Martello tower in Kingston

Kingston is a Tasty Destination with a Dash of History

Many years ago, I was driving from Ottawa to Toronto with my nine-year-old son when he asked about Fort Henry, the historic 19th-century British military fortress on the shore of the Cataraqui and St. Lawrence River in Kingston, Ontario. I fondly recall our impromptu stop and the wonderful time we spent exploring the fort.

Aside from an overnight spent on a boat moored in Kingston Harbour, I have never explored this gem of a town that Queen Victoria had once decided should be the capital of the Dominion of Canada before flip-flopping and bestowing Bytown (Ottawa) with the honour.

Kingston has the architectural grandeur of a town that was gunning to be the seat of government; its limestone buildings stand as grand old dames of a time gone by, including the tri-dome of the Kingston courthouse, St. George’s Cathedral, and City Hall, which are not only aligned but are of the same proportion and height. Domed buildings are rare in Canada; Montreal’s Bonsecour Market aside, it is a treat to see so many examples of these unique structures in one town. Today, these elegant domes remain visible because of a city ordinance that restricts building heights.

The Town Hall that sits majestically on Ontario Street is often mistaken for the temporary site of the Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada (1941-9144). However, we learned from our Kingston Trolley Tour guide that the then government of Upper and Lower Canada leased space from the hospital to host parliament. Less than grand digs for our federal politicians!

A trolley tour is a great way to begin a stay in historic Kingston. You’ll get a feel for the footprint of the city while learning about local history and pick up some recommendations on restaurants and attractions along the way. The tour takes you through the grounds of the Royal Military College, across town to the Gord Downie Memorial Pier, the Kingston Penitentiary and past the university before winding its way back downtown. During the summer months, enjoy hop-on, hop-off privileges, but in the off-season, sit back and enjoy the full tour.

Kingston is home to one of the world’s most revered universities. Queen’s is currently ranked number 251, which is impressive when you consider that there are 3,000-plus universities in the U.S. alone. Canada’s Royal Military College (RMC) is in Kingston. Unlike its sister institution in Saint-Jean, Quebec, RMC accepts high school graduates who graduate as fully commissioned officers in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The university students and faculty in Kingston lend a buzz and energy to the city that keeps it vibrant. Princess Street is home to many nice boutiques, independent coffee shops, and a great selection of trendy and chic restaurants and bars. The staff at the Visit Kingston’s information centre, located in the refurbished train station on Ontario Street, said that Kingston is the food capital of Canada . . . Wait, did I hear her right?

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Header photo: Tim-Forbes, Tourism Kingston