When I told someone we were going to explore Brantford for a day trip out of the Toronto area last week, their response was a single word – “why?”
I can understand their reason for asking – in an area that includes Toronto, Hamilton, and Niagara Falls, Brantford is rarely mentioned as a place to go searching for summertime fun. But for someone who has spent years in Southern Ontario, I am always looking for new adventures and places to check out. And I am rarely disappointed. Adventure, they say (I have no idea who “they” are) is a state of mind. Or in Canadian-speak, I am a wild party (rah, rah, ole!)*. That may be stretching it. Perhaps a mild party.
I know some people think travel writers are always looking for goofy “out there” opportunities like wrestling alligators while jumping out of an airplane. But to this day I haven’t met an alligator who has the guts to try it with me, so until then I need to find other ways to amuse myself.
Anyway, we chose Brantford and had a fantastic time. Driving from Oakville (just west of Toronto), we took back roads to our destination, avoiding the busy and boring 403. Zipping along Highway 5 we quickly left the city and found ourselves in farmland. I love this about Ontario. Drive for a few minutes – from almost anywhere – and you can usually find a farm.
As we looked fondly on ears of corn, reaching upward towards the sky, it reminded me of being a kid and betting my father that I was taller than the corn. I lost, and still owe my dad five bucks to this day. The moral of the story is that the corn is taller than you think it is, and the nine year-old version of me couldn’t be trusted to make good on a bet. Regardless of your corn knowledge, it makes for some nice summer scenery:
We lazily made our way to Brantford, planning out our stops. The lovely Angela was accompanying me, so she graciously agreed to drive if we were to stop at our favourite local brewery, Bell City. As luck would have it, Bell City was launching a new beer, so the place was hopping (yep, that was a beer pun) and everyone was happily quaffing Edison’s Peep Show, the new West Coast IPA.
We found Kevin, one of the staff who helped us out when I taped the podcast last month with Scott Wilson (TV’s Departures – go back to this post to learn more about our great discussion about a life in travel), and he quickly set us up by pouring a perfect pint. There’s a reason he was Employee of the Month, March 2006. Supervising is the talented and affable Craig.
I enjoyed the Peep Show and decided to fill up a growler to take home. I think the growler is one of the finest inventions since the wheel and the remote control. Tiffany, one of Bell City’s fine folks, filled it up for me while I wandered around the brewery.
Tiffany loves beer, and has her own travel blog where she talks about all things beer related. You can find it at www.thetravellingpint.com. She calls herself a “hopportunist” and has just developed a new flavour for Bell City that uses Cap N’ Crunch cereal. Yep, that’s a box of Cap N’ Crunch on the side of the fermentation tank on the right.
Check back with Bell City on this new beer, as I have a feeling that when it’s ready people who are serial beer drinkers will quickly become cereal beer drinkers.
As a Brantford outing, Bell City has a nice little tap room where they’ll happily pull you a pint and you can enjoy some time hanging out with friends and family. Or sit and drink by yourself if you need a break from the family. The Bell City folks are fun and they’ll make good substitutes.
The city of Brantford is known for having two exceptionally famous people who have called it home. Off to a great start at the brewery, we decided to venture out and honour them both.
First on the list was Wayne Gretzky, who grew up in Brantford. His famous backyard rink on Varadi Avenue is the stuff of legend in Canadian hockey lore, so we felt we had to do something Gretzky related. Not seeing any Gretzkys wandering around on the street, we played it safe and made for the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre (or the WGSC from here on in).
The WGSC is a massive multi-use sports facility in the middle of town. It’s an homage to Wayne, but more importantly, it provides a fantastic facility for the people of Brantford, and has done so for almost 40 years.
Out front is what interested us. A fantastic statue of Wayne hoisting the Stanley Cup in front of a younger version of himself and his parents proudly stands. It’s a cool nod to his importance in the community, and if you’re a hockey fan like I am, I really enjoyed checking this out. I met Gretz when I was a kid. I played with his brother Brent when I was trying out for the Belleville Bulls, I’ve met his father, and taught hockey schools with players who played with him. I’ve eaten at his restaurant in Toronto and still have his autograph in my office. So this should put into context my feelings toward Wayne – in short, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
There’s plenty of detail and the statue is a great way to honour the classy and talented guy who has represented both Brantford and Canada so well for so many years.
Following our visit at the WGSC we zipped over to the Bell Homestead, a national historic site and former home of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. We used our cell phones to navigate, noting the obvious – without Bell’s invention we wouldn’t be able to find his home. Of course, without his invention we wouldn’t have been looking for his home.
I’m a bit of a history buff, so I’m occasionally drawn to historical houses, locations, and landmarks. Even so, I wasn’t super jazzed to go and see an old house on the outskirts of town, but as soon as we got there I knew I would enjoy it.
The grounds are perfect, big old trees dotting the landscape and beautifully manicured lawns surrounding the house where Alexander Graham Bell stayed while he came up with the idea for what he called a “speaking telegraph”. Bought in 1870 by his father, A. Melville Bell Esq., the house is referred to as “Melville House”.
When you enter you realize how perfectly this house has been maintained. Which makes sense, since it’s been a heritage property / memorial since it was purchased in 1909 by the Bell Telephone Memorial Association. They essentially gave it to the city, who opened it up to the public in 1910. So for more than a century it’s been looked after, well cared for, and managed to cater to visitors.
The first room sets the tone for what you’ll see – great sets from a time gone by.
I had a good time trying to hand hold my spiffy new camera while taking indoor HDR images. Thankfully the Canon 70D I’m now rocking is fast enough for me to (just) pull it off.
The whole house makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Murdoch Mysteries. Angela comments that she loves the high ceilings and chandeliers.
In the sitting room they had an interesting piano that seemed to only take up half the space – bigger than a harpsichord but smaller than a piano. I should have asked our very knowledgeable host about it, but forgot.
There were plenty of interesting things to check out, from the sun room (which had to be about 14500 degrees on a 35 degree day outside – I could only spend a minute in there)…
…to the kitchen…
…to the hallways…
…and everything in between. It’s a beautiful old house, built in a style you just don’t see anymore.
Not much in the way of phones and gadgets, though, so the city moved the first ever business office in Canada (to have a telephone) right next door. Inside you can check out old phone models, switchboards, and ads as the phone evolved over time. I found it less interesting than the Melville House, but as a package it’s all fairly fascinating if you’re into this kind of thing.
Full of Canadian history, sporting lore, and with a growler of Brantford’s best beer in the trunk it was time for us to get back on the road. We hit a fruit stand, loaded up on tasty local Ontario fruit, and made for home.
We had one more stop to make along the way, though – there’s a tree that always captures our attention as we make our way back towards Oakville. It sits there on its own, out there in the middle of the fields, and lights up at the right time of day.
We stopped for a minute, munched on peaches, admired our tree, and felt like this had been a pretty great summer day – even without the skydiving alligator.
How about you? Ever had a great “tourist in your own region” experience? Comment below – thanks!
* Give yourself bonus points if you caught the Kim Mitchell reference. **
** Bonus points get you nothing but pride.