Kingston’s favourite sons, The Tragically Hip, have played their last concert in their hometown, but they won’t be the last big thing to come out of this small Ontario city that is bursting with creativity.
Part of that energy is fueled by the young student population of its academic institutions, Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College and the Royal Military College of Canada, but a lot of it stems from the city’s human scale. Everybody seems to know everybody and they all gather in the city’s charming and compact downtown to share a meal and some drinks and hatch new projects.
That human interaction is one of Kingston’s most potent attractions for visitors. Everyone is made to feel welcome and be part of the community, even if it’s just for one day.
“Give Kingston a chance. Give it a weekend and you will be amazed,” said Claire Bouvier, a local entrepreneur who is one of the co-founders of Kingston fashion truck, The Loft Girls. “There are so many amazing people in this town and, it is a secret, but once you’re here long enough you start to recognize how many incredible people are here.”
One of those people is Eric Brennan, the chef at Le Chien Noir and a force in the city’s up-and-coming food scene that features a surprising number of outstanding restaurants crammed into the city’s historic downtown.
“In the summertime, especially, there’s lot of great places to go in Kingston,” said Brennan “There’s a huge patio scene going around and on the waterfront. I’m a patio hopper, for sure. I like going down the street to our friends at Tango Nuevo, kind of a Spanish tapas place that’s a lot of fun and I like that as much as I like the neighbourhood pub down the street, the Iron Duke on Wellington.”
Another pub worth visiting is Redhouse. Founded by the Reid brothers, Mike, Dave and Dan, it’s a happening spot that features good food, live music and local brews like Stone City and MacKinnon Brothers.
“We are trying to bring in some craft beers, some beers that people weren’t drinking,” said brother Mike, explaining the genesis of the brew pub. “We are getting away from the big, bland brands. We’re getting local, local produce. Everybody from the community were involved to start something new and it worked.”
And if you thought Kingston was a stodgy place that was all about Sir John A. MacDonald and Fort Henry, then you need to spend some time browsing the city’s many art galleries or make a visit to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre located in the heart of the historic campus of Queen’s University.
“Something that people don’t know about Kingston is that there is a large, large art community,” said Jo Perodin, who is an artist at Ink-Tegrity Tattoo Studio that she runs with her husband Max. Kingston also happens to be home to Eikon Devices, one of the country’s best-known manufacturer of tattoo supplies.
“We have multiple tattoo shops here in Kingston, all of us specializing in different styles, different art, different environments,” added Perodin.
Located halfway between Montreal and Toronto and a similar distance from Ottawa, Kingston seems to be the perfect combination of all of those places, but without any of their big-city pretensions. If you’ve only ever stopped on the outskirts of Kingston on the 401 to gas up your car, then you owe it to yourself to drive a few minutes into the downtown to see why it is such a magical place.
Kingston has numerous locally-owned shops that cater to all tastes. Start your explorations on Princess Street.
Le Chien Noir Bistro (69 Brock St.)
Redhouse (369 King St E.)
Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront (2 Princess St.)
Fort Henry National Historic Site is a popular place to visit. For relaxing time, take the free ferry to Wolfe Island where you can go for a swim or enjoy the view of Kingston from the other side of the St. Lawrence River.