Crazy 8 Barn & Garden
The Crazy 8 Barn is just that—a crazy 8-sided barn that was built in the late 1890s in the municipality of Chatham-Kent, Ontario. In 2003, the barn was dismantled, as a century of seasons had taken its toll. The Savic family, who had owned the property since the 1950s, made a desperate plea in the London Free Press, hoping someone would be eager to rescue the barn. Susanne Spence Wilkins was game, since the barn was a nostalgic fixture of her childhood.
The barn was stored in transport trailers until 2011, when repair and construction began and continued steadily for 2 years. Wilkins’ wish was to share the unusual barn in every possible experiential way—and she has accomplished that with a small café, ice cream bar, garden curio, ongoing seminar offerings and an acre of enchanting, accessible display gardens. She also sells preserves, honey, cider and reclaimed furniture. Those in the know go for thefrom-scratch oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwiches with a scoop from Port Stanley’s Shaw’s Dairy (and a jar of Grandad’s Wedge Pickles to go). Open April 1 to December 24.
Hurt Berry Farm’s Smoked Chili Infused Bourbon Mash Maple Syrup
These guys pack a punch! If you want to elevate your pancakes in a non-GMO, fat-free, vegan, hyper-Canadian way, this fancy-pants local (Ontario), certified organic, grade A dark pure maple syrup is the answer. Coffee doesn’t need to be the only hot thing on your brunch table—why not go piquant with a smoked chili and whisky-tinged addition? Hurt Berry founders Steve Best and Drew Jacobson are already well versed in small-batch hot sauces with honest branding: Hellbroth and Brain Strain, to name two.
“Hurt Berry” is a tongue-in-cheek play on the not-so-innocent chili pepper. For those who love the coupling of smoky and spicy, this syrup knows no boundaries. In fact, these guys are hoping that everyone will rethink hot sauce. It’s not a mere triple-dog-dare threat,and it shouldn’t be categorized as just a condiment—it’s a valuable cooking ingredient that can jump from grilled salmon to pork tenderloin to French toast. Steve and Drew had both worked as chefs in high-volume restaurants and were missing customer interaction. Now they are frequently spotted at Ontario festivals, farmers’ markets and breweries. You can also find their products online. Once you lace your overnight oats with the chili and bourbonmash syrup, you’ll be their next fire-breathing ambassador.
Bin There Campground
Fifteen minutes from Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, you can jump up and down on a queen-size bed inside a converted metal grain bin. Jumping’s not actually encouraged, but how cool is this idea? It doesn’t get more authentically Prairie than sleeping in an old grain bin! The bins are tricked out with air conditioning, heat and skylights, to boot, definitely putting the punky ol’ pup tent on the back burner. There’s a catch-and-release trout pond, too, and s’mores pans at the ready for a little bonfire “Kumbaya”!
Founders Julie and Dennis Hilling have generated exceptional buzz with their unconventional concept. When they opted for Freedom 55 in 2015, the couple sold off most of their farming equipment. However, their six grain bins were an obstacle, as they were cemented in the ground. The popularity of agritourism has certainly helped support their genius retirement plan. Bin There’s pet-friendly, two-bedroom (two level) accommodations are educational and pure fun. The old seed-cleaning plant has been flipped into an event space, and they have RV and tenting spots available, too. But who could resist sleeping in a grain bin? I hope they make T-shirts, pronto. Bin there, done that.
Yeti Hopper M30 Soft Cooler
Founded in 2006 by Texas bros Roy and Ryan Seiders, the Yeti brand has made the generic cooler a coveted item. The Yeti Nation is comprised of die-hard fishermen (like the Seiders), tailgaters, cowboys, tiny-house dwellers, and campers looking for a solution to wieners floating in water within a few hours. Yes, there’s a big, fancy price tag attached, but this Hopper can hold a superior amount of ice: 28 pounds! Or 20 cans of glacier-cold beer (with a two-to-one ratio of ice to can). An ambulatory horse veterinarian praised the cooler’s durability and thermal retention for keeping vital vaccines and meds at required temperatures. The soft cooler allows for an easier pack when loading gear up in the back of an already jammed SUV.
The Hopper’s dry hide exterior is as sleek as a seal and leak-proof. The HydroShield Technology magnetic closure will keep pesky raccoon paws out. Ask around: Anyone who has camped at a provincial park has probably had an unsuccessful wildlife vs. (insert any legacy brand) cooler encounter. Featuring quick-release buckles (for sudden thirst) and a daisy chain for an adjustable shoulder strap (to avoid getting the cold shoulder), this cooler would be the stuff of Harrison Ford’s Mosquito Coast dreams. As author Paul Theroux suggested, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
I’m sure the Seiders never expected their practical design to hook so many. The M30 Hopper has become a status symbol because Yeti gets it like a best friend. When the landscape and climate are unforgiving and unpredictable, you need your gear to be reliable. A cooler that shares the name with the abominable snowman is bound to be an ice breaker, wherever you land.
Wouldn’t it be great to be a host and not have to do any meal prep, dishes or laundry? What if your guests brought sleeping bags and their own bed? If you’re intrigued by the idea of Airbnb but are less crazy about having strangers under your roof, let them stay outside, and make some healthy passive income in doing so!
The co-founders of Pitched, Olaf Dunn and Alan Young have capitalized on an idea that is win-win for campers and property owners alike. Together, the duo has a combined force of software engineering, strategic marketing, public relations and pup tent experience to lean on.
Dunn and Young tapped into the limited options of the current camping landscape. “You either have the provincial park systems that are currently overwhelmed, or private, heavily occupied KOA camping areas,” explains Young. “We also wanted to bring unique camping experiences to those who were looking for something different. With so much private land available across Canada that is underutilized, it just made sense.”
Anyone who actively camps in Ontario will know full well the stress and frenzy of booking primo campsites when they are released on our provincial park’s website on February 1. Try booking in June, when site availability is spottier and most likely beside the public washroom or swing set with chains that need WD-40 in the worst way. Pitched has appeared on the scene at the overlap of two powerful movements: glamping and the gig economy. Can discriminating campers actually find a private site without a dozen generators purring or washer games clunking all hours of the night?
For hosts, if you have the acreage and willingness to share your slice of paradise, Pitched facilitates the opportunity to provide a unique, alternative location for campers. Plus, they handle all the dirty work involving cash transactions. Simply establish a price and create an advert for your space and amenities. Are you dog friendly? Do you have pre-whittled s’mores sticks to offer? While the listings are largely Ontario-centric at the moment, Dunn and Young are planning to expand across Canada.
I’m already eyeballing the Papanack Park Zoo near Ottawa, where you can awake to an in-house jungle soundtrack! As the company suggests, it’s all about “camping better.”
Jules Torti’s work has been published in The Vancouver Sun, The Globe & Mail, travelife, Canadian Running and Coast Mountain Culture. With experiences as a canoe outtripper, outdoor educator, colouring book illustrator and freelancer, she is thrilled to be able to curate, write and read about the very best things in life.