A vision for the future of Kingston in a post-COVID world

Abandoned limestone building

A new year is upon us. A time for hope, setting goals and envisioning a new future.

This year, I believe one of our greatest challenges will be to have a vision for the future for our towns, cities and communities in a post-COVID world.

Life will get back to normal as the vaccine rolls out, but things may not look the same. Businesses will have closed, for rent and lease signs may become permanent fixtures in downtown cores, and we may see an exodus from cities as people now have the choice and freedom to work from anywhere. Which leaves us to beg the question, how can we keep our cities vibrant and relevant in a post-COVID world?

I was thinking about this today while walking along the waterfront behind our new hospital, Providence Care in Kingston. On a cold day in January during lockdown, there were runners jogging through the grounds, families toboganning on a popular hill, and people walking their dogs along the trail by the water.

This particular area of Kingston is interesting because there are many old beautiful abandoned limestone buildings on the property near the waterfront. I started imagining what the scene could look like six months from now when COVID was under control and the weather was fine.

This is what I saw: waterfront galleries, stores and craft cooperatives in the limestone buildings along the water.

Outdoor patios and seating like in the Distillery District in Toronto and nice restaurants extending out over the water like the pavilion at Dow’s Lake in Ottawa.

An area where street musicians and performers could play like The Forks in Winnipeg or Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Miles of boardwalk with lookouts and views where you could watch the sailboats go by.

Kingston has an astonishing 280 km of waterfront. It sits on Lake Ontario, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and is bisected by the Cataraqui River which feeds up into the Rideau Canal.

There’s Fort Henry with a magnificent view of the river, lake and city, our historic downtown with market square, City Hall and Confederation Basin where the tour boats depart from, the entire Kingston Penitentiary site, and miles of parks and trails.

We are water rich, but to a large degree our waterfront is still largely dispersed. You have to hop, skip and jump like a stone skipping on the waves to get from one waterfront trail and park to another. We also have huge tracts of land and buildings that are sitting idle, just begging to be developed.

In 2014-2016, the City of Kingston developed a master waterfront plan that identified hundreds of projects over a 30-year period. There has been a lot of terrific work that has already been done to make our city the gem it is, but there is so much more to be done.

For all of Kingston’s parkland, we also do not have a single stand-out, signature garden, maybe not quite on the scale of Butchart Gardens in Victoria or the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, but a garden that would attract people to our city and become a place of natural beauty, peace and a place for the community to gather.

This week’s #HappyAct is to envision how our communities will look like post-COVID. Then ask, what can we do to make it happen?

Old limestone building on Kingston's waterfront
Lake Ontario
This abandoned pier is the ideal location for a pavilion style restaurant extending over the water in Kingston
These abandoned buildings would be ideal for retail, craft cooperatives and art galleries

Take a scenic drive to see the fall colours

Fall colours

Yesterday, for our 28th anniversary, Dave and I went for a scenic drive to see the fall colours.

We headed north up highway 38, and took the back roads through Parham, Mountain Grove to Arden to our first stop, Springwood Cottages Resort on Kennebec Lake. Dave follows them on Facebook because they are one of the largest dealers in used pontoon boats in our region. The owner was telling us they have as many as 60 pontoons in stock during high season, and he’s been going through stock like hotcakes during COVID.

If you’re from Ottawa or Toronto and looking for a great little cottage resort to get away to, we’d highly recommend Springwood Cottages. They have 22 unique cottages, all different sizes on a beautiful spot on Kennebec Lake, a premier fishing lake. The owner said they’ve been booked solid all season. The resort is for sale for $2.4 million.

We walked away, no pontoon boat in tow (sigh) and headed east along Highway 7 to Maberley, where we turned north through Fall River, making our way through the beautiful backroads toward Lanark. The Lanark highlands is one of the richest maple syrup producing areas in Ontario. Glorious red maples shone amidst the mosaics of yellows, browns and oranges on roads lined with quaint cedar rail fences.

Country road

Our next stop was Balderson Cheese Factory, which dates back to the 1880’s then Perth for lunch at the Hungry 7 Restaurant. The Hungry 7 is a great little spot to stop if you’re travelling between Toronto and Ottawa. We discovered it last year after one of Clare’s hockey weekends, and it’s become a fast favourite. All the food is fresh, with delicious flavours. I had a butternut squash soup; Dave and Clare had a blackened chicken sandwich. Their house dressing (which they change regularly) was to die for.

From Perth, we headed south past Murphy’s Point Provincial Park to the Narrows Lock 35 on the Rideau Canal. The Narrows Lock is perhaps one of the most interesting locks on the Rideau. It is in the middle of a lake, and there was no reason to build it. The reason was money and time. When they were trying to excavate the area, they hit bedrock and they also encountered a malaria outbreak. To speed up construction, Colonel By decided to build a dam and lock at the natural narrowing of the lake. It was a very pretty spot with a magnificent view of Big Rideau looking west.

View up Rideau Lake

Our final leg took us through Newboro, where we had to stop at Kilborn’s on the Rideau, a wonderful shopping destination, the picturesque village of Westport and home. We had planned to stop at Foley Mountain for a hike, but people told us they were lined up to the road at Foley Mountain, so if you plan to go, maybe try mid-week.

We’ve already scoped out our next day trip. The fall colours are glorious again this year, make sure you get out for a scenic country drive.

Author and her husband at Rideau Canal

The world’s longest skating rink turns 50

Me skating in front of a big beaver

One of our true national treasures is the Rideau Canal Skateway. Since skating has always been a passion of mine and I lived in Ottawa for a year, skating on the canal always brings back a flood of memories.

When I was a student in Ottawa, I’d skate to school, skate to the movies, and skate downtown to the bars and back. One of my favourite memories was turning the corner near the Laurier bridge at night right at that serendipitous moment when fireworks were going off over the majestic spires of the Chateau Frontenac to honour the opening of Winterlude.

There’s no better time to skate on the canal than Winterlude, Ottawa’s outdoor winter festival, and yesterday, we spent a cold frigid February day on the canal. Since two sections were still closed—be sure to check the interactive ice conditions map on the NCC website if you go, but they were saying the full canal should be open today—we made our base Fifth Avenue and skated north and south as far as we could go.

My husband and daughter on the ice

We watched them film a Hallmark movie in the little park under the romantic stone bridge (Dave thinks he got in a scene). We watched a guy juggle hockey pucks and sticks—only in Canada! We ate beavertails, which is mandatory if you skate on the canal in case you didn’t know. And we skated, and skated, and skated, until my wool socks chafed at my ankles.

This year, under the Bank Street bridge, the NCC has erected a photo exhibit of 50 years on the skateway.

Juggling hockey pucks

There was a picture of Douglas Fullerton, the chair of the National Capital Commission from 1969 to 1973 who came up with the idea to make it a skateway and helped the canal open in 1970. There were pictures of 7-year old Justin Trudeau on the canal as a boy, and the unsung heroes who flood the ice every night. Since I lived in Ottawa, and skated at night all the time, I would see the NCC workers, huddling out in the freezing cold digging holes in the ice and then using their long hoses to flood it so it would be in pristine condition the next day for the hordes of visitors.

Ice sculpture
You could make your own coloured ice block and add it to this ice sculpture

After we could skate no more, we visited the ice sculptures and interactive outdoor installations on Sparks Street (very cool, pun intended!), and walked past the Parliament buildings, the war memorial and the Chateau.

I can’t imagine a better day or way to spend a winter’s day.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and embrace winter, ideally on the world’s longest skating rink. Happy skating!

Snowplows on the ice
The unsung heroes who keep the skateway clear

My daughter on the ice

Girls eating maple taffy
Eating maple taffy as the sun sets on a great day