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Five Historic Canadian Cities

Five Historic Canadian Cities January 16, 2017 · 12 min. readThis article may contain affiliate links.

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This is the second of five articles about trips to take across Canada. I was inspired to do this series after I was disappointed by what Canadian tours G Adventures offered on their website.

Canada's 150th birthday cannot be complete without visiting the country's capital city... but which one should you visit? While Ottawa is the current capital of Canada, there have been four other capital cities, and it has changed seven times. It started in Kingston (1841 – 1844) and then moved to Montréal (1844 – 1849), believing it to be safer from the Americans. After the citizens of Montréal burnt it down, it rotated between Toronto (1849 – 1852 and 1856 – 1858) and Québec City (1852 – 1856 and 1859 – 1866). Finally, it was placed right on the border between the two provinces in Ottawa (1866 to present day). This tour ventures into each of these five cities and explores what makes them so unique.

Since the capital flip-flopped location seven times, it would be much more convenient to go through the cities geographically then historically. If we started in the West, we would start in Toronto, Ontario, Canada's biggest city. While G Adventures only mentions the CN Tower and Kensington Market, there is much more to see in this city. You could visit the 18th century Casa Loma Castle, stroll through the artistic Graffiti Alley, visit Ripley's Aquatic Aquarium, or go drink and dine in the Distillery District. Looking for more outdoorsy stuff? Check out the Toronto Islands, the famous High Park or the Toronto Zoo. You can even take a boat out onto Lake Ontario and see the city's iconic skyline!

A photo posted by Team Canon (@nick_chomps) on

Once you're done in Canada's most famous city, it's time to visit Canada's most haunted city, Kingston. Only a short two-and-a-half-hour drive from Toronto, Kingston offers a unique experience that is only matched by that of Québec City. At over 340 years old, Kingston is full of stone buildings, military forts and cobblestone streets. Kingston also has several paranormal locations such as The Prince George Hotel, Skeleton Park, Chalmers United Church, Hochelaga Inn, and the Kingston Penitentiary. There is also a "secret" alley between Princess Street and King Street East that is haunted by the murdered spirit of Theresa Ignace Beam.

Kingston Ontario University Kingston Ontario University

Fort Henry is another haunted location in Kingston, but there is much more to this building than simply ghosts and ghouls. Fort Henry is also home to the beautifully mysterious Lumina Borealis, an event that my fellow Canadian blogger Struckblog covered just this past December. Lumina Borealis ends for the season on February 4th, 2017 so if you're interested in going, go soon!

A photo posted by Lumina Borealis (@luminaborealis) on

For those who don't enjoy visiting haunted locations, Downtown Kingston is also famous for their shopping, food and nightlife. Take an evening off and plan a romantic night out at one of the many restaurants in the area, followed by a nighttime stroll. If you're lucky, you might see some street performances, live entertains and even some outdoor cooking demonstrations!

After you're done exploring The Limestone City, cruise (well, actually, drive, since the cruise takes 6 days!) on up to Canada's capital city, Ottawa! While in Ottawa, make sure you visit Parliament Hill. Take some time here to explore the many statues and historical figures surrounding this structure. Learn about John A. McDonald, Jacques Cartier, William Lyon Mackenzie King and The Famous Five, who were responsible for giving women the right to vote in Canada.

Parliament Hill in Ottawa Library at Parliament Hill in Ottawa Women are persons in Ottawa

Once you're done at Parliament Hill, the National War Memorial is only a short stroll away. This is where Remembrance Day services are held every November 11th and where Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed on October 22nd, 2014.

National War Memorial in Ottawa

Another must-see location in Ottawa is the magnificent Rideau Canal. Built in 1832, the canal still works as it did then, with several locks to raise and lower water levels. In the winter the canal also becomes one of the most sought after places for skating in Canada!

Rideau Canal in Ottawa

Once you're done in Ottawa, you're just across the river from French Canada, which is arguably the best Canada. To get to Montréal from Ottawa you can either take the train or drive, which both take about two hours. While G Adventures has two tours that go to Montréal, all they say to here is to climb a hill (Mount Royal) and "sample Canadian maple syrup" (seriously). While those are two very important things to do while in Montréal, there are actually a lot of other things you can do as well. From art to food to architecture and culture, contrary to what G Adventures says, Montréal is actually one of the most happening cities in Canada!

If you love nature, insects, flowers and the universe, Montréal has their own Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Garden, and Planetarium, all within a small radius of each other. I only visited the Biodome when I was there, but if that was any indication of how fun the other museums are, you'll want to give yourself a whole day for just these alone.

If science isn't your idea of a good time, you can take a stroll through the historical Old Montréal, complete with cobblestone and New France architecture. Here you can shop, eat and be merry while enjoying a mix of modern and classic French-Canadian culture.

Old Montréal Old Montréal

If you're a lover of architecture, Notre-Dame Basilica and Saint Joseph's Oratory are two places you'll want to put on your list. If you're looking more for modern architecture, take a walk down to Habitat 67 or to the remains of Expo 67 on St. Helen's Island.

Notre-Dame Basilica in Montréal Habitat 67 in Montréal

Our final former capital on this tour is Québec City, which is only a short 2 and a half hour drive from Montréal. (There's another beautiful city worth visiting between Montréal and Québec City, but I'll cover that in my next article, which is all about French Canada.) There are plenty of ways to get between Montréal and Québec City (car, boat, bike or train) but I'd recommend taking the train. It's a 3 hour ride, but it only costs $33. Train travel is popular in Eastern Canada so this gives you a great opportunity to ride the Canadian rails like a local.

At 410 years old, Québec City was once the gateway into New France. From its winding cobblestone streets to the towering Château Frontenac, Québec City is thriving with character and oozing with history. A great place to learn about this city is the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux, which sits right behind the Château Frontenac. This museum literally digs deep into Québec City's archaeological history and is fascinating for both adults and children alike.

Château Frontenac in Québec City

Another location you'll want to visit is La Citadelle de Québec, an operational military base. Here you can learn about the Royal 22nd Regiment during the Fenian Raids, the World Wars, and the War in Afghanistan. While at the citadel, you can learn about the difference between French and English architecture, how weaponry changed over the years and meet the cannons that guard the St. Lawrence River. Only feet away from the citadel is the famous Plains of Abraham, where the British launched their final attack against the French, ultimately bring an end to New France in 1759.

If you enjoyed Old Montréal, then you'll love Old Québec. With crisscrossing stone pedestrian bridges, winding cobblestone streets, and picturesque shops, this is the neighbourhood most often featured on international Canadian postcards. A beauty in both winter and summer, Old Québec is so unique and so historical it actually holds a distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stroll through this area is like taking a step back in time. Here you can visit stunning churches like the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica, take ghost tours, visit scores of museums, and dine at plenty of outdoor cafes.

Old Québec in Québec City

On the theme of parliamentary locations, Québec City has the Hôtel du Parlement (the Parliament Building) and Montmorency Park. This park is the former site of the capital building of the Province of Canada two centuries ago, before it burnt down in 1854.

Hôtel du Parlement in Québec City Sign for former capital building in Québec City

There's plenty to do around Québec City, but I've left them out as I'll be covering them in greater detail in my next article. If you want a sneak peak of what's to come then visit my Quebec City Travel Guide.

What do you think of this tour? We hit up some of Canada's major cities so I was forced to leave stuff out. What's something I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments below! 

Historic Canadian Cities tour

Don't forget to check out all the articles in this series!

  1. A Canadian Atlantic Adventure
  2. Five Historic Canadian Cities
  3. There's No Canada Like French Canada
  4. Saskatchewan Highlights
  5. Curious Klondike

Don't forget to pin it!

Five Historic Canadian Cities

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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