In August, my family and I took a train trip to visit Kingston and stayed at Queen’s University campus for a few days. Kingston is a historic city. It was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada on February 10, 1841. It’s located midway between Toronto and Montreal.
We have visited Kingston a couple of times and have been on the Thousand Islands cruise which departs from downtown Kingston. During this stay, we explored a bit of history, nature, and arts. Below are the highlights.
National historic sites
We visited three national historic sites: Kingston’s City Hall built in 1844, the Shoal Tower built in 1847, and the Murney Tower built in 1846. Shoal and Murney Towers are part of the Kingston Fortifications. In 2007, the Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Kingston’s waterfront pathway spans over 8 km along the Lake Ontario shoreline. We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and saw many kayaks and sailboats on the lake and many windmills in the distance. The Breakwater Park is one block from where we stayed on Queen’s University campus so it was very convenient to get my morning walks done.
We visited the Agnes Queen’s Art Gallery on Queen’s University campus. Admission was free. There were various types of artworks on display, some are more contemporary than the others. I liked one of Sarah Robertson’s paintings and Claude Tousignant’s bold geometric style.
Queen’s University also has many beautiful limestone buildings worth browsing. Kingston’s nicknames are The Limestone City, or K-Town, or YGK. Aside from the above sightseeing, we met with our friends in Kingston to catch up. It was a nice and fun trip that was part of our wonderful summer 2019.
Growing up in Toronto, one place that holds many fond memories for me is Toronto Islands – also called the Island, or Toronto Island Park. It’s located in Lake Ontario, a 12-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto. As an adult, I try to visit the Island as often as I can to savour this beautiful jewel. Here’s my ten favourite activities on the Island:
1. Ride the ferry
There are three main ferry docks on the Island: Ward’s Island, Centre Island, and Hanlan’s Point. Ferry boats go more often to Centre Island than Ward’s Island or Hanlan’s Point because it’s the most popular.
In the summer, the ferries are usually full but service is frequent. The upper deck has open sides for passengers who like a good view and the breeze. The lower deck is more enclosed with glass windows for passengers who bring their bikes or like to be sheltered. Once the ferry departs, the views of the city and Toronto Harbour are wonderful.
2. Walk on the Grass
How often do you see an official invitation to walk on the grass? I love this “Please Walk on the Grass” sign. The green colour has a soothing effect as soon as you arrive on Centre Island.
3. Visit the gardens
The gardens and fountains on Centre Island add visual interests as well as provide welcoming places to relax your mind and body when you need a break from walking.
4. Walk the pier
I like to walk to the end of Centre Island pier to see the expansive view of Lake Ontario. It makes me want to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. On a calm and sunny day, it’s a peaceful scenery of the lake dotted with sailboats.
At the pier, the directional sign says it’s 65 km to Niagara Falls, 1269 km to Halifax, 3361 km to Vancouver, and 4521 km to the North Pole. Having been to the first three destinations, I can say that they’re all well worth visiting. Poor Santa has a long way to come and visit us every year.
5. Have a picnic or Lunch al fresco
I love to have a picnic at one of the tables by the water. If you like to eat out, go for lunch al fresco at Carousel Cafe, or at one of the island restaurants.
6. Paddle on the water
The Island is actually a group of 15 islands inter-connected by pathways and bridges. You can rent a canoe or kayak to paddle in the calm harbour where swans, ducks, and birds also share the waterways.
7. Go to the beach
Centre Island beach typically achieves annual blue flag certification for its water quality. It’s supervised from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from June to September. On a hot summer day, the beach is perfect for taking a swim.
8. Ride a bike
I’ve biked from one end of the Island to the other and all over the Island. Bring your own bike on the ferry or rent a bike on Centre Island to explore interesting landmarks such as Gibraltar Point Lighthouse which was built in 1808 and was said to be haunted.
9. Run or Walk 5K
The Island is approximately 5 kms long from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point, a perfect distance for a 5K walk or run. I’ve finished several 5K running races here.
10. View Toronto’s evolving skyline
Before leaving Centre Island, while waiting for the return ferry, I always enjoy the view of Toronto across the harbour and take a few photos of the evolving Toronto’s skyline. Home sweet home!
I love that the ferries operate year-round. Return tickets for adults cost CAD$8.20, with discounts for students and seniors. It’s the best deal for an island experience so close to the city. I hope you enjoy Toronto Islands through my lens.
One of my favourite go-to spots in the city is the Toronto Music Garden. I try to come here often and share it with any of my family members or friends who may be interested in coming with me.
The Toronto Music Garden springs from the imagination of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and garden designer Julie Moir Messervy. Inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, the garden is made up of six “movements” whose forms and feelings correspond to that suggested in the music: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuett, and Gigue.
It’s a fun experience to listen to Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello while walking through the well-maintained garden and imagine the six movements.
1. Prelude section imparts the feeling of a flowing river. Granite boulders that came from the Canadian Shield represent a stream bed. Low-growing plants soften its banks. Circular designs on the ground and at the edge of the boulders represent the water movements. The trees with straight trunks are native Hackberry trees. This is the only section in the garden that is not a dance form.
2. Allemandesection imparts the feeling of a forest grove of wandering trails. The allemande is an ancient German dance. The trails swirl inward and move higher and higher up the hillside. A circle of dawn redwood trees and a small birch forest provide shades to the various contemplative sitting areas that look over the harbour.
3. Courante section imparts the feeling of a swirling path through a wildflower meadow. The courante is an exuberant Italian and French dance form. The trails swirl upward in a spiral form, through a lush field of grasses and brightly-coloured perennials that attract bees, birds, and butterflies. At the top of the swirling path is the maypole, with Celtic-patterned spirals and iron wheel, designed by Anne Roberts.
4. Sarabande section is envisioned as a poet’s corner with a centerpiece. The sarabande is based on an ancient Spanish dance form. The trails go in an inward-arcing circle that is enclosed by tall needle-leaf evergreen trees. Japanese maple trees are also grown here. The centerpiece is a huge stone that acts as a stage for readings, and holds a small pool with water that reflects the sky.
5. Menuett section imparts the feeling of a formal parterre garden of flowers. The menuett is a French dance movement. Its formality and grace are reflected in the symmetry and geometry of a circular pavilion. The pavilion is hand-crafted with ornamental steel by Tom Tollefson. It is designed to shelter small musical ensembles or dance groups.
6. Gigue section imparts the feeling of a series of giant grass steps that offer views onto the harbour. The gigue, or “jog”, is an English dance. The steps form a curved amphitheatre that focus on a stone stage set under a weeping willow tree. In the summer, informal performances are held here.
The Toronto Music Garden is a magical place to visit in all four seasons. This past spring, look what I found at the garden:
I love that the Toronto Music Garden is open year-round, wheelchair accessible, and there is no admission fee. Free guided tours and concerts are available from June to September. I hope you enjoy the garden through my lens.
In July, my family went on a trip to Regina, the capital city of the Province of Saskatchewan, located about 3 to 3.5 hours by plane west of Toronto. During our stay, I took a day out to explore some of the sights located in the heart of Regina.
The Saskatchewan Legislative Building
Known as the marble palace, the Saskatchewan Legislative Building is one of the largest legislative buildings in Canada. It was erected between 1908-1911. Walter Scott, first premier of Saskatchewan, envisioned the Legislative Building in a park-like setting with grounds that would reflect the grandeur of the building.
Tours of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building are available seven days a week (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, and New Years Day) and are conducted on the hour. I took a guided tour to learn more about the architecture and history of the building. I highly recommend it. Why?
During the free, fun, and interesting guided tour that lasted about thirty minutes, I got to:
Visit the same building Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited on May 25, 1939.
Stand in the same spot in the rotunda where Queen Elizabeth II stood to view the Northern Traditions and Transitions murals.
Touch the beautiful green marble columns and look up to see the dome of the building.
Enter the legislative chamber and the library, where the Confederation table is kept. This table was used during the meeting of the Fathers of Confederation in Quebec City in 1864.
View numerous sculpture and artworks, including fifteen Portraits of Indian Leaders, all pastel on paper, completed by Edmund Harris during 1910 and 1911.
Queen Elizabeth II Gardens
Located in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, Queen Elizabeth II Gardens was dedicated by Her Majesty the Queen on May 18, 2005 on the occasion of the Centennial of the Province of Saskatchewan 1905-2005. A statue of the monarch on her favourite Saskatchewan-born horse, Burmese, was designed by Susan Velder and unveiled by Her Majesty in 2005.
The Saskatchewan Legislative Building and its grounds were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2005. After the indoor guided tour, I picked up a booklet at the information desk and completed a self-guided outdoor tour that takes me through approximately 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) of the beautiful legislative grounds.
Wascana Centre features a 930-hectare urban park built around a 120-hectare lake. The trails around the lake are accessible for walking, cycling, and rollerblading. It was a sunny and warm day so I appreciated the shades provided by the trees, the water fountains in and around Wascana Centre, and the light breeze from Wascana Lake.
MacKenzie Art Gallery
From Wascana Centre, I walked further south to explore the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden. Some of the artworks that are on display on the grounds around the Gallery caught my attention. Joe Fafard’s bronze cow statues reminded me of his work, The Pasture, in Toronto.
It was a wonderful and educational outing on a gorgeous summer day. I walked about 8 kilometres (5 miles) outdoors, learned a bit of history in Regina, and saw some beautiful architecture and artworks.