Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Top Picks for Kids

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14 years
12 years
10 years
9 years
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Parent
Date: 
2011-08-02 to 2011-08-06
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You don’t have to cross the continent to find great travel adventures; sometimes the best ones are right in your own back yard! I grew up (more or less) on Wolfe Island, the largest of the 1000 Islands, in Ontario, Canada. Now it's our favourite place to travel to with our kids. In the summer the population of our little island doubles with the onslaught of vacationers. If you find yourself in Kingston, the mainland town across from Wolfe Island, or in the vicinity, here are five places you definitely want to take your kids!

Fort Henry

Fort Henry is a living history museum inside an old British fort that was completed in 1837. It originally housed the British Army, then Canadian Forces and during WW1 it was used as in interment camp for political prisoners. It became a museum in 1938. Plan a whole day for your visit, so your family can explore the museum, watch military drills and parades and even battle reenactment at the very popular sunset ceremonies. Be sure to book those tickets in advance! Lots of my friends worked as guides or guards at the Fort when we were in high school, it’s definitely a site not to be missed! Our kids love the "hands on" part of the fort, especially dressing up like soldiers!

Tour Trolley

When I took our god children on the Confederation Tour Trolley it was the first time I’d ridden it since I was a child, and was reminded how great it is! It’s a little pricey and it marks you as a tourist for sure, but who cares? It’s the best way to see the town and not be frustrated by the one way streets (every other street in Kingston running perpendicular to the water is one way, alternating. It’s inevitable that the one you want to turn on is going the wrong direction!) You’ll get an air conditioned tour of over 300 years of Kingston’s history, including the home of the first Prime Minister of Canada; did you know Kingston was the first capital of Canada? It only takes an hour and it's a great prelude to a visit to the Bellvue House (below)

1000 Island’s Boat Cruise

The best way to get a feel for the 1000 Islands is to take a boat cruise. You can ride aboard the picturesque Island Queen that leaves from the docks in Confederation basin. It’s easy to find, just walk to the town hall (big copper domed building downtown, you can’t miss it) turn and face the water (this is Confederation Park) and look for the tour boats (on the left side of the marina, facing the water, across from the Holiday Inn). 

Personally, I prefer the tours that leave from Gananoque, just a half an hour drive along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River because these tours stop at Boldt Castle, an unfinished castle on Heart Island. Trust me, you don’t want to miss exploring that castle with your kids, or the heartbreaking love story that is its history.

Cycle Wolfe Island

If you can’t afford a 1000 Island’s boat cruise, you can still see the islands. Head over to Wolfe Island on the free ferry. Do all of us who live there a favour and DON’T take your car. You have no idea how frustrating it is to miss two boats in a row due to tourist drivers in the summer when you’ve got ice cream melting in your grocery box in the back of the car. Plan to spend a whole day on the island, at least. If you're interested in staying the night, The General Wolfe Hotel is iconic to the island and within a very short walk of the boat!

Take some time to explore Marysville, the village the ferry docks in, and wander the town. Be sure you notice the Welcome sign and all of the enormous murals of island history scattered around town (my Mom painted those) and stop into the art galleries and shops that showcase local artists (look for the big beautiful flower paintings...yep, my Mom again!) 

You can rent bicycles and head out on the well marked cycle paths that criss cross the island. It’s all road riding (no designated cycle lane) but there shouldn’t be much traffic except for the few minutes every hour when the ferry is unloading a fresh batch of cars. The island is fun to cycle, mainly flat, with a few rolling hills. Be sure to stop at the visitor center for the windmills, Wolfe Island is home to the largest wind turbine project in Canada, with 86 scattered across the landscape.

If you see a guy cycling with a safari hat and a spear wedged across his handlebars, wearing khaki shorts and crocs, that’s my Dad, wave for me!

Bellevue House

The Bellevue house is one of my favourite spots in Kingston. It’s tucked into a regular neighbourhood but is a step back in time. It was once the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. He lived there with his wife and small son and the story is a sad one. Today the house is staffed by interpretive actors who keep the house and garden much as it was when the Prime Minister lived there. If you take the Trolley Tour you’ll see the house, but make a trip back and spend an afternoon interacting with Canadian history. 

EAT!

Kingston has a fantastic downtown with lots of great little eateries, don't miss Pan Chancho, for their fantastic bread or The Sleepless Goat, for their funky local vibe and the best coffee. Be sure to grab an order of Poutine. It's a classic Canadian (French Canadian, actually) plate that you must not miss out on: french fries topped with brown gravy and melted white cheese curd. My husband affectionately calls it a "heart attack on a plate" but your tastebuds will thank you, if your arteries do not!

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