Looking for some fresh fun for the family? The maze craze has taken hold in Ontario and it may be just the lure you need to launch a fabulous fall day in the country.
Come harvest time in Ontario all types of a-MAZE-ing adventures await. For many of us, just stepping out of the car at a farm causes childhood memories to return. There was always so much to see and do – hay bales to climb, fruit to pick, cows to lure to the fence with a fistful of grass and cornfields that seemed to beg us to come play. They were off-limits and we knew it, but we’d give it a try anyway. “Stay out of the corn!” we’d hear bellowed from beyond putting a hasty end to our antics.
You won’t hear that at Smiths’ Apples and Farm Market in Port Elgin on Lake Huron. Steve Smith and his wife Micki are master “agri-tainers.” That’s the term you see used to describe farm-based entertainers who, like the Smiths dangle a fun “carrot” to get more people to their farm markets. Since launching their corn maze three years ago, their crop of fresh crisp apples have sold out each year. That’s the power of agri-tainment, especially a really good maze. The Smiths’ is among the best.
What makes Smiths’ maze special is their painstaking planning of the theme and design. “Hours and hours go into its design,” admits Smith. Then it becomes a labour intensive “crop” with 4-5 kilometres of trails that have to be plotted and hand-hoed into paths. Smith explains all this from among the towering corn stalks surrounding The Keep. That’s the room that serves as the kitchen in a Medieval Castle, which was last year’s maze theme.
The Medieval Mystery Maze Challenge instructs people to find the six rooms from the high to late Middle Ages contained within the maze. A plaque in each room explains how the room would be used during medieval times and provides clues to the Challenge Puzzle. Guests complete the puzzle and return it to ‘Apple Headquarters’ for a ‘reward’.
“We’re careful to gauge the frustration factor” explains Smith. “We want it to be fun, not frustrating,” adds the former school teacher who took early retirement to become a farmer. The rooms provide a sense of achievement and the puzzles add an extra layer of fun.
Even those too young for the big maze will find entertainment in the straw bale play room. In fact there is lots to see in addition to the corn maze -- giant “Kong” sunflowers, 400 pound pumpkins, and if you time it right - live music and wagon rides with Clydesdale horses.
Not sure if you’re crazy for mazes? Give it a try. People of all ages emerge triumphant and smiling from the Smiths’ corn maze. Having completed the Challenge and conquered the corn rows, they are usually eager for the fresh crisp apples, freshly baked pies and turnovers, cider and produce from neighbouring farms. After a day spent in the autumn sun and country air, what better reward could there be than farm fresh food and a well-earned appetite?
Mazes, made of corn, evergreens, even sunflowers, are found throughout Southern Ontario. Most operate until the end of October. Admission ranges from a low of $6 to a high of $24.99 for special events. Some offer special night events such as “Shriek Week” or “Spook Nights,” where the brave venture into the maze armed only with a flashlight. However, be aware that some farms do not include the maze in their night time events. Most established maze farmers have websites, so it’s a good idea to check them out on-line first to learn more about the offerings of individual farms.
Other Popular Ontario Farm Mazes
To locate others visit: ontariofarmfresh.com/mazecraze
Richardson's Farm & Market
131 River Rd., RR #4, Dunnville ON N1A 2W3
Richardson’s Farm has a large (12 acre) corn maze where you can check out your navigational skills, a rope maze and a mini-maze for the young ones. They wrap up the season on November 1st with the Great Pumpkin Smash. richardsonsfarm.com
5089 Wellington Rd 32 Guelph, ON
Strom’s Farm always team up with a local charity. This year’s harvest fun partner is the Salvation Army. There’s lots of variety at Strom’s: corn, straw, tile and rope mazes, duck races and pumpkin chuckin’. strom.ca
7893 Bleeks Rd., Munster ON K0A 3P0
Saunders Farm has North America’s largest collection of hedge mazes. Their 11 mazes range from the 3’ high spiral labyrinth, through to the Canadian Experience Maze, which covers more than 23,000 square feet and features more than 100 large boulders, hundreds of trees, natural indigenous plants, bridges and water. The Canadian Experience Maze was designed by Adrian Fisher, the world’s leading maze designer and the creator of the world’s first corn maze in 1990. saundersfarm.com
Leaping Deere Legends
544212 Clarke Rd., Ingersoll ON N5C 3J8
At Leaping Deere Legends Corn Maze the challenge is to find what is hidden throughout the maze. The brave venture in by flashlight on special “Spook Nights.” Leaping Deere’s maze covers 12 acres and has 5 kilometers of paths. leapingdeerelegends.com
About the Writer: Linda Carolan is a Burlington-based marketing communications professional with a special interest in helping organizations that rely on strong story telling such as hospitals and charities. On weekends she and her partner Bob enjoy exploring the Grey Bruce area from their property on Lake Huron.