Monday, June 23, 2008

Hershey Factory & Rideau Canal

Hershey Chocolate Shoppe Visitors’ Centre and Self-Guided Tour

Our visit to the Hershey’s Canada Factory in Smith Falls, Ontario left me flat. As we walked along the elevated viewing areas on a self-guided walking tour, we didn’t see “the rows & rows of Resse Peanut Butter Cups gliding along the conveyor system” as promised in the brochure. We didn’t see our favorite chocolate bars rolling off the packaging lines. The conveyor system was not operational on Sunday. In fact, there is no production on weekends and we had come on a Sunday.

Soon the plant - Hershey’s Canada Inc. - would be completely non-operational, not just weekends. We learned that it would be closing late in 2008. As a consequence, what we saw through viewing windows to the plant floor was machinery packed or crated, setting on pallets ready forklifts to move them for shipment out of the plant. Destination? Unknown.

I suspect that this impending closure is why no investments had been made to create slick, interactive displays of chocolate production or the history of the plant. The displays seemed antiquated by today’s standards. They were simple showcases of dusty artifacts behind glass with too many words to read. There was no theater for visitors to view the History Channel program about Hershey chocolate. Instead the full length, uncut version of the origins of the Hershey Company and biography of its founder Milton Hershey played on a continuous loop from a small screen television. A wooden bench with space for two or three adults was the only seating available. I watched this for awhile then my butt went numb and the DVD malfunctioned. I gave up my seat on the wooden bench, but no one was waiting to take my place.

I think the real draw of this Smith Falls venue is the Hershey Chocolate Shoppe. It’s a chocoholic’s delight! I should know because I am a hopeless chocoholic. I filled my shopping basket with Kisses, Hugs, and red licorice. Ed added a bag of nut & caramel bars by bulk to my purchases. At the check-out, the cashier handed us each a free Oh Henry! Bar.

Outside the plant and Shoppe, we joined Ed’s son Andrew and daughter-in-law Cindy in the shadow of the famous Hershey Kiss-shaped lampposts to munch on some of these goodies. Although the plant left me flat, we left on a high, a sugar high.

June 22, 2008

Hershey Chocolate Shoppe Visitors’ Centre & Self-Guided Tour

Smith Falls, Ontario

Smith Falls: “Heart of the Rideau Canal”

Smith Falls, Ontario must be accustomed to giving up “goodies” like the Hershey plant. I read that the town gave up magnificent waterfalls. The waterfalls once existed in this town but were diverted in order to create the Rideau Canal and three lock stations back in 1832. In retrospect, this was probably a good sacrifice for the local economy.

The Rideau Canal is a chain of lakes, rivers, locks, and canal cuts winding 202 km from Kingston at the head of Lake Ontario to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. When it opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal was considered to be one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century.

According to a Parks Canada brochure, “The Rideau Canal was conceived in the wake of the War of 1812. It was to be a war-time supply route providing a secure water route for troops and supplies from Montreal to reach settlements of Upper Canada and the strategic naval dockyard at Kingston…When the fear of war passed, the canal soon became a major artery for regional commerce.”

History notes that Smith Falls prospered as a result of building the canal and of subsequent economic development. And, though this prosperity continued for several decades, regional commerce declined with the completion of the St. Lawrence canal system and the introduction of railway and steamboats. Today, pleasure boats dominate the waterway, not commerce.

Our stop along the Smith Falls section of the Rideau Canal gave us time to pause and look at North America’s oldest operating 19th century canal. Its significance was recognized in 2007 by the World Heritage Committee – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - as a World Heritage Site.

With the assistance of interpretative signs, we read about how the locks operate. The details were clear but I would have liked to see a boat pass through. None did. Adjacent to the operational lock was one that had been retired. You could cross over to it on a narrow walkway. Potted flowers sat on the basin which was once the bottom of the lock.

Centennial Park surrounds the water of the Rideau Canal in Smith Falls. A few teenage boys emerged wet from a swim there. Ed dared them to cannonball into the water and measure who landed the furthest from the shoreline. Their competitiveness overruled common sense as they took running leaps into the icy waters. Ed has a knack for encouraging people to do things like this which mostly serves to give him a laugh at the folly.

We found some waterfalls near the park. People were not in the water here. The churning brown water moved fast and cascaded over rocks beneath a pedestrian walkway. I stood over the water for awhile. There was no one around to ask, but it seemed to me that Smith Falls hadn’t given up all its “goodies.” I found a few in Centennial Park along the Rideau Canal.

June 22, 2008

Smiths Falls

The Love Story of Boldt Castle in the 1000 Islands

Exploring the 1000 Islands ranked high on my Travel Bucket List. I had missed exploring this area of New York and Canada in the fall of 2007 opting instead to head to the eastern most reaches of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The GaspĂ© Peninsula captivated Ed’s and my own spirit of exploration with its looming mountains and coastal towns. Now, we’d explore the St. Lawrence River’s western end where I planned to take in the historic Fort Henry, visit a section of the Rideau Canal Waterway and Locks, bicycle along scenic bike pathways, and even get an aerial view from a hot air balloon. I also knew that to truly experience this region, we needed to get out on the water. I added a boat tour to our itinerary.

Rockport Boat Line was located close to our campsite at the 1000 Islands/ Ivy Lea KOA, so we booked “The Bolt Castle Cruise”. This boat tour would take us past many island mansions and give us a stop-over to visit Heart Island, home of “the grandest of all Gilded Age Mansions, the Boldt Castle.” We needed our passports in hand for this trip because we’d pass from Canada into US territory when we landed on Heart Island. Ed’s son Andrew and daughter-in-law Cindy joined us. Tough they live nearby in Canton, New York, they had yet to explore this attraction that brings tourists to this area.

As we passed the vacation homes on the islands, Cindy and I dreamed aloud about owning an island mansion. Realistically for us, the more modest, smaller homesteads also apparent on the islands might fit our budgets.

During our St. Lawrence Seaway cruise, the captain called our attention to the smallest international bridge in the world. It was an arched stonework footbridge between two islands. One island sat on the US side, the other across the International Boundary in Canada. Amazing as this may be, the Boldt Castle was definitely the highlight of the tour.

George C. Boldt came to America in the 1860’s from Prussia. He became the “most successful hotel magnate in America.” He owned the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. Boldt invested over $2.5 million to build a replica of a 16th century Rhineland Castle for his wife Louise. He planned to present the Castle to his wife on Valentine’s Day. In January of 1904, Louise Boldt died. The heartbroken Boldt ordered all work on the Castle be stopped. Sadly, boxes of Italian tile in their original shipping containers sit under decades of dust in a storage room of the Castle’s Underground Passage.

For 73 years, the Castle sat empty. Weather and vandals took their toll on the structure. This disturbing evidence remains visible in rooms open to the public but yet to be restored. Work on the Castle is carried on by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority which acquired the property in 1977.

The Authority has done well to begin this rehabilitation. A stained glass ceiling illuminates the Grand Stairway in the main hallway of the Castle. From this hallway, many rooms branch off – dining room, library, reception room, billiard room. This first level of the Castle is luxuriously furnished, a museum of sort dedicated to the lives of George and Louise Boldt.

The Boldt’s own love story had a tragic ending, but love still flows here. Many couples come to celebrate their weddings on the Castle grounds. And, I expect that donors who love the Boldt Castle will eventually fund the work needed for it to become the stunning structure George Boldt intended for Louise.

Boldt Castle is a place where I would have liked more time to explore. I felt rushed to see as much as I could of the Castle, the Italian Garden, the Swimming Pool, the Veranda, and the Underground Passage during our boat tour stop-over. A late arrival at the dock meant missing the last boat ride off Heart Island. I didn’t dally.

On schedule, the boat carried us back to Rockport where I sat waterside with Ed and our family. While I sampled appetizers and drank cold, thirst quenching beers at the Ship’s Galley Restaurant & Patio Bar, I thought about romance.

Is romance dead? No, it is just changing. For women like me, an expression of love is a Seiko watch tucked in a pocket that I’m asked to pick. It’s a heart shaped necklace from Ed not truly from the Mt. View Inn bartender. It’s the opal ring designed special by the Australian jeweler. It’s the card cut in 10 puzzle pieces arriving one piece a day by mail. It’s a text message and a speed dial number on a cell phone. It’s a coach named “Patty’s Charm” and another one named “Dolly’s Pride.” It’s a 10,000 Mile Grand Tour of the US and Canada.

June 21, 2008

Rockport Boat Line

23 Front Street

Rockport, Ontario



Boldt Castle

1000 Islands/Ivy Lea KOA

Lansdown, Ontario