A small city near Ontario, Canada where Laura Nayak enjoys a charming vacation

A reunion plan with college batch-mates found me short-listing Canada for a holiday, a place of which I had heard and read a lot. An old friend welcomed me warmly to her home in Kingston. Where was that? I had heard of Montreal, Toronto and even Quebec but Kingston?

I found that Kingston is in Eastern Ontario, at the junction of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. It promised to be truly beautiful with more than 50 lakes and scenery to die for. I flew into Toronto and took the Megabus to Kingston, a five-hour journey through lovely country. Unfortunately, I slept through it all, being terribly jet-lagged.

The next morning my friend planned a day’s outing to the countryside. She had given me the choice of a cruise on Lake Ontario or a drive to see the lakes and the countryside. I am glad I chose the latter. With over 52 lakes, Kingston is full of picnic spots. Summer having started, the locals were out in large numbers to enjoy the sunshine — they were fishing, camping, or rigging out their boats.

We watched flocks of birds and colourful fish swimming undisturbed in the clear lake waters, as we snacked on sandwiches, cool orangeade and delicious chocolate cake. Clicking away at the lovely scenery, we drove to Kingston Locks and Rideau Canal, over 100 miles away.

The view at Kingston Locks left me spellbound. It was the site of a series of falls (the Cataraqui Falls) and here the British had built a grist mill and a saw mill in 1784 to serve residents. Of the original Kingston Mills or King’s Mills, the only buildings that still exist are the generating station, the blockhouse, the lock-station office and the original lockmaster's house, with the last now a visitor’s centre.

In 1827, four locks were built to create the Rideau Canal that enabled boats to bypass the falls. The Canal is a recreational waterway where fun boats and yachts go sailing. Boaters may travel between Kingston and Ottawa. Boat tours along the canal are also available. Kingston Mills is quite the perfect picnic spot — you can go swimming, fishing, walking or rock-climbing, or just sit about and do nothing except enjoy your coffee and sandwiches.

For me, the most interesting part was watching the boat-house men turn the wheels to lock one series of gates so that the water level builds up in minutes, and then opening the one behind it to allow a well-equipped luxury boat to pass through. The process was repeated in series to allow the boat to steer smoothly along the canal, which would otherwise not have been possible because the Cataraqui Falls keeps the water at different levels. During the 18th century, the waterway was a major route for the transport of logs and flour and a lifeline for the settlers. Today, of course, it is just a pleasure spot.

We looked up and found a wedding party intent on a photo shoot on the different levels of the falls. They were there for over an hour, never mind that gowns and veils of bride and bridesmaids were being blown away and the scantily-clad party was shivering in the biting chill of the wind. The photographer kept clicking till he was satisfied he had enough to give them their money’s worth!

We drove back through Queen’s University, a public research university founded in 1841 and the first in the West to admit women. Spread over 3,500 acres, the beautiful limestone building and campus are spread out along Lake Ontario. In fact, Kingston is nicknamed Limestone City because of the number of old buildings made of the local limestone.

We drive past the 180-year-old Kingston Penitentiary, due to close shortly, which has housed many notorious criminals. In 1836, it had rather strict rules — inmates could not “exchange a word with one another” nor “exchange looks, wink, laugh, nod.” Violators received corporal punishment and children were mercilessly flogged.

With images of Charles Dickens novels in our heads, we drove on to a beautiful church, a bakery with mouth-watering breads and cakes, and a charming shack run by a Sri Lankan that offers beautiful dresses, jewellery, and knick-knacks. But for me, the highlight of the trip, besides catching up with my long-lost friend, was the natural beauty and engineering marvel of Kingston Locks that lives on 200 years after it was built.

QUICK GUIDE

Getting there

There are flights to Toronto from all major Indian cities; approx. 18-hr flight, with one stopover. From Toronto, it is 3 hrs by car, 4-5 hrs by local bus (Megabus), and 3 hrs by train.

Staying there

Try the large hotel chains like Marriott, Holiday Inn and Radisson, or a heritage boutique place like Hotel Belvedere. The main Princess Street has Fort Henry Motel, clean and comfortable with all amenities.

Must Do

- Farmer's market on Tuesdays/ Thursdays/ Saturdays for fresh produce and bakes

- Antique Market on Sundays

- Queen's University campus

- Kingston Penitentiary with its gory stories

- The 1000 Island cruise on St Lawrence River