Yo Canada – our journey across obscure oddities and bizarre places

Canada weird places

Hey Canada – take me to your weird, your unusual, your bizarre, and your wacky places.

As you can see above, I’ve done my homework. Each and every one of these points is a weird, unusual, bizarre, or wacky sort of place. We’re probably not going to get to them all (that’s the Eskimo Museum in Manitoba near the border with Nunavut), but I’ll be researching and helping people reach them all the same.

The story so far (newest posts at the bottom)

This page is a bit of a test. I don’t normally blog by the day, but let’s test it out and see what happens…

May 16th (day 1)

A bit of a slow start across Nova Scotia. We successfully made it from Lunenberg to Yarmouth with a few stops in-between, probably about 325 kilometers of driving. Of our four stops today, however, only the Hank Snow Hometown Museum (a country music icon from the mid-20th century) was actually open. Fun and a little kitschy – my kind of place.
The Rossignol Cultural Centre (an eccentric character’s local museum) was closed with no indication to hours on-site.
The Shag Harbour Incident Society UFO Interpretative Centre: Closed, no hours, no clues… A phone number found online failed to connect, and no one lived in the house next door… a bit of a mystery.
The Wedgeport Tuna Museum was reservation-only until June, so lesson learned: make the phone calls and send the e-mails to ensure someone’s there.

May 17th (day 2)

Woke up at a hotel in Yarmouth, along the south shore of Nova Scotia.

Stopped by the Yarmouth Firefighters’ Museum – not overly weird, but a worthwhile look at the local history and big boys toys over the past century

The W. Lawrence Sweeney Fisheries Museum wasn’t yet open for the season, and neither was the Pelton-Fuller House (the house of the Fuller Brush man). Next door, however, was the Yarmouth County Museum, a pleasant surprise involving some odd taxidermy and the mystery of a large metallic ball…

Before taking off, we stopped by the Overton Stone, which Laura heard about from her brother. A few symbols (a cross, some tobacco leaves, and a crescent moon) were carved into this rock, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

We then drove to Annapolis Royal, where the search for a computer museum led us to discover a shop of offerings from local artists. The computer museum seems to have closed up shop years back, though the website for it is still active.

May 18 (day 3)

Woke up in Annapolis Royal at the spectacular Hillsdale House Inn. No, we didn’t get to stay as a blogger (dangit!), but it was one of the first places in almost a decade of traveling that I’d have to get really nitpicky about to find fault with.

Our first stops were in the next town over called Berwick. Muriels Doll Museum is basically a garage of 3,500 well-arranged dolls – and Muriel herself was kind enough to show us around. The Apple Capital Museum in Berwick was closed, and the O’Dell House Museum wasn’t quite open for the season yet. We did get a few peeks at some of the behind-the-scenes planning and cleaning, though.

Onward to Windsor and the Windsor Hockey Heritage Centre – a city that calls itself the birthplace of hockey.  We also stopped by the Long Pond, supposedly home to the first hockey-like game, and the Dill Family Farm. The family produces gigantic pumpkins, but the area is also known for its ‘Pumpkin Regatta’ – racing across water in or on top of pumpkins. The pond is water and the pumpkin stuff doesn’t happen until the fall, so it’s another timing issue.

On our way to Truro for our hotel, we stopped for dinner and Mastodon Ridge, a quick and easy photo op with an old-school mastodon and a ‘halfway between equator and north pole’ sign.

May 19th (day 4)

On our way leaving Truro, we noticed a sign for a Farm Equipment Museum. Naturally, we had to stop in. Fun place – lots of tractors, old farm equipment, and some stuff for sale as well.

We were going to stop by the Fundy Geological Museum, but it was still closed. Instead, we visited That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm and Animal Park, which was only at about 50% readiness on the animal side of things. The Gouda cheese, however? Spectacular.

Although one official-looking website said the Springhill Miners Museum opened the day before, the staffer here said otherwise. We took a quick look around the inside, but didn’t get to go on the full tour. The Anne Murray Centre was a similar story – while open staffed, we were told they could only take credit cards, not cash. (When we hesitated, they eventually said they could take cash if ‘we had exact change’.)

Ended the day by crossing the bridge onto Prince Edward Island (PEI) – a long, 15.5km straight line that costs a pretty penny in order to return to the mainland…

May 20th (day 5)

Woke up on Prince Edward Island (PEI), which may be Canada’s smallest province but it’s still a big island. We drove to Edouard Arsenault’s Bottle Houses, three buildings that are constructed of over 25,000 multicolored glass bottles. Next up: the Canada Potato Museum, which just opened for the season and holds plenty of old-school machinery and history about the famous tuber. Last on PEI: Back Road Folkart, which has plenty of found objects made into art, and also has the World’s Largest Handheld Egg Beaters.

A bit of sticker shock when leaving PEI – the toll for the bridge to return to the mainland is $46 CAD (about $35 USD). That’s the normal, standard price for a car to traverse both ways on the 15.5km bridge, but still seems kinda high.

May 21st (day 6)

A pretty easy day, as our single destination was the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum. Supposedly the last standing carriage factory in Canada, and one of only two in North America, this is a great chance to look out the work necessary to create a carriage, along with what happens when the world begins to shift to automobiles… Hint: hearses on sleds…

May 22nd (day 7)

Even God rested on the seventh day. We checked out of our hostel in Moncton, then drove to Laura’s brother’s place in Fredericton. We took a little walk around the town, picked up some info from the local Tourist Information Center, and enjoyed some great poutine. Played some Cards Against Humanity – always a hilarious time…

May 23rd (day 8)

Happy Victoria Day, Canadians! Roughly equivalent to Memorial Day in the US, Victoria Day feels like the beginning of summer – yep, it’s finally here. Took things pretty easy today with one day-trip destination, the Ganong Chocolate Museum in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick. Actual production is now done elsewhere, but this used to be the factory – and the museum has plenty of free samples across their three rooms.

(By the way, there’s plenty of things to do in New Brunswick. Just ask my friends over at the Cheese Web. Yep, that’s the name of their blog. What’s the story there? Go read and find out!)

May 24th (day 9)

From Fredericton, we took a daytrip northeast and stopped at the New Brunswick Woodmen’s Museum. It won’t officially open until June 1st, but the staff was kind enough to open one of the buildings – a full-scale replica of the log mess hall and sleeping room. Two big beds for groups of several men apiece? Eesh!

We also stopped by the Atlantic Salmon Museum a bit further on, which wasn’t yet open to the public (though we made an appointment easily enough). Quirky and unique, the two-floor space has plenty about the salmon and the flies they’re caught with. The highlight, perhaps, is the way in which the local characters and personalities are brought to life. Nothing fancy, just fun – and lots more than meets the casual tourist’s eye.

May 25 (day 10)

A day that we thought might be a long one ended up being shorter than expected. On our way out of Fredericton, we stopped by the World’s Largest Axe – a shiny behemoth of a photo-op. New Brunswick is regarded as one of the potato capitals of the world, so of course we thought a potato chip factory tour would be fun. The Covered Bridge Potato Chips factory tour was closed today, however, as their expansion / renovation wasn’t complete. A fact that wasn’t mentioned on their website. ‘Come back in a week’, the lady said. Grrr…

A couple of other stops were short ones: the Hartland Bridge, AKA the world’s longest covered bridge – a one-lane road that was pretty but rather pedestrian. Being only one lane means you might be sitting there for a few minutes until it’s your side’s turn to go through. Potato World is a bit further up the road, but not open until June.

After checking into our hotel in Edmundston, I headed over to the Railway Interpretive Centre AKA Du Réel Au Miniature while Laura took a nap. A great collection of original exhibits donated by generous folks, followed by a chance to see a larger-than-model-sized, not-quite-real-life-sized set of trains. It runs, and when it does it holds more than a few humans. The highlight is the model railroading area – a masterclass in attention to detail and a whole lot of hidden Easter eggs you’ll have to see for yourself.

May 26th (day 11)

A driving day from Edmundston, New Brunswick, to Thetford Mines (south of Quebec). where some of Laura’s relatives live. Along the way we stopped by the Antique Automobile Museum (not yet open for the season) and the Musée de L’accordeon AKA Accordion museum in Montmagny (Quebec). Meh – I can’t stand museums that don’t allow photos (without flash is a reasonable rule, since flash can damage fragile pieces). It’s a good, but small collection – we were through in 15-20 minutes and were certain we hadn’t missed anything.

May 27 (day 12)

Originally scheduled to be an off day, we opted to head into Quebec, took care of some business, then went to the Erico Chocolate Museum. It’s a small sort of affair – essentially a single room of the shop set aside for museumy exhibits. In place of free tastings, a few machines offered up sample-sized servings for a quarter – including 100% cacao beans. (For those expecting the taste of chocolate, these are extremely bitter – and evil to give to someone expecting the taste of chocolate.)

We had the time to meander around Quebec’s old town, which was setup pretty well for the tourist trade. Our last stop was a fairly famous cannonball stuck in a tree – presumably one of those stops the walking tours take to show the hidden-in-plain-sight aspect of the city. If you’re in the area, it’s on Rue Saint-Louis at the corner of Rue du Corps-de-Garde.

May 28th (day 13)

Off day – for reals this time! Slept in, caught up on photos, and took it easy. Don’t even think we left the house today…

May 29th (day 14)

After leaving Thetford Mines, we made our way to the Musee J. Armand Bombardier, a very new, modern endeavor highlighting the life and work of Bombardier, the inventor of the modern snowmobile. Interactive and inventive, it’s a great reminder in the ways design plays into lots of things.

Next up, a drive to the Musée Autos Anciennes in Richmond, a collection of 50+ North-American-produced cars over the last 100 years. Not the biggest or flashiest collection around, but worthwhile if you’re in the area.

We were going to drive through the town of Asbestos to see what remained of the mines, but our internet research left us unconvinced there was much to see. A website for a museum that closed six years ago is unfortunately still active (though a phone call revealed some of the museum’s contents were moved to the local library). In either case, there wasn’t enough there to convince us it was worth the detour.

Our last stop was the La vieille prison de Trois-Rivières, the old jail in the town. The website failed to mention the fact that you need to join a guided tour… and while the place was supposed to be open until 5pm we missed the last one by about half an hour. Curious. We picked up a brochure to the place, which also didn’t mention the guided tour… Checked into a hotel in Quebec.

May 30th (day 15)

Quebec City hasn’t held much of interest for us. It’s a lovely city, but a quick jaunt through town is all we need. We drove up to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and I took in the Edison Phonograph Museum while Laura walked over to the Sanctuaire de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. The museum has an eccentric collection of cylinders (one of the early competitors to disks), and the owner himself offers a great perspective on the collection.

The Sanctuary of Saint Anne, however, is a standout – and full credit to Laura for looking up what else was in the area the night before. It’s one of Canada finest basilicas, and it’s entirely focused on a women that’s held to be Mary’s mother and Jesus’s grandmother… This is one place that’s sure to get a post all about it.

May 31st (day 16)

We’re in Montreal – a town I expected to be more French than Quebec City. In truth, it’s been Quebec has been more ‘Frenchy’… I picked up a press kit from Stephanie at Tourisme Montreal (one that required a fair bit of work to find even a place to stop the car legitimately, much less park it), then made our way to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre and Museum. It’s not really weird, but it’s definitely covers a part of history that should never be forgotten.

Next up, a bit of culture shock on our way to the Insectarium de Montréal: parking! That is to say, a parking spot that cost $12 CAD for the privilege of using it for the afternoon… That said, probably one of the best places to take in insects in Canada. It’s a very kid-friendly place, and unfortunately it echoes like nobody’s business. It’s still a great place to check out, though it’s not the biggest place. Head outside for a few more exhibits.

Our final stop was one we didn’t really have enough time to explore: the Notre-Dame-de-Neiges Cemetery. It’s a huge cemetery with quite a few mausoleums to match, but with only 15-20 minutes until the gates were supposed to close… we didn’t want to get stuck in overnight, after all…

Tomorrow, we try Montreal’s public transit system and walking instead of stressing about parking and driving through construction, rush hours, narrow lanes, and crazy drivers….

June 1st (day 17)

Today’s public-transportation day…? Was essentially a whole lot of walking. We started off at the Musee des Hospitalieres de I’Hotel-Dieu de Montreal, but it wasn’t quite open yet. We walked to the McPherson and Rutherford Physics Collections on McGill University’s Campus, where I had an appointment to take in the collection of physics items from decades past, while Laura enjoyed the nearby Redpath Museum (plenty of natural science offerings there).

Got some lunch, then went back to the Musee des Hospitalieres de I’Hotel-Dieu de Montreal for a look at the medical history preserved by this religious organization. Finally a walk and short subway ride took us to the Centre d’exposition La Prison-des-Patriotes for a history lesson on early Canada.

In all, meh. The physics collection was a great little collection, and the professor in charge there is an awesome story-teller, though so much of his knowledge is way over my head…

June 2nd (day 18)

Mostly an in-transit day from Montreal to Ottawa, though we did stop by the Electrium on our way out of Montreal. This elementary-school-field-trip-friendly facility has plenty of interactive displays on the nature of electricity and magnetism, and probably the best-case scenario for the ‘guided tours’ question. (One was set to start in about ten minutes after we arrived; we could also wander freely.)

After taking care of some shopping along the way, we arrived in Ottawa to stay with one of Laura’s aunts. It’s sometimes been called ‘the town that fun forgot’, but we’re told there’s plenty of small art galleries and fun to be seen…

June 3rd (day 19)

Picked up a media kit from the awesome folks at Ottawa Tourism (would’ve loved to meet you, Jantine and Caroline!). We started at the Ottawa Jail Hostel, the former Carleton County Gaol that has since been converted into a hostel. We learned the only tours, however, were available via a Haunted Walk company and to folks at the hostel.

Our next stop: the Canada Aviation and Space Museum for a bi-plane trip. This one has nothing whatsoever weird about it – it is, however, a unique look at the city from 1,500 feet up. You’re set up with a simple old-school helmet and some ear protection – the windshield blocks most of the wind from hitting you directly, though it’s a fairly tight fit for the two people enjoying the view. Still, it’s an unforgettable experience – I just hope the pictures turned out!

Part of the Aviation Museum is currently housing the Star Trek Starfleet Academy Experience, which only made its world premiere right here in Ottawa on May 26th. Still spankin’ new (it’ll be in Ottawa for several months, then eventually move to Calgary in February 2017). As a Trekkie, you bet I enjoyed it, so stay tuned for a more in-depth post.

Our next stop was the ‘Mountie Shop‘, AKA the Musical Ride Visitors Centre, which was on the grounds of the RCMP stables. A succinct history of the forces, both human and equine, and an entire gift shop of Mountie paraphernalia (right down to Corporate Funduck, the rubber Mountie duckie) to match.

I went out later tonight to take in the ‘Ghosts and the Goblins’ tour, done by Haunted Walks. This 90-minute tour related some of the ghost stories and tales, starting in downtown Ottawa and ending at the jail hostel we tried to enter earlier today.

June 4th (day 20)

Two stops outside of Ottawa proper – we started with the Vintage Wings over in nearby Gatineau. While the hangar holds less than a dozen planes, each one has been restored to flying condition. Not bad for planes that were old enough to see action in World War II. Plenty of stories to go along with the pictures, including an interesting take on where the phrase ‘the whole nine yards’ came from…

We then made our way to the Carbide Willson Ruins in Gatineau Park. Imagine, if you will, a paranoid inventor’s century-old husk of a house, long since fallen into disrepair, yet made into a stop along the hiking trail. The house was supposedly located deep in the park area to prevent people from stealing his secrets. While there’s not much there to see now, it’s also an excuse to walk through some of Canada’s natural heritage.

While in Gatineau Park, we also stopped by some other, more recent ‘ruins’ on the MacKenzie King Estate. Previously home to the former prime minister, the ruins inside are better thought of as urban rescue projects. Some of the pieces were basically castoffs from old buildings, which he installed (or had installed) in his own way. Not really that weird, but another great chance to get out in nature.

June 5th (day 21)

Three weeks in was one of our busiest days yet. We said goodbye to Laura’s aunt in Ottawa, then headed off to the Diefenbunker, one of Canada’s only Cold War bunkers that’s still standing. Today was part of the Doors Open program, meaning free admission for everybody! It’s one of Canada’s weirder places, perhaps even weirder since so much was decommissioned and never used in real life….

Next up was the Wheelers Maple Museum – a wide array of stuff having to do with getting maple from trees, the packaging, and some of the tools of the trade. A Guinness World Records certificate proclaims it to have the ‘largest collection of maple items’, which kind of makes me wonder just how many people are out there trying to break that record… You can also head into the restaurant, which has a small souvenir shop to boot.

Our next stop was a Mammoth Cheese Replica – a giant 22,000 pound ‘tin’ resting on a faux railroad car. A couple small signboards told the story, but it wasn’t terribly interesting or worth more than a few minutes.

Drove to Greater Napanee (near Kingston) and stayed with a friend.

June 6th (day 22)

Our first real feeling of failure, perhaps. We started at the Correctional Service of Canada Museum in Kingston, AKA Canada’s Penitentiary Museum. It’s a solid little museum in the old house of the warden, which was later converted into the museum. It’s also on the weird side, with a bit of everything from the prison museum contributing, along with a pair of pink boxer shorts from the most famous sheriff in the US…

We pushed things back by a day earlier in this itinerary to give us some more time. When we did that, though, we pushed the places for today to a Monday without checking to ensure places would be open on Mondays. This hasn’t been a problem elsewhere in Canada, but for places with a stable, year-round schedule, it is. Thus we missed the Museum of Health Care and the Pump House Steam Museum, which are both closed on Mondays… We then aimed our car at the International Hockey Hall of Fame – had we checked the Wikipedia page, we might have learned the building on the southeastern corner of Kingston Memorial Centre was demolished in 2012. We didn’t learn of their correct address (Invista Centre, 1350 Gardiners Road, 2nd Floor, Kingston, Ontario) until we got home…

Our final stop was a great one, though. The Military Communications and Electronics Museum is a great look at the tools and machines used to carry messages. The focus is on the tech, with very little time spent on the men and women that used the machines. Highlights include some of the old-school radar stations and a German Enigma coding machine with a bit of info on how it worked.

One more night in Greater Napanee (near Kingston).

June 7th (day 23)

Our final day of this leg of the journey, and therefore the final update. We slept in, left Napanee, and drove to Toronto to look at a place before making our way to some of Laura’s relatives in Barrie (about an hour north of Toronto).

The next leg of the journey begins tomorrow, and I’d like to thank everyone that’s read all the way . We’ll get the car looked at by a mechanic (more a routine check-up with a few requested fixes than anything else), then catch up on some work and other behind-the-scenes stuff, and otherwise get to shopping for a place to stay in southern Ontario for the summer. Stay tuned!

What can you do?

We’re still looking for Canada’s weird attractions, bizarre destinations, and offbeat secret spots. (What is weird? Glad you asked – check this page out.) Know of a place? Send me an e-mail – chrisbacke AT gmail DOT com – or via the contact form.

We’re also looking to partner with tourism agencies, CVB’s, hotels, etc. Whether you’re looking to bring some attention to lesser-traveled sights or get some eyeballs on your property, there’s a way to work together. Send me an e-mail – chrisbacke AT gmail DOT com – or via the contact form.

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