Monthly Archives: April 2013

Feed the Birds and Hunt for Treasure in Hendrie Valley | Adventure #25

“We pledge to get outdoors and active in nature at least once each week.”

The above pledge is part of a new Walking Into Nature initiative by the Royal Botanical Gardens that encourages families to increase their weekly dose of Vitamin N – Nature! RBG hopes to have 1000 local families take this pledge in 2013.

The “Families WIN” program is focused on the trails of Hendrie Valley near RBG Centre. It includes a number of special activities for anyone who wants to go Walking Into Nature (including an iPhone treasure hunt app that you can use while hiking).

We signed the pledge form ourselves before heading out to the Cherry Hill Gate trailhead in the Rose Garden parking lot. Parking here is just $1/hour.

Starting our adventure at RBG Cherry Hill Gate

Cherry Hill Gate is a barrier-free route that leads to the Gardens’ signature boardwalk perched two metres above the floodplain of Grindstone Creek.

We made sure to bring some bird seed with us because, having been on the RBG trails before, we knew that’s the thing to do if you want to have the abundant chickadees feed from your hand.

Right at the start of our hike, we were greeted by this gorgeous red cardinal feeding on seed that another hiker had left for the birds.

Cardinal Greetings at Royal Botanical Gardens

Jr Burlington brought along the Ontario Nature Guide he received from his grandparents for Christmas! It came in handy for identifying all the birds and trees along our hike.

Consulting the Ontario Nature Guide

Before leaving home, we downloaded the Hendrie Valley Treasure Hunt app for our iPad. All along the trail, special blue Tagz are posted and can be scanned with the app to collect virtual coins that are awarded for being observant and answering questions.

For example, “Which tree has bark that looks like burnt potato chips?” or “There are many plants in the forest, which ones stick to your clothes?”

If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, no worries. The RBG also offers a downloadable seasonal activity sheet; just print one out at home and bring it along on the hike, or pick one up at RBG Centre.

Scanning at Hidden Snappz Tagz

Some of the most interesting stops on the Treasure Hunt allow for taking photos with special overlay graphics. These funny photos can then be emailed on-the-spot to friends and family.

Posing for a Funny Photo

“Oh no! A giant red-tailed hawk is attacking!”

Oh No There's a Bird on My Shoulder

Like many families these days, we’re continually tempted by our many sedentary screen-based indoor entertainment options. But whenever we get outside for a hike, we all come alive!

“Spending an hour or two on the trails gives families time to be active and connect with each other and nature. Everyone will experience stimulative and restorative benefits, from burning calories and building muscle, to reducing stress and fueling brain development.”

Baby Burlington is Along for the Ride

Our RBG hiking adventure this time was self-guided. But one of Burlington’s best kept secrets, I think, is the free weekly Get Back to Nature Walks led by RBG volunteers. These guided tours depart every Sunday (including holiday weekends) at 2pm (September through May) and 10am (June through August). The hike location rotates every week so that every walk is a different adventure!

  • 1st Sunday of every month: Hendrie Valley; meet at Cherry Hill Gate parking lot
  • 2nd: Princess Point; meet at the parking lot
  • 3rd: Cootes North Shore; meet at the Nature Centre
  • 4th: Cootes South Shore; meet at the Aviary parking lot on Oak Knoll Drive, Hamilton
  • 5th: Rock Chapel; meet at the parking lot

These walks are typically 1.5 to 2 hours in length. RBG cautions that their trails are not suitable for most standard strollers, except those meant for off-sidewalk use. In the event of inclement weather, visitors should call their Program Update Line at 905-527-1158 ext. 404.

Feeding the Chickadees at RBG

Throughout our hike, we stopped over and over again to feed the chickadees. Having birds land on you to feed is as easy as putting some seeds in your hand and holding your palm flat — you won’t have to wait long!

Sunflower seeds are the favourite food of

chickadees. As you hike, listen for “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” their distinguishing call. It’s one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom. Depending on slight variations in the phrases, the call can act as a contact call or as an alarm call. I think there’s even a variation that means, “here comes a hiker – chows on!”

Jr Burlington was happy to share his sunflower seeds with other kids along the path so that they could have the thrill of birds feeding from their hands too!

New friends enjoy feeding the birds too

In Grindstone Marsh, we came across a pair of Mute Swans and stopped to admire them. Another hiker told us about the difference between these swans and Trumpeter Swans (with black beaks).

Apparently Trumpeter Swans were once native to the area, but were hunted to the brink of extinction almost 100 years ago. Mute Swans (with orange beaks) are attractive, but aggressive and not native. Through a Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program, it is hoped that Trumpeter Swans will eventually displace Mute Swans from the area.

Saying Hello to the Royal Botanical Gardens Swans

Along one Marsh overlook, we came across a listening post setup to demonstrate various bird calls. The Ontario Nature Guide we brought along tries to describe the bird calls but this is much more helpful!

Hendrie Valley is well known for its beautiful boardwalks. There are benches placed along the way that offer a chance to sit and soak up the beauty of the surroundings.

Taking a Break Along the RBG Hendrie Valley Trails

At the end of our hike, we popped into the gift shop at RBG Centre to show

the staff how many virtual Coins we had collected by scanning Tagz with the Snappz Treasure Hunt app. A button was awarded to celebrate our success!

Receiving a Snappz Treasure Hunt Badge

Did you know that you can preview the RBG trails and learn more about nature with a virtual hike before leaving home?

The Get To Know Virtual Hikes website follows the same trail and boardwalk trek that we explored in person. The site challenges visitors to spot 25 different plants and animals and provides accompanying descriptions, photos, video and audio for many of them. The idea is that you will enjoy your outdoor experience more if you know a little about the plants and animals you see along the way. We found this to absolutely be true. Our son was able to rattle off names and information about many of the sights we saw based on information he learned by playing the RBG virtual hike game before leaving home!

As famous Burlingtonian Robert Bateman has said, “caring for our environment begins with getting to know the names of our neighbours of other species.”


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Clean Up and Green Up for Earth Day | Adventure #24

“Collectively we can make a huge difference by making a sweep of our city and cleaning it up together.” This is the message to Burlington residents each year by our local environmental awareness organization, BurlingtonGreen.

In 2013, residents came together like never before to lend a hand in the annual Clean Up Green Up event to celebrate Earth Day. A record number of more than 13,000 people signed up to ‘sweep’ the streets and green areas of our city — that is almost 5,000 more than the year before!

Burlington Green - Helping the Planet Locally!

This year, before we joined our neighbourhood cleanup effort, my family also participated in a special Green Up stewardship project made possible by the Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund. This fund offers grants to grassroots community groups for activities such as cleaning up a beach or shoreline, restoring a wetland, or creating a coastal or riverside trail. We joined one hundred other participants at Burlington’s Beachway Park to help improve the coastal environment of Lake Ontario. For this project, BurlingtonGreen partnered with the city and Conservation Halton to obtain a grant of nearly $25,000 from the fund.

When we arrived, the organizers were busy sorting volunteers into numbered groups. As we signed in, we were offered fresh baked chocolate chip cookies baked by some of the BurlingtonGreen members (they were so good!).

Lining up the green teams

The morning was incredibly cold and windy but everyone bundled up warmly and went to work.

Some groups collected litter while others removed invasive species and still others planted trees and shrubs. Our group was dedicated to planting plugs of native plants and grasses along the edge of the beach.

Planting grasses at the Green Up Clean Up event

Up and down the waterfront, families with yellow garbage bags collected trash. It will pay off in the summer as beach goers soak up the sun without having to worry about stepping on something nasty.

Trash Collection

After lining the beach with a hundred or so grass plugs, we switched gears to planting trees. It’s the end of April, but we had to dress the kids in their snowsuits to keep them warm!

Planing a tree for Earth Day

We eventually said goodbye to the new friends we had made at the beach and headed home to join the community clean up effort along East Sheldon Creek in our own back yard.

Our neighbourhood group was just one of dozens that had fanned out across the city this day — each one organized by someone who wanted to make a difference in their community. Earlier in the week, many groups from schools, churches and businesses had already made their own trash sweeps as part of this event. All registered groups were provided with trash bags, recycling bags and gloves to aid their effort.

The Burlington Green team takes action

By the time we returned from the beach, there was not one piece of trash left for us to pickup — our neighbours had been quick and thorough. But a team from Field and Stream Rescue remained busy planting some new trees along the creek.

With help from a volunteer, Jr Burlington inserted Dogwood cuttings into the ground along the retention pond.

Planting Dogwood cuttings

Before long, it was time for the annual Eco Celebration at Burlington City Hall to begin. This is a Thank You BBQ for Earth Day volunteers from across the city and a chance to mingle with neighbours, view various eco-displays and participate in activities for children.

Turtle Jack’s has been a long time supporter of this event, cooking up their giant hamburgers for everyone who volunteers as part of the city-wide clean up crew.

Eco Celebration BBQ hosted by Turtle Jacks

Inside City Hall, kids could participate in a Waste Sort Challenge where they had to correctly determine which bin various pieces of waste should go in. Jr Burlington impressed the activity leader when he suggested that, rather than throwing two cans in the recycling bin, he would reuse them to make a toy telephone.

Kids activities included the Waste Sort Challenge

To cap off the celebration, Mayor Rick Goldring welcomed Ontario environment minister Jim Bradley who took a few minutes to thank all the volunteers and the BurlingtonGreen organization. “Your hard work and dedication has transformed another Ontario shoreline into a place of pride for the community,” Minister Bradley said. “Grassroots efforts like this ensure that the people of Ontario continue to enjoy lakes that are drinkable, swimmable and fishable.”

Mayor Goldring and Environment Minister Bradley

Up next from BurlingtonGreen is the second of five movies in their 2013 Eco Film Festival. On May 9th, The Cove is presented at the Burlington Central Library at 6:30pm. This series provides a valuable opportunity for audiences to learn about global environmental issues by watching award winning documentaries and then sharing ideas on how the issues can be addressed locally.

Each event includes a film presentation, complimentary refreshments, a free  eco-prize raffle and engaging audience discussion on how global issues can be tackled locally.

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Tour the Heritage Homes of Burlington's Early Settlers | Adventure #23

So much of Burlington’s charm lies in it’s history. But, as was suggested in a recent Heritage Burlington Open House, “History only has value if people know it.” Realizing this, we wanted to discover some of the stories of our past as told by the buildings that have been passed on to us.

It was time to step back in time a bit to discover our shared history by taking a leisurely stroll on a self-guided walking tour of Downtown Burlington.

We started at the Tourism Burlington Visitor Information Centre on Locust Street. At Tourism Burlington we picked up two different “Walking Tour of Heritage Burlington” booklets.

A Walking Tour of Heritage Burlington

  • Burlington Art Centre Neighbourhood Tour: This self-guided tour begins at the Burlington Art Centre and features a look at many of the classic heritage properties in the surrounding neighbourhood.
  • Burlington Downtown Tour: This tour begins at City Hall and provides an opportunity to explore some of the most intriguing buildings in the area of Brant Street first hand.

There is a third Walking Tour too! Before we left home, I had printed off an older version of the Burlington Downtown Walking Tour from the Tourism Burlington website. This document isn’t glossy and colourful but it has much more detailed information about many of the properties.

Before starting our tour, we saw this “Picture Yourself in Burlington” photo stand-in and couldn’t resist! Mrs Burlington and Baby Burlington are striking up a chord as members of the Burlington Teen Tour Band while Jr Burlington looks on as Bur Bear.

If you’re ever wondering “what to do?” in Burlington, the Visitor Information Centre is the perfect place to figure it out. On display are hundreds of brochures and booklets, posters and pamphlets for things-to-see in Burlington and beyond.

We decided to follow the more detailed tour we had printed at home but also reference the colour brochure for its photos and shorter synopses.

We set off towards City Hall passing by The Queen’s Head at the corner of Elgin and Brant. What’s amazing about this building is that it has operated continuously as a tavern since it was built in 1860. It was first known as the Zimmerman House, then later in the century as the Queens Hotel. At that point in history, it was a stop for the electric cars of the radial line that ran from Hamilton to Burlington and Oakville.

The County Atlas of 1877 described this hotel as: “the Zimmerman house, a fine, handsome three-storey brick veneered building, erected at a large cost by one Peter M. Zimmerman — a first class resting place for the weary traveler.”

I’m always fascinated at how buildings can take on completely different looks over time. Below is a photo of the Queen’s Hotel almost 100 years ago dressed up with bunting and sporting verandas around two sides of the building. The radial line passes right in front of the building.

Queen's Hotel ca 1918

We arrived at City Hall, and took some time to appreciate the monuments in Civic Square.

  • The Millennium Fountain was built and installed to mark the year 2000.
  • The Anniversary Clock arrived in 1999 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Burlington’s incorporation as a village.
  • The Drinking Fountain was first erected in honour of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860.
  • The Bronze Statue (1922) was originally placed in what was then known as LaSalle Park, now Spencer Smith Park, as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in WWI.

Further in our tour, we came across a line of fine homes built in the mid-1800s along Elizabeth Street.

The house at 490 Elizabeth is an example of the neoclassical style, with a large two storey porch gracing the front elevation. The typical doorway adds charm to the entrance as does the semi-elliptical fan transom with sidelights around the door. Some of the glass is the original made by hand. The windows are symmetrical, with six over six panes, square headed without surrounds.

Next door is the Laing-Speers House built in 1855 by James Laing. It was later owned by Dr. Speers in the early 1900’s who was the Medical Officer of Health — it was his job to convince council of the necessity of sewers.

The 19 November 1902 Gazette reported that “Dr Speers is moving into his new house today. The Dr. will have one of the finest homes in the village. The building

is fitted throughout with every convenience and will be lighted with electricity.”

Later the building was used as the Burlington Public Library for over 20 years. The town purchased the property in 1952 and did renovations (including a new addition at the back) to give better service until the new library was built on New Street in 1970. The house is now the home of the Rosewater Spa.

Burlington Public Library

Along the way, we played an impromptu game of hide ‘n seek. We almost didn’t see him here. 😉

Another highlight on Elizabeth Street is Knox Presbyterian Church. One of the interesting bits of trivia we learned from the longer guide (a detail not included in the published brochure) was that the church windows were ordered from Scotland and shipped to Canada in Molasses!

Our walking tour took us to see over 20 classic properties in the downtown core and left us with a better knowledge and appreciation of Burlington’s heritage.

You too can find the gingerbread house with a window in its chimney, discover the modern day coffee shop that was once home to Vaudeville style stage shows, and walk through heritage homes that are now incorporated into a shopping plaza. Just pick up a map and set out on a sunny day to let history be your guide!

Thanks to Heritage Burlington for publishing these Walking Tour guides and to the Burlington Historical Society for providing the resource material to make them possible.

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Bowl 'em Over at Burlington Bowl | Adventure #22

The minute that I suggested the idea of 100 Burlington adventures to my family on New Year’s Eve, my son exclaimed that bowling would have to be one of them. He had recently tried the game for the first time at a friend’s birthday party and came away thinking it was the greatest sport ever invented!

I’ve been following Burlington Bowl on Facebook and Twitter for a while and have been intrigued by the fun bowling photos and special deals they post every day. I finally decided it was time to try bowling again for the first time in a decade or so.

Welcome to Burlington Bowl

With 48 lanes, this place is huge! It was bustling with activity the entire time we were there. At one end, an adult bowling league gathered for some serious sport. Further down was lane after lane of kids’ birthday parties mixed with families just like us enjoying an afternoon of public bowling.

First impressions mean a lot. We were greeted with enthusiasm when we arrived at the shoe rental counter and were impressed that all the shoes seemed brand new and even retro-stylish. What struck me throughout our visit was that service staff with bright smiles and matching blue shirts seemed to be everywhere.

Friendly Staff at Burlington Bowl

Burlington Bowl is exclusively a 10-pin bowling facility. I had always thought that kids needed the smaller balls used in 5-pin bowling — turns out I was wrong. Burlington Bowl has extra-light balls with 5 finger holes so that the kids can feel as if they’re playing like the adults.

Boys Pick Out Their Bowling Balls

There are also special ball ramps available to help kids get their shots aimed just right. Even Baby Burlington got into the act by pushing the ball down the ramp!

Kids Bowling Ramp

We opted to use lane bumpers so we didn’t have to worry about gutter balls. There are actually two styles of bumpers available. We opted for old-school foam bumpers as these are the most forgiving to novice bowlers. I thought it was a nice gesture that adults are invited to bowl in an adjacent non-bumper lane if their kids are playing with bumpers.

Go for a Strike

I also thought it was a nice touch that adults are welcome to imbibe in a beer while playing!

Bowling Goes Great with Beer

During our visit, manager Bill came by to greet us and introduce the boys to their stuffed pin-pal mascot.

Burlington Bowl Mascot

We ordered a few appetizers to share — sliders, french fries and potato skins. Yum! Our waitress brought the food right to our lane which allowed us to munch and nibble in between frames as the game progressed.

Eating Lane Side

All dishes are prepared by Brooklyn’s Bar and Grill, a full-service restaurant right on site. This restaurant became famous a few years back when it received a facelift as part of the TV show Restaurant Makeover.

This colourful, retro-inspired restaurant is the perfect place for parties. From birthday parties to sports team parties to retirement parties, Burlington Bowl can host it all.

Brooklyn's Bar and Grill at Burlington Bowl

Photos by Philip Curwen (FulsomPrisonBlues) on Flickr

Burlington Bowl also offers a huge variety of organized leagues offering a fun-filled season of friendly competition for every skill level. Their Spring Leagues begin again in early May.

  • Bumper Bandits: For kids 7 years and under, this weekly league offers super lightweight balls and a free t-shirt.
  • Junior Pro Stars: Capped off by an end-of-season awards party, this league for children 8-16 years includes tournament play.
  • Bowling Camp for Adults: This beginners bowling training camp welcomes individuals, couples and groups for a series of 90-minute lessons each week.
  • Basebowl: This social bowling club for adults sees each team represented by a Major League Baseball team. All players receive a baseball jersey and enjoy an end-of-season party at a Blue Jays game.
  • T.G.I.F. Singles: Designed exclusively for single adults, this social league includes three games each week.
  • ParticipACTION: For those 55 years plus, this year-round drop in program makes it easy to get out of the house and meet others.

Burlington Bowl 48 Lanes of Fun

Burlington Bowl frequently offers advance booking specials through their website and social media accounts. We found a few games of bowling to be a great value for an afternoon of entertainment. Two hours of bowling costs less than a movie ticket but allows for a great deal more fun and interaction.

Remember too that mini-golf is another fun option for getting social with friends and family. We really enjoyed our indoor mini-golf adventure earlier this year and are planning some outdoor putt putt fun again this summer.

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