Into the City

6 May 2016 – So here we are, Mary & I, complementing our woodland walk with a city walk.

Kingston, to be precise, the nearest big city to her home, located halfway between Montreal & Toronto at the confluence of assorted waterways: where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario, and also at the mouth of the much smaller Cataraqui River, which doubles as the south end of the Rideau Canal.

All of which made the location attractive first to indigenous peoples, later to European settlers, with a surge of Loyalists in the 1780s following the America Revolution — and attractive later yet again, to Americans just across Lake Ontario, during the War of 1812. They didn’t win the war, but posed a continuing threat thereafter, which caused Kingston to be stripped of its role as capital of the Province of Canada in 1844.

(Toronto & Montreal alternated as capital for a while, but were also uncomfortably close to those pesky Americans, which led Queen Victoria to look for somewhere safe & remote and, in 1849, to declare that Ottawa will be capital, period full stop thank you very much.)

Never mind. Kingston was home to John A. Macdonald, ultimately Sir John A., and, in 1867, the first Prime Minister of the new Dominion of Canada. “The Father of Confederation.” So there.

We know we’re in a city because we find ourselves in a ribbon park, with not a wildflower in sight — but lots of colour nonetheless.

a mural in the park facing Cataraqui R.

I quite like it, I decide, and begin to explore the retaining wall, each segment covered with its very own mural.

section of the mural-coered retaining wall, same park

One mural of the city itself, with a recognizable City Hall dome mid-left in the background, lots of strange robot-sort-of creatures strewn around, and over there, right foreground … yessir, Sir John A. himself.

mural, same park

My eye is caught by a folk art-ish rendition of an alley between Barrie & Clergy streets (right) …

murals, same park

and only later pays any attention to the kiddies on the left, spinning snow angels into the snow with their vibrating arms & legs.

“In Greenland,” I tell Mary, a snowmobile trip there suddenly surging into memory, “I remarked on some children making Snow Angels and was promptly corrected. ‘Here,’ I was told, ‘they are Snow Eagles.’ ”

Mary laughs, then pulls me to the river’s edge.

We are on the Cataraqui River, she has already told me, just where it dumps into Lake Ontario — and just before the lake itself flows into the St. Lawrence River, as best I can make out, all that water on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.

She has us here at the shoreline, because she wants to examine the wording on this striking Celtic Cross. A monument to desperate Irish immigrants, fleeing the Great Famine? No, but it is about the travails of the Irish nonetheless.

memorial to Rideau Canal labourers, same park

The Rideau Canal, completed in 1832, was a great technological achievement in its day and a very fine success all around. As long as you don’t worry about the fate of its labourers, that is. This cross does worry about them, paying tribute to:

an estimated one thousand Irish labourers and their co-workers

who died of malaria and by accidents in terrible working conditions

while building the Rideau Canal 1826-1832

On we go, in occasional drizzle, into downtown city streets, with their frequent passageways marking where horses once came & went from the stables in behind the street-front buildings. I stop to read a plaque in one of these arches on Clarence St., between King and Ontario.

I expect historical information, and I receive it. Look! It’s all about Sir John A. Macdonald! Enlarge the photo, and enjoy the joke.

in Clarence St. passageway, between King & Ontario

We giggle, explore some more, & soon read another plaque on King St. itself. A serious plaque this time, on an imposing building east of Clarence.

I photograph one doorway detail, my modest rip-off of a very fine image we’ve just seen in a near-by art gallery.

former Whig-Standard building, King St., east of Clarence

Didn’t note what the building is now; previously it was home to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper and, before that building existed, home to St. George’s Church where, in 1792, the first meeting of the Executive Council of Upper Canada was held.

Kingston, in North American terms, is an old city.

But one with 21st-c. amenities. Such as parking lots. Though sometimes — as here on Brock St. — there are surprises on offer, all around the cars.

in a Brock St. parking lot

I don’t know why these attractive poles exist. I’m just glad they do.

Another treat, but an anticipated one. On King St. East we walk the mazes of Berry & Peterson Booksellers, where great wobbly stalagmites of books constantly threaten to crash down on your head. I look for a resident cat, there isn’t one; the only flaw in an otherwise exemplary bookstore.

Berry & Peterson

And then, before heading off to join Mike in the Queen’s University library, Mary & I walk through another waterfront park — this time along Lake Ontario, with Wolfe Island in the background.

There is an undulating ribbon of rubble as breakwater, which surely means … many, many inukshuks. Here is just one, a baby among adjacent giants and all the more charming for that.

inukshuk in Lake Ontario waterfront park

Then, hop-là to the library, and hop-là back to their 100-acre woods and book-filled home, up there north of Gananoque.



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  1. You know I love,love,love these wonderful treks and the urban artistc expressions these nomad artists create. You have such a fine eye and I so appreciate you bringing these spots to life in Iowa.
    I’m reading an older interesting book on spiritual practice by Henri Nouwan. Don’t know to recommend yet or not . You are not far from my dear thoughts and healing prayers.

  2. I also love this trek…


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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