I love it when a travel destination surprises you. I came to Gananoque, Ontario expecting charming small restaurants, scenic views of the St. Lawrence River and friendly local residents. I found all that, plus helicopter rides, horseback riding, and grooming donkeys.
We started strong on our trip to Gananoque with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. Our son, David, is an adrenaline junkie, so he was pumped to go on a helicopter ride. Heights and I have a complex relationship. I am terrified looking out the window at the CN Tower but am fine on an airplane. So I went with the airplane side of my brain and decided I would be okay.
After receiving safety instructions, we met our pilot, Bill, and were ready for takeoff. David took the front seat while my wife, Sandy, and I were in the back. We put on our headsets and lifted off. I was surprised how smooth the lift-off was, with none of the jerky feeling that can sometimes come with a plane flight.
Almost instantly, we were at a cruising altitude of 1,600 feet. We were offered an amazing view of the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands. Over the headset, Bill engaged in friendly conversation about the Thousand Islands. 1000 Islands Helicopters offers many different tours ranging from one hour to ten minutes. We opted for the ten-minute helicopter ride as an introduction and almost too soon we were landing, thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Horseback riding at Fort Garry Stables. Photo Stephen Johnson
Our adrenaline-filled day was not over. Our next activity was horseback riding with Fort Garry Stables. We met the amiable owner of Fort Garry Stables, Tiffany Jean, and her passion for horse riding and horses was immediately apparent. “I grew up riding horses,” mentioned Tiffany, “It was my dream to own a stable. I purchased the property a few months before Covid started. Perhaps not the best time to start a business, but the community support has been amazing.”
Tiffany presented us with the horses we would be riding. She also provided us with the basic training we needed for the trail ride, then we mounted our horses and were off on the trail. Just like humans, each horse had their own personality. My horse, Ruky, had been bred to be a racehorse. While she did not prove to be too successful in the pony races, she was perfect for trail riding. David’s horse, Patches, had a gentle demeanour and an independent streak. Sandy’s horse was laidback.
Our trail ride was forty-five minutes and went through a variety of terrain. We passed through open fields and forests. Tiffany and her co-worker, Liv, were excellent guides providing useful tips on how to handle the horses.
We had done helicopters and horses. Now, it was time for something completely different – donkey grooming. Yes, donkey grooming.
Berry Homestead Donkeys – Photo Stephen Johnson
Located, about a twenty-minute drive from Fort Garry Stables, we found Berry Homestead. We met Jean Sebastien who is co-owner of the farm and expert on everything donkeys. With limited knowledge of donkeys, I was not sure what to expect. Jean Sebastien gave us an overview of the social behaviour of donkeys then led us to a pen where we found about fifteen donkeys. He handed us brushes which we would use to groom the donkeys. I loved the experience. The donkeys were extremely social and calming. They reminded me of gentle dogs who wanted attention. Berry Homestead uses the donkeys as therapy animals for children with autism.
Our tour did not end with the donkeys. Jean Sebastien introduced us to his turkeys and even let us pet one of the more docile birds. He also showed us the proper way to hold a chicken. Along the way, we learned a lot about sustainable farming. Berry Homestead aims to be a hundred percent environmentally self-sufficient using solar power eco-friendly building techniques.
We ended our day purchasing soap made from the milk of a donkey. Jean Sebastien promised I would not end up smelling like a donkey using their soap.
Turkeys at Berry Homestead – Photo Stephen Johnson
The next morning, we could not leave Gananoque without doing a boat cruise. We chose to go with Rockport Cruises, about a twenty-minute drive from Gananoque. Rockport Cruises holds a special meaning for Sandy and I as it was the first place we took her parents when they visited Canada from Mexico.
The boat cruise weaved its way through the Thousand Islands. Some islands supported what looked like one-room cottages, while others were palatial mansions. A highlight was seeing Boldt Castle. American millionaire George Boldt constructed it for his wife, Louise Boldt. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1904 and construction was suspended. We were still left with a castle that could be right out of a Victorian novel.
View from the river with Rockport Cruises Photo Stephen Johnson
We arrived back in port and took a meal at the nearby Cornwall’s Pub. Talk soon turned to the adventures we had on the trip. More than anything, we had just completed our first overnight trip since Covid started. That seemed reason enough to celebrate.
If you go – We had a very comfortable stay at the Ramada Gananoque Provincial Inn. There is no shortage of hotels and cottage rentals during the summer, but it is good to book well ahead of time.