Photo: Christopher Mitchell
Taking to the waters in Lanark County, located on traditional Algonquin/Omàmìwininì territory.


Getting to Know My Own Back Yard

While traditional travel is in a holding pattern, I have lots of time to get reacquainted with Ontario.

By Christopher Mitchell   |   March 31, 2021

It took me more time than I’d like to admit to truly recognize what a remarkable place Ontario is. Ontario, and Toronto in particular, was merely “home,” and until recently I had been failing to appropriately expand on that starting point.

Over the past decade, I laid down roots in Oslo, Seoul and Istanbul, not leaving them until I had turned over every stone. And when I finally returned to Canada a few years ago, it occurred to me that I had fallen into that all-too-common trap of familiarity bias—and that my hometown and province deserved that very same aforementioned effort and respect. 

Once I started to think deeply about how I really felt about Ontario, I realized that travel has little to do with hopping on a plane and everything to do with exploring any place at all with an open mind and intention.

For example, there’s a park near my apartment that I’ve walked past several hundred times over the last few years. I never took the time to notice a single thing about it. Now, I walk there every day and it’s a place I feel an immense appreciation for while observing its changing leaves and other minutiae. It may be only a few blocks away, but when I visit the park, I take a few photos and observe the comings and goings. Isn’t that “travel,” in a sense?

I then began biking around the city, exploring neighbourhoods I wasn’t as familiar with. I’d get a cappuccino and scone from a café on Roncesvalles one day and indulge in a beer on a patio in Leslieville the next. And how, in the end, is that any different from the “travel” that I did when I visited other cities? What if “travel” is more of a mindset than an action?

Upon deeper reflection, it occurred to me that my favourite place on Earth wasn’t some far-off European capital, but rather the humble piece of land my grandfather bought off a sheep farmer in Lanark County to build the family cottage. It took visits to a whopping 79 countries not named Canada to realize that.

What if “travel” is more of a mindset than an action?

Actively Exploring (Finally)
For the first time ever, I don’t mind the long drives that exploring Ontario often requires. My car is definitely not my apartment, so any place that’s not my apartment at the moment gets an unequivocal two thumbs up. 

I’ve made the trek to Gananoque for a restaurant crawl on King Street. I’ve ventured to Ottawa to get out on the river for some rafting. I’ve revisited my father’s hometown of Perth and strolled through Stewart Park, imagining what it might have been like for my father and uncle to play there as children.

I started to golf again, visiting nine courses that I’d never played before. I went canoeing and kayaking wherever I could and tried to notice the landscape on each lake that I had the pleasure of visiting—like a member of the Group of Seven without the painting talent. I went to national parks and museums. I picked apples in Durham and I ate pies in the Kawarthas. I have travelled more as of late than I ever have before—and I never left the province. Sometimes, I never even left my neighbourhood. 

Familiar Scenery, New Eyes
Perhaps it’s my inherent need for optimism, but I can’t help but believe that if the whole province safely and responsibly adopts an outlook such as this, not just now but always, we’ll be better off.

It would be a lot harder to avoid environmental concerns facing our provincial and national parks if more citizens were more intimately familiar with what makes them vital. If, through travel, we began to learn how lines were drawn on the map of Ontario initially, it might spark more much-needed conversations about Indigenous rights. And if more people learned to love this province at large, becoming more invested in the fate of Ontario, we might expect less political apathy, too.

The stories that I’ve finally taken the chance to listen to of late have undeniably changed my relationship with Ontario. I can, for example, better appreciate the sacrifices that the baker in the small town needs to make to survive and the creativity that the local brewmaster puts into their new beer. Anonymous storefronts that I used to drive by without a second glance now get a second glance.

I no longer yearn to be elsewhere. I now know that I could travel somewhere in the province every day for the rest of my life and still not see it all. It’s like I’ve been handed a familiar book that has sat patiently on my shelf for too long, and finally I’m making the time to dust it off and read it.

I can tell you, it’s a book I don’t intend to close again. 

Christopher Mitchell
Christopher’s work has been featured in such publications as USA Today, National Geographic and Outpost, among others. He’s the founder of and co-founder of

Look for Travelier in print soon.