From the moment my youngest daughter burst forth into the world she was a flurry of activity. My sporty child, Ainsley, is also the one that made us realize we needed to embrace active living and sports of all kinds. Until she was about 11 months old, I loathed fitness, or sports, and more than anything I despised the cold.
CUT to 14 years later when I am sitting on frozen Lake Simcoe in northern Ontario peering into a hole, trading jokes, and warming my hands over an open flame while ice fishing. Okay, so it might not seem like the most physical of all the activities we have done. I mean, over the years we have been zip lining over treetops in Quebec and we have learned to ski down steep pitches from the summit of mountains, together. We have also taken most of the fitness classes offered at the YMCA near our home. Some are hits and some are misses, but we always try.
I sometimes joke that while my oldest made us parents, my youngest turned us into fitness and sports junkies. She has even helped us learn to LOVE winter, which to be honest, is now my favourite season. The gift of healthy living is no small thing and winter in Ontario is a great opportunity to get outdoors and try all the activities available. Frankly, if you don’t embrace the snow and ice and brisk winter air then your Ontario winter is going to be endless and dreary. You’re only cold when sitting still. That’s our philosophy anyways.
On Taking Up Fishing
Late last year my basketball playing, swimming, skiing, soon-to-be adult black belt, decided she was into fishing. To be honest, I couldn’t see it. How would she ever sit still long enough to wait for fish to take the bait? My husband felt pretty much the same. Yeah right, I think we joked together. But spirited girl, she is, and she set out to prove us wrong. The stubborn switch flipped on, and suddenly she landed on fishing.
Over the years we have gone fishing VERY sporadically. But late last Fall we took an RV camping trip together. On our final stop at an Ontario Provincial Park, Ainsley borrowed a fishing pole and went fishing with the camper who was parked beside us, a really lovely Grandfather from Hamilton. For hours she cast the line and waited and then reeled it in and I realized fishing is actually hypnotic for her and calming. Until then, I had not seen fishing in that light.
Last year I heard of this ice fishing spot in Georgina and it seemed like a fun way to spend a day or two with my youngest girl. This winter I made up my mind that I would try to get her out ice fishing. So, we set up a time and got the Outdoors card needed to do any fishing in Ontario then we hopped in the van early on a Thursday morning at the tail end of February and drove to The Briars Resort and Spa.
Ice Fishing at Jackson’s Point
Ice fishing is actually pretty common and popular in Ontario. Drive by many rural Ontario lakes in February and early March and you will see colourful small huts rising up to punctuate the stark snowy horizon.
There’s a captivating art display in Pearson Airport in Toronto that surprises me every time I pass through. The display features quirky ice huts throughout Canada. Check it out next time you are there.
Hank Heyink Fish Hut Rentals
The ice fishing season is extremely short, according to Ken Heyink, owner of Hank Heyink Fish Hut Rentals. It’s basically only safe to go ice fishing two months of the year, so your timing must be impeccable. The season ends in mid March and starts in January. Heyink’s Dad started the business in 1952. Back then, it was largely groups of people coming to Lake Simcoe from Toronto searching for outdoor sporting activity.
The huts themselves have come a long way since then. Back in 1952, some of their very first fishing huts were made of orange crates. Now they are actually quite comfortable and functional – a shield from the wind and snow. Although the hut is tiny, it’s warm and there’s a rectangular hole slit in the bottom in which you dangle a fishing pole or two, occasionally waving it around a bit.
In theory, if we caught something we could even have cooked it on the gas oven inside the hut. I liked the idea of that and could picture groups of anglers doing that very thing.
Adventures Await in York Durham Headwaters
The drive from Toronto to Jackson’s Point, Georgina and The Briars is only about an hour. But from London it’s close to three hours. While you could do it in a day, go ice fishing for a few hours, and then return that night, I figured we were close enough to March break to make this an adventure. Plus you never really know what the roads will be like in Ontario winter. So, we looked forward to relaxing at The Briars Resort and Spa too.
The Briars Resort and Spa
Day One at the Briars was relaxing and enjoyable. Ice fishing was set for Friday morning first thing. So, we had some time to relax, settle in and explore on Thursday. First up massages! Ainsley is a sensitive teen, so I was not really sure how this would go. However she wanted to try a massage. So, shortly after our drive to the Briars, we checked in and headed downstairs to the spa.
The mother and daughter massage
The Briars Spa offers a full range of spa treatments from massages to body wraps, manicures, pedicures and skincare treatments. Check out their daily specials and occasional retreats. I tucked this information away for later because I’d love to return for a Briars Spa Retreat featuring yoga, meditation and spa treatments another time.
The spa waiting area boasts delicious fresh cookies, which hinted at how spectacular the food was going to be later that night. Sit back, fill out the medical forms, grab a sip of water and a cookie and wait for your name to be called. Ainsley was a bit worried at the start of the massage when she realized much of your clothing actually comes off, but the spa atmosphere and the soothing essential oils set her at ease. We were in a room together so that helped.
Closer Than You Think
The Briars is a Resort and Spa not too far north of Toronto looking right out on Lake Simcoe. It is a heritage building with magnificent nooks and crannies, towers boasting lakefront views for miles and historic halls scattered throughout, decorated with stories of former famous area inhabitants. Surrounded by pine trees and waist-high snowbanks, The Briars Resort and Spa is pristine, slightly hidden and quite dignified. It is tucked away in York Durham Headwaters. On the lake in late winter there’s still plenty of snow. No birds or geese fly overhead yet and the only sound you can hear out on the Briars skating rink is the abrupt noise of ice shifting below.
After the spa visit we strapped on some snowshoes and went exploring. The Briars Resort and Spa is a heritage building dating back to 1840. It has a country charm with a strong dose of nostalgia and sits on 200 acres of forest and groomed cross country trails which beg to be explored. In the summer guests have access to an 18-hole golf course and various outdoor games.
The Winter Sports Room
Ask for equipment at the front desk. During the week it is free and occasionally on the weekends there’s a small fee to use the cross country skis, snowshoes and skates. Borrow a pair of skates and go ice skating on the rink on the lake, which is a two minute walk from the rooms across a very small street out front. Or spend the afternoon cross country skiing through the woods.
Savour the Fresh Food
After the drive to the Briars and an afternoon snowshoeing we had worked up an appetite. The Briars has fantastic fresh food, much of which is locally sourced, and I highly recommend eating in their main dining room. The bar area serves the same food, but is a bit more casual.
When we first arrived and I saw how impeccable the table settings were I was concerned that we didn’t bring fancy enough clothing. Ultimately though there was quite a range of guests, from couples to conference attendees (yes they have conference facilities) to people dressed in jeans like us.
If you love shrimp, order it. The serving was substantial and the shrimp were seasoned well, resting on top of pasta.
Ice Fishing on Lake Simcoe
After a hearty buffet breakfast we headed out to Jackson’s Point by car. It was about a five minute drive to meet up with Ken Heyink. Ice fishing was a completely new experience, so we needed a bit of instruction.
First thing to know – dress warm, of course.
In fact the hut was heated so we found it extremely warm once we were inside fishing. We actually ended up removing layers of clothing so we didn’t sweat.
Second thing to know – it’s a fun ride to the hut
You get a ride out to the fishing hut either by special lightweight vehicle, shown above in pictures, or by snowmobile. The wait for the ride out was the coldest part of the day actually.
There are different types of ice fishing huts
We were in a perch hut, which was closer to shore so we were fishing in shallower waters than some of the other people ice fishing that morning. Out further there are trout huts on Lake Simcoe.
Making Memories Ice Fishing
My daughter never met a sport she didn’t ‘t like. But, ice fishing, well I figured this could go one of two ways. Either she would LOVE it and never want to leave, or she could frustrate easily at not catching anything and wonder why she ever agreed to this activity. Somehow, I was okay with this. If it works and is fun then we have tried it together and there’s always value in that. Memories begin with a big leap of faith, and occasionally you are fortunate enough to have someone beside you holding your hand.
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“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” –Anton Chekhov Happiness is a snowy day in March. We definitely have had some happy winter days lately. #giftedexperience #visitydh #travel #visitgeorgina #wanderlust #flashesofdelight #family #familytravel #winter #discoveron
Surprisingly the two hours we spent ice fishing went incredibly fast. While Ainsley was completely hypnotized and happy to stare at the open fishing hole, I kept peeking my head outside of the hut and walking around. Icy Lake Simcoe in February has a surreal quality to it. You could almost be on another planet, it’s that peaceful and otherworldly.
In a painted red perch hut out on the frozen lake, the only sound you can hear is the wind blowing past outside and the occasional interruption of a snowmobile engine racing past ferrying a couple of fishing enthusiasts out further to deeper waters and trout huts.
Did We Catch Anything?
From time to time I would resurface and dangle the fishing pole over the sea green water. Not for nothing I have to mention here that my daughter was a tiny bit bossy on occasion advising me that I wasn’t fishing “right.” Suffice to say fishing is not my special gift.
When two hours were up and Ken resurfaced with a sweet dog named Meg we were content that we’d tried it and enjoyed the experience even if we didn’t catch any perch.
A short drive, about 15 minutes from The Briars, there’s a Walmart and a coffee shop, a Wendy’s and more. My daughter was extremely hungry after ice fishing so we grabbed a quick lunch and looked around. There are hundreds of acres of lakefront to explore so we picked a park and walked around for a bit.
In the afternoon of Day Two we wanted to go check out THE ROC. We had driven by the outdoor recreational facility on the way to Georgina and The Briars and since we hadn’t been tubing yet this winter we decided it was the perfect activity for us.
The ROC has tobogganing hills and epic tubing runs as well as a small practice ski and snowboarding hill (very small) with some curious terrain and a skating rink too. We both got a two hour pass for tubing and chased each other up and down the hill a few times. The Magic Carpet was very useful. Then we went down the run as doubles several times.
By the time we finished tubing our legs barely held us up anymore so we headed back to The Briars where our room was upgraded to a Manor suite. The Manor is the original portion of the building itself and it is something to see with dozens of small rooms and low clearance doorways you may need to duck to get through.
Don’t forget to check out the Library and the Tower before you leave.
On our final night we ordered beef medallions with garlic mashed potatoes and it was the highlight of all of the food that we ate while visiting. Incredibly tender. Finally we went for a swim in the indoor pool and retired for the night to watch a movie together.
Loved our visit to The Briars and York Durham Headwaters. The drive was not bad at all, service was personal and attentive at The Briars. There’s so much to do and it’s so much closer than I realized.
We were guests of the Briars Resort and Spa, York Durham Headwaters and Central Counties Tourism recently. This is my honest opinion of our visit.