Nature enthusiast Jeff Hathaway shares a passion for his country's indigenous animals—specifically amphibians and reptiles. At Scales Nature Park, staff and volunteers introduce visitors of all ages to more than 300 cold-blooded specimens from more than 60 species, most of which are native to Canada. The wildlife-conservation facility also houses exotic reptiles and amphibians donated by their owners or seized from private homes by protective agencies. All of these creatures coexist in a 21-hectare park, which represents natural habitats ranging from ponds and wetlands to hardwood forests and hemlock groves. An indoor nature centre showcases some animals in custom-built enclosures and serves as the venue for a range of programs, including hands-on animal demonstrations, guided walks, and guest lectures.
The ATVs and Ski-Doo snowmobiles at Cottage Country Tours rotate seasonally as they ferry adventurers into the untamed wilderness of the Canadian Shield for hiking, fishing, and general sightseeing excursions. Day tours reveal the rugged expanse of the Shield’s southern tip, an area that contains both the Swift Rapids and the Big Chute Marine Railway. Moonlight rides and overnight stays in the outfit’s rustic cabins yield glimpses of the brilliant night sky, when the stars and planets gleam without interruption by city lights or alley cats playing flashlight tag.
Each voyage the MV Woodman takes with Scugog Island Cruises pays tribute to the rich maritime history of the area. The double-decker vessel carries the moniker of an 1850s-era steamship that cruised Lake Scugog for more than 70 years, and the crew recounts tales from bygone days of glamorous lake parties and the time that carp ran for mayor during each sightseeing excursion. Whether they are steering up to 100 passengers for a wedding, birthday shindig, or themed dinner-dance cruise, the trained personnel aim to dip each experience in the colours of the area's rich history.
Without the benefit of planes or cars, 19th-century pioneers trekked to the County of Peterborough, where they built a new life for themselves. Here, they established a number of operations including farms, a cider mill, and a print shop, and today, it’s as if the village never changed. The Lang Pioneer Village Museum re-created the 19th-century town in 1967 to give visitors a glimpse into pioneer life, and more than 25 restored and furnished original structures have been moved as far as 90 miles to lend the outdoor museum authenticity. Among these buildings is the three-story Lang Grist Mill, an 1846-built facility where wheat is still ground into flour every summer.
Costumed villagers populate the town, roving past the museum's vegetable gardens, hitching posts, and watering troughs on their way to work. In the various shops, blacksmiths shape metals, carpenters assemble furniture, and printers generate handbills on a 1927 Washington Flatbed Press. Villagers perform crafts such as open-hearth cooking and weaving; in fact, the museum's weaver shop showcases one of the few Jacquard looms on display in North America.
Visitors to the museum can interrupt any of the townspeople to find out more about their trade or to lend a hand with chores, or participate in events, which range from corn roasts to traditional pioneer Christmas celebrations. The museum even rents out its 1886 schoolhouse to students for a day, replacing their usual teacher with a costumed interpreter who conducts lessons similar to those of a 19th-century classroom.
To say that Keith and Nicole Saulnier have taken root in Parry Sound is something of a fallacy. Sure, they call the rugged natural landscape home, and have fallen in love with the surrounding glacier-carved coastlines, but they are by no means grounded there. Both are career bush pilots whose passion for soaring through the clouds has led them to found Georgian Bay Airways. From behind the stick of their sea planes, they share their intimate knowledge of land and sky, hosting air tours that launch from their waterfront docks May through October.
The Saulniers' aerial adventures are limitless in their form. Preplanned trips glide over sprawling Parry Island or the 30,000 Islands' network, passing wilderness and historic towns along the way. But they can also customize flight adventures to vary the way passengers interact with the landscape. Upon request, their planes can drop customers off for fishing at nearby lakes, ATV rides across the Canadian Shield, or drop-in visits with their cool uncle who keeps fireworks in his garage.
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh was founded in 1952 by Orville Johnston, and is currently helmed by his children. During tours of the farm, patrons traverse a landscape dotted with cranberries and Muskoka Lakes Winery. At the winery, guests sample fruit-based libations during a tutored wine tasting. Wilderness trails cut through the property and are open year-round. During the winter, visitors can hike them wearing cross-country skis, snowshoes, or old-timey tennis racquets on their feet. Youngsters can also enjoy the farm—though the winery is off limits to them—by joining in on scavenger hunts or wielding nets ideal for catching critters when the weather is nice.