Vacationing on Four Legs…

A road-trip with dogs? Why not?! My cousin Chris and her English Setter Lexi were up for a 3-day Canadian mini adventure. I was up for Canadian candy bars (Coffee Crisp! Crunchie! Aero!) and my half-Lab Clover was up for anything. So we grabbed our passports and dog docs and headed to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan.

Chris’s family had a summer house up in Pike Bay, Ontario for many years, and weeks of our school vacation were spent playing on the rocky shores of Lake Huron. If you didn’t have bloody, stubbed toes from jagged, underwater boulders or an earache from swimming in the frigid, early-June Great Lake water then you weren’t doing it right.

As children, our parents had zoomed right past the beautiful beach towns along Highway 21 on our trips north. (To be fair, the cousins group consisted of five hellish kids of the same approximate age — our parents were caged up with us in cars for long hours and only wished to dump us out at the cottage and head for some Beach Punch. I understand this now.)

We decided to make the trip back up the peninsula and stop at the beaches we’d missed as kids that also welcomed our dogs. Lexi is a relaxed, well-behaved Therapy Dog, which provided a nice counter to my sort-of-trained, one year-old Yahoo Dog. Lexi liked to travel by resting her head in the space between the two front passenger seats; Clover took every opportunity to climb over Lexi to claim the BETTER space up in our faces.

Our first stop for sand…

…and SNACKS was in touristy Grand Bend. It was Labor/Labour Day on both sides of the bridge and families were out to enjoy the holiday. We didn’t stay long as there were other beaches on our hit-list…

Bayfield was one of my favorite stops. There is a park perched above the beach, with a gorgeous stretch of Lake Huron at the bottom of a steep set of wooden stairs…

Bayfield is also where Clover learned to swim! Being part-Labrador helped — there was zero hesitation and I was a little worried I was going to have to paddle out after her…

My second-favorite stop among all of our dog-friendly beaches was Southampton

We encountered clean water and spotless beaches and parks everywhere we went, but some of the lake scenery was just awe-inspiring…

Also, puzzling. I am still pondering our stop in Wiarton and the giant limestone tribute to an albino groundhog, titled “Willie Emerging”…

Our basecamp was the dog-friendly Best Western Inn on the Bay in Owen Sound. It was perfectly situated for our day-trips up to Pike Bay and Lion’s Head, and offered us a straight shot over to Meaford and Beautiful Joe.

Beautiful Joe? This is where it gets a little weird.

When I was in 4th grade I happened to pick up a book my Grandma MacLeod kept in her old, glass-fronted bookcase. The book, Beautiful Joe by Canadian Margaret Marshall Saunders helped ignite the animal rights movement in North America when it was first published back in 1893. It’s been translated into ten languages and might be the most famous book you never heard of, selling seven million copies by the late 1930s.

The true story about a dog who had been brutally mutilated and rescued made a profound impression on nine year-old me; I even created a Beautiful Joe Club at school and strong-armed one other witless and likely fearful fourth-grader to join (“We are here to love animals and we WILL help them!”).

Fast forward a million years and a random tweet from the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society crosses my Twitter feed. WAIT — there is an actual town called Meaford where Beautiful Joe lived (and is buried), and the entire place is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the book’s publication???

It was like my Beautiful Joe Club ALL GROWN UP!

Thank you internet. Meaford was definitely on our itinerary. I even brought my beloved book…

The 8.5 acre Beautiful Joe Park is dedicated to the powerful anti-cruelty message of Joe’s story, and to our mutually dependent animal-human bond…

There are monuments commemorating K9 officers and service dogs throughout the park, and a sobering tribute to the canine responders of 9/11.

It is a lovely, peaceful place to ramble with a dog companion…

But I can’t explain the chair.

And that’s part of why we love Canada! It is a clean, welcoming, quirky country of astounding beauty, right across the lake from Michigan. Take a road-trip over the bridge and ride into another world where dogs are welcome and where an entire town celebrates being kind to animals.

And where they have Coffee Crisp candy bars, eh?



Beautiful Joe Heritage Society — a truly wonderful and dedicated volunteer organization!

Handicraft House Trading Post — near Wiarton on Highway 6; great stuff (and I’m very picky about gifts and handicrafts)

What You (as a US Citizen) & Your Dog Need to Bring to Canada — Note: rules and regulations change! Be sure you check updated customs information before you go international

Ontario Travel


Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery — we passed this on the way to Meaford and didn’t have time to stop, but the tours and wine-tastings sounded interesting

Pinery Provincial Park — we were told the Pinery (located just south of Grand Bend) has a good dog-friendly beach


Best Western Inn on the Bay

Boot & Blade Restaurant — excellent breakfasts; real Maple Syrup!

We mostly ate carryout (takeaway in Canadian) because of the dogs; here are two good choices in Owen Sound:

Boston Pizza

Chef Wok

[Photography by Jean MacLeod except where indicated]