Freedom seekers, adventurers, rescuers, artists and visionaries from Ontario’s dramatic past come to life on these unforgettable driving tours. Uncover stories of people who risked their reputations, livelihoods and ultimately their lives in the name of freedom, progress and expression.
BRUCE COAST LIGHTHOUSE TOUR, SOUTHERN GEORGIAN BAY
Uncover a treasure-trove of mariner tales, legends and lore in the Bruce Peninsula. Follow the historic route along Lake Huron’s shoreline to the rugged and craggy coast of the Georgian Bay, and visit 15 different lighthouses, stations and significant marine heritage sites, each with its own fascinating story.
In the mid-19th century, European settlers were first attracted to the area by the fishing and forestry prospects, which naturally led to a strong shipping industry as the main means of transport. These shipping routes soon gained the reputation as some of Ontario’s most storied waters due to early marine disasters around the shoals and islands – prompting the urgent need for navigation aids. So in 1855, the first Imperial Tower Lighthouse was built on Chantry Island in Southampton, with more to follow.
Tour the Marine Gallery at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre; be an Assistant Keeper at Cabot Head or Flowerpot Lightstation; the nine-story climb up the Point Clark Lighthouse is well worth it for the view; tour Chantry Island; view the wrecks and listen to local lore on Lake Huron; and cruise the turquoise waters over 20 shipwrecks from a glass bottom boat in Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Speaking of shipwrecks, rumour has it that the wireless station that replaced the old telegraph line linking Tobermory to the outside world picked up the far distant distress call of a sinking ship in April 1912 – it was the Titanic.
Along the way: One of the oldest buildings in town, the Tobermory Princess Hotel overlooks the Little Tub Harbour and Georgian Bay. Satisfy a hungry gang with fish tacos at The Fish & Chip Place. Consult the Saints & Sinners Bootleggers Run map for great craft beer, wine and cider producers in the area.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, SOUTHWEST ONTARIO
Not all heroes wear capes. The Underground Railroad represents the powerful story of over 30,000 heroic African-American men, women and children who escaped slavery in the United States between 1834 and 1860 along a clandestine network of routes, passages and safe houses, across the Detroit River and into southern Ontario.
Their story is legendary; touch, feel, see and hear it. Learn about the challenges they overcame and the accomplishments they achieved, and pay homage to their indestructible human spirit at key stops including the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum and The Amherstburg Freedom Museum. Visit Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site (Aug 4 is Emancipation Day at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an annual celebration of freedom), once home to the inspiration for the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s award-winning novel.
For the kids: Challenge bright, young minds (and rusty ones) to the spelling exercises at the 1861 school house at Buxton National Historic Site & Museum.
Along the way: Retro Suites Hotel in Chatham oozes personality. Each of the 45 suites in the century-old building is individually decorated, adding to the charm of the exposed brick walls and hallways filled with art and photos. Plus, the onsite diner, The Chilled Cork, offers a kid’s menu. Located in downtown Chatham, Sons of Kent Brewing Co. focuses on craft beer using traditional methods. Stop in at the eclectic Crazy Eight Barn for locally made ice cream and butter tarts.
TOUR TOM THOMSON COUNTRY, GROUP OF SEVEN DISCOVERY ROUTE
The Group of Seven was a community of Canadian artists in the early 20th century that drew inspiration from the country’s rugged environment. Their unique style of landscape painting represents a distinct thread in the fabric of Canadian artistic identity.
Tour the iconic locations and landscapes that inspired these visionaries on ‘Discovery Routes’. One of the six routes focuses on the group’s activity in and around Algonquin Park. Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, A.Y. Jackson and Arthur Lismer all were inspired by the expansive beauty of this land, but most will agree this is “Tom Thomson” country. Thomson has been credited with paving the way for the Group of Seven members to explore and achieve what they did.
Snap a selfie at the sculpture of the enigmatic artist outside the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville. Throughout Muskoka and Algonquin Park, follow the (guided or self-guided) Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery featuring over ninety hand-painted outdoor mural replicas of Group of Seven and Thomson’s masterpieces. Take in the 2018 exhibit Landmarks: A Portrait of Algonquin at the Algonquin Art Centre in the park, and set out on a guided canoe trip with Algonquin Adventure Tours. Venture west to Parry Sound and visit the two new Artists Stations, where you can channel your own artistic expression in the exact locations Thomson painted.
Along the way: Deerhurst Resort caters to all ages, with water activities and kids’ programs, as well as golf, spa and even private mural tours and painting workshop packages for the big kids. Don’t miss out on one of the area’s favourite sweet pastries, the Muskoka Cloud, from Henrietta’s Pine Bakery in Dwight or Huntsville. Explore the fresh flavours of Muskoka’s brews with Brew Tours.
Discover even more scenic and themed touring routes in Ontario here.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site photo credit: Ontario Heritage Trust