The last time I went exploring in the Heart of Ontario the snow was deep and the air frosty enough to freeze maple syrup into taffy. Now we’re deep into a beautiful Canadian summer, and what better time to discover a bit more of what the region of Hamilton Halton Brant has to offer. With historic sites, cultural events, and outdoor adventures to choose from there’s enough to keep any family occupied for the remainder of the summer. We went rafting on the Grand River after a stop to visit a star of Canadian military history, the HMCS Haida.
I was invited to play at being a tourist, and on what was probably the hottest day of the summer I headed out with two teens and a pre-teen to visit a retired naval ship and spend a few hours rafting down the Grand River. The day began early and by the time we pulled into our driveway as the sun was setting we were exhausted and happy.
Visit The HMCS Haida
The first stop was the HMCS Haida, a retired naval ship and the last of the Tribal Class destroyers that plied the waters before and during WWII, and afterwards on a number of missions. The Haida is classified a National Historic Site and is anchored in Hamilton Harbour where visitors can get a behind the scenes look at life aboard what was once one of the most advanced ships in the navy. The Haida has the distinction of only losing two lives during her years in military service, earning her the nickname Happy Haida.
I wasn’t sure how the kids would like visiting a military ship. But no worries, we spent two and half hours aboard the Haida and could easily have stayed longer. All three poked around, asked questions of the staff and volunteers on board, and were suitably impressed by the size and might of the Haida. Anyone who has teens knows it takes a lot to impress them, so put your concerns about that to rest if you’re planning on visiting.
There’s not much off limits — with the exception of the still functioning gun on the bow — so visitors have the opportunity to see, among other things, officers’ quarters, several galleys, the captain’s apartments, the bridge, and the mess hall where sailors ate, relaxed, and slept in hammocks. Try your hand, or test your coordination, and hop into one of the hammocks. There are so many stairs to climb up and down all over the ship that you’ll feel you’re discovering secret passageways around every corner.
Following our visit we had lunch at Barangas On The Beach, which is literally on the beach and has a wide view of Lake Ontario. It’s easy to forget you’re minutes from Hamilton when sitting on the patio.
Rafting On The Grand River
Our next stop was a forty-five minute drive away, a guided rafting expedition on the Grand River. A few blocks past downtown Brantford, we drove over the river and down a quiet lane that led us to the river’s edge. There we met Roger from Blue Heron Rafting who, aside from being an experienced river guide, is a veteran of the comedy circuit, and a Brantford native. After years in British Columbia rafting some of the fastest waters he came home to Brantford to be closer to his family and the river he knows well. He’s now been leading rafting trips on the Grand River for eighteen years.
The rafting trip lasts approximately three hours, and as you’re floating on the river and along the wild banks it’s easy to forget you’re floating through an urban area. Aside from some easy paddling, we made a couple of short stops: the first one to hike up the riverbank to a lookout, and the second for a snack break on an island followed by body surfing. For the record, body surfing is best done wearing a bathing suit, but is still crazy fun even if you float down the river wearing shorts and a t-shirt. As much as the kids enjoyed our entire day, this was their favourite part. Who wouldn’t love wading out into swift water and letting themselves fall backwards to be swept downstream? Totally safe, of course. I’m not completely reckless.
The Heart of Ontario has a guide available to download called the Red, White & True Canadian Heritage Passport that offers over $400 in savings on twenty heritage experiences in the region. We have family from France coming for a visit in August and now I have a list of places to show them just a short drive from Toronto.
Many thanks to Hamilton Halton Brant for inviting Life in Pleasantville to come experience what The Heart Of Ontario has to offer families this summer.