Birthplace of the rock singer Bryan Adams but prouder of its handsome limestone buildings, the city of KINGSTON, a fast 260km east of Toronto along Hwy-401, is the largest and most enticing of the communities along the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The town occupies an attractive and strategically important position where the lake narrows into the St Lawrence River, its potential first recognized by the French who built a fortified fur-trading post, Fort Frontenac, here in 1673. It was not a success, but struggled on until 1758 when it fell to a combined force of British, Americans and Iroquois, a victory soon followed by an influx of United Empire Loyalists, who promptly developed Kingston – as they renamed it – into a major shipbuilding centre and naval base. The money rolled in and the future looked rosy when the completion of the Rideau Canal, linking Kingston with Ottawa in 1832, opened up its hinterland. Kingston became Canada’s capital in 1841 and although it lost this distinction just three years later it remained the region’s most important town until the end of the nineteenth century. In recent years, Kingston – and its 160,000 inhabitants – has had as many economic downs as ups, but it does benefit from the presence of Queen’s University, one of Canada’s most prestigious academic institutions, and of the Royal Military College, the country’s answer to Sandhurst and West Point.
Central Kingston’s medley of old houses and offices displays every architectural foible admired by the Victorians, from neo-Gothic mansions with high gables to elegant Italianate villas, but the cream of the architectural crop are the city’s Neoclassical limestone buildings, especially City Hall and the Cathedral of St George. Kingston also holds the first-rate Agnes Etherington Art Centre gallery and Bellevue House, once the home of prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Add to this several superb B&Bs, a cluster of good restaurants and scenic boat trips round the Thousand Islands just offshore, and you have a city that is well worth a couple of days.
Kingston’s elongated centre slopes up from Lake Ontario. Most of the key sights and the pick of the city’s bars and restaurants nudge together along the first few blocks of the main commercial drag, Princess Street.Read More
A watery detour: the Rideau canal
A watery detour: the Rideau canal
If you’re travelling from Kingston to Ottawa, the obvious route is east along Hwy-401 and then north up Hwy-416, a journey of 175km. With more time, however, it’s worth considering a slower route along two country roads – Hwy-15 and then Hwy-7. En route, you’ll pass a battery of signs to the 24 lock stations of the 202km-long Rideau Canal (t 613 283 5170, w pc.gc.ca), which cuts through the slab of coniferous and deciduous forest, bogs, limestone plains and granite ridges that separate Ottawa and Kingston. Completed in 1832 after a mere six years’ work, the canal was built to provide safe inland transport at a time of poor Anglo-American relations, but after the political situation improved it developed as an important route for regional commerce. The canal’s construction led to the development of Bytown, renamed Ottawa in 1855, but in the second half of the nineteenth century the railways made the canal obsolete and today it’s plied by holiday boats. For the motorist, one of the more impressive lock stations is Kingston Mills (Locks 46–49), 12km inland from Kingston on Hwy-15, where a steep flight of locks negotiates a wooded ravine overlooked by a blockhouse and lock offices. It’s a lovely spot and there’s more of the same, albeit in a wilder setting, at Jones Falls (Locks 39–42), 3km off Hwy-15 and about 40km from Kingston. Here, a huddle of old timber buildings is a prelude to a rickety footbridge that leads over a lake to a steep flight of locks guarded by several old stone buildings. By boat it takes five days to get from Kingston to Ottawa on the Rideau Canal with Ontario Waterways (t 705 327 5767, t 1 800 561 5767, w ontariowaterwaycruises.com); there are between three and six cruises monthly from mid-May to mid-October, the cost is $1800, and reservations are essential.