Road Trip: Exploring Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario, is in a position as good for tourism as it was for military strategy.
Located midway between Toronto and Montreal and on a direct route to Ottawa, it beckons to passing travelers. But the city is more than an “on-the-way” spot.
“Kingston is a great destination for travelers looking for a city rich in history, culture and cuisine,” says Rob Carnegie, director of Tourism Kingston. “Our waterfront location at the cross waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River offers opportunities to explore the 1,000 Islands or partake in number of activities from sailing to wind boarding.”
The city also offers a busy downtown with shops, restaurants and festivals adding to a steady menu of music in clubs and concert halls.
Founded by the French in 1673, Kingston had a large defensive role in the War of 1812 and was united Canada's first capital. The reasons for all those roles are immediately obvious.
Enter, stage right
The Grand Theatre and the K-Rock Centre keep a good deal of activity from cruising up the St. Lawrence River to bigger cities.
The K-Rock Centre is the home of the Kingston Frontenacs hockey team. The 5,700-seat arena also is the site for rock shows such as Theory of a Deadman (Nov. 22), a visit by dog-whisperer Cesar Millan (Nov. 28) and Martina McBride's Christmas show (Dec. 6).
It bears the cool address of 1 Tragically Hip Way (613-650-500, www.k-rockcentre.com), which also is known as 1 Barrack St.
The Grand Theatre is the city's premier performing arts facility and the home of the Kingston Symphony. Scheduled performances include “Gypsy” (Nov. 14-17), singer Michelle Wright (Nov. 21) and Cirque Chinois (Nov. 23).
The Grand Theatre is at 218 Princess St.
Details: 613-530-2050 or www.kingstongrand.ca
Bunch of islands
Nestled against Lake Ontario near the St. Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal, Kingston's many outside activities include the 1,000 Islands off-shore, easily the best-known site of the area.
Mind you, it gets cold up there, so commercial cruises of the islands have stopped for the year. Kingston 1,000 Island Cruises (www.1000islandscruises.ca or 613-549-5544) wrapped up trips Oct. 21, but come May will offer trips such as sunset cruises and dinner-theater excursions.
But you still can explore the Rideau Canal, which runs up to the national capitol of Ottawa and is a UNESCO World Heritage site as a 19th-century canal that still is in operation. The locks close in the winter, but the canal is a popular site for distance ice-skating.
Details: www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/on/rideau/plan/plan3.aspx or 888-773-8888.
On guard for history
Fort Henry, in many ways, is symbolic of the past of the area.
Its history dates back to 1673, when French settlers established Fort Cararaqui, later to be called Fort Frontenac. It was destroyed by British soldiers in the Seven Years' War, known to some as the French and Indian War.
When British settlers established King's Town, later Kingston, Fort Henry was built to protect the naval dockyard at Point Frederick, the entrance of the Rideau Canal and the town itself.
Fort Henry at 1 Fort Henry Drive continues its role as a museum and historic site with re-enactors performing military demonstrations. It also hosts seasonal events.
A new discovery center allows visitors to find out about the fort.
Details: 800-437-2233 of www.forthenry.com.
Checking in to check it out
Serving business, political and tourist traffic, Kingston offers plenty of places to stay.
The Radisson Hotel Kingston Harbourfront, 1 Johnson St., (613-549-8100 or www.radisson.com) is one of many well-known hotel establishments.
Meanwhile, Historic Inns of Kingston (209 Ontario St. (613-549-5534 or www.historicinnskingston.com) gives a glimpse of the past.
Tourists looking for a place to dock the mobile home can pull in to 1,000 Islands Kingston KOA, 2039 Cordukes Road (613-546-6140 or www.kingstonkoa.com). It provides all the facilities needed — including a dog park.
Bagging some holiday goods
Some tourists rile at the thought, but shopping can be a key part of a visit to another city.
Cooke's Old World Shop Ltd., 57-61 Brock St., founded in 1865, offers luxurious foods and fresh coffee from far away places.
Details: 613-548-7721 or www.cookesfinefoods.com.
Besides luggage, Bagot Leather, 34 Princess St., specializes in leather goods, handbags and business cases. Details: 613-544-4612 or www.luggageplus.com.
The Fireworks Glass Blowing Studio, 56 Queen St., is a new and colorful part of downtown Kingston. It features the work of glass artist Susan Belyea in functional and decorative hand-blown glass.
Details: 613-547-9149 or www.whatsonkingston.com/shopping/fireworks/index.
On the menu
Cities that attract visitors need good restaurants to stay viable: While Kingston is not a huge city, its restaurants are admirable for their philosophy and their menus.
Olivea, 39 Brock St., is a trattoria as well known for its use of local produce and meats as it is for its fine Italian food. Details: 613-547-5483 or www.olivea.ca.
In a similar fashion, Harper's Burger Bar, 93 Princess St., serves 100 percent sustainable local beef for its burgers. But it also is known for its array of spiked shakes, beer floats, liquors and craft beers. Details: 613-507-3663 or www.harpersburgerbar.com.
Considering Kingston's location, a waterfront dinner might seem appropriate. A stop at Aqua Terra, 1 Johnson St., could be in order. Not only is the restaurant known for its steaks and seafood, but it has been acclaimed for its wine list as well. Details: 613-549-6243 or www.aquaterrabyclark.com.
Learning from the displays
Venues such as Fort Henry and the wonder of the 1,000 Islands allow visitors to experience Kingston, but museums offer a look at features that might be difficult to grasp at one setting.
The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 1 University Ave., serves as an educational institution and also presents original pieces of current art as a way of understanding culture. Details: 613-533-2190 or www.aeac.ca.
The Pump House Steam Museum, 23 Ontario St., explores Kingston's role as a water-pumping station, looking at the original steam engines that powered Kingston's first water pumping station. It also looks at the development of rail travel and has an “All Aboard” model railway display. Details: 613-546-4291 ext. 1666 or www.steammuseum.ca.
The MacLachlan Woodworking Museum, 2993 Highway 2E, examines crafting wood and the forestry that provides it. The museum sits on 100 acres of pastoral land and includes an on-site sandy beach, arboretum, and picnic/barbecue areas,
Details: 613-542-0543 or www.woodworkingmuseum.ca.