Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Your Passport to Fun in the Heart of Ontario

Sometimes you want to get away with your family but either time or budget (or both) don't allow. That is why it is so great to know that there are amazing places to visit close to home that don't break the bank but still give you the sense of getting away and experiencing new adventures.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario

I was amazed to find that just outside of Toronto there are amazing historical landmarks (think castles), museums, and outdoor adventures for the whole family. All this about an hour's drive from Toronto. We decided to have a staycation so I downloaded the Canadian Heritage Passport and my family set out on a weekend adventure.

The passport:

This free passport provides discounts and 2 for 1 entrances to many attractions and hotels throughout Hamilton, Halton and Brant regions of Ontario. The passport is valid through October so there is plenty of time to take advantage of the discounts.

The great thing about having a region so stocked with attractions is that you can pick and choose different places to visit for day trips throughout the year or you can group some together and make a full day adventure or even spend the night in a hotel for a weekend getaway.  We chose the second option and decided to make a weekend of it.

Some of our Highlights:

We started our Saturday morning with a beautiful drive through the country and arrived at the Halton County Radial Railway.  It was like stepping back in time with railcars you could climb aboard and even take a ride on.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Halton County Radial Railway in Milton, Ontario
See more of our fun adventure at the Halton County Radial Railway here.

Next we headed to Hutch's on the Beach for lunch.  A Hamilton eating destination for burgers, fish and chips, french fries and milkshakes since 1946, Hutch's sits right at the water's edge of Lake Ontario.  It's cool diner vibe had the kids excited from the moment we walked in.  The food was classic, the portions were huge and the decor set the tone immediately.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Hutch's on the Beach
My son figuring out the table-top juke box.

Just up the street, about a 5 minute drive was the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology.  Here we learned about the mechanics of two 70-ton steam engines that pumped water from Lake Ontario for Hamilton Waterworks.  The kids and I felt we were in Willy Wonka's factory at one point with the awesome steam cylinders, massive flywheels and iron pump rods on either side of us.  I have to admit this wasn't the favourite stop along the way for my family but if you have a mechanical mind or a real interest in the industurial revolution you'll love it.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology

Next decided to visit the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.  Unfortunately, when we arrived the power in the area was out due to a storm so they could not open.  The kids still thought the CF105 Starfighter on the front lawn was cool so we stayed, took some photos and pretended we were planes.  We'll definitely go back though because the museum looks very cool. Kids of all ages will love testing their skills as a pilot in a flight simulator or sitting in the cockpit of a real fighter jet.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Canadian Warplane Museum

After our brief visit to the Canadian Warplane Museum we decided to head to our hotel for a swim. I must have typed the address into the GPS incorrectly because it took us in wrong direction and we ended up at the Battlefield House Museum & Park in Stoney Creek.  It was a great find.  The site of a battle of the War of 1812, the whole family loved our tour through this historic house.  Our guide, Moira, was dressed in period costume and brought the story of the Gage family to light for us.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Battlefield House Museum

After that it was time to check in at the Sheraton Hamilton.  It is right downtown and located next to Copps Coliseum and across the street from the Art Gallery of Hamilton.  The hotel has recently been updated and our room was very modern, with amazing bedding and a great view.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Sheraton Hotel Hamilton
Photo courtesy of Sheraton Hamilton
Our room looked like this for about 2 minutes until the kids got in and hopped from bed to bed.
Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - View from Sheraton Hotel Hamilton
The view from our room - overlooking Hamilton and Lake Ontario

After a good night's rest we got back in the car and drove about 35 minutes to the town of Paris, Ontario for a morning of canoeing on the Grand River.  We arrived at Treks in the Wild just before 9 a.m. and were greeted by an amazing staff who got us all kitted out for our adventure.  We opted for the guided tour and had 2 canoes and two guides.  Our drive to the mouth of the river was the start of a fun morning.  We enjoyed learning all about the area and even spotted some deer along the way.  The paddle down the river was breathtaking and our guides were personable and knowledgeable.  It was a great way to get in touch with nature and spend time with the family.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - Treks in the Wild

Our adventure ended with us saying goodbye to our guides as we headed to a local eatery, a hotspot in Paris, for a delicious lunch.  The Cedar House Grill had a great and varied menu with something for everyone in the family.  I love that everything was fresh and that they source their ingredients locally.  I think my husband's sandwich was the biggest sandwich we'd ever seen but somehow after 3 hours of paddling he managed to crush it.

Canadian Heritage Passport - Travel in Ontario - The Cedar House Grill, Paris Ontario
My Chicken and Brie Wrap - my husband's sandwich was about double this size

A few of our adventures were thrown a curve due to a HUGE storm that came in the night before and knocked down many trees and power lines but adapting and changing plans on the fly is all part of travel and can create even more vivid memories.

At the end of the weekend we really felt like we had a mini vacation. Can you believe we did all this in one weekend and within about an hour's drive from Toronto?  My husband had been travelling on business leading up to the weekend so the concentrated family time was a bonus. We had the perfect mix of family, history, fun and adventure.  A staycation we will never forget!

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