Love Home Swap: Home Exchanges with Style

October 26, 2011 11:31 am

Half of all Canadians are tightening their belts and planning to stay home this Christmas season, according to a recently commissioned Home Swapping Survey by global market research company Research Now.

“In tough economic times, travel becomes a ‘nice to have’ and is often one of the first things people cut from their budget,” said Debbie Wosskow, founder of Love Home Swap (

Wosskow loves to travel. Yet one day about a year ago she realized: “It’s not viable to vacation with kids. I’d really like to take my house and put it somewhere else if I want to travel.” So she came up with the idea for Love Home Swap and it’s grown internationally ever since.

Debbie Wosskow

Love Home Swap offers an all-new version of an age-old tradition – enjoying free vacations through stylish home exchanges around the world.

According to Wosskow, Love Home Swap offers an initial four-week trial for only $1, after which full membership costs $159 a year for an unlimited number of home swaps. Access to the service’s Luxe membership level costs $299 a year and includes a dedicated Travel Team, personal Concierge support, and “Hedonist city guides”.

Wosskow’s publicist Jennifer Stewart told Ottawa Life: “We’re on a nationwide tour, asking Canadians to join Love Home Swap because there is a huge demand for people to swap with Canadian locations, but there are only 60 properties right now on the website from Canada.

“So we’re here to talk to Canadians about this trend in social travel.  It’s not the typical ‘book your accommodations through a travel agent’ or ‘go online with your hotel’, but ‘reach out to other people, build relationships and travel’.

“You can save on average $2,000 in accommodation per swap, so it opens up a whole breadth of possibilities for the traveling world, especially in these difficult economic times.”

While only 50% of Canadians had heard of home exchanges, 49% said they would be interested in participating in one in the next year because of the cost savings, according to the survey.

Mediterranean styled house with courtyards in Atlanta, GA, photo via

“Love Home Swap is part of a revolution in social travel. Why book an expensive hotel or villa when you can stay in lovely homes for free and swap as many times as you like, wherever you like?,” Wosskow asked.

Home swapping was brought to the big screen a few years back in the popular film The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz –

Above and beyond accommodation savings, amenities that can skyrocket a vacation’s cost are often included in the swap, including cars, kids’ toys, sporting equipment, and internet access.

For more information, quotes, case studies, or images, contact:

Jennifer Stewart


Debbie Wosskow, CEO, Love Home Swap


Angry Birds in Montreal

October 24, 2011 2:29 pm

It is clear that getting your hands on Montreal Canadiens tickets can be a difficult task and an expensive one. However, there is another sports team worth checking out just outside Ottawa, the Montreal Alouettes, winners of the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups.

The journey across the 417 from Ottawa to Montreal to experience a football game makes for a great weekend getaway or day trip. Sitting on the steel bench, if you fail to bring a cushion, in the recently renovated Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, home to the McGill Redmen and the Montreal Alouettes, provides a thrilling experience. It also gives you the chance to see a CFL living legend in Anthony Cavillo, the all-time leading passer. The stadium, perched on Mount Royal, arguably the most majestic park in Montreal can now accommodate 25,012 spectators. Since 1998 the sports ground welcomes both teams allowing McGill University, the owners of the stadium, to avoid being in the red.

View of Montreal's skyline

The Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, named in memory of Captain Percival Molson, a McGill student and athlete who died during the First World War, has to be one of the nicest stadiums in Canada. Once inside the bowl, built in 1915 and designed by Percy Erskine Nobbs, your eyes set on a wonderful scenic view of Montreal’s skyline.  However, don’t go straight to your seat as there are plenty of gatherings before kick off. You can join in the tailgating near the coliseum enjoying the park, some grilled meats and perhaps a few drinks. You might want to get a few beers in before game-time since they go for a steep $9.25 inside. You can also sway your way to the nearby Tam-Tam festivities. There tourists and Montrealers alike, gather every Sunday from spring to fall near the George-Étienne Cartier Monument to partake in hippie-like activities. Why not bring your sword and shield to join-in the elaborate medieval battle which takes place on Park Mont-Royal.

Tailgating before the game

During the game, the atmosphere is exceptional as player’s chirp one another and fans screech incessantly supporting their angry birds. Unlike hockey, you are not as close to the action as there is a large perimeter separating the field and the stands. Within the space, cheerleaders and mascots frolic during play stoppages. Speaking of entertainment, at half-time, the Boston Screaming Eagles Marching Band orchestrated a mesmerizing show parading inside the sports arena. It is impressive to see those young musicians and dancers manoeuvring in unity around the field forming shapes seamlessly while playing captivating music. The tenor drums will surely captivate your tympanum.

After the hyperactivity inside the amphitheatre, you can keep up the rhythm waltzing on the nearby Mont-Royal Avenue. This commercial pathway offers restaurants, bars, boutiques and coffeehouses. The strip also connects with St-Laurent Blvd. and St-Denis St, two of Montreal’s most animated arteries. If you’re hungry you could check out the famous Au Pied de Cochon restaurant, fitting after a pigskin game.


Bank on One King West

October 7, 2011 2:31 pm

Next time you are heading to the Big Smoke and need a place to hang your hat, be sure to check out the digs at the übercool, perfectly located One King West Hotel & Residence. At King and Bay, you just can’t get more downtown Toronto than here and the subway is literally outside your door. While One King West is slick, hip, has everything you could possibly need (for business or pleasure) and is ultra modern, the building itself is steeped in history.  And that makes it particularly special and intriguing for history buffs.

One King West’s story began back in the mid 1800s. It was first home to a grocer and wine merchant.  Then, in 1879, the location changed owners to become home to the head office of The Dominion Bank (now TD Canada Trust). That lasted an incredible 126 years.

However, the bank’s incredible growth at the turn of the last century resulted in the need for more space.  This led to the construction of one of Toronto’s first skyscrapers. Beaux-Arts in style with Renaissance Revival detailing, the building was a major work of Darling and Pearson, Architects (You have seen their handiwork a bit closer to home. In fact, look no further than Parliament Hill. They are the architects who designed Centre Block.)

A bank remained on site until 1999. Then it was redesigned and a second tower, adjacent to the old building was built. By 2006, the transformation was finally complete, resulting in One King West Hotel & Residence. (If you want to learn more about the history of the place, the hotel has panels on the walls with interesting details.) Throughout all of the changes, (including this spring’s $2 million revitalization to common areas and meeting rooms) the building has retained all of its majestic beauty. In fact, it was designated a Heritage Building years ago.

One incredible feature of the hotel is the bank vault. At the time of its construction, it was considered the largest and best equipped bank vault in Canada. It is approximately 33 feet square by 25 feet high and is divided into two floors. It is so impressive that it has been used in numerous movie scenes, including the movie Jumper, Max Payne, Red (with Bruce Willis). No surprise, the hotel is a popular location for Hollywood shoots and other movies. And the stars love to actually stay here too. It is particularly busy during the Toronto International Film Festival and the hotel is the official host hotel for the Battle of the Blades.

Superior Suites at One King West

Today, guests of the hotel are treated to the historical splendour of the Dominion Bank Building along with the modern sophistication of luxurious hotel amenities and services. The rooms are all modern with unbelievably comfortable beds. All rooms even come equipped with a washing machine and dryer.

The hotel caters to business clients and professional clientele, offering outstanding business services and the most amazing boardrooms in which to hold meetings. Then there is the Grand Banking Hall, with high ceilings, beautiful detailing. It even has
Canada’s longest bar (at 100 ft), modeled after the original tellers’ counter).

It’s worth staying at One King West  for the fitness area and rooftop terrace alone. The gym is amazing. Located on the 17th floor, it offers an incredible view of Lake Ontario. After your workout, you can fill up on the hotel’s breakfast buffet served in the lobby area (or enjoy something a little stronger in the bar.) The restaurants and bars run off the lobby, which acts as the main hub area. It is great for people watching too. The menus are innovative and cater to various diets including celiac, vegan, and vegetarian and also offer local food options. There is something for every palette, including that hard to please health fanatic. (They even have quinoa on the menu.)

The staff are all friendly and aim to please to make sure your visit exceeds every expectation. Check out the hotel web site for further details at While you will get a sense of the majesty of the place, the hotel itself blows the photos away. Whether you’re in TO for business or pleasure, One King West Hotel & Residence won’t let you down.

One King West Hotel & Residence

1 King Street West, Toronto, ON M5H 1A1

1-866-470 KING (5464)

The Greatest Sailing Adventure Ever!

9:23 am

One of the greatest sailing adventures in the world is the Haida Gwaii- Queen Charlotte Islands journey by Maple Leaf Adventures. It is a dream excursion which I took with my 14 year-old daughter. Together we explored the wildlife, nature, history and Aboriginal heritage of Canada’s northwest Pacific coast. Rich wildlife and evolutionary changes have led scientists to dub these islands “the Canadian Galapagos”.

This sailing cruise explores every-thing from the abundant and rich intertidal species and abundant sea life ranging from huge Orca and other whales to sea lions and eagles that make this domain their home. The trip redefined my impression of Canada, of the power of nature and most importantly of the rich heritage and culture of Canada’s Haida Gwaii people. Over the nine days, we experienced first-hand the lush intercoastal life in the Queen Charlotte Islands. We learnt about the Haida culture, a civilization so impressive and a people so noble that it stirs the soul to learn of their demise in the 19th and 20th century as a consequence of European expansion and  of their gradual  cultural recovery  now.

Maple Leaf Adventures has been offering natural and cultural history cruises aboard their century old 92-foot schooner and classic tall ship, the Maple Leaf, since 1986. The ship is made of coastal Douglas fir and cedar with mahogany brightwork. It has 5 huge sails. The company has a reputation as one of Canada’s finest tour operators and is ranked one of “The Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by the editors of National Geographic Adventure, with a perfect score of 100 for customer satisfaction and one of the highest rankings of all 192 companies listed from across the globe. I can attest to the fact that they meet and exceed this standard.

Our excursion began with a ninety minute flight with Pacific Coastal ( from Vancouver to Masset B.C. We met the other passengers and our crew of superior sailors and delightful people. The Captain was the thirty-something James Warburton a lifelong resident of the Queen Charlotte Islands. A wine connoisseur, fisherman, naturalist and environmentalist, he gave everyone a sense of comfort and at no point did we ever feel unsafe or unsure of anything while onboard. First Mate Tavish Campbell is a twenty-two year-old sea faring dynamo who has more outdoor adventure experience in his young life than most people I know. One of my greatest memories of the trip is watching Tavish clean 4 large fish he and James caught. It was like watching a maestro perform a concerto…and the fish were great later for dinner!

Photo by Caroline Penn

Our trip Chef was Lila Ruzicka, a who prepared spectacular meals featuring local food traditions and fresh produce along with the best seafood the Pacific West coast has to offer. The food presentation was a dinner highlight. She did this from the kitchen galley that may have been 6 feet in length. The ship Deckhand, Terese Ayre, was also a talented naturalist, environmentalist and host who always made sure we were comfortable, had lots of hot tea and snacks, had our lifejackets and raingear for excursions and pretty well anything else we required.

Our first day was spent on Graham Island and at the Haida Heritage centre at Skidegate. We had a land tour of the rainforest in Naikoon Provincial Park with stops at Tow Hill, Agate Beach and North Beach. The locals have built an impressive wooden pathway for the hike up Tow Hill and once at the top, the vista view of the Queen Charlotte beaches and terrain is breathtaking. The famous cedar trees that I have always read about and have seen in photos were everywhere. It is hard to believe that right up until the early 1990s Canadian lumber companies were going crazy clear-cutting the forests in the region. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney finally put a stop to all this by putting the area under federal protection in partnership with the Haida people.

Photo: Caroline Penn

The art of the Haida totem poles is fascinating. Our guide told us about the history of Bill Reid’s Dogfish pole in Skidegate. Reid is probably the most famous Haida Artist and his totem poles are legendary. One of his great works was for the Canadian Embassy in Washington. A stop in the Kaay Llnagaay Haida Heritage Centre was fascinating. It sells many representations of his and other Haida artists’ work and we were fortunate to meet two totem pole artists working on a new pole which had been commissioned for the federal government. Both artists were Bill Reid apprentices.

Our first night was spent at the Alaska Lodge in the Queen Charlotte Islands. It sits on wonderful beach and is teeming with local wildlife such as eagles, ravens and as we are told, bears.

The next morning, we headed to the Bay to board the Maple Leaf. The boat’s interior accommodations are very comfortable and merge modern conveniences and good space design sense with a decor that nods to her Edwardian past. The spacious main cabin is open and airy by day and the kitchen is compact, including the dining area. Shelving on the wall around the table holds the ship’s library and is a pleasant place to sit and read, chat or enjoy a cup of tea.

Our sleeping was below deck and featured large comfortable bunk beds, six-and-a-half feet long, with fluffy duvets, pillows, throws and brass reading lamps. There are walls on two-and-a-half sides and thick, heavy curtains on the remaining sides. There were five other people in similar accommodations feet away from us. There are three small washrooms on the ship which also can be used as showers. This is precision accommodation that was extremely comfortable especially for sleeping as you could lie in your bunk and feel the gentle floating sensation of the ship. I loved it and found it very relaxing as did my daughter!

The Maple Leaf has lots of deck space on which people may choose to sit and watch the coastal scenery, chat with others, steer the ship, or have quiet time alone.

Photo by Caroline Penn

The first evening was casual, each person getting a general comfort level onboard. The ship galley was prepared for our first meal and as he would do each night on the trip, James pulled out a couple of great bottles of BC wine and we toasted our day, our trip, each other and any other positive thing we could think of before delving into one of Lila’s spectacular meals. The 13 of us are squeezed in tight around the galley table and we share stories of our day and of our lives. James shows us the map of where we sailed and where we are headed the next day.

Our  days are spent sailing and going ashore in the inflatable zodiac boats to experience the magic of different habitats and the special life that inhabits each area. The Maple Leaf has two 15-foot Polaris rigid-hull inflatable boats for shore excursions and wildlife viewing. These  zodiacs, take us to some of the most remote beaches for hikes, seabird watching and marine mammal viewing. The Maple Leaf has access to some of the best places along the Queen Charlotte Islands that are rarely seen as most other tour operators are forbidden to go there. A highlight of the trip is zooming over the water in a zodiac to be near a whale pod or to get close to some Northern Seal lions whose average length is about 3 metres and weigh between 450-1,000 kilograms, making them the largest of all eared seals. These seals live on rookeries which are exposed, remote islands where calving and breeding take place. The males are very defensive of these breeding territories so we were careful to not get too close!

Photo by Caroline Penn

A key point of the trip is to stop and learn more  about the Haida culture. We sail to the remote Haida sites of T’aanuu Llnagaay and K’uuna LLnagaay and explore the natural and cultural heritage of Gwaii Haanas. These areas are protected by The Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program.  In the past, Haida Watchmen were posted at strategic positions around a village to raise the alarm in advance of approaching enemy. Watchmen also crowned poles as carved figures protecting the village from evil spirits. Today, from spring until autumn, the Haida Gwaii Watchmen serve as guardians at these sites.

One night we pulled into the Bay that features the famous Hot springs of Haida Gwaii. The Watchmen are laughing as we all take comfort in the hot spring water-better than any spa treatment in any place I’ve been. The temperature is so hot that after ten minutes most of our group hops out and into the extremely refreshing and cold Pacific Bay next to the hot springs.

Later, heading back to the ship in our zodiac, I noticed James speeding off in a zodiac towards another ship in the Bay. He returned moments later with a basket of fresh prawns. He said it was a great trade as we’ll enjoy the prawns and they’ll enjoy the BC wine he just gave them in exchange. We did enjoy those prawns which Lila quickly fried up in garlic and butter  And by the way did I mention the breakfasts aboard the Maple Leaf each day or the end of trip brunch? Well, you should really go and experience it yourself. In all the adventure and comfort travels I have done, nothing even comes close to this trip. It was simply spectacular. I like to think that years from now my daughter will realize what a special adventure we had but I think she already knows it.

For more beautiful photography by Caroline Penn please see her website

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