Between Toronto and Kingston, Hwy. 401 is fast and convenient but let's be truthful -- it's boring. Once east of Oshawa there's little to see and little to stop for.
That's why, I suppose, that so many families pull off the highway at Exit 497 for a free visit to a mini theme park called the Big Apple. More than 10,000 cars stopped there over on Thanksgiving weekend.
This is a 12-hectare site dedicated to apples and pies. They make apple pies here by the thousands.
They also serve fast lunches -- with pie for dessert -- in a big cafeteria, have huge sparkling clean washrooms, a petting zoo with llamas, goats, ducks, geese and rabbits; a miniature golf course and, in summer, train rides and a battery-powered race car track.
There's also the Big Apple, more than 10 metres high, where you can climb up inside past apple-fact displays, for a view of Lake Ontario and surrounding countryside.
But the central theme and attraction of the whole place is apple pie. Many people come just to stand at a glass-walled pie factory and watch tons of apples being peeled, cored and sliced by clever machines, mixed in a huge gadget like a cement mixer and baked in monster ovens. At about $8-$10 each, they buy 18 kinds of thick juicy pies to take home, all fresh, none frozen: Apple crumble, apple berry,caramel apple, apple rum and raisin and many more.
A big constantly-updated scoreboard shows how many pies and what kinds have been baked so far this year. When I was there,the total stood at 941,000.
A special new building was being planned just to house a giant new apple peeler that has been ordered from Italy.
Presiding over the Big Apple is a friendly Colborne-area native named Ted Sayers. He told me how it all started. In the 1980s, an Australian, George Boycott, came here, married a local girl, bought an orchard, opened a restaurant and built a huge roadside apple stand modeled after the Big Pineapple in Queensland, Australia. He went into partnership with the Sayers family and finally retired.
The place has been expanding since the 1990s and now buys apples from all over Southern Ontario and some from New York and Michigan.
It's open every day, all year, until Nov. 1 from 7 a.m. to, 9 p.m. and after Nov. 1 from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are the best days to see the pie factory in full operation.
You're likely to notice lots of rabbits running free around the grounds. A local myth has it that somebody started the colony by dropping off unwanted pet rabbits but Ted Sayers discounts this.
He thinks local rabbits just multiplied naturally.
For more information about the Big Apple, call 905-355-2574.