The St. Lawrence Seaway, in eastern Ontario, is probably most famous for being a place to drive past.
Trucks and cars zoom along Highway 401 between Montreal and Toronto. A few get off at Belleville or Kingston. Still fewer get off at Brockville or Cornwall. You should get off.
There are an amazing number of secret gems that will remain secret as long as people just zoom past. But you can discover them. Here are my eight favourite St. Lawrence Seaway gems.
1. Bolt Castle
The St. Lawrence Seaway really stats at Kingston. You can begin your visit at Old Fort Henry, the old Kingston Penitentiary or the Royal Military College Museum. But Kingston is too easy, so we’ll start with Boldt Castle.
To visit Boldt Castle, you not only have to get off the highway, you have to get off the road. In fact, you have to leave your car behind and get in a boat. Boldt Castle is on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Most people get there on a cruise of the Thousand Islands from the town of Gananoque. If you prefer something a little more wild, there are cruises that start at the landing of Rockport.
The important thing to remember is to bring your passport. That goes for everybody, including Canadians. Boldt Castle is technically on US soil, and you won’t be allowed off the boat without a passport.
If you expect to find railway tunnels only in big cities, prepare to have you eyes opened an your senses tingled. With just 30,000 people, Brockville has more than its share of unique experiences.
This historic underground walk is just half a kilometre long. But the lights and the music, as well as the dripping water and the chilly air will make it a stroll to remember.
I took my daughters here one Fathers Day. The fort is in Prescott, where the British launched their attack on Ogdensburg, a rare moment in the War of 1812 when the British forces actually bothered to attack. The Fort itself has a couple museums and a lot of history.
The next three places are all near one another, along the Seaway but not near any town.
This is a great park to visit if you have kids. The family can walk on paths through the woods and suddenly come across a life-sized dinosaur.
Fortunately, these are sculptures, so a repeat of Jurassic Park is unlikely to occur. What this park is doing is in Eastern Ontario is not for me to figure out.
5. Battle of Crysler’s Farm
Just down the road is the monument to the Battle of Crysler’s Farm. This battle was a turning point in the War of 1812. It pretty much saved Quebec and eastern Ontario.
This is the Jewel of the St, Lawrence Parks, much better known than the monument to the Battle of Crysler’s Farm or Prehistoric World. This is a living museum, a recreation of a typical 1860s village in eastern Ontario. There is a working bakery, a working mill, a working horse pulling a working boat…and plenty of food and entertainment. Perhaps the best part is talking with the villagers, who really know what they are doing and how they are doing it.
Plan to spend a good part of a day here.
And if you are in the neighborhood around Christmas time, drop in for Alight At Night, when the entire village is lit up with colorful lights.
7. Canada Day
If you are in the neighborhood on Canada Day, stop in at Cornwall. The fireworks are amazing…without the crowds of parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Since we are looking at things to do at night, let’s visit Valleyfield. Unlike the lights of Upper Canada Village and of Cornwall’s Canada Day celebrations, the lit art of Valleyfield is available all year ’round. Throughout the central area, the city has invested in public art that is OK in the day and bright at night.
Worth noting is that Valleyfield is not in eastern Ontario. You’ve entered Quebec. But what a wonderful way to end a trip along the St. Lawrence River of eastern Ontario.
David Leonhardt is an eastern Ontario ghostwriter.