Kingston, Ontario just two and a half hours east of Toronto, was once Canada’s capital. This pretty limestone city sitting at the conflux of Lake Ontario, The Rideau Canal and The Saint Lawrence River offers visitors award-winning museums, excellent dining and dubious characters both now and in the past.
Right next door to Kingston’s most infamous residents, Paul Bernardo and Colonel Russell Williams, sits the Kingston Penitentiary Museum. The disturbing displays sit in the former warden’s house, presided over by the current prison matron who leads a short but excellent guided tour.
Discounting the dark interior, a cheerier site sits nearby in the form of Bellevue House, just one of Sir John A. Mac Donald’s former residences. The Italianate Villa, one of only two in the city, sits in an orchard with excellent lake views. The 10-minute film on the life of our first Prime Minister is a highlight of the visit but fails to mention his fondness for drinking too much gin and passing out in the houses of unsuspecting citizens who had forgotten to lock their front doors.
Stranger tales can be heard on the haunted walking tour that takes visitors through old courtyards – currently home to trendy restaurants and hidden graveyards that sit in the middle of city.
Across the water, visit Fort Henry – built for the American invasion that never happened. Of all the excellent tours available here the “spirits” one or ” A brief military history of the town through alcohol” is the most interesting.
Check out the local music scene. Notable graduates of the Kingston club circuit include The Tragically Hip, perennial fan favorites who formed while students at Queens University. If you’re a blues fan, make space on your calendar for Kingston’s annual Limestone City Blues Festival, a four-day and night summer blues party, now in its 17th year.
Visit Market Square – every Saturday it’s a bustling farmers market, while on Sundays its chock a block full of antiques and collectibles.
Getting out of town via the Rideau Heritage Route on Highway 15 allows for an afternoon stopover at the Jones Falls Lock station on the Rideau Canal. Here visitors can learn all about these water management systems that accommodate boats making the 202-kilometre Kingston – Ottawa run. Paddlers can camp here and have the choice of using the locks or portaging their vessels.
Excellent swimming and hiking spots compete with a working blacksmith shop and the former home of a lockmaster’s violent family for visitor attention. Those who forgot their picnic lunches can dine at the historic Hotel Kenney on site.
Previously published on Matador Network