Family Travel in Ontario

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On the Way to Pelee Island

FROM THE URBAN JUNGLE OF TORONTO TO THE WILDS OF AN ISLAND IN LAKE ERIE, A FAMILY ROAD TRIP REVEALS PLENTY TO SEE IN ONTARIO.

by Stephen Johnson

On the highway, the first question our son David asked was, “When do we get to see snakes?” Since we were going to fill up the tank at an Ottawa gas station, the chances were not good. I promised him when we arrived at Pelee Island in five days, there would be a better possibility. “Five days? That is forever,” he exclaimed. For a seven-year-old, waiting does seem endless. Luckily, the wild times ahead were worth the delay.

After all, Pelee Island is one of the best places in Ontario to see snakes in their native habitat. It is also about nine and a half hours from Ottawa, so we decided to break up our family trip with a few sightseeing stops.

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Our first destination was downtown Toronto, where we stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. My wife Sandy and David lobbied to go to the top of the CN Tower, and while heights and I do not always get along, I was game to try anything. We arrived at the landmark and after a bit of pushing (from Sandy and David) we took the elevator up, up, up. David immediately went to the see- through glass panel in the floor and, eventually, I tiptoed across it too. I have to admit, once you get used to the height, the views from the CN Tower are spectacular.

One attraction I have always wanted to visit is Casa Loma. Built by a wealthy financier, it more closely resembles a European castle than a house. As we discovered, the interior is as opulent as the exterior. David particularly enjoyed its basement, thanks to a series of tunnels.

We wrapped up our big-city day at Medieval Times, a popular dinner theatre destination that features a utensils-free meal and a medieval-themed show with horses, knights, jousting and swordplay. David loved the entire experience, especially the eating food with his hands part!

Our next stop en route to Pelee Island was Port Dover. Set on Lake Erie, it’s one of the most picturesque towns we have visited. The beach included a palm tree that is transplanted every spring, and the fish and chips from Knechtel’s on the Beach really hit the spot.

The following day, we headed out on a zodiac boat trip with Long Point Tours. Our destination was the tip of the world’s largest freshwater sand- spit. In fact, Long Point stretches 42 kilometres out into the middle of Lake Erie. Our guide was Captain Garrett, whose historical and environmental knowledge of the region were phenomenal. It was cool to set foot on one of the most southern land points in Canada. Not to be outdone, of course, David set his foot slightly further than mine.

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In Port Burwell, we discovered the HMCS Ojibwa submarine. The Ojibwa served during the Cold War and it’s now part of the Museum of Naval History. We decided to tour the massive sub—it’s five storeys high!—and our guide shared many anecdotes about life on a submarine. For instance, you would want to think twice about taking a shower. It wasn’t easy. Nonetheless, David decided he wanted his own submarine.

The following day we drove to Leamington and took the ferry to Pelee Island. The snake hunt was on! Ecstatic, David started looking immediately. I politely reminded him the ferry parking lot was not prime snake habitat. Pulling into the B&B where we were staying, we had the pleasure to meet Mo. Not only did she make us feel welcome, she showed David her farm and introduced him to various animals, including a baby goat and a rabbit.

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The next day it was finally snake spotting time. Following Mo’s advice, we checked out Fish Point Nature Reserve. David quickly caught sight of an eastern fox snake, the largest snake we had ever seen in the wild. Further along we saw a small garter snake peeking its head between the boardwalk, as well as a frog that didn’t seem to care about our proximity. My wife tended to favour the brightly coloured butterflies and vibrant birds.

Our time on Pelee was not exclusively devoted to wildlife. We discovered beautiful shoreline vistas, as well as delicious pastries at Conorlee’s Bakery. It truly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

After four days, it was time to say goodbye to Mo and head back to Ottawa. From the urban jungle of Toronto to the wilds of Pelee Island, it was quite a family trip.

For details, check seetorontonow.com and ontariossouthwest.com.

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