A UNESCO-Acclaimed Landscape: Daydreaming and Day Tripping at Fancy Free:
When Fancy Free reopens for the season in May 2021, it will be 140 years old. Since the time it was built, it has been passed down within the original families. Amazingly, it has never been sold. Our guests tell us that the exclusivity and authenticity of Fancy Free is the best possible antidote to the stresses of the pandemic and the hectic pace of modern life.
It’s hard to describe, but on Fancy Free Island you get a sense of being in a place that is somehow set apart from the everyday. Boaters wave and smile as they go by. Fancy Free is part of the landscape of the region but because it’s is a little separated from the mainland it has that special mystique that islands convey. It’s rooted in the past but very much part of the present- like living in a little resort that’s been there since Victorian times. You even get the sense that there’s a bit of time travel going on with it. If you close your eyes in the living room, it’s easy to imagine opening them and being in the 1940s or even earlier. A cozy fall night on the sofa watching something from the cottage CD collection of classic Humphrey Bogarts really brings this feeling on!
There are some very good reasons why Fancy Free feels like such a special place. It is located in an area that is recognized by UNESCO as being world class in two ways. Big Rideau Lake is not only part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also on the edge of a the Frontenac Arch, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This means that along with its deep and well-preserved historical heritage, the area around Fancy Free also has a level of biodiversity that makes it truly unique in on a North American scale.
The lake that Fancy Free is located on, Big Rideau, is the largest lake in a chain of lakes, rivers and canals called the Rideau Canal system, which connects Ottawa to Kingston. The waterway system was originally built in 1832 for military defence but is now entirely recreational, set in one of the most unique and beautiful natural areas in Canada.
Find out more about exploring the Rideau Canal here: www.tvo.org/video/documentaries/tripping-the-rideau-canal-short-version
Big Rideau Lake is also on the edge of the Frontenac Arch UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, designated in 2002 in recognition of its ecological diversity and richness of species. The Frontenac Arch is an ancient ridge of granite that sweeps across the Saint Lawrence River into eastern Ontario, connecting the Adirondack Mountains with the Canadian Shield. Five different forest regions intersect here, and the rugged topography and spectacular deep pink granite of the Frontenac Axis outcrops give the area a distinctly Algonquin Park-like beauty. The Frontenac Biosphere Reserve shelters a number of endangered species, some found nowhere else in Canada. Find out more here: www.tvo.org/video/documentaries/striking-balance-frontenac-arch-biosphere-reserve
There’s lots to do when you stay at Fancy Free, with equipment for canoeing, sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding all available on site. One of our favourite short day trips is a canoe ride to Colonel By Island, a nearby island owned by Parks Canada that is open to the public. Colonel By Island takes about 15 minutes to paddle to and has a hiking trail around its perimeter that takes an hour to walk. You can see wild deer and enjoy the scenic look-outs of the trail while staying physically distanced from the many yachters that dock there, most of them en route by boat from Ottawa to Kingston.
We also love to boat over to our private dock on the mainland and just enjoy a simple walk on our county road. With its forested hills, bends and curves, every mile you walk gives you new glimpses of Big Rideau Lake and takes you past historic old cottages- one slightly over the top cottage even has a private golf course. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to McEwan’s farm and sugar bush, as described in the previous newsletter. There’s delicious maple syrup for sale on a little table on the side porch, which you pay for by putting cash in the jar. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet Bud McEwan himself, who continues to maintain the maple sugar operation and farm the land as his family has done for generations.
If you want a short drive, go to the Mill Pond Conservation Area, about five minutes by car on our county road. Here there are good trails to hike on, with an interesting variety of pond ecosystems and upland forest. We like to look for the rare Walking Fern, which can be found on some of the cool crevices of the rock outcrops in the conservation area.
A little farther away but also on the Rideau system is Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, with more trails and some lovely beaches. A highlight here is a tour of the historic Silver Queen mine, which was closed for commercial operations in the 1920s. Park staff run a creative program in the mine twice a week in the summer that takes visitors back into the past to meet costumed interpreters who take on historic roles and explain how the mine worked. Read more here: www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/silver-queen-mine-at-murphys-point/
The various lock stations along the Rideau Canal, all open to the public and run by Parks Canada, are set in beautiful natural areas and several have historic buildings on site with interpretation available. One of our favourites is Chaffey’s Locks, which is set in a historic hamlet of old fishing lodges and small resorts, like the famous Opinicon Lodge, recently restored by the family that started Shopify. Chaffey’s Locks is close to the Cataraqui Trail, a former rail track that runs for miles and is easy and interesting to hike.
The pinnacle of all the hiking trails in the Rideau Lakes region is Rock Dunder. Owned by the Rideau Waterway Land Trust, Rock Dunder is a beautiful 230 acre wilderness area with trails that climb up to a bare rock pinnacle giving spectacular views of the surrounding forests and lakes. It’s carry-in carry-out hiking and is located off Stanley Lash Lane near the hamlet of Morton, on Highway 15, a drive of about 30 minutes or so. Rock Dunder was a well kept secret until recent years but unfortunately it’s been discovered and the hoards of people that go there on summer days now have to be controlled with timed tickets. More information is here: www.frontenacarchbiosphere.ca/explore/hiking/rock-dunder