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.