A Visit to the Historic Brockville Railway Tunnel


Here’s something many of you may not know:  the oldest railway tunnel in Canada still exists under the downtown core of my home town, Brockville, Ontario, located on the shores of the St Lawrence River at the eastern edge of The Thousand Islands.

Until the waterfront area at the bottom of Market Street was revitalized and turned into a venue for various family activities, I too was unaware of its existence, and even then doors to the entrance were always closed. Both the northern and southern portals have been upgraded and maintained by the City of Brockville, since the tunnel was acquired as part of a waterfront land deal between the City and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Several years ago a short portion at the southern entrance (about 80 feet) was upgraded and opened to the public during the day as a sort of museum.

In 2011 a committee of Brockville’s City Council was formed with the goal to open the tunnel end-to-end for residents and visitors and to eventually see the tunnel and its north gorge area connected as part of the Brock Trail system. Renovation construction started in August of 2016. On August 12, 2017, as part of the City’s Rails to Trails Festival and its Canada 150 celebrations, the renovated interior of the tunnel was opened to visitors to enjoy during the summer months.

This past Saturday, a beautiful autumn day, Jim and I joined my son and my brother, and his friend on the walk through. We were very impressed. The atmosphere has been complimented with music playing and sometimes the sounds of train wheels turning and whistles blowing. The strips of every changing coloured lights passing through the tunnel give the impression of train lights approaching and reflect off the stalagmites and dripping water on the walls.

Unfortunately, while packing to go to Brockville the day before, I neglected to check my camera. When I tried to shoot some photos, I discovered that I had left my SD card in my computer at home!  I had to rely on my cell phone. Next time I go I’ll make sure I have everything I need, including a tripod, but for now, here are a few shots.

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Southern Entrance

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Inside looking out

Some History

The tunnel was built between 1854 and 1860 to allow the fledging Brockville and Ottawa Railway to connect the Brockville industrial waterfront area to the outlying areas lying between the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.

On December 31 of 1860, the first small train, a wood-burning locomotive and two coaches came through the completed tunnel and the tunnel was officially open for traffic. The tunnel is arch-shaped, measuring 14 feet 9 inches from the top of the arch to the ground and 14 feet across. The overall length of the tunnel is 1721 feet in length and passes right under Brockville City Hall.

To learn more, click here: History of Brockville Railway Tunnel

Fireworks, Parades, Cars and Motorcycles – Canada Day Weekend in Trent Hills


Our community of Trent Hills is made up of the three towns of Hastings, Campbellford and Trent River, and their adjoining areas. When it comes to celebrating summer, especially on Canada Day, the events are grand, and well-coordinated to enable visitors to sample all there is. We did just that.

Celebrations started early in Hastings. On Thursday the long awaited stainless steel fish was unveiled at Pisces Park, a small patch of green space next to the marina. This six-foot high piece of art, sculpted by Bill Lishman, is to be the first of several fish that will form an icon to represent the fact that in 2012 Hastings won the distinction of being named the Ultimate Fishing Town of Canada in the World Fishing Network’s Ultimate Fishing Town Challenge.

On Canada Day the weather was a little uncooperative at times, so we didn’t go to the morning celebration in Campbellford, but the skies almost cleared up in time for the parade in Hastings at 4:00 p.m. I’m ashamed to admit that I went without my camera, but here are a few photos from last year:

A thunderstorm after that cooled the air considerably and when we walked to the park with our lawn chairs at 8:30 to wait for the Fireworks, Hastings’ big contribution to the celebration, we were dressed in layers. As the sun went down, the wind turned quite chilly, sending Jim home to get some more layers! But, it was worth it.

On Saturday the sun was shining again and the temperatures perfect for a ride on the motorcycle to Campbellford for another annual event, Chrome on the Canal. We found a place to park our bike, and then began the mile or more stroll along the Trent Canal banks to exclaim over the interesting variety of bikes and cars. They ranged from antique to classic, to the latest models. Some were “chopped” (modified); some were restored to original; some were just as they’d been found abandoned in a field or garage.

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Original Powered Bicycles?

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1948 Indian

IMG_14502015 Indian

IMG_1453A lot of work went into building this one!

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Amazing pin-striping

IMG_1482A few, like this one,were For Sale

On our way back from Campbellford, we turned north off County Road 35 onto Smith Road, a lovely tree lined stretch of curves, and then east onto Concession Road 11 that climbs high over the eskers. This is another recommended route for bikers.

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A Happy Canada Day!

No, We Never Get Bored in Mesa, Arizona


We thought we had a good internet solution with our T-Mobile hot spot, and for the first few weeks it was. But we soon ran out of data when we started sharing pictures and looking at videos. It became impossibly slow so I had to give up on trying to post on my blog. Now we are hooked up with Century Link and hoping that it will continue to serve us well.

Contrary to the impression we have given of always having warm sunny weather here, today is rainy and cold. In fact yesterday morning it was colder here than it was back home in Ontario! So it’s a good day to catch up on all the things that have been keeping us busy the last few weeks.

When I was talking to my sister at Christmas time last year, she thought we would have been home already. I told her we wouldn’t be “home” until the middle of April. She said, ”Aren’t you bored?”

I replied, “If you get bored down here, it’s your own fault!” Here are some reasons why:

Besides enjoying good food and music and dancing on the patio with our many friends at Mesa Regal, we’ve enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with our American friends;

We celebrated the birthday of one of those friends, with an evening at the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas display;

We’ve spent a good part of a day touring area roads on the motorcycle, with other Mesa Regal enthusiasts;

We’ve played pickle ball and bocce ball, and for three days last week cheered on good friends who were in the Pickle Ball Tournament, held right here at Mesa Regal RV Resort.

Jim makes a good shot at Bocce Ball

Jim makes a good shot at Bocce Ball

Patti and Mark Earned a Silver Medal

Patti and Mark Earned a Silver Medal

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We participated in the Tree Lighting Ceremony and caroling on the west-end patio;

We rounded out the last week with a ride on the light rail train to Tempe with two of our neighbours for dinner, followed by a stroll to the Salt River to watch the annual Lighted Boat Parade and Fireworks on Saturday evening,

And a drive to Glendale on Sunday with friends and neighbours to view these marvelous Sand Sculptures that were still being finished off near the end of the three-day competition.

So, no, we are never bored down here. But we might be when we return to our Ontario home!

New Orleans – Music, History and Architecture


After we left Memphis we took a little detour into Arkansas to fill up the gas tank, just so we could say we’d been there and could fill in another state on our map. Perhaps another time we’ll visit longer. Back on the I-55 we turned south into Mississippi. By 6:00 pm we were still in Mississippi, but had had enough driving for one day. We found an accommodating Wal-Mart parking lot in Brookhaven, where we joined a few other motor homes and several semis.

At noon the next day we pulled into The KOA French Quarter RV Resort in New Orleans, and I thought “I want to stay here for the winter!” This is a resort indeed, with inter-locking brick streets and RV lots. Each lot is extra wide and has a furnished, screened, wooden gazebo. There are also all the other necessities such as a laundry, pool and hot tub, all housed in a beautiful southern style brick complex. There is even an outdoor ice machine to aid with your refreshments. Sounds rather expensive, right? Well, it definitely isn’t a place that we could stay long term, or return to often. The normal rate to rent a spot is $99 a night. Unfortunately, there were no KOA owned lots available at the time, but there were privately owned ones which go for $114 per night. That’s more than double what we would normally be willing to pay. But it was worth it for a couple of nights for the convenience. It’s situated right on the edge of The French Quarter, within walking distance of all the activity, and we were more than happy to not have to take the bike into the crowded streets or find a safe place to park it.

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

French Quarter RV Resort

The first thing we did was book a tour and by 2:00 pm we were on a mini-bus with Sam, a very animated tour guide, easing through the streets of the French Quarter and the various historical districts and parks that make up this interesting city.

We drove by Jackson Square, originally known in the 18th century as “Place d’Armes,” and later renamed in honor of the Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson. Later we would stroll through it, listening to some of the buskers who try to make a living there, and browse the many artist stalls and shops.

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

Statue of General Andrew Jackson

The unique architecture of the French Quarter caught my eye with it’s many wrought iron balconies and gingerbread scroll work.

French Quarter

French Quarter Architecture

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Sam pointed out “shot gun” houses, very long houses with narrow street frontage. Some were single; some were double; most were wood clapboard. We passed Dillard University and were told that it was the very first university built exclusively for the newly-freed blacks in the area. We drove past the new musicians homes, built by Brad Pitt and Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina, and we saw damaged homes that remain abandoned. We made a stop at the home of one retired musician who has turned it into a shrine in memory of the devastation of Katrina. The tour was to end at 5:00 pm but at 5:30 we were stuck in traffic just a couple of blocks from the restaurants of the French Quarter. We opted to get out and walk there in search of dinner. We found Deanie’s, one recommended by the staff at the RV Resort. We weren’t disappointed. The garlic buttered butterfly shrimp and the baked catfish were cooked to perfection and tasty enough to have us licking our fingers. We were curious about the “appetizer”, a bowl of small red potatoes cooked until just tender and lightly salted on the inside. When questioned, our waitress told us that they had been boiled in sea food seasoning. We had to resist eating them all or we’d have had no room for our entrée!

After returning to the RV for a quick change of clothes, as it was cooler after the sun went down, we spent a few hours walking up and down Bourbon Street, listening to impromptu jazz bands on the street and more soul music drifting from the bars. Young boys danced on the pavement, the metal bottle lids attached to the soles of their shoes clicking out the rhythm. We stopped to watch and a young performer held out his hand for payment. Jim had no small bills so emptied his pocket of change. As we walked away he noticed the lad throw it onto the street! Guess he didn’t need money that badly. When we finally returned home, I was over-tired and over-stimulated. I found it difficult to get to sleep. So it was during the night that I wrote and posted my last blog entry.

The next morning saw us walking the five or six blocks to the French Market where we had lunch while observing the architecture and people, then strolled through the many vendor booths, resisting making purchases. The motor home already seemed to be bulging. The sun was again very hot and I was beginning to fade, but we walked a few more blocks until we found the St. Charles Street trolley line. A $3.00 pass let us ride and get off and on for the rest of the day. We took it to the end of the line in the Upper Gardens District. I admit that my eyes closed and my head bobbed a few times along the way. We admired the elegant colonial homes and gardens, for some of which we had been given the history while on the tour bus. By 4:00 I was really dragging and in need of coffee if I was going to make it home.   We switched to the returning trolley and went back a few stops. We decided we might as well have an early dinner and after a delicious plate of sea food and a cup of coffee at O’Henry’s I felt slightly revived.

Wedding Venue

Wedding Venue

Not enough, however, for the energy that was required to get off the trolley again further down the line to take a closer look at the homes on 4th Street, but I did it anyway. From the street we watched a wedding taking place in the garden of one on the original mansions that can now be rented for such occasions. Back in the French Quarter we spent a couple more hours strolling Bourbon Street before finding our way home. It had been a good day, but I was wiped and my body was reminding me that it won’t be pushed so hard. I was gone the minute my head hit the pillow.

 

 

Through Rain and Sun, Arizona Bound, 2014


On the Road

On the Road

We finally got on our way mid-afternoon on Wednesday, October 15th. I was struck by the bright colours of Mother Nature’s paint brush along the roads of our exodus. They seemed even more vibrant this year. We witnessed more of the glory for many miles, through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and into Kentucky. The unpredictable weather of Ontario also continued, with sun one minute and torrential rain the next.

It occurred to me that, although we’d driven through Kentucky many times on the way to Florida, we’d never stopped. So we added a stop at the Kentucky Horse Farm at Lexington to our agenda. It would be too late to check in there on Thursday night so we detoured into Georgetown for dinner at the Cracker Barrel and an overnight stay in the parking lot, with the manger’s permission.

Friday morning we were up bright and early to arrive at the Farm in lots of time to see everything. Although a heavy fog blanketed our surroundings when we awoke, by the time we were ready to go the sun had broken through and cleared away the mist. We first entered the Horse Farm Campground, registered at the office and found our spot for the night. There was a big riding event happening on the weekend, so the choice was limited. We had electricity, but no water or sewage on site, and we were too far away from the office to get the Wi-Fi connection, but the good news was that there was a free shuttle to the Farm.

We got there just in time to find the “Horses of the World” Show Ring and grab seats on the bleachers before the first horse, a beautiful tan coloured Kentucky Quarter Horse, was introduced. It was amazing to see how much the horses enjoyed performing, and the respectful connection between horse and trainer. We met a Gypsy horse, an Arabian horse and a Run-Walker.  I guess that was our favourite part, because after a delicious lunch at the Farm House Café, where we enjoyed the company of Larry and Mary Ann, who were also enjoying retirement, we went back to see the second show featuring a new round of horses. Unfortunately, I got so caught up in taking pictures that I failed to take notes. If you are ever in the area, be sure to schedule time to see for yourself.

Taking a Bow

Taking a Bow

Gypsy Horse

Gypsy Horse

An Affectionate Mustang

An Affectionate Mustang

Dark streak

This interesting mane cut accents the black streak that runs through it and straight down the back to the end of the tail

Clydesdale getting ready to pull the tram

Clydesdale getting ready to pull the tram

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The day remained sunny and very warm, perfect for wandering through the barns and the Quarter Horse Museum, taking a tour on the tram, and visiting the Heavy Breed horses, and the retired race Champions. By then it was time for us to retire to the RV as our feet were beginning to protest. A walk back to the store to connect to the WiFi long enough to check emails and post our whereabouts on Facebook was enough for one day.

Tonto National Monument Cliff Dwellings


It’s snowing here today, in Ontario, Canada – not the usual weather for this time of year. It’s a perfect day for doing some mind travel, back to the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.

Jim, Karen and I set off in the morning for our final adventure of the season. Our primary destination was to climb to the cliff dwellings in Tonto National Forest, in the Superstition Mountains. It was already noon when we reached the entrance to Monument Park where the caves were located. Unfortunately we hadn’t packed a lunch. We had expected to find a restaurant or at least a snack bar somewhere close by, but there was nothing. The small visitors centre offered only a few types of energy bars at $4.00 a piece and a water fountain. Outside there was a vending machine that provided only pop.

There are two areas of cliff dwellings – the Lower is a half mile hike away, the Upper a mile and a half hike up the mountain. It was the Upper Cliff Dwelling that we wanted to see. Knowing that we would find it difficult to make the climb without some food in our stomachs, we purchased some bars, Jim and Karen got pop and I refilled my water bottle at the fountain before heading to the trail. There is usually a $3.00 fee (good for seven days) requested for the tours and reservations are needed. But, since this day was National Heritage Day, there was a free open house, and self-guided tours were permitted to both the Upper and Lower Dwellings.

At the base of the trail a few native American artisans displayed their craft and demonstrated dance and costumes; some birds and other wildlife were on display.

Native Dance

Native Dance

Young Grey Horned Owl

Elf Owl

Red tailed Hawk

Red tailed Hawk

The day was comfortably warm and breezy. The terrain was rugged. We took our time, stopping often to photograph or just catch our breath. The dwelling looked a very long ways up; however, switchbacks made the climb relatively easy even for those of us who aren’t accustomed to frequent climbing.

Hikers at Tonto Monument

Other hikers up above us

Part way up we were warned by the Park Ranger that it would get very windy the higher we climbed. We made use of the ties on our Tilley hats, and sometimes thought that if the wind had been blowing in the opposite direction, it might have swept us over the edge of the cliff.

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Karen and Jim enduring the wind

It was all worth the effort though.

The views became more and more awesome as we climbed.

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View of the Valley

Views of the Valley from part way up

The soft melody of a flute could be heard in the distance.

In just over an hour we reached the remains of the 40-room Upper Cliff Dwelling. Situated in the northeastern part of the Sonoran Desert, these well-preserved cliff dwellings were occupied during the 13th, 14th, and early 15th centuries. There are many theories as to why the Salado people began building here. Protection from the elements is one possibility as the cave is dry even during the worst weather, and receives the full benefit of the morning sun in winter and cooling shade in summer.

We spent a half hour wandering through the eight accessible rooms. Some reinforcement restorations have taken place to allow public visits to continue, but a Park Ranger was there to insure that no one sat or walked on the ancient and now delicate walls. The source of the flute music turned out to be a young native playing softly in the highest of rooms. A feeling of amazement and peace encompassed us as we stood there on the side of the cliff.

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Looking out through a "window"

Looking out through a “window”

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Cliff Dwellings

Upper Level Cliff Dwellings

The hike down was a little quicker than going up. Upon our descent we got back into the car and continued on around the mountains. We stopped to look at Roosevelt Dam.

 

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Roosevelt Dam

Roosevelt Dam

About Roosevelt DamOnce past the dam, the road narrowed, twisted and the pavement disappeared.We held our breath as we hung on the side of cliffs on the now very rough road, and we sighed with relief when we reached pavement once more.

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Rough and Windy Road

We enjoyed dinner at Tortilla Flat, and indulged in one last Prickly Pear ice cream cone before winding our way back down to Mesa and home.

Tortilla Flat

Karen in front of the wall of money

 

A Weekend of Music and Entertainment in Phoenix Area


It all began on a Friday night when our new friend, Mary Lee, took us to The Arizona Opry, which is located east of Mesa near the community of Apache Junction. We were ushered into a large hall lined with rows of long tables, clothed and set for the chicken dinner that was to come. On stage was a huge array of musical instruments, including strings, brass and percussions, which would be played for our entertainment when dinner was over.

Arizona Opry Stage

Arizona Opry Stage

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

Jim, Judy, Mary Lee at Opry

At precisely 6:30 pm trays of filled dinner plates began to appear, and within thirty-five minutes all 508 guests were served a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken breast, baked potatoes, vegetables and rolls. The “Opry chocolate cake” that was already on the tables when we arrived completed (or started) the repast. Coffee and lemonade were constantly available from the moment we sat down. By 7:30 the tables were cleared, chairs were turned toward the stage, and the music got our feet tapping. The Barleen Family and Guests perform and choreograph fourteen different shows throughout the year. This night was a Variety Show displaying a multitude of talent and unbelievable energy. When the “Arizona Champion Guitar Picker” was introduced as the evening’s guest performer, he seemed familiar. Sure enough, it was Ryan Martin whom we’d first heard picking and strumming back in 2010 in Cody, Wyoming. What a pleasant surprise.

If you ever find yourself in this area of Arizona, be sure to pay a visit to Barleens Arizona Opry Dinner Theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

On Saturday we rode the bike to the North West side of Phoenix to check another item off our Bucket List – a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Little did we know that one day would never be enough time! It happened that that particular weekend was a special one at MIM, with a Carnival Theme. That meant the price of admission included not only the chance to tour the gallery and listen to samples of many types of music and instruments in the process, but we could choose to experience the spirit of Caribbean cultures by attending workshops, listening to live music in the courtyard, watching dancing and observing the colourful costumes. We could have had our pictures taken wearing some of these costumes, but we ran out of time! There was so much going on that we had time to tour only two rooms of the gallery, between taking in a steel pan making workshop given by master steel drum maker, Ancliff “Ansel” Joseph, and eating lunch while enjoying the courtyard entertainment.

Steel Pan Maker

Tuning a Steel Pan (drum)

Steel Pan Maker

Steel Drum Band Performing

Steel Drum Band Performing

Stilt Walker

Stilt Walker

We were given headsets for the self-guided gallery tour. Once we clipped them onto our pockets, we didn’t need to touch them again. Sensors placed at the front of each display connected with the headsets as we approached, providing us with the music and dialogue for each station, in whatever order we chose to travel.  We oohed over the beautiful guitars and music boxes, and found it difficult not to dance along with the music.

Guitars

Guitars

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Music Boxes

Music Boxes

We left at closing time, with a second-day pass in our pockets. We would return on Thursday to finish our tour, because on Sunday we wanted to experience the annual Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace.

Sunday morning was a little overcast and therefore cooler, but by the time we’d reached the gates of the Renaissance Festival the clouds had moved off and we had to shed the extra layers of clothing we’d donned for the bike ride there. After maneuvering through the long but quickly moving ticket line, we were greeted at the gates by wenches, peasants, monks and lords. Inside we were invited to sit with the “Queen” and her court.

Entering through gates

Entering through gates

Received by Royalty

Received by Royalty

Besides all of the employed character actors in costumes, we were surprised to see so many visitors who melted into the theme with their own costumes. In fact there was a costume rental facility at the gate, and inside there was a store where beautiful costumes costing hundreds of dollars could be purchased for every member of the family. We strolled through the park, listening to buskers performing on renaissance era instruments, watched a stilt walker wander through the crowd with ease, and a vendor selling baked pretzels from a wooden rack.

Lunch

Lunch

We shared a huge turkey leg for lunch, watched a glass blower, and chuckled at the results of hypnotic suggestion at a Hypnotist’s Show.

Harpsichord Player

Harpsichord Player

Street Musicians

Street Musicians

We were amused by the variations on modern day carnival games – axe throw, star throw. We visited the vendors of jewelry, leather, feather and metal crafts. The pretty princess head dresses and skirts, hair braiding and pirate paraphernalia made us think of how much our grandchildren would enjoy this fair.

Then there was the King’s Jousting Tournament! We found ourselves joining hundreds of people in bleachers overlooking the ring. There were to be three competing knights and the crowd was divided into three cheering sections. Our knight was Sir Maximilian. He won many of the challenges, but was defeated in the end.

Maximillian

Maximilian

A personal challenge was issued for a fight later in the day. We didn’t return to find out the results. By 5:00 we were hot and tired and ready to ride home. It had been another amazing weekend.

Thursday we finished our tour of MIM, when we saw some very interesting instruments. I was especially amused by these bagpipes!

Bagpipes

Hmm. These bagpipes might be a challenge to play.

Bagpipes

BagpipesWe also saw how Martin Guitars and Steinway Pianos are made.

Martin Guitar in Making

Martin Guitar in Making

The parts of a Steinway

The parts of a Steinway