The August long weekend was upon us. Once all the fun and frivolity with my children’s friends ended, we struck out on the Civic Holiday to explore Thunder Beach and environs. I had never been there before and had only just heard of it in the past few years when my brother bought a house fronting the bay. Initially registering Thunder Bay, which is more than 13 hours away, I was happy when he clarified it was the beach, not the bay where he had settled. Thunder Beach likely secured its name due to the ferocity and intensity of the storms that come into the bay.
Thunder Beach is a community of just over 300 owners surrounding and fronting on the bay. My brother and his family have been enjoying the community for the past few years and have remarked on how sociable, safe and friendly it is. There are no hotels, inns or suites for rent on the beach anymore because everything is privately owned, so unless you know someone with a cottage on the bay, you may have never heard of it. My friend Kevin and his wife Sally had invited me to their cottage in Penetanguishene a few years back and it turns out their cottage is actually a few doors down from my brother’s cottage. Small world. Thunder Beach is the northernmost part of Tiny Township, the township having a population of about 12,000. Thunder Beach revels in its community events. They hold an annual concert and an annual Lobsterfest. This year they also had an art exhibition. Everything is centered around family and friends. Adults are encouraged to compete in tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball tournaments throughout the summer months. Children attend camp and play baseball, flag football and run cross country.
Setting off from Toronto at 10 am, we encountered some traffic heading north. Highway 400 generally runs well but once you duck off at Bayfield onto Highway 26 turning into 27, you slow down significantly. Although the posted speed limit is 80 km per hour, most folks go a little slower than that. Hence it is a true country drive from Barrie to the Beach.
Arriving around 12:30 pm, we immediately boarded my brother’s speed boat and went zipping around the bay, exploring the coastline, engaging in wakeboarding, and surfing off the back. My eldest daughter is great at wakeboarding and my eldest son gave it a go. After face planting twice, he was able to keep himself up the third time around and enjoy a nice tour around the bay. My niece surfed behind the boat, and everyone jumped in the water at one point or other and swam to shore. The beach is shallow and sandy a fair way out.
We ate cheeseburgers from the Friendly Corner Store and Restaurant. We were starving and the grub hit the spot. We then swam in the water and played in the sand in front of their cottage for a few hours. My youngest daughter drew the beachscape. My two boys went golfing with my brother at the local privately owned five-hole course, which they thoroughly enjoyed. As afternoon turned into evening, we played football in the water and swam to the buoy and back. The water was crisp, temperate and clear, making for an incredibly enjoyable beachfront experience.
Heading home, we stopped in at Wasaga Beach. Wasaga Beach is the longest freshwater beach in the world, stretching 14 kilometers over six beach zones. It is remarkable how rich Ontario is with its many lakes and rivers...over a quarter of a million of them. The water itself is beautiful and there are many sandbars as you wade out. Sunbathing and beach volleyball are popular. Always jammed on long weekends, we caught the tail end of the crowd. Although Wasaga Beach only has a permanent population of approximately 25,000, over 2 million people visit the beach each summer.
Although the sand is smooth and silky, the downtown strip is seedy and squalid. A massive fire wreaked havoc in 2007 and the town has been trying to rebuild without success ever since. There is a casino under construction. The cottages at either end are lovely; the town itself is not. The cottages are not located on the beach but instead sit on narrow lots fronting the streets between the homes and the water. The beach itself is owned by Ontario Parks and is protected. There are over 50 kilometers of hiking trails that can be accessed summer and winter, along with the Nottawasaga River for canoeing and fishing.
We left the beach strip behind and played mini putt at Wasaga 500 on our way out of town, where one of the boys’ hockey friends worked the go-carts. Thereafter we decided to split. En route home and in need of food, we hit Kelsey’s on Bayfield Street in Barrie. The meal was delicious for a late-night dinner. We had broccoli cheddar soup, potato skins, quesadillas, chicken fingers, and Caesar salad, all of which were tasty. We then rolled home with full bellies and sun kissed skin. It was a good northern day trip and a wonderful end to the August long weekend.
My girls and I were traveling from Sudbury to Bracebridge last Sunday and felt like an adventure. The north is vast, rugged and beautiful. The air is clean; the sky is blue; and the national parks are plentiful. Hence there are always plenty of activities to satisfy the desire for a new experience. We were in my truck with the windows down and the music turned up loud. The girls were singing. The weather was warm and dry. It was wonderful.
My girlfriend Amy mentioned to me how fondly she remembered spending time at The French River Trading Post as a young girl. We had never been so that was our first stop. The French River Trading Post is 45 minutes south of Sudbury on Highway 69. We pulled in famished and the Hungry Bear Restaurant fit the bill. We ordered a toasted ham and cheese sandwich; a toasted BLT; a Caesar salad; and poutine. Everything was tasty and fresh. The staff was friendly with a sense of humour. We did not have to wait long.
We then wandered over to the gift shop. It is vast, encompassing about 15,000 SF, and has such an interesting array of Canadiana. There were moccasins; indigenous art; blankets; bush hats; pajamas; branded clothing of all kinds; rings; bracelets; earrings; wallets; inlaid wooden boxes; rabbit’s feet and pelts; themed playing cards; and tea sets. There was something for everyone. My youngest purchased an inlaid wooden box with a wolf carved on the front along with a lucky rabbit’s foot that she put inside…predator and prey she explained. My eldest daughter bought two rings and a crystal Suncatcher. We bought half a pound each of maple and vanilla fudge along with some chocolate maple cookies. It was delightful. Before we left, my youngest ordered bubble gum and orange peach ice cream for the road. They must have given her a full pint!
Next on our agenda was Killbear Provincial Park in Parry Sound. We drove just over an hour south to arrive at this immensely busy park. There are over 1,000 campsites in seven different camps, most of them a mere 5 minute walk from the lake, and most were occupied. The park sits on Georgian Bay so the water is clear and cold. We wandered down to the shore at Beaver Dams and admired the sand and surf. Lots of activity but not crowded. There was enough space to spread out and move around comfortably. There are signs posted everywhere warning you are now in Bear Country although we did not encounter any bears. We will return to hike to Lookout Point someday soon. The park is vast and lovely.
Rolling from Killbear we headed southeast 45 minutes to Rosseau. We ended up at Crossroads Restaurant up on the hill overlooking Lake Rosseau. It is a special place, with both indoor and outdoor dining in the natural environment of Muskoka with lots of surrounding flowers and greenery. There is a large gravel parking lot right next door serving the restaurant. The menu is fresh and upscale and the restaurant is lavish, albeit a little pretentious - they have open perfume bottles in the women’s bathroom. On Sunday they were offering homemade focaccia bread, chilled cucumber soup, hand-cut fries and vegetable spring rolls. If that didn’t strike your fancy, there was chicken liver parfait, steamed PEI mussels, tuna tartare and oysters. On to the main courses, featuring a vegan ratatouille, a hand cut pappardelle, oven roasted chicken supreme and Georgian Bay pickerel. Nova Scotia scallops and black tiger shrimp were also on offer along with grilled beef tenderloin, grilled milk-fed veal chop and Chef Richard’s signature cut. Their two salads were either their own Caesar or an Artisanal Green. I did not enquire about dessert.
Our final destination of the night was Maple Lane Farms in Bracebridge, a 40 minute drive. There we met up with Amy and brushed, tacked, saddled up and rode four beautiful horses in the ring. Zara, Lincoln, Harley and Luna accommodated us for an hour. Walking, trotting and cantering at various times, the experience was earthy and rewarding, although my thighs complained for a few days thereafter. The rain came in torrents while we rode and the sound of it hitting the tin roof was like soothing music.
It was a wonderful romp through part of the north…our first of many more to come.
It was a wonderful romp through part of the north…our first of many more to come.
As we enter into our second pandemic summer where travel is limited, I have enjoyed rediscovering Ontario and finding places in our own backyard to savour. Our kids need to get out of the city and enjoy themselves, and we could definitely use a change of scenery. Although there’s no telling exactly what will be open this summer, here are five activities for the family that can be added to your summer bucket list.
1. Hit the beach
Some people like to spend days at the beach sunbathing; others just like to walk on the sand in the morning or evening; and children tend to spend hours frolicking in the water. This is an obvious summer activity, so I have researched three new beaches to avoid your becoming bored of visiting the same ones. Ontario is home to over 250,000 lakes so there are so many beaches to explore that you could probably choose a new one each weekend of your life and still not cover all of them. I would recommend trying these three this summer:
2. Take a road trip
Our children always enjoy a road trip…as long as it doesn’t go on too long. While some kids might be antsy, with games and activities loaded into the car, you can keep them occupied until you reach the destination. Here are three interesting Ontario road trip ideas:
Depending on what’s open, there are many Ontario adventures to explore including:
4. Discover Bruce’s Peninsula
Arguably one of the province’s most cherished natural areas, Bruce’s Peninsula offers a wonderful place to explore. In hand with endless parks and trails, attractions include:
Ontario offers several opportunities to explore the dark, quiet world of caves. Some trips we are considering include:
Entrepreneur and mom to four amazing kids
Q: Why did the can crusher quit his job?
A: Because it was soda pressing.