Insider Itineraries: David Dossett of Martello Alley

By Visit Kingston

First and foremost, I am an artist. I feel at home near the water whether I’m in a sailboat on Lake Ontario or taking in the nuances of yacht basins, boat and shipyards, and dry docks. Along with a passion for the history of Kingston, this is a place I love calling home. Kingston makes me inspired to share its stories and magic with visitors and let them see for themselves the ways in which history, innovation, and its rich cultural life thrive.

Here are my top ten favourite things in Kingston.

1. Inner Harbour and Drydock

4 Cataraqui Street

Here you’ll find the Woolen Mill and MetalCraft Marine. A historical monument of Kingston, the Woolen Mill has stood intact on the city’s harbour front for over 130 years, and is now occupied by more than 40 local businesses. Metalcraft Marine designs and manufactures high speed patrol – fire and rescue boats – for customers all over the world. Remains of rustic old boats and machinery in this area conjure up images of Kingston’s industrial days and serve as perfect subjects for photographers and painters alike.


2. Public art out in plain view

Much of Kingston’s public art is located along the waterfront and was installed for either the city’s 300th anniversary in 1973 or when the city hosted the summer Olympics’ sailing competition in 1976. A story circulates that the two protruding aluminum shafts of Kosso Eloul’s “Time” sculpture are slowly moving together and will eventually touch. That’s not true: it’s an urban legend. “Pollution,” by Yves Cozin, is the arrangement of tubes in Macdonald Park once painted in 1975 as a protest against them to look like Coke and 7-Up cans. There’s lots more to see and learn as you take in our beautiful waterfront walkways.


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3. Skeleton Park: McBurney Park

30 Alma Street

McBurney Park, better known as Skeleton Park, started as the Upper Burial Ground in 1819. It has a grim yet fascinating history. Cholera, diphtheria, and typhus were rampant in the early 1800s and the diseases are the suspected cause of death for many buried there. Basically the graves are unmarked. Archaeological investigations have shown that the graves are often multiple graves. The cemetery was closed in 1864 after reaching capacity. After the closure, there was no maintenance on the site and the area fell into disrepair. Now the park is popular for residents, as a venue for festivals, and also for those eager for historical or paranormal stories.

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Rainy day dreams coming true with Sharon & Bram!

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4. Martello Towers

Martello towers, sometimes known simply as Martellos, are small defensive forts that were built across the British Empire during the 19th century from the time of the French Revolutionary Wars onwards. British were so impressed by the resistance of the Torra di Mortella in 1794 that they decided to build their own versions for defence. But the British misspelled Mortella (myrtle in English) and spelled it Martello (hammer). They just ignored their mistake and the name stuck. Kingston Ontario boasts four Martello Towers. They are Murney Tower, Shoal Tower, Cathcart Tower, and Fort Frederick Tower.

5. Big Sandy Bay

Wolfe Island

This beautiful unspoiled conservation area boasts a wetlands, marsh, dunes, and a beach with soft, light-coloured sand approximately three kilometers long. When you’re there you can almost imagine you are on a secluded island in the Caribbean. The only thing missing are palm trees!

6. Churches

So much history resides in Kingston’s beautiful houses of worship. See a church built by convict labour named after St. Dismas the good thief; view a ceiling fashioned like a hull of a boat, because it was made by unemployed boatbuilders; discover where First World War ace Billy Bishop carved his name in a pew while he attended Royal Military college; or visit Molly Brant’s final resting place. These old churches have so many great stories to tell!

7. Kingston Mills

546 Kingston Mills Road

Travel back in time to a heritage waterway and lock system. The original blockhouse is located in a beautiful park setting where pleasure craft pass through an historic lock system, making this a perfect spot for boaters and landlubbers alike.

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Kingston Mills Sunset. #rideaucanal

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8. Hidden Art

Throughout the downtown you can find these little treasures hiding in plain sight on buildings, along the streets, in the walls, and up above and in alleyways. Be on the lookout for copper versions of a grasshopper, a gargoyle, a beaver, and clothes on a clothesline hanging overhead.

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Sneak peek at the latest video in our series “Walk About Kingston” featuring art and points of interest in this beautiful city. This is Episode 3 – Hidden Art Gems, and it features art cleverly hidden on buildings and in alleys downtown. These works were created by @stefan_duerst , Barry Blunden, @yvonnemertonfox and others, and they are on the old @whigstandard building, @s22opengallery , @ygkoffeehouse , @bmonesbittburns and @goldenroosterdeli #Stay tuned…. soon I’ll post more information about the video, the sculptures and the artists, and, of course, the link to see the full video. Special thanks to David Fesliyan ( ) for the beautiful soundtrack. . . . . . . . #martelloalley #sculpture #kingston #kingstoncanada #ygk

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9. Historic Districts

Kingston boasts beautiful heritage buildings and most of them are bunched in districts: Portsmouth, Sydenham, and Barriefield. Portsmouth, where I grew up, has strong ties to the Kingston Penitentiary as well as early brewery and maritime history in Kingston. Sydenham district was the home of many of Kingston’s political and business elite, and they made sure that their homes reflected their statuses. Barriefield, with its proximity to Fort Henry, was tied to the military. Several taverns located in the village served the military population.


10. Alleys

Kingston is a city of alleys and there are dozens of them downtown. So far, four have been repurposed: two are restaurants, one is an antique store, and the latest to be transformed is my favourite (of course): my project, Martello Alley. Starting in July 2015, and over four months, this neglected alley was turned into a French-themed “fishing village” leading to a charming courtyard and indoor gallery open all year round. All of Kingston’s alleys are so unique and are Kingston’s hidden gems. I wonder which alley is the next to be transformed in to a hidden gem.


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Kingston in 3 words: Rock. Solid. History

Kingston’s theme song: The Tragically Hip’s Small Town Bringdown. It’s a great song: the first big hit for The Hip and the video features such iconic shots of our town.

More Insider Itineraries:

Insider Itineraries: Erin Allen of Mio Gelato

Insider Itineraries: Heather Ford of Green Acres Inn and Kingston Food Tours