By Jim Budd
Probably there is nothing quite so spectacularly beautiful as the autumn foliage as seen in the Canadian province of Ontario. And there probably is no place better to see it than along the shores of the Rideau Canal. And the foliage is but one of the myriad enchantments there. The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ontario, the Rideau Canal extends 125 miles from Kingston to Ottawa. You can follow it on foot or in a car, go by bicycle or by boat. Boats range from cruise vessels to kayaks and canoes.
Kingston is a good place to start. You can get there by train from Toronto. You also could fly into Kingston, connecting in Toronto, but Toronto is worth at least one or two nights and a train ride is part of the adventure.
The first capital of Canada when Ontario and Quebec joined to become one country, Kingston was judged to be too close to the United States, which already had attempted to invade it in 1812. Queen Victoria designated Ottawa as the new capital since it was safely distant from the border and only across a river from Quebec. The Rideau Canal was built to keep Ottawa supplied should war come. It never did, but commerce thrived.
Kingston lies where the Saint Lawrence River begins flowing from vast Lake Ontario. Here the famous Thousand Islands (actually, there are 1,800 of them) span the border. The islands were a favorite playground for the rich and famous a century ago, when they could be reached overnight by train from New York, Chicago or Boston when there was no other way to travel. Even now, millionaires own homes on their own little islands.
Fort Henry, which depicts life as it was lived at a British garrison in the mid 19th century, is the big local attraction in Kingston. Colorful as the Tower of London, although not quite as historical, it is a place where hours can be spent watching military drills, parades, mock preparations for battle and more. Come evening, back in Kingston, you can meet with local phantoms on a guided ghost tour and, for something special, scuba dive among the wrecks in Lake Ontario. For mariners, the waters here are treacherous.
Kingston is where the Kawartha departs for a five-day cruise along the canal all the way to Ottawa. Strictly speaking, the Rideau is more a waterway than a canal. Along the route, lakes and rivers are connected with actual canals completed in 1836. You pass through 35 locks along this route, the boat raised and lowered in what was an engineering marvel in its day and remains impressive even now. Relaxation is emphasized on board. There is not much more to do than relax. Cabins are somewhat cramped, but the meals served on board are marvelous.
An alternative would be a five-hour cruise aboard Chuckles, which starts out at Chaffeys Locks, passes through another and stops at Jones Falls for lunch at the Kenney hotel, which could be a delightful place to spend the night. Chuckles goes back to Chaffeys, but, if you are driving, the Kenney is less than an hour away. Or you might prefer the Opinicon Resort at Chaffeys. Motorists driving along the canal will be tempted to stay at every inn they see.
Travelers more hearty than me can go by kayak or canoe from one end of the canal to the other or hike along the 200 kilometers from Kingston to Ottawa. Biking is another option and if you are interested in any such adventure, check out www.rideauheritageroute.ca. Or you can rent a boat. I explored by automobile, which was adventure enough. I kept getting lost. Getting lost can be fun while vacationing. You meet many interesting people.
Along these 200 kilometers you will find any number of delightful little villages, each with quaint shops, charming restaurants and appealing inns. Towns that I remember especially are Merrickville with all its little stores, Smiths Falls, which has a museum telling the story of the canal and how it was built, then Perth, where I dined well and spent the night in a waterfront boutique hotel.
Ottawa is the end of the line, unless you want to start from Ottawa. I recommend saving the best for last. Capital of Canada, Ottawa is surprisingly chic and sophisticated, not what I expected at all. And if you still want one more boat ride,
you can take one along the waters where the canal begins.
More info: www.ontario-tourism.net and www.ottawatourism.ca.
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