Page 2: In Canada's Forgotten First Capital
By Tim Leffel

Martello Towers

Engineering a Water Connection to Ottawa
The waterways were the principal connections between settlements in Canada and from the landing of the French through the time real roads were built, they ferried goods and people in and out of the provinces. The War of 1812 was a wake-up call that depending on one main "road," the St. Lawrence River, was a risky proposition. So construction began on a series of locks and canals stretching from Kingston up to Ontario, finished in 1832.

Now the Rideau Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the longest continuously running canal system in North America, though really the only thing that saved it from being abandoned in the age of the automobile was the high price of dismantling it. Thankfully it was preserved and though it doesn't serve much commercial traffic, it is popular with recreational boaters and kayakers. As we strolled along one of the locks and looked at the river beyond, I mentally added this to my bucket list of long kayak trips I can never seem to manage to get onto my schedule. But eventually, Ottawa to Kingston by paddling, camping on the banks and visiting little towns along the way, is near the top of my expedition list.

Early Morning Kingston
After a night of dining and drinking around Kingston—in a small city that supposedly has more bars and restaurants per capita than any other one in Canada—I set my alarm early so I could explore the city on my own, without a guide along to provide constant narration. I didn't want to go visit the historic women's prison and it didn't' seem to be a travel-story-worthy fact that "Kingston has the largest concentration of federal correctional facilities in Canada." But now I understood the prison references.


Instead I strolled by the waterfront, checking out the sailing yachts, and randomly strolled the historic blocks near the water with grand mansions from the 1800s. A few retirees were out walking with their dogs or getting a morning power stroll. Some students from the nearby university were out on bikes. The morning sun gleamed on sailboats floating along on the water.

Anywhere I visit I always ask myself, "Could I live here?" For three or four months that included the summer, yes, I think I could. A pleasant town with good beer and good food, with 1,000 islands to explore nearby and a canal you can travel on by boat for days. Who cares if nobody has heard of it? I would just act smug and say, "Well, it was the first capital of Canada you know. And by the way, do you have a Canadian 10 dollar bill on you…?"


If you go:
Kingston is just a few hours from Toronto or Montreal, reached by car, bus, train, or air. It's also a short trip from Syracuse, New York and is main stop for those traveling by boat around the 1,000 Islands/ to Lake Ontario. See the Tourism Kingston website for info on the area and stay at the Four Points Sheraton or one of the Historic Inns of Kingston.

Editor Tim Leffel has won dozens of travel writing awards and is the author of four books, including Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and the 4th edition of The World's Cheapest Destinations. See more at his Cheapest Destinations Blog or check out good gear to pack at Practical Travel Gear.

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Related stories:
Going Where No Roads Go in Ontario by Carolyn Heller
My Life and Times with the CN Tower by Amy Rosen
We're the Greatest! Our Quest to be the World Capital of...Anything by Chris Epting
Culture and Castles in Secret Slovakia by Tim Leffel

See other USA and Canada travel stories from the archives

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