Waterways Ontario
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Kingston, Ontario
Steeped in history, Kingston is a place of endless fascination.

The pigeonhole for Kingston Ontario for boaters can understandably be labelled “Gateway”.  It’s perfectly logical.  From this port of call adventure awaits in many directions.  Sailing east takes you to the magnificent Thousand Islands region, down the mighty Saint Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean beyond.  Go west into freshwater giants.  The Great Lakes System carries you to the centre of the continent. 


From Kingston you can head north up the tranquil Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River that tumbles the colour of tea from Ontario’s wilderness forests.  Or you can head into the peaceful Bay of Quinte and follow the Trent Severn System northwest all the way through Ontario’s cottage country to the white pine and granite glory of Georgian Bay. 


Kingston, however, is better defined as a destination unto itself… a fascinating place with a population of about 120,000.  It is the oldest city in Canada, once the country’s capital, and today is a study in contrasts.  Peaceful neighbourhoods belie its belligerent past.  Ancient trees and grand limestone buildings share the ground with modern structures of glass and steel.  Its downtown dazzle is somewhat softened by the city’s small town appeal.   In the parks and gathering places at Kingston harbour you might find an Olympic class sailor sharing a table with the crew of a mega yacht, or a muskie maven with pictures of the one that didn’t get away.  Sailors, cruisers, anglers, paddlers, performance boaters… anyone who enjoys sitting in a hole in the water will find safe harbour and plenty to do in Kingston. 


Portsmouth Olympic Harbour is a competitive sailor’s Mecca.  The facility was built for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and is home to regattas for 25 different sailboat classes, including radio controlled boats.  The big event at POH is in August.  For two weeks every year Portsmouth Olympic Harbour hosts CORK, the Canadian Olympic Training Regatta Kingston.  Sailors of all ages come to compete from all around the world.  From a small multi class competition in 1969, CORK now includes 20 classes, usually more than a thousand boats that race on six different courses. 


Exceptional fishing has brought generations of anglers to the region.  Along the St Lawrence, east of Kingston, the mighty muskellunge rules and you often see trolling boats out dodging ice floes early and late in the boating season.  Few anglers are as unrelenting as those who stalk the muskellunge.  The Bay of Quinte has given up some lunker large mouth bass, as well as small mouth and pickerel.  Of course there are pan fish around almost every dock and rock, and the rainbow trout and salmon that have been stocked in Lake Ontario are beginning to move into these waters as well. 


When you arrive by boat, Kingston’s municipal marina is in the heart of the city.  Flora MacDonald Confederation Basin Marina is right in front of City Hall.  From here you can walk to a hotel – there are times when nothing is quite as appealing to a sailor is a shower with unlimited hot water!  Shopping for necessities and luxuries is nearby, as well, along with many restaurants and nightlife – incidentally, you know Kinston’s nightlife will vibrate to the wee small hours because the city is home to Queen’s University, the Royal Military College, and St Lawrence College and students have a way of keeping things lively.  Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday during summer months, the Kingston Farmers’ Market sets up shop behind City Hall and on Sundays there’s an Antique Market on the same location.  The municipal marina is well equipped and roomy (400 slips) and can accommodate boats up to 100 feet in length.  On busy weekends it can fill up quickly but within a few miles there are many other places where you can dock – among them, Collins Bay, Gordon Marine, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, plus the marina with the most memorable name: Rideau Marina. 


The sound of a performance boat is irresistible, and for nearly 20 years, the annual 1000 Islands Poker Run has brought some of the best – and noisiest – to the waters around Kingston… Kingston, Brockville, Rockport, and Prescott all hear the thunder in the middle of August.  While dragon boats don’t make as much noise or move as quickly, the city’s annual Dragon Boat Festival in September is a lot of fun and attracts large and noisy crowds while raising funds in support of Hospice Kingston. 


If you’re in the area in August, you can take in the Festival of the Islands from the 10th to the 19th.  It’s a ten-day non-step festival of concerts, historical re-enactments, parachuting, craft fair and fireworks.  It’s actually centred in Gananoque but that’s a short boat ride away and well worth the visit.  The Limestone City Blues Festival follows right on its heels in Kingston.  Running from August 24 to 27, the 11th Annual Blues Features Saturday a Saturday night concert in Market Square, with other concerts in The Grand Theatre, Confederation Park, and the Sunday Brunch Blues to wind it up. 


July is just as lively.  The weekend around July 1, Canada Day, will be a busy one with fireworks and entertainment in the park.  A couple of weeks later, the Kingston Buskers’ Rendezvous will bring fire eating, sword swallowing, and all that Buskers entail to one of the three top street performer festivals in North America.  The third weekend in July features the Taste of Kingston in Confederation Park – it’s right on the waterfront, by the way – the best in local cuisine and entertainment in support of The Canadian Diabetes Association and the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area.  For music lovers, the Canadian Guitar Festival and Fingerstyle Guitar Competition takes place at the Odessa Fairgrounds from July 21st to 23rd and features some of the world’s best of acoustic guitar virtuosity. 


Of course, no visit to Kingston would be complete without a visit to a museum or two.  There are dozens of them here.  Among the most notable is the Penitentiary Museum.  It is housed in the former warden’s residence of Canada’s oldest penitentiary.  In the summer, volunteer guides include former correctional officers.  In some cases their experience dates back fifty years.  This is a small museum, but worth the visit.  A few years ago, the Penitentiary Museum won the Rand McNally Best of the Road Award, and an average of 26,000 people “do time” here each year.


The other “must see” is more than a “look but don’t touch” museum.  Old Fort Henry is one of the lasting relics of Kingston’s belligerent past.  The first fort in the Kingston area was put up by the French to protect the fur trade from takeover by the British.  They were not entirely successfully because the British built Fort Henry some years later.  It was to protect the city against invasion from the south during the War of 1812.  The Fort Henry we see today is not the original but a rebuilt version, built after the war in the middle 1830’s.  This was also meant to guard against American invasion.  Today, however, the American “invasion” is a welcome one, with many boats along the waterfront sporting the Stars and Stripes. 


Fort Henry was intended to be part of an extensive line of defence to protect the Canadian trade routes but the Rideau Canal was under construction at the same time.  Because the latter went over budget, only Fort Henry and the four Martello towers along the Kingston waterfront received enough funding to complete.  Still, Fort Henry is the largest fortification west of Quebec City and cost 70,000 pounds Sterling to complete.  In today’s money, that’s about thirty-five million dollars.  Reconstruction of the old fortification was finished in the 1930’s and now Fort Henry is a living history museum, with events all summer long that bring its past to life… including sunset ceremonies, tattoos and re-enactments. 


When you’re in a museum mood, you can also visit the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, the International Ice Hockey Federation Museum, the Military Communications and Electronics Museum, Museum of Health Care, among many others in the city.   The Confederation Tour Trolley is a good way to get an overview of what you might want to see, and another interesting perspective is a nighttime haunted walk.  There are two spooky walks – one through Kingston and the other in Old Fort Henry. 


If the cruise or sail to Kingston takes more time than you have for this summer’s vacation, you can always charter once you get here.  There are skippered and bareboat sailing charters available, and for a quiet exploration of the waterfront, you can always step – gingerly, please – into a sea kayak. 


When you come to the eastern end of Lake Ontario, you can sail by Kingston… there are many destinations around the city… but you’ll add a host of new experiences to your adventure when you stop and look around.

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