Skip to main content

Stories from across Ontario

Destination Ontario

Landmark Memories

Everyone’s perfect summer memory is different. As soon as the sun is out, you’ll find some crowding the patios on Toronto streets, while others eagerly dig their hiking shoes out of the closet for their first climb of the season. Certain locals spend summer portaging and paddling to the most scenic parts of the province, and still others head to the farms to pick berries as a family.

When you remember a landmark memory like that, you don’t just remember what happened – you remember where it happened, places you’ll go back to again and again.

Heading into summer, we asked five Ontarians to share their warm weather memories with you – where their summer firsts, bests and mosts took place. Travel along with them; use the map on the page by clicking on the icons to visit each local’s landmark memory across the province.

Paddling and portaging in Algonquin’s Barron Canyon

Brendan Rotz took his first backcountry camping trip to Algonquin when he was 13 – he remembers because that’s the summer he broke his arm, so he couldn’t set up camp, paddle or fish. Throughout his teen years, he visited Algonquin almost every summer, but he didn’t fall in love with camping until adulthood, during the pandemic, when the open, wild outdoors provided a welcome change of scenery. These days, he’s usually spending his spare time mapping out routes and optimizing his gear for his next Algonquin adventure.

“In August of 2020, I completed my most memorable and shenanigan-laded camping trip to date. It was also my first camping trip since childhood, and the first that I planned myself. Needless to say, it did not go as expected.

Author overlooking a valley in Muskoka

Enthusiastic camper Brendan Rotz overlooking the river he and his friend Kamil navigated on a once-in-a-lifetime canoe trip.

I set my sights on the famed Barron Canyon, a granite-walled passage of the Barron River, located in the park’s northeast end, near Petawawa. I brought along a university friend, Kumil, a camping newbie who had never paddled before and whose idea of the outdoors is a downtown Toronto patio. I planned a route that would take three days and two nights, and involved nine portages in the first day alone. Ambitious? Probably.

We wanted to be in the water by 11 a.m. on our first day, so we started our journey before dawn. Our first stop was at Algonquin Bound, an outdoor outfitter that would supply us with a canoe and paddles, placed at our launch point, so there was no stress about strapping it to the roof of our car. We picked up our permits at the park gates, loaded our gear into the canoe and set off down Grand Lake.

The sun was shining, the breeze was gentle, the going was good. Our first portage took us 30 meters around a weir. One down, eight to go! We got into Stratton Lake for another leisurely paddle in the sunshine, then a 45-metre portage took us into St. Andrew’s Lake where we stopped for lunch. Our first real challenge of the day was a 500-metre portage into High Falls Lake, where we saw the first of a few stunning waterfalls, part of a chain of draping falls called the Cascades.

After a few more portages, my buddy (who, it is worth repeating, is a camping amateur) started complaining of blisters on his feet. Turns out, he neglected to wear socks. I had to triple-carry the gear on every portage by myself, causing my left boot to give out, with the sole of the shoe nearly separating. My solution? To strap it back together with some paracord (a mistake, forgetting tape) and get on with it. There were plenty more mishaps: Kumil wore a thermal T-shirt meant for winter by accident instead of a moisture-wicking athletic one. Instead of a newspaper for kindling, he brought old junk mail. Turns out, it doesn’t burn.

After nine hours of paddling, we finally got to the Barron Canyon at dusk. Our paddles broke the mirror-still water, the towering 300-feet walls of pink rock framed our last push towards campsite on the bank of the Barron River. At one point, a beaver started swimming parallel to our canoe, until he noticed us, slapped his tail – the sharp thwack echoed through the canyon – and disappeared below the surface. The sound of a bullfrog greeted us once we reached our site – I instantly recalled the sound from my childhood camping trips.

River and rocks in the Muskoka

The granite-walled Barron Canyon, located in Algonquin Park's north-east end.

In the morning, we awoke to rumbling thunder and an overcast sky. We broke camp just as it started to rain. After portaging for most of the day, the rain became intense; we hid under my poncho. We took a shortcut through Opalescent Lake to buy some time and powered through to the starting point. We had to pull over again to sit out another thunderstorm, and then made one final push towards the car, tired, but determined.

To reward ourselves, we stopped for beers at Canvas Brewery in Huntsville. The brewery offers tasting flights of seasonal brews, and there’s often a food truck parked nearby offering Caribbean jerk.

Even though the trip wasn’t perfect, it made for the most vivid, hilarious memories. And, I learned a lot about how to make camping even more enjoyable and efficient. Now, I pack lighter, and give myself more time to get to my campsite. I take the time to enjoy the paddles and meanders rather than rushing.

To me, camping feels like a must-do Canadian activity, it’s how people got around for thousands of years as they lived off the land. Plus, there’s always the hope of seeing wildlife: bears, moose, a bald eagle, or catching bass from the side of your canoe. My favourite moments are getting to the campsite and setting up my gear, cooking the fish I caught by the fire and mapping my progress from the day.

Canoe in Muskoka

Rotz and his friend traversed the river by canoe.

I love sitting in the back of the canoe and setting the course, paddling through wide open lakes or narrow rivers. When you portage, you pass through incredible waterfalls, rapids and beaver dams that you wouldn’t see if you were car camping. You get to see the full scope of Ontario’s incredible natural beauty.

Delicious eats and can’t miss cafés in Toronto’s Kensington Market

Hilary Ilkay grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, but her most treasured memories of the city are Kensington Market, a downtown neighbourhood made up of a tightly packed grid of Victorian homes turned into restaurants and quirky shops, punctuated by colourful murals and musicians busking on the streets. Hilary now works as a faculty fellow at the University of King's College in Halifax. But on every trip home, Kensington Market – with its plethora of excellent food, eclectic vintage stores and delightful people watching – is a must-visit.

Kensington Street Sign

The iconic sign that sits above the Kensington Market neighbourhood in Toronto.

“My earliest memory of Kensington Market is from late high school. I was completing my volunteer hours near the harbourfront. My dad, who worked in the city, would usually pick me up to take me for lunch. One day, we were deciding where to go, and he just suggested Kensington Market. I didn't really know much about it, as a sheltered high school student from the ‘burbs.

After walking around, we decided to have lunch at this spot called Wanda’s Pie in the Sky – a staple that’s been in the neighbourhood since 2007. We had a delightful meal together and, from there, it became our spot, the home of our weekly brunch. I became very predictable with my order: a weekend special called Eggs Wanda, which is a decadent croissant shell with béchamel, mushrooms, cheese and an egg baked into the center. It is glorious; I always order it with a side of one of their delicious salads. The taste of that dish, every Saturday, is to me what living in Toronto was all about.

Kensington street Graffitti

The area is known for its vibrant creative spirit, which extends to the eclectic street art dotted around Kensington Market.

One of the reasons I love Kensington is that it’s a sensory overload. You smell all these delicious aromas wafting out of different restaurants: bread baking, tacos on the grill, juice freshly pressed. When I’m in the middle of it, I feel like one big eyeball that takes everything in. I just want to absorb all the sights, I want to people watch, feeling almost invisible as I make my way through the streets.

All these years later, my perfect day in Kensington Market still involves a lot of eating. You can get cheese at Cheese Magic, bread at Blackbird, groceries at any of the many fruit and veggie stands. Tacos at Seven Lives are another standout. The health food shops like Essence of Life are also worth a shoutout – as I was coming into my own as a vegetarian and figuring out what to eat, these shops were affordable options with excellent quality products.

a second hand clothing store in Kensington

Independent stores are a hallmark of Kensington Market.

One of the things I love most about this neighbourhood is how fiercely it fights to stay independent and keep its feeling of community. Since its inception, the market has been shaped by so many cultures. It has been a gathering place and home to so many groups of new Canadians and its evolution is mappable to my own personal evolution. Just as it has changed, I’ve changed too.

Living in a big city like Toronto, you can often feel lost or unmoored. Kensington was always my anchor that gave me a sense of routine. Whether it was meeting a friend for a drink or dancing the night away at spots like Supermarket, I always knew I could find my place in those busy streets. I’m still following a lot of Toronto restaurants on Instagram, and there’s a new spot in the market, a Turkish restaurant called Pera Café, that’s next on my list. But mostly, when I visit now, I don’t go in with a plan; the best way to experience the market is to let it surprise you.

Striking hikes with scenic views in the Niagara region

In 2020, Cayuga, Ontario-based Graham Adlam started looking for creative ways to spend time with his children and friends outdoors in Niagara, places to soak in nature and take long hikes. Safe to say, he found plenty of options in this unique region at the southernmost tip of Ontario.

niagara region river

The magnificent Niagara Gorge.

When people think of the Niagara Region, the falls and tourist attractions are usually what come to mind. But Niagara has so much to offer by way of nature: It's packed with some of my absolute favourite scenic places to hike.

When I'm hiking with my family, it gives us the opportunity to catch up. There are fewer distractions; you can’t walk with your phone in your hand, or you’ll trip over something. Taking a hike lets us converse and connect with each other in a different way.

I did just that at St. Johns Conservation Area, just north of Fonthill, with my older son Matthew one afternoon in early summer. He had come across the area previously with his friends and thought it’d be a great place for us to take a walk with my two bernadoodles, Grace and Gypsy.

niagara region hike with dogs

Adlam enjoys hiking with his kids and his dogs throughout the Niagara region's many areas of natural beauty.

We arrived at the St. Johns Conservation Area at midday. As soon as you enter, there’s a pond right in the middle. The sun was shining beautifully and it lit up the area nicely. I remember there were leaves on the trees but it wasn’t full foliage, so there was still some sunlight getting through the leaves to warm us up. Geese swam around the pond with their baby goslings trailing close behind.

We did a loop around the conservation area that went past and around the pond. We spotted people fishing along little creeks that fed into the pond. While Matthew and I hike, we chat about what’s going on with his hobbies, like horseback riding, and his love life.

My daughter, Samantha, also lives in the Niagara area, in Grimsby. There’s a great hike near her, at the Beamer Memorial Conservation Area. You’re up at the top of the escarpment, at the end of a cliff. There are no obstructions, so there are a number of great views and lookouts that are built up on top of the rocks. I’ve spotted red-tailed hawks and so many turkey vultures here. There’s a set of stairs to get another 15 to 20 feet up in the air. You can see all the vineyards in Niagara, like Hidden Bench, and if it’s a clear day, you can see across the lake to Hamilton and Toronto. Some days, you can even spot the CN Tower.

Hiking has also been a great way to catch up with friends. I have a close friend that lives in St. Catharine’s: One summer afternoon, in July, he brought me down for a hike along the Niagara Gorge at Niagara Glen. It’s a pretty rugged hike, not for beginners. You want to make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear and are okay with uneven terrain.

dog overlooking water in niagara

Adlam's Bernadoodles love getting outdoors in the Niagara region just as much as he does.  

We walked down a set of stairs and downhill, along bridges and creeks to get to the Niagara River, which has Class 5 Rapids. Once you’re down there, it’s an awesome sight. The rapids have such massive power, enough to remove so much sediment and stone over the centuries. Even in July, we could still see the scars on the trees from where the ice crushed up against the trunks in the wintertime. Looking at the river, the turquoise water was so incredible. The river is beautiful, but it’s fast, it’s deep, and it’s very dangerous. Swimming is not permitted. So instead, we set up a picnic underneath where the cable car – Whirlpool Aero Car – goes across the river. It was a great day.

On my way back home from Niagara, I like to stop and bring some treats to enjoy with my wife. The Grove, on Niagara Stone Road, claims to have the best butter tarts, and I’m inclined to agree! I’ll sometimes stop at a winery too. The Cave Spring Vineyard Tasting Room, in Jordan, has some great bottles there that you can’t find anywhere else, like their Cabernet Franc. They have a great restaurant there as well.

Spending time outside in Niagara is a good reminder that there’s more to the region than the falls. There’s a great variety of flora and fauna to see. And everywhere you go, there’s the perfect backdrop for meaningful conversations with friends and family.

The awesome untapped wilderness outside my door in Northwest Ontario

Ed Trist used to work in the trades as a gas-fitter and then as a manager for the city of Dryden, Ontario. Since retiring three years ago, he has had more time to explore the land around his off-grid home on Avery Lake, just east of Dryden, with his daughter Claudia.

picture of a green island in a lake in the northwest

Northwest Ontario's unspoiled wilderness is full of lakes and islands to explore.

I’m a Métis citizen and I’ve lived in the wilderness for all of my life. Camping and exploring nature is something that I’ve always done. Nature in Northwest Ontario is especially unique because it’s so untapped: There are waterfalls that people don’t know about. You could hike to a lake, and it feels like nobody's ever touched it, ever seen it before you. Whether I’m camping with my family or exploring places on my own, being outdoors is something that’s always been important to me. There are always new discoveries waiting to be found, right on your own doorstep.

My daughter, Claudia, loves exploring the land as much as I do. I’m grateful for the time we get to spend together in nature discovering hidden gems and making memories that we’ll both treasure forever.

picture of the author camping in the northwest region of Ontario

Trist loves finding new places to explore in the area around his off-grid home in Avery Lake.

Sometimes we like to explore the area on Google Maps satellite view and new find places to check out. On Indian Lake, it seemed like there was a sandbar in the middle of the water when I looked online. So one day, I went with Claudia to check it out. Sure enough, there was a kilometre-long sandbar that snaked through the lake. It was never more than four inches deep. We walked along it and it felt surreal. I don't know how to express in words how cool it was.

On our way back home, Claudia and I stopped at Raleigh Falls, which is on Highway 17 between Dinorwic and Ignace. You can actually sit underneath the falls. Claudia went behind the falls to explore and I couldn’t see or hear her. She just poked her hand through the water every now and then. On the very top of the falls, there's a rock ledge where you can sit and overlook the drop. It’s like you’re in an infinity pool, with the water spilling over.

After a full day of adventuring, our go-to stop is a restaurant called Twin Towers. They’re famous for their Tower Burger and fries. It has a bit of a local following; they make the best strawberry milkshakes. We’ll also go to the Chip Box in Dryden. Until you’ve had chips from the Chip Box, you’ve not had the best fries in the world. The way they put the salt and vinegar on them – I’ve never had chips like this before.

picture of the author by Mameigwess Lake

Trist enjoys sharing Northwest Ontario's hidden treasures with friends and family, including his daughter Claudia.

One spot that Claudia and I keep returning to is Mameigwess Lake, which is between Dryden and Ignace. The lake is turquoise green and there are sandy beaches everywhere. It’s like you’re in the Caribbean! If you paddle over to the southeast side of the lake, from the water, you can see pictographs of animals on granite outcroppings with lines next to them, as if they were being counted. I’m not sure how old they are and what they’re trying to say, but I think it represents a hunt. It’s pretty cool to see.

People often don’t realize what’s in Northwest Ontario. I feel lucky that Claudia and I get to live here. I hope she remembers all the amazing sights and sounds we’ve discovered together over the years.

Our family’s sunny summer Saturdays in Wellington County

Jade Skuce, a real estate agent, lives with her husband Roland and their two-year-old daughter Meadow in Erin, a picturesque small town in Wellington County. They love exploring the region together as a family of three, especially in the summertime.

picture of the author and daughter in Wellington

Jade Skuce is passionate about sharing the best of Wellington County with her daughter, Meadow.

Ten years ago, Roland and I moved to Erin, Ontario. We love spending our free time outside, being so close to nature, whether that’s hiking or walking. Since our daughter, Meadow, was born in December 2020, we’ve been bringing her along with us on outdoor adventures. It’s been nice to rediscover the region through Meadow’s eyes – Wellington County is a great, wholesome place for families.

One of my favourite memories is bringing Meadow to pick strawberries for the first time. She’s a berry monster. She loves them!

It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies when we visited Butt's Berry and Flower Farm last summer. She was picking and eating strawberries the whole time, in the cutest way. She kept saying: “Yummy berries.” It was actually really cool for her to see where strawberries come from because she loves fruit so much. Toddlers love picking things up and putting them into baskets, so it was the perfect activity. For her to be in the field was such a great sensory experience.

We filled five baskets with berries, dropped a few off to my parents and in-laws that live nearby in Caledon, keeping one for ourselves. I couldn’t resist – the strawberries were so plump, fresh and red. They taste nothing like the berries you get from grocery stores. These ones are bursting with fresh flavour and they taste sweeter too. I made a strawberry rhubarb crisp with them; Meadow helped me mix the ingredients. We also just ate a bunch of them fresh with ice cream.

picture of young girl picking strawberries in Wellington

Skuce's daughter Meadow strawberry picking at Butt's Berry and Flower Farm.

There’s so much to do near our home in Erin, especially in the summer months. One of our favourite places to go for a stroll is the Elora Cataract Trailway. We’ll bring along our dog, a German shorthaired pointer named Lola. The trails are really smooth and flat. It’s a very easy trail, so it’s perfect for us to do with Meadow and Lola. You could even walk the trails with a stroller.

We usually try to structure our walks around a great café or a restaurant and combine the activity with breakfast or lunch. Tin Roof Café in Erin is one of our favourite spots. They have great sandwiches and salads. Everything is made in-house too. The owner, Rachel, is super friendly and such a fixture in the community. I love the small-town energy in Erin. Everyone kind of knows each other and we all try to support the local businesses, which I think is really cool.

Another fun activity for us in the summer is visiting nearby farm stands and shops in our area. That's definitely something we appreciate about living here. It’s more of an enjoyable experience than heading to a chain grocery store. And it’s better for the environment to support local. There’s so much incredible agriculture and farmland where we live. Sometimes there are little honour-system stands on the side of the road with fruit or eggs. You put five bucks in a container and take what you need.

Hiking in Wellington

Skuce's husband Roland hiking one of their favourite local trails, the Elora Cataract Trailway.

My husband has grown really interested in smoking meat since we moved to Wellington County, so we’ll often buy a nice cut of meat at Thatcher Farms, like a brisket or a pork shoulder. Thatcher Farms is great because they also have an outdoor swing set and jungle gym that Meadow can play on. Then we’ll bring the meat home and Roland will sit outside on a lawn chair with a cheeky beer to watch the smoker. He likes the Elora Borealis Pale Ale from the Elora Brewing Company, but he enjoys discovering different kinds of beers too, so sometimes he’ll get a variety pack.

As Meadow gets older, I’m looking forward to her appreciating our surroundings as much as we have. This summer, we’re getting a bike trailer so that we can bike along the trails in Wellington County together. Soon, she’ll be biking on her own too.

explore other seasons
Summer Fall Winter

Everyone’s perfect summer memory is different. As soon as the sun is out, you’ll find some crowding the patios on Toronto streets, while others eagerly dig their hiking shoes out of the closet for their first climb of the season. Certain locals spend summer portaging and paddling to the most scenic parts of the province, and still others head to the farms to pick berries as a family.

When you remember a landmark memory like that, you don’t just remember what happened – you remember where it happened, places you’ll go back to again and again.

Heading into summer, we asked five Ontarians to share their warm weather memories with you – where their summer firsts, bests and mosts took place. Travel along with them; use the map on the page by clicking on the icons to visit each local’s landmark memory across the province.

About the illustrator

Kathleen Fu is a Toronto-based Canadian illustrator whose work is heavily influenced by her background in fine art, architecture, and urban design. As a graduate of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, Kathleen draws inspiration from her experiences studying city life and storytelling. Her illustrations are characterized by intricate designs that feature a Where’s Waldo-esque style, filled with a plethora of unique characters and shapes. Kathleen’s work has been featured in several publications, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Reader’s Digest and many more.

Share your best Ontario summer memory using #DiscoverON

Return to top

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio on behalf of Destination Ontario. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.