Gananoque, Ontario can be an opening into the surrounding countryside if you rent a car for a few days. What's your interest? Antiques, culture, military history?
Photography by the authors
Born in Quebec and ending up in Hollywood, Canadian actor Émile Genest once said, “A tourist is a fellow who drives thousands of miles so he can be photographed standing in front of his car.” Maybe so, but isn’t it nice to find a vacation spot? Like Gananoque, a town of about 5,000 in Ontario, with these enviable characteristics:
• Easy parking and close by
• Historically interesting
• Relatively inexpensive
• Quiet, peaceful but with lots to see and do — especially for families
• Walkable but without the punishing to the feet, albeit romantic, cobblestones
First, on foot
Study the Chamber of Commerce map online. It will help you when you consider accommodations. We chose the convenient Clarion Inn, although the Gananoque Inn has a waterside view. If it’s not high season you could call the tourism office before coming to ask whether you might leave your choice of hotel till you come. If so the tourist office is easily found at the bottom of King Street East at number 10, its door just beyond the red bicycle art in our first image, beside the Town Hall and park. And opposite is the celebrated Socialist Pig about which you have heard plenty already.
Walk up King Street. There are several great restaurants and small antique shops on both sides as you walk northeast, including a barbecue at the Socialist Pig and a neat clothing and antique shop owned by the “pig” people. If you make a right on Charles Street it will take you past the churches and some B&Bs to the Gananoque Inn where you can go left on South Street and check out the Thousand Islands Playhouse and its mural, or hang a right and take Water Street west and Main Street back to town. You will have seen a lot of Gananoque and your feet are not even hurting.
Notice those murals in town? They indicate how confident the town is about itself. The Arthur Child Heritage Centre on Water Street shows the same confidence: weapons of war; the War of 1812, itself; uniforms; sailing ships; maps; famous persons — all, essentially, the story of Gananoque.
Close to this museum on the waterfront stands the reason most tourists come to this town — the dock of the Gananoque Boat Line, which runs the cruises to the Thousand Islands.
You have a choice of which cruise you take varying from a one-hour that brings you close to some of the islands to five hours back into the United States to visit the mysterious Boldt Castle, built for his wife by the real estate and hotel magnate George C. Boldt (who also owned the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City).
Louise, his wife, died suddenly in 1904. Louise was only 41 and although both Boldt Castle and most websites are reticent about the cause of death, there are vague references online to heart failure in a person taking diet pills. It’s still a love story for the ages and the husband never recovered.
Next, wandering on wheels
Gananoque can be an opening into the surrounding countryside if you rent a car for a few days. What’s your interest? Antiques, culture, military history? Knowing we wanted to look at one of the locks of the Rideau Canal we had read about the canal before venturing up to it.
The canal story is still a bit confusing, perhaps, because at the time it was begun by the Royal Engineers, the United States was seen as Canada’s enemy. The French word rideau means “curtain,” which is how the early explores saw the falls cascading like drapes over the rocks at what is now Ottawa.
We choose the National Historic Site Jones Falls as a convenient location from Gananoque. It gives us a chance to check out the riverboats that cruise its waters and the gracious Great Old Dame of the canal, the Hotel Kenney.
Sitting in that hotel is a bit like watching the nostalgic and cult favorite movie Somewhere in Time. If only we were younger and had unlimited time we’d surely come back to the Hotel Kenney. We watch with some envy the passengers of the Kawartha Voyageur streaming in for their lunch.
Kilborn’s Store in nearby Newboro got its name from the Royalist Militia Colonel John Kilborn, who in “the War of 1812 was captured by the Americans” but escaped to this little town. Kilborn was an interesting character: born in 1794 he lived until 93. He served as a Member of Parliament after the war but resigned to become postmaster in close-by Brockville. We can think of politicians we’d like to see retire but not if they were going to make our own post office worse.
This store started in the village grocery but has extended to three buildings and become a tourist landmark for its eclectic offerings from canoes to placards from the past and wise sayings from today.
Kingston about 17 miles to the west of Gananoque can be reached easily by car or train. Those whose appetite for military history has been stoked by the Arthur Child Heritage Centre should head for Fort Henry. Military cadets put on a show at intervals; just give yourself enough time to see the British defend their land against the Americans!
However, you leave Ontario not with a sustained interest in war but rather possessed of what might be called an island calm, a tranquility created by a land and a small town where neither has changed much over the years. It’s as if, indeed, the past was The Good Old Days and sometimes that might be remembered.
The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.