Canada Celebrates 150th Anniversary
This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary. To celebrate, there will be year-round events across the country. See a list of events at www.passport2017.ca
Parks Canada is also offering free admission to national parks and heritage sites for the entire year, and will waive lockage fees on the Rideau Canal and other waterways. To get your free Parks Canada Discovery Pass, visit www.pc.gc.ca
> Chez Piggy has a charming courtyard found down a tiny alley. We sipped wine while enjoying local and house-made charcuterie underneath trees draped with tiny white lights. This popular restaurant opened in 1987 by a member of the 1960s pop group, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and is housed in a former horse stable. We later heard its thyme-marinated grilled ostrich is to die for.
> Pan Chancho — sister restaurant to Chez Piggy — is a bakery, restaurant and take-out establishment that serves up some of the best artisanal, Old World bread and delectable desserts. We breakfasted on their signature oversize platter, the El Chancho, with bacon, chorizo, eggs over easy, roasted corn salad, crispy red potatoes, piquillo peppers stuffed with herb cream cheese, grilled savory brioche and yummy bacon jam.
> Woodenheads Gourmet Pizza sports a wood-fired, beehive-shaped oven amid the diners. Pizzas are billed as “tomato, white, green or in between.” We savored one from the tomato column called Arrabbiata (super-dynamite sausage, Pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, calabrese salami and banana peppers), and a green pizza, the Bambino (pesto, lemon chicken, feta and sundried tomatoes).
> At Sipps Coffee and Dessert Bar you can enjoy your latte or a decadent hot chocolate accompanied by a “brookie” — a brownie-cookie with a surprise treat in the center — while overlooking Springer Market Square.
> Kingston Brewing Company is Ontario’s oldest brewpub. Good news for oenophiles like me: They make their own wine, too. Try KBC’s Regal Lager or homemade merlot with their Texas Sunday feast (available all week long) of brisket, pulled pork, ribs, sausages and all the trimmings.
> A lively Irish pub called Tir Nan Og (aka Montes), featuring live jazz on Friday nights, is the centerpiece of historic Prince George Hotel. Try the mini Yorkshire pudding or blarney chips.
> Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse’s smoked trout pâté is an excellent prelude to their 12-hour, house-smoked beef brisket Xocolatl with cocoa coffee barbecue sauce, or pulled chicken Tinga with tangy tomato chipotle citrus sauce.
> Local-Food-Local-Chefs features cooking demonstrations in Market Square in July and August, where the city’s best chefs share their secrets with the public Saturday mornings.
> A new addition to the gastronomic offerings is the Kingston Food Tour. Led by local experts, it showcases downtown’s best restaurants and specialty stores.
Fit for a King
Kingston — Ontario’s oldest city — holds court at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It serves as the gateway to the historic Rideau Canal and the St. Lawrence River’s picturesque Thousand Islands. Strategically located in the middle of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, Kingston is a perfect focal point for boating vacations. So when our friends needed boat sitters for their 64-foot Grand Alaskan docked in Kingston, the Queen B, my husband and I jumped at the chance.
Two municipal marinas offer seasonal and transient dockage. The Flora MacDonald Confederation Basin Marina is ideally positioned in the heart of downtown Kingston and where we boarded the Queen B. While this 300-slip marina has no pumpout or fueling facility, you can’t beat the convenient location. To the west and about a 45-minute walk from downtown you’ll find the other municipal marina, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, which features 250 slips, a spacious launch ramp, fuel, pumpout and complete washroom facilities.
West of town, Collins Bay Marina offers 300 slips adjacent to the beautiful Lemoine Conservation area. This friendly, family owned and managed marina is nestled in a peaceful, sheltered harbor. Should you have an emergency situation, the expertly trained staff respond quickly. Collins Bay also has a 65-ton crane and a precision mast crane on-site.
On Kingston’s downtown waterfront, we kicked off our weeklong visit at the tourist information center in the city’s historic railway station, which is next to a shiny, restored railroad engine, the Spirit of Sir John A. We picked up information on the more than 20 area museums, including the Bellevue House — a National Historic Site dating back to 1840 that was once home to Canada’s first prime minister and local hero, Sir John A. Macdonald. Guides dressed in period costumes provide tours of the house and gardens.
Next door to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour you’ll find Canada’s Penitentiary Museum, featuring artifacts and photographs housed in the former warden’s residence. Just up the hill, the Original Hockey Hall of Fame pays tribute to Canada’s national sport and features the Don Cherry collection; Cherry, of loud sport jacket fame, grew up in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, our favorite museum, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, closed recently, as its highly sought-after lakefront property was sold for residential development.
We highly recommend the guided tour of Kingston City Hall, which was built in 1844 while Kingston was the first capital of Canada (Ottawa was later selected as the capital, to distance it from Canada’s then-enemy, the U.S.). City Hall now serves as the administrative center for Kingston and is filled with interesting memorabilia, including the impressive sunburst chandelier, which sports 373 light bulbs.
City Hall serves as the jumping-off point for free, self-guided walking tours through town; be sure to pickup the provided printed and audio route guides. We laced up our shoes and strolled past lovingly maintained, stately historic limestone homes along King Street, just one of the 10 tours outlined in the guide. The city got its nickname “Limestone City” from the many heritage buildings constructed from local limestone, which are still standing today.
Next, we were off to the Historic Cathedral Church of St. George, which offers a self-guided tour that we completed after listening to Ali Berkok’s chamber-jazz piano performance — one of a dozen such performances hosted by the church throughout the summer.
For a spookier side of Kingston, try the Haunted Walk of Kingston, where you tour haunted hotels, the Skeleton Park, hidden burial grounds and sites of grave robbings and hangings. In the fall, a Fright Trolley visits the usual haunts, as well as an outdoor haunted Fort Fright animatronics and live actors on the grounds of Fort Henry.
If you’re feeling lucky while in the area, experience the fun and excitement at Shorelines Casino Thousand Islands in Gananoque, Ontario. Just a 20-minute drive from Kingston, they offer 550 slot machines, popular table games, distinctive food and beverage options and entertainment.
Art effect and shopping
Kingston features world-class art galleries, among them the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Union Gallery; both are located on the campus of Queen’s University, one of Canada’s oldest degree-granting institutions. The campus is also home to the Miller Museum of Geology, which has an interesting exhibit on the geological history of Kingston and the Thousand Islands area.
Modern Fuel is an artist-run gallery showcasing contemporary Canadian and international artwork, while the Window Art Gallery features local artists. The Mera Qi Art Annex features 20 local artists’ works. Visitors can watch while local artists create porcelain pieces at Black Dog Pottery and hand-blown glass at Kingston Glass Studio and Gallery. The galleries are all within walking distance of Confederation Basin Marina.
The cobblestone streets of Kingston are lined with shops and boutiques. Find hand-loomed knit and felted artwear at Carolyn M. Barnett Studio, organic products at Tara Natural Foods, homemade fresh pasta and sauces at Pasta Genova, and gourmet mustards and condiments at General Brock’s Commissary. Visit Kingston’s independent bookstore, the Novel Idea, and Verde, a general store with eco-friendly clothing, home décor and personal care items. Just steps from City Hall, Waterfront Gifts and Apparel has the best selection of Canadian memorabilia, souvenirs and apparel — from moose sweatpants to maple leaf mittens.
History lives on
One of the 22 National Historic Sites of Canada located in Kingston is Fort Henry. Its complex includes an arsenal of cannons and Snider-Enfield rifles, and it’s one of Kingston’s most popular attractions. The historic fort has round, stone Martello towers that were critical to the defense of the city and the entrance to the Rideau Canal during the War of 1812. Here you’ll find history in motion through military and domestic reenactments of infantry drills, guides in period costumes, fife and drum parades, and the fort’s mascot, David the Goat.
In late July, one of Fort Henry’s premiere events is the Annual Tattoo — and they don’t mean for the skin. The Tattoo showcases the drill and musical skills of fife, brass and pipe, and drum bands from around the world. The event culminates in an over-the-top fireworks display.
Nearby, the century-old Royal Military College of Canada rests on Kingston’s shoreline, still training officers for the Canadian Armed Forces. The college features a 13-station walking tour, where you can check out the site where Royal Navy warships were built for use in the War of 1812.
A festive air
Kingston is a pedestrian-friendly town, closing off portions of major thoroughfares to vehicular traffic periodically throughout the summer to accommodate foot traffic for special events. July through August, Confederation Park hosts free lunchtime concerts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; country music concerts on Thursday evenings; and Big Band Fridays. All of the concerts are free, so just bring your lawn chair.
Prominently located behind City Hall, we found flavor literally bursting from local vendor stalls at the historic farmers market at Springer Market Square, where it has operated since the 1780s. On Sunday, the market transforms into an antique fair. Summer also brings free Movies in the Square, where films are projected on a giant screen every Thursday evening. In the winter, the square serves as the newest cold-weather gathering place when it is transforms into a public skating rink.
Our favorite Kingston event by far is the mid-July Buskers Rendezvous, where we witnessed non-stop, amazing performances by talented buskers like Wacky Chad, the Circus Firemen and Ernest the Magnifico, who come from as far away as Australia. Working for free-will offerings from the crowds, these fire-eaters, dancers, jugglers, knife-throwers, musicians, magicians and acrobats take over downtown Kingston streets to the delight of thousands of spectators.
July also brings Artfest Kingston, the city’s largest art and craft festival with more than 140 vendors in City Park, and Taste of Kingston, a food and fun event with more than 20 restaurants participating in Confederation Park. Kingston’s Show ‘N’ Shine Motorcycle Event is held mid-July in front of City Hall with highly-polished production and custom bikes on display.
In late August, catch the Limestone City Blues Festival, celebrating 20 years in Kingston. Public performances in Confederation Park, Market Square and Princess Street Stage feature headliners, while a dozen or more clubs have their own stage performances. Shortly after we left Kingston, The Tragically Hip — perhaps Canada’s most iconic band — performed at the Rogers K-Rock Centre, drawing luminaries such as Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. All year long, Kingston’s Grand Theatre is one of the main cultural venues in the region for performing arts, including ballet (like the State Ballet Theatre of Russia), modern dance, theatre, music from rock to classical, and comedy (like Canada’s popular Red Green).
Boating really is the heart of Kingston — the city even hosted the 1976 Olympic sailing events. August through September, sailors from around the world gather at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour for CORK (short for Canadian Olympic-Training Regatta Kingston), one of the world’s largest freshwater sailing competitions. Other summer regattas include Optimists, Youth Championships, J/22 Worlds, Olympic Class Canada Senior Championship and National Sea Cadet Regatta.
Kingston’s water orientation never stops, with early August’s Thousand Islands Poker Run featuring 60 or more screaming offshores. In early September, the Dragon Boat Festival raises funds for the Boy’s and Girl’s Club to the beat of large Chinese drums.
So, no matter what you’re looking for, spend a week in Limestone City; Kingston’s royal hospitality makes for a great on-the-water vacation.