It may have started with a restlessness.
Or a need to drift away from the busyness.
Something pulled Grand Experiences owner, Jamie Kent, away from his corporate job towards the river almost two decades ago, and it was a call worth answering.
Anyone who climbs into one of Jamie's boats will feel his gratitude for the water and benefit from his immense knowledge about the beauty that surrounds the Grand River.
We jumped at the chance to be pulled from our own rapids and placed gently into the heart of Canada's only Carolinian forest, where we would end up having a rejuvenating weekend with the Grand Experience's crew and their generous partners.
Grand Experiences is located in the beautiful Ontario town of Paris, which is one-hour west of Toronto and easily accessible by major highways. It has a quaint and wonderful small-town vibe with unique cobblestone architecture and a bakery, bookstore and chocolatier lining its main street. It also boasts the historic, beautifully renovated and recently re-opened Arlington Hotel, which will now be available as part of the weekend canoeing package.
The Voyage Into Paradise package had us paddling in a guided canoe for two days over approximately 15 of a possible 300 kilometres and included a two-night hotel stay, fine-dining dinner experience and two gourmet lunches.
We felt the sun on our faces and along the backs of arms as we dipped our paddles in and out of the water and listened to the soundtrack of the river, while taking in the sight of the wildlife and forest that surround it. The stress melted away with each kilometre that we travelled.
It's funny how many times JB and I bumped elbows and caught each other on the chin with our paddles, as we tried to find our rhythm. It was a reminder of how easily (and unknowingly) we can fall out of sync with one another during the blurry days of raising a young family. To move the canoe forward we had to focus on arriving at the same destination. It's the perfect challenge for any relationship.
What makes a river so restful to people
is that it doesn't have any doubt—
it is sure to get where it is going
and it doesn't want to go anywhere else ~
The water in the Grand River is shallow and warm and at times quite rocky (creating something of a fun obstacle course). The rapids were very gentle on this stretch of the river, making them friendly for first-timers. We could hear the flow of natural springs along the bank and glided over 80 species of fish (it's catch and release fishing only). There were countless species of birds, including the majestic Bald Eagle. And we were treated to the sight of several Turkey Vultures and Great Blue Herons as they soared across the bright, blue sky. When the river is clear, you can often see them diving for fish.
To put your hands in a river
is to feel the chords that bind the earth together ~
After paddling through the morning, we pulled up to Brant Conservation where we were met by an Aboriginal-inspired lunch prepared by Deliciously Different Catering. Each dish was thoughtfully planned (bison, mushroom ragoût, wild rice, salmon and asparagus) and we could not have enjoyed it more (we were also starving from all the paddling).
After lunch we paddled on to Turtle Island, where we were met by a First Nations Storyteller. It happened to be National Aboriginal Day, as well as the summer solstice. There was a lot to celebrate, as we listened to the telling of First Nations myths and legends. We also heard the tranditional cedar flute and a beautiful welcoming song. The stories about how we are all connected—both with Mother Earth and with one another—were so fitting, as we sat with our fellow canoers around the welcoming campfire.
We returned to our hotel to clean up and slap on some aloe vera (pack the sunscreen, you're going to need it out on the water) before heading out for a delicious meal at the Water Street Cooker, which sits above Lake Ontario in Burlington. It was the perfect venue to take in the sunset and refuel for another round of paddling in the morning.
In the morning, we were shuttled over to Coote's Paradise at the Royal Botantical Gardens, which is currently undergoing an extensive recovery process in an attempt to return the water to its natural marsh state. It was another gorgeous morning to be out in the canoe, and we were treated to turtles, birds, swans, geese, ducks and several deer sightings, as we paddled through the quiet water. Learning about the multitude of efforts by dedicated scientists, botanists, naturalists and volunteers to restore this beautiful area was very humbling (and inspiring).
Once we pulled back onto the shore, it was time to think about food again and we found ourselves at Laking Garden under a gazebo nestled on the edge of the newly designed iris garden. Again, the food and its pairing with the view of Coote's Paradise was spectacular and appreciated after another morning of paddling.
The weekend came to a close with a personalized tour through the newly designed Laking Garden with the RBG staff. It is so much more than a beautiful place to wander. This one-of-a-kind and world-renowned garden has dedicated staff and volunteers working tirelessly to maintain the bio-diversity of plant life not only in Canada, but worldwide.
This trip helped me and JB find our rhythm, during a time of year that's chaotic and messy. And although we had to return to the busyness, we did so with a new energy. We recommend this trip (and any of the many other excursions available at Grand Experiences) to anyone who wants to get re-connected—both to the people they take the trip with and with the beautiful scenery that will be encountered along the way.
Much gratitude to The Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association for making this trip possible.
Deepest thanks to Jamie and his team at Grand Experiences for an incredible journey, including guides: Sarah, Mark, Megan, Dan and Cory.
Thank you Cindy at Deliciously Different Catering.
Thank you, Russ, for the tour of beautiful Paris, ON. We can't wait to return for a festival.
Thank you Kristen, Alex and Jean for their time and expertise at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
And last, but definitely not least, thank you to my parents, Tom and Doris, for taking care of our children and giving us this time together.