Family Travel: A Day Trip to Smiths Falls, Ontario

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


When I first moved to Ottawa in 2000, the town of Smiths Falls meant one thing to me - Hershey chocolate. The Hershey factory was then open in Smiths Falls. Every time family or friends would visit, it seemed like we were doing the factory tour and buying chocolate at their store. Unfortunately, the factory closed down in 2008 so my visits to the town diminished. 

The second wave of visits came when our son, David, went through his Thomas the Train phase. Smiths Falls is home to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. We visited the museum numerous times including special events where David got to go for a train ride. This was exciting stuff, especially to four-year-old David who believed in Thomas almost as much as Santa Claus.

Now that David is eleven, we had not recently been back to the town but were looking for a day trip destination from Ottawa when my parents were visiting. Being only about an hour drive from our house, Smiths Falls was a perfect choice. We started the day off at the Heritage House museum. My Dad is a history buff so he enjoyed reading all about the house which was built in the 1860s. There was also a market day going on meaning local vendors and artisans were selling their products. A guitarist from the area provided the relaxing background music. 

Heritage House - Smiths Falls, Ontario

Heritage House - Smiths Falls, Ontario

Just a one minute drive from Heritage House was the Old Slys lock station on the Rideau Canal. I always love visiting the lock stations and would like to visit them all one day. It is amazing this piece of engineering from the 1830s is still in use today. We met a couple of workers as they cranked the lock open for an incoming boat. 

Rideau Canal Locks - Smiths Falls

Rideau Canal Locks - Smiths Falls

It was now time for some lunch. In the past few years, many new restaurants have opened in Smiths Falls. We heard the sandwiches at Cafe Whim were delicious so decided to check it out. We immediately felt at home as our server was very friendly. As promised, the sandwiches were huge and tasty. We all picked different sandwiches which allowed for sharing. 

Having had a hearty meal, the plan was to work some of it off. We headed to the local beach and made a cool discovery. There was a new water trampoline in the swimming area. David quickly changed and swam out to the trampoline. He jumped on the trampoline and slid down the mini-slide. After about fifteen minutes, one of the other kids playing yelled out “snake!” This word might frighten some kids but our son loves snakes. It was a northern water snake and did not pose a danger to any of the kids. I was only afraid that David might hop into the water and try to catch the snake a la Crocodile Dundee. 

The second part of David’s great adventure was to check out the beach and shallower swimming area. He soon discovered that there were crayfish at the bottom of the lake. It was not very deep so he decided to go swimming for the crayfish. We spent about the next forty minutes as David had the time of his life diving for crayfish. In total, he was able to catch and release two crayfish. My wife, Sandy, was not totally into the crayfish experience but she did take some awesome photos.

Swimming Area - Rideau Canal locks

I felt like the water trampoline added a lot. It felt like something you might see at the beach in the Riviera Maya. The shallow swim area was also perfect for younger children. The bottom was a bit rocky so swim shoes might be the way to go. 

We took a quick shower and were ready to see more of the town. We were still full from our hearty lunch so just needed a light snack. It was about 32 degrees Celsius outside so of course, the perfect choice was ice cream. We found an ice cream shop within walking distance, Sweet Scoops. The ice cream cones were affordably priced but more important were delicious. We did make an involuntary contribution to the sidewalk as our cones melted under the heat. It only gave us that much more reason to devour them quickly. 

Sweet Scoops, Smiths Falls

Sweet Scoops, Smiths Falls

For our last activity, we took in the Outerbridge Clockwork Mysteries show at the Station Theatre. The show features the magic of Ted Outerbridge and his partner Marion. Ted Outerbridge is one of the top illusionists in Canada so we felt fortunate to see him in such an intimate venue. 

The show was fast-paced and entertaining. Many of the tricks left us with our jaws dropped wondering how he did it. At one point, David wanted Sandy and I to give up our wedding rings for one of the tricks. I politely declined David’s offer to the magician as I tightly held my ring. Of course, all rings were safely returned to the participants.

Station Theatre, Smiths Falls

Station Theatre, Smiths Falls

Ted and Marion have recently moved to Smiths Falls which gave the performance a community feeling. People from out of town did not feel like they were crashing the event. More like they were joining the party. 

Ted performed his final trick of the evening and it was time for us to head back to Ottawa. The transformation of Smiths Falls has been incredible. I always liked the city but did not think of it as a top tourist destination. Additions like the water trampoline, family-friendly entertainment, and new restaurants have opened my eyes. We are planning to make a return visit later this summer and Hershey kisses have nothing to do with it. 

For more information about tourist attractions and the latest events, visit www.smithsfalls.ca.



KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  


Some people say that Canadian history is boring. Perhaps they have never done the Haunted Walk Experience at the Mackenzie King Estate.

Two years ago, my wife, Sandy and our son, David, did a haunted walk tour around downtown Ottawa. Haunted walk are the tour guides who wear the black capes and carry the lanterns. We enjoyed our experience as we learned a lot of history about the city and was not too scary for children. 

When I saw they also offered haunted tours at Mackenzie King estate, it was on our summer to-do list!


We arrived at P6 parking lot well ahead of our 8:15 pm meeting time and explored a few of the trails. We were greeted by our black-cloaked tour guides who provided us with flashlights and also suggested applying a coat of bug spray. 

At 8:30 pm, we met our tour guide, Natasha, and we were off to hear ghost stories and explore the grounds of the estate. 


Mackenzie King is one of our most well-known prime ministers. King led us through a good portion of the Great Depression and World War II. He may be equally as well-known for participating in seances and believing in spiritualism. Ripe fodder for a ghost tour. 

The estate is divided up into two distinct areas. The first is Kingswood where Mackenzie King purchased his first property in 1903. Natasha took us to the main cottage and shared a few spooky stories about the cottage. King was particularly close to his mother and was devastated when she passed away. We were allowed to explore inside the rooms with our flashlight. I felt like I was on an episode of Ghost Hunters. 

We proceeded to the second and more grandiose section of the estate, Moorside. King developed this area after he became prime minister. He would receive foreign dignitaries and heads of state at Moorside. Natasha shared more information about King and some of the strange sightings at Moorside. 

We were again allowed to explore inside the building with our flashlights. After hearing some of the stories, David succeeded in scaring me! He snuck up behind me and said, “Hello Father.” I could have sworn it was Mackenzie King himself.

Our last stop was the Abbey Ruins. This was the scariest and most spectacular area of the estate. King was interested in architecture and would save portions of buildings that were being demolished. These included the parliament hill building which had been destroyed in the 1916 fire. We were treated to a clear sky where we could see the stars and moon. Natasha shared her creepiest stories and we all gripped our flashlights a little bit tighter. And they say Canadian history is boring. 


If you go - it is advised to bring mosquito spray as a good portion of the tour is outside in the evening so that means bugs. Also, coming to Mackenzie King Estate is not too difficult as all the parkways are open. Once the tour is done the main parkways are closed so this means taking back roads back to the highway. It may be helpful to have a GPS or a good map. As mentioned, the tour was not crazy scary and would be suitable for an older child, especially if he/she is into history. 

For more information and schedules visit, www.hauntedwalk.com

Full disclosure, Stephen’s tickets for various attractions were covered for the purposes of this blog post, but all opinions are his own.

Family Travel: Chaffey’s Lock

KITC would like to welcome back guest blogger, Stephen Johnson. Stephen Johnson is an Ottawa writer who loves to write about family travel.  During the summer, you will most likely find him and his family at a local fair or festival. During the winter, a beach in Mexico is a likely bet.  



It was the first truly nice day of June. It was also a PD day for our son, David and I had the day off. The perfect combination for a road trip.

We decided to go check out Chaffey’s Lock. Located about 1.5 hours south of Ottawa on the Rideau Canal system, Chaffeys Lock is perhaps most well-known for having a lock station.

Family Travel_ Chaffey's Lock.png

We arrived late morning and were lucky enough to see the lock station in action. A pleasure cruiser arrived and the Parks Canada staff manually cranked the locks to move the bridge. It felt like stepping back in time. The same process would have been used a hundred years ago.

David was interested to see the process but when I had told him that Chaffey’s Lock was prime snake habitat, that was his primary focus. David has loved snakes since he saw a Little Ray’s Reptile presentation when he was three. We have been all over Ontario looking for snakes.

I have learned when searching for snakes, it can be very hit or miss. We got an insider tip from the Parks Canada staff and headed to the end of the point at the locks. At first, we did not find anything, and then I saw something slithering towards me. It was a Northern Water Snake. David jumped into action and took multiple photos with our smart phone.

Chaffey's Lock Water Snake

David is always very respectful when viewing nature and let the snake go on his way. We lingered around the area for awhile longer. This time, David spotted something in the water and it was another Northern Water Snake. I was afraid that David might jump in the water to go swimming with it but thankfully, my wife Sandy, is always able to steer the ship with some common sense.

We had satiated our desire to see snakes so it was time to check out Chaffey’s Lock. While not an overwhelming metropolis. There were still many cool things to see and do. We first headed to Opinicon Resort. I had visited Opinicon about fifteen years ago. Frankly, at the time, it looked a bit tired. The resort was bought a few years ago and I was happy to see all the improvements.

The first order of the day was to visit the ice cream parlour. There were multiple flavours and a single scoop was the size of most double scoops at other ice cream shops. We took our ice cream outside and David discovered the playground. The coolest feature was a zip line built for kids. The playground had a nature theme which fit in with the beauty of the location.

Caffey's Lock zip line

Opinicon has a pub and restaurant for fine dining. There are also cottage style accommodations for an overnight visit. I could imagine us making a return trip to the Opinicon.

It was now time for the main reason we had visited Chaffey’s Lock. I had read very good reviews online about Rideau Tours. They offer up kayak, canoe, paddleboard and bike rentals along with boat cruises. We opted for the more relaxed activity and chose the three lake loop boat tour.

We met our friendly, tour guide and boat operator, Captain Luc and were underway. The pontoon boat was very comfortable and had a cover shielding us from the hot mid-afternoon sun. The conversation with Captain Luc was as if you were seeing an old friend again and not a total stranger. It was obvious he was very well acquainted with the area and knew the history well.

Caffey's Lock Boat Tour

Our first big sighting was seeing a group of turtles basking on some rocks enjoying the sun. As our boat approached, the turtles slowly made their way into the water. David identified the turtles as painted and snapper turtles. Captain Luc kept a respectful distance as we watched the turtles swim by.

Captain Luc then showed us Richardson island where Agnes Etherington set up a hospital called Fettercairn for her brother and other veterans suffering from shell shock who had served in World War I. She found they responded well to the tranquility of nature.

Our next destination was the Newboro Lock. We gently cruised along Indian, Clear and Newboro Lake. I could feel the stress of the work week slipping away as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Chaffey's Lock scenery

We arrived at Newboro Lock and took a break to stretch our legs. I started to think I could get used to this boat cruising lifestyle. It was interesting to read the historical panels at Newboro Lock. We did not find any more snakes but enjoyed the visit.

On the way back, we saw more stunning lakeside scenery. Captain Luc showed us his favourite swimming hole. The water was still too cold to swim since it was only early June but we made a vow to return. We also covered every topic under the sun from the Montreal Canadians to classic rock.

Soon enough, we were once again back at Chaffey’s Lock. We had an unexpected surprise. Captain Luc’s partner, Anne Marie, had prepared a gourmet picnic for us. It consisted of locally produced artisan sausage, cheese, organic heirloom vegetables and homemade lemonade. Relaxing over good food and conversation was the perfect way to wrap up our visit to Chaffey’s Lock and with Rideau Tours.

Chaffey's Lock Tour Picnic

Rideau Tours offers many different tours and packages including overnight stays. The picnic meal is also available on many of the activities. For full information about all the various options visit, www.rideautours.ca

During the summer months there are plenty of other things to see and do around Chaffey’s Lock including the Chaffey’s Mill Art Gallery which features works of local artisans and the Chaffey’s Lockmaster’s Museum. Check out www.chaffeyslock.ca for all the info. For the outdoor enthusiasts the Cataraqui Trail (an old rail line now part of the TransCanada Trail) offers 100 km of hiking that also links to the Rideau Trail. If fishing is of interest head over to Brown’s Marina for all your supplies. They are located right in Chaffey’s Lock and if you chat with the locals they may just share some “Fish Tales” that are best told sitting on the “Liar’s Bench” at the Opinicon Resort.

Disclaimer: For the purpose of this review, Stephen was compensated for the boat tour and meal but all views are his own.

Mother–Daughter Time

I was given two opportunities recently for some mother-daughter time and I took them both. The first was a Groupon for a night's stay at Montebello and the second was a day out in a Ford Focus Electric to explore my city

The first I took with my daughter, the second I took with my mom. 

My daughter and I have done special Mommy-Daughter things since she was born, but staying over night and going swimming not once, not twice but three times at a hotel with a sundae bar? That's super special. And it's something she's only really done with Daddy in the past. 

My mother lives with me and while we do go out to movies or go shopping sometimes, we don't often get to spend a day just out without the kid. We drove around Gatineau Park, we went to high tea at Mackenzie King Estate, we stopped for some window shopping. 

There's something about the relationship between mother and daughter. It's special, often tense, sometimes frustrating. Not always easy, to put it mildly. So a bit of time removed from reality is sometimes required. 

Getting away – exploring together away from reality a bit – is the best way to reconnect. 

My daughter, who enjoys being photographed

My daughter, who enjoys being photographed

My mother, who does not enjoy being photographed

My mother, who does not enjoy being photographed

I highly recommend getting out with your kids, having some time. Just being together, talking, doing the fun things they choose to do. One of my greatest memories from childhood was the trip to Toronto my mother took us on - just her, my sister and me. We took the train, we spent three days, saw Phantom, shopped at the giant Sam the Record Man. It was great. 

It's great getting to repay a bit of that, and it's great paying it forward, doing things with my daughter that I know she's going to remember.