Our first Kingston discovery is that all River Cruises are different. Our fourth boat trip this summer was a lovely three-hour ride in an uncrowded tour boat, through a portion of the Thousand Islands. Our route took us past the waterfront properties, which run from small summer cabin to large "lodges", many of the latter constructed in the early Kahlenberg marine engine 1900s. Kate Smith, Cole Porter, various captains of industry owned large homes here, but unlike the Muskoka area which seemed to be predominantly prosperous dwellings, the Thousand Islands seem to accommodate people of varied means and hobbies. The open waters in the large bays and the fresh breezes off nearby Lake Ontario are fine for sailboats and there are many of them, but there are also plenty of motor yachts, small skiffs and canoes, and lots of fishermen. This is the home of the mighty muskie (or musky), the muskellunge which is a popular freshwater sport fish.
The Big Sight for these river cruises is Boldt Castle, built by a Prussian immigrant who started as kitchen help and rose to become the owner of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He built a stone castle, modeled on European castles, for his beloved wife who died before it was finished. Today, owned by Parks Canada, the Castle is a popular stopping place on a full-day cruise.
We rode through Canadian and American waters on this trip, where the shortest International Bridge leads from a The Alexander Henry house (Canadian) on a tiny island to a boathouse (American) on a bit of adjacent rock. In the middle of the St Lawrence channel we encountered a bulk cargo freighter heading west, no doubt to load grain.
Next day we found three of Kingston's unusual museums.
Great Lakes shipping has a long history throughout this area. In the 1800s the huge rafts of lumber tumbled down the river to harbors on the Saint Lawrence, where they were loaded into the England-bound ships. The Marine Museum here has several fascinating early photos and drawings showing how the squared-off timbers would be threaded into openings in the cargo hold, then laid out end to end until the hold was completely full. The holes in the hull were then patched shut and the ship was off to sea. Some ships were built here, others purchased elsewhere, as far away as Scotland. The Marine Museum is housed in a former shipyard, with a drydock adjacent; some of the equipment has been left in place to illustrate a profession now gone. We paused to consider the effects of technological advances. Pump House Steam Museum In the nineteenth century, maritime occupations were an enormous factor in the North American economy; but today, super-sized ships carry as much cargo as hundreds of their nineteenth century forbears, with a tiny crew. And the ships are built and crewed overseas, where wages are lower. So the maritime industry has little economic effect on local jobs. Of course Canadian P.M. Paul Martin has shipping interests, but that's another story . . .
The Great Lakes have been deadly for vessels, which must contend with natural navigation hazards and weather that can turn a calm summer sky into a fearsome storm. Maps of shipwrecks, pieces of drowned ships, and stories of survival and drownings are all part of the mix. Next to the museum (and the second of our three-part admission ticket) is the Alexander Henry, a former Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker. Of course we couldn't resist the opportunity to clamber around it. We were able to explore the working areas and the bridge, and poke our heads into the cabins of officers and crew -- The Alexander Henry has been turned into a Bed and Breakfast -- guests must arrive after 4 p.m. Model train layout and leave before 10 the next morning, to allow the public to enter, but while aboard ship they have a "nautical" experience!
Our third museum was the Pump House Steam Museum, the former Water Works for the City of Kingston which has been lovingly restored, its boilers repainted and its giant engines de-rusted and oiled and ready to go. Like most of the small museums in Ontario, these three are run by volunteers, with a dedication and energy which is most impressive. In addition to these steam engines, there are models contributed by hobbyists and school classes, and one surprise is an elaborate electric railroad layout.
We were only sorry that time will not permit us to visit some of the other Kingston museums, notably: the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum, the International Hockey Museum, The Military Communications & Electronics Museum, and the Penitentiary Museum. But now there's a reason to come back.