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Diving into Brockville, Ontario

© By Mary Ann Simpkins

  At the end of the 1900s, more millionaires per capita lived in Brockville than in any other Canadian city. Their elegant mansions edge the St. Lawrence River.
     Downtown, nearly every building dates back to the 19th century. A massive 1842 neo-classical stone courthouse and three stone churches circle the New England-style main square. Founded by Loyalists in 1784, Upper Canada's first incorporated municipality named in honour of War of 1812 Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, retains the appearance of a genteel Victorian city.
     For most visitors, however, the main attraction is Brockville's location as the eastern gateway to the Thousand Islands. Weekly sailing races and the annual summer festival, Riverfest, keep the focus on the St. Lawrence. Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks or fishing boats. Cast your line for Northern Pike as big as 5.4 kg, small and largemouth Bass up to 3.6 kg and 2 to 4-kg Walleye.
     Besides fishing, boating and swimming, the area draws scuba divers from late April to November. More than 120 Spanish, French and British ships sank over the centuries between Brockville and Kingston. The number of historic shipwrecks and the weak current makes this section of the river attractive to both beginner and experienced divers. Numerous dive shops rent equipment and operate charters.
     Sail along Brockville's historic waterfront or around part of the Thousand Islands with options to tour either Boldt Castle or Singer Castle. Opened only a few years ago, the stone Scottish-style castle complete with secret passageways was built in 1896. Tours run May to October with Thousand Islands Cruises.
     Step into the past also at The Isaac Beecher House. Built in 1824, the Brockville Museum tells the city's history in a series of small rooms. An 1890 St. Lawrence skiff highlights the river's importance. The Brockville Atlas car, various hat styles and a combination cultivator, seeder and corn drill machine typify goods produced by some of the over 160 factories located here between 1890 and the 1920s. (3M, Abbott Laboratories and other Fortune 500 companies are based here today). The Victorian Mourning exhibits include a horse-drawn hearse.
     Fulford Place is the only mansion open to the public. Sales of "Pink Pills for Pale People" earned Senator George Fulford enough to build the 35-room Edwardian mansion in 1900. Every Prime Minister up to Joe Clark dined in the Honduran Mahogany paneled dining room set as it was during Sir Wilfred Borden's visit.
     If you hear any unexplained noises, maybe it's the Senator's wife. A believer in spiritualism, Mary Fulford participated in séances with Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Appropriately enough, ghost walks along streets inhabited by other residents who've refused to leave the city after their death, start from the mansion in summer.
     Behind the ornate Beaux Arts decorated home is the restored formal Italian garden created by Frederick Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park. For some 100 years, steam trains ran under City Hall through a tunnel built in 1860. Today, the huge wood doors open in the morning to enable one to go through the 1730-foot tunnel. Canada's oldest railway tunnel still contains a single wide-gauged track and air vents. A caboose alongside once hauled train crews. The mini-museum depicts the crews' working and living conditions.
     A 10-km path connecting the city's parks starts at the Armagh S. Price Park, an attractive waterfront park and gardens across from the railway tunnel downtown. The Brock Trail appeals to walkers as well as cyclists, joggers and skateboarders. Historic plaques line the pathway.
     One may purchase a self-guided walking tour map of the historic mansions. A free map directs you to downtown's historic churches. The First Presbyterian church, rebuilt in 1811, is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows.
     To encourage tourists, this small friendly city offers free parking for the day on the streets or at municipal lots. Pick up a Parking Key at the Visitor Centre.

Mary Ann Simpkins is a frequent contributor to the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Spa Life, North American Inns, and also Fifty-Five Plus, Grit, Rolls Royce Diary & Fodor's Travel Guides. She is author of Travel Bug Canada & Co-author of Ottawa Stories. Mary Ann is a member of TMAC & SATW.

Photo Credits
Brockville & District Chamber of Commerce: 1000 Islands & Seaways Cruises, Fulford Place (George Fischer), Beecher House, CP Tunnel, Singer Castle, Brock Trail, Brock Memorial

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Brockville Tourism: http://www.brockvilletourism.com
1000 Islands Seaway Cruises: http://www.1000islandscruises.com/
The Brockville Museum: http://www.brockvillemuseum.com
Fulford Place: http://www.heritagefdn.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_8830_1.html

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