Hidden Gems, Outdoors

Whether it’s sweater weather, parka season, or the sunny days of summer, Kingston has some beautiful places to go for a stroll. If you’re looking for a break from your workday or need a weekend adventure for you and the family, here are some unique places to explore Kingston’s spectacular natural assets and the city’s rich history.


Looking for a scenic view of Kingston’s waterfront? Kingston’s Waterfront Pathway is a picturesque 8 km walk from Lake Ontario Park to the downtown core. Along this path you will have the opportunity to see Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, Kingston Penitentiary, the Tett Centre, Fort Frontenac, and many other historic locations in the Kingston area. Accessible parking and pathway access are available. For more information on the path and access to a digital map, please visit this link.


Barriefield Village was established near the Naval Shipyards and prospered for many decades as an important part in the boatbuilding industry. Did you know that in 1980 Barriefield became the first village in Ontario to become a Heritage Conservation District? It is no secret that Barriefield is filled with rich history and you can explore it on a self-guided walking tour of area. On this self-guided tour, you will be able to relive the history of the village – see where the blacksmith lived and where Peters Grocery resided. For more information on the tour and for a detailed map, please visit this link.


Known for its beautiful architecture and historic setting, Sydenham Ward is home to some of the finest 19th-century architecture in Canada. Old Sydenham was designated a historic district in 2015. On your walk through Sydenham Ward, you will stop by some notable buildings including Frontenac County Court House, a building originally designed to house the Parliament of Canada when Kingston was Canada’s capital city; the Spire, a notable 160-year-old landmark that is now a community hub for the arts and not for profit; and Chalmers United Church, which sits on a unique triangular lot where Clergy, Barrie and Earl streets meet. Lace up your sneakers and go take in the beauty of Sydenham Ward today!


Queen’s University was established in 1841 by a Royal Charter signed by Queen Victoria. Queen’s main campus is located on roughly 100 acres of land on the southwestern edge of downtown Kingston. Its approximate boundaries are King Street in the south, Earl Street in the north, Collingwood Street in the west, and Barrie Street in the east. The campus is home to many beautiful limestone buildings and, given its age, a history full of interesting anecdotes. Did you know that Queen’s landmark building, Grant Hall, was a military hospital during the First World War and used as an entertainment centre for troops and a meal hall during WWII?


Providing a natural landscape drawing both visitors and locals, Lake Ontario Park is the largest urban waterfront park in Kingston. Lake Ontario is great for picnicking and scenic walks along the waterfront, including access to the Waterfront Pathway. The park was extensively renovated in recent years and includes accessible walkways to the lakeshore, a cobblestone beach, playground equipment and a sandy beach area.


Portsmouth Village was founded in 1784 and grew alongside the Kingston Penitentiary, which was located nearby. In its early years, the area included tanneries, breweries and shipyards. The village is also home to Portsmouth Olympic Harbour, which hosted the yachting and boating events for the 1976 Summer Olympics. In present day, the area retains a quaint historic charm with stone and brick homes. A walk through this area will take you along the lakeshore marina and through charming side streets dotted historic homes, ultimately connecting with the Waterfront Pathway.


Hidden Gems, Outdoors

What better way to spend time than to go on an adventure. Make the most of the beautiful weather by spending it outdoors exploring amazing hiking trails and conservation areas in and around Kingston. Lace-up those hiking boots and check out the featured trails below!

Remember to responsibly enjoy parks and trails: stay with your household, physically distance from others, leave no trace (pack in and pack out all garbage), and dogs must be on a leash at all times.


1540 Gould Lake Road, Sydenham

As a day–use area, Gould Lake offers picnicking, fishing, swimming, and hiking. Gould Lake features approximately 20 km of trails across rolling and rugged terrain. The well-known Rideau Trail, as well as several side loops, can be found within the conservation area. Its wetlands, woods, and shoreline areas provide many opportunities for wildlife viewing and nature appreciation. Let us know what wildlife you see!

Difficulty level: intermediate to advanced

Price: Adults: $5.00, children (12 & under): $3.50, max. fee per car: $15, annual pass: $85

Hours of Operation: 7:30 am to dusk daily


1440 Coverdale Drive, Kingston

As a popular and heavily-used conservation area, Lemoine Point offers picnicking, cycling, swimming, and hiking. Lemoine Point is home to approximately 11 km of hiking trails that cross flat to gently rolling woodland, field, and marsh area. As you hike the trails, you can find hidden gems such as scenic lookouts and beaches. This conservation area is bordered by Lake Ontario and Collins Bay, so you are sure to get a scenic view!

Difficulty level: beginner; family-friendly

Price: Free, donations are accepted

Hours of Operation: 7:30 am to dusk daily


1641 Perth Road, Glenburnie

At Little Cataraqui Creek you can connect with nature during all four seasons. Here, there are marsh, field, and forest habitats for nature appreciation. Additionally, there are opportunities for education and outdoor recreation. Little Cataraqui Creek offers picnicking, fishing, bird watching, and hiking trails for their visitors to enjoy. This conservation area is home to approximately 14 km of hiking trails through mostly flat terrain. These trails are a great escape for the family to enjoy together!

Difficulty level: Beginner; family-friendly

Price: Adults: $5.00, children (12 & under): $3.50, max. fee per car: $15, annual pass: $85.

Hours of Operation: 7:30am-dusk daily


90 Lyn Valley Road, Lyn

Lyn Valley may be small, but it is one of the busiest conservation areas in the region. Lyn Valley offers a swimming area, picnicking, and hiking trails. With just 1 km of hiking trails, it is perfect for the little ones to get out and explore nature! The hiking trails are on flat terrain and offer opportunities to appreciate what nature has to offer.

Difficulty level: beginner; family-friendly

Price: Free, donations are accepted

Hours of Operation: 7:30 am to dusk daily


4976 Bath Road, Kingston

As Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority’s newest conservation area, Parrot’s Bay offers woods and wetlands with beautiful waterfront views. Parrot’s Bay offers picnicking, fishing, and hiking. Hiking trails are approximately 6 km in length and cross both woodland and wetland habitats. Parrot’s Bay trails feature a viewing deck and osprey nesting platform. Keep an eye out for ospreys on your hike!

Difficulty level: beginner; family-friendly

Price: Free, donations are accepted

Hours of Operation: 7:30 am to dusk daily


The trail can be accessed from many locations. The trail continues into South Frontenac Township.

The K&P Trail is a multi-part trail, offering a mix of urban and rural trails. The trail is open year-round and gives the opportunity for visitors to walk through natural open landscapes, rock cuts, wetlands, and historic Kingston. The 22 km trail is divided into two distinct sections: the 7 km paved, urban trail and the 15 km gravel, rural trail. For more information on access points, please visit the City of Kingston’s website.

Recently, Frontenac Trail Tours has begun single and multi-day guided cycling tours. Each tour takes cyclists down the K&P trail, stopping for snacks featuring locally sourced food and to visit local artisan shops. Their multi-day tours will also include stays at local B&Bs and a ride on the historic Wolfe Island Ferry. For more information on these tours, please visit //www.frontenactrailtours.ca/.

Difficulty level: beginner; family-friendly

Price: Free

Hours of Operation: N/A


1121 Thousand Islands Parkway, Mallorytown

As Canada’s oldest National Park east of the Rockies, Thousand Islands National Park offers three mainland hiking locations. This park boasts of its sanctuary of scenic lookouts, rugged rock faces, and tall stands of pine.

Mallorytown Landing(1121 – 1000 Islands Parkway, Mallorytown): As the main location of Thousand Islands National Park, there are opportunities to picnic, fish, swim, and hike. Here, there are approximately 3 km of hiking trails. These trails are on mostly flat terrain and are beginner-friendly. Be sure to get a picture posing in the set of Parks Canada red chairs!

Jones Creek (1270 – 1000 Islands Parkway, Mallorytown): At this location, visitors have access to over 20 km of hiking trails. Trails cross a variety of differing landscapes and are rated medium to difficult. These trails feature a set of Parks Canada red chairs and a scenic lookout.

Landon Bay (302 – 1000 Islands Parkway, Lansdowne): Landon Bay offers six different trail networks that range in difficulty from low to medium. These trails are approximately 6 km in length. Be sure to check out the Lookout trail to get your next social media worthy picture!

Difficulty level: Beginner to advanced; some trails are family-friendly

Price: $6.80 per car, some additional fees may apply

Hours of Operation: 8:30 am to 4:00 pm


6700 Salmon Lake Road, Sydenham

Frontenac Provincial Park is well-known in the Kingston region for its hiking and trail systems. This park offers fishing, swimming, paddling, and hiking. Frontenac Provincial Parks boasts well-planned trails and rugged terrain. With many trails, this provincial park has approximately 100 km of trails for you to explore! For a full list of trails and how to access them, please visit their website.

Difficulty level: intermediate to advanced

Price: $12.25 per car, some additional fees may apply

Hours of Operation: 8 am to 8 pm


Mac Johnson Wildlife Area

Debruge Road, north of Brockville. (south access on Centennial Road)

Marshlands Conservation Area

1214 Trailhead Place just off King Street in Kingston

Marble Rock Conservation Area

Marble Rock Road, Gananoque, Ontario

Charleston Lake Provincial Park

148 Woodvale Road, Lansdowne, Ontario

Foley Mountain Conservation Area

105 Foley Mountain Lane, Westport

Waterfront Pathway

An 8 km public waterfront pathway connecting to the downtown core extends from the King Street, near 1098 King St. W to Emma Martin Park.

A big thank you to Queen’s University student, Riley Stewart-Patterson, for sending over resources regarding trails that are currently open around Kingston!


Hidden Gems, Sports

Some people might be surprised to know that out of the small selection of athletes invited to represent Canada at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, seven are from Kingston and five of them are water and wind athletes. This wouldn’t come as a shock to Kingstonians though, as we’ve cultivated a legacy of excellence in water sports. After a postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 10,000 athletes are set to compete at the Games July 23 to August 8, 2021. Abi Tripp (Para-swimming), Alexandra (Ali) ten Hove (Sailing), Jennifer Casson (Rowing), Kristina Walker (Rowing), and Will Crothers (Rowing) are the Kingston athletes that Lake Ontario has helped nurture for the world’s most prominent sports competition.

Jennifer Casson has been competing on the Canadian Senior National Rowing Team since 2017. As she prepares for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, she reflects on how Kingston simply caters itself to water and wind athletes. “Kingston has always sort of hit way above its belt as far as athletes that have come from Kingston. I don’t know if it’s something in the water – I’m inclined to believe that. It’s just such an active, little town and everyone’s always doing something on the water. You’re surrounded by three bodies of water.”

Credit: Dwayne Brown Studio

Even in a country like Canada, home to the most lakes in the world, Kingston still stands out as a superior spot for sailing and rowing. We spoke with John Curtis, a 16-year veteran of the Canadian sailing team who represented Canada in sailing at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in the Tornado class. He has several accolades at the international level and is also the President of Wind Athletes Canada, an organization that provides financial and logistical support for aspiring Olympic sailors.

“Kingston is a great place to sail. There’s a whole bunch of factors and they all sort of come together in Kingston. I have sailed the world, so when I say Kingston is one of my favourite places, I would say it is my favourite place to sail. First of all, we typically have some sailable wind every day. In the summer, we often have relatively strong winds in a fairly reliable pattern.”

In addition to excellent wind conditions, Kingston is famous for its southwesterly thermal breeze. Curtis explains that our water is the right depth and there aren’t many obstacles to obscure training and races. There’s also a “very nice fetch,” which means we have a stretch of open water that cultivates excellent waves, rather than a small, enclosed sailing area. It’s no surprise then, that many of Canada’s greatest wind and water professionals are those who began their athletic journey here.

Kingston’s Ali ten Hove is representing Canada in Sailing in the 49er – Skipper Class at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She points out that Kingston’s gorgeous lakefront directly connects the community to water. The unique thermally driven winds in the summer months make for strong and consistent conditions, ten Hove’s “ideal sailing playground” that’s fun to race in.

Curtis remarks that there are other places in the world that have water factors that are conducive to sailing, but it’s the small-town atmosphere in Kingston that truly makes a difference for professional athletes. Often, in other popular sailing locations such as San Francisco, athletes must make long commutes even if they live close to the water. Even after rigging your boat, it might take 45 minutes to sail out to an area of water that’s favorable to training and racing. Lake Ontario, on the other hand, is easily accessible from residences and it only takes about three minutes to get from the Kingston harbour to the “field of play.”

Beyond the environmental conditions and physical location that make Kingston a breeding ground for wind athletes, Kingston also has a rich history of welcoming international sailors to our harbour. The Canadian Olympic-training Regatta, Kingston, (CORK) began in 1969 with an original committee made up of Kingston Yacht Club (KYC) members. And in 1976, we highlighted our superior freshwater sailing conditions on the global stage during the Olympic Games. Due to our Lake Ontario location and reputation for world-class sailing, the Montreal 1976 Olympic sailing events were held in Kingston at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. The harbour, which was constructed in 1969, was rejuvenated in 1974 to include three race areas for the Games. The 1976 sailing program was made up of six different sailing disciplines across three race areas. The Portsmouth Olympic Harbour is the only legacy Olympic sailing site in North America.

CORK continues to be world-renowned, for its pre-Olympic regattas that take place in August with more than 1,500 competitors and for hosting North American and World Championships. CORK brings young, international talent to Kingston’s shores each year. CORK also works closely with Ontario Sailing and Sail Canada and hosts an annual Fall Regatta at the end of September. In fact, Curtis came to Kingston for the CORK regattas in the early ‘80s and deemed it the “beginning of [his] love affair with Kingston.” Curtis points to Kingston regattas and CORK as crucial to the sport, both locally and internationally.

“Because Kingston has been a great place to sail for a long time and is close to the water, the world already comes to Kingston, and they sort of park themselves in Kingston every summer. So, there are great training opportunities here. That’s a consistent thing. That’s just been created by the hard work of all the people who have come before us who held big events and Kingston is a great place to come and train. Once a place becomes a great place to train, it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy: it’s a great place because it’s a great place and everybody goes there because it’s a great place. It’s a virtuous circle, that’s what it is.”

So, while Kingston has had many famous names take up sail at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and it boasts some of the world’s best sailors and rowers, we owe it all to a tireless local community. Curtis believes that the true value of sport is how it can be a vehicle for building community, and in Kingston, the sailing community is simply made up of good people. Ten Hove is also a strong believer that Kingston’s community had a significant role in cultivating her skills as a high-performance wind athlete:

“I think a main reason probably why I reached the level that I am at now does have a lot to do with Kingston. It’s no surprise that Kingston produces so many high-calibre athletes within sailing because the sailing community in Kingston has such a history of Olympic excellence and such a legacy.”

In 2021, on the 45th anniversary of the Montreal 1976 Olympics, Kingston continues to prove itself as the freshwater sailing capital of the world, and Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth Olympics in a row in which a Kingston rower has competed. Due to CORK’s long history of hosting regattas and the wisdom passed down through generations of members at the Kingston Yacht Club and Kingston Rowing Club, we have a vibrant water and wind community that continues to nurture new and established talent.


Hidden Gems

Locals on the joys and difficulties of life on Amherst, Wolfe, Simcoe and Howe islands.

Bordering the edges of Kingston, along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, lie Amherst Island, Wolfe Island, Simcoe Island and Howe Island. Accessible only by water, each is rich with its own history, art, folklore, landscape, wildlife and community. Yet, although the islands are considered part of Kingston in Ontario’s provincial electoral districts, and even though many island inhabitants commute to town for work, they are often overlooked when it comes to citywide dialogue and identity – and sometimes forgotten altogether. For many islanders, in fact, their home feels like one of the Kingston area’s best-kept secrets.

Amherst Island

Bearing a slight resemblance to the shape of a squid when seen from the air, Amherst Island is located 10 kilometres west of Kingston on Lake Ontario. Measuring over 20 km in length, Amherst is one of the largest islands on the Great Lakes.

Originally inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, in 1788 Amherst Island was granted by the Crown to Sir John Johnson, a British Loyalist leader during the American Revolution, provincial military officer and Canadian politician. In 1823, Sir Johnson’s daughter, Catherine Marie Bowes, gained control of the island. But – rumour has it – she then lost possession in a card game in Ireland to an Anglo-Irish aristocrat named Stephen Moore, 3rd Earl Mount Cashell.

Mount Cashell brought over many Irish immigrants to the island, in hopes of strengthening the transatlantic grain trade with a prosperous farming industry. Following his evangelical belief in human improvement, religion was a strong influence on the island: to this day, there are three churches on the island, for a population of just 450 in the winter and 800 in the warmer months.

One of these inhabitants is lifelong resident Keith Miller, a seventh-generation retired dairy farmer and one of the oldest male residents on the island.

Miller is a volunteer at the local museum. He helps assemble and build old farm parts for the exhibits.

“I was fortunate to live just in the right span of time – we started my farming career with horses and ended it [with] automatic controls on sprayers … It changed a lot in 70 years,” says Miller.

“There’s only one dairy farm left. When I was (farming) there were about 15. In 1948 there were 96 milk producers on the island.”

Miller says he’s seen Amherst Island change drastically over his 77 years – including the loss of farms and the fishing village. For instance, the island didn’t have a winter ferry until 1975, and Miller remembers building roads on the ice to drive across to the mainland.

“We’d chop holes in the ice and put cedar trees in the holes, let them freeze so they had a road to follow, so you wouldn’t get lost in a blizzard,” explains Miller. “You could get lost out there in two seconds.”

Though ferry life is unique for most, Miller says you learn to live with it.

“I never worry about it a lot because there’s always another boat in an hour.”

He has a live radio show on Amherst’s volunteer-run radio station, CJAI 92.1 FM, called “150 Years Made in Canada.” Miller and his co-host, Janet Scott, named the show after their combined ages, which added up to 150 and happened to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Every Tuesday morning, Miller and Scott play strictly Canadian music, read from local history books and give updates on the goings-on of the island. The two are close friends, having met on the museum board years ago and bonded over their love of island history.

Scott, a retired school teacher, lived in Ottawa and Kingston before moving to Amherst Island in 1984. She and her family are avid bird-watchers and were looking for a home in the country where they could explore and spot more species. Known as the “Bird Lady” of Amherst Island, Scott gives guided tours, has a radio program on birds and writes about them in island newsletter The Beacon.

Scott says she loves Amherst’s sense of community.

“I was amazed when we moved here. No one would ever leave you on the side of the road when they saw your car,” she says. “I lived in Kingston for 14 years and it was so different to come here. The snowplows stopped one day to see if I was alright. That didn’t happen in Kingston Township, you know?”

For over 20 years, Miller has been working part-time as the landfill site attendant at the island dump, in which, he says, he also functions as a makeshift information booth.

“This job, I know everybody. You have to be close and personal because I have to know who you are and how much garbage you have. Eventually you get to know them all. They all ask me something too – like, they all want to know who you get to do a well and who you get to fix [things],” says Miller.

“When they’re new here, this is the place to come. He’s the guy to ask if you need help,” quips Scott, adding, with a laugh, “Do you know any dump managers that keep a bird feeder? I can come here and watch his bird feeder.”

Unfortunately, for all the island’s togetherness, Miller says he’s never seen the community as fractured as it is today. Controversy surrounding the Amherst Island Wind Project has caused a great divide among residents. Operated by Windlectric Inc., the project is an initiative by the Government of Ontario to promote the development of renewable energy with the construction of 27 wind turbines on the island.

Though Scott and Miller are on ”different sides” of the project, they both make it a point to not let their differing views interfere with their friendship.

“It has totally separated the island,” says Miller. “It’s made it really hard. It will be slow but it will have to get better because all of us will die. The young kids aren’t going to carry on a grudge like that.”

“Right now it’s sad to see neighbour against neighbour, sometimes in the same family. That’s been sad,” interjects Scott. “Like Keith says, we just have to wait it out and hopefully the young people will forgive.”

Wolfe Island

Originally named Ganounkouesnot (Long Island Standing Up), Wolfe Island was part of the traditional hunting land of the Tyendinaga Mohawk People. Situated at the entrance of the St. Lawrence River, it’s the largest of the Thousand Islands, running 29 km wide. The island can be accessed by ferry from Kingston and, across the border, from Cape Vincent, New York.

Wolfe Island is the most populated island with over 1,400 residents in the winter (a number that can double, or sometimes even triple, in the summer). It’s also the most accessible to Kingston’s downtown core, allowing it to function more like a small adjunct village and less like the remote country living of, say, Amherst Island. During the summer, Wolfe Island is a haven for tourists, campers and cottagers. The hub of the island is Marysville, with its popular grill, bakery, grocery store, pizzeria and coffee shop.

Emilie Steele says she fell in love with the island and its eclectic art scene after attending the annual Wolfe Island Music Festival as a Queen’s student. Born and raised in a Guelph suburb, she moved to the island in 2014, a few years after graduating.

Now 30 years old, Steele says that living on the island offers the best of both rural living and vibrant city life. She says living so close to downtown is like “having Kingston in your backyard.”

That dual quality has helped Steele craft a lifestyle that allows her to work seasonally as a landscaper and gardener and, in the winter, part-time at a local bar on Queen’s campus. The off-time allows her to focus on her work as an artist and musician.

“It is quite a creative little alternative place. You go to the winter craft sale and (see) your neighbours that you had no idea were nestling away like I am, making beautiful original artwork,” says Steele.

“It’s the small, little moments that make island life,” she adds. “I’m not an active religious person, but on Sunday morning, my favourite thing is just (when) the bells start ringing … then they go off-tempo and it has the aesthetic of a charming little village. Our neighbour’s dog, Charlie, he howls with them. It’s just this beautiful moment that happens every Sunday morning.”

Steele says the summer months bring a vibrancy to the island, which helps make up for the quieter winter months.

“When the boat comes back to the village, (if) there’s a rainbow over Marysville that day, it doesn’t matter if it’s a grey day,” she says. “They kind of give the place the pulse and the energy.”

In November 2017, the Ontario government announced plans to build two new ferries for Wolfe Island and Amherst Island, an initiative to help make commuting easier and more reliable. The Wolfe Island Ferry, expected to be delivered in 2020, will carry 75 vehicles, an addition Steele believes will help bring even more tourists and economy to the island.

Brian MacDonald, a retired sixth-generation cattle farmer and lifelong resident of Wolfe Island, echoes similar sentiments about the new ferry.

MacDonald is the current treasurer for the Wolfe Island Historical Society. He and his wife, Brenda MacDonald, are also active members of the Nine Mile Point Lighthouse Preservation Society. The lighthouse sits on Simcoe Island (just off the northwest tip of Wolfe Island) and is one of the oldest active lighthouses on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, dating back over 200 years. Brenda, Brian and other local residents created the non-profit after the federal government’s decision to sell off hundreds of lighthouses across the country. The society submitted a bid to purchase the lighthouse and has been “patiently waiting” for a decision since 2015.

Brenda MacDonald, a retired librarian and farmer, was born and raised on Simcoe Island, and her mother, Lois Eves, and brother, Donald Eves, still reside there.

“When I was really small, my best friend’s dad was one of the lighthouse keepers. I slept over,” says MacDonald. “It [was] hard to sleep because of the foghorn. You’d be in the bedroom and you’d hear ‘hoooonk.’ My dad did some fill-in (as a lighthouse keeper) and some of the family, grandpa Eves, he ran the light for a while.

“There’s been two bids that have gone in: ours, which is a not-for-profit, and the other one is a private bid. I think it would be tragic if we lost public access to what I think is a national treasure,” says MacDonald. “It’s one of those things that make you feel like you want to protect your heritage.”

Simcoe Island

The smallest of the four islands, Simcoe Island runs only six km long and is accessible by a three-car cable ferry from Wolfe Island.

In 1792, the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, named the stretch of islands along the St. Lawrence River after generals at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham – James Wolfe, Jeffery Amherst and William Howe – with the last being made Simcoe Island.

Today, only 20 full-time residents populate the island. Lois Eves, 87, moved to Simcoe Island from Kingston in 1959 after marrying an islander. She and her family lived on the island before it even had a ferry: in fact, she says, before 1965, if you wanted to get to Kingston, you’d take a fishing boat.

“The time I lived in Kingston was probably the loneliest time,” remembers Lois. “I lived in a second-floor apartment. There were hundreds of people walking by my door every day, but I didn’t know any of them.”

Lois and her husband owned a farm and a commercial fishing business. Her son, Donald Eves, still lives on the island with his young daughter. He owns a small cattle farm and is the captain of the Simcoe Ferry, a job he’s held for 33 years.

“There were a lot of farms on Simcoe at one time. There were over 80 when we had ours,” says Lois. 

Donald says the lack of transportation in the winter is the hardest part about living on the island. In the winter months, residents have to walk or drive across the ice to get to Wolfe Island. Donald says he makes sure to prepare for several weeks in advance, in case of a storm or melting ice. Often, he has to worry about his daughter crossing the ice to get to school.

Despite having such a small population, Donald and Lois say they never consider moving off the island.

“I never feel lonely,” says Lois. “My husband passed away 10 years ago, and I’ve stayed on the island since then. It’s home.”

Howe Island

Located in the St. Lawrence River, east of Kingston, Howe Island measures 13 km long. The main channel of the St. Lawrence River passes to the south of the island; the Bateau Channel passes on the north, between it and the mainland. Howe Island was originally named Ka-ou-enesegoan by local Iroquois.

Two ferry services connect Howe Island to the mainland.  A county-operated ferry connects from the west from the community of Pitts Ferry. The other township-operated foot-ferry (mainly used for standing passengers) connects to Gananoque from the west. You can drive the entire length of the island without having to turn back and retrace your route.

With a population of 450 in the winter and 800 in the summer, Howe Island comprises mainly farmers, cottagers and retirees. There is very little business on the island and limited public space.

Retired registered nurse Bonnie Ottenhof has lived on Howe Island for most of her life. She comes from four generations of islanders, growing up in a family of farmers. She moved to the old Township of Kingston shortly after getting married – only to move back after having children.

Ottenhof describes her life growing up on Howe Island as quiet but always busy. She recalls summers spent swimming and winters of pond skating and Christmas concerts in one of the three single-room schoolhouses that were on the island.

“The folks on the island were very keen that we had an education, us kids,” says Ottenhof. “My older brother and sisters rode in a hearse to school. That was [their] school bus – it still had the plush velvet seats. When it was my turn to go to high school, I rode in a converted cattle truck. That’s all the township could afford at the time.”

The transition from a farming community to an island of mainly large and wealthy summer homes has Ottenhof feeling conflicted.

“As you drove in you must have seen those magnificent homes, so that’s what the island is about right now,” she says.  “A lot of retired [islanders] with money. There were very few cottages until the ‘60s. It was halftone trucks and hay wagons and tractors, and now it’s Escalades and Lexuses and service trucks on the ferry.”

“The sense of community, to my way of thinking, has been lost. As a farming community you got together because you needed that socialization. Now it’s more … fractured. We don’t have a community hall where I could go down in the morning, pick up a couple of the old gals, and we could have a coffee.

“I’m here on my own now. I lost my husband two years ago. Here I am. I’m in the last age of my life and trying to figure out, do I stay?” says Ottenhof, adding that a number of widows on the island face similar challenges.

She has lived in a beautiful farmhouse since 1979, which she calls the “hub of the Ottenhof clan.” The view from her kitchen deck is the MacDonald Farm, across the water on Wolfe Island.

“My father would always say you should never be a burden to your children, and I believe that. I’m still independent. I’m still driving. And as long as I can do that then I’ll stay,” says Ottenhof.

She does worry about the future of the community, however.

“I don’t know what will happen when all us old dusties die off. Who will take over these houses?” she asks. “There will always be rich people from Toronto coming over to buy land on Howe Island, to ‘nest’ in the islands, as they like to say.”

Wendy and David Jones are also retired but are fairly new to the island. After 30 years in Australia, they moved back to Canada in 2004. They now own the Howe Island B&B, which has been in operation for 10 years.

Wendy says they run the business not for the income but because of the people they get to meet from all corners of the world.

“Just the slice of life that walks in your door, it’s amazing,” says Wendy.

The couple say they fell in love with the island as soon as they entered their 200-year-old farmhouse for the first time. While Wendy agrees that newcomers are outnumbering those with longer ties, she says that’s a testament to the island’s charms and not a cause for concern.

“You think you’re just buying a home when you get here, and then you realize you’re in a community of like-minded people who love the island for what it is. I think initially, the people that have been born and brought up here think, ‘Oh god, here comes change.’

“We just love it the way it is – and the last thing we’d want to do is change it.”        

This article was originally published in Kingston Life, a bi-monthly local magazine that explores all things Kingston. For more great articles, please visit: www.kingstonlife.ca.



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