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Gananoque, Ontario is a fabled travel destination, known affectionately as The Canadian Gateway To The 1000 Islands. During our last adventure, Heidi and I explored the St. Lawrence River by kayak, coming face to face with the natural splendour of the surrounding area. While Gananoque is famous for its proximity to the river, it is equally known for its vivid artistic and cultural presence.
From fun and relaxing leisure activities to stunning art galleries, captivating theatrical performances and exquisite dining – there are several ways for visitors to sample a generous taste of #LifeOnTheRiver. For this third chapter in our series, we planned an ultimate date night in Gananoque that would let us kick back – and enjoy some classic fun in the sun, followed by dinner and a particularly rockin’ show at the prolific Thousand Islands Playhouse.
Without further delay, let’s jump right into our latest story!
‘Hitting The Links’ at Putt ‘N Play Mini Golf
Until we embarked on this trip, I couldn’t remember the last time I played a proper round of mini-putt. Luckily, there is a fantastic course set up at the 1000 Islands Gananoque Visitor Centre, which is conveniently located on King Street East, just steps away from nearby accommodations and attractions.
This is an ideal starting point when arriving in Gananoque – with a wealth of information to help you find things to do, sights to see and adventures to experience! The Visitor Centre is also a great place to rent some bikes and is very close to the world famous 1000 Islands Parkway which has some of the most scenic cycling paths in the region.
You can also grab tickets for local shows, helicopter tours, sightseeing cruises and more, making this a must visit one stop shop for visitors to Gananoque.
Despite the particularly hot weather, it was an absolutely beautiful day for some mini-golf. Other people were also enjoying a round or two, including a father and son – and a couple who brought their grandkids out for some good old fashioned summer fun. Heidi and I were taking our time, and shooting photos – so we let the other players move ahead.
The experience of playing mini-golf again was every bit the nostalgic and fun experience we had expected. After a while, Heidi and I stopped keeping score because we were having too much fun to remember. We giggled and laughed our way throughout the course trying our mini-putt mettle the entire way.
Heidi was cleaning house throughout the game, consistently completing each hole in as little as two attempts. At one point she nailed a hole-in-one on one of the more difficult holes. Maybe it was just the heat – but before long, I was really starting to sweat as she effortlessly mopped the greens with my butt.
I think I did pretty good, but apparently, you’re not allowed to use your putter like a pool cue. I say it’s a perfectly legal and strategic play.
Cooling Off at Banana Splitz Ice Cream Shop
After my crushing defeat on the mini-golf course, we agreed that we both deserved an ice-cold treat. That, and we were eager for a moment to cool off and step out of the day’s heat. We took a short drive to Stone Street South, home of Gananoque’s beloved old-fashioned ice cream shop: Banana Splitz.
Modelled like the classic ice cream parlours of old – Banana Splitz is like stepping back in time to the mid-50’s or early 1960’s complete with time period memorabilia and a vintage table complete with chrome edging and black vinyl upholstery. Here, you’ll find a brilliant selection of sundaes, floats and cones – as well as a variety of flavours from Kawartha Dairy.
Heidi had a double scoop of black cherry which she said tasted like victory. I enjoyed a delicious chocolate milkshake which didn’t survive long enough to have its picture taken. It wasn’t super-thick like other milkshakes that will have you turning your face inside out trying to get your first sip through the straw. This milkshake was smooth and rich. By the time Heidi asked me what happened, my chocolatey treat had mysteriously vanished.
Chillin’ at The Holiday Inn
Stepping into the air-conditioned lobby of the Holiday Inn & Suites, 1000 Islands was a huge relief on such a hot day. After getting ourselves checked in, we made our way up to our suite. Our dwelling for the night was one of the hotel’s high-rated King-Bed Deluxe Suites which features a jacuzzi, a separated sleeping and living area, fireplace and best of all – air conditioning.
We decided to relax and enjoy the comforts of our room until the sun had a chance to dip lower in the sky. It was a great way to refresh and recharge after a fun afternoon of outdoor activity. By 5:00 p.m. we were ready to head back outside and get to our next destination for a highly anticipated dinner at one of Gananoque’s most popular #foodie spots.
This is How You Pizza
Only steps away from Gananoque’s waterfront attractions and scenic walking paths at Joel Stone Heritage Park is a fantastic foodie fixation known as The Purple House Cafe. Holding down the corner of Main, St. Lawrence Streets, you’ll certainly know this rustic violet house once you see it. The front lawns are lush with wildflowers, and once you step into the courtyard you’ll be smitten with the lovely variance of colour.
Plants of all manner are growing throughout the property, which really breathes life into this quaint outdoor dining venue. There is limited seating available inside, but the bright and pleasant nature of the courtyard is hard to resist. We saw tomato plants, several varieties of herbs and even a vibrant pineapple plant as we made our way to a table.
The sun was getting lazier in the sky and the courtyard was growing shadier beneath the shadow of the house. We chose a table close to the oven so we could get some photos of all the action. The oven itself is a magnificent clay oven with custom stonework and tiles at the face. A true labour of culinary love.
We started out with some cold water and a couple of drinks. The Purple House has a nice selection of Ontario craft beers available – and Heidi reports that they can mix a great Caesar. As we perused the menu and its tempting selection of wood-fired pizzas we couldn’t help but admire the property. The South facing privacy fence is made from reclaimed doors, which we thought was lovely.
After an intent review of the menu, Heidi chose the Spicy Sausage pizza which came topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, cheddar, Seed To Sausage jalapeno and cheese curd sausage, hot banana peppers and sundried tomatoes.
I was absolutely sold on the idea of their Steak Pizza. This baby comes topped with tomato sauce, a cheddar/mozza cheese blend, steak, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, mixed peppers and a generous drizzle of chipotle aioli. We also requested a pair of small Caesar salads, which were made with fresh romaine, shaved parmesan and a house-made dressing.
After our orders were placed, Purple House’s resident pizza chef: Mitch set about his work ensuring that the pies were perfectly baked within the ornate oven. I can’t imagine how hot it must be to work that oven in this heat. Mitch, if you’re reading this: not all heroes wear capes my man. I salute you.
First, if you have never tried wood fired pizza you need to add this dining experience to your immediate bucket-list. It will completely change the way you understand and appreciate pizza. This is the more traditional way that pizza is intended to be cooked. When a wood-fired oven is used, you experience an incredible flavour profile in the crust, with a lightly charred aspect that only this cooking method can create.
The outer crust is crispy, yet soft and thin. The robust taste of the slightly blackened edges fuses elegantly with the sauce and toppings resulting in an unparalleled version of a classic and beloved food. Paired with an ice cold local craft beer, it was a definitive pizza experience that we can’t wait to enjoy again.
The Purple House is open seasonally – and has limited seating. Heidi and I had an amazing experience and highly recommend this wonderful venue. If you like pizza (who doesn’t?) and want to take the experience to the next level – the Purple House Cafe in Gananoque is your huckleberry.
A Rockin’ Good Night at The Thousand Islands Playhouse
With a hearty meal in our bellies, we made our way to the famous and historic Thousand Islands Playhouse (TIP) for the main event of our Gananoque date night. Located in the former Gananoque Canoe Club, this brilliant riverside building was first built in 1909. Now dubbed, The Springer Theatre, this magnificent live entertainment venue was first renovated into a theatre in 1982 – with two subsequent renovations in the years since.
The headliner for the night was the TIP’s acclaimed production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – one of several enticing performances lined up for the playhouses spectacular 2018 season. This energized rock and roll musical celebrates the life of the play’s namesake – who pioneered a new era in music – and was also an integral catalyst for bridging cultural and racial divisions of the time-period.
The result was a triumphant and animated performance from the entire cast. At one point the audience was literally dancing in the rows – as Nathan Carroll’s personification of Buddy Holly skillfully played his Stratocaster – belting out Holly’s iconic hits with an uncanny and sometimes ghostly likeness.
Each cast member brought their A-game for this show – and delivered a memorable performance. I am sure that more than a few audience members were whimsically transported back to the 1950’s throughout the show – letting them live out fond memories ranging from nights at the drive-in, to malt shops, sock hops and everything in-between.
That’s the true magic of live theatre. It’s a far more human experience, with cultural roots that reach back to the most ancient chapters of our history. It’s an interactive and immersive event that has an impact that one will never truly get from a movie or Netflix. Going to the (real) theatre is a wonderful shared experience that is truly one of a kind.
An evening at the Thousand Islands Playhouse is one you won’t soon forget. Whether it’s the captivating performances or the breathtaking sunset views from the verandah during intermission – you’ll quickly discover (or rediscover) an absolute love for live theatre. To help drive my point home, have a look at the fantastic sizzler video below.
A Delightful Dockside Breakfast
The next day of our trip greeted us with an equally radiant sun and brilliant blue skies. After an amazing first day, and a solid night’s rest – we were up and at ‘em quite early and not quite ready to bring an end to our visit to Gananoque. After checking out of our accommodations, we made our way back to the waterfront to enjoy breakfast at Gananoque Boat Line’s Dockside Restaurant.
The most important meal of the day went off without a hitch. We each had the signature breakfast special: two eggs, bacon, (we added sausage) home fries and toast. The coffee was bottomless, and my mug was seldom empty. The dining room itself is bright, and the borders of the walls are adorned with model warships which only add to the riverside charm.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
After breakfast, it was hard not to peruse the goodies on display at The Island Memories Gift Shop, which was filled to the rafters with a variety of toys, trinkets t-shirts and mementos of the 1000 Islands. Model ships, tiny Adirondack chairs, mugs, sunglasses, hats – you name it, they had it in this particularly massive gift shop.
Not only is this a great souvenir shop – but it also combines the Dockside Restaurant and a snack bar where you can get soft serve ice cream, and other tasty snacks while exploring the nearby museums or returning from a scenic cruise. Speaking of cruises – it was time to move on to our final item from the trip’s itinerary.
A Rather Scenic Finale
To bring our third chapter to a most memorable end, we decided to embark on a breathtaking signature cruise with Gananoque Boat Line. We chose the one-hour Beauty of The 1000 Islands Cruise which would take us through the Admiralty Islands, as well as some picturesque channels and islands dotted with brilliant waterfront cottages.
I’m of a mind that no trip to Gananoque is complete without including a cruise with GBL. Even after witnessing the beauty of the St. Lawrence River numerous times since childhood – it truly never gets old. This astonishing natural landscape is right in our backyard, only a stone’s throw from Kingston – and a few hours drive from Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal.
The tour brought us through several of the areas that we had previously explored by kayak, again giving us an impression of the vast nature of the river. The otherwise hot weather was easily tolerable as our vessel made its way along her course – with a crisp and welcome wind rolling off the prow.
As we cruised the shimmering waters of the majestic river we were left with a rather captivating conclusion to our amazing fourth adventure in The 1000 Islands and Gananoque. After returning to shore we made our way home with purpose – and the prospect of a new story to create, which I hope you just enjoyed.
Visit, Play and Stay in Gananoque!
Here at the Canadian Gateway to The 1000 Islands, there is never a shortage of adventures to experience. From high flying helicopter tours to hiking, cycling, boating, shopping, live entertainment, art galleries, dining and more – the only difficult part is trying to do everything. We hope that our stories have provided some ideas, and inspiration to help make the most of your stay!
As always, we’ve included a custom Google Map that tracks our itinerary for this particular trip. Whether it’s a family vacation, honeymoon or just a much-needed getaway – we hope to see you soon!