Ontario is a pretty big province filled with a lot of people. It boasts small towns and big cities, along with quaint backroads and efficient highways. You'll get the best of both of these worlds along Ontario's Highway 15. It's a popular route, but it's far from a concrete thoroughfare lined with fast food chains. Start at its northern end in Renfrew (just west of Ottowa) and wind your way among the many lakes and quaint small towns on your way to the city of Kingston. You'll pass by museums, farms, parks and lots more on the route, making it a pleasant and enjoyable drive to take.
Just off the route in Smiths Falls is a little local gem of a museum, the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. Located in a 1912 railway station, it offers a glimpse into what train travel was like back in its golden era. Not only will you get to see what the station was like, but you can get up close and personal with train cars and vintage equipment as well. There's even an old-school telegraph office inside, so brush up on your Morse code! One of the coolest things to see is the dental car. Back in the day, dentists would convert sleeper cars into dental offices and travel from town to town to treat as many patients as possible in areas that didn't have a local dentist of their own!
Is there anything more Canadian than maple syrup? The Gibbons Family Farm Maple Sugar House and Museum is open year-round so you can stop by to indulge your sweet tooth pretty much whenever. You can take a self-guided tour through their sugar house, taste syrup, and purchase maple treats at their gift shop. Of course, the farm really comes alive during March and April for maple syrup season; you can watch them boiling sap, take part in pancake breakfasts, and more!
The route of Highway 15 follows along the Rideau Waterway, so take some time to explore the natural feature with a stop at Murphy's Point Provincial Park. It's on Rideau Lake, and also protects an early 20th-century mica mine, the Silver Queen Mine. Tours are offered of it in the summer months, but it's not a bad park to visit in the winter, either; trails are maintained for cross-country skiing as well. You can also explore the remains of a sawmill, hike one of the 5 trails, and visit several pioneer homestead buildings at the park as well. Plus, the lake offers water sports and swimming, and there's some really nice camping offered at Murphy's Point as well.
Wendy's Country Market is insanely authentic. In fact, it's so authentic, it's located in an 1800s schoolhouse. Besides preserving a historic building, Wendy's serves as a one-stop-shop for anyone looking for local food and produce. The old-school country market sources goods from 70 farmers, all located within a 100-mile radius. From preserves, baked goods, prepared entrees and picnic baskets to local honey, candy, cheese, veggies, eggs, meat, and more, it's the perfect place to stock up on a taste of Ontario. Not only is everything they sell high quality, but you'll feel great about supporting local businesses. Win-win!
Jones Falls Dam was built to tame the rapids on the Rideau Lakes that form the Rideau Canal. When it was built in 1832, it was the largest dam in North America, making it an engineering marvel. It's also fascinating to know that no mortar or cement was used in building the dam; the pressure from the water on the arch-shaped dam holds everything in place. The arch shape also means that two people standing on either side of the dam can communicate by whispering, even at a distance of more than 300 feet. You can see the canal locks that allowed boats to travel the canal as well.
This part of Ontario is marked by fertile farmland, and many of these farms welcome visitors. In the mid-summer and fall, Fruition Berry Farm opens for u-pick strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, and then for pumpkin season as well. Green beans, apples, sunflowers, and more are also grown on the farm. You'll also find Waddell Apples a bit north of here, which offers pumpkins, apple-picking, cider, pie, jelly, and more.
Cruise Highway 15 into Kingston, a former major shipping town. Fort Henry was the fortification that protected this important commerce center. It was built in the 1830s to replace a former fort that had operated through the War of 1812. British troops garrisoned here until the 1870s when they were pulled out of Canada. It was used for various batteries up until WWI when it was repaired and used to house political prisoners. During the 1930s, the government fixed it up to open as a museum and National Historic Site, but it turns out that the military wasn't done using Fort Henry. During WWII, it again housed prisoners, mostly enemy merchant seamen, soldiers, sailors and airmen. It was converted back into a museum in 1948 and has been educating visitors as such ever since. In between tours and demonstrations of 19th-century military life, you can enjoy the incredible views from atop Point Henry.
Fort Henry isn't the only important historical site to tour in Kingston; Canada's Penitentiary Museum is another fascinating site. Once a federal prison known as "Cedarhedge", the circa-1873 building is now dedicated to interpreting the history of Canada's federal penitentiaries. You'll learn about tons of aspects of life behind bars from the 1830s to present day, including inmate hobbies, uniforms, contraband, escape attempts, what it was like being a guard, and even various punishment and restraint devices. You can tour either the prison itself or the museum across the street, but you might as well visit both for the full experience.
While Highway 15 is open year-round, you'll get the most of the attractions between Kingston and Renfrew in the summer. That's when farms are open for u-pick fun, and when the parks are at their best. However, though winter might be snowy and cold, maple syrup season is always a fun time to visit, and you can bring your cross-country skis to do some exploring as well.
Banner Photo Credit: via Flickr/Michel Rathwell