Sunday, April 20, 2014

#DiscoverON: Abandoned Places Ontario

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to a foreboding text from my neighbour Nick:

“It is both beautiful and disgusting outside.”

I crawled out of bed and towards the kitchen to make coffee. Looking out the window, my gaze settled on the vines on our back fence. Overnight, they had become completely covered in a thick layer of fresh white snow. Only two days earlier I had been sitting in the backyard with friends, barbecuing and enjoying the first truly warm day of the year.

I sighed and put the kettle on to perk.

Nick, Courtney and I had planned to spend the day taking advantage of AutoShare’s #discoverON program. We were going to go hiking in Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and exploring ghost hamlets around Caledon. It just figured that the world was once again reduced to the grey misery of winter on the day that we were scheduled to drive north.

Court showed up at my apartment wrapped in layers of scarves and clinging to her coffee.

“So, what’s the plan?” she asked me, peering out from under her tuque.

“I actually don’t know,” I shrugged as we waited in the lobby for Nick to appear. Although exploring ghost towns was still part of the plan, hiking was clearly off the table. Spending the day outdoors suddenly seemed considerably less appealing than it had when we planned the trip.

“So you’re telling me that we’re driving up north, in a snowstorm and you don’t know where we’re going?” Court asked with a laugh.


Apart from booking the AutoShare car a week earlier and baking treats for the road (lemon blackberry scones and carrot cake), I had left the planning up to Nick, who glared grumpily at me as he scraped a heavy layer of snow off the car. “I don’t remember agreeing to pictures,” he grumbled.

The day was taking on a decidedly different quality than my first #discoverON trip with Diana. As much as we wanted to ignore the inclement weather, it had set the tone. What was supposed to be a day of adventuring had somehow turned into a chore.

After stopping to pick up Brockdog (because clearly, bringing a small dog to explore abandoned sites—where broken glass and loose nails are par for the course—makes complete sense) and some special treat coffees from Capital Espresso, we started driving. Nick’s itinerary was based on the Caledon Community Map and Abandoned Places Ontario, a site that looks like it was designed in 1997, although it’s actually fairly functional.

Our first site, a cluster of decaying barns, was only about an hour outside of Toronto. But despite the cold wind whipping around us, it only took about five minutes before our sense of wonder and adventure returned.

The snow, which hadn’t yet been disturbed or melted, was making the prettiest surroundings even prettier. In a way, it was the perfect day for ghost hunting.

After checking out site #2, an old mini putt and driving range, we took a scenic turn towards Belfountain and made a brief stop at Higher Ground Coffee.

Once we’d warmed up with hot chai lattes and reviewed Nick's gameplan, we went to our last—and what would become my favourite—stop of the day.

Although it stopped operation in 1964, the Cheltenham Brickyard is almost perfectly preserved.

It’s also frequently visited. In the first building, we found the recent remnants of what we determined was either the best—or worst—party ever; a broken drum kit, a smashed guitar and the case for an absentee bass guitar.

And Brock, who had been carried around like a lapdog most of the day, finally got a chance to rip around.

Driving home, we briefly car-karaoked to the Ghost Busters theme song (which perfectly fit the day's motif) before settling into the quiet lull that accompanies a day well spent.

Heading back towards the city, I thought of earlier that morning, when it seemed like our plans were ruined. The day had been a perfect reminder that often the best adventures are the kind that don't go according to plan.

If You Go:
  • There are countless abandoned buildings, historic sites, and ghost hamlets within driving distance of Toronto. However some may be located on private property. Depending on their condition, they may also be dangerous to enter. Your best bet is to consult with users on the Abandoned Places Ontario website to find out where it's safe to explore.
  • Wearing proper footwear goes without saying. So does being respectful; as the old adage goes "leave only footprints."
  • As much as Brock loves going for a car ride (about 80 per cent of AutoShare's fleet is pet-friendly), I wouldn't recommend bringing your dog on this type of adventure.

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