Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Take the cranberry plunge in Muskoka

Fall colours are popping and the 2.5 hour drive north of Toronto, Ontario comes with a non-stop gallery of beauty as you head to the Muskoka Lakes farm and winery. You can buy a weekend package that includes a tractor ride around the cranberry bogs, a wine tasting and then put on some hip waders and head into the cranberry pond for some Instagram photo opportunities. I wouldn't actually dive into the water, your hip waders will fill with too much water.

The throw the berries in the air move

For many people the call of cranberries is almost hypnotic, the lure of the red and white berries floating in water is a siren call of adventure. There aren't too many cranberry farms left in Ontario but the Muskoka Lakes farm featuring Johnston Cranberries is open for bookings and Fall won't last forever.

When you get in the cranberry bog remember to sit down so that the water looks deeper and the berries more impressive.
You can also see the sculpture that used to reside in the historic Toronto Distillery District and now sits looking over one of the bogs in the Muskoka Lakes farm and winery.
There are a number of trails that you can wander on site

The tutored wine tasting samples

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Ontario Fall Colours 2020

September 22nd is the beginning of Fall 2020 and Ontario forests are already starting to turn colour as the autumnal equinox and cooler temperatures work their way south. Cottage country is already at about 20% colour change with peak maple fall colour forecast for the first two weeks of October. In the GTA you can only see the odd splash of colour on the occasional tree but you know with frost the changes will accelerate.
Update: The 26/27 September weekend is providing prime weather for looking for Fall colours. In the GTA splashes of colour are starting to break out.

Nature is already at a premium during these times of Covid-19. Activities, events and outdoor facilities were shut down to help stop the spread of the coronavirus and that included a lot of nature like parks and conservation areas. Families locked in condos and packed into cities couldn't escape the inflexible walls of home. Beaches were shut down or restricted to local residents and many remain closed to this day even as Ontario 

On June 17, 2020 the province started the recovery process with the start of Stage 3 with most business and public spaces gradually opening. As of September 8, a pause has been initiated by Ontario where further openings will be delayed for 28 days. However, you can't fight mother nature and its colours are going to happen and people will want to explore the beauty of Ontario, the question will be where can you go?

With so many places still closed, or with limited entrance, the usual busy Fall tours will be even more hectic. Full of too busy roads and tiny amounts of parking. Even one of the star locations close to Toronto - Caledon, usually full of fantastic fall colours only offers, at least the last time I counted, about three parking spaces at normal times. They really want you to slow down, have someone run out of the car and buy something in their small town, then proceed to get the heck out of the area and leave it for the locals. You can try, but the stop and go traffic will just slow you down. If you thought viewing the beauty of nature during Fall was hard before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

There are about 3 more weekends before peak colours dry up, that's only six days of day-trips and if we get rain or dark grey skies those six days can be reduced pretty fast. Unless you head up to cottage country you have the crown jewels such as Collingwood, Caledon (with the Forks of the Credit and the Badlands of Cheltenham), Burlington and Hamilton's waterfalls and Dundas Peak, the rolling hills of eastern Ontario and the larger Toronto parks like High Park and the Scarborough Bluffs. Pick your poison and make plans to put in a reservation if at all possible. Otherwise look for public transit, places that have parking and shuttle buses, or find a way to bike or hike into the area. Good luck my friends, you will need it this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

St. Jacobs Farmers Market tourist destination

A quick day trip on a beautiful Thursday or Saturday brings you to the famous St. Jacobs Farmers Market along with the Market Building, Market Tent and Peddlers Village in the heart of farm country. The tourist and shopping destination re-opened on June 4, 2020 and is now open Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am to 3pm all year long.

On a sunny Saturday the highways and parking lots fill up as people flock to the area, looking for fresh Ontario produce or maybe an antique, or just to explore the market. The fenced off farmers market takes up much of the parking lot but there are a few parking locations nearby that are easy walking to the site.

After the market many of the visitors head over to the small town of St. Jacobs, looking at the interesting stores, standing in line at the bakery or finishing off the day with a nice dinner at a local restaurant.

The famous broom store
There is a tree filled with strings of beads

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Lil' tiff - a quiet Toronto film festival

I tried to find the giant tiff sign that they used to put out on King Street West when they closed the road for the annual film festival and it was no where that I looked. Also missing were the huge amount of fans going from place to place to catch the stars. Instead the latest tiff is a small affair missed by fans and star chasers most of all. Here's to hoping that 2021 is a brighter year!

From their website "TIFF 2020: September 10–19. Our reimagined physical and digital Festival will feature exciting new films, talks, and interactive experiences. The 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, taking place September 10–19, is tailored to fit the moment, with physical screenings and drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences, and industry talks. This year’s selection comprises a lineup of 50 new feature films, five programmes of short films, as well as interactive talks, film cast reunions, and Q&As with cast and filmmakers."

tiff Bell Lightbox on King Street

You can find the drive-in movie or open-air screens around Toronto, some are down at Ontario Place or at Polson Pier. Theatre screenings at the Bell Lightbox now require facemasks, the optional wearing has been removed due to the public outcry.

Toronto Fashion Show crosses Queen Street West

A long parade of models dressed in pastel fashions crossed a busy Toronto street while a police officer blocked traffic. The ladies moved in line from the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel towards Osgoode Hall, masked for Covid precautions, carrying their heels in their hands.

The street setting became a major photo opportunity

The fashion walk happened on Saturday, September 12, 2020 right beside Toronto City Hall

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Out with the old Toronto Sign

The old Toronto Sign at City Hall has been removed and the installation of the new sign is underway. Removal of the old, temporary sign started on September 10th, 2020 and the area around the sign is barricaded off as workers start to get the area ready for the new letters.

Here is the City's media release regarding the changes.

"Today, Mayor John Tory announced that the installation of the City of Toronto’s new, more durable Toronto Sign on Nathan Phillips Square has begun. An iconic Toronto attraction, the Toronto Sign has been a popular spot for selfies and group photos among residents and visitors alike.

The removal of the temporary sign, installation of the new sign and the wrap application will take approximately one week. The new Toronto Sign will be unveiled in the coming days.

The original sign was installed as a temporary structure in July 2015 for the Toronto Pan American and Parapan American Games. Although it was only built to last a few weeks, in response to the sign’s popularity, the City extended its presence on the square indefinitely and it has become a Toronto landmark.

After more than five years, the original sign is showing significant wear and tear and ongoing repairs and enhancements have been required to keep it working. Rather than paying for further, ongoing repairs and maintenance of the temporary structure, in September 2019 the City began the process of procuring a new more durable sign.

In December 2019, after an open and competitive process, the City awarded a contract for the design, construction, installation and ongoing maintenance for a new Toronto Sign to Unit 11, a Toronto-based custom design and fabrication supplier for the television, film, entertainment, and marketing industry.

The new and improved Toronto Sign will be easier to clean, waterproof, and will have augmented lighting capacity and other creative features to support public engagement and interaction.

The City will retain the sign’s maple leaf, which was installed in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and the medicine wheel, which was installed on June 21, 2018, in consultation with the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Since then, the Toronto Sign has become symbolic of Toronto. According to a Destination Toronto visitor survey, the Toronto sign was one of the top three most visited attractions in the city and it is consistently ranked as one of the most Instagram-worthy spots. The image of the sign is captured daily by local media and it has been a visual backdrop for international media coverage of major events from the 2015 Toronto Pan American and Parapan American Games and the 2017 Invictus Games to the 2019 Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship. The sign has also been illuminated and dimmed for hundreds of charities, community festivals, days of significance and times of mourning for the city and its residents.

As previously announced, the City is using reserve funds to pay for the new sign and existing operational budgets to cover the ongoing cost of maintenance and vinyl wraps. The cost of the design and construction of the new sign is $490,000 net applicable taxes. Removal of the old sign, installation of the new sign, wraps, a three-year maintenance contract, contingency and optional enhancements bring the total cost to $761,842 net applicable taxes. The City is open to philanthropic support to be able to enhance the features of the sign. Interested donors are requested to contact the Toronto Office of Partnerships at 416-392-6121, top@toronto.ca or donations.toronto.ca/.

Photographs of the Toronto Sign can be shared with the hashtag #xoTO and #TOsign. More information about the sign is available at toronto.ca/TorontoSign.


“As we embark upon the work to rebuild our city from the significant impacts of the covid-19 pandemic, it is fitting that installation of the new, more durable Toronto Sign is underway. I know when we get through this, Toronto will shine brighter, just like the sign itself. Like our iconic Toronto Sign, together, I am confident that we will rebuild a Toronto that is inclusive, dynamic and resilient.”
– Mayor John Tory

“I don’t think anyone can imagine Nathan Phillips Square without the now iconic Toronto Sign. It has brought our city together to celebrate our achievements, mark occasions and raise awareness, all while providing a spectacular selfie back drop.”
– Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Ward 21 Scarborough Centre), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Friendship Trail and the abandoned amusement parks

The Niagara Region has a 150km loop of multi-use trails that run along the Welland Canal, Lake Erie, Niagara River and Lake Ontario called the Greater Niagara Circle Route Trails. We have done the majority of the Welland Canal Trail (from Lock 3 to Port Dalhousie) and wanted to try the Friendship Trail which runs between Port Colborne and Fort Erie, a distance of 24km, on a wide, paved path that used to be an old rail line.

A ship transits into the Welland Canal and passes the Clarence Street bridge at the start of the Friendship Trail
A warning barrier has a graffiti painting of Marilyn Monroe

The trail doesn't stray too far from the shores of Lake Erie and the old rail bed provided for gentle slopes which makes the biking easy. The pathway signs indicate the intersecting roads along with points of interest and directions if you want to explore more of the area.

To start off we parked at the Welland Canal Lock Number 8 Park which has a public bathroom and free parking. There is also plenty of free parking near the start of the Friendship Trail as well as along the route (at Ridge Road, Crescent Road and Lakeshore Road). Then we biked along the end of the Welland Canal Trail until we joined up with the Friendship Trail running east along Durham Street. Then it was sweet cycling watching the many factories and houses transition into farmland and residential areas.

The Crystal Beach welcome sign
Looking towards old Crystal Beach pier

We took a 2.5km detour from the path to check out Crystal Beach which was once home to a significant amusement park from 1888 to 1989. All that seems to remain is the large pier which was used by ferries to bring the people to the park - none of the attractions or giant roller coaster that ran right beside the water still remain. It actually far outlasted the Fort Erie park and some of its attractions were brought to Crystal Beach. After checking out the current beach we made our way back to the trail and continued until we hit Fort Erie.

The Friendship trail moved onto a large sidewalk on Edgemere Road in Fort Erie and continues through a future development until you get to Lakeshore Road and the Niagara River Recreational Trail. We detoured off the path to walk along the beach of Lake Erie through the remains of the old Lake Erie Beach Park.

Information on the old Lake Erie Amusement Park
Some foundations for the plane ride

The Lake Erie amusement park operated from 1885 until just after the start of the Great Depression in 1930. Only concrete structures and steps remain, including bases for the plane ride, the old pier and a small wall that that winds around the edge of the water - it used to be one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in the world at one time. The city has put up posters with information and pictures showing the extent of the old fairgrounds.

We had a lunch along the edge of the Niagara River just downstream from the Peace Bridge 
Then it was back to the park at Welland Canal Lock 8 for the end of our 65km ride

Doors Open

Scarborough Bluffs





Lake Ontario

Nathan Phillips Square