Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Back to Burlington (Ontario - NOT Vermont)

The beacon at the end of the pier.
Mention the name "Burlington" to most people, and there's a good chance they'll say, "Vermont?"

Ditto, if you search for it in Google: When you type "Burlington" into the search engine, it will start to auto fill the search with "Burlington, Vermont."

Now I'm sure the New England state's Burlington is very nice. I hear it's great for winter sports. But there's another Burlington in southern Ontario that's just as nice - or maybe even nicer.

I recently had a chance to return to this small but thriving community of 170,00 that lies on the shores of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Hamilton.

I say "return" because many, many years ago, I used to visit there regularly with my parents. Of course, a six-year-old's memories are not always detailed and accurate. But I do remember some very specific things, very well.

We went to Burlington to visit my dad's best and oldest friend, Bill Hughes and his wife, Ethel. They were such close friends, that up until I hit puberty, I referred to them as "uncle" and "aunt."

I remember they lived in an apartment duplex of some sort that involved having to go up stairs. I think it might have been some type of semi-detached abode with the different dwellings being up and downstairs rather than side-by-side.

The thing I do remember quite distinctly, though, is an encounter I had with Pixie, the Hughes' calico cat.

I'm an animal lover, always have been. In my last blogpost, I wrote about my first encounter with a pet bird named Joey; Pixie the cat was the second pet I encountered. I liked her - but she didn't like me, at least not then. I had dumped some potato chip crumbs on the living room rug and was trying to feed her the chips, when she reached out and scratched me on the hand, drawing blood. After that, I avoided her until I was 14 - when she decided I was okay, and jumped up on my chest and promptly went to sleep, purring.

Anyway, that's about all I remember about my time in Burlington. I don't recall doing anything there but visiting and getting scratched by a cat (although I did not get cat-scratch fever).

Entrance to the RBG Lilac Walk.
There may not have been that much to do in Burlington in the early 1960s, anyway, it was probably seen by many as just a suburb or bedroom community of Hamilton.

THAT'S certainly changed, as I found out on a recent two-day trip to the area.

I discovered there is much to offer visitors and residents alike - and I didn't get scratched by a cat, this time (although I did see an adorable baby raccoon and a Blanding's turtle at the Nature Interpretive Centre of the Royal Botanical Gardens.)

Take for example, the RBG I just mentioned. It's HUGE. So huge in fact, they run shuttles between the various areas to give visitors the best opportunity to experience everything the gardens have to offer: the Tea House/Centennial Rose Garden, the reflecting pools, Laking Garden (with its iris collection), the Marshwalk Trail (a must for bird lovers), and the Lilac Collection, to name but a few.

If you like your nature a little wilder, Crawford Lake Conservation Area may be a place where you'll want to spend some time. A 468-hectare park, it includes 19 kilometres of trails, one of which connects with the Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, as well as the Bruce and Nassageaweya Trails.

Approaching Crawford Lake.

The lake is a meromictic lake, with the bottom half of the lake a virtual "dead zone" of water that never circulates with the layer above.

One of the many carvings at Crawford Lake.
Crawford Lake is encircled by a boardwalk, making it easy to traverse the one-kilometre circumference.

Another unique aspect of the trails in this conservation area can be seen in the shape of wildlife sculptures that sit along the trails at various spots. You'll see fish, birds, a wolf, a turtle, a butterfly, and many other critters.

Burlington has access to a much bigger lake, of course. There are many ways to enjoy the Great Lake known as Ontario. You can stroll along the 137-metre pier to the beacon at the end and climb up for a better view.

If you like something a bit more active, Burlington Beach Rentals provides several options for outdoor enthusiasts, including yoga on the beach, kayaking, stand-up paddling, paddleboats - and for those needing to recover from playing, beach massage from one of its RMTs.

Or you can just rent a Muskoka beach chair, stake out a spot on the sand, kick back and chill.

One of the Iroquoian longhouses.
There's lots there for history buffs, too. Crawford Lake not only conserves nature, it also conserves culture.

On site sits an Iroquoian Village, reconstructed and representative of the life of a 15th-century native village that existed by the lake before European explorers showed up.

Several longhouses contain artifacts and displays inside them, depicting life as it was 600 years ago.

The Joseph Brant Museum and Ireland House at Oakridge Farm also present different aspects of the area's history, giving you a glance back at the past.

For a more kid-friendly "farm" experience, Springridge Farm offers a petting zoo, wagon rides, mechanical puppet shows - and some features for adults as well: a general store and a bakery full of good eats (try the salted honey tarts - a Springridge specialty).

The kids love the mechanical chicken puppets at Springridge Farm.

All that is certainly different from what I experienced as a child during visits to Burlington. And although I did see a rather intimidating tom turkey wandering around Springridge, I didn't see any scary-looking calico cats there...

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