Unique glimpse of history on Kingston Pen Tour


by Stephen Johnson

Kingston, Ontario is one of our most favourite cities to visit. The combination of historic architecture and beautiful location on Lake Ontario make it the perfect spot for a road trip. 

When we arrived in Kingston in the early afternoon, finding a place to eat was top-of-mind.  I always like heading to Princess Street which is one of the great main streets of Canada.  There are plenty of local eateries and we found a great one in the Ali Baba Kabab restaurant.   It specializes in Persian and Middle Eastern food and the decor reflected these influences.  Our son, David, loved all the different shawarma and falafel plates. My wife Sandy and I enjoyed the soothing mint tea. 

With stomachs full, we set off on a stroll down Princess Street and made our way to the harbour where David started photographing a family of ducks. We finished off the afternoon with a delicious ice cream cone.

It was time to head to our hotel.  When in Kingston, we always stay at the Ambassador Hotel for all the family-friendly features.  For David,  this means one thing – the waterslide!  About three years ago when we stayed at the Ambassador, David went down a waterslide for the first time.  For Sandy and me, it was about letting go a little bit and for David,  it was a sign of growing up. Now, he has mastered the waterslide like a professional. On our next visit, he will probably be head lifeguard!

For the parents, the pool area has two relaxing hot tubs, steam room and dry sauna. There is also a swimming pool to enjoy as well.

After spending considerable time at the pool, we headed back to our room for a well-deserved night of sleep.


The next morning,  we went to see the most unique attraction we have visited as a family.   It is not every day that a person gets to visit or would like to see a prison.  After  178 years of service, the Kingston Penitentiary was closed in 2013 and only reopened for public tours. 


At first, I was somewhat reticent to take David on a tour of a penitentiary.  I weighed his maturity versus the potential subject matter.  My fears were quickly allayed once we started the tour. The guides shared the history of the pen but did not sensationalize the material.   It was also wonderful to hear first-hand accounts by former employees who worked at the facility.

David was fascinated by the tour.  We had a chance to go inside a prison cell and see the main cell block area. We also saw the recreation yard and prison work area. David most enjoyed some of the stories of how prisoners escaped and were recaptured including one escapee who had mailed a letter to the prison with his return address! I was impressed by the architecture of the prison and riveted by the stories of former employees. 


I would highly recommend the tour but perhaps not for children of a young age as there is quite a bit of walking and the prison certainly isn’t an amusement park. 

We wrapped up our time in Kingston enjoying a coffee and sweet that we picked up at the farmer’s market at the main square. 

For more information about Kingston, visit www.visitkingston.ca   For details about the Kingston Penitentiary tour, visit, www.kingstonpentour.com


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