Fall into autumn with these day trips

| September 29, 2019 | 0 Comments
Picton-based guide and photographer Phil Norton, whose work is shown here, leads back-road photography trips, often in Prince Edward County and the Quinte-Belleville region. (Photo: Phil Norton)

Picton-based guide and photographer Phil Norton, whose work is shown here, leads back-road photography trips, often in Prince Edward County and the Quinte-Belleville region. (Photo: Phil Norton)

The bright, crisp days of autumn are custom-made for day-tripping and overnighters. Summer’s wilting heat has vanished, snow hasn’t yet arrived and fall’s melancholy air throws life into sharper relief. So, pack a lunch — or at least your debit card — and head for the open road.

Tromping and shooting
Leading back-road photography trips has tickled the fancy of Picton-based guide/photographer Phil Norton, also known as the owner of County Outings, since 2012. Whether you’re a novice clicker or a veteran seeking to polish your skills while discovering hidden treasures in Ontario and beyond, Norton’s your man. He has a special fondness for Prince Edward County and the Quinte-Belleville region, including wineries, locally made chocolates and other delectables, but he’s also been spotted leading winter daytrips to Westport and scouting out photo ops in Toronto’s ravines. 613-827-3214, philnorton.net/countyphotographer/countyphotoshome.html

Close to home
Just 20 minutes north of Ottawa along Highway 5, Chelsea is one of those spots we know exists, but rarely visit. Pity. Historic and unassuming, it’s crammed with things to see and do, from the art at La Fab artists’ co-op and gallery in the former rectory of St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church to the church itself, a Roman Baroque-themed structure built 140 years ago. Sunday masses in English and French are an opportunity to admire the church’s stained-glass windows, frescoes and statuary. Also in Chelsea: Nordik Spa-Nature, integrated into the surrounding Canadian Shield; craft beer at the Chelsea Pub; and an entranceway to Gatineau Park. tourismeoutaouais.com/en/services_en/Chelsea. Tip: Chelsea hosts the second annual Gatineau Fiddle Festival Oct. 4 to 6 at Mill Road Community Space. The lineup includes Irish traditional fiddler Brid Harper, as well as players from Cape Breton, Manitoba and elsewhere. gatineauhillsfiddlefest.ca

Go ahead, be nosy
“Why did you paint this landscape?” “How did you become a sculptor?” “What do you think about while you’re weaving?” One of the great things about studio tours is the chance to ask artists those kinds of questions, so when you buy something, you feel a more profound connection to their work. Poking around someone’s studio also satisfies our basic nosiness, and there’s nothing wrong with that. To top it off, you just may stumble across the perfect Christmas gift. The Red Trillium Studio Tour in West Carleton is a popular event. It runs Oct. 26 and 27. redtrilliumst.com

Past and present

Actor Ben Caplan helped create and stars in Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which is inspired by the true story of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

Actor Ben Caplan helped create and stars in Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, which is inspired by the true story of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

If you missed it when it played here in 2017, the boisterous and touching Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story cavorts back into town Oct. 16 to 27 as part of the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre season. Big-bearded, larger-than-life performer Ben Caplan stars in the klezmer music-theatre hybrid about two Jewish Romanian refugees who immigrated to Canada in 1908. Written by celebrated Ottawa native Hannah Moscovitch, Christian Barry and Caplan, the show is rooted in the true-life story of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents. It yokes classic immigrant narratives of hard luck and endurance with contemporary refugee crises. And yes, the show’s name references prime minister Stephen Harper’s use of the dog-whistle term “old-stock Canadians” during the 2015 federal election campaign. nac-cna.ca/en/event/21514, 1-888-991-2787.

Double, double toil and trouble
The Puritans would have shuddered at the thought, but Witchfest North Arts and Culture Festival is into its third annual spiritual shindig in Toronto, Oct. 1 to 31. According to its website, the event celebrates the sacred feminine in the arts, is open to all and features art, workshops and, of course, mediums, Tarot card readers, palmists and others with a special connection to the otherworldly. witchfestnorth.org. Tip: There are fewer tourists about in October, so take advantage of that while you’re in Toronto by visiting Casa Loma. Built in 1914 on gracious grounds in what’s now downtown, the heritage castle is chock-a-block with historical exhibits. 416-923-1171, casaloma.ca

Fall foraging
They look scrumptious, but you’d be wise to leave those wild mushrooms untouched until you’ve learned what’s safe (and tasty) from veteran forager Bryan Dowkes. The man behind Foraged Ottawa, he leads monthly walks and workshops as late into the year as weather permits. He says fall is traditionally a bountiful time for mushrooms, nuts and berries. “I also introduce people to late forms of plants that may not be in season, but that are useful to get to know at different times of the year in order to help plan out future harvests.” facebook.com/ForagedOttawa/

Silence, please
If you’re visiting Montreal for any reason this fall — say, the Montréal Bach Festival, Nov. 22 to Dec. 7 (festivalbachmontreal.com), or the exhibition of Egyptian mummies at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until Feb. 2, 2020 (mbam.qc.ca) — work in a side visit to Bota Bota. That’s the Nordic-styled spa on a decommissioned ferry anchored in the Old Port heritage district. The spa offers everything from a sauna followed by a cold bath to food, including a simple tasting plate and a three-course meal. But, take note: talking is not permitted on the boat, where tranquility and rejuvenation are job one. 1-855-284-0333 botabota.ca

A rewarding amble
Sandy Hill is your go-to spot for a fall urban ramble. Bordered by Rideau Street, the Queensway, the Rideau Canal and the Rideau River, it’s an expansive, generally well-kept area sprinkled with everything from embassies and high commissions, some built by lumber barons, to student housing, sleek infill homes and pockets of commercial activity. 346 Somerset St. E.  is the former home of renowned Ottawa architect Francis C. Sullivan (a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, his designs include the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park). Laurier House, 335 Laurier Ave. E., was once home to prime ministers Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King. It’s closed for the winter, but still merits a walk-by. Just east of Laurier House, an unexpected alley makes for an intriguing shortcut between busy Laurier Avenue and elegant Wilbrod Street. Strathcona Park on the Rideau River is a tranquil spot any time of the year, and Le Cordon Bleu’s eatery, Signatures Restaurant, is nearby at 453 Laurier Ave. E. Tip: The new Ottawa Art Gallery, 50 Mackenzie King Bridge, is open and free seven days a week. It features both special and permanent exhibitions. The in-house restaurant, Jackson, has brunch, small plates and a liquor licence. 613-233-8699, oaggao.ca

Historical textures
You’d never know it now, but Eastern Ontario’s Mississippi Valley — a broad swath stretching from roughly Bon Echo Provincial Park in the west to Fitzroy Harbour in the City of Ottawa — once hosted a booming textile industry. Dozens of mills operated, and Almonte (“Little Manchester”) was considered the woollen capital of Canada. The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Mississippi Mills near Almonte does a bang-up job of representing a vanished way of life with exhibitions and special events as well as celebrating contemporary fibre art. “We showcase the textile arts with a backdrop of the textile industry,” says executive director/curator Michael Rikley-Lancaster. Special exhibitions include Spirit Seeds, Oct. 26-Dec. 14, 2019; which spotlights Indigenous beadwork from the Great Lakes region. The laid-back museum is housed in a National Historic Site. mvtm.ca

A bird’s-eye view
A drive through the Gatineau Hills is one way to view autumn’s splendour. A notch up from that: a 30-minute helicopter flight over the Hudson Valley in New York State, the trees below aflame with colour. Heck, why not upgrade to the 45-minute flight and also fly over Sing Sing prison and Bear Mountain? The chopper lifts off from White Plains, about 57 kilometres from New York City, so you’d want to bundle the fall viewing with an overnighter in New York City, where there’s not exactly a shortage of things to do. Helicopter tours cost US$290 and are wheelchair accessible. wingsair.net/fall-foliage-helicopter-tour-from-westchester/ While you’re in a New York state of mind, check out the full-day Hudson Valley Craft Brewery Bike Tour, which includes a stop at Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. Monthly Sunday tours until Oct. 27. More information: gothambiketours.com/portfolio-item/captain-lawrence-day-rides/

Time to reflect
Fall is when the year settles down to rest, and Beechwood Cemetery, south of Rockcliffe Park, is all about rest. Rolling terrain, mature trees and the gravesites of both the great — lumber magnate J.R. Booth and prime minister Sir Robert Borden among them — and the lesser-known lend the 64-hectare cemetery a dignity entirely its own. A National Historic Site, Canada’s National Military Cemetery and other designations aside, it’s simply a fine place to think and reflect — not bad pursuits in turbulent times. 613-741-9530, beechwoodottawa.ca

Travellin’ Patrick Langston is, at this very moment, likely on the road somewhere tracking down fun stuff to see and do. He supports the habit by writing for local publications.

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