Travel
2 min

Kingston, Ontario

A charmingly eclectic city with a low-key but friendly gay scene

View of the Three Martellos from Centennial Park in downtown Kingston. Credit: Boardhead

Kingston may not be seen as a typical gay destination, but there are plenty of queer-themed events that take place throughout the year, including Kingston Pride and the Reelout queer film and video festival. Given its central location within the Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa triangle, the city makes for a great getaway, whether it’s for a couple hours, overnight or a weekend adventure.

Dominated by Queen’s University, which also has its own Pride festivities, the demographics change dramatically during the summer when students typically flock back to their parents or take vacation. While the city loses some of that youthful vibrancy, it makes up for it with character and history. Many stop by to discover the first capital of Canada and the home of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald.

The main downtown drag is Princess Street, which runs parallel to Queen Street; together, they make for a leisurely circular walk of the downtown core, with an abundance of shopping, dining and drinking options. While there’s not currently a gay bar in the city, the Sleepless Goat Café proudly displays the rainbow flag year-round; it’s a great place to hang out, meet the locals and get inside information on what’s happening around town. Ben’s Pub is also known as a spot visited by the queer set, while students dance the night away at Stages and hipsters get their live music fix at the Ale House. Locally sourced dishes can be found at Windmills, and late-night hunger can be satisfied at Chez Piggy.

Kingston is known for its notorious prison, “The Pen,” poised to become a tourist attraction of sorts after it ceases operations in the near future. Some want this prime waterfront location turned into a shopping area and public space — perhaps a boutique hotel will be incorporated into the plans, allowing visitors to fulfill a fantasy of sleeping behind bars? Those preferring something more traditional should bed down at the gay-owned Secret Garden Inn, a renovated Victorian mansion.

The city can be explored easily by foot, bike, trolley or even helicopter. Confederation Park is the place to go if you want to get away from it all and hang out along the waterfront beach area. Take a 20-minute free ferry ride to Wolfe Island, home to quaint villages, amazing cycling and a fantastic summer music festival. Fort Henry is one of Kingston’s top attractions, built during the War of 1812, and the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretches all the way to Ottawa and can be explored by land or water. There are more than 20 National Historic Sites located in the region and several museums worth visiting, including the Penitentiary Museum, which takes a historical look at Canada’s federal penal system.

The arts are an integral part of Kingston’s composition, as well, with the Grand Theatre, built at the turn of the 20th century, often featuring campy productions. The annual Limestone City Blues Festival takes to the streets, patios and nightclubs each August, while world-class authors arrive the following month for WritersFest to celebrate Kingston’s place as Canada's most literary town: home of the first novel, the first cookbook and the first mystery thriller. The city also boasts Canada's longest continually running farmers’ market, at Springer Market Square.

So next time you’re jetting down Highway 401 between the larger metropolises, make Kingston a destination instead of a drive-by.