Creating an authentic Kingston experience

By Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

The Visitor Information Centre welcomes Francophone visitors

Read the story in French.

“I love Kingston. Love,” says André Soucy with great seriousness.

A Franco-Ontarian born in Quebec, André is passionate about the city he has called home for the past 20 years. As Director of Visitor Services and Customer Experience for Tourism Kingston, he shares his excitement at creating unforgettable and unexpected experiences for those who venture in the Limestone City.

Kingston, he explains, is located at the junction where the cool waters of the St. Lawrence River meet those of Lake Ontario, between the larger cities of Montreal and Toronto. A city with a small-town feel, Kingston immerses visitors in local history, culture, and adventure.

“Travellers can spend time in the city, but we’re also close to Prince Edward County, where visitors can savour Ontario wines at the vineyards. They can also make the trip to visit the sandy beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park, which some say are among the most beautiful in Canada.”

In service of travellers

But where does one begin when arriving in Kingston?

The Visitor Information Centre, André reminds us, is in the service of travellers, ready to welcome, inform, and help them to enjoy the city in all its splendour. Located at 209 Ontario Street, just off Springer Market Square, the Visitor Information Centre offers several services to travellers.

“Our foremost purpose is to help visitors create an authentic Kingston experience,” explains André. “Some love museums, others prefer cruises – we engage travellers, we get to know them, understand their interests and what sparks their curiosity, in order to create an unforgettable experience for them.”

That includes recommending where to dine. Travellers, remarks André, are often hungry for Kingston’s finest fare, and as an avid gourmet, he has revelled in the city’s most impressive gastronomical offerings.

“I love Kingston’s restaurants – eating well is a passion of mine, and I love making recommendations to visitors and introducing them to our food scene,” he says. “Kingston has a lot of local restaurants, especially here in the downtown core – in fact, the city has more restaurants per capita than most cities in Canada.”

“The Visitor Information Centre also sells tickets for many of the tourist attractions. We partner with several attractions – such as Kingston Trolley Tours, Kingston 1000 Islands Cruises, Kingston Haunted Walk, Kingston Penitentiary Tours, Fort Henry, Kingston Food Tours and Treetop Trekking in Gananoque – and visitors can purchase tickets here.”

“We’re also deeply committed to the development of our staff, making sure that we train and support our employees well. We tell them about the history of Kingston, the heritage of the city, but most importantly, we send our guides to experience our major tourist attractions. We want them to know and care about the Kingston experience so they can better advise visitors.”

“And of course, we are also proud to offer services in French – we value la Francophonie and every day we will have someone who speaks French available at the Visitor Information Centre to support the francophone visitor’s experience.”

Kingston, a Franco-Ontarian city

If Kingston is of British colonial heritage on vibrant Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee lands, la Ville Calcaire is also a fertile terroir of la Francophonie – past, present, and future.

“We are truly in the footsteps of Canada’s francophone history – French presence in the region dates back to 1673, and there continues to exist a dynamic community here and in the region. It’s really my hope that French-speaking visitors – whether from Canada and beyond – have every opportunity to forge ties with our own local francophonie,” he continues.

In his capacity as a curator of an authentically Kingstonian experience, André has had the privilege of meeting francophone visitors from around the world who, he says, are sometimes surprised to experience the linguistic realities of Franco-Kingstonians, who live in a linguistic minority setting in Ontario. But, he adds, they quickly understand that Franco-Ontarians live their particular francophonie in a manner that is unique to them.

“If, as elsewhere in Ontario, Kingston’s Francophonie is not always evident on the streets, it is, however, very much in evidence in its businesses, institutions, art and cultural experiences,” says André.

La Francophonie is lived through festivals, like the Kingston Canadian Film Festival – which could compete with TIFF in Toronto – and has put Canadian cinema on the map, including francophone films, and even some films that were shot here in Kingston,” he begins.

Kingston’s Francophonie is experienced in businesses like SENS Café, where coffee is elixir, poetry, alchemy, nourishing the art de flâner à la française,” continues André.

Or the Delightfully Different Tea Room, he adds, where, during the winter months, travellers can feast on tourtière, a dish rooted in centuries of French Canadian tradition.

It also manifests itself in institutions such as the Centre culturel Frontenac, he continues, with dreamy concerts, theatre, cinema, festivals and Franco-universal collaborations that spark the imagination.

Finally, Kingston’s Francophonie can be understood in an experience like the one offered by the Penitentiary Museum of Canada, which recounts the extremes of the human experience at Kingston Penitentiary, where Québécoise Marie-Anne Houde and famous Franco-Ontarian “Go-boy” Roger “Mad Dog” Caron were housed.

“Kingston is home to a unique francophone culture – a Francophonie open to creating community with francophone and francophile visitors from around the world.”

For the love of Kingston

Inspired by his encounters with visitors from all over the world and his love of Kingston, André hopes to pass on his passion and immense affection for the Limestone City to those who venture to his home.

“I want to make sure that the people who visit us have a good time here, that they see what I see in Kingston,” says André. “I want them to experience our rich history, our food and wine, our culture and art.

“I want them to feel that Kingston is home.”