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 2022- Niagara Falls

It is time to start sharing all the details and history of this year big Summer Holiday. We had quite the adventures, seeing a full loop of the upper northeastern portion of the U.S. and the some of the lower portions of Ontario, CA. I already talked previously about the requirements to enter Canada (I believe I did in my Montreal post), but I’ll touch on them again. These may or may not be up to date when you are reading this post (as they still change day to day), so I would recommend checking the Canada travel site HERE for the most up to date information. To enter Canada as an adult you must be fully vaccinated and fill out the ArriveCAN app on the phone (you can do this via we browser and print the certificate as well if that is easier for you I believe). Kids aged 5 & Up are required to be vaccinated unless they are traveling with fully vaccinated adults. For the vast majority of Ontario, we were not required to wear masks. 

A couple things to note before we get into these posts…in some places I’ll be sharing our hotel and food options, but in others I won’t. To be honest, I treat most hotels as a place to lay our head for the night and what I mean by that is, I don’t always have to be in the heart of downtown, best of the best, right in the action accommodation. Sometimes the best for us is valet parking, close to public transport, or best bed configuration. The same goes with food, though we are a bit pickier about that. However, with food I find that this is a personal varied choice. If a restaurant really stood out for me, I’ll share it, but otherwise I don’t have much in the way for either of those recommendations. 

Ok, so now on to the actual vacation (I’ll post the rules and restrictions once again when we enter back into Canada later on in the trip…). A brief overview of our route of sorts: Niagara Falls, Canada  Detroit, Michigan Mackinac/Upper Peninsula Region, Michigan Sudbury, Ontario  Toronto, Ontario Kingston, Ontario  Home. We took a total of 14 nights/15 days to hit everything, usually spending a minimum of 2 nights in each place, except Kingston which is close enough to our home (aka we can see it whenever) that we didn’t need to do more than a single night. Today kicks everything off with a post on Niagara Falls.

We started our time in Niagara on the American side at Old Fort Niagara. This fort is unique in several different ways; the oldest structure in North America between the Appalachian and Mississippi, was manned by three different countries, and expertly shows the way in which military life and conflict has changed over time. The region was originally occupied by the Seneca in the 17th century as a seasonal hunting and fishing spot. When the French took charge in 1679, it was a key access point for the Great Lakes. The fort passed from the French, who built the oldest building- the “French Castle”- in 1726, to the British in 1759. The British held it from 1759-1796, and again from 1813-1815. The Americans finally got a piece of the Fort (aside from that little loss 1813-1815) in 1796, and then permanently in 1815. While the War of 1812 was the last conflict at the Fort, it has been used in some shape or another through major conflicts in our history. In World War One it was used as an Officer Training Camp, In World War Two it was used Induction Center for troops and a POW Camp. In the Cold War it housed Anti-Aircraft troops. In 1929 & 1934 restoration projects went underway to fix the French Castle and other encampments and buildings within the fort. 

The fort itself is pretty cool if only to see the ways the natural resources and land were used to create an effective barrier. The French Castle also is a really great way of showing how they secured items and lived in an age that we can’t even fathom (wooden nails for example). They’ve also got the originally US colony flag that flew over the fort. If you are into war history, battle or forts, this is a really great stop. 

From the Old Fort we headed over the Niagara State Park and Goat Island. I’m not going to get in to too much of the history of the Falls as I feel like most of us know what Niagara Falls is (I feel like I say this and then go on and on and on), but I’ll give a couple fun little nuggets that I learned and found interesting. First off, Niagara Falls is over 12, 00 years old, but is considered “young”. The Falls are comprised of three separate falls: Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe falls. Together they produce 2.4 million kilowatts of electricity for the U.S. and Canada. 90% of the Great Lakes (that would be Superior, Michigan, Erie and Huron) drain into Niagara River, and then on to Niagara Falls, before hitting Lake Ontario. Two more facts and then I promise I’ll stop…maybe. Niagara Falls was the first state park in the U.S., designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same who designed Central Park). The water has only stopped once, in 1969 at the American Rapids so that scientists and Geologists could come in and study the effects of erosion. During the Winter Freeze and Spring Thaw a little bit more of the rock face is eroded away. 

Now, we started our trip to the Falls out on the American side, which is cool in its own way. We went to the overlook of the Bridal Veil and American Falls, where you can see above the falls and look down. We also visited the “Cave of the Winds”, which is located on Goat Island. This attraction originates back to the 1800’s when there was a cave of sorts just under Bridal Falls. Tours to this “cave” began in the 1840’s (though people visited prior to that) before rock fall forced it to close in the 1920’s. It reopened for a time in 1924 where visitors could visit the “front” of the falls and cave. However due to more rock falls and erosion, engineers decided that the cave was no longer a safe destination and dynamited a portion of the rock under the fall. The visiting area was then replaced by what we see today- a grouping of stairs and standing decks at the base/slightly in front of the falls.

This was easily the must do thing on the American Side. Not only from the observation deck you not only get a really neat view of the falls, and, on a sunny day, the rainbow, but you can also feel the full blast of the falls with hurricane force winds and water spray as it rushes down. 

From there we headed across the border and to our hotel for the evening to check in. We stayed at Old Stone Inn Boutique hotel and found that to actually be a really good option. It’s just outside the hustle and bustle of Clifton Hill and Niagara proper, but not far enough that you can’t walk. After checking in we headed back down the Falls, this time on the Canadian Side for the Illumination of the Falls and the Fireworks show. The Illumination is a year-round show, started in 1860 and utilized for a long time for royal and foreign dignitary visits before becoming a permanent attraction in the 1920’s. The fireworks are a summertime special and are every night in the Summer at 10PM. Both a worth seeing and we loved being able to experience it. I would, obviously, suggest getting there early, but if you show up about 15 minutes before 10, you’ll still get a good viewpoint to watch them. They lift off from the same area as the Voyage into the Falls on the Canada side, so closer to Horseshoe falls would not be a bad spot to pick. Likewise, a spot by Queen Elizabeth Gardens or in between the three falls is good too. 

The next day we were up and off for an early morning Voyage to the Falls. A little clarification before I get into the history, Maid of the Mist (of the U.S.) used to be the only operator on the boat tours to get up close to the falls. They initially launched in 1846 as a ferry between the U.S. and Canada but was swiftly closed down in the 1850’s when the suspension bridge was completed. The company then launched with tours in 1854, but was, once again, swiftly closed when the American Civil War started. It re opened in 1885, this time going closer to Horseshoe Falls than previous. The U.S. added boats in 1892, but those burned on the Canadian side in an accident in 1955. In 1960 during a voyage, the Maid of the Mist rescued and saved a young boy who later became the first to survive a jump over Horseshoe Falls only wearing a life jacket. Finally, in 2013 Maid of the Mist split in to two separate entities, Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side, Hornblower Niagara Cruises (later Niagara City Cruises) on the Canadian Side. These days the boats are electric powered with zero emissions- which is great! 

In my honest opinion, whether you choose to do Maid of the Mist or Niagara City Cruises does not matter. They both map roughly the same route and one does not do less than the other (and I can tell you that factually as I watched them sail day in and day out from above- it is the same). It’s really going to be whichever you choose. But you SHOULD do it. It’s truly just incredible and awe inspiring to be able to stand there…in this belly of the beast of sorts and just…revel in mother nature. Truly just incredible. 

In all honesty though, if I could tell you one thing about visiting Niagara Falls, it is to view it from the Canadian side. You are able to actually view the falls from the “front”, rather than above or beside. It is truly a stunning view and one I am so glad we got to see. Once we finished touring the falls from boat, from below, we decided to wander through the gardens and slowly over to where we could go under the falls. 

Journey Behind the Falls started as this…competition between two businessmen. Located at Horseshoe Falls, in the 19th century, the only way to get down to the bottom of these falls was to take a steep hike down, over a rocky path filled with boulders and questionable rope ladders. It was dangerous and other spots that were accessible were covered up by “entrepreneurs” trying to make a quick buck and charge to look through a small peep hole. In 1818, the first set of stairs down closer to the bottom were built, followed by a spiral staircase to go lower. This was great, however it kicked off a feud between two businessmen that led to staircases being purposely broken and people being injured (unintentionally). This lasted until 1855 when Niagara Falls Park Commission was formed and took control. Shortly after the first elevator was installed and then in 1889 the first tunnel was opened to give lucky tourists a chance to go under these legendary falls. The tunnel as they exist now were created in 1944 and the observation deck was added in 1951. 

While I found this to be really cool and gave us a chance to see below all three waterfalls, I don’t know if the tunnels are absolutely necessary. This could have just been an off moment when we visited, or maybe just shining a light on the society we’ve turned in to, BUT the lines to see the portal under the waterfall were awful. If I had to do it again, I would probably have just gone to one portal and then out on the observation deck. 

Our final day in Niagara we spent the day on Clifton Hill. Originally Clifton Hill was a sprawling mansion property lived in by both the “owner” of the city and then a U.S. Senator. However, as tourism grew, when Sir Harry Oakes purchased the land, he had business in mind. Before slowing turning Clifton Hill into the fun tourist spot it is now, he created a small quiet garden oasis in the parks, gardens, and outdoor theatre at the bottom of the hill. However, the Hill itself is now basically a carnival park. With Put-Put Golf, a racing speedway (of the go kart variety), arcades, bowling, and haunted houses, you can spend a full day just playing all the games. It was a good way for us to “treat” the boys and ourselves- we did a good amount of the games by purchasing a “FUN” pass- which gave us the Ferris wheel, put-put, and several “roller coaster” 3-D games (including a zombie apocalypse, ghost hunt, and outer space extravaganza). 

All in all, this was the perfect stop to kick start our trip! While Niagara Falls as a whole is very much do able in two whole days, having that half day to explore the American side before going into Canada was fun. If you didn’t want to do anything beyond the actual falls stuff (no fort, no Clifton hill, or if your kids were a bit older and able to withstand later nights better) I think you could easily just do two nights. For us though we’ve learned that sometimes taking the extra time, being able to travel a little bit slower is worth it. 

See you next time…in Detroit!