Ontario part two

Thousands of islands, the river that became a highway, and....

....prepare yourself for the tastiest 'tails' in Canada.

 

Bidding farewell to Toronto, we travel east, then north, through rural areas, tempted by roadside fruit and vegetable stalls, wineries, and signs offering fresh maple syrup.

~~~


Kingston - Canada's first capital

Canada's ground zero - Kingston - was founded as Fort Cataraqui in 1673. Then, due to the British population's fear of war in 1812, Fort Henry was built. There are historic links galore throughout the town and, behind the Information Centre opposite City Hall, you'll find this reminder that what is now Confederation Park, was once an active train yard. 

 This engine was fully and gloriously restored in 2013, 100 years after it was first built.  

Railways were vital to early transport in the area. The Visitor Information Centre was once the K&P Railway station, and Kingston was home to the Canadian Locomotive Company for over a century

Find out more.....

Across the road from the Information Centre, Kingston's City Hall is well worth visiting, too. Completed in 1844, it was originally the Police Headquarters for the area. A tour of the old (and now empty!) gaol cells downstairs provides a little more understanding of its rich history.

In Market Square, behind City Hall, a weekly food market takes place Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, April through November. There are food tours of the city as well as Chef cooking demonstrations at the market.

Kingston is surrounded by lush farmland and in the right season you can pick up wonderful additions to a picnic hamper such as fresh fruit and vegetables...

...locally made cheeses, local honey, herbs, ham, and handmade breads.

Everyone loves to have a personal memory of a place they have visited, and the local planners cleverly left the 'I' out of Kingston, so U can feature in the picture! Here is Gordon, unaccustomedly in front of the camera rather than behind it!

The mighty Saint Lawrence River that we were to cross, sleep beside, and travel on in our journey, doesn't have a source, beginning with a tiny trickle, like most rivers.

Instead, it drains out of the Great Lakes Basin and makes its way east for 1200 kilometres until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean via the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary.

This working river is called the Saint Lawrence Shipway. Vessels, including cruise ships, visit river ports such as Montreal and Quebec, and cargo ships and barges make it a busy river. In the weeks ahead we were to see much more activity.

Kingston's placement is strategic - at the point where the St. Lawrence River is 'born' as it leaves Lake Ontario, and at the mouth of the Cataraqui River. Located at the south end of the 200-km Rideau Canal, an important river-link to Ottawa, now Canada's capital, this region is much more than just a tourist-friendly and photo-worthy old town. 

With just one full day in Kingston, it was an absolute no-brainer as to how we would spend the afternoon. I had even booked our passage on-line before leaving home!

Now, we were off to see the Thousand Islands on The Island Queen, a gracious and stately, refurbished, triple decked, Mississippi-style paddle wheeler.

Onboard, our host Roger James kept us entertained with his songs, jokes and banjo and guitar music, as well as sharing tidbits of information about the river.

Did you know that: in 1535-6, Jacques Cartier became the first known European explorer to have sailed up the river? In his first voyage of exploration, in 1534, he had arrived in the estuary that empties into the Atlantic on Saint Lawrence's feast day, and named it the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

The St Lawrence River is 4200km long if you include its beginning in the Great Lakes - which are second-only to the polar icecaps for the world's largest amount of fresh water.

The commentary was needed, as we had not realised how far up the river these Thousand Islands were. It took us over an hour to reach what is also called the North American archipelago, but there was no mistaking them when they finally came into sight. 

Here the river narrows as we enter the Thousand Islands National Park of Canada. While it may seem that 'one thousand' is an exaggeration, apparently there are actually many more than this, 1864 to be exact, scattered over a hundred square kilometres.

To be considered an island, the land has to stay above water, 365 days a year, and support a living tree. No island is split by the international border, so islands are either completely in the United States or Canada.

Travelling between these tiny islets, big enough (just!) for one house and a boat dock, is magical. As we glide leisurely between them, it is like tiptoeing through fairyland.

The tour gave us a generous hour to wander amongst them. This island (above) is in Canadian waters, but the riverbank beyond, on the right, is US territory. Due to recent river floods, the owners had temporarily lost some of their garden, but don't worry too much about the house. It is A-frame, and is still fine.

An interesting piece of trivia: over a century ago, a fishing guide's wife made up the recipe for Thousand Island Dressing and put it on a salad in her husband's lunch box. An alternative legend is that, early in the 20th century, in New York, the manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel had his chef create a last-minute dressing from on-hand ingredients, and called it the same name.

 

Building high on a rocky island, well above the water levels, makes a home less of a flood risk. It's hard to imagine how it must be to live here, when even to drop in on the neighbours - if only fifty metres away - means getting into your boat!

All too soon, it was time to leave and travel back to Kingston. We will remember this fascinating three-hour Heart of the Islands tour as one of the most unusual (and beautiful) we have ever done. 

Find out more...

~~~

This is not the sort of place we usually stay, but as we were self-driving (and self-funding) on this visit to Canada, we thought it would be good to try this option. When booking other stays along the way, I had often noticed very affordable accommodation in University premises. It took me a while to realise that this is a very sensible way for colleges to collect additional revenue over the year-end study break when students have graduated, or are on holidays.

Our room was spartan - of course, it was a room set up for two students to share - so we had single beds on opposite sides of the room with a bathroom between, and plenty of space for our bags.

~~~

Quirky river port - Gananoque

Every now and again, in other countries, we have passed through small towns - and instantly fallen in love with them. Gananoque, 30 minutes' drive along the river to the north, was one such place. In fact, we now realised that the day before, on our river cruise, we had been very close to it.

Someone told us that, because of its closer proximity to the heart of the islands, taking a cruise departing from the town's ferry dock, could have been a better option. There are also tours from Brockville, another thirty minutes or so east, along the river.

If you would like to visit another country, it is possible to cross to the USA (bring your passports!) on the 1000 Islands Bridge, approximately ten minutes out of Gananoque. 

Gananoque (the name means 'place on two rivers' and is pronounced gan-an-OH-kay) obviously is a town of talent and civic pride.

We found the street art delightful (see more 'shovel-art' at the top of this page).

I don't think I am alone in enjoying a good rummage though a second-hand store, especially in country areas, where truly exciting bargains may often be found. Donevan's store lured me right inside.

This particular time, although I did buy a couple of small items, our real find was this family-run business in the main street, run by the Donevan family for many decades. 

PLEASE WATCH the video-interview with Charlie Donevan the shop's 95-year-old patriarch, who proudly told us that he recently won a Citizen of the Year award for the unbeatable record of not missing a day's work in 90 years!

 

 

His daughter, Mary, has a true talent in repurposing old china and silverware into 'Heirloom Creations' and I could not resist buying this pendant she had made using the decorative handle of a long-ago silver fork.

What  better wisdom than these words to wrap up our short, yet memorable, stop-off in this quirky and beautiful river-town?

~~~

 

Canada's capital city: Ottawa

You have to love a city that doesn't take itself too seriously. Even though this is just the reverse of ....

....THIS, it's still a popular place for selfies and family photos. Perhaps it is one way to describe Ottawa - two sided, and equally surprising - and approachable. Either way.

Why is it that the markets in any country are such a magnetic drawcard? Perhaps it is because we all love to eat - and are keen to try new flavours and foods. Whatever the reason, the long-established indoor and outdoor Byward Market was top of my list of places to see in Ottawa.

That may be surprising, for after all, Ottawa is Canada's capital with all the usual major buildings and edifices, and other capital city places to see, and yet, here we were again, deeply captivated by different breads and pastries and chocolates....

...and this!

Where else would you find an entire shop dedicated to maple syrup? It was also obvious that now, on the Quebec-Ontario border we had stepped into French-speaking Canada, with French taking second-place to English on every sign.

Except here, in the environs of the markets there were echoes of Ireland - a welcome sign for many visitors.

Next door, the accent changed immediately with this pretty new business offering delicious 'somethings' in the form of...

...every colour and flavour of macarons you could wish for.

However, we were on a mission to taste 'tails' - specifically, beaver tails, which we already knew had nothing to do with the chunky dam-building water creatures often found in North America. It's the shape, and the shape alone, that give these specialties this name.

Although the beaver tail is hugely popular now, it was only just over forty years ago in 1978 that a clever couple in Killaloe, a country town in Ontario, turned a family recipe for fried dough into this legendary treat. Their first breads, sold at their local Craft and Community Fair, had such success that, two years later, they opened the first BeaverTails stand in Ottawa's Byward Market.

As you can see, there is great variety on offer, and you can easily do the math on how many calories you want as well! 

Apple cinnamon was our choice, and it was everything it looks - stickily delicious, far more than we should have eaten, but worth every mouthful. We excused ourselves on the plea of doing it all in the pursuit of investigation!

Ottawa is not all about takeaways and fast food, thoughOne evening we dined at Play Food & Wine, one of Ottawa's many trendy restaurants in the city centre.....
 
 
...and, as always, in pursuit of good coffee, we were thrilled to stumble across Bread by Us, the next morning, in the vibrant inner-city area of Hintonburg, West Ottawa. Happier still, to sit outside in the sunshine with a just-baked cinnamon roll and a truly excellent flat white coffee as the shop's customers kept walking out past us, carrying fragrant sourdough loaves.
 
~~~
 

Exploring more...

It is time to visit the city centre, so we climb the painted stairs near the university, and discover another face of Ottawa. All capitals share something in common. Because they must represent their entire country, not just their own population, there is an expectation that they must offer more, and become bigger and better. Some capitals achieve this, others don't, and there is always a risk of becoming dark-suited and ploddingly staid; more determined as they try even harder.

One thing we had already noticed (and kept seeing as we travelled onward through Quebec) was that churches and cathedrals had a special glow to them, shining brightly in the sunshine. It was only, on getting closer, we could see that, unlike other countries, here steeples were clad with - tin! Not only was the silver-painted metal eye-catching, but it was also durable, even in Eastern Canada's ultra-cold winters (think, -40C!) and fireproof, especially important as many churches have wooden interiors. 

Notre Dame Basilica, in the Lower Town, is Ottawa's largest and oldest place of worship. It has spires covered in tin that looks striking with its limestone walls.

Located on the site of an earlier church, the Neo-Gothic basilica was completed in 1846.

Inside, the vaulted ceiling is embellished with golden stars, and stained glass windows, murals and carved statues decorate the interior. Ottawa is bi-lingual, so services are held in both English and French.

Directly across the road, this strange sculpture stands guard in the forecourt of the National Gallery of Canada. At around ten metres high, this is the world's largest spider - and it was created by a female sculptor, Louise Bourgeois in 1999, when she was aged 87. It has stood here since 2005. 

The name, Maman (mother), suggests that this bronze, stainless steel and marble sculpture represents a female spider, and this seems to be the case, as there is a sac containing 32 marble eggs in its abdomen.

No country's capital city would be complete without its centre for law and order. Canada's seat of government is prominently located on Parliament Hill often shortened to 'The Hill'.

The unbeatable position made this hill a military defence point in the early life of the country, but in 1859, when Queen Victoria decreed that Ottawa should become Canada's capital, it became the site of the country's Parliament. Around three million visitors come here each year, and others, like us, catch glimpses of it from many parts of the city, or the river and its bridges.

On the extreme left, above, is the 92-metre Peace Tower, a Victorian High Gothic style bell-tower in the Centre Block of the Parliamentary buildings.

Ottawa, in the local language, means 'to trade', and the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River with their connections both to the St Lawrence River at Montreal, and Lake Ontario, at Kingston, made the early settlement a busy and vital area.

The Rideau Falls (above) is where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River. The best views are from the points on either side of Green Island, which is crossed by two bridges.

It was in this area that the original Bytown was established in 1826 and named for Lieutenant Colonel John By who organised the original allotments of land. Although the name was changed to Ottawa in 1855, the name By still comes up often in connection with Ottawa. 

As always we are captivated by a city's street art, and here is one of Ottawa's finest on a building near the city centre...

...and this bright decoration brightens a footpath letterbox, perhaps - or is it a fire hydrant?

Finally, it is time to say farewell to this city of contrasts and civic buildings. It may be Canada's capital, yet we felt pleased that, in just a few days, we had discovered a playful (and tasty) side as well.

Then it is now time to head back across the Ottawa River to Gatineau, a few minutes north of Ottawa, in Quebec, where we have been staying in a tiny apartment across the road from this convenience store.

Now we must get really serious and dust off our French vocab as we travel east to Montreal, where we will rejoin the mighty St Lawrence River.

Looking for Part ONE of Ontario? Here it is.....

 



Sally & Gordon Hammond travelled independently to Canada (in springtime) self-driving and staying at their own expense.   

~~~

Words and images: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

 
 

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