With more time spent in front of TVs, scrolling through social media, and working too many overtime hours, many people find it hard to truly disconnect from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.
John Barber is a freelance journalist based in Toronto and a regular contributor to the Guardian as well as other publications, including the Toronto Star. His new book, Day Trips Around Toronto is packed from cover to cover with interesting and exciting destinations as he shows Torontonians and tourists how they can escape their daily lives to experience natural, cultural, and historical experiences in Toronto and the GTA.
Within the first few pages, he says the book serves as a type of intervention for people. He goes on to say how it can be used as a quick-reference tool to “help prevent another wasted day off- in fact, to help make the most of your free days.”
After reading his book, you’ll have many compelling reasons to get off the couch and try something different. With 50 destinations from within just a two-hour drive of Toronto, these experiences will make you feel as if you’re away, traveling on vacation. His suggestions help you think outside the confines of your typical outing. He states, “Tourism in the Toronto region used to mean one thing only: Niagara Falls. Today, the landscape is brimming with opportunities for recreational and cultural experiences.”
Packed with valuable information, he includes sidebars on each page that provide other options and tidbits of information about a given destination. He covers all seasons offering a myriad of different suggestions from nature activities, to cultural, and historical spots.
Here are some destinations I found in his book that immediately went on my bucket list:
- Happy Valley Forest: Located 15 kilometres north of Canada’s Wonderland. Home to a variety of rare birds and many untouched trees that are 100+ years old.
- Lloydtown: Less than a 15-minute drive from Happy Valley Forest along Lloydtown-Aurora Road. Canada is a country that embraces its British patronage, but here you’ll find an epic statue honoring “The Rebel” who fought in the 1837 rebellion against the British.
- The Sharon Temple: Bring an architecture-lover because this place is the meeting point of simplicity and a feeling of grandeur in both its design and historical significance.
- Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area: Take in another deep breath of nature after your little trip through human history at this nearby, idyllic place for hiking and bird watching.
- Stardust Drive-In: This drive-in movie theatre is located at 893 Mount Albert Road with three large screens, video games, and a snack bar!
With a wealth of knowledge about Toronto and things to do in the area, we wanted to sit down and ask him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.
1. Why do you love taking day trips around Toronto?
John Barber in paddling through the Minesing Wetlands
The larger it gets, the harder it is to escape from Toronto – and the more people need to escape! We are used to thinking of the immediate urban hinterland in terms of farmland lost and paradise paved. Less well known is the remarkable of renaturalization of conservation lands out past the last suburbs, which has taken place at the same time as the urban growth. Conservation efforts dating from the 1940s have made a tremendous difference on the GTA’s borders – basically the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine – turning scrubland into forest, reviving local economies, and creating all kinds of recreational opportunities. In many ways, nature is closer than ever before.
I also enjoy visiting small towns and villages that have revived along with the streams and forests, partly in response to urban tourists. Every township and county now has a thriving tourist office busily developing and promoting novel new attractions, from goat yoga in the Ganaraska Valley to wine tours in Niagara, of which there are now dozens available.
2. Why do you love writing and sharing your experiential suggestions with others?
I’m a journalist so I love discovering new things and informing people what they might need or want to know about them. But it’s not easy to find new and exciting destinations in the age of TripAdvisor. I do include a few activities you won’t find on the internet, including ice skating on Lake Scugog and hiking the Happy Valley Forest in King Township, but I concentrated on making the book truly useful — by selecting the right destinations from among many possibilities, capturing the essence of the experience at hand, and addressing all the practical matters readers will need to know to just get up and go.
At the end of the day, what I like to do is give readers their money’s worth. That’s very satisfying, and I think Day Trips Around Toronto does it.
3. Please tell the story of the moment you knew you wanted to be a writer.
I don’t think there was a moment. I was encouraged in university and dived into student journalism without much forethought. & never escaped. Apart from painting houses as a student and a few regrettable interludes as an editor, I have never made a dollar from anything other than writing.
4. Why is having beautiful places to visit in the areas surrounding Toronto important?
As I mentioned above, the city has grown tremendously in recent years – booming almost non-stop since the late 40s – which has really diminished opportunities for access to the outdoors. Not only because it’s further away than ever, but also because cottage country – Toronto’s original anti-urban outlet – has become increasingly exclusive and unaffordable. Recreation of all kinds is undervalued and underdeveloped in Toronto today, and in that respect, the forests and trails and historic villages in the surrounding countryside become an essential “urban” resource. Toronto desperately needs getaways, and it is now blessed with a tremendous variety of appealing alternatives.
5. What are your favourite day trip spots around Toronto?
I’ll mention two – one natural and one historical – that together represent the range of excursions available.
The first is the Hamilton Museum of Steam Technology, a Victorian pumphouse housing two massive, restored steam engines that once pumped fresh water from Lake Ontario to a reservoir on Hamilton Mountain. I described it in the book as “an almost perfect small museum,” not only because the engines are so impressive, but also because the story they tell — about city building, public health and Victorian engineering — is so compelling.
The second is the Glen Major Forest and its adjoining woodlands, which together blanket much of the land between North Pickering and Uxbridge – some 50 square kilometres in extent and riddled with trails. It’s a morainic upland as rumpled as an unmade bed and absolutely ideal for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and fall hikes. I’m still finding new routes and views in this natural wonderland a quarter-century after first discovering it.
6. Why should Torontonians read your book?
The question I tried to answer in writing it was, “Why is this book going to be better than the internet, specifically TripAdvisor?” My answer is that it’s more selective, more trustworthy, more insightful, and easier to use than the reviews and brochures you can find online. The internet is very helpful if you already know where you want to go and what you want to do, but not so much if you’re looking for suggestions and trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Day Trips Around Toronto does that for you. It celebrates the new era of Ontario tourism, striving to show the diversity of outings available. It offers quick reference to the best excursions, vivid descriptions of the experiences on offer, fabulous illustrations, and all the practical advice you need to make them happen.
We agree that the internet lacks the right tools for suggestions and discovery, which is why we’re excited to present our new features on Kibii! We love John’s book and all the value he has packed into it.