Review: Parry Sound
Muskoka in the Fall
163 people found this review helpful
Last fall I had the opportunity to go to Muskoka a couple of times. Once for a week at a cottage on Miller's Lake just outside Parry Sound with my aunt and my sister and once for a girlz weekend with some friends just outside Bracebridge. Both trips were very enjoyable so I thought I'd pass along some ideas for anyone who may be interested in taking in some beautiful scenery in Ontario next year. Whether you go at another time of year, or in the fall to see the lovely trees changing from different shades of green to the vibrant yellows and oranges of autumn.
We found a number of cottages in Parry Sound on line. After a few attempts we were successful in booking The Tranquil Times Cottage through www.rent-cottage-canada.com and were very happy with our choice. It is a lake front cottage, 2,500 square feet and sleeps 10. The cottage has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with a sauna, and a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, living room, reading nook and games (table tennis and air hockey) and TV room. It is a bungalow with a walkout basement. The main floor has a deck along the back overlooking Miller's Lake and faces west so there are lovely sunsets off the deck in the evening. The lot is steeply sloped down to the water (there are wooden stairs) and there is a fire pit and a dock with a paddleboat, dive raft and canoe. As we were there in mid-September we weren't looking for a swimming spot but it would have been nice for that too, as the little lake is not busy. The web site shows lots of pictures of the cottage inside and out and provides some ideas of things to do in the area.
The cottage was a scenic 10-15 minute drive from Parry Sound – a lovely drive up hills and round bends for someone like me who lives in the flat prairie. We spent a fair bit of time in town shopping (i.e. getting a head start on Christmas and catching up on recent birthdays) and found a lot of things to do. The first day we got our bearings in town and spent a fair bit of time shopping on Seguin Street and James Street which becomes Bay Street where you will find the harbour and airport (sea planes). The Country Gourmet on James Street is a great place for a quick lunch with lots of choice of salads and baked goods. Our other shopping finds include The Wolf Den for native crafts and souvenirs, Beverly's for cottage décor, and Parry Sound Books all on James Street, Huckleberry's on Bay Street for cottage décor and The Boathouse for clothing and gifts in the Island Queen Cruise building on the Town Dock.
We also drove up Tower Hill and climbed the tower above the tree line to see the views and take pictures. It was a bit breezy but the views were worth it. We arrived too late in the day to spend any time in the West Parry Sound District Museum on the hill as it closes at 5:00 pm. There you will find displays on logging, First Nations, shipping, agriculture, trapping, and the fur trade along with fine art and special exhibits throughout the year. Table tennis after dinner was a good way to work off some of the treats we had found at a vintage sweet shop on Seguin Street. A good place for dinner is Trapper's Choice Restaurant at Trapper's Inn on Joseph Street in the north end of town up by the mall – the food is tasty and the service is prompt and warm, and a good sign is that it is always busy.
The only thing we booked ahead of time was the three-hour afternoon cruise of the 30,000 Islands on the Island Queen for a cost of $35 each plus tax. We booked it on line and if we weren't able to make it on the day we had booked there was the option of changing it to another day once we arrived – a good option depending on the weather. The cruise ship holds up to 550 passengers on three decks and is a great way to spend an afternoon exploring this area which has recently been designated by the United Nations as a Biosphere Reserve. The scenery on the cruise is just what you would imagine from the Group of Seven paintings with its twisted pines, golden sand beaches and dramatic granite cliffs. Some highlights for us that afternoon were the Hole in the Wall passage, Gull Island, Killbear Point, the Outer Islands, an osprey in its nest and the Rose Point Swing Bridge. Prior to the cruise we went to the Bay Street Café for lunch. It has a good selection of lunch and dinner items and has a picturesque deck overlooking the harbour. I highly recommend the small spinach salad and mussels.
If you are a hockey fan, the Bobby Orr Museum is in Parry Sound at the Stockey Centre for Performing Arts. My sister checked out the museum while we checked out the centre. It is in a lovely location on Bay Street just past the Town Dock and was very busy the day we went with an exhibition for seniors. We found a quiet spot at the back overlooking the patio and Georgian Bay to edit each other's photographs. One of the benefits (or not, depending how you look at it) of digital cameras is being able to edit which photographs of yourself you are happy with and which will be deleted on the spot.
In order to get home to see one of the colourful sunsets one evening we picked up some Chinese food at JJ Garden Chinese on James Street – very good lemon chicken, beef and broccoli and veggie fried rice. We even had time to do a bit more shopping while our order was being prepared.
One day we ventured further afield to the Johnston's Cranberry farm and winery in Bala, the cranberry capital of Ontario. It is an easy day trip south east of Parry Sound and well worth a visit. Johnston's Cranberry Marsh is the oldest cranberry farm in Ontario and has been in operation since 1950. The winery has been in operation since 2001 and is the only winery in Muskoka. The farm and winery is open year round (9:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 4:00 pm on Sunday) though it was pretty quiet when we were there as it was September. We went on the self-guided walking tour of the cranberry marsh. At first sight it doesn't seem like there is anything growing but as you get closer to the beds you can see the bright red berries. It was interesting to read about the family, their land management practices and the business of growing cranberries, including the flooding of the fields three times a year one of which is for the harvest. There is a gift shop where you can buy all manner of cranberry products from wine to chutneys, candles and marmalade and you can taste the different wines to decide which ones you want to savour at a later date. Every year the Bala Cranberry Festival occurs the weekend after Thanksgiving if you want to time your visit to coincide with some festive activities. If you are there in summer you will see the cranberry blossoms. During the harvest in the fall there are wagon tours, wine tasting, the outdoor Cranberry Café, a Farmer's Market, helicopter rides and the opportunity to see the harvest itself. In the winter you can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the Cranberry Trails. In spring you will see herons, ducks and other animals in the marshes. I'm sure I saw a beaver! We spent some time in Bala after we'd been to the farm/winery and had lunch at Annie's Café and Deli. Of special note was the apple/cranberry crumble that we shared for dessert! As it was the off season and too early for the festival, there wasn't much open in town the day we went but it is a pretty little spot.
That evening (Thursday) back in Parry Sound, we went on an Historical/Haunted Walking tour with Terry Boyle, host of CTV's Creepy Canada. I hadn't seen the show but my aunt had seen it and my sister was really psyched about going on the tour. It started at 7:30 pm under the Trestle Bridge on Bay Street and cost $13 for adults and $10 for students. There were 19 of us on the tour. It was a chilly evening, especially the first half hour we spent under the Trestle Bridge and along the harbour where our host was telling stories of tragedies in Parry Sound while we sat in the gardens shivering before we commenced on our walk. I should make a slight amendment to that, as the Trestle Bridge is actually the first stop on the tour with a number of deaths occurring off the bridge. It is the longest CPR trestle bridge in Ontario, spans over 1,765 feet and is 110 feet high. I have been on a number of ghost walks in the past – namely the Jack the Ripper walking tour in London, England; a ghost walk in York, England that started and ended at a pub; and a ghost walk in Prague, Czech Republic which also ended in a pub. However this one was different. Along with the stories of tragic and mysterious deaths, Mr. Boyle had us all taking pictures to see if we could capture any energy that we weren't able to see with the naked eye. With this new age of digital cameras our results were instantaneous – many of us were finding orbs of light/energy in our photographs. One in the party had 20 or more in some of her photographs. If you zoomed in on the orbs you were able to see people and not all of them were from this century. All in all, as we were walking around downtown and around the houses on the edge of downtown, I did begin to warm up and although the tour was billed as being from 7:30 – 9:00, it was closer to 9:30 by the time we were done. Our host was very generous with his time exchanging stories with people after the tour and selling them his books. The tour was a bit creepy and very interesting. If you're into this kind of entertainment, there is also a tour in Bala on Wednesday nights. The next morning we returned to the same route and retraced our steps taking photographs in the daylight with not an orb in sight. One of the spots is actually quite a nice lookout point over the Coast Guard Base where you can get good shots of the Island Queen cruise ship heading out on its daily tours.
Speaking of cruises, we went on another one towards the end of our visit – the MV Chippewa III that is an old Maid of the Mist boat from Niagara Falls. We booked the cruise a few days ahead of time over the phone, as there was no one in the office at the Town Dock. It is an early start leaving the dock on Bay Street at 9:15 am for a six-hour cruise that was $36 each plus tax. The aim was Frying Pan Island for fish and chips at Henry's restaurant. The only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. The cruise is lovely through the 30,000 Islands and the food at the restaurant is excellent. However be warned you do not need to each order a meal. The food is not included in the price of the cruise and a member of the crew will take your order on route so it is ready when you arrive. Not knowing the size of the portions, the three of us each ordered battered fish and chips ($15.99) but we could easily have shared one order between us. The fish was fresh pickerel and came with chips, coleslaw, baked beans and buns. There was also the option of pan fried fish instead – hence the name of the island… Needless to say we had a lot of leftovers and had fish and chips for supper back at the cottage. A seaplane came in while we were eating and a Coast Guard cutter came in just after we docked so we weren't the only ones imbibing on what turned out to be Henry's last day open for the season. We had plenty of time to stretch our legs and soak up some sunshine after lunch before getting back aboard for the return trip. This company also offers other cruises – a 4 1/2 hour cruise to Craganmor Point Resort Restaurant, a 2 1/2 hour Cocktail or Sunset Dinner Cruise and 2 hour afternoon sightseeing cruises.
Another good place to eat is Kudo's on Bay Street. We went in one afternoon to check out the menu to see if it would be a good place for us to get dressed up one night and go out for a nice meal. It certainly fit the bill. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was on the menu so we were hooked. It was delicious and the service was very prompt and attentive.
We were able to spend a couple of afternoons relaxing on the deck at the cottage and managed to get out in the paddleboat one day as well. One evening we had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows then dipped them in Bailey's – heaven! Thanks to my sister for that little tip. We have many fond memories of our time at the cottage. They include checking the temperature every morning to see if it was above zero to taking a picture every morning off the deck to track the changing of the trees across the lake and capturing the mist and the reflection of the trees in the lake.
Our last day in Parry Sound coincided with the Terry Fox Walk/Run so we participated in that event followed by one last lunch at the Bay Street Café soaking up the sunshine, overlooking the harbour and Tower Hill.
Whatever time of year you choose to visit this area of Canada you will find beautiful scenery and lots to do inside and out. Parry Sound is known as the Jewel of Georgian Bay and with good reason! Whether you enjoy summer or winter sports or prefer to park yourself on a beach, dock or by a warm fire with a book, you couldn't find a more lovely area in which to spend some time.
As mentioned earlier, my other trip up to Muskoka in September was to a friend's cottage for an annual girlz weekend. This cottage is just outside Bracebridge on Lake Muskoka. The weekend coincided with the 33rd Annual Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour. It is a two-day event during which local artists open their studios to the public (many offering food and drink while you check out their wares). Whether you are into pottery, woodwork, ironwork, jewelry, paintings, tapestries or glass, it is a good event to get a head start on gift shopping or finding that special piece you've been looking for yourself. This year we visited Jim Carter a Blacksmith just outside Bracebridge who's smithy we have been to before. We also visited the studios of Lynn Norris a wood relief carved wildlife artist and Christine Marshall a wildlife painter, both in Bala. Our last studio stop was at Hinterglas Castle between Bala and Gravenhurst, the home of Bonnie Bews who does reverse glass paintings and illustrations for children's books (e.g., Slimon the Slug, Zelda and Esmeralda, etc.).
We also spent some time in Port Carling at the Red Canoe Gallery and various clothing and cottage related stores. As you can see, the tour takes you all over – you can either focus on one area or go further afield. As we had previously focussed on the Bracebridge area, we decided to wander a bit further this time. However, it was such a nice day it wasn't long in the afternoon before we decided to head back to the cottage to relax on the dock and line up the appetizers and cosmos and settle in for the evening. You just can't beat watching the sunset on the dock with good friends, good food and a good drink by your side.
Some websites you may find helpful:
www.islandqueencruise.com - to book your 30,000 Island cruise.
www.wpsdm.com – for the West Parry Sound District Museum.
www.cranberry.ca – for Johnston's Cranberry Farm and Winery and to book private bookings for Terry Boyle's Historical/Haunted walking tours of Parry Sound and Bala.
www.spiritofthesound.ca – for the MV Chippewa III cruises.
for the specific cottage we booked. The pictures on the website are very accurate for depicting the cottage inside and out. for general information on Parry Sound and the area.
www.rent-cottage-canada.com – to find a cottage in any area of Canada.
www.stockeycentre.com – for the performing arts centre in Parry Sound has a 480 seat performance hall and was built for the Festival of the Sound.
www.gbcountry.com – is a good web site for the area as it is Parry Sound Area's Tourism Marketing Agency.
www.kudoskuisine.com – if you want to check out the menu at this dining establishment – apparently they have cooking classes on Sundays.
for good simple fare. for information on the studio tour.
www.wildlifegallery.ca – for Christine Marshall's extremely life like work.
www.bonniebews.com – for Bonnie Bews work.
www.redcanoegallery.com – for this Port Carling gallery which displays work from a number of artists.
www.downtownbracebridge.com – for visitor information on Bracebridge, considered Muskoka's downtown.
163 people found this review helpful
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