A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Kingston, Ontario

I went back and forth as to whether to write this final post on our summer trip. Kingston is incredibly close to where we live, we didn’t do much while we were there (except one really cool tour, which is why I decided to write this) and we were definitely at the end of our…travel excitement. However, I decided to write it to not only share the cool spot we toured, but also just a little insight into what our final day or two was like in Canada- because boy did things happen that made me think. 

As always, let’s start with a little history of the area. 

Kingston was originally named Cataraqui and inhabited by the Five Nations Iroquois (though the Wyandot People – of Huron origins- were the first occupants). The French arrived in 1615 and established Fort Cataraqui in 1673 to serve as a military and trade base. The fort itself was occupied on and off, would be destroyed and rebuilt several times over, until finally the British took possession in 1783. The renamed it Tete-de-Pont Barracks in 1787, then turned over to the Canadian military in 1870. It is still in use today; however, it is now named Fort Frontenac. 

Kingston played a bit of a role in the American Revolutionary War as a home location for Loyalists (those who were loyal to the British Crown and wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom). In order to make “space” for the Loyalists the British worked with the Mississaugas to purchase land. The Loyalists gave the settlement the name of “King’s Town” – which would eventually turn in to Kingston. 

One of the bigger military times for Kingston was the War of 1812. Kingston became a major military town and engaged in an arms race with the American Fleet stationed in Sackets Harbor. The base of Fort Henry, later known at Point Henry, was built to help protect the Canadian Fleet and garrisoned until 1871. It’s now a World Heritage Site. 

Once incorporated as a town, it held the largest population in Upper Canada until the 1840’s (it became a city in 1846). From what I can see- Kingston is really known in terms of cultural hot spots. They host several film festivals, music festivals, writer retreats, as well as Busker events (we’ll get in to that last one). A lot of musician and actors name Kingston as their birthplace, most notable being Dan Aykroyd (there are many more musicians that I could name as well). A final notable fact, the first high school in the province was established in Kingston in 1792 by a Loyalist! 

I’ve been to Kingston now twice, the first being a fun girlie day out where we wandered the streets of downtown, stopped in a local independent bookstore (spent some money…), and grabbed lunch at a great Tex-Mex spot, Lone Star Grill. The second time was this trip with both boys and my husband. 

We headed to Kingston from Toronto on the day where half the nation of Canada was crippled by a software glitch. The communication servers for about half of the country simply went down. This was horrifying on so many levels- people weren’t able to work, weren’t able to pay for products (it affected the banking lines, so no debit or electronic means of payments, BUT they could accept credit cards, not debit as credit, but actual credit cards), but people were not able to communicate via phones, the hospitals were impacted, emergency services. It really crippled that portion of the country for the entire day- I believe it started sometime in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t get fully restored until well past midnight. Thankfully it did get restored and everything returned to “normal”, but it did make you think…about a) how reliant we are on technology, and b) just how…dominating our technology/processing world is by very few companies that so much went down. 

Once we arrived in Kingston and we immediately went off to our single scheduled event- a tour of the Kingston Penitentiary. Kingston Penitentiary was a maximum-security prison that has only recently closed in 2013- actually at the time of closing it was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world. Originally opened in 1835 as a provincial penitentiary, it was one of nine prisons in the area. The building site was selected due mostly to the ready access to water and abundant fine limestone. It first housed six inmates, though it could hold 564 inmates total by the time it closed (this does not include the treatment center within the prison I don’t believe). Across the street to the north is the Kingston Prison for Women which operated from 1934-2000 to allow for more space- women had previously simply been segregated in the main facility. 

This penitentiary has seen two riots, one in 1954 and another in 1971. In 1954 there was a two-hour riot (which at that point was the worst in history) involving almost 900 inmates. A breakout was attempted coinciding with the riot, however, was not successful. This particular riot started in the exercise yard, led to several fires in different buildings, 50 ringleaders going to solitary confinement, $2 million in damages, and the involvement of both the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The second riot was much worse. 

In 1971 there was a four-day riot within the prison that led to two inmates dying, six guards being held hostage, and much of the prison destroyed. The riot was instigated by concerns about future conditions at a separate prison transfer, lack of work/recreational time and other prisoner issues. Once the riot was quelled, an investigation was opened, and it found that the prisoners were not wrong in their complaints. A number of issues were noted, least of which being overcrowding and shortage of staff, but also prisoners who did not require maximum security, a lack of channels to deal with prisoner complaints and requests, as well as aged physical facilities. This riot led to committees being form and new jobs being created to help deal with these complaints and issues within the prison. 

There have been three escapes recorded from this maximum-security prison: 1923, 1947, and 1999. The first was Norman “Red” Ryan, who was an Irish Catholic Gangster. He escaped with several other inmates in September 1923 by setting a fire as a distraction, going over the wall, and stealing a car. However, he was caught again in Minnesota and brought back. Once back in prison he became a “model prisoner” and the poster child for prison/parole reform. He was released, went on to denounce his prior criminal activities and be a model citizen in public…all while going on an armed robbery spree. During one of these armed robberies the little gang he had formed ended up in a shootout of sorts. While Norman continued to present himself as the model citizen, even offering to help police and detectives figure out what happened, he was found out a few months later and died in a shootout with police at a liquor store. The second escape was fairly straightforward, 3 inmates went over the wall, 2 came back, 1 was never found. 

The third escape was by Ty Conn in 1999. Ty Conn was the first to evade capture for weeks and weeks since the last “successful” escape in 1958 (this is after 26+ attempts by inmates since 1836). Abandoned by both his parents, put up for adoption by his maternal grandparents he was adopted by a psychiatrist and his, alleged/described, mentally unstable wife. That only lasted about eight years before he was “returned” and placed in and out of foster and group homes, and youth detention facilities. As a young child in his adoptive family, he started stealing – first food then cars in his teenage years. By the time of his death, he was only “legally at large” (free) for 69 days (this is from age 13-death). After notifying prison guards at Millhaven Prison that several inmates were planning to escape, he was placed in protective custody and transferred to Kingston Penitentiary. His own escape utilized not only a rope ladder and grappling hook (that he made himself), but also cayenne pepper to throw the scent off to the dogs. He was found two weeks later in Toronto where he committed suicide, rather than go back to prison. 

I have to interject my personal opinion here for a moment because in listening to the tour guide speak about Ty Conn and the brief history I’ve learned about him- he really is one of those…cases for prison reform and slip through the crack’s instances. There is a book currently out by Theresa Burke and Linden MacIntyre, both have met and had interaction with Ty Conn, titled Who Killed Ty Conn. Together they paint a different picture and one that is worth understanding and knowing. It’s a book that I’ve added to my list to read at some point. 

From 1971-1981 Kingston Penitentiary also served as the Regions Reception Center. Every inmate in the prison system would come to Kingston Penitentiary first. It also held a Regional Treatment Centre within the prison which allowed up to 120 inmates who were in recovery. In 1990 Kingston Penitentiary was designated a National Historic Site and it was officially closed on September 30, 2013. A month or so later it was opened for tours- all of which are given by former guards and employees of the prison. 

 Kingston Penitentiary has seen it all and boy, if walls could talk. The tour was, quite honestly, incredible. Not only do you get to see how the prison changed throughout the long years it was used, but you also get to hear real experiences from employees and guards. It gives you a real insight in to not only these prisoners live within the prison, but also insight in to how the prison structure works/operates/could improve. The tour guides were not able to talk about the actual prisoners as it’s against Canadian privacy laws, but a quick search gives you an idea of some of the infamous prisoners housed in those walls. 

We stopped for a bite to eat after the tour (and a gas up- thankfully we found a station that was able to take credit cards!) at Montana’s BBQ & Bar- which was delicious and supplied quite the Long Island Iced Tea ;). 

The next morning, we headed more towards downtown to walk along the river and the store fronts. We were pleasantly greeted by a Busker Festival. If you don’t know, a busker is a street performer. So, the folks that you walk past that are performing on sidewalks or subway stations for donations and your enjoyment? Buskers. And Kingston had an entire weekend full of entertainment lined up. The streets were blocked off to allow several performers, with a good distance between, there was a stage set up at the water, as well as food, face paint, and a sidewalk chalk competition. 

Coinciding with that event, it was also the weekend of a boat race, so while we were walking along the water, we were treated with the site of these souped-up boats, with wonderful sounding engines pull in to dock for lunch. 

We did just a little walking and then, finally, headed back across the border to the states and back home. And that wraps up our Summer Holiday (finally!). Which was your favorite to hear about? NIAGARA, DETROIT, UPPER PENINSULA, SUDBURY, TORONTO, or Kingston? Have you added any to your to visit list? And if you haven’t- you HAVE to add Mackinac Island/Upper Peninsula straight away. Let me know!

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday – Detroit Michigan

Our next overnight stop on our Summer Holiday was Detroit Michigan, but before we crossed the border back to the States, we hit up Point Pelee, the southernmost tip of mainland Canada. A small National Park founded in 1918, this little area of the country has been occupied in some way since 700-900AD (that’s been documented). Initially a hunting area, the Europeans found it in 1670 and it’s been in dispute for a long while until it became a national park. You are able to camp and picnic in the park, even enjoy the waves on the beach front, but we headed further up to the small museum and bus ride out to the tip and then a walk on the marsh boardwalk. This spot is a boon for birdwatchers, and we saw several while we walked. It was a nice little stop and stretch your feet while being somewhere really cool. 

From there we did head straight through to Detroit. We stayed in the Financial District, close to the water and not far from the spots we really wanted to see- mostly on the auto factory side of things. We had one full day in the city, so we started off early the next morning by stopping in the GM headquarters (scoping out all the new and old vehicles on display as well as quite a few displays about what GM does beyond cars- it’s fascinating), then a short walk along the water- seeing both the statues and Canada across the way, before stopping in at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. 

Owned and operated by the Department of Natural Resources the Outdoor Adventure Center provides a variety of hands-on exhibits and activities meant to highlight the offerings of the region. Originally committed in the 1990’s, the museum and surrounding park area had quite the struggle to open up between funding issues and property ownership difficulties. However, in 2015 they were able to open up and logged 100,000 visitors in their first year. There is a little history, and a lot of nature information. The boys were able to “snowmobile”, ride an “atv”, practice “hunting”, as well as sit in an airplane, eagles’ nest, and learn about the environment of Michigan (which is a lot more than just Detroit). It was just as fun for us adults as it was for the kids. 

From there we headed back down the water and over to the tram for a ride to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904 this was the second building of Ford’s, however the first purpose-built factory. BUT in order to understand the importance of Ford and his mind and motor company, let’s take a minute to quickly talk about Henry Ford. 

Henry Ford was really a pioneer of his time. He was, what I like to refer to, as a tinkerer with a brain that didn’t stop. In 1892 he built his first motor car (he was 29- so if you’re younger than that and still haven’t figured anything out or are just starting to figure things out at 29- you’re in good company!) after becoming an engineer at Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit. Yes, that Edison. In 1893 he became Chief Engineer and in 1899, cheered on by Edison and several others, he founded the Detroit Automobile Company. In 1901 it was dissolved. However, in late 1901 Henry Ford designed, built and raced an auto that got some attention and he, tried again, founded the Henry Ford Company towards the end of 1901. However, once again, it was not to last as once Henry Leland was brought in as a consultant, Ford left, and Leland then renamed it to Cadillac. 

Finally, in 1903 Ford Motor Company was founded, with the Dodge Brothers as investors (!) and then in 1908 the ever-popular Model T was debuted. It would sell that year for $825 with a price that would continue to drop year after year. Something that Henry Ford is known well for is forward thinking and in 1913 he introduced the concept of the moving assembly belt to his factories (though this could not be only attributed to Henry Ford- several employees helped design and produce this concept). Some interesting facts about Henry Ford to end this little side tangent…He was an early backer of the Indianapolis 500, he was a notorious anti-Semite (both Hitler and Himmler were big fans of Ford and some of his writings were combined and published in Nazi Germany- AND Ford is apparently mentioned TWICE in Mein Keimpf, but he didn’t financially donate to the party – I don’t know why that was such a distinction that needed to be made…), and while he introduced the $5 dollar wage, and 40/48 hr. work week, he HATED labor unions and fought fiercely against his workers unionizing. 

So, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. Built in 1904, this was the second location owned by the Ford Motor Company and produced the Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and finally the Model T during its 5 years. Initially cars were manufactured with hand tools that would be carried to the vehicle and a single location. This plant is where the idea of a moving assembly line was created. Just before the Model T debut in 1908, employees experimented with the idea that the chassis of the car moved along to the workers, rather than the workers moving to the chassis. They continued experimenting by using a rolling option, instead of the previous rope maneuvering, before coming up with the initial moving assembly belt (a precursor to the one Henry Ford later put in place at the Rouge Facility). Now, once the Model T was completed and out in the world sales quickly skyrocketed. Demand became so much that the Piquette Plant closed for two months to help catch up and the plant itself quickly became too small. In 1909 Ford Motor Co started packing up to move over to the Highland Park Ford Plant to continue. The plant building itself went through a couple different owners and businesses before being sold in 2000 to the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (after hearing that it was going to be torn down) and re purposed the building into a museum full of over 40 early automobiles. The plant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and a National Historic Landmark in 2006. 

Finally, a few fun facts about the cars…most Model T’s (post assembly line introduction) were black due to the fact that it was the fastest drying of all the colors, when the production of the Model T concluded (in 1927), Ford had produced 15, 007, 034 cars. 

That about summed up our day in Detroit. Heading back towards the hotel, we stopped over at the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park just to take a little look and then stopped for some food. Our second day, on the way out of the city, we stopped over in Dearborn to see The Henry Ford. 

The Henry Ford is the massive complex that houses the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and works in partnership with the Ford Rouge Factory (The Henry Ford is also known as the Edison Institute). It is the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the United States and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, with the National Historic Landmark label attached in 1981. Where to begin?

We started our day with the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The Ford River Rouge Complex is well known in the auto industry. Construction beginning in 1917 (opened for production in 1927, completed in 1928) it is the largest integrated factory in the World. The concept was to have everything that was needed to manufacture vehicles right at your fingertips. With the docks, the interior railroad, electric plant, and steel mill, there was no need to wait on much to be delivered in order to complete a car. The complex itself is made up of 93 buildings with 16 million square feet of factory floor space and, while the first products produced were the WWI Eagle Boats, it currently produces all of the Ford F-150 and soon to be Ford F-150 Lightning trucks. The factory tour is really interesting, showing the history of Henry Ford and the current projects, as well as a look at the factory tour (this was not in action when we toured, but you can tour when it is in action). 

From there we headed into Greenfield Village. Greenfield Village is known as an Outdoor Living History Museum- the first in the nation and a model that many other “living history museums” follow. The village is made up of various homes and buildings that were upended from their original locations and moved to the property with the end goal of showing the history of living and working in America since its’ founding. The village is a total of 240 acres, with 90 being used by the village itself. Some of the notable homes are those of the Wright Brothers, Edison and Ford, as well as the courthouse where Lincoln practiced law and a covered bridge from Pennsylvania. There is also the Farris Mill- one of the oldest in America. As part of the admission, you can pay to ride in an authentic Model T (some of which are replicas, some of which are actual authentic – we were lucky to get an authentic Model T), as well as on the Weiser Railroad. 

Finally, we headed into the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Henry Ford was a bit obsessed with collecting and preserving historically interesting items that portrayed what the Industrial Revolution was like, both from an everyday life perspective (think items in the home, kitchen, toys, etc.) and from an industrial machine perspective. The museum is full of a variety of artifacts that range from massive steam and coal locomotives to presidential motorcade vehicles, to doll houses and tractors. There is also the Rosa Parks bus, the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile, a variety of engines, and restaurant signage. 

The museum itself was started as his personal collection on a 12-acre site. The building was designed with the Philadelphia Historical Park in mind (namely the Old City Hall, Independence Hall, & Congress Hall). Initially opened in 1929 as the Edison Institute, a private education site, it was later opened to the public in 1933. I will say that between all three (the village, the factory and the museum) we spent almost all day here and still didn’t see everything there was to see. We could have spent much longer if we hadn’t really needed to hit the road to make it to our next stop before bed time.

And with that we headed to my favorite spot on the entire trip…any guesses as to where that was? I’ll share it soon!