A Town Truly Fit for a King—Kingston, Ontario

While exploring Kingston, Ontario (the gateway to the 1000 Islands, yep, of salad dressing fame), we discovered that history, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder.  

Follow us as we gallivant through the coolest fort we’ve ever seen, eat at the safest restaurant in the world, unlearn what we learned in history class, and partake in a romantic, sunset dinner cruise through the 1000 Islands… CONTINUE READING

A big thanks to Ontario Travel and Visit Kingston for providing this historic adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

While exploring Kingston, Ontario (the gateway to the 1000 Islands, yep, of the salad dressing fame), we discovered that history, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder.

We also found that historic perspective can change drastically just by stepping across a border.
In general, our culture shock is minimal when visiting Canada—sure they might add an “eh?” at the end of a sentence—but we certainly don’t feel like strangers in a strange land.

While that was again true on our recent journey and, as always, the people of Canada were overwhelmingly welcoming, there was a revelation or two that reminded us we were indeed foreigners.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Kingston began as a French trading post called Cataraqui, but was taken by the British in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War—or what we Americans from south of the border call the French and Indian War.

The Brits renamed Catarqui The King’s Town or King’s Town, in honor of King George III, then over time the name was shortened and the words melded together.

During the American Revolution, the settlement became a refuge for British Loyalists fleeing north and grew into an important military stronghold as a base for the Great Lakes British naval fleet.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

By the war of 1812, the crown considered Kingston to be of prime military importance and built one of the most impressive fortresses we have ever seen, Fort Henry.

This is where we began to find that the Canadian version of events didn’t quite jibe with our memories from history class. During this war, the British (Canada was still British territory at that time) were concerned about protection of the St. Lawrence River and hastily built protection where the river met Lake Ontario.

After defeating the Americans, they replaced the cobbled-together fortifications with a formidable stone version to ward off any future attacks.

Sunset in the 1000 Islands

Wait, what? Defeated the Americans? Yup, we lost the war of 1812, but nobody told us in school.

At least that’s the Canadian take on things.

Actually, both perspectives can be correct. It can be argued that Canada won, in that they held off an attempt by the Americans to wrestle them away from the British and have them join the Union.

Or it can be said that the United States won, in that they defeated the British and remained independent.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The Most Impressive Fort We’ve Ever Seen!

Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Our neighbors to the north remained pretty paranoid for the first part of the eighteen-hundreds, at least judging by the defenses built at Fort Henry (and we certainly understand why).

Fort Henry's mascot, David. In Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Meet David, Fort Henry’s official mascot! There have been oodlesof Davids over the years, but we are assured that THIS David is

the best ambassador yet. And he keeps the grass trimmed!

A moat and two huge walls, specially designed to allow strategically placed cannons in each corner to send scatter shot shrapnel ricocheting through the open area between them, protected the troops inside.

Hundreds of additional cannons covered every inch of water from six different locations along the coast and on the surrounding islands.

Fortification tours dot the islands surrounding Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Our guide, fully decked out in authentic lieutenant’s regalia from the period, was rightfully proud of the fort’s history of never being attacked.

America was never crazy enough to try. It also helped that relations quickly improved over the latter half of the century.

David got thrown in the brig at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Canada
David got thrown in the brig—with bats!

Several-greats grandfathers of our guide had served in the British army at the base, and asking around we found that many of the employees had long family ties to the fort.

We followed our lieutenant (pronounced leff-tenant in these parts) inside for a look at what day-to-day life was like.

Surprisingly, many of the soldiers were married, and their wives and children lived with them inside the fort.

Fort life had all the hallmarks of a full community.

Soldier life at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The vintage men's latrine at Fort Henry had no seats - so the soldiers didn't lallygag in there (reading the paper? playing games on their phones?) Bet it worked!
The vintage men’s latrine at Fort Henry had no seats – so thesoldiers
didn’t lallygag in there (reading the paper?

Playing games on their phones?) Bet it worked!

The accommodations were Spartan to say the least, unless of course one had the good fortune of being an officer.

And we do mean good fortune, as our lieutenant explained. The one and only way to become an officer was to buy your rank. No merit system involved.

The outpost was completely self-contained—it had to be, should a siege take place—so all of the necessities of fort life were handled in-house in a number of kitchens, bakeries, and workshops, all segregated by rank, of course.

For a farewell salute a fully bedecked artillery team rolled a ten-pounder into the parade ground in the center of the fort.

Firing of the cannons at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

They loaded the cannon up, but only with one of the ten pounds of black powder she was designed to hold, and let her rip, not once, but twice!

Firing of the cannons at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Looking around at the gathered crowd, we had to come to the conclusion that the display was not only in honor of us, but first-rate none the less.

The Safest Restaurant on the Planet

The Battery Bistro, he safest place to eat in Kingston, Ontario, Canada!
The safest place to eat in Kingston, under the cannons of the Battery Bistro!

Veronica gets her mitts on poutine in Canada —a gloriously unhealthy dish consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds GypsyNester.com

After grabbing a bite at the Fort Henry’s Battery Bistro, which was without a doubt the safest we’ve ever felt while eating lunch…

(we feel like we’re not officially in Canada until we’d had poutine—a gloriously unhealthy dish consisting of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds),

…we took a quick spin through the campus of the Royal Military College of Canada.

A 1000 Islands salad - with the proper dressing of course! At Battery Bistro in Kingston, Ontario, Canada
We knew about 1000 Islands dressing (soooo much better than what we get in the States!) but had to order the 1000 Islands salad

The Royal West Point

Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario

As an offshoot of the fort, the college was founded in 1876.

This so-called West Point of Canada trains cadets for all branches of the military and is the only academy of its kind in the country.

Though our visit was in the dead of summer, we were regaled with tales of the college’s ice hockey team and their annual match with the United States Military Academy Black Knights in the annual West Point Weekend.

This series is the longest-running annual international sporting event in the world, going back to when General Douglas MacArthur suggested a game between the two schools in 1923.

Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario

Army may currently lead the Series by ten games, mostly on the strength of recent victories, but the spirits of the Paladins remain high.

So Much History!

The city hall building in Kinston, Ontario, Canada

Crossing the St. Lawrence into Kingston itself, we were drawn to the focal point of the city, the Historic City Hall.

Since Kingston was the capital of the new Province of Canada when construction began in 1841, the structure was designed to reflect the city’s prominence.

Unfortunately by the time it was completed in 1844, the government had moved to Montreal. Still, the building holds the honor of being designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The Spirit of Sir John A train in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Directly across the street from the hall, Confederation Park seemed to be the hub of the town’s activity.

A former Kingston and Pembroke Railway station serves as the visitor information center, with the giant locomotive the Spirit of Sir John A standing alongside.

There’s even a replica for the kiddies!

Good Ol’ Sir John A

The Kingston Trolley heads to all the hotspots of Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Sir John A McDonald's house in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

We would be hearing a lot more about Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, as our day went on—and as our journey across Ontario continued —beginning right away when we caught the hop on hop off Kingston Trolley Tour in front of the old steam engine.

Statue of Sir John A MacDonald in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Sir John A's church in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The route took us past a couple of more Sir John A related sites, including his one-time home, the Bellevue House, hidden behind a grove of apple trees, and the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church that he attended.

John A’s stay in Kingston may have been brief, but he certainly left his mark before moving on to lead the effort to create the Canada that we know and love today.

His spirit of tolerance and democracy certainly lives on.

Sunset Dinner on the Water

The Island Star Dinner Cruise of the 1000 Islands in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

After passing through the campus of Queen’s University, established by a royal charter from Queen Victoria, and Kingston’s hopping shopping and entertainment district along Princess Street, we headed back to the waterfront and Confederation Park.

The park sits on the harbor, serving as the boarding spot for numerous ferries and tour boats, which worked out great for us since we were set to sail on the Island Star for their sunset dinner cruise.

We did our best to ignore the ominous sound of the description as a three-hour tour and boarded anyway.

Some of the homes in the 1000 Islands take up every inch of the island!
Some of the islands are completely taken up with house!

The Island Star Dinner Cruise of the 1000 Islands in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

After all, they didn’t repeat the phrase like the song it invoked—and the ship was not named the Minnow—so the possibility of getting stranded on an uncharted desert isle seemed more than reasonably remote.

This mansion on one of the 1000 Islands was built by the inventor of the scented pine trees that hang on the rear view mirror of your car! That's a LOT of little scented cardboard trees!
Mansion built by the inventor of the scented pine trees that hang on the rear view mirror of your car! That’s a LOT of little scented cardboard trees!

The criteria to be an island in the 1000 Islands is to have at least two trees, be above water year 'round, and no less than a square meter. Whew! This guy barely squeaks by!
The criteria to be an island in the 1000 Islands is to have atleast two trees, be above water year ’round, and no less than

a square meter. Whew! This guy barely squeaks by!

None were uncharted, or desert for that matter, but we did get our first look at the chain of islands in the St. Lawrence River known as the 1000 Islands.

We wound our way through what seemed to be at least a 100 of the 1000 with the setting sun glinting off the water while munching of salmon and roast beef… and dessert.

Dinner on the cruise of the 1000 Islands on the Island Star in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

The Residence Inn, Water's Edge in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

As twilight faded, we pulled back into Kingston and walked along the waterfront to our room at the Residence Inn Water’s Edge, happy to have been introduced to a new friend in the North.

Even if we don’t see our history eye-to-eye, eh?

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Canada!

P.S. Here’s the view from our room in the morning:
The view from our room at the Residence Inn Water’s Edge in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

A big thanks to Ontario Travel and Visit Kingston for providing this historic adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

12 thoughts on “A Town Truly Fit for a King—Kingston, Ontario”

  1. Hey Nesters!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the tour I gave you.It is always nice to have guests that are genuinely interested in the history. As for the 1812 debate, Canadian’s considers the “win” in the fact that we turned back A few American invasions (The Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm). On the American side, the US turned back a British invasion in the Battle Baltimore and embarrassed the British navy at the battle of New Orleans. From what I’ve learned in my history classes though, it was a stalemate where both sides had had enough by 1815. We were definitely still paranoid for a while though, as relations were shakey throughout the 1800’s. Good to see you tried poutine as well, our claim to fast food fame. Although this was my last year working in the Fort Henry Guard, I hope you visit Canada, and Kingston again!

    Cheers

    Cole

  2. I loved the different perspective on the War of 1812. Kind of reminded me of the first time I went to Richmond VA from Boston and heard someone refer to “The War of Northern Aggression” which I knew as the Civil War!

    And how unfair that someone got wealthy from those awful scented things cab drivers hang on mirrors! Life just isn’t fair!

  3. It’s hard to think of Canada as ‘Canada’ when it was still all about the British, so even I find versions of historic events confusing! Glad you enjoyed your visit – and the poutine!

  4. I was well into my adult years before I discovered that Americans thought they’d won the war of 1812. That came as a surprise to this Canadian. But then, the outcomes of war are rarely black and white. I’ve not been to Kingston, but it looks worth a visit.

  5. I guess the winners and losers in the War of 1812 depends on who’s telling the story and which side of the US-Canadian border you’re on! Kingston looks like an amazing place to visit and I’d love to take the 3-hour tour around the 1,000 islands. In fact, being stranded on a few of those islands (not the ones with just trees!) doesn’t look like too much of a hardship at all!

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