Canada’s First Capital : Kingston, Ontario
January 1, 1970
by Tammy Ann Tchou
Living really far North in upstate New York means my hubby and I really feel far from civilisation. Our beloved New York City is a tiresome five-hour drive away, and even the closest major city, Syracuse, is a little over an hour away itself. But one of the perks of being this far North, is that Canada is right on our doorstep. So as soon as we got the chance, we took advantage of this fact, hopped in the car and set off. It was a bizarre feeling to be entering another country just half an hour from our apartment, but, so, so exciting as this was my first ever time visiting Canada!
Once we had made it past the tediously long line at the border, we headed straight for the city of Kingston. It was a beautiful scenic drive, although it did involve a detour or two as a result of some navigational errors on our part. But we made it to this picturesque seaside city eventually, and it was so worth it.
Canada’s famous must-eat treat
The first (and, let’s be honest, most important) goal of the day was to try our first ever authentic Canadian poutine. For those not familiar with poutine, it’s key elements are fries topped with a generous amount of gravy and cheese curds. We had tried some before at the Great New York State Fair, had made our own at home, and had even had some in a pub in South Korea, but of course, we had to try the real deal. I had done extensive research on where the very best place in Kingston was to get this famous national treat and the consensus seemed to be Smoke’s Poutinerie. And we most certainly were not disappointed! The best thing about this place was the sheer variety of flavours. From the different meat and veggie add-ons, to the different types of gravy, we were absolutely spoilt for choice. I went with the pulled pork and bacon option and the hubby chose the steak and mushroom version topped with peppercorn gravy. We could barely finish the extremely generous portions but managed it somehow. This is such an indulgent dish – certainly up there as a contender for the best comfort food one could find.
A historic farmers’ market
After gorging ourselves on the carby-meaty-cheesy delights, we set off to explore the waterfront and town center. We made our way through the city streets toward the famous City Hall – an extremely impressive building facing the water, where groups of little white boats lined the shore. At the back of the City Hall was a large open area called Springer Market Square, where a farmers’ market was being held. (Apparently Kingston’s farmers’ market is the oldest and longest-running in Ontario!) I was over the moon with this discovery, as I was able to find some amazing fresh rhubarb (which is so hard to come by in our little town). I of course snatched this up and used it when we were back home the next day to bake a deliciously tart strawberry rhubarb pie! And we couldn’t leave the market without snagging some real Canadian maple syrup too. It is true, there’s absolutely no other syrup that can beat it.
A history-buff’s wonderland
Next we wanted to see a little more of the gorgeous building that was towering over us, the City Hall. We had read about self-guided tours available inside, so we thought we’d spend a few minutes exploring. Little did we know that when we came in the front doors, a very enthusiastic guide would convince us to let him take us around the place himself. And though, we had not intended on having such an extensive historical experience, it was absolutely wonderful. Our guide was so incredibly knowledgeable, not only about this building, but also about the history of Kingston and Canada in general too. And not only that, but he himself was an absolute delight! We learned so much about the history of this little city which was a key military installation and briefly served as the first capital of the Province of Canada in the 19th century (one of the reasons why such a grand and elaborate city hall was built in the first place). And not only did our lovely guide share with us the strictly historical side of things, but also many interesting little quirks of the city and anecdotes about the building itself. I would highly recommend having a tour of the building if you are in the town – it is well worth it, especially if you are even a little bit of a history-buff. And the City Hall is just the tip of the historical iceberg, with the town boasting a multitude of museums and historical sites.
Oh, so scenic!
Following our extremely in depth tour, we wandered down to the water’s edge and took a stroll along the Waterfront Pathway passing the downtown harbour. The city is filled with beautiful parks and walkways, with people taking advantage of the scenery, jogging or walking their dogs. And a wonderful way to take in the city from a completely different perspective, as well as experience the beautiful Thousand Islands surrounds, is to take one of the cruises on offer, departing from the downtown harbour. For those interested in even more of the outdoor activities, just outside the city there are many gorgeous hiking and biking trails to be taken advantage of, as well as many ways to get out onto the area’s lakes and rivers.
The city itself is a bustling little place filled with many restaurants and bars, and is apparently a foodie’s dream. One restaurant which came highly recommended was Olivea, a rustic Italian joint with a gorgeous view overlooking Springer Market Square. Many of the buildings have been preserved and maintained over time so there is a wonderful old-world feeling about the place. The architecture makes walking through the streets a true wonder. On our strolls we came across a number of antique shops and an eclectic little local gallery called Martello Alley, run by an extremely enthusiastic gentleman who single handedly transformed the formerly grimy alley behind a restaurant into a whimsical little art collective.
We’ll be back…
We were rather wiped out from all the walking, especially because it was a particularly hot day, but a great element on offer is the hop-on hop-off trolley which runs along a route passing many of the towns biggest tourist hotspots. We will definitely be taking advantage of that on our next visit.
At the end of the day we left this town certain that we’d be back again. It’s lovely to be in a place that takes such care in preserving the architecture of old that gives it such character and makes it such a pleasure to explore. I cannot recommend visiting this city highly enough. We are particularly excited to return closer to Halloween time as there seem to be a lot of fun, spooky events on offer too.