East of Kingston, Hwy-401 and the calmer, prettier Hwy-2 follow the northern shore of the St Lawrence River, whose island-studded waters were tricky going until the 1950s when the US and Canadian governments created the St Lawrence Seaway. An extraordinarily ambitious project, the Seaway extends 3790km inland from the Atlantic by means of lakes, rivers and locks to the west end of Lake Superior. Fifteen locks were installed on the St Lawrence River alone, each big enough to handle massive ocean-going freighters, while a string of dams harnessed the river’s hydroelectric potential. But it all came at a price: the Seaway necessitated the relocation of many riverside towns, a process which one local newspaper bewailed with the headline “once again another patch of Ontario is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of progress”. There were long-term environmental costs, too, with the ships transporting species previously unknown here on their hulls and in their bilge. What’s more, the Seaway has been something of a flop, its decline directly related to the move towards road and air.
Leaving Kingston, Hwy-2 begins by cutting across rolling farmland and offering fleeting views of the region’s scenic highlight, the Thousand Islands, a confetti of lightly forested granite islands poking out of the river for the 80km between Kingston and Brockville. The islands are best seen on a cruise, available at most riverside towns, including Kingston, though those from Gananoque are generally rated the best. Among the towns dotting the river, Brockville and tiny Prescott are the most enjoyable, but still most people pass on by with Ottawa, just 175km from Kingston, the most obvious target. The most scenic part of the drive is along the Thousand Islands Parkway, a 40km stretch of Hwy-2 beginning just to the east of Gananoque, where the road is shadowed by a combined cycle- and footpath.