It’s been a while since my last blog as the Diplomat, Isla and I decided to take a trip back to old Blighty and Kanata to visit friends and family. Which gave me the thought that perhaps I should write a couple of entries about UK and Canadian places of interest (well, of interest to me, at least) because my readership is no longer confined just to those two countries. So, for this first one I picked the fascinating (don’t yawn!) topic of Kingston, Ontario. A couple of blogs on this one I think, as it is both the old capital of Canada, the initial seat of Confederation Government, and the home town of Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister from 1867. The next blog will be on the Kingston Penitentiary Museum….I know, I know, that sounds dull, but bear with me, it’s actually quite eye opening what those Canucks do to their prisoners. It was more like a trip round the London Dungeon than a sanitised view of all things incarceration and rehabilitation.
Anyway, back to a general tour of Kingston. All done in a non-sweaty 25C which, in itself, proved a blessing. Kingston (for those not in the know) is located about 2 hours drive along the 401 Highway, east of Toronto. It was to be our family “home” for about a week. A place where we could honour various guests. We’d made this decision after the Diplomat had chatted with Les Quebecois about our plans for the Canadian leg of our trip; a conversation along the lines of:
“We’re going to fly to Toronto, spend a night there, then two nights in Belleville, three in Kingston, two in Ottawa, back to Kingston for one night, two more in Belleville, then a last one in Toronto. Cool, eh?”
“With a baby? You’re frickin’ insane.”
All of which led us to take the sage advice to rent a small “Victorian-esque railway cottage” directly across from the birthplace of the Diplomat’s grandfather (as we found out on arrival) so that Isla wasn’t cot-hopping quite so much (she’s used to it) and we had at least seven nights in one place. Sage advice those descendants of the filles du roi hand out from time to time. Given my last piece of advice from those quarters was in a Quebec supermarket which consisted of a “I love your jeans, they fit you so well” with the added light caress across my derriere by a sprightly looking man with a glint in his eye, then this latest was very useful indeed. Anyway, after a 19hr flight, bouncing off Heathrow, we maneuvered our jet lagged selves into a rental car and up to the ancient capital where a gentle breeze was blowing off Lake Ontario (Kingston is located where the lake becomes the St Lawrence River). It was sunny, warm and everyone was gamboling in that peculiarly louche manner that the town seems to own. All was blessed, save the midge hurricane that had blown into town for its annual five day party.
I now know the town well owing to both my reading of Richard Gwyn’s two part biography of Sir John A. and family being resident. As such, I decided to wander it with a view to showing a few of the key historical attractions to those who may never visit. Most of my knight-errancy involved a wander round the harbour area where the Montreal Olympics held the ’76 Regatta and then a trip into the Town Hall which is where the current Ontario Legislature meet, previously the Canadian government in the nineteenth century. As we strolled into this building under a cloud streaked sky, which meant we could engage in some pareidolia, we suddenly spotted that the front desk security guard was none other than our wedding DJ! “Chico” by night and … er… “Chico” by day. Anyway, given the alacrity with which he induced people to gyrate and wobble their drunken way through some lustily bawled ballads that magical night, it was no surprise to see an equally stentorian fervour at the fore of Ontario’s most important public building. They say the reception person IS the face of the company. Well, Chico is a good pick to face up Ontario. Whilst the Diplomat, Isla, and The Bikini Nana paid their social dues I was let off my cultural leash to go explore the two floors of the place.
This is how the place looked in the early twentieth century as painted by David Walkley. It shows the rear facade of the City Hall which was built to the designs of George Browne in Kingston’s Triumphal Period as the commercial and military centre of Upper and Lower Canada. I was able to wander into two rooms in that heavy mahogany and green leather so beloved of Parliamentarian interior decorators. Statues and portraits were abundant, as was a list of Seven Reasons why one is “Proud to be a Canadian”. I am not going to list all Seven but here’s the First:
Because of the beauty of our land : the majesty of our mountains : the far horizons of our prairies: the sweep of the shorelines : the abundance of the farm lands : the sparkle of ten thousand lakes and rivers…even the forbidding barrens of the North
Poetic stuff indeed. Eloquent and accurate for the time, though those forbidding barrens are now proving brilliant for oil sand exploration. Upstairs was the original meeting room, set on each side with five stain glass windows, each with a depiction of battle from either the First or Second World War. A hemispherical stage framed six more portraits and an ornately wooden “throne”. Outside was the Drennan Footstool – something I knew of from my reading of the Sir John A. biography. It was made for the 1880 visit of Victoria’s son, Bertie, but not used as he didn’t disembark at Kingston because of the Orange Lodge’s welcoming committee which might have offended the Canadian and Irish Roman Catholics. Politics, eh? Where’s a good diplomat or two when you need them?
Anyway, here’s several photos of the place…apologies that some photos are slightly blurred ( I must upgrade my camera).
Outside we wandered towards the shore line where we came across this impressive car which was next to the Kingston Brewing Co. Ltd restaurant. It is a Dragon Wagon built in 1947 and originally used by Ontario police as a Paddy Wagon. Purchased in 1994 by the aforementioned KBC it was rebuilt and now possesses a Chevy 350 engine, with fuel injection at 700r4 (whatever all that means). Brings to mind a Dick Tracy or Untouchables movie scene.
Right next to it, opposite the Tir Nan Og mural was a brilliant plaque to the Canadian sense of humour and unpretentiousness. On the wall was a plaque which says:
This historic plaque marks the spot where Sir John Alexander Macdonald routinely relieved himself after a night of politicking and nation-shaping at the various “watering holes” that were located in this area at that time.
John A Macdonald, urination builder if we ever saw one!
After that I had to stop because, frankly, nothing can beat that. We headed home with an ice cream in hand from White Mountain. It was bloody excellent so I’ll drop a link to their facebook page in here. If you’re ever cruising past on a sunny day, grab one. Enough for now…I could sing the praises of Canada’s first capital for days as it particularly appeals to me on a number of levels. Then again, I’ve yet to find a place in that pristine country that doesn’t appeal. I doubt I will ever find a bad word to say about the nation and its people.
Lastly, and this is just a snippet of information of no relevance whatsoever to this blog, I learned something new about Hong Kong’s weather reporting systems today. Rainstorm warnings are sent out by the observatory. A “Black Rain Warning” has been issued which means the higher the warning the more things close.
Amber, Red, then Black. Black means all stay home, major flooding, landslides etc..
There you go.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?