By Carlos Perdomo
You only need to travel 80 kilometres north of Toronto to have a pleasant surprise.
Located in Sutton West, Ontario, on the southern shores of lake Simcoe, Sibbald Point Provincial Park is the place that after visiting for a first time you want to come back over and over.
As you might have guessed, I am not the only lucky one; during summer time thousands of people come to enjoy its long sand beaches, campsites, large picnic areas and a forested hiking trail, and on top of it, different activities that this special park offers.
A Little Bit of History
Eildon Hall at the Sibbald Point Provincial Park
Eildon Hall is one of the oldest structures in the area. The building was erected in stages: initially it was a small Regency style cottage built in 1830. Then this beautiful piece of land was bought by Susan Sibbald (1783-1866), a gentlewoman pioneer whose memoirs were published posthumously in 1926. She acquired it from William Kingdom Rains around 1835. Soon after, she decided to change the place from a small cottage to a rural estate. The work was completed in 1840 and Susan named the structure Eidon Hall after the family estate in Scotland. The estate remained in the Sibbald family until 1952.
Renovated and reduced in size since then, Eildon Hall is open to the public. Today, the building serves as a museum that reflects the life in rural Ontario during the nineteen century. The museum is known as Sibbald Memorial Museum and an Ontario Historical plaque was erected by the province to commemorate Eildon Hall in Ontario’s heritage.
After seeing the European weeping ash located in the premises, I was impressed by the effort made by Captain Thomas Sibbald in 1856, bringing to Canada from Italy this special tree that still stands for about 160 years as it was in yesteryears.
St. Georgian Anglican Church
As a visitor you will not miss St. Georgian Anglican Church; built by Susan Sibbald’s son, and was dedicated to her. Completed in 1877 it does still ministering to the community to this day.
Close to the church, there is a small Cemetery which contains the graves of prominent citizens of lake Simcoe such as Stephen Leacock, a Canadian teacher, political scientist, writer, and humourist; Mazo de la Roche, author of the Jalna novels, one of the most popular series of books of her time; musician Jim Schwalm and etc. etc.
Enjoying the Sibbald Point Provincial Park
If you have in mind enjoying a picnic at Sibbald Point, there is enough space for everybody. You will have the opportunity to see people from diverse backgrounds preparing delicious meals protected by elaborated gazebos, special grills and sophisticated pots or from the most basic portable barbeques.
With the smell of cooking mixed with the strong aroma of evergreens and the fresh air coming from the lake, you will feel that all the impurities from the City accumulated in your lungs, are fast disappearing.
Do not forget to bring your swimming gear! More likely than not, you will find a lukewarm water ready to embrace you, especially true in the months of July an August.
If you love water sports and camping, you are at the right spot to enjoy them.
You can spend a few days in the park and get the most out of your time away from stress and responsibilities!
Established in 1957, the 225-hectare park is owned and operated by Ontario, the Sibbald Point Provincial Park features the following:
- Day Use Area: Picnic areas can be found in quiet, grassy locations throughout the park and at the main beach. Most are close to flush toilets and drinking water taps.
- Park Store: The Park Store sells groceries, fast food, ice cream, park souvenirs and camping supplies. It is open from May to September.
- Picnic Shelters: Group picnic shelters in the day-use area accommodate 50–75 people and can be reserved for weekend use. The picnic shelters are also audio device free. Reservations can be made by calling the park Monday through Thursday, starting in early May.
- Swimming: The blue waters of Lake Simcoe and the sandy beaches of the park are ideal for family swimming. There is a buoyed swimming area but please note there are no lifeguards posted. Comfort stations and change facilities are close to the beach.
- Boating: There is a boat launch, docks for temporary docking, and parking area for boaters.
- Canoeing: Paddlers should be aware of weather conditions on Lake Simcoe and it is recommended that you stay close to shore.
- Rentals: Personal Floatation devices (PFDs) are available at the Registration Office. For a refundable deposit, you can borrow a properly fitted PFD.
- Camping: 10 different campgrounds, offering both electrical and non-electrical sites with pull through trailer sites. There are 12 comfort stations (complete with showers) located throughout the campgrounds and day-use areas. There are barrier-free washroom stalls at all comfort stations and barrier free showers at the comfort stations located in the campground. Audio Device Free Camping for a natural camping experience.
- Group Camping: The campground has 6 group sites that accommodate 15 – 50 people. Water taps and vault toilets are available on site. Sites are a 15 minute walk to the beach and a five minute walk to the comfort station. The sites are available primarily for youth groups. Reservations can be made online or by phone. When reserving online select “Group” as your reservation type.
- Cycling: Tour the local Hedge Road along the Lake Simcoe waterfront.
- Fishing: Lake trout, bass, whitefish, pike, yellow pickerel and jumbo perch are abundant in Lake Simcoe. Enjoy the Learn to Fish Program, a free, hands-on program that teaches new anglers how to fish in Ontario.
- Eildon Hall Museum, once home to the Sibbald family, displays 19th century artefacts and furniture. It is open during July and August.
- George’s Anglican Church, built in 1877, is located at the northwest corner of the park. Its graveyard is the final resting place of famous Canadian authors Stephen Butler Leacock and Mazo de la Roche.
- Discovery Program: Park staff offer weekly educational programs for children and adults from late June to Labour Day. They include nature and historical walks, evening programs with guest speakers, videos, children’s crafts and games.
- Maidenhair Fern Trail: 2.0 km, 1-1.5 hours, easy. This self-guided loop trail takes a close look at the variety of ecosystems at Sibbald Point. Pick up the trail brochure at the trailhead, the Registration Office or Park Office.
- The Cultural History Trail of Sibbald Point Provincial Park: 1.0 km, 1-2 hours, easy. This walk explores the rich history of the Sibbald Family through an interpretive guide book. Park visitors will explore the Eildon Hall Museum (Sibbald Family Estate Home (ca. 1836), the settlers cabin, a walk down “The Avenue”, St. George’s Anglican Church (ca.1877) and grave yard which is the burial site of famous Canadian authors Stephen Butler Leacock and Mazo de la Roche.
- Winter Activities: In winter, Lake Simcoe boasts some of the best ice fishing for perch and whitefish. Other unorganized winter activities within the park include hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The main park road and a parking lot are kept open for winter visitors.
I have been enjoying this park for many years and my opinion has not changed: of all parks that I have visited, Sibbald Point is my favourite. Some days I just bring my picnic folding chair and a good book and the day looks brighter!
By Carlos Perdomo
The pictures are taken by the author