Story by Mike Hector | Photography by Heidi Csernak
As we round the bend on a most memorable 2018, Heidi and I can safely say it was indeed a year to remember. But the proverbial sun has yet to set – and the adventure itself is far from over. Ever since attending last year’s Alight at Night event hosted by Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg Ontario – Heidi and I fell absolutely in love with this famous local tradition.
This year, we were invited to return to the village and experience the magic Alight at Night once more. To stroll through the illuminated streets, marvel at the sights and see what’s new in store.
Without hesitation, we accepted the gracious invitation and packed our bags for an overnight trip to the village of Morrisburg, nestled amid the splendid riverside landscapes of South Dundas Ontario.
A Dazzling Dinner at Willard’s Hotel
Our evening began with a dinner reservation at Willard’s Hotel, situated within the village on Queen Street. This gorgeous heritage building was first built in the 1700s – and served as a tavern and inn for the majority of its existence. Today, hearty meals and impeccable hospitality are still elemental features of this brilliant dining venue.
The building took on an entirely magical visage in its brilliant violet and white lighting scheme for the festival. During events such as Alight at Night or Pumpkinferno, Willard’s features a themed table d’hote menu containing a tempting selection of delicious three-course meals that are cooked and presented in 1850’s fashion.
To start, we each enjoyed a bowl of soup – a rather suitable beginning on such a chilly evening. Heidi had a bowl of homestyle vegetable soup while I chose the Pea Soup which came with tasty little pieces of ham, quite reminiscent of the French Canadian style recipes that are a hallmark of our nation’s heritage cookbooks.
For the main event, Heidi selected the turkey dinner – which came with all the fixings including stuffing, mashed potatoes and diced root vegetables and a good dollop of savoury gravy for good measure. It was the very image of a traditional Christmas dinner – and tasted every bit the part.
For my main course, I requested the Baked Glazed Ham (another holiday favourite) and paid a little extra for a second slice of meat. The jambon itself was wonderfully cooked and drizzled in a zesty dijon and brown sugar demi-glaze which had just the right amount of sweetness and spice from the mustard.
For dessert, we each enjoyed our absolute favourite treat that Willard’s serves – the Traditional British Pudding. This decadent dessert consists of a piece of rich, moist cake that is completely saturated in a hot caramel sauce and topped with whipped cream. No word of a lie, this heavenly baked miracle is worth the drive to Morrisburg alone.
Making reservations at Willard’s is a little “old school” and must be made by telephone, by calling: (613)-543-0660.
Then again, it’s better than having to send reservation requests via morse code or horse courier. Telephones didn’t hit the consumer market until well after the late 1870s so, technically – phoning a reservation to Willard’s Hotel is rather high-tech if you think about it.
New This Year: Carousel Corner
Situated in the village fairgrounds is a new spectacle for this year’s event. Carousel Corner/Coen Du Carrousel adds a fun-filled winter carnival to Alight at Night which is sure to wow the kids – and also provides a traditional area offering picnic-table seating, warm-up huts and a cafe stand where you can grab a coffee or hot chocolate while the kids enjoy a ride on a vintage 1960’s merry go ‘round.
Alas, the carousel is not rated for big kids like those found in places like Coney Island or large amusement parks. However, to sit and relax in that area while sipping a hot chocolate while the sound of Christmas carols and giggling children fill the air – is enough to disarm even the most grouchy of Scrooge.
As a matter of fact, it’s quite impossible to even utter the words “bah” or “humbug” after a proper-good dose of Alight at Night.
There is a pair of stationary carousel horses on display, and they’re great for photo ops and Instagram posts. Just don’t sit on them – as anything heavier than a five-year-old would likely destroy the ornate polymer-ponies and likely ruin Christmas for everyone in attendance. Just don’t do it.
There are even signs informing guests of the fragile nature of the horses, which I didn’t immediately notice. At first sight, I ran right up to one and was about to climb on for a classic “ride ‘em cowboy” pose – but was suddenly stopped in my tracks by Heidi yelling: “MIKE, NO.” and pointing to the signs.
While there aren’t any rides suited for larger kids (or man-child-esque bloggers,) in Carousel Corner – there are other more classical modes of transportation that you can take advantage of, which we’ll get to later in this story.
Take a Spellbinding Stroll Through The Village
After checking out the Christmasy carnival area, we proceeded to the corner of Church and Queen streets and began our festive foray into the vibrantly illuminated village. The always immaculate Christ Church stood prominently with glowing azure radiance – the sound of classic holiday songs coming from the gathering of guests singing them within the hall.
Throughout the village is one brilliant spectacle after the other as each of the buildings are lovingly decked to the nines for Alight at Night. Even the trees throughout the village are strung with lights – casting both the branches and the ground beneath in a luminous glow that only adds to the heartwarming aspect of walking among such wondrous sights.
Whether you’re planning an unforgettable road-trip with the entire family – or want to seriously level-up your date night skills, Alight at Night is equally magical and memorable in either scenario. It truly is an all-ages show, and we saw everything from young couples, families and even multiple generations of family all walking about the village sharing in the awesome visual experience.
Warm Up and Grab a Snack at The Harvest Barn
It’s a good time to remind you that Alight at Night is an outdoor event, and at times it can get rather cold. Luckily there are warm-up stations in the fairgrounds, the bakery, The Kettle Korner and of course the Harvest Barn where you can let little legs take a break and find some tasty treats and other things to eat.
Either way, if you’re headed to Alight at Night, do bundle-up and dress for the weather.
Enjoy an Enchanting Wagon – or Private Carriage Ride
One of the most exceptional things you can do at Alight at Night is taking a fantastic horse-drawn wagon ride through the entire village. There are regularly rotating public wagons similar to what you see operating during the summer season, only decorated with lights to match the surrounding atmosphere. These wagon rides are included with general admission.
If you want to kick things up a notch, (remember when I mentioned levelling up your date night game?) I highly recommend booking a private carriage ride. Sponsored by Pommier Jewellers this adorable and private carriage experience will chauffeur you and your special someone around the park in a vintage vis-a-vis style horse carriage.
The private carriage ride for two packages also come with a few perks – including a 30-minute tour of the village, a gourmet treat bag containing some yummy items from the village and a – 20% off coupon at Pommier Jewellers in nearby Cornwall Ontario. Imagine popping the question during a romantic and intimate carriage tour of Upper Canada Village amid the festive vibe of Alight at Night.
Settling in For a Lovely Stay at The Inn by The Park
After running our phone and camera batteries into the red, we made our merry way back to Morrisburg to our accommodations for the evening. The Inn By The Park is one of our favourite Bed & Breakfast venues in the area because of it’s proximity to the waterfront and the sprawling fields of Earl Baker Park.
Owned and operated by Evelyn Marshall, this lovely Spanish Villa style home is a remodelled Victorian house with an immense amount of heritage and charm. Heidi and I have grown quite fond of staying with Mrs. Marshall – as visiting the Inn by The Park is more akin to staying with your dear British Grandmum.
As always, we slept like babes in the comfort of the King sized bed upstairs and Evelyn was an outstanding hostess. The following morning she prepared us a monumental meal consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage AND ham as well as French Toast, pancakes and other brilliant staples of a proper breakfast.
Don’t Miss The Magic of Alight at Night!
Thanks for stopping by to read our story!
This is among the first of many experiential blogs that we will be publishing right here as we continue to build the Organic Road Map website. What is the “Organic Roadmap?” It’s essentially our journey and quest to explore as much of Ontario – and later Canada itself while supplying our readers with authentic, experience-based travel stories that we hope will inspire you to plan an epic trip of your own!
Alight at Night is a magical holiday-themed event that is not to miss. It’s a surefire way to evoke the holiday spirit while spending quality time with those you love the most.
I want to take this opportunity to offer a most humble thank-you to the staff and management at The St. Lawrence Parks Commission and Upper Canada Village – for their most gracious invitation to experience the magic once again.
Until next time – keep wandering!