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Riding the Rideau: A bucolic By-way between capitals

22 Nov

Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands


The 8.5-mile-long bridge system skips across four of the Thousand Islands that choke the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River. New York now lies behind and the beautiful Thousand Islands Parkway leads west along the northern shore of the river to Gananoque, where I pick up Route 2 for the last few miles into Kingston, Ontario.

Strategically placed where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence River, this small city was Canada’s original capital from 1841 to 1844 and has a history that goes back to the first fort constructed at this site in 1673. Like most places, Kingston has had its ups and downs, but right now it’s definitely up.


A Martello tower in Kingston

The massive walls of Fort Henry dominate the heights above the harbor and four Martello towers protect the entrance to the once strategic Rideau Canal. Constructed between 1832 and 1836, the canal was a military undertaking to connect Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River. During the decades following the War of 1812, the British were concerned that the United States might once again invade Canada to capture the vital St. Lawrence River and cut off supplies to the British naval fleet in the Great Lakes. The canal never was used for military purposes, but until the railroads arrived in the 1850’s it was of vital commercial importance. This is the oldest continuously operated and original canal in North America and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. I’ve come to ride the land-based roads that follow this historic canal from the old Canadian capital to the new.

My first destination is the Kingston Brewing Co. where I can get a Whitetail Cream or Dragon’s Breath Ale, a Regal or Dunkelnacht Larger, a Guinnes or McAuslans Stout, or any number of bocks, bitters, and brews that I’m not familiar with. They also stock over a 100 different single-malt whiskies. The food is as stupendous as the bar. I settle for some fresh-cut chips, Ghetto Style Dragon Wings, and a Buffalo Burger. The buffalo is raised on a local farm, chicken and pork ribs are smoked in-house, and I haven’t a clue as to where they get the dragon wings. There are other great restaurants in town, but I’m a creature of habit and keep returning to this one.

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