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playing tourist in the ottawa valley

You know those local spots you pass all the time but never visit? You make a mental note, something like "man, I really should check out X more often" -- the Parliament Buildings, the National Gallery, you name it -- but you never seem to get there. Or maybe you finally go when friends or family are in from out of town.

For me, the Ottawa Valley is one of those places. It's close by and I'm contantly oogling its cute shops and pretty spots on Instagram, but I rarely get out there.

Well, when Ford Canada asked me to take its Bucket List Challenge, I decided rather than doing something whacky and outlandish, I'd take the opportunity to explore my own backyard.

So buckle up, because this self-declared BMW lover is gonna take you through the Valley in a 2017 Ford Escape -- and I’ll give you my honest two cents along the way. We’re headed to Ashton Station, Carleton Place, Pakenham, and Almonte! Whether you’re on the hunt for a a new car or eager for a staycation, read on.

Hubby and I loaded up the Escape and hit the road. First thing we noticed? This car was luxe!

We had the sporty Titanium edition, which was packed with features like keyless entry, auto start-stop technology (car switches off at red lights etc., to save fuel), self-parking, a huge moon roof, sport mode, and a massive touchscreen with GPS, Bluetooth, and connectivity for iPhone and Android. Plus some of the comfiest seats I’ve ever sat in.

I connected my iPhone to Bluetooth, fired up some driving tunes, and we hit the road.

First stop: Ashton Station

Ashton is a hamlet of 200 people located just outside Ottawa city limits. Actually, it’s half in, half out: the dividing line goes smack through the middle of town, so half the population lives in Ottawa and the other half in Lanark County. Michael and I parked the Escape on the Lanark side and walked to the Ottawa side to visit the the Ashton Brew Pub.

Located in an old mill that dates to 1866-7, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic English pub anywhere in the Ottawa area. This heritage spot is also home to the Ashton Brewing Company, so you can look forward to top-notch food and beer.

I had the Ashton King Burger with a seasonal brew, and both were delicious:

After lunch we hopped back in the car, and set the GPS to take us to Carleton Place using only back roads. So much more fun than the same old route along Highway 7!

Next STOP: Carleton Place

Our GPS quickly brought us to Carleton Place (it’s less than 15 minutes from Ashton) and we found our way to the quaint town centre. We discovered the downtown businesses were hosting a daytime trick-or-treat for local kids, and the main drag (Bridge Street) was bustling with families. Adorable.

We found our way to a beautiful park along the water and got out for a walk. Here’s a shot of picturesque downtown Carleton Place along the Mississippi River:

Carleton Place has grown to nearly 10,000 people, perhaps partly due to the easy access off Highway 7 and proximity to Ottawa. The little downtown appeared to be struggling a bit, while the big box stores along the highway were hopping. And surrounded by cookie-cutter housing developments.

Hopefully Carleton Place can figure out a way forward that supports the little guys, because that's a little town with a big heart.

Off to Brookstreet

After our jaunt around Carleton Place we got back in the car and headed to our home away from home for the weekend: the Brookstreet Hotel. Located in west Kanata, this is the ideal place to stay for easy access to the Valley.

The hotel was outstanding in every way, and the views from our room on the top floor were incredible. More on that in an upcoming blog post!


On Sunday morning we hopped back in the car and headed to Pakenham. What we discovered was a truly tiny town that, sadly, seemed to be in decline. Most of the shops were closed except for one diner, there wasn't another soul around, and there were multiple signs protesting the planned closure of the local school.

We did see numerous signs for RV parks, campsites, and the local ski hill, so I'm guessing this wee village is a bit more lively in summer and winter, but less so during the shoulder seasons. We peered through a few shop windows then threw in the towel. We headed back to the car, and the wipers came on all by themselves as it started to rain.

Next stop: Almonte

I feel like Almonte is the small town all the others aspire to be. With a population of about 5,000, it boasts a charming downtown with carefully maintained heritage buildings and lovely local shops. We parked our Escape (well, it parked itself actually) right across from town hall and started exploring.

Our first stop was my favourite shop in Almonte: Tin Barn Market. This rustic boutique is packed with pretty things for your home and crafting projects. They've got everything from lovingly upcycled furniture to decorative succulents (I grabbed a bunch!), to stamping kits, and a whole wall of chalk paint. They've event got locally made jewellery!

After Tin Barn we stopped at Doree's Habit, a local clothing an accessories shop, then moved on to Cheerfully Made across the street, which is jam-packed with locally crafted housewares and gifts. All three of these shops are must-visits on any trip to the Valley. Put them on your list!

Finally it was time to head back to Ottawa, so we wandered back to our car and headed for home.

Hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring our rural backyard, and I'd encourage all of you to head west and soak up the history and down-home hospitality of our Ottawa Valley neighbours. Just a 45-minute drive from central Ottawa and absolutely worth the trip.

2017 ford escape: report card

Michael and I drove the Ford Escape for three days, on back roads, major highways, in the city, and in plenty of rain. We're ready to share our list of pros and cons with you so you can see how the Escape measures up. Here we go!


  • incredibly comfortable, you will LOVE riding around in this car

  • very smooth steering and pedals, almost drives itself!

  • very quiet cabin with little road noise

  • blind spots are super small! Was very easy to do shoulder checks.

  • the SYNC touchscreen was very intuitive and easy to use

  • the huge moon roof was gorgeous and made the cabin bright and airy

  • extremely comfortable and supportive seats -- no numb bum

  • oodles of trunk space, this car will DOMINATE on Ikea trips

  • lots of storage in the cabin for driver and passengers

  • plugs for everything: USB outlets were easy to access

  • back-up camera, park-assist, and lane departure features were truly helpful

  • this is a good looking car, you'll be proud to drive it


  • the Titanium Edition wasn't great on fuel; this might not be an issue with the less-sporty models

  • options will cost you: the Escape starts at $25,099, but our tricked out version had a sticker price of about $40,000.​

the verdict

All in all, the Ford Escape is an awesome car. It looks good, drives well, and has all the creature comforts you can think of. It drives quite differently than what I'm used to, with lighter steering and softer pedals, but frankly a lot of people want and prefer that. And that's totally cool.

My only words of caution if you're shopping for an Escape: decide which features are important to you before you walk into the dealership. Don't be seduced by all the shiny things: you'll want them all but they'll strain your budget! Be firm and stick to your guns.

This car was an absolute breeze to drive felt every bit as comfortable as my Beemer. Highly recommend.

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