Larger than France and Spain combined, Ontario is Canada’s second largest province in terms of size and first in terms of population. It is a land of so much water with four of the five great lakes here, along with 25,000 other lakes, streams and rivers, and the world famous, Niagara Falls. It also boasts the longest street in the world – Yonge Street- which is 1896 km (1178 miles) long, in its capital city, Toronto. In 1867, Ontario was one of the four original provinces of Canada (along with my home province of New Brunswick!) and is now home to the capital of Canada, Ottawa- in addition to being the home of my brother and his family. And this, more than all those other reasons, is what took us to Canada over the holidays.
Deciding to take this trip many, many months ago (as in plane tickets were purchased in July!), L and I had lots of time to do our research about what we’d like to see and do while we were there. It goes without saying that high on our list of “things to do” was to spend time with my family because my parents were also going to be there, but there are only so many card games of 3-13 we can play before we knew we’d be itching to get out and see some sights too. Plus this was L’s first trip to Canada so I had to show him around my home country, introduce him to Tim Hortons and poutine, learn a little about our history, and see some of the scenery (which the kiddo and I really hoped would be covered in some snow!). So a pretty jam-packed week was planned and on Boxing Day we all took to the skies to meet up in Canada.
One by one I’ll eventually blog the details about each of the attractions and sites we visited but for today I’d like to share with you an overview of our whole itinerary that took us from Guelph to Toronto to Kingston to Ottawa and then back again. I’ll also give you our recommendations for places to eat and sleep, along with the activities and sights we enjoyed, those we were not so impressed with, and the ones we didn’t quite get to on our planned itinerary.
Day 1 & 2: December 26 & 27, 2014
- Up bright and early, well not so bright actually as the alarm was set for 4:00 a.m. I ended up waking at 2:00 a.m. (too excited to sleep/worried I’d oversleep) and didn’t end up going back to sleep so it was pretty dark yet when I woke up. So yep, up really, really early for our 7:35 a.m. flight. In the meantime L was just about at the airport to catch his flight too.
- Out the door at 5:02 a.m. and off to the airport.
- Travel Tip– When traveling during the holidays make reservations for your airport off-site parking or you might find them telling you they are all booked up…along with everyone else on the road leading to the airport and you end up having to park at the airport which is not cheap. Likely best to make a reservation every time and then if they have any discounts for booking in advance you can take advantage of those too. Yeah, I may have learned an expensive lesson on this trip.
- After 1220 miles flown the kiddo and I arrived in Toronto for our much anticipated lunch of poutine! Kicked around the airport for a few hours until L’s flight arrived and then we hit the road to Guelph.
- Arrived at my brother’s house around dinner time to enjoy Christmas dinner with his family and my parents. What a great start to our trip.
- The next morning all ten of us headed to Toronto to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins for lots of catching up and, of course, playing cards. My family does love a good card game. Or five. L really loved this particular game because he won. :-)
Accommodations: AirBnB three bedroom apartment in Guelph for three nights.
Day 3: December 28, 2014
- Out the door at 9:00 a.m. with my Mom, L, and the kiddo for a day in Niagara Falls. But first a stop at Tim Hortons for breakfast (this would be our third Tim Hortons since arriving in Canada less than 48 hours ago. So we love cards and Tim Hortons).
- Our first stop was at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake to learn a little more of the history of Canada and the War of 1812.
- Our itinerary originally included a visit to Fort Niagara, on the American side of the border, but we didn’t have enough time to fit it in before dark.
- Oohed, awed, and took lots of photos of Niagara Falls.
- Took a ‘Journey Behind the Falls‘ in some really stylish bright yellow rain ponchos to see the falls from two portals behind them and the viewing platform right beside them.
- Tip– Go to the portals first to save the best bit of this attraction for last.
- Crossed the border into the United States to view the Falls from the other side. Although Mom, the kiddo and I have all been to Niagara Falls before, none of us had ever viewed them from the American side.
- To note- there is a $6 USD fee and an I-94 form to be completed by some nationalities when crossing the border and you’ll have to park and go into their office to do so. L, with his UK passport had to pay it, but Mom and I with our Canadian passports didn’t.
- Back to my brother’s house for one of the best things about Christmas dinner- turkey sandwiches the next day. Yum! And, of course, another card game or two. :-)
Day 4: December 29, 2014
- Off to Toronto to see the CN Tower but first a little stroll around Roundhouse Park that we discovered at the base of the tower. This is an outdoor exhibit that illustrates Toronto’s railway heritage.
- Up, up, up the CN Tower we went to the Look Out level at 346 m (1,136 ft.) and to walk on the Glass Floor at 342 m (1,122 ft.) While a great view of the city, we were a little disappointed with the CN Tower. Tickets were $32 CAD each and when all taxes were included it came up to $108.50 CAD for the three of us, which seemed like a bit much. The view from outside is blocked by the caging they have and on the Look Out level there is a restaurant so you can’t go all the way around. You can buy tickets in advance online and get a little discount but as we weren’t certain we’d make it there (in case of bad weather) we decided to just get them when we arrived.
- After a quick picnic lunch we toured Casa Loma which describes itself as “North America’s only full sized castle”. Built in 1911 in the Edwardian style it sits on the top of a hill overlooking Toronto and was the largest private residence in Canada. We all enjoyed roaming from room to room and through its secret passages and then way up into the towers for the view out over Toronto.
- From here it was on to Kingston to spend the night and along the way we popped into the grocery store for dinner to have back at the little house we were staying in.
Accommodations: AirBnB cozy two bedroom house in Kingston for one night.
Day 5: December 30, 2014
- Up and out nice and early in Kingston for a little sightseeing in the city before the rest of our drive to Ottawa.
- Our first stop was Kingston City Hall for a free, self-guided tour. Our favourite room was the Memorial Hall with elaborate ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows, each depicting a battle involving Canadians during WWI. Outside City Hall was a public skating rink with many people taking advantage and had me itching, just a little, to lace up a pair of skates and join them. It certainly would have helped to warm me up!
- Our next, albeit brief as it wasn’t open, stop was at St. George’s Cathedral. It’s a really pretty church, at least from the outside, so we snapped a few photos and then headed on.
- The final stop on our way out of the city was at St. Mary’s Cathedral which was open so we were able to go in and visit. It’s really beautiful but for me, my favourite part, was the smell of the Christmas trees they had in the entryway. With one breath I was immediately taken back to all those Christmas’ past.
- On the way in to Ottawa we took a tour of Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, which was pretty neat and well worth the visit.
Accommodations: AirBnB beautiful two bedroom apartment in Victorian house (it even had a turret!) for three nights.
- Travel Tip– To save some money when traveling consider booking an apartment with kitchen facilities from a site like AirBnB and then do a little grocery shopping when you get to your destination. For only $63 CAD ($53 USD or £35) we had a full dinner for three people for three nights, along with a couple of snacks and some milk for our cereal that we had picked up a few days prior. If you stay in the AirBnB place we stayed in there is a Loblaws grocery store within just a few minutes drive.
Day 6: December 31, 2014
- It’s the last day of 2014! My goodness where has the year gone?
- We started off the day sleeping in a little and then headed to Parliament Hill which unfortunately was getting ready to close early as it was New Year’s Eve so we just wandered around the grounds and down to the Rideau Canal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- We then visited the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located in the heart of the capital city in Confederation Square.
- Starting to feel the effects of the cold (Ottawa is the 2nd coldest capital city in the world after all) we decided it was time to head to Quebec for one dish it is known for- Poutine! The guys were adventurous with L trying poutine with chicken, and the kiddo trying poutine with smoked meat. I stuck with the tried and true and just had the original.
- Meal Recommendation: The restaurant we ate at was La Station at 611 Boulevard St. Joseph, Gatineau, QC and it was delicious. In addition to great poutine we’d also really suggest you try their appetizer “Pain et Trempette”…oh my goodness it was soooo good.
- After lunch we headed back across the river to Ottawa for a tour of the Royal Canadian Mint. When we arrived it was 90 minutes until the next tour (which would be the last of the day) so we bought our tickets and decided to take advantage of the extra time to visit the National Gallery of Canada that was right next door.
- Tip– Do get your tickets early in the day because the tour groups aren’t very large and they might sell out. When we came back for our tour there were folks being turned away as there weren’t any tickets left.
- Well I have to admit the National Gallery of Canada was not really our cup of tea. Of course what each person thinks of as great art is subjective, so I’d never discourage people from visiting, but some of it left us thinking ‘Really? Come on. It’s just a canvas painted black.’ Because yes, there was a canvas painted black there. And also one painted red. And also one with just two blue stripes and a red stripe.
- But back to the Mint we went for our tour to learn how coins are made, including the record-breaking Million Dollar coin, and also how the Olympic medals were made for Vancouver 2010. We also got to hold a huge gold bar that their website says is worth $750,000! Needless to say it was chained down. And there was an armed guard.
- After this busy day it was back to our little apartment for dinner, to watch some Corner Gas, and a little Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve. Old folks that we are, L and I were sound asleep when the clock struck midnight.
Day 7: January 1, 2015
- Phew! Are you getting tired yet because by this point in our trip we must have been as we really slept in this morning and then were a little slower than normal getting out and about.
- Our first stop of the day was Hog’s Back Falls which is the location where the Rideau Canal splits from the Rideau River and it was darn cold on the day we were there but my oh my, they made such a pretty winter scene.
- Later that afternoon we visited the Canadian War Museum that covers all facets of Canada’s military history from conflicts dating back several hundred years up to recent peacekeeping missions. The museum is well laid out in a chronological path with easy to follow arrows on the floor directing your way. We all really liked this museum and it would come highly recommended by me.
- Tip- The museum is free after 4:00 p.m. on Thursday evenings and we took advantage of this which saved us $32. Even at $32 it would have been well worth the money.
Read More: The Canadian War Museum
Day 8: January 2, 2015
- Our last day in Ottawa found us back at the Parliament buildings nice and early for a tour. While we waited for our tour to start we headed up the Peace Tower for a great view of Ottawa and Gatineau, QC. We were even the first ones up the tower that day and had the viewing area all to ourselves, except for the lone security officer.
- On our way back down we stopped for a few quiet moments in the Memorial Chamber. With high vaulted ceilings, arches, and stained glass windows, this little room is dedicated to the Canadian men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country.
- We then joined our guide for the free tour through the Centre Block of Parliament Hill which is the home of the House of Commons, the Senate, and the very beautiful Library of Parliament. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the building, its history, and how the Canadian government operates. I would also highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Ottawa, especially if they were at all interested in learning a little about the history of Canada.
- From here it was time for our drive back to Guelph which took the better part of the rest of the day and then on to my brother’s house again for dinner and more cards.
Accommodations: AirBnB third floor cottage apartment in Guelph for two nights.
Day 9: January 3, 2015
- Finally some snow! We were so hoping to see some on this trip and it didn’t disappoint. Big, fluffy flakes that turned everything white and were just the perfect consistency to make a snowman (the kids named him Jimmy) and have a snowball fight.
- Due to the road conditions we knew we couldn’t go far but we were really hoping to get over to the McCrae House which is the birthplace of John McCrae, soldier and author of ‘In Flanders Fields‘. The house itself is closed for renovations until the spring but there is a little memorial garden that was so peaceful, especially blanketed in the new fallen snow.
- And finally on the way back to my brother’s house we stopped at a little covered bridge and the Church of Our Lady Immaculate which sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Guelph. What a treat when we went inside to hear an organ practice going on while we visited.
Read More: Our Last Day to Explore Canada…For this Trip
Day 10: January 4, 2015
- Time to head home after another awesome week out exploring more parts of our world. Before we left there was time for one more stop at Tim Hortons and one more game of cards and then mid-afternoon L, the kiddo, and I headed back to Toronto to catch our flights.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been in Canada, and even though I’ve never lived in Ontario I still felt like I was home. It was such a wonderful week visiting with my family and introducing L to my home country. And the kiddo was tickled pink that this trip he finally got to play in the snow.
If you’d like to learn more about any of the places we went, please do stay tuned. One by one I’ll eventually feature them in a more in depth post (with lots more photos) to share a little more of the history and details of these really cool places. Like the quote that opened this post says, Canada really does have a lot of great stuff!