The (Off The Clock) Ontario Travel Blog – Chapter 2
Oops, I did it again!
It’s been a little over a year since I wrote anything on my own blog. Again. Ye-gads, that’s pretty sad.
Much like our previous installment, my hiatus from this particular blog was not due to a lack of things to write about. In fact, I had so much to write about.
Shortly after publishing my last post here in February 2017 everything started changing for the better. In April 2017, Heidi and I started a freelance 1-year contract as Social Media and Content Developers with 1dea Design & Media. The client was none other than The Great Waterway (RTO9), the regional tourism organization representing South Eastern Ontario.
Two months later, Heidi and I entered into an amazing new partnership directly with The Great Waterway – RTO9 after presenting our ideas for an enhanced new series of experiential blogs.
Best of all, for the next 11 months, we would be on the road travelling throughout the entire region and creating stories about our experiences, as well as the people and communities we had the pleasure of meeting and working with along the way.
Without further delay, let’s dive into a pseudo-throwback to some of my favourite stories from this incredible journey – and some reflections on what turned out to be the best year of my life (so far).
A Shout-Out to The #GreatWaterway Community
As of March 31st, 2018 I wrapped up a 1-year freelance contract as the social media and community manager for The Great Waterway. This would be my first time working with such a huge client. The Great Waterway has a massive online community of nearly 30,000 people. When I officially completed my contract – the Facebook page had over 20,000 likes alone.
Not too shabby, I think.
My first days on the job were admittedly nervous. I had prior experience with my personal social media accounts, and from my podcasting days, but this was the biggest online community I had ever worked with.
Thanks to the logistical talents of my wife and warrior goddess; Heidi Csernak we developed a comprehensive social media calendar which we adapted from a model used by previous staff that had worked with the account.
Over the next 365 days, I came to know and interact an immensely wonderful community of local influencers, regular commenters and others who collectively made The Great Waterway’s online community such a fantastic group to work with. I’d have to say that my favourite work was on Instagram.
Not a day went by that I wouldn’t check the “#GreatWaterway” feed and be absolutely blown away by the visual creativity at work.
I wrote a blog post just after the New Year, looking back at my favourite Instagram moments from The Great Waterway community, and it’s just a tiny slice of the inspiring menagerie of images posted by the people who were kind enough to play along and use that hashtag.
I won’t spend any more time reminiscing here – but it suffices to say that spending a year working with The Great Waterway’s social media community will remain one of my most favourite freelance gigs to date. I’m going to miss it – but can rest easy knowing that the ship is definitely in good hands.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
Another amazing development happened in June 2017 when Heidi and I sat down with RTO9’s management team to present our vision for future travel blogs and branded storytelling on TheGreatWaterway.com.
We had already created a series of blogs for RTO9 between July 2016 and April 2017 in collaboration with 1dea Design & Media – and after a few client-side changes, Heidi and I had an opportunity to pitch directly to the RTO.
During our first round of blogs with The Great Waterway and 1dea, we successfully moved away from broader topics and incorporated focused themes into traditional list-format blogs. This time around, we wanted to go beyond that and presented concepts like 16 Epic Ideas for Cottaging and #Glamping in South Eastern Ontario and Explore Transportation History in South Eastern Ontario.
In addition to the list-style formats, we wanted to evolve our approach to storytelling and present the readers with a more robust and experiential piece that essentially tied the stories around a series of custom travel itineraries – showcasing all eight of South Eastern Ontario’s key destinations.
Rather than simply list off some travel ideas, we would actually go out “in the field” and experience these trips, shoot rich on-location photography and incorporate social media by posting content to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as we made our way throughout the region.
These “Experience Blogs” became the star of the show and much to our excitement The Great Waterway asked us to draft an 11-month commitment promising to deliver an extensive series of both enhanced list blogs and the new experience pieces which we successfully completed as of March 31st, 2018.
Go Beyond Telling a Story. Share an Experience.
This past year has been an unbelievable and truly humbling experience. Heidi and I have explored South Eastern Ontario from Prince Edward County to The Bay of Quinte – throughout the Land O’ Lakes, Kingston & The Islands, The Rideau Heritage Route, Gananoque, and Brockville, as well as the SDG Counties.
It’s hard to choose my favourite stories or experiences from this project because they were all so unique and unforgettable. We had the distinct privilege of meeting and working with so many amazing people along the way!
You can peruse the entire collection of our work right here on my website, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll highlight my top 5 picks:
Our feature about the triumphant return of the fabled Opinicon Dining & Resort really stands out. We met up with Fiona McKean for a chat, lunch and a tour of the grounds for a first-hand look at how Fiona and her team are breathing new life into this famous getaway in the Rideau Lakes region.
Over the course of our experience series, we did four features covering the St. Lawrence Parks Commission’s famous events – Lumina Borealis, Fort Fright, and of course the record-setting and visually stunning spectacle of Pumpkinferno.
Our experience at Upper Canada Village’s Alight at Night was nothing short of magical. A horse-drawn twilight tour through the village and a decadent dinner at Willard’s Hotel – followed by a stroll through the village’s brilliant lights and holiday decor was amazing. Spending the night in the Montgomery House cabin – made for a festive overnight experience we won’t soon forget!
In February, Heidi and I embarked on a high-flying adventure with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours and spent the day exploring the beautiful Town of Gananoque. From historic walking tours, outdoor art exhibits to fine dining at Laverne’s Eatery and a tasting at The Gananoque Brewing Company it was one epic day-trip!
As the winds of winter began to calm, Heidi and I ventured into the wilds of Frontenac County searching for signs of life after winter. From gorgeous country drives to captivating hikes at Gould Lake, and Frontenac Provincial Park we re-discovered a vivid world of natural beauty that is so close to home.
The “series finale” of our adventures in South Eastern Ontario was a foodie fueled foray into Lennox & Addington County on a quest to assemble an epic charcuterie dinner using 100% locally sourced food.
What followed was a jam-packed day spent exploring L&A County’s thriving local food and craft beverage scene with stops at several local food retailers, restaurants, craft breweries, and of course to the backdrop of rural Ontario’s gorgeous landscapes.
To Be Continued…
Don’t say it’s over. It’s so not over.
While Heidi and I are currently enjoying a bit of a breather, it won’t be for long. The last two articles we wrote for TheGreatWaterway.com were a bit of a teaser trailer of things to come. The past two years were a life-changing experience, and we’re just getting started!
Heidi and I will have have a rather full plate this spring and summer as we begin working on a tonne of all-new stories, and adventures with Lennox & Addington County, Frontenac County and Thousand Islands Accommodation Partners!
No spoilers though. But what I can say, is that we can’t wait to continue exploring South Eastern Ontario and sharing our stories with you! From both of us to all of our readers, partners, and the friends we’ve met throughout our journey – thank you!
As always, keep wandering!