Sometimes the most relaxing and enjoyable holidays are right in your own backyard. This past summer we decided to have a bit of a staycation and get to know the beautiful city of Kingston, Ontario. Kingston was the original capital city of Canada and has some incredible sightseeing and historic sites to see. The downtown area of Kingston has a lot of interesting architecture dating back to the 1800’s. I have heard many visitors to the area compare it to a perfect combination of Old Quebec City, Montreal and Vancouver on a small scale. Being Kingston residents we have strolled many an afternoon and evening throughout the downtown core at quaint local stores to shop as well as a very diverse selection of restaurants and outdoor cafes. All of the city streets are completely accessible and very easy for a wheelchair user to get around. You can easily stay in the downtown area at one of the many hotels and get where you need to go without ever getting in your car. However, to see some of the areas we explored you will definitely need a vehicle or call ahead and book one of the few accessible taxis in Kingston. There is the hop on hop off trolley that stops at many of the main tourist areas in Kingston but it is not wheelchair accessible since there is no lift available. A great way to see some of the historic areas of downtown Kingston and learn a few ghost stories here and there is to do the haunted walk. This tour takes place in the evenings and there are a couple different times you can do it. It is wheelchair accessible and the great thing about this tour is that an attendant is free. Just let them know when you purchase your ticket if that is something you require. As far as shops and places to eat I would say that the majority of the stores were accessible but this is a very old city and the shops tend to be small and not easy for a wheelchair to move around easily. When it comes to eating out this is something that we always have to plan ahead and when we were looking for a restaurant we actually had to try 4 or 5 before we could find one that was fully wheelchair accessible.
Eating out for most people is a pretty simple task. You pick a restaurant, you go, you eat and you come home. For people confined to a wheelchair, they have less options and some planning especially if you want to try someplace new. So our plan was to head to the beautiful downtown Kingston, our home town, without any plans or knowledge about the dining establishments we don’t frequent and experience it like a tourist. We do often eat out downtown but we always stick to the same places because we know they are accessible. When I say accessible, I mean just being able to get in the door, not even addressessing the accessible washroom issue. That is a whole other issue because if I was just looking for a place that had a wheelchair accessible washroom or better yet a family washroom we probably would have only a couple of choices to eat out at. I totally understand that having these types of facilities is costly for restaurant owners but it still doesn’t make it right especially when I have to take my husband into the women’s washroom to use the facilities because he needs assistance. Anyways, like I said, a whole other issue. So if you are looking for some familiar restaurants and you want to ensure a sure thing as far as accessibility then stick to the chain restaurants, which there are 3 that are perfect for that. The small local restaurants for the most part have accessible patios but the restaurant itself is not accessible so if it is inclement weather or need to use the washroom then these are out of the question. There are also a few restaurants that we tried on Princess Street that are accessible but the washrooms are on a different floor.
Our first stop on our tourist sightseeing adventures was to visit Fort Henry. To be honest I was a little skeptical on how much Shawn would be able to see, as this is a historic site. Fort Henry was built from 1832 to 1837 replace the original fort from around the War of 1812. The fort sits atop a hill with an incredible view of the St. Lawrence and downtown Kingston. The majority of the accessible parking spots are located just outside the discovery center with a paved pathway leading to the fort. There is also a single accessible spot closer the fort entrance if you wanted to skip the discovery center. The paved path leading up to the fort has a beautiful view of the city and the water.
Once inside the fort there is a timetable available for various activities you can see throughout the day. There is cannon firing and rifle firing and a kids program that our son just loved taking part in. The lower fort starts off with some prisoner cells that are accessible but a little tight to move around for a power chair user. Next up is an area where you enter on one end and it takes you through the inside of the fort where you see office quarters on display, as they would be back then. This area is full accessible and each doorway has ample space to get through. Each room around the fort needs to be accessed via the counterscarp galleries or the officer cookhouse and follow around. The individual rooms are not accessible if you try to enter through the courtyard since there is small step. You basically can tour this whole area and come out on the other side and be able to visit each area very easily without any obstacles. They have done a great job retrofitting doors with ramps to make the fort very inclusive. The only area that is not accessible is the upper fort because it is stairs only. The fort does offer guided tours but we decided to tour on our own.
There are various accessible washrooms throughout the lower fort and near the entrance and they are some of the best accessible washrooms I have seen. Large stalls and countertops are high enough for a wheelchair user to roll right under.
We ended our day at the Battery Bistro for a delicious lunch with a fantastic view of the water. Overall a great day with the family and I would definitely recommend for a trip without any worries for a wheelchair user.
Next on our stop was the Penitentiary museum, which is directly across from the now closed Kingston Penitentiary. The museum is not large so it can easily be done in an hour and is very fascinating to walk through and see the history related to the nearby prisons. The museum was once the home of a prison warden and the second floor of the museum is not accessible. However, most of the instereting artifacts are found on the main floor and they have installed a virtual computer that anyone not able to get upstairs can do a walk through on the computer and see exactly what everyone sees on the second floor. This museum was pretty interesting for the whole family.
Next on our trip, we headed outside of Kingston to the nearby winery area of Prince Edward County in the Picton area. It is about an hour away and we decided to take the 401 highway there and then take the Glenora Ferry back. Glenora ferry is a short ride but we had always wanted to do it and it was a nice end to our day trip. One thing to note about the Glenora ferry or any ferry for that matter is to advise the staff that you have a wheelchair user in the vehicle for emergency evacuation. Our van is a rear loader so the staff that was directing vehicles made sure that the car coming in behind us was not right to our bumper so we could get the ramp down and Shawn out in case of emergency.
Our first stop on our winery tours was Huff Estates Winery. This winery was accessible with a paved path to the door and there was an automatic door opener to get in. They did have dedicated accessible parking and I did not check the washrooms at this stop so I am not able to comment on its accessibility. The tasting counter is too high and there was no lower counters for a wheelchair user. Next stop was Keint He winery and this winery did not have a dedicated accessible parking spot or an automatic door opener at the front entrance. The tasting counter was too high and there were lower counters for wheelchair users. The washroom was accessible with grab bars and it was a single washroom for an attendant to assist if needed. At this stop we snacked and had some charcuterie and wine on the accessible patio overlooking the lake. Our last stop and was Sandbanks winery. There was a designated accessible parking spot and the wheelchair entrance is around the side with signs showing you where to go. There was no automatic door openers on this entrance and the single washroom did not have grab bars. This winery also did have tasting counters that were too high and no lower counters for wheelchair users. The atmoshphere was overall very family friendly with a picnic style charcuterie, children colouring table and they offered freezies for children which is a bonus for those of us that travel with our young children. Overall another great day and I would definitely recommend visiting the wineries in this area. There are many wineries to visit and I chose these 3 based on visiting the tourism page for this wine country and it lists which ones are wheelchair accessible.
Our last tourist spot that we visited on our summer vacation was a 1000 island cruise out of downtown Kingston. We decided to take a lunch cruise on the Island Star as it seemed to be the most accessible based on the cruise line website. When we bought our tickets I mentioned we would have a wheelchair user in our party to make sure we were close to the entrance and not having to try and navigate through a bunch of tables and chairs. Getting on the boat was very easy as they have a ramp leading right into the dining area. The Island Star is a large domed style boat with a small outdoor patio that is upstairs so not accessible. Our table was right by the window and the whole area is window so there was no concern that Shawn would miss any of the scenery. The lunch cruise was fun and the entertainer was enjoyable as well. They do say on the website that the washrooms are accessible but they are definitely not meaning accessible to a power chair user. The washroom was too small for Shawn to get into and be able to use at all. The wheelchair washroom is larger than the standard one but not large enough for a power chair user in my opinion. Now getting off the boat was a bit tougher than getting on. There is a small lip between the boat and the ramp and took a couple of us to give Shawn a push to make it up past the lip. No a huge deal if you are travelling with others to help but something to be aware of. Overall a great time and would definitely do it again!