(WARNING: MEGA BLOG POST AHEAD.)
My adventure with the Algonquin Motel began about three years ago. I was working part-time doing data entry (long before trend forecasting became my life and at a time when my collaging income was just not adequate for my lifestyle). My job required me to look up various companies and venues on the web and verify their contact information on our company database. And by "various companies and venues," I mean a list of about 400 different entries to check. And check them I did, but one day I happened to stumble upon a website of a small and peculiar motel located in South River, Ontario, a place I had never even heard of (please know I'm referring to South River here, not Ontario). The place? The Algonquin Motel.
And wow. After only a few minutes on the website, I KNEW I had to visit the Algonquin Motel at least once in my life. How did I know? It's not only a motel but a groovy glass bead shop as well! The rooms are handpainted with artistic interpretations of different local animals! The website tells an extremely detailed (3 pages complete with pictures) account of "Romeo and Juliet's" visit to the Algonquin Motel (Romeo and Juliet being a stuffed panda bear and stuffed horse)! And best of all, the Algonquin Motel is "sooooo pet friendly!"
The little lovebirds enjoying what appears to be the fish mural room.
I was so charmed by this website that I immediately added it to my mental wish list of places to visit in my life (Saskatchewan is also on this list due to a Sweet Valley High book that I read in middle school when Jessica forms her own cheerleading squad with Elizabeth and other athletic rejects and then Ken Matthews and Todd Wilkins dress in drag as cheerleaders from Saskatchewan to help them win the Nationals. SUCH a good one; a must-read for character development of Jessica; I really can't stress this enough).
Fast forward to 2010. I'm now living the dream in the fashion industry, my days of data entry long behind. My girlfriends and I are debating where to visit for the upcoming May 24 holiday weekend. Somehow, just somehow (and I'm not saying that God was necessarily involved in this, but I don't really know), the Algonquin Motel sprang into my mind. I eagerly suggested it and quite forcefully argued in favor of it over such other ideas as Niagara Falls (boo), Italy (overdone) and New York City (expensive). When it came down to it, we were torn between New York City and the Algonquin Motel, unsure of how to decide. So I used my solution to everything in life: I wrote a letter.
I sent this letter to the Algonquin Motel, explaining our quandary and hoping they could offer some practical (and perhaps biased) advice.
I had a feeling they would be able to help. I received the following letter in return:
Wow. Their letter really helped me see the light on our problem. Martha and Tim of Algonquin were right; we probably wouldn't see any undisguised celebrities in New York City. It warmed my heart that they recommended that we travel to BOTH places, instead of simply promoting their establishment (I haven't written a letter like that to the Holiday Inn but I feel I could guarantee a very different response). They were kind, honest and up-front and actually helpful. So despite their warnings about biting black flies, we packed up Leslie's car and headed for South River.
NIGHT ONE AT THE ALGONQUIN MOTEL
We arrived around 11 PM, too late in the evening to fully take in the painted exteriors or partake in anything involving nature. We pulled up to the main cabin/office and discovered this sign:
The sign was wrong--we only waited about 20 and a half steamboats (give or take a few boats) and then Tim himself came to the door. After spending so much time on the Algonquin website, I felt like I was seeing a real-life celebrity (screw you, New York!). Tim gave us the key to the "Firepit Room" and let us know if we needed anything at all to just give him a shout. He would soon regret those words, as we took full advantage of that offer.
Since no firepits were to be had that evening, we had to make up activities within our room. We quickly ditched unpacking in favor of a two-hour long EXTREME INDOOR BADMINTON COMPETITION.
After that, we wound down the night playing The Sassy Experience (objective of the game: to be sassy) (yes, this board game really exists; you can borrow it from me if you want but it's not as sassy as it sounds. The questions were almost bipolar in the way they ranged from how to give sassy advice to a friend lacking cool fashion sense to giving a sassy interview on your feelings on the death penalty. This game also forced us to label everything that we later experienced on the trip as either "SASSY" or "NOT SASSY").
HIGHLIGHTS OF NIGHT ONE: Winning every round of EIBC and watching Velvet & Leslie drink warm Miller Lite (leftover from our Detroit trip; I promise this isn't our go-to drink) as punishment, finally seeing the local animal murals up close. Oh, and meeting TIM, of course.
LOWLIGHTS: Something about being sassy about the death penalty just doesn't sit right.
DAY TWO AT THE ALGONQUIN MOTEL
We woke up ready to seize the day and see some nature and all of that stuff. After killing every mosquito and bug that had somehow gotten into our room overnight, we headed out to hit the beach. Our Algonquin guidebooks suggested Kawawaymog Lake as a good location for swimming and general outdoorsiness. Sounded good to us. So we hopped in the car, hit the road and drove. And drove. And then got lost on country roads and drove some more. Talked about how apparently none of us are capable of reading maps. Then we finally came to the elusive Kawawaymog Lake. Met the nice old man owner of the canoe shop and had a serious discussion with him about renting a canoe. Talked for about 30 minutes, during which time it was discovered that Leslie cannot swim. Listened to nice old man's firm suggestion that we do not rent canoe due to possibility of death. Left Kawawaymog. Oh, but we saw a deer!
Me & Heather canoeing. Oh wait. That's not us. Because we did not canoe FOR FEAR OF DEATH.
We returned to the Algonquin Motel and continued our streak of awesomeness by promptly locking ourselves out of our room. We came begging to Tim & Martha for help (locked out in our old-fashioned bathing suits which resemble wrestling unitards; there is no greater shame) and they not only gave us a spare key but loaned us a bottle opener AND gave us a bead making demonstration in the groovy bead shop as well. Seriously, after the customer service we received at the Motoroma Motel, we weren't used to being treated like such VIPs. We also had the chance to meet some of Tim & Martha's many pets--I think they have at least 10 cats and 5 dogs. Many of them are rescue animals or strays that they adopted and brought into their home. Multiple cats and dogs=bonus points for the Algonquin Motel.
Heather's with Birdie the dog here. I had suggested that perhaps it might be nice to put the beer aside for the photo with the sweet dog but that was quickly shot down.
The Groovy Glass Bead Shop, which has tons of beautiful handmade beads. We spent a lot of time in here, picking our favorite beads and hoping Tim would let us try our hand at using the ray gun of fire to make one (he did not).
We then played some tetherball (oh, did I not mention that the Algonquin has two tetherball poles? AND hula hoops! We had fallen hard by the time we discovered these facts), more EXTREME BADMINTON (outdoor this time), barbecued some veggie burgs and built our first fire. We may not be able to read maps, swim or keep track of our room keys but it turns out we can build a beautiful fire (I say "we" even though I fully admit I had nothing to do with this/any fire). After the disappointment of Kawawaymog, it actually turned out to be a pretty great night.
Hey, check out these homeless people enjoying s'mores. That's sweet.
Our beautiful fire upon which s'mores were made and wild dances involving the moon and other mystical forces were danced around.
We sang a lot of Destiny's Child "Survivor" and other inspirational songs about roughing it in the wild.
HIGHLIGHTS OF DAY TWO: Building a beautiful fire, receiving a personal tetherball lesson from Martha (she is a champion of sorts), getting to wear red sweatpants in public.
Turns out this is not how you hula hoop. Whatever.
LOWLIGHTS: Blackfly bites (they weren't lying in their letter to us), mosquito bites, plastic-tasting veggie dogs. Learning that it's not easier to roast marshmallows on 6 foot tall sticks, even though they have lots of branches (lots of branches to catch on fire and lots of branches to poke you in the eye). Our complete failure at Kawawaymog Lake.
DAY THREE AT THE ALGONQUIN MOTEL
After unsuccessfully using our day yesterday, we had big plans for Day Three. We set an alarm before 11 AM. We donned our finest clothing (lots of plaid). We knew what we were doing this time around. We were going to see the SCREAMING HEADS. We also consulted Tim & Martha about what sights we should be sure to see and were told about a puppy farm (!!!) and a private beach where we could actually swim. We were psyched.
The Screaming Heads are a series of huge concrete sculptures located near Burk's Falls, primarily in the shape of screaming heads but some other creepy stuff as well. The sculptures are made by artist Peter Camani on his property (his website is linked above). The heads are strange, eerie, bizarre and so incredibly cool. Leslie saw a picture of them before our trip and could not wait to see them in person. And they didn't disappoint.
They're such a strange sight that all you can do for the first while is walk around in silence, just gazing around and seeing some new odd sculpture in each look... And then, if you're a girl, you take some Screaming Heads jumping shots.
What fun it is to jump out of the gaping mouth of a screaming head without a care in the world!
This is the artist's house. Apparently, sometimes you can meet him walking around the property and he'll talk to you about his work. He's definitely an eccentric guy but also really generous and awesome, since he lets people walk all over his property looking at his artwork for no charge at all.
Though one could say that we weren't really in the woods at all, but in an open, flower-filled field in broad daylight, Velvet was smart to bring our favorite book, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, everywhere we went in Algonquin. Not only did we gain street cred from the many (2) campers and drifters (0) that we met, we learned many things, including how to build a death trap and skin a snake. We started building a death trap one night but then decided to play tetherball instead. It was fun.
After the excitement of the Screaming Heads, we headed to the the puppy farm and private beach. Our romanticized ideas of puppy farms (us rolling around in a room full of fluffy white puppies while singing songs like "Do Re Mi"[this was my version, at least]) quickly dissolved as we saw the rows and rows of barking dogs chained to barrels outside. We were too freaked out to even leave the car so after sitting in awkward silence for awhile, we drove away to the private beach.
It was a beautiful view and indeed very private (almost scarily so, when a truck pulled up and parked beside us, Heather, Leslie and I stared at them in terror until Velvet told us we were being weird and embarrassing her). We tanned in the sun for about 15 minutes while battling black flies the entire time, then decided that nature could be had some other day. BACK TO THE ALGONQUIN!
We played frisbee outside and met some boys, Jordy and Denton, who had just hiked through Algonquin Park for the past month. They joined us around the campfire that evening for dinner and shared some impressive hiking stories with us (the girls & I probably talked about how wild it can get on the Toronto subway or how much long lines suck; city life can be rough). We also took a midnight trip into the woods looking for marshmallow roasting sticks (thank GOD for our survival book), taught the boys some drinking games and played some nighttime tetherball (I'm sure the other guests at the Algonquin were really enchanted with us at this point).
Velvet, Jordy and Leslie. We obviously were quite easily able to captivate the boys, what with our feminine flannel shirts and not-at-all-creepy intense eye contact (LESLIE).
Jordy and Denton may have survived in the wild for a month, but Velvet and I did a month of no dairy. NO DAIRY! I'd like to see you try that, Survivor Men! HA!
HIGHLIGHTS OF DAY FOUR: Midnight trek to a secret location into the woods, throwing some midnight dust on the fire before telling scary ghost stories and then adjourning our meeting of the Midnight Society...oh wait...that wasn't us, either.
LOWLIGHTS: Awkwardly sitting outside an extremely depressing puppy farm while The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" played very inappropriately on the car radio.
DAY FOUR AT THE ALGONQUIN MOTEL
Today we woke up saddened (and slightly hungover), knowing that we had to leave. We packed up our stuff and took a few last pictures of our firepit room's animal murals.
We knew we would miss those rolling fields of sweetly smiling sunflowers. Even after our short visit, our room felt like home (well, like a home that you don't have to clean and has awesome painted pictures on the wall, making it way better than our actual homes).
We headed to the Groovy Glass Bead Shop to pick up a few beads and say goodbye. While chatting with Tim and Martha about our stay, I asked Martha if they remembered the letter I sent them. Martha looked at us for a second and then said, "Tim, it's the girls who sent us the letter!" I was pretty happy that they remembered us and felt like our journey was coming full circle. That is, until Martha asked us if we were still interested in painting our own wall murals in one of their motel rooms (please refer to the final line of my letter, which states: "Can guests paint their own wall murals?"). We looked at them in disbelief before saying something between "Holy cow" and "Hell yes." They told us they had a room with blank walls in need of painting and would love for us to return to the Algonquin, free of charge, and paint the murals of our choice. It doesn't get much better than that, huh?
The whole gang posed for pictures before going our separate ways. We were sad on the drive back to the city but also giddy with the excitement of already planning our future wall murals.
Tim and Martha, our wonderful hosts.
FINAL GRADE: A plus. A plus plus plus. The only way I could love this place more is if Julie Andrews was rooming next to us. And then if she sang songs to us around the campfire. And lots of puppies were there. Oh man, how sweet would that be...
But hey, since none of that will probably happen, I have to say that I really can't recommend this place enough. It may not be fancy, have 500 thread count bedding or a swimming pool, but it is one of the most charming places I have ever been to. The service provided by Tim & Martha (and really everyone on staff) was so kind and helpful; after meeting them briefly they already felt like friends we could sit and have a beer with. They went out of their way to make sure we were happy (Martha dragged out an old, dusty Bocce ball set for us and the boys to play with & taught us tetherball, Tim gave us spare items for everything we lost) and gave us lots of advice for unique stuff to do in the area. Comfortable beds, hot showers, extremely unique decor. I'm just going to say it. I ADORE THE ALGONQUIN MOTEL!
PS--The second part of our Algonquin journey will be coming soon...with wilder things than you've ever dreamed of. Like wall murals that cover more than just the wall. Firepits hotter than the sun. And a complete misunderstanding of what a painted dragonfly looks like, ending in humiliation. Stay tuned!
PPS--Please ignore my current formatting issues; I am a moron and am working on not being one.