Start Your Own Motorcycle Treasure Hunt

“Not all treasure’s silver and gold, mate.”

-Jack Sparrow, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

There’s an old saying that goes: “Extraordinary things are always hiding in places people never think to look.” 

The same could be said of interesting places to visit that always seem to be hiding in plain sight. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked someone about a destination that is in their general area and heard ‘Oh yeah, I’ve always meant to go there” or “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

I guess you could call me a ‘treasure seeker’ of sorts; I like to visit spots and destinations that are in and of themselves what many would consider rather ordinary. 

A tree.

A group of houses.

A farmer’s field.

On the surface, much of the scenery we pass by when we are out in the wind is part of ‘the larger picture.’ 

Many of the country roads that exit off of other country roads tend to be a means to an end, to get us from one place to another. Cagers don’t even give those roads a second thought, but bikers? Bikers see them as an invitation to get off the beaten path and explore. “I wonder where that road leads to?” is something I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself while out in my car. But, out in the wind with Ruby? That sentence is common, and almost immediately always followed by a “Why not?”

It's All About the Basin 

Consider Ball’s Falls, for instance…

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Photo courtesy of 
Niagara SKEYE Photography

I can’t tell you the number of times (in both my car and on Ruby) that I’ve been on Highway 20 between Hamilton and Niagara Falls and passed by signs for Ball’s Falls Conservation Area. It wasn’t until one day early this summer that I was out riding when I decided (finally) to make the turn off of #20 and follow the signs to the site.

Ball’s Falls offers visitors a largely undisturbed, historically important site of industry and settlement in early Niagara dating back to the early 19th Century, as well as a rich and diverse set of archaeological resources dating back more than 2,000 years.

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The buildings present an impressive assemblage of related structures, both industrial and domestic, spanning the full 19th century and early decades of the 20th century.

Buildings at Ball’s Falls include the Ball Home built in 1846 and presented today as a 1920’s home; Privy/Tool Shed; Smoke House; Ball Family Barn; Display Barn; Bake Oven; Grist Mill built in 1809; St. George Church built in 1864 and moved from Hannon in 1973; Restored Lime Kiln built in 1886; Woolen Mill Ruins built in 1824 and operated until 1886; Fairchild  or Troup-Secord Log Cabin moved from Jordan Station in 1963; Furry Cabin moved from Wainfleet Township, and the White House built in 1856 as a tenant building, now used for programming as the Field Centre. 

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Purchased in 1962, restored and maintained by the Niagara Peninsula Conservations Authority, Ball’s Falls occupies over 80 hectares (200 acres) of the original 480 hectares (1,200 acres) purchased by the Ball brothers. In addition to the restored buildings, traces of the original hamlet have been left intact and visitors can enjoy a well-marked walking tour of the original community. The park features the Ball's Falls Centre for Conservation to help visitors learn of the area's cultural and natural history, and features permanent and temporary galleries, exhibits and interactive displays, including the conservation practices of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, archaeological findings, and the watershed ecosystem of Twenty Mile Creek.

The day that I visited, there was very little water flowing over the escarpment, but I have seen photos from other times of the year.

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A Comforting Place to Visit 

Not far from Ball’s Falls is another interesting site to visit in the Niagara area: The Comfort Maple.

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I first heard of The Comfort Maple from a friend whose father is buried in a little country cemetery down the road. 

Not far from our friends at Tons of Bike Gear and The Original Clare’s Cycle and Sport, The Comfort Tree (also known as The Comfort Maple) is the Town of Pelham’s most famous landmark and worth a visit at any time of year. The Comfort Maple Conservation Area conserves what is widely believed to be the oldest and finest sugar maple tree in Canada. The 530 year old tree towers about 80 feet at its crown with a trunk circumference of 6 meters (20 feet). Due to its age as well as at least one major lightning strike, the tree has been repaired over the years with bricks, concrete, and guy wires. 

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The conservation area is located at the end of a narrow lane off Metler Road (Niagara Regional Rd. 28) near North Pelham. It is surrounded by farm land, and is just 0.1 hectares (0.25 acres) and has a small parking area.

Originally in an area of hardwood forest, this tree’s size and shape suggest the forest was cleared when the tree was still young, likely for agricultural purposes. The area was part of the land purchased by the Comfort family in 1816 and later entrusted to the NPCA to protect this ‘old growth’ tree for its historical and biological significance.

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The Comfort Maple is a perfect place to stop for a visit while out touring the Niagara area, and is an especially ‘picture perfect’ spot for photos of you and your ride during Ontario’s fall colour displays in October. My personal goal is to get a photo of Ruby at its base in spring, summer, fall and (early/late) winter. As wide as Ruby is long, this wonder of nature is well worth the time, effort, and quick detour if you happen to be in the area.

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Gingerbread of a Different Kind

One of the more ‘quirky’ places I set out to conduct a photo session with Ruby this summer was Auditorium Circle near the lakefront (Grimsby Beach Park) in Grimsby, Ontario

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The next time you’re riding in the Niagara region, take a detour at Grimsby (about halfway between Hamilton and the Falls). After taking exit 68 and hitting Bartlett Avenue North and heading towards the lake, you’ll turn left onto Lake and then right onto Betts. Once there, you’ll find yourself on narrow, little streets (like Auditorium Circle and Temple Lane) that are lined with a collection of the cutest (and most colourful) little Victorian gingerbread cottages I’ve ever seen. Known as the Grimsby Beach Cottages, many of the houses date back to the late 1800’s and were first used as summer cottages. 

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Yellow, blue, purple, pink, green and orange (among others) make up the rainbow of colours on these streets, and when you park your bike and walk the neighbourhood, you feel as if you’re in another world. Noted on website/blogs like Ontario Travel Secrets and in books like Top 115 Unusual Things to See in Ontario by Ron Brown, the Grimsby Beach Cottages are a great addition to your travel treasure map.

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Ostrich Burger Anyone? 

And finally, there is one place that I have known about for years, and was always intrigued by its signs along the 401 (while driving my car) between Cambridge and Milton, but was never motivated to get off at exit 25 and look for it until I became Ruby’s riding buddy.

White Rock Ostrich Farm is the kind of place that is worth the time and effort it takes to find. 

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Their website notes that there are a number of Fourth Lines in the area, so putting their address (13085 Fourth Line, RR# 2, Rockwood, Ontario) into a GPS or trying to use Mapquest doesn’t always work as the directions can be far from accurate. They suggest printing off the map they provide on their site, and they also provide direction from three different travel perspectives.

Open weekends only in (September and) October (Saturdays from 10am to 5pm and Sundays from noon until 5pm), you can take an educational tour which includes everything from viewing ostrich chicks, feeding the yearlings, and saying hello to their Rednecks, Bluenecks & African Black adult ostriches

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There’s a picnic area so you can either bring your own snacks or try an Ostrich Burger or Water Buffalo Burger cooked right there on the BBQ if you’re feeling adventurous. They also offer a variety of snacks and beverages in their gift shop, and they also sell various meats for you to take home including wild boar, water buffalo, bison, and kangaroo.

The gift shop showcases a wide selection of Ostrich-related merchandise that includes an exclusive Ostrich leather line where you can find purses, cell phone cases, iPad cases, men’s wallets and more. I was particularly drawn to the handcrafted ostrich eggs and the colourful ostrich feathers.

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I had just as much fun exploring the area and discovering the Farm’s location as I did taking the educational tour and wandering through the small gift shop. It was well worth the time in the wind to get there...

People often talk about having a ‘Bucket List’; as a rider, I have more of a ‘Treasure Map’.

An undrawn treasure map.

An invisible piece of paper that’s covered in ‘X’s’.

There are so many interesting things to see and do in Ontario. One of the glorious benefits of being a motorcycle rider is that you get to fully experience the act of ‘getting there’. It’s not just about leaving Point A and arriving at Point B; it’s about all of the little detours—intentionally or unintentionally, planned or unplanned, by default or by design—that you tend to take along the way.

Consider your travels this fall (and in every season) as journeys where X marks the spot…and the next one… and the next one.

Over the next year, I plan on seeking out and discovering by happy circumstance an amazing variety of events, things, and places of note for you to tuck away in your memory so that if you happen to find yourself travelling down a road close by, you’ll remember to look for them. 

Let the Treasure Hunt begin!

KAT (aka KimberleeAnna Taplay) is a member of the ‘What A Ride!’ correspondent team, and is looking forward to sharing the next edition of The Adventures of KAT n’ Ruby with you. To reach Kimberlee by email, send your questions and/or comments to KAT’s next adventure is scheduled to go live on November 3rd, 2015

About KimberleeAnna "KAT" Taplay

KimberleeAnna Taplay (more widely known as "KAT") is an empty-nester and newly-minted class M rider who has a game plan, a "BikeIt" list, and a VStar with a full tank of gas. KAT is happiest when she and her ride —Ruby— are exploring country roads and wandering from event to event and destinations throughout Ontario. Whether travelling alone, alongside her mentor, or joining small groups along the way, KAT will be chronicling her travels and sharing both her adventures on the road and her moments of quiet reflection about everything it means to be a part of the motorcycling world.

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