and enjoyable. I appreciate the time and effort that Chris takes to do both the podcast and add the visuals for us. I’ve now got more destinations of the world to explore thanks to Chris.” You are welcome and I hope you do.
Actually I don’t think I read the one from Latima28 that was also a five star review. “Great podcast. Features large and small destinations around the world with people who obviously love the destination they are describing. Chris is an intelligent, engaging host, seems like a really great guy.” Thanks. The only thing you were missing was ruggedly handsome.
With that, we’ll end this episode of Amateur Traveler. If you have any feedback, feel free to leave a review as these people did on your favorite podcasting app. You can also send me a comment via email host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You could follow me on Pinterest, Instagram @Chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.