Our first main excursion with Hugo was a brief tour of Toronto. It was a warm day, and we walked the streets to look at a few of the popular sights: Nathan Phillips Square (where the big Toronto sign is) Yonge-Dundas Square (a sort of wannabe Times Square), Union Station and CN Tower, and the Harbourfront district. Although the city was fairly quiet, it was very busy at High Park, a short drive west of the CBD. We managed to find a parking spot and spent the afternoon going for the walk in the huge park. We also visited the free zoo within the park, and enjoyed seeing a few uncommon animals like reindeer and even capybaras!
The main city was nice, but we also enjoyed exploring around Hugo’s place in Richmond Hill, a city within the Greater Toronto Area. He showed us some cool local places, including walking trails and lakes within the “Greenbelt”, a protected area of forest and wetlands. We went for a bike ride around the neighbourhood and even played some three-person basketball and volleyball at the community courts! We also took the opportunity to have winter tires installed for the car at a local mechanic. In Canada, most places have requirements for special tires during the winter months; these winter tires have a wider tread and remain softer at low temperatures, making them better for driving on snow and ice. I cleaned the car of all the dust and dirt from our previous weeks of driving, and with the new tires, she really shined!
On Friday, we had a road trip up to Bruce Peninsula, a popular national park in Ontario. Because of the park’s popularity and covid restrictions, we had to reserve our spots in advance, and we only had a limited time slot to spend there. We departed early in the morning and Hugo drove us the three hours north. We had a brief stop in a cute town at the tip of the peninsula called Tobermory, and had a look at its quaint 1800s lighthouse. The coast around the peninsula was surprisingly rugged, and it was hard to imagine that the water was a lake and not the ocean.
We arrived in our time slot for the national park and walked out to and along the shoreline. Although not the most visually spectacular hike, there was an impressive beauty to the rocky shore and waves crashing against the rocks. We climbed partially down into the Grotto, a popular spot in summer due to the interesting rock formations and patches of calmer water. Hugo also provided an excellent piece of local knowledge, which was exploring a part of the trail further away from the Grotto – we got to practice our rock climbing skills by navigating some interesting pathways in the cliff!
The last excursion we’d planned was to visit Niagara Falls. The name Niagara Falls in fact refers to three waterfalls, but Horseshoe Falls (the iconic waterfall on the US-Canada border) is the stand-out. Spanning 800m and dropping 50m, the volume of water surging over the falls is a majestic sight. It was extremely quiet with the Canadian border closed to non-essential travel, and we were able to get some great views without having to deal with crowds of tourists. We also enjoyed an iconic Canadian “beaver tail” (deep-fried bread with various toppings).
The Niagara Falls are at an intersting point within the Great Lakes. These Lakes – Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario – contain 20% of the world’s fresh water and flow all the way to the Atlantic Ocean via the St Lawrence River. The falls is the part of the system that links the four upper lakes, which are all at roughly the same elevation, to Lake Ontario. We had already come to appreciate the size of Lake Superior, having had to drive around it on our way through Ontario, and it was cool to connected body of water so far south. A few weeks later, we ended up visiting the falls again by ourselves, and this time at night. There were changing coloured lights to illuminate the falling water and spray, so the view was just as impressive!
Elevation profile of the Great Lakes (source) We arrived just on dusk The big LED panels that colour the falls Stunning colours on the water The Canadian flag is partially hidden by the mist
Before we went back to Hugo’s, he drove us to the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The road followed the Niagara River downstream, and it was only 20 minutes from the falls. The town had beautiful brick buildings and decorated shopfronts. We went for a stroll through the town centre, had a picnic lunch in the main park, and visited a coffee shop with many uniquely-flavoured beans for sale.
As our time at Hugo’s drew to a close, we felt thankful to have had such generous friends during our adventures in Canada so far. Many times they had imparted a gift, offered us a place to stay, provided local knowledge, or just shared new experiences with us. One thing we really enjoyed at Hugo’s in particular (besides his tremendous hospitality) was the ability to easily have fun together and to participate in interesting, thoughtful conversations.
We were excited for our upcoming Workaway stays (and all the interesting things we’d come to experience from them…) but we would always have fond memories of our trip across the country.