Confession time. I am the King of last-minute holiday shopping. You know that guy who’s always frantically traversing from store to store trying to acquire the gifts and goodies that he should have a month prior? That’s me. [Read more…]
The feeling of community at an Ontario Festival of Small Halls show is contagious.
As soon as you walk in the door of the rural halls across Eastern Ontario and along the Rideau Canal, it’s evident from the warm hello that melts into smiles and handshakes, the stage set with simple mics and instruments, that something special is about to happen in this small space that lives and breathes community.
Patrons have said that it hits you suddenly – the knowledge creeping up like the feeling of someone watching you from across the room.
Somewhere during the night, you realize that your face hurts because you’ve been smiling for an hour straight. The palms of your hands’ tingle because you’ve been clapping loud and hard. You take a minute to look around you – really look around – and see neighbours, friends and families sharing in the experience. Everyone bonded by the music, under one historic roof.
And you get it – you understand what Small Halls is all about.
From Sept. 14 to Oct. 1 more than 30 cherished halls across Eastern Ontario are throwing open their doors to welcome internationally renowned musicians, local opening artists – and you.
The Ontario Festival of Small Halls is set to ignite local stages this month with a mix of big-name familiar faces and boundary-pushing roots, folk, pop, soul and bluegrass-inspired musical acts.
Kelly Symes, General Manager of the Festival, said this year’s lineup includes some well-known names in Canadian music, while also showcasing emerging artists who will be new to rural Ontario.
“Small Halls continues to offer a unique concert experience: seeing your favourite artist in a setting which allows you to relish the music and connect with (the) local community,” Symes says, adding that artists were selected based on their captivating live performance, their stage presence and the ability to connect with their audiences.
Artists like Ashley MacIsaac, a household name in Cape Breton fiddling, as well as Halifax’s Jenn Grant, Charlottetown’s Rose Cousins and Montreal’s Leif Vollebekk will grace small stages.
You can also catch Kingston’s own The Abrams, who are returning to enliven the Festival again after an explosive performance last year in Seeley’s Bay. Another festival favourite, Old Man Luedecke, is playing in Lyndhurst and Tatlock after recently taking home the 2017 East Coast Music Award for Album of the Year.
From wooden stages to pews and from beckoning archways to barn board, the halls expertly roll out the red carpet for the Festival doing what they do best – enhancing the experience just by playing host.
Take, for example, the history ingrained in the Delta Old Town Hall built in the 1880s and the site where area soldiers mustered before leaving to fight in the First World War. Further along the Rideau, locally-made cast iron circa 1890 still adorns the ends of the pews in the Merrickville United Church.
Just down the road the Spencerville Mill once served as the feed mill that produced Canada’s first commercial livestock feed. Local history lives and breathes at the venues for the Ontario Festival of Small Halls.
The host communities are also throwing down the welcome mat with family-style dinners, local food celebrations, country markets and even tapas on the schedule preceding Small Halls shows.
“At its heart, the Ontario Festival of Small Halls is about celebrating community,” said Symes, “Attending the community events goes a long way towards achieving that overall rural culture experience that visitors often crave.”
There are also a few insider’s tips to round out the Festival experience. If you’re attending a show in a historic church, Symes says you’re encouraged to bring a funky cushion for comfort. Also, don’t forget to stick around after the show – the musicians might appear when the applause has settled to mingle with guests. Bringing cash for merch is also a great idea.
Click below for the full schedule, as well as info on tickets and community events.
As the rains of spring give way to the welcome warmth of summer, there is a beautiful phenomenon that takes hold of South Eastern Ontario. There is an overall sense of joy, as countless people open up their sheds, roll up their sleeves and tend their beloved gardens for another season. [Read more…]
The warm late winter temperatures brings our favourite time of year – maple syrup season. Headlining maple season in The Great Waterway are three family-friendly events: Maple in the County in Prince Edward County, Maple Madness in Kingston and an open house at Gibbons Maple Sugar House in Frankville. Consider these 9 amazing and authentically Canadian experiences for your maple “bucket” list this March.
1. Eat pancakes (with syrup!) in a sugar shack
Piping hot pancakes piled high, slathered with butter and drizzled (or drenched) in freshly made maple syrup. It’s the ultimate maple season experience, made better when enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Whether your chosen side dish is bacon, sausages or more pancakes, this maple syrup experience is not to be missed.
- Where to try it: Sweetwater Cabin/Hubb’s Sugar Bush (Rednersville, PEC), Gibbons Maple Sugar House and Museum (Frankville), Strictly Maple (Consecon, PEC), Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), Fosterholm Farms (Picton, PEC), Waupoos Estate Winery and Sugar Bush (Waupoos, PEC), Walt’s Sugar Shack (Consecon, PEC), Three Dog Winery (Demorestville, PEC)
2. Hike through a sugar bush
With the crunch of snow under your boots and the refreshingly crisp smell of spring in the air works up an appetite for piping hot pancakes!
- Where to try it: Sugarbush Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (Kingston),
3. Dash through the snow on a horse-drawn wagon ride
The clip-clop of hooves and the jingle of sleigh bells is a familiar sound during maple season. On a horse-drawn wagon ride, take in the bustle of a busy maple forest and look for signs that spring is right around the corner.
- Where to try it: Sweetwater Cabin/Hubb’s Sugar Bush (Rednersville, PEC)
4. Snowshoe in a vineyard
A winery tour during the off-season is a winter wonderland delight (you may not have snow in your backyard, but we do!). Rent or bring your snowshoes for a peaceful walk through a lakeside vineyard. And just like hiking, you’ll be hankering for breakfast when you’re done! Weather permitting.
- Where to try it: Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), and the Fido-friendly Three Dog Winery (Demorestville, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (on the nearby Millennium Trail, Hillier, PEC)
5. Eat maple taffy off of fresh snow
Nature’s favourite candy – maple taffy – is a sweet treat that is best enjoyed in the warm spring sunshine. Dipping thickened maple syrup into fresh white snow is a delicious and timeless syrup season tradition.
- Where to try it: Vader’s Maple Syrup (Cherry Valley, PEC), Walt’s Sugar Shack (Consecon, PEC), Norman Hardie Winery (Wellington, PEC), Gibbons Maple Sugar House (Frankville)
6. Visit baby farm animals
A sure sign of spring is the arrival of the most adorable baby animals in farms throughout the region. Cuddling with fluffy chicks, peeping ducklings and woolly lambs is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Children can enjoy pony rides at selected farms. Have your cameras ready for this cute photo op!
- Where to see them: Nyman Farms (Picton, PEC), Gibbons Family Farm (Frankville), Heal with Horses (Hillier, PEC), Waupoos Estate Winery and Sugar Bush (Waupoos, PEC)
7. See how maple syrup is made (from start to finish!)
Did you know that it takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup? When you visit a sugar bush, you will hear the fascinating history of maple syrup, see sap dripping into pails (or modern tap lines that zigzag through the forest) and peek at the giant evaporators where the magic of maple syrup happens! You’ll appreciate syrup so much more after hearing about the effort that goes into making this sweet treat.
- Where to see it: Little Cataraqui Creek Conservation Area (Kingston), Gibbons Maple Sugar House and Museum (Frankville), Strictly Maple (Consecon, PEC), Sugarbush Vineyards (Hilliar, PEC), Nyman Farms (Picton, PEC), Vader’s Maple Syrup (Cherry Valley, PEC), Fosterholm Farms (Picton, PEC)
8. Indulge in delightful and unexpected maple syrup and local food pairings
The ideal experience for sophisticated palates! The spring season inspires farmers, artisan food producers and chefs to create flavourful maple themed meals. Caramel apples, haute mac and cheese, sausages, crepes, desserts, aged cheese, ribs, pulled pork, French toast and more tempt your taste buds with every stop along the self-guided Maple in the County route. Reservations required at some locations.
- Where to try it: The Drake Devonshire Inn (Wellington, PEC), Campbell’s Orchards (Rednersville, PEC), Clossen Chase Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), The Grange (Hillier, PEC), Harwood Estate Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Keint-he Winery and Vineyards (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (Hillier, PEC), Huff Estates (Bloomfield, PEC), 66 Gilliead Distillery (Bloomfield, PEC), Macaulay House (Picton, PEC), Jackson Falls Country Inn (Milford, PEC), The Country Canteen (Picton, PEC), County Cider (Picton, PEC), Black River Cheese Company (Milford, PEC)
9. Sip maple inspired wine, cider and craft beer around a cozy bonfire or tasting room
With a nod to the mighty maple, local wine and cider makers and brewers infuse this seasonal staple into their beverages for a delightful sipping experience. Some wineries and breweries, like Barley Days, Trail Estate and The Grange have seasonal wines, waters and brews to you to enjoy, whereas our other wineries welcome you into their tasting rooms for you to enjoy your favourite red, white or ale.
- Where to try it: Clossen Chase Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), The Grange (Hillier, PEC), Harwood Estate Vineyards (Hillier, PEC), Sandbanks Estate Winery (Wellington, PEC), Keint-he Winery and Vineyards (Wellington, PEC), Trail Estate Winery (Hillier, PEC), Huff Estates (Bloomfield, PEC), 66 Gilliead Distillery (Bloomfield, PEC), County Cider (Picton, PEC), Black River Cheese Company (Milford, PEC), Barley Days Brewery (Picton, PEC), Norman Hardie Winery (Wellington, PEC)
Love it or hate it, winter isn’t going anywhere soon.
While some people tend to hunker down and hibernate the cold months away – others embrace the crisp winds of winter and take full advantage of the broad selection of things to do throughout South Eastern Ontario. Getting outdoors during the winter with friends and family is not only healthy, but a great opportunity to make an otherwise dark and dreary season into a collection of positive memories you’ll keep for life. [Read more…]
I love everything about winter in southeastern Ontario. I celebrate each snowfall, look for new trails to ski and snowshoe on and do all I can to spend as much time as possible in The Great Waterway region. But for people who would rather hibernate, the months between December and February can be long and colourless. However, Kingston’s newest winter attraction, Lumina Borealis, will bring even the most reluctant adventurer into the outdoors to embrace the season.
Lumina Borealis has been somewhat of a mystery: the event was a carefully guarded secret two years in the making, teased out to the public with stunning Instagram photos, Facebook posts and tweets. Billed as a multimedia and immersive outdoor winter attraction, those close to the project would only tell me I needed to experience it for myself to understand Lumina Borealis – which I did in early December with my two young children (ages six and nine) and husband. And while I won’t reveal all of the secrets of Lumina Borealis, I can assure you that it lives up to all of the hype – and offer tips to make the most of your visit.
I was invited my my friends at @LuminaBorealis to experience their new winter attraction first hand. In a season that has everyone rushing, #luminaborealis encourages you to slow down. Best experienced with friends, family, warm mitts and curiosity. #greatwaterway #winter #winterwonderland #freshmadedaily #kingston #loveygk #ygk #discoverontario #discoverON #familytravel #travelON
Remember what it’s like to be a kid again
No one loves winter more than a young child, and their natural curiosity is at home at Lumina Borealis. Watching my kids interact with each element of Lumina reminded me to always ask questions about what I’m seeing – there’s often a hidden story waiting to be told.
Walk slowly through the Sleeping Woods
Just like in nature, woodland creatures can be shy. Walk slowly through the Sleeping Woods, where fresh evergreen trees greet you with their bracing fragrance and twinkling lights. Stay long enough and you can watch the wildlife wake up from their winter slumber. This was a highlight for my children.
Cozy up to the warming hearths at the Storyteller’s Flame
This was our family’s favourite part of Lumina Borealis. Not only were there deliciously warm fit pit (continually stoked by Fort Henry staff) but there are truly secrets here to be revealed. Fort Henry staff gave us a few clues on how to unlock the secrets here, but I encourage you to take a few moments by the fire to discover them for yourself.
Sing like no one is listening
Make new friends at the Frozzinator
Where does winter really come from? The Frozzinator, of course! The magic of Lumina is displayed here in a whimsical and interactive game that invites you to toss golden globes to make up a cheery tune. Step up to the mic again to sing your favourite carols. Seeing adults and children laughing together as winter creeps closer on this frozen finale is the heart of Lumina Borealis and not to be missed (this is also where warm gloves come in handy!)
Lumina Borealis: Know before you go
Where: Fort Henry National Historic Site, Kingston, Ontario
When: Thursday to Sunday, Dec. 1, 2016 to Jan. 11, 2017, 5 to 11 p.m.
Fridays & Saturdays, Jan. 12 to Feb. 4, 2017, 5:30 to 10:00pm.
Thursdays & Sundays, Jan. 12 to Feb. 4, 2017, 5:30 to 9:00pm.
Cost: Adults – $12, Children 6-12 – $10, Children 5 and under – free. Buy tickets
What to wear: warm winter gear (mittens or gloves, hat, boots, coat). Hand warmers to stash in your pockets would keep tiny fingers warm. The terrain can be uneven, wear sturdy boots to navigate the snow.
Bathrooms: at the beginning and end of the tour
How to get there: Free parking is available at Fort Henry (1 Fort Henry Dr.) but you can also take the free shuttle that leaves from the Visitor Information Centre across from Kingston City Hall.
Hockey parents, take note! These 8 hotels and inns in Kingston, Bay of Quinte, Prince Edward County and Cornwall have everything you need for a cozy place to hang out after your kiddo’s sports tournament or the ultimate family winter getaway. Of course, you can visit our Stay section for a list of hotels, inn, bed and breakfasts found throughout The Great Waterway in southeastern Ontario.
Belleville’s newest hotel bills itself as an extended-stay hotel and it’s easy to understand why travelers would want to make TownePlace Suites their home-away-from-home. Modern, spacious rooms make spreading out easy and bigger families will appreciate the option to book a 1-bedroom suite, which comes with a queen bed and sofa bed, plus traditional cribs are complimentary. Kitchens are equipped with an oven, dishwasher, fridge and microwave, which is perfect if you’re hoping to save a few dollars by dining in or have a child with an allergy and prefer to prep your own meals. Free WiFi, pool, breakfast and pet-friendly policy, plus its convenient location just off of the 401 and minutes from the Quinte Mall make TownePlace Suites sweet. 400 Bell Blvd, Belleville
Starting at: $159 (Queen studio) to $190 (1 bedroom suite) per night
Why I love it: The fully equipped kitchen! This amenity helps cut dining-out costs and keeps our healthy eating on track.
Insider tip: Join the Marriott Rewards program to save on your booking plus get mobile check-in, a sanity saver if you have cranky kids in tow.
There is no other place in southeastern Ontario like the Drake Devonshire. Expansive views of Lake Ontario, unforgettable cuisine and a vibe that is equal parts 416 sophistication and County cool. It’s hard to say what the kids will love the most: the games room (complete with ping pong table), skipping stones on the lake or the pint-sized burgers that are decidedly grown up in flavour. Families will want to book the Loft Suite, a 585 sq.ft, 2-bedroom/2-bathroom luxury hideaway. 24 Wharf Street, Wellington
Starting at: $659 per night
Why I love it: The fully supervised and kid-friendly programs mean that you and your partner can chill out by the lake with a craft beer or local wine while the kids keep busy with creating crafts or snacks with Drake Devonshire staff.
Insider tip: The Drake Devonshire hosts fabulous kid-friendly events (think haute pizza parties and Christmas crafting). Combine your trip to Prince Edward County with one of these events for a memorable getaway.
If you travel with kids, you know the highlight of their holidays is the hotel pool. Kingston’s Ambassador Hotel has a pool – and a waterpark! An indoor splash pad and 100’ foot water slide will help your kids work up an appetite, which can be satisfied with yummy room service. The standard room is 320 square feet and has 2 queen beds. You can splurge on the Royal Suite, a two-room suite with a king bed and 580 square feet to spread out when you’ve had a little too much family time. 1550 Princess St., Kingston
Starting at: $139 per night
Why I love it: I’m a safety nut, and having the pools staffed with lifeguards is peace of mind for me. The pool area layout means you can also reasonably keep an eye on all your kiddos while they enjoy the water slide, pool and splash pad.
Insider tip: Free summertime trolley pickups on the weekend make exploring downtown Kingston easy!
If your children play hockey or baseball, chances are your travel plans include an overnight stay in Napanee. If so, the Hampton Inn by Hilton should be at the top of your accommodation choices. Spotless rooms, free breakfast and WiFi, a pool and early 3 p.m. check-in are the elements of a stress-free family trip. The hotel is also a short walk from the Strathcona Paper Centre ice rink, shopping and kid-friendly restaurants. 40 McPherson Drive, Napanee
Starting at: $160/night
Why I love it: This property is spotless and the staff go above and beyond to help make your stay comfortable and relaxed. The location alone makes it one of the best places to staff overnight in Napanee.
Insider tip: This is the first hotel to fill up on busy tournament weekend, so it’s best to plan your travel early. Use your CAA card to save on room rates.
The Holiday Inn Express in Brockville strikes the perfect balance between being budget-friendly but doesn’t make you feel like a penny pincher. The top-rated hotel in Brockville according to TripAdvisor reviews, the Holiday Inn Express offers a free hot breakfast and indoor pool. There’s only a few dollars difference between the standard room and the king bed junior suite, so families should opt for the suite, which comes equipped with a king bed, pull out sofa, sink, fridge and microwave. 7815 Kent Blvd, Brockville
Starting at: $145
Why I love it: Everything we love about the Holiday Inn Express chain – waffles, clean rooms and low rack rates – make this the hotel we recommend to friends and family.
Insider tip: Expect this hotel to fill up fast during March break and the hockey tournament season. Definitely book early if you know your travel dates.
This collection of suites in Gananoque is sweet! Ideally located only a few blocks from the cruise line docks, the Comfort Inn & Suites 1000 Islands makes it easy to hangout in the heart of Gananoque. This is one of the newer hotels in the 1000 Islands, meaning families can expect clean, modern rooms and a generously sized indoor pool. Included amenities include free continental breakfast and WiFi, and if you like, bring your furry friends to this pet-friendly hotel for only an extra $15/night (way cheaper than boarding Fido and a great way to bring the whole family on vacation. 22 Main St., Gananoque
Starting at: $107.30
Why I love it: Unlike most chain hotels that get built in noisy commercial areas along freeways, the Comfort Inn is in the heart of Gananoque so you can really soak up the small-town vibe during your staff.
Insider tip: Parking in Gananoque is sparse so leave your car at the hotel and explore the town on foot or by bike.
Step back in time with a stay at The Colonel’s Inn. This finely appointed bed and breakfast is great for families exploring southeastern Ontario’s historic sites like Fort Wellington and Upper Canada Village. The building itself dates back to 1835! The Colonel’s Suite boasts a king bed and en-suite, with enough room for parents and up to two small children. A home cooked and hearty breakfast is included each morning of your stay. 408 East St., Prescott
Starting at: $135 per night
Why I love it: Not every family loves to camp or stay at a chain hotel, which are the majority of your overnight options in this part of the region. The location is serene and the setting is downright cozy.
Insider tip: Have older kids or a bigger family? Isabella’s Room adjoins this suite, transforming it into a cozy retreat.
Ideally located near Upper Canada Village and the Parks of the St. Lawrence, the Best Western Parkway Inn invites you to explore the trails and outdoor adventures near Cornwall, then retreat to the coziness of this chalet-like hotel. Clean rooms, friendly service, free breakfast and late checkout will put this Best Western at the top of your Cornwall hotel list. 1515 Vincent Massey Dr., Cornwall
Starting at: $125.99
Why I love it: The location can’t be beat! Within minutes you can hit the Long Sault Parkway and be in the heart of the St. Lawrence. It’s a great option for U.S. and Quebec travelers touring southeastern Ontario.
Insider tip: The Best Western chain offers a best price guarantee, so there’s no need to cruise the discount travel sites to find a cheaper room rate.
Find More Family-Friendly Hotels
The Great Waterway of Southeastern Ontario is world famous for its rich history. Home to two UNESCO world heritage sites and the place of several significant battles; we are constantly standing where a nation was forged – more often than not: in combat.
The story from then until now wasn’t always squeaky clean. There were times when public executions were not uncommon. Smugglers, cutthroats, and even the occasional pirate once stalked the St. Lawrence River. At one time an illness that is easily treated today – could be your undoing at the ripe old age of 35. Our forebears faced a daily gauntlet of ways to meet an early end. As a result, this entire region is a prime destination for paranormal enthusiasts.
Whether you’re a firm believer in the supernatural or a guarded skeptic, It will be hard to deny the icy chill you feel up your spine while exploring these fascinating and frightening locations.
1) Historic Cornwall Jail
In the 1800’s the justice system was a much different version of what is in place today. In addition to murderers, thieves, and other villainous criminals – jails were also a repository for the insane, mentally disabled and other unfortunates that society would deem undesirable.
In addition to this – women and children of similar disposition were thrown into the mix. The ‘Gaol’ as it was called then, was often over-populated. Suicide, horrific diseases, and violence were rampant within the confines of incarceration.
The Cornwall Jail opened in 1834 and was in operation until as recently as 2002. Today it is open to the public as a museum. Needless to say, this is an alleged hot-spot for paranormal activity. The jail’s current location was where an army barracks once stood during the war of 1812. In 1826 it burned down while several soldiers and livestock were trapped inside.
Various unexplained encounters, sights, creepy sounds and even ghastly odours have been reported by visitors and staff. Phones that have been disconnected for years will often ring. Ghostly apparitions appear, and doors slam. Visitors even claim to have even been ‘touched’ by cold and unseen hands. Over the years, these chilling tales have inspired scores of ghost hunters and supernatural detectives to explore and investigate. Should you possess the bravery – this notorious building belongs on your itinerary.
2) Lost Villages Museum
The Lost Villages consist of ten hamlets, villages; and an entire farming community which no longer exist. These communities were not lost due to natural disaster – but rather they were authorized by the government to be ‘disposed of’ in the interest of expanding the St. Lawrence Seaway.
As a result, over six thousand people were displaced and lost their homes and very livelihoods. Today, they are commemorated at the Lost Villages Museum located in Ault Park on Fran Laflamme Drive, a short drive East of Long Sault, Ontario. Visitors can (seasonally) participate in Ghost Hunting sessions alongside a group of seasoned paranormal investigators. Perhaps you’ll make contact with some lingering earthbound spirits lurking within their former dwellings.
3) Fort Wellington National Historic Site
Fort Wellington was first commissioned during the War of 1812 by the British. The garrison’s construction was integral at the time, to guard a major artery of Upper Canada’s shipping and commerce.
Today, the fort is open for the enjoyment and education of the public. According to a study conducted by the Toronto & Ontario Ghosts & Hauntings Research Society: The historical reenactors aren’t the only soldiers who roam the fort today. Based on their findings and testimony provided by staff, there is a ghost who inhabits the second floor of the blockhouse. Reportedly a lost soldier from the War of 1812 by the name of Terrence Anderson, this alleged spectre is known to slam doors, startle staff members and is particularly active during fife practice.
4) Fulford Place
Fulford Place is a turn-of-the-century Edwardian (1901) mansion famous for its lavish décor and rich local history. It is an incredible edification to Canada’s industrial elite. Originally built as the summer home of George Taylor Fulford, this illustrious manse was designed by then-famed Architect: Albert W. Fuller of Albany New York. Today the home is a museum featuring original furnishings, rare antiquities, and the stories of her former inhabitants.
Mr. Fulford was the proprietor of a drug store and later came into pharmaceutical fame after patenting Pink Pills for Pale People. Mr. Fulford’s wife Mary (nee Mary White) was reportedly fascinated with spiritualism and the occult. It is said that many séances were hosted by Mrs. Fulford after her husband’s untimely death in a car accident at 53 years of age.
Mary was close friends with Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King – who was a well-known paranormal enthusiast. King attended the home to participate in several of Mrs. Fulford’s séances. Along with their own personal mediums King and Mrs. Fulford would ‘commune with the dead’. In fact, Mr. King was known to stay at the residence long after Mary’s death as a close friend of the family.
Does the lonesome spirit of Mary Fulford roam the mansion’s grand halls in search of her lost husband? The presence of once cherished furnishings and belongings within the house – coupled with the history of spiritual communication certainly make this a must-see location. Several of the paintings seem to watch your every move – especially a portrait of Mrs. Fulford on the grand staircase. It’s unimpressed facial expression and dark eyes seem to stare right through you.
5) The Blinkbonnie House
For over 170 years the Blinkbonnie has stood as an icon of 1000 Islands culture, heritage, and the subject of local legend. The property was first inhabited by Charles MacDonald who was a prominent businessman and co-founder of the town itself. Later, in 1920 the house’s owner William; son of Charles II died of an unexpected heart attack. He left no will behind – which left his father suddenly displaced from his own ancestral home.
In 1923 a local schoolteacher: Rebecca Edwards bought the home and turned it into a lavish hotel. Charles II begged her to allow him to live out his remaining years in the home. She agreed and ensured that the 86-year-old MacDonald was made comfortable. She re-purchased some of the home’s original furnishings in order to please the aging progenitor of the home. He remained at Blinkbonnie until his death in 1928.
The house has been visited by psychics, and there are theories that Charles II never left his beloved family home. There have been accounts of disconnected taps running, slamming doors, unexplained footsteps, and other odd occurrences.
Today the Blinkbonnie sits vacant with only the dust and echoes of her long and near-mythical history within. The future may be bright for the house, however. A recent article in the Gananoque Recorder reports that the house has been purchased with the intent of restoring it into a bed & breakfast or pub. It would appear that soon this house could be a prized landmark attraction once more.
6) Fort Henry National Historic Site
It should come as no surprise that the Limestone City is a hotbed of paranormal activity – with generations of stories and testimonials from residents and visitors alike. Topping Kingston’s list of haunted places is Fort Henry. For over 170 years this fort has stood guard over Kingston and was never once attacked. Over the years however, the fort has been the site of hangings, and even a prisoner of war camp.
The fort was even featured on an episode of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. In the episode, staff members were interviewed, and the team recorded convincing evidence to support the countless tales of the Fort’s supernatural incidents. From summer to early September the Fort is also included in the Haunted Walk’s roster of tours.
Visitors who want to be truly scared out of their pants should check out Fort Fright; an annual event which begins outside the fort and ventures into the darkest bowels of this ancient fortress. There, visitors will be treated to what is inarguably the most horrifying funhouse ever created.
7) Skeleton Park
The official name of this location is McBurney Park. However, the grisly nickname stems from a rather dark and macabre history indeed. The park that today hosts a playground, wading pool and basketball courts was once a massive cemetery with over ten thousand graves. Established in 1814 it was one of the City’s first and largest graveyards.
In 1864 the cemetery was closed and left more or less derelict. Over the next thirty years, reports of skeletal remains surfacing in the park and complaints of a horrid stench forced the City to eventually ‘clean up’ the mess. Grave desecration and robbery were also rampant at this point in history – as medical students attending Queen’s University were made to provide their own cadavers for exams.
Headstones were bulldozed and the only the bodies transferred to another cemetery were those whose families could afford it. Otherwise, over ten thousand corpses were left in the now transformed grounds. Human remains are still discovered occasionally to this day and what remains of gravestones can be found in the grass if you look close enough. There are several reports and witness accounts of supernatural incidents including terrifying dreams, strange visions, ghostly mists, and even physical apparitions.
8) The Haunted Walk of Kingston
The Haunted Walk of Kingston is most certainly a must do for any paranormal enthusiast to visit the city. For over two decades this interactive and fun tour has operated and has remained a popular and educational attraction ever since.
The good news is that there is still time this season to get in on the ghastly goodness. Tours still run until the end of November. The Fort Henry tours run until September 4th.
9) The Prince George Hotel
Now home to a trio of pubs, this former hotel was once the home of the Herchmer family during the 1800’s. Their daughter Lily is said to have had a love affair with a rum smuggler and would leave a lit lantern in the window to signal for him. One night this caused a fire which set the building ablaze and claimed Lily’s life.
Her ghostly figure has been seen staring out her third-floor window looking for her lover. Also, during the buildings operation as a hotel – there are stories of cleaning staff encountering bizarre incidents such as radios turning on, whispers and more. Apparently, a former employee of the Tir Nan Og pub abruptly quit after a frightening encounter, according to an article in the Queen’s Journal.
10) Rochleau Courtyard
Few urban locales send shivers up one’s spine quite like Kingston’s beautiful and infamous Rochleau Court. This picturesque series of alleys and carriageways is accessible from either Princess, Brock Street or King Street East and lead to the courtyard proper where Chez Piggy Restaurant and the Toucan Pub are located today.
The eerie tale tells of a woman named Theresa Ignace Beam who was strangled to death in the carriage-way by her lover (John Napier) in 1868. During a secret meeting; Theresa informed him that she was pregnant. Being a prominent entrepreneur, he was overcome with anger and panic.
In a fit of rage, he murdered and later dismembered Theresa, burying her remains in random locations throughout the courtyard and alleyways. Some claim that her remains are buried in the basement of an adjacent building. Despite past efforts, her remains have yet to be discovered.
The alley is featured in the Haunted Walk tour and was also in a segment of Creepy Canada (Skip to 30:36). Does Theresa’s restless spirit wander the shadowy back alleys of Rochleau Court, eternally in search for her unceremoniously disposed of remains?
11) The Hochelaga Inn
The Hochelaga Inn is another of Kingston’s most popular paranormal buildings. Originally built in 1879 by a relative of Sir John A MacDonald, and later used to house travelling Bank of Montreal employees – The Hochelaga Inn was opened as a bed and breakfast in the mid-80’s.
There are a series of stories from former guests that describe the ghostly apparition of a woman in black sitting in their room at night, an unearthly wailing baby and even mischievous child-spirits who throw objects and turn on televisions. One particular TripAdvisor review entitled: “I think it’s haunted” only adds to the intrigue surrounding this quaint and historic inn.
12) Allan Macpherson House
Allan Macpherson was a prolific entrepreneur and member of Napanee’s budding society in the mid-1800’s. Today his former home is a landmark for local tourism and potentially a spiritually active building.
The mansion, which is now a museum – has been investigated multiple times by at least two paranormal groups. The Canadian Haunting & Paranormal Society (CHAPS) conducted a search in 2014 which rendered ‘inconclusive’ results. Another group: Bytown Paranormal investigated MacPherson House around the same timeframe.
One thing I can say for certain is that this house has always given me the creeps. This could be partially due to the fact I lived next door to it while in high school, and while arriving home at night I’d always get an uneasy feeling as though I was being watched. Maybe it was the cardboard cut-out of Sir. John A MacDonald blankly staring out from the upstairs window that overlooked our driveway… You be the judge.
13) Prince Edward Heights / PRZ Paintball
As far as freaky ominous buildings go; they don’t get much freakier than abandoned government asylums. Technically, the Prince Edward Heights facility was not an actual asylum – but that doesn’t make this place any less scary. Originally a military barracks and then converted to a “hospital for the mentally disabled” in 1971 the building and images from within invoke spine-tingling reactions.
There are several unconfirmed stories of patient abuse and even fatalities while the hospital was in operation. Supernatural investigators: The Paranormal Seekers visited the complex in January 2014, and their gallery is full of menacing images of the derelict asylum’s interior. Another group by the name of PROO(f) TV conducted an extensive event – which they posted on YouTube.
Today, Prince Edward Heights is an ideal destination for paintball enthusiasts more than ghost hunters. Current tenant: PRZ Paintball has turned this massive complex into what is undoubtedly the most epic competitive paintball arena ever. So if you want to shoot your friends, while being simultaneously scared out of your wits, this is the place for you.
As always, thanks for reading! The Great Waterway possesses a venerable bounty of opportunity to immerse one’s self in our nation’s history – in addition to the wide variety of other activities there are to choose from. Whether it’s hiking, dining, or tracking ghosts our activity planner can help you get started!
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The sky is flawlessly blue and the June sun shines high overhead, but I feel chilled in the limestone passage way of the 138 year old Kingston Penitentiary. Part of it I know is a logical chill – the rock walls keep out most of the heat. But the other part is an emotional reaction to going behind the walls of the historic jail. I’m holding my breath, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m nervous or excited, and chances are it’s a bit of both.
Guided tours of Kingston Penitentiary is the result of a partnership between the Correctional Services of Canada, the City of Kingston and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, which operates and sells tour tickets. In 2013, all of the 18,000 tour tickets available sold out, making this one of the most sought after travel activities in South Eastern Ontario.
Our tour starts in the VC – Visitor’s Centre for short – where we’re given bracelets so we don’t get lost or left behind (it’s a fast-paced 90 minute walking tour covering more than kilometer of the prison’s labyrinth of ranges).
Knowledgeable guides share many of Kingston Pen’s most notorious facts and figures: The institution opened in 1835 and was built mostly by inmates; there have been three riots over the years; in the Metal Shop, inmates made everything from padlocks for the public to wrought iron for the parliamentary library; escapee Norman “Red” Ryan scaled the wall in the recreation yard at its lowest point.
What sets this tour apart from any other tour is that your guides aren’t just guides, but former guards and skilled storytellers at that. Corrections officers, most having spent at least 30 years working at the Pen, add colour to the stories. For me, this vibrancy is unexpected and adds a decidedly human touch to a tour that could lapse into recitation of those notorious facts and figures.
“Don’t get me wrong. It was a hard job, you know? It’s a prison after all. But we had some good times in here, we had some laughs with the guys,” recalls a guard who leads us through the G Range, the block of 32 cells that are open to the public. When referring to Kingston Pen, he uses feminine pronouns, giving me the feeling that guards and inmates here developed a relationship with the jail.
And though there are cells on the G range that are set up to look as those they would have when the prison was open, it’s tiny details that connect you with what life was like here.
A tattered net hanging from a basketball hoop on the yard.
A message to Kingston Pen written in black marker.
Faded footprints in the Shop Dome where inmates had to stand before being allowed in or out of the shops.
Shreds of sheets tied and still hanging from the bars of Cell 13.
A multi-coloured clown painted on the crumbling wall of the VC.
And that’s what everyone should take away from Kingston Pen Tours, is that it’s not just one story of the Pen, which follows a neat timeline from it’s construction to its closure. More accurately it’s a collection of stories, and yes mysteries, that you should try to unravel yourself.
One guard explains the tours best.
“You can go on Wikipidia or Google and read about the Pen. Go ahead. But this is your jail too, and the limestone will get into your bones as your walk through here. Ask questions, lots of questions, because that’s the only way you’ll really get to know her the way we know her.”
In the spring, summer and fall, The Great Waterway offers endless road cycling adventures. Bike-friendly communities, combined with thousands of kilometers of quiet highways allow you to explore the region at your leisure. Of course, once the snow begins to fall, cyclists tuck their bikes away for the winter (and then begin counting down the days until spring). But fat biking will have you looking at winter cycling in a whole new way, and it’s not just those balloon-like 4″ tires that will make you turn your head.
“Fat biking is definitely getting to be more popular,” Roger Healey tells me. Healey, who works with his son Graeme at Frontenac Cycle in downtown Kingston, says interest in fat biking has grown steadily over the years.
Once a fringe sport, fat biking has hit the mainstream, giving cyclists and winter warriors a way to explore on two wheels year round. And in response to the “fattie” phenomenon, manufacturers have continually improved a fat bikes geometry and components: they’re lighter, more rugged and frames come in a range of sizes. Everything about a fat bike’s design – wide rims, hydraulic brakes, lower crossbar and handlebars that put riders in a more upright position – lends itself to hours of comfortable riding along snowy trails.
“Sure, you can ride a fat bike in the sand or on a muddy and sandy trail. But it’s in the snow where you really appreciate them,” says Healey.
The reason fat biking in the winter is so much fun is obvious: those massive tires. Acting as the bike’s built-in suspension system, riders practically float over navigate snowy, icy and bumpy terrain, making your favourite summer trail (or lake, bay and river) a fat bike winter wonderland.
Ontario By Bike‘s Micheal McCreesh attributes the growth of fat biking in the province to two things: the commitment by communities to improve their local trails, and the greater interest by consumers in more winter adventure-based experiences. “The tireless work (much of it volunteer-based) of trail associations to grow the number and length of trails in their communities, as well as making them more durable to winter riding can’t be overstated,” notes McCreesh.
“There also seems to be more interest in taking fat bikes out on frozen water, which is a pretty unique experience and encouraging as Ontario certainly has endless amounts of ‘Hard Water Cycling’ to offer!” adds McCreesh (although this winter’s mild temperatures has limited the number of ice biking opportunities).
Here’s everything you need to know about your soon-to-be favourite winter sport.
Gear up: where to rent and what to wear
In Kingston, fat bikes can be rented from Frontenac Cycle. With a fleet of 10 bikes in a range of sizes for adults, there’s a bike for everyone at the downtown bike shop. The bikes come with standard flat pedals and the staff will ensure you’re fitted correctly. Frontenac Cycle doesn’t offer rental delivery, so you’ll need to be able to transport the bike on your own. Note that standard roof racks don’t accommodate a fat bike’s wide tires. Price: $30/day. $50/weekend. frontenaccycle.ca
In Belleville, head to Ideal Bike (in their new location at 225 Front Street). From there, shop owner Ed Kraus will fit you with a Surley Pugsley or for kids, the Trek Farely 24 (because who says grownups are the only one to have this much fun on a bike). $60/day. $100/weekend. $30 delivery within a 30 kilometer radius. idealbike.com
As for what to wear while fat biking, you’ll need your helmet, gloves or mittens, sweat-wicking base layer, windproof outer layer and a pair of sturdy hiking or winter boots. Healey suggests adding a pair of gaiters (think: snow-busting legwarmers). You’ll work up a sweat, so be prepared to peel off a layer or two once you’ve been riding for a while.
Get out: where to go riding
The best thing about fat biking is that you can point your wheel in any direction and ride and the trails throughout The Great Waterway that lend themselves to spectacular fat biking. That said, fat biking is not permitted on the trails at Frontenac Provincial Park or at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Due to the sensitive nature of the dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park, fat biking is restricted on the beaches and dunes.
Cataraqui Trail. This 103-kilometer trail from Smiths Falls to Strathcona covers a variety of terrain, with the Canadian Shield, Frontenac Axis and peaceful farmland as your picture-perfect backdrop. You’ll share the trail with skiers, hikers and snowmobilers, as well as deer, rabbits, birds and foxes! Access points and trail maps throughout the region make this flat route perfect for beginners. cateraquitrail.ca
K&P Trail. At 15 kilometers long, Kingston’s K&P Trail packs a scenic punch. Stretching from just near the Cataraqui Creek to Orser Road, you’ll enjoy rugged rock cuts and pretty wetlands. Six access points and well marked trails make this a local favourite. cityofingston.ca
Millennium Trail. Once a railway, this trail in Prince Edward County is a great way to get used to a fat bike’s handling. Stretching 49 kilometers between Carrying Place and Picton, you can start and end your adventure at one of the 6 access points where The County’s signature great food, wine and beer await. prince-edward-county.com
MTB Kingston trail system. Just north of Kingston is a spectacular trail system maintained by volunteers from local bike club MTB Kingston. Guests (a maximum of 5 at any time) can ride the trail system provided they’re riding with a club member, have completed the required paperwork and are wearing a helmet. Trail conditions are updated frequently on their website. mtbkington.ca
Quinte Conservation Areas. Potter’s Creek in Belleville is the ideal place to head if you’ve rented a bike from Ideal Bike (the trails are an easy 5 kilometer ride from the shop). The tree-lined trails protect you from the wind, making this Conservation Area great for beginners. Scenic Macauley Mountain is a favourite destination for fat bikers vacationing in The County. quinteconservation.ca
Cataraqui Region Conservation Areas. Though most of the trails in these Kingston and Brockville conservation areas are closed for the winter, cyclists can still head to Little Cateraqui (north of Kingston) and Lemoine’s Point (in Kingston). At Little Cat, cycling is discouraged on the track-set cross-country ski trails, but you can still enjoy a scenic ride on the plowed service roads. At Lemoine’s Point, enjoy the views as you pedal through this urban gem (just stick to the marked cycling trails).
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