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Ontario’s Downton Abbey: Visiting Hamilton’s Dundurn Castle

- August 18th, 2014
Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ont. (Nicole Feenstra/QMI Agency)

Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ont. (Nicole Feenstra/QMI Agency)

“It’s just like Downton Abbey!” I kept exclaiming as I explored the many lavish rooms of Hamilton’s Dundurn Castle.

Having been completed just four years before construction started on the present-day incarnation of Highclere Castle — the real-life English estate that houses the fictional Crawley family and their servants, in the hit ITV/PBS period drama Downton Abbey — in an era when the grandeur of such stately residences was in fashion, the two buildings share many of the same features and functionality.

But, though Dundurn does have connections to British aristocracy — Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is patron of the Ontario castle, which was home to her great, great, great grandfather — it has a place all to itself in the story of Canada’s past.

PHOTOS: See more photos of Dundurn Castle here

The house was built from 1832 to 1835 by Sir Allan Napier MacNab. Named for his ancestral home in Scotland, MacNab built the 72 room mansion in what was then the countryside of Hamilton for $175,000, incorporating the latest technologies in gas lighting and running water.

MacNab was a veteran of the 1812 war and built his home over an existing military encampment on the site. He entered politics after a successful career as a lawyer, serving as the Prime Minister of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856. The family welcomed Sir John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII to Dundurn Castle during its most prominent phase.

After most of the family passed or moved to England, the City of Hamilton purchased Dundurn in 1900 for $50,000 and began restoring it as a tourist attraction. A functioning vegetable garden still exists today and the Hamilton Military Museum is also located on the property.

Just like Highclere Castle, Dundurn has a number of opulently decorated rooms serving a variety of functions, such as the family room, where the MacNab daughters would gather to play piano or games with their parents, a pink formal sitting area for the ladies, a grand dining hall with space for a lavish dessert table, and a library, smoking room and study where the master of the house could host male guests or retreat to do business.

In each room is a handle that, when turned, causes a bell to chime in the downstairs servants’ quarters, just like the ringing bell in the opening credits of Downton Abbey. Each bell chimes a different note, which let servants know where in the house they were needed.

There is also a magnificent wood staircase on the ground level, likely descended by MacNab’s daughter, Sophia, during her wedding at Dundurn. It is very reminiscent of the third season scene in Downton Abbey when Lady Mary descends Downton’s staircase on her way to her own wedding.

The décor at Dundurn is either original to the house, artwork from the same period or an accurate duplication. The wallpaper in MacNab’s bedroom, for example, was created to match the original wallpaper, which was discovered under the carpet during the restoration process.

Where the upstairs is built to be a fantastical showpiece, the downstairs is much more functional. Rooms for storing preserves, bottles of wine and making beer line a hallway leading to the servants’ dining room, where they gathered for three meals daily, consisting mainly of stews.

The cook’s bedroom is next to the kitchen, where, in addition to the three meals she would prepare for the servants, she would cook the family’s four daily meals, including afternoon tea, and transfer them to a small elevator for the butler to collect upstairs and serve to the family.

Rooms for laundry, firewood and an ice pit can also be found downstairs.

This National Historic Site of Canada is a fascinating step back to a very different time and a very different way of living, whether you are a southern Ontario resident who wants to experience a little bit of Downton Abbey close to home or a history buff who just wants to take in a piece of Canadian history.

Dundurn Castle is open year-round to visitors, with guided tours Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit hamilton.ca/dundurn.

Flavours of an exotic vacation in cocktails from Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts

- August 13th, 2014
"The Parisian Geisha highlights the sensual nature of this list with a house made damiana tea syrup that has relaxing and libido enhancing properties. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is paired with the damiana tea syrup, fresh raspberries and lavender bitters. The cocktail is garnished with edible rose petals, which makes it scream romance." (Handout)

“The Parisian Geisha highlights the sensual nature of this list with a house made damiana tea syrup that has relaxing and libido enhancing properties. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is paired with the damiana tea syrup, fresh raspberries and lavender bitters. The cocktail is garnished with edible rose petals, which makes it scream romance.” (Handout)

The flavours of summer love, romantic walks on the beach and hot nights away with your sweetie at an exotic resort have all come home, thanks to Dominik Aschauer, the 2014 winner of the Alberta Cocktail Challenge and bartender at Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts‘ Cilantro restaurant.

Aschauer has developed a list of sensual summer sippers with unique ingredients ranging from oolong tea to fig jam to agave nectar. Sure to leave you with that loving feeling, patrons don’t even have to leave the country to experience these cocktails.

“Each cocktail on this list is made to highlight the moments when you are on vacation in an exotic location with your partner,” Aschauer said in a statement. “I wanted to capture that sensual feeling of love and bring it back to Calgary in the form of a cocktail.”

Cilantro is an upscale restaurant in the Stampede City, with a cocktail menu that has become highly sought after. Find ingredients for two of Cilantro’s exotic summer cocktails in this post. For more, see crmr.com/cilantro/menus

"Kicking off the list is Bitter is Bella, which is a play on a bellini - minus the slush. House made Okanagan peach nectar is mixed with Averna in the bottom of a sparkling glass, topped off with prosecco and garnished with an orange twist. The bitterness of the Averna balances out the sweet peach nectar. " (Handout)

“Kicking off the list is Bitter is Bella, which is a play on a bellini – minus the slush. House made Okanagan peach nectar is mixed with Averna in the bottom of a sparkling glass, topped off with prosecco and garnished with an orange twist. The bitterness of the Averna balances out the sweet peach nectar. ” (Handout)

The most epic accommodations in Canada are…

- August 12th, 2014
Bearberry Guest Ranch. (Courtesy Booking.com)

Bearberry Guest Ranch. (Courtesy Booking.com)

A new survey from Booking.com has revealed Canadians love unique accommodations on holiday, so it’s no shock that the Bearberry Guest Ranch in Sundre, Alta. was named in the same poll as the most epic accommodations in all of Canada.

“Canadians are intrepid travellers, and with that comes a savvy instinct for epic experiences married with practicality,” said Paul Hennessy, chief marketing officer for Booking.com. “It’s no surprise that the Bearberry Guest Ranch has been rated by Canadians as the most epic accommodation in Canada.”

Bearberry Guest Ranch. (Courtesy Booking.com)

Bearberry Guest Ranch. (Courtesy Booking.com)

At Bearberry Guest Ranch, guests channel their inner outdoors person with horseback riding, whitewater rafting, fishing or hiking. Up to 30 travellers can visit at a time, staying in rooms ranging from a private guest house with corral for your horses to suites in the main lodge.

“With over 300 acres of stunning property along the Bearberry Creek and a mouthwatering breakfast every morning, it’s the perfect combination of wilderness and the comfort of home,” said Hennessy. “With a 9.7 Booking.com approval rating, Bearberry definitely sets the bar high for other B&B accommodations.”

Quirky stays:
Most unusual hotel stays
Oddest homes around the world
World’s top 10 converted hotels

In the Booking.com poll, 86% of Canadian respondents said they hoped to stay somewhere a little unexpected on their travels in the future, with 30% choosing a castle, 15% wanting to stay at a theme hotel, 12% wanting to stay on a boat and 8% hoping for a farm stay.

For more epic accommodations in Canada, visit booking.com/epic.

Best of the chat: Parks Canada answers your camping questions

- August 11th, 2014
(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

With summer well underway, we know many of our Canoe.ca readers are looking forward to a camping or cottage trip. To prepare for that summer escape, we held a live chat with Michael Beaudet, Operations Advisor for Parks Canada’s National Information Service to answer all our readers’ questions on everything from setting up a campsite to avoiding unwanted wildlife to visiting the nation’s parks.

Find the top five questions and answers below. For a full chat transcript, see canoe.ca/campingchat

Q: Can you touch on what options there are for Canadians who want to stay at one of our national parks (camping, yurts, etc.)? – Nicole

Q: What is the best method to prevent bear intrusions when tent camping? I’m motorcycle-camping around the north shore of Lake Superior/Lake Huron so there is no option of keeping the food in the trunk of the vehicle. – DaveM

Q: Although I have quite a bit of family camping experience, rigging a tarp to protect from rain is still a headache. Any secrets? – Dee Hat

Q: We recently had our first camping trip and didn’t have much success with our campfire. We had put some sweet potatoes (in foil) into the fire very early but nothing really happened to them. When we took out, it was still hard and not edible. Any tips on getting a good one going for cooking? – Chris

Q: What best practices do your recommend to introduce camping to young children? (I have 3 under age 6). – Jeff

New York hotel charges guests $500 for bad online reviews

- August 5th, 2014

Before you post that less-than-stellar hotel review online, you may want to check the hotel’s website for their policy on charging for negative reviews.

It sounds unreal, but a hotel in New York state has come under fire for just that. As Page Six reports, the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. had posted a policy regarding wedding guests on their website, stating “that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not. If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event… and given us a deposit of any kind… there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review… placed on any internet site by anyone in your party.”

Union Street Guest House’s owner Chris Wagoner said the policy was meant as a joke, though Yelp.com user Rabih Z. said the hotel had emailed him twice in 2013 threatening to charge him $500 for a bad review posted by a wedding guest.

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The Union Street Guest House has since edited their website to remove the policy, but this hasn’t stopped the people of the Internet from posting a slew of mocking, negative reviews to the hotel’s Yelp page.

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