WondersFull Canada
Niagara-on-the-Lake: theater wine water

Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) go
90 car minutes from Toronto (30 from Buffalo), this beautiful community on the shores of Lake Ontario lies right in the middle of Ontario’s wine region, just north of Niagara Falls. It is a special, multi-faceted year-round vacation area, with:
- culture and entertainment - renowned wine and dining
- beautiful and unique scenery - active recreation
- history - stimulating people interaction
Be it a weekend visit or extended vacation, much to experience. See plays, go wine touring, gape at Niagara Falls, eat gourmet meals, stroll through picturesque villages, visit historical sites, stay at a B&B or a family waterpark hotel, bike/hike, ride an old carousel for 5¢, take a jet-boat ride up the Niagara River -- all here.

The Shaw Festival go more here
With a pretty location in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw specializes in plays by Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries (1856-1950), and in plays about the period of Shaw’s lifetime. 2nd-largest repertory company in North America (Stratford Shakespeare Festival is 1st), its permanent acting company performs 10-12 plays each season (April-November), with approximately 800 performances to some 300,000 theatergoers, in 4 separate theaters.

Big time wine country! Canada's largest Viticultural Area, the Niagara Peninsula produces 80% of Canada’s wine grapes. The area has been Canada's "fruit basket" but replanting in grapes began in the 70's. Today, 65% of VQA Ontario wineries (90+ and growing) are located here. Very special terroir is the reason:
1. Topography - The peninsula is surrounded by water: Lake Ontario, Welland Canal, Niagara River, Lake Erie. Also important is the Niagara Escarpment north-facing cliff formation, which rises to 575 feet above sea level.
2. Soil - Extensive glacial activity in the region created complex soil compositions between the Escarpment and Lake Ontario, where thick layers of clay are permeated with silts and sands.
3. Climate -
Lake Ontario's huge water mass moderates air temperatures year-round. East facing slopes offer grape varieties necessary sun exposure during the day. In addition, the Niagara river acts as a convective current which moderates vineyard temperatures and ultimately extends the growing season.
The quirks of Ontario wine regulation make wineries here wonderful places to visit. Only Ontario owned liquor stores may sell wine. However, wineries may sell directly to the public if licensed. This has fueled the creative energies of vintners, who have created a dazzling array of individual and distinctive wineries, fun to visit and where very high quality wine can be sampled and purchased. Wine map here

Niagara Falls Ontario go (across the river is Niagara Falls, New York)
20 minutes down-river from NOTL, along a scenic river drive, are these 2 world famous large waterfalls on the Niagara River. Millions view this spectacle from the Canadian side as both falls, American and Horseshoe, are best seen here. To add to the nature attractions, a tourist area has grown along the falls and gorge (particularly at the brink of the falls): tourist promenades, observation towers, high-rise-hotels, casinos and theaters, many with colorful neon. Further north/south are bike paths and golf courses alongside historic War of 1812 sites.

Our visit
Here's what we saw/did in our jam-packed one week visit. Enjoy along with us!

day 1 photos

fly into Toronto airport go drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) go
We drive on QEW east to NOTL via Hamilton and St. Catherines. Afternoon traffic and construction slows us, but ride gets interesting as we round the bend into wine country and start seeing distinctive Niagara Wine Route white and blue signs. Grimsby, Vineland, Jordan, St. Catharines roll by, as we turn onto Niagara Stone Road for the final 20 minutes into town. Pretty farm country, changing inexorably to vineyards and wineries. A very pleasant drive, that ends for us at roads end - Lake Ontario at sunset.

7 pm - arrive Niagara-on-the-Lake
We drive around the area, sightseeing and familiarizing ourselves. Park in theater lot, pick up tickets at will-call. A dinner salad in the theater cafe -- time for our first Shaw Festival play.

8 pm - see An Ideal Husband go Shaw Festival Theatre go
The theater Shaw’s flagship theatre, for large-scale productions, seats 869. Includes a café and retail shop. Café indoor/outdoor patio overlooks beautiful gardens and grounds, ideal for strolling.
The play Fate catches up to Government Minister Sir Robert Chiltern when a mysterious woman produces a letter which reveals a past misdeed and a choice must be made between public scandal and the private shame of his wife. This Oscar Wilde comedic classic adaptation is a perfect mix of Wilde wit and intrigue.

stay - Collard’s Lakeview B&B go
Built 1879 as a Niagara "Chautauqua" home, this charming, 3 guest room B&B is right on Lake Ontario: magnificent sunsets from the front porch. Been in Collard family for 60 years. Jim Collard (happens to be one of the 8 town Councillors) graciously waits up to greet us when we arrive at 11 PM after the play! Nice touch is separate room entrance; allows us to come/go without bother.

Day 2 photos

8 am - breakfast Collard’s Lakeview B&B
Pat Collard
served a delicious, filling breakfast in the sunroom overlooking Lake Ontario: fruit in season, coffee, tea, juice, homemade bread, Niagara jams and jellies, and entree. Even had opportunity to discuss local politics as Jim is running for re-election. Saw his signs all over the area.

10 am - explore Flat Rock Cellars go
The winery Ed Madronich, Flat Rock Cellars' president loves what he does. He says, "I'm very passionate about wine. Having a winery allows me to share my passion for this great product with our customers." In 1999, with his father, he bought 98 acres of prime grape-growing land on Niagara's 20 Mile Bench. Flat Rock Cellars opened in 2005 focusing on a handful of grape varieties. Today Flat Rock Cellars produces high-end VQA Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling wines.
Our visit Welcome introduction to Ontario Wine Country by Ed. Learn about their vineyard management methods and traditional winemaking. Watch hand harvested grapes delivered for hand sorting before pressing, tour winery and aging caves, then taste the wine. Also visit El Gastrónomo Vagabundo go, new twist on hot culinary trend. Weekends, the courier truck retro-fitted with a full commercial kitchen serves globally inspired street foods - gourmet tacos, tapas, Southeast Asian dishes, and garden fresh salads on the Green Roof patio.

Noon - lunch, wine tasting and tour Cave Springs Cellars go
The winery “The house that Riesling built,” Cave Spring Cellars stands at the center of picturesque Jordan village, with its vineyards a few kilometers away. The Pennachetti family expresses the terroir of these limestone-based soils in their premium, mature-vine CSV and Estate wines. 8 Riesling styles - from sparkling to brilliant icewine - are elegant and exemplary; Chardonnay also excels. Taut Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc embrace the cool-climate spirit of Niagara reds. Co-Founder Len Pennachetti has been one of the pioneers of Niagara Peninsula wine and hospitality.
Our visit Len joins us at lunch (Inn on the Twenty) pairing Cave Springs wines to our meal and giving us the "back story" of the family business over time. Jordan hamlet with its pioneer history was "reborn" when Cave Springs Cellars located in an old warehouse. Today the destination is thriving - interesting shops, the "Cellars" an Inn, with spa and good restaurant - right on the Wine trail.

3 pm - wine tasting and tour Tawse Winery go
The winery 2010 Canadian Wine Awards Winery of the Year. Established in 2001, this family owned and operated estate winery has 4 distinct vineyards, all located on the Niagara Escarpment. In 2005, an elegant new winery with 3 barrel caves opened. Designed to avoid pumps from harvest till the bottling stage, it has 6 floors and uses gravity at every stage of the wine making process. Estate wines are produced using organic and biodynamic viticultural practices. Tawse is one of the most sought-after wines in Ontario, with many awards.
Our visit Echoes of French architecture and formal gardens sound clearly in these most elegant new buildings. Inside, all's high tech and business like. A barrel aging cave is used for wine tasting - cool, but warm and fuzzy.

8 pm - see John Bull’s Other Island go Shaw Courthouse Theatre go
The theater A national historic site dating from the 1840s, the Court House is where the Shaw Festival began in 1962. The upper level is an intimate 327-seat auditorium, with a thrust stage.
The play Bernard Shaw comedy where friends and business partners Broadbent and Doyle travel to a small town in Ireland with a business deal in mind. The Englishman, Broadbent, falls in love with everything about the place, including Nora Reilly, Doyle’s old flame. Doyle, the hometown boy, only sees a country trapped in its past. Shaw’s unromantic and funny look at the romance of Ireland. 

stay - Collard’s Lakeview B&B go

Day 3 photos

8 am - breakfast Collard’s Lakeview B&B
Another superb breakfast by Pat Collard in the sunroom: this time fruit in season, coffee, tea, juice, homemade bread, Niagara jams and jellies, and entree.

10 am - wine tasting and tour 13th Street Winery go
The winery In 1998, 4 amateur enthusiasts founded 13th Street to produce single-vineyard, small-batch wines. In 2009, new owners expanded the vineyards and scope of the winery, moving it around the corner. An air of serenity pervades the tasting room, which also houses an art gallery and sculpture garden; add to this a kitchen and dining area, event space, and barrel club for members’ use. A growing focus on sparkling wine nicely suits the winery’s sophisticated ambience, but powerful old-vine Gamay, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir maintain 13th Street’s tradition.
Our visit This stop on our tour is a winner. Located in a former plant nursery, the winery combines art gallery, restaurant and oasis, wine tasting. We have a personal tour and tasting, then linger, despite rain sprinkles, to walk among the gardens, lawns, greenhouse and vineyard.

noon - lunch and tour Henry of Pelham Winery go
The winery A premium estate winery owned and operated by the Speck family since 1988. The land was orginally deeded to Nicholas Smith in 1794. His youngest son Henry signed himself "Henry of Pelham" recognizing Pelham Road as a main Niagara thoroughfare. Believing fine wine is grown and not made, Pelham takes low yields and tends the 170-acre estate vineyards with meticulous care. Small volumes of handmade wines are produced to ensure the highest standards of quality resulting in domestic and international awards.
Our visit Going into the oldest building, housing tasting and sales rooms, we step back in time. Artisan Show in progress on 3rd floor - a ballroom in the past. We amble over to restaurant tent for bowl of incredible tomato soup and housemade chacouterie and local cheeses platter. Donna of Pelham, a woman of many hats, takes us underground (by elevator) to the aging cellars. We taste a flight of wines on the Champagne balcony where 1500 bottles of bubbly are stored. Below is a lower cellar full of barrels - some being moved to new locations.

3 pm - tour Rodman Hall Arts Centre go
Rodman Hall Art Centre, Brock University is on the historic Thomas Rodman Merritt estate in downtown St Catharines. Here also is Walker Botanical Garden, a public garden on the banks of 12 Mile Creek. An art gallery since 1960, Rodman Hall has a permanent collection of over 850 works of art by 19th and 20th century Canadian, American and European artists. It presents a year-round exhibition program featuring contemporary national and international artists and offers art education courses for all ages. Free admission. The building retains original painted and stained glass windows and beautifully carved staircases.

drive to Niagara Falls Canada

6 pm - check-in Doubletree Fallsview Resort & Spa by Hilton go
Perfect view of the Falls from the higher rooms. This well designed hotel is welcoming, elegant, not pretentious and convenient. Our towel sculpture - two swans - go well with the "Sweet Dreams" pillow. The spacious room - two double beds - cozy covers, quality linen, roomy bath and nice amenities, coffee service, morning newpaper and large flat screen TV, and inroom WiFi makes our stay very comfortable.

7 pm - see film IMAX Theatre Niagara Falls go
2 block walk from hotel. We see "The Falls Movie: Legends and Daredevils", 45 minute film about legends, history and amazing moments in Niagara Falls history (like the boy who survived a plunge over the Falls). Giant screen put us right into incredible views of the Falls; had to touch ourselves to make sure we were dry. We finish by exploring their fun Daredevil Gallery.

8 pm - dinner and viewing Skylon Tower go
Short walk feom IMAX. Great way to start a Falls visit - enjoy the magnificent night view from the open 520 foot tower (775 feet above bottom of falls). Dinner in the Revolving Dining Room is terrific fun. Fine dining - we had the lobster - HUGE portions, ever-changing 360° view as the restaurant completes a revolution every hour.

stay - Doubletree Fallsview Resort & Spa by Hilton go

Day 4 photos

9 am - breakfast Buchanans Restaurant go at Doubletree Fallsview
Friendly staff, mellow dining room and
buffet with many breakfast choices is a very good way to start the day. Choose iingredients for a custom omelet - or partake of ready to go cereals, sweet rolls, fresh fruit, breakfast items or Mexican specialties. Or do all. As much as you want or can eat - you can probably skip lunch.

10:30 am - swimming/lounging in hotel salt pool and visit to the spa
Large and luxurious, 2 levels - the salt water refreshes/invigorates us and sets us up for a busy touristy day. No time for spa treatments but we visit it to feel the luxe.

noon - We tour Niagara Parks Attractions by car and on foot.

2 pm - Maid of the Mist go
The classic Niagara Falls close-up experience. We ride the boat close to the falls, get wet, hear the sounds, feel the power. See what brings in millions of tourists year after year.

5 pm - check-in Great Wolf Lodge go
Something very different. This unusual resort combines a fine/friendly hotel with an indoor waterpark complex to create a fun family getaway. Features include: 90-foot tall indoor waterpark complex measuring over 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor entertainment, 406 all-suite themed guest rooms, 7,000 sq. ft. arcade with over 100 video games, 18 hole miniature golf course, fitness room, 5 fully-licensed themed restaurants, Trading Post gift shop, Elements spa and salon, kids club, daily story time shows. Whew! Kids love it.

6 pm - dinner and magic show Greg Frewin Dinner Theatre go
Dynamite magician/magic tour de force after buffet dinner. We see: tigers appear/disappear, boxed female assistants taken apart/put back together, birds appear in hands from nowhere, card deck tricks, up close magic. The full gamut of a master, world class magician at top of his game. (Greg is the International Grand Champion of Magic, a title earned by winning 1st place in all the World's top magic competitions, a feat never duplicated.) Great stuff -- don't miss it!

stay - Great Wolf Lodge go

Day 5 photos

8 am - breakfast Antler Shanty Restaurant go at Great Wolf Lodge
A casual campsite themed restaurant serves a breakfast buffet suitable for families as everyone can have their favorite - hot or cold cereals, pancakes, custom omelets, fresh fruits, veggies, baked breads, rolls, sweat treats - even a breakfast pizza - anything/everything you could possibly want for breakfast.

9 am - massage Elements Spa & Salon go at Great Wolf Lodge
We relax and restore with a couples massage in the full-service spa offering nuture, relaxation and therapy for adults. Massage, hair services, manicures, facial therapy, herbal body wraps, pedicures, body waxing - the works. Young princesses love the popular kids spa, "Scoops", which pampers with manicures & pedicures.

10 am - Scenic drive along Niagara Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake:
Living Water Wayside Chapel go
Claims to be the "worlds smallest church" -- who knows but certainly very tiny.
Floral Clock go
This large (40 feet wide) decorative clock set into a flower bed, is said to be the largest in the world. Sir Adam Beck (head of Ontario hydro when the clock was built) had the hands shaped as crutches, to honor his daughter who was battling TB.
Niagara Totem Pole and Wood Carving Park go
Overlooking Niagara Glen and Great Gorge, master carver Frank Kim has placed 25 years of work (almost 500 pieces) among the trees. The turtle, unique tribal symbol of his people in South Korea, is often a subject for his carving - he's created them in many materials, sizes and forms. To celebrate the Battle of 1812 200th anniversary, he's commissioned to carve a British Army of 200 soldiers. Completed works can be seen in the Park.

11 am - wine tasting and tour Reif Estate Winery go
The winery One of NOTL's founding-family wineries, Reif opened in 1982, after founder Ewald Reif planted its vineyards with some of the first vitis vinifera vines in the region in 1977. The property was later acquired by nephew Klaus W. Reif who became President and Winemaker. Today, the large 50-hectare site produces a complete range of varietals, including Vidal Icewine, a perennial medal winner. Premium “first growth” reds from the oldest vines are also excellent. The winery has one of the most sophisticated, educational tasting-room experiences in Niagara, complete with themed flights, blind tastings, food pairings and a new sensory wine garden.
Our visit The exteriors reflect European roots while the sophisticated tasting and sales room reflects the products being tasted and sold - quality and integrity. We explore the Wine Sensory Garden and contemplate the colors, aromas and flavours characteristically used to describe wines. A very interesting notion. Next to the aging cellars where many of the original barrels are on display. With excellent guidance we taste a flight of exquisite wines paired with local cheese and charcuterie.

1 pm - lunch Peller Estate Winery go
The winery Andrew Peller is another of Ontario wine's founding fathers. Today, his wine company, the province’s 2nd largest, remains a family-owned enterprise - focused around the grand winery, showpiece barrel cellar and gracious Peller Estates Winery Restaurant. Peller’s full range of Private Reserve whites, reds and sweet wines are always rich and approachable, while the Signature Series features age-worthy reds, award-winning icewines and the unique Ice Cuvée sparklers, sweetened with a touch of icewine.
Our visit Like entering a private county house. The first rooms - living, music, sitting - open to each other and dominated by a large fireplace. In another wing is the celebrated Peller Restaurant. The dining room, with one glass wall, faces a charmingly planted patio, vineyards in view. Mood is relaxed and luxurious. No wonder the restaurant is on the Culinary Wine Trail! The tasting menu offers opportunity to sample many items - seems like the right choice. Each course is paired with a Peller wine chosen by the chef. We have our first taste of Canada's famous "poutine". Our elegant lunch ends with 3 different desserts - served with 3 varietal icewines!

6 pm - check-in Harbour House Hotel go
Luxurious boutique hotel, recently named best hotel in Canada by Accommodations carefully designed to create elegant and comfortable environment. Conveniently located on quiet side street close to Niagara River and cross the street from the picturesque Niagara on the Lake yacht club. Most rooms have a view of the Niagara River. The hotel is a short walk to the Shaw Festival, intriguing shops and many quality restaurants.

7 pm - dinner Zees Grill go
Location, location, location! Just steps from the Shaw Festival Theatre, with the largest patio in Niagara, ideal for dinner before a play. Contemporary Zen decor, attentive service, creative cuisine. Try it at least once!

stay - Harbour House Hotel go

Day 6 photos

9 am - breakfast Harbour House Hotel
Large buffet offering choices suitable for every taste spread out over 2 serving areas. Cereals, bagels, fresh baked bread and sweet rolls, eggs, cold cuts and cheeses. Friendly guests enjoy a wall of windows bringing in sunshine. Tables fill and refill as guests rise and shine at different times. Provided newspapers absorb some folks while others chat with neighboring tables about their adventures.

10:30 am - Festival Theatre Back Stage Tour reveals what it takes to put on a Shaw production. In the lower part of the building is a warren of work areas for design, creation, storage, repair and care of costumes and sets. Other rooms holding rehearsals, dressing and administration functions - PR, Marketing, tickets, etc. On the stage level behind the performance area we view the movable carts storing scenery for various productions. This is like reading the credits after seeing a movie - astonishing amount of coordinated effort required to put on a show.

noon - drive over to old Port Dalhousie go to see their original 4 abreast Looff Carousel. Lovely marina and park, many interesting shops and several destination restaurants and pubs. Bring the kids to enjoy the century old Carousel for only 5¢ a ride!

2 pm - see The Women go Shaw Festival Theatre go
The theater Repeat visit to Shaw’s flagship theatre.
The play Welcome to a secret society – the world of women. In The Women, a 1930s Broadway hit by Clare Boothe Luce, a Manhattan socialite finds out her husband is cheating on her, and her girlfriends are no help at all. With manicured claws, these women are fighting to maintain their status while scheming to leave, steal or win back their own husbands. This classic play captures a world that only half the population ever really gets to see. A revealing look into the lives of the ladies-who-lunch that is clever, cut-throat and full of outrageous humour.

6 pm - dinner Charles Inn go dining room
Everything restaurant should be - great food, excellent service, beautiful surroundings. The lovely Georgian-style mansion's dining room is spacious and quiet. We order the seasonal sampling menu paired with wines. Our server: charming, helpful, keeps the courses coming without hurrying us. Food is well prepared, mostly locally sourced and beautifully presented. To finish - dessert served with lush local ice wine. The evening is a delight, lovely and relaxing, just right for our last evening here. Wish we'd allowed more time for a truly Lucullan feast -- we just barely made the play on time.

8 pm - see Harvey go Royal George Theatre go
The theater Modest exterior, but inside it’s all Edwardian gilt mouldings, red walls and golden lions! This 328-seat theatre, built as a vaudeville house to entertain troops during WWI, now hosts Shaw's repertory theatre productions.
The play Everyone wants to meet Elwood Dowd and his friend Harvey. When they enter a room, strangers soon become friends and people want to share a drink with them. But Harvey is a 6-foot invisible rabbit and Elwood’s sister wants him gone. The question is – does the world need another "normal" chap, or more Harveys? A new look at this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase, made famous by Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of the loveable Elwood Dowd in the 1950 film.

stay - Harbour House Hotel go

Day 7 photos

8 am - breakfast Harbour House Hotel
Another very fine breakfast buffet. We eat as much as we can to power up for the day - and for our grand finale!

10 am - experience Niagara Falls Whirlpool open air Jetboat Ride go
We strip down to bathing suits and shirts, and although we put on provided diving booties, army issue sweaters, yellow hooded raincoats and life jackets it doesn't stop us from getting soaked to the skin. The Niagara river forms a whirlpool basin a few miles down from the Falls on the Canadian side. Betweeen the Falls and the whirlpool are "Class 6" rapids (currents/swells so unpredictable it is illegal to drive a boat through them). In the whirlpool basin itself are "Class 5" rapids (not quite as violent but still challenging). The jet boat powers up and heads up river as we enjoy tranquil and pretty scenes on both shores. Speeding up to 50 mph but slowing as we go through Class 4 rapids at Devil's Hole, then on to the whirlpool. The first 8 foot wave crashing over the boat into our faces sends out an adrenaline rush - another as we do a 360° turns at 60 mph (7x). Soaked from head to toe within the first 15 minutes we continue for another hour. By ride's end, thanks to our heavy gear, we are only slightly chilled. Back at the dock, we peel everything off, dry/change, see the trip on video tape and get a copy. A must do, absolutely exhilarating experience!

noon - Graveyard and Fort George
Tour town cemetery to view old tombstones, then stroll past tall trees and old mansions to Fort George, which British soldiers successfully defended during the Battle of 1812. The Fort is still formidable today in its design and structure. Weapons and ammunitions buildings, soldier barracks, officers quarters, meal preparation and food storage areas are open to the public and tell the story of the times. Costumed guides and well stocked gift shops.

1 pm - time to go home
On return drive to Toronto Airport pass by Featherstone Winery go in Vineland, to see their Harris hawk ("Amadeus"), who scares pesty grape-eating birds away. The ultimate natural, organic approach to pest control!

Can see the Toronto skyline and towers as we approach the airport west of town. Wonder what there is to see/do in Toronto? Hmmm.

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Joseph Cillo
Publisher & Editor in Chief
Mary Buttaro
Creative Director & Photo Editor
created this story and photo journal

Thanks to all who helped create this fine experience

Janice Thomson
Executive Director
Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau
Shaw Festival
Odette Yazbeck
Public Relations Director
Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation
Helen Lovekin
Media Relations Coordinator
North America
Kattrin Sieber
Media Relations Officer
North America
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