“When was the last time you had a sister-bonding weekend?” asked my boyfriend. Though we are close, I realised, “We’ve never had one.” Our first weekend away had to meet certain criteria: lots of fun activities, in a place we’ve never visited – and not too far. Enter Brockville.
Just an hour train ride from Ottawa (where she lives) and a couple hours’ ride from Montreal (me), it fit the bill. Not to mention all the hype I’ve been hearing about the newly rehabilitated, light-show-enhanced Railway Tunnel. In fact, Brockville is a town for train buffs. Though not overt, you’d be remiss not to notice the references to the town’s railroading history.
A Perfect Evening in Brockville
After getting off the train in Brockville, we got right back on for our first activity. When owner and local Corey Henry found out that an old Canadian Pacific train car was up for grabs, he knew exactly what to do with it.
Sitting on a small piece of track on the water’s edge is Escape Brockville, a CP car-turned-escape room where you’ll be challenged to “escape the freight”. The train theme isn’t lost within, where you’ll need all your wits to stay on track — and get off the train. And escape we did…with only one or two small hints.
Feeling proud of our (ahem) victory, we strolled down King Street to local favourite 1,000 Island Pizzeria. Octogenarian and founder Nick welcomed us with a powerful handshake. The restaurant is now run by his son George, who chats with customers and waves to passers-by. The restaurant established itself as a staple of the community over 48 years ago and is still going strong.
And Nick’s still there, cooking up a storm. After a night of travel and games, we scarfed down our (delicious) meals in minutes flat. (Tip: the pizza is a no-brainer, but make sure to try the traditional souvlaki, from Nick’s home country of Greece).
Breakfast by the Rails
We started our day at Jon’s Restaurant, another local hangout, great for a no-nonsense breakfast. Stationed alongside the train tracks, the place is adorned with historical highlights: shelves of vintage railroad lanterns and images of well-dressed men by the train, from a time when people dressed up to travel. The rumbling of our booth – caused by the passing of trains – heightened our experience by fully immersing us in the rail theme.
The Brock Trail by Segway
Our girls’ weekend continued with a Segway tour, and mixed feelings. Neither of us had ever been on a Segway, nor were we born into the most coordinated family. We were a smidge concerned about our performance, not to mention the geek-factor. (No hate mail please!) Despite our fears, we not only mastered, but embraced the transport. By the time we hit the Brock Trail – a five kilometer multi-use path through Brockville – we were off!
King’s Lock Craft Distillery and Fulford Place
Our successful two-wheeled tour deserved a toast. Outside of Brockville, just off of scenic, shore-hugging Highway 2 (the extension of King Street), is a small distillery. Owned by partners in life and business Laura Bradley and Rob Heuvel, King’s Lock Craft Distillery is a true hidden gem.
King’s is one of the only organic distilleries in Ontario, dedicated to sustainable and green principles and the pride they take in their product is contagious. Though still young (they’ve been producing and selling for a mere two years), their spirits are celebrated, “every competition we enter, we win an award,” boasted Rob. I walked out with a bottle of their (award-winning) Vodka and some ginger beer syrup, and I’ll admit to indulging in a few Moscow Mules since then.
On our way back into town we stopped for a tour of indulgent Fulford Place. The historic mansion was built by George Fulford who made his fortune selling (likely useless) “Pink Pills for Pale People” (I’ll take 2 bottles, please!) The house was exquisite, and perfectly preserved. To be honest, we were surprised by the luxury of it all; the mahogany panelling, rich textures and lavish décor were reminiscent of European chateaus of a time past.
We ended the evening with a scrumptious meal at the Nosh-er-y, a comfortable and friendly spot that focuses on using locally grown ingredients.
The Railway Tunnel
The rehabilitation of Canada’s first railway tunnel is the pride and joy of Brockville. Full disclosure: I was skeptical. It took years to raise the funds for this project, but thank goodness for the visionaries. The railway tunnel is the top tourist attraction in Brockville, and for good reason. At the risk of sounding like a 12 year old – it’s really cool!
At half a kilometer, the tunnel is long enough to surround your senses in the light and music experience they’ve set up, while literally experiencing the light at the end of the tunnel. (Tip: stay long enough to experience the “train” passing, and go at night, it’s just that much better.)
We finished off our trip at this must-stop spot on King Street. Cosies was put together with a lot of love; it has a lot of personal touches, and was styled to match a tearoom in England. Married British owners Paul and Alison Goodyer gave us a tour, with stops at family portraits and stories about oral recipe traditions. Do try their Cornish pasties, which are only made by family members — the recipe has never been written down and even the other bakers at the shop aren’t privy to the secret!
Our high tea was to-die-for: handmade sausage rolls, traditional triangle sandwiches, lemon tarts, Victoria sponge cakes, scones…and tea. It was perfection – and a perfect send-off for a couple of happy sisters.
Top image: Brockville Railway Tunnel