Yesterday, we set out from Montreal at 9:40am in the morning on VIA Rail, arriving in Kingston a bit past noon. The train station is a few kms away from the downtown, so for a $2 fare, we took the #4 bus that passes across the street from the train station. Kingston Transit passes by the VIA Rail station on the half-hour up until about 7pm Mon-Sat (then hourly 'till 11pm Mon-Fri); it takes about 1/2 hour to get into downtown; there's no service Sundays. Cabs are $12 more or less to the historic centre.
From the moment of the bus ride, as my friend & I chatted with the driver and other passengers, we were struck by how friendly ("oh yeah it's 'Ontario-friendly' another friend of mine told me later, whatever that means) everybody was. People seemed most pleased that we'd decided to spend the day in their town. Coming into the center, I was impressed with how vibrant and buzzing Princess Street seemed to be as we approached the downtown core.
For the rest of the day, we were on foot. We started at the Farmer's Market (near King & Johnson), where we were impressed with the quality of the produce and the prices. Afterward, we had lunch at Pan Chancho's (44 Princess, between Ontario & King), a bakery/restaurant that served a tasty, innovative brunch with extremely high-quality bread. We took some delicious brioches to eat for later on in the day.
From the beginning of our walking tour, we could see what a historic town we'd set foot in. Viewed by Lasalle in 1669 and founded in 1673, this was originally a French commander's outpost, known as Fort Frontenac or Cataraqui; it was not until 1785 when the Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution arrived in number did the town change names to King's Town, later Kingston. Kingston was briefly capital of United Canada (pre-country) and was one of the choices for capital before Queen Victoria chose Ottawa's inland location on the border of Ontario & Quebec.
The overwhelmingly limestone architecture of a number of the city's principal buildings give the city a look quite different from that of Montreal from whence we came. From City Hall to Fort Henry to the Martello Tower to the Customs House to St. George's Cathedral to the Frontenac County Court House to the Murney Tower, the grandeur and importance of the city historically both as a political and as a military entity were clearly in evidence.
Our walking tour began from lovely harbour views near Confederation Park, strolling past the charming Victorian homes and grand churches along King Street, cutting through the peaceful city Park, admiring the stately, imposing ivy-clad limestone walls and grassy grounds of the prestigious Queen's University and finishing at the Bellevue House where one of the nation's founders Sir John A. MacDonald once lived.
Kingston is also awash in natural beauty, located at the confluence of the Cataraqui and Saint Lawrence Rivers with Lake Ontario. The juncture of the lake and river I felt was best viewed from the pleasant MacDonald Park.
After picking up some recommended Ontario wine Château des Charmes at the LCBO, we grabbed a taxi (they ply down Princess St. or go to City Hall) and went back home at 9pm on VIA. On our trip back, we could not stop reflecting on what a super day we'd had. Kingston in my mind is an underrated, enjoyable day or weekend trip and seemed a peaceful, pleasant place to live.
Happy travels, DAN
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Kingston, Ontario with No Car: A Capital Day Trip to An Underrated Former Canadian Capital