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.


The remarkable run of the reigning kings at Queen’s.

This is a column about sports. May I present my credentials? Actually, I have only one: a sense of wonder about them, or a passion, at least, for exploring them in a Kingston context – and perhaps coming to understand each sport’s appeal to those (sometimes including yours truly) who are mad keen about them.

I have written – and in some cases, more than once – about hockey, baseball, football, soccer, competitive sailing, coaching, fandom, show jumping, Don Cherry, the horse-human connection, the dog-human connection, sheepdog trials, basketball, fencing, cycling, golf, trekking, tennis, a blind powerlifter, wilderness tripping, competitive cheerleading, skydiving, canoeing, curling, yoga, cricket, ultimate frisbee, running, volleyball, rock climbing and roller derby. To name a few.


There is one glaring omission: the remarkable run of the Queen’s University men’s rugby team. Let’s start with the 2017 season when a new full-time coach, Scottish expat David Butcher, guided the team to an undefeated season that culminated in an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship after a 62-17 drubbing of Guelph at Nixon Field on the Queen’s campus. Through the entire season, the Gaels never once trailed – neither during the eight-game regular season nor during two playoff games. Most of the victories were lopsided, including a 78-0 walloping of the University of Toronto.

Just before that championship game on November 11, 2017, three longtime coaches with the Queen’s team – Peter Huigenbos, Gary Gilks and Luke Follwell – were honoured for their contributions to varsity rugby at the university from 2004 to 2016. In that time, the win-loss record for the Gaels was 103-26-2. They had won five OUA championships, their players had taken home 20 major awards and 72 players had earned all-star accolades.


I was especially interested in Peter Huigenbos. The year 2016 marked his 20th year of involvement in Queen’s men’s rugby – five years as a player and 15 years as a coach, including 10 years as head coach. Four times he was named the OUA coach of the year. Seven players he coached – including, most recently, Liam Underwood, Dan Moor, Lucas Rumball and Kainoa Lloyd – have all gone on to play for the Canadian national rugby team, now captained by Rumball. From 2008 to 2013, Huigenbos served as performance analyst for the national team. Perhaps even more impressive is the program that he developed to get local athletes playing rugby: he helped draw 180 or so Queen’s students into the rugby fold each year, enough to fill eight university teams. And dozens of Queen’s grads over the years have gone on to play for local teams.


I met Peter Huigenbos at a downtown coffee shop not knowing what he looks like. The name is Dutch, I was sure, and Dutch men are on average the tallest on the planet. A tall (six foot two inches), burly (200-plus pounds) man entered the cafe just as I did, and that man was indeed the man I was looking for.


“My father came from Holland in 1949,” Huigenbos told me. “The family name was Van Huigenbos, but we dropped the ‘Van.’ My father decided to become a veterinarian so he could avoid farming, but he eventually bought two farms, which we still have – including the 35-acre farm at Belmont, outside London, where he grew up. As for why the Dutch are tall, the joke in Holland (where all those dikes hold back the sea) is that it’s so we’ll keep our heads above water.”


I had the sense of a fairly shy man who, had the subject been anything other than rugby, might have declined an interview. When it comes to rugby, however, this man can’t say enough. “The beauty of rugby,” he told me, “is that it’s a game for all shapes and sizes.”


I admitted my near-complete ignorance of the game and asked, “I’m five-10, 160 pounds. Could I play?” “Sure,” said Huigenbos, as confident as a missionary speaking to a possible convert. “You’d be a back, but you might have a 260-pound teammate up front.” (I do love rugby jargon: “loosehead prop,” “tighthead prop,” “lock,” “hooker,” “blindside flanker,” “ruck,” “maul” … If you want to know what the words mean, you can ask Mr. Google, as I did.)


To this former coach I posed the same question I had put several years ago to Queen’s Golden Gaels football coach Pat Sheahan: which burns hotter in your memory, the joy of victory or the sting of defeat? The football guy and the rugby guy agreed. Winning championships is sweet, but the pain of a heartbreaking loss endures. For Peter Huigenbos, the defeat that haunts him in a way (and likely not the way you suspect) is the championship game that took place on November 13, 2016: Queen’s versus Guelph, with the Gryphons on home field trying to break the Gaels’ stranglehold on the championship, which they had won four years straight. At the end of regular time (80 minutes), the score was knotted at 17. One extra period led to another and, finally, to two rounds of drop-kick shootouts, one from 22 metres out, another from 30 metres out. This was sudden death, and it did not go Queen’s way.

That was the last game that Huigenbos coached. Without telling anyone, he had made up his mind a week beforehand to call it a day. By then he was an assistant coach, but the demands on his time from his young family (he and his wife, Morgan Huigenbos, have a six-year-old boy, Emmet, and a three-year-old girl, Cordelia), his job (he’s director of real estate and environmental initiatives at City Hall), and the rigours of coaching (he called it a virtual year-round job that worked out to about $3 or $4 an hour) had pushed him over the edge. Besides, Queen’s alumni were putting on the pressure for a full-time coach, and, when funding for that position became available, the die was cast.


“Last year,” Huigenbos said, “was the first time I saw a Queen’s rugby game without being a player or a coach. It was fine and nice to see the players I coached play well. But I saw the whole game as a coach. I could not turn it off.”


At one point during our chat, a former player on the Queen’s rugby team entered the cafe, and coach and player exchanged pleasantries. “I miss the players and the coaches and our time together,” Huigenbos said. “But I’m happy to do other things.” We talked more about rugby, its now-higher profile, the peaks and valleys of the men’s national team, but somehow conversation kept drifting back to that unforgettable defeat.

What haunts Huigenbos is not so much the loss – Guelph, he stressed, worked hard and was worthy of the win – but the lead-up. “I was very particular with game preparation,” he explained, “and we would work all week as a team to prepare for Saturday and make sure our game plan was in order. I learned the process from Kieran Crowley, a former All Black (New Zealand’s famous rugby team) and Canada’s men’s national team coach from 2008 to 2015. I would even make sure the balls were all perfectly inflated before game time. I had had some tough losses early in my career due to lack of preparation, and I swore that would never happen again. As coaches, we got better at being prepared. But the last game we coached, I had not contemplated a triple overtime. Some hockey teams practice shootouts. We never practiced dropkicks.” Left unsaid: “What if we had?”


Huigenbos got started in rugby at Brantford Collegiate Institute, where a coach named Bob Boos (another Dutchman) often led his team to the provincial finals. He was guided by this philosophy: “We will do the common things uncommonly well.”


Huigenbos’s own coaching philosophy was built on several pillars. One was depth at each position. “Every spot is earned,” is how he put it. All players on the team knew that if their skill or courage flagged (and it strikes me that rugby requires a great deal of courage), others would gladly don those sweater numbers. Another pillar was exposure to games (as opposed to practices), and the better the competition, the more the players learned to execute under pressure – which is why Gilks, Follwell et al. often traveled with the non-varsity teams to Syracuse and Montreal, Ottawa and Belleville for exhibition games. Finally, it was understood that each year, each player had to get better.


What Peter Huigenbos loves about rugby is the sense of community the game fosters, how he got to know not just the players but their parents, how the teams that Queen’s played against would share a meal with them either before the game or after the game and sometimes both. What other sport does that? “It’s about respect for your opponent and learning from your opponent,” says Huigenbos. “You go buy your opposing number a beer and you chat with him. When he was captain of the Queen’s team last year, Michael Douros would talk to other captains – or the referee. It’s not like hockey.”


Even tighter is the bond felt by all current players on the Queen’s squad and indeed everyone who has ever played for that team. “The sense of pride,” says Michael Douros, a five-year veteran, “is amazing. Alumni offer endless support, help finding summer jobs. Once you’ve been a Queen’s rugby player, you have joined a big brotherhood.” Michael’s father, Paul Douros, a longtime teacher, coach and former rugby player (who happens to be a friend of mine and who gave me the idea for this column), suggests that rugby truly is a special sport.

“What is unique about rugby,” he points out, “is that students often jump in late. In hockey or basketball, if you fall behind in developing a skill set, you will never catch up. Athletes who realize at 16 that they aren’t going to make it in hockey or who are cut from a basketball team in high school give rugby a try and they take to it. So many skills are transferable. Rugby offers a second life for athletes. It’s also a sport where someone who never really played sports but who always wanted to is given a chance. Rugby almost always has a no-cut policy. If you can’t make the first team, you can play on the second team. Queen’s carried up to eight teams – quite an undertaking and Peter’s most understated contribution.”

To watch the Queen’s men’s rugby team in action this fall, visit: //gogaelsgo.com.

This article was generously provided by Kingston Life. For more captivating local content, visit

Kingston Life


When I first started climbing I didn’t really “get” it. So you go up until you can’t go up anymore? Sounds a little scary. It wasn’t until I realized that every climb is like a solving a puzzle, that I started to get the climbing bug.

Boiler Room member Ardyn tries out a bouldering route in the recently improved “cave”.

The Boiler Room is located in the historic Woollen Mill at 4 Cataraqui Street and boasts Canada’s highest indoor climb via the chimney. The Boiler Room has both top rope (climbing while secured by a rope and harness) and bouldering (climbing at a low height without a rope) options.

The Boiler Room features Canada’s tallest indoor climb through the historic chimney.

Kingston has recently gained another gym – The Kingston Bouldering Cooperative (KBC) — dedicated purely to bouldering. The operating hours of the KBC vary so check the schedule before heading over. The KBC is located a short stroll from the Woollen Mill at 12 Cataraqui Street — look for the garage door. Bouldering routes are rated from V0 (easy) to V16 (extremely difficult) and are marked at the beginning of the route. All the routes are marked with coloured tape — ask one of the members for what the different tape means.

The Kingston Bouldering Cooperative (KBC) at 12 Cataraqui Street.

Top rope climbing routes are graded by difficulty from 5.0 (easy) to 5.15 (extremely difficult). All the climbing routes at the Boiler Room have the gradings posted so someone new to climbing can find easier climbs and work their way up. The Boiler Room has a variety of easy and difficult climbs to ensure there’s something for everyone.

For new climbers, the Boiler Room offers rental equipment and requires that you complete a belay lesson to ensure everyone is climbing and belaying in a safe manner. (Tip: Shoes should fit snug, like socks). The Boiler Room also offers lessons and an eight-week course called Rock Solid — a hands-on course aimed to take your climbing to the next level. Parents of adventurous kids can nurture their child’s athletic side by trying out climbing or hosting a birthday party at the gym. The Boiler Room offers family memberships and a kid’s camp in the summer.

Boiler Room member Raelyn tackles a route.

If you’re looking to improve your physical endurance the Boiler Room has added a section dedicated to working on technique and fitness. The owner’s background as a mechanical engineer means the gym is constantly being improved. The recently renovated workout area has sample workouts posted so you can tackle them solo or join in on the member workouts every Wednesday night. Members also benefit from discounts on equipment and members-only hours.

Avid Climber Serra (11 years old) tries a new route for the first time.

The recently renovated workout area at the Boiler Room.

I’ve been climbing for over a year and it hasn’t lost its draw. Now that I understand the attraction to climbing I find the combination of the mental and physical challenge unmatched in any other activity; it’s engaging and relaxing at the same time. Kingston is the perfect place to try the sport because the community is encouraging and supportive.  Even the experienced climbers at the gym started as a beginner at some point! The staff and members are friendly and will gladly answer your climbing questions or give you “beta” (advice on a route) because they all have something in common – they all love climbing! As a beginner or seasoned climber, you’ll find a fun and challenging climb in Kingston.



Ever had one of those moments where you pass an entrance that beckons to an unexplored but enticing dimension? For me, this summer, that was the Kick ‘n Push Trail.

Officially known as the Kingston and Pembroke Trail, the Kick ‘n Push—its local nickname—is a groomed recreational trail that runs along an abandoned Canadian Pacific Railway railway bed, now owned by the City of Kingston and the County of Frontenac. 

Starting in Kingston, the trail runs north for nearly forty kilometres, through farmland and wooded areas to Verona, intersecting with the Rideau Trail and the Cataraqui Trail.  

My plan one overcast morning was to cycle the twenty-two kilometres to Harrowsmith. I’d then travel four kilometres into Sydenham for a quick lunch before returning to Kingston.
To prepare for the trip, I followed an old adage: take a light bike and a heavy wallet. In these cases, there’s no substitute for a solid pocket and a bike basket.
Road traffic near the entrance at the Binnington Court Trailhead (located at the end of Dalton Avenue, off Sir John A Macdonald Boulevard) is not bike friendly, so take precautions.
The trail is crushed gravel. It’s a heavenly, flat terrain that discourages speed while encouraging multi-use. On either side are vigorous trees and native wildflowers, abundant small creatures, insects and birds. The only aspect of the trail that gives pause is the detours around the access point fences, but they really are wide enough for your bike.
Under the trail’s canopy cover, you’re protected from the elements and the environment is peaceful. It’s a thoroughly different ride from the city experience: not hot, not windy, uncomplicated.

In thirty minutes, you can ride through several access points—Sydenham Road at the 401, McIvor Road, Jackson Mills Road at Burbrook Road, Unity Road, and finally, Orser Road. The path runs through wetlands, farmland and forested escarpment. Reassuringly, there are runners, dog walkers, other cyclists, even a woman with a baby carriage, suggesting that the distance between access points is not intimidating. Foot traffic within the city limits makes the trail feel both safe and beloved.
At Jackson Mills Road, I had to stop to consider direction. Stepping forward slightly, I found clear signage at the intersection of Jackson Mills and Burbrook Road. Assume that others have your best interests at heart!
As I travelled north, I rode meditatively. A flying grasshopper kept enchanting pace with me.
North of Merton Road, the trail is less manicured but absolutely travel-worthy. The rock-cuts are spectacular and it’s got that durable Canadian Shield vibe going.
Once I relaxed in knowing that I wasn’t going to get lost or dehydrated, eaten by bears or waylaid by robbers, I began to hail other cyclists. They love this trail and genuinely want others to join them.
Just south of Harrowsmith, the trail again ends abruptly. To your right is the intersection of the K&P trail with the Cataraqui Trail.
When I entered the trailhead, I expected to stop in Sydenham: I’ve proven that plan to be absolutely feasible. However, the trail had other plans for me: it enticed me with its beauty, its good signage and even terrain, its visitors—friendly companions of all species—who accompanied me. I continued through Harrowsmith, cycling forty kilometres to Verona. Eventually, this multi-use trail will connect users from Kingston to Sharbot Lake.

  Franklin D. Roosevelt once advised, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Go get your bike tuned up and without further consideration, head into that beckoning trail. The Kick ‘n’ Push is a marvellous adventure.


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