When a city is settled over 200 years ago, you can bet it’s learned a thing or two about how to welcome people and show them what it’s made of. Brockville might be the prime example, where downtown it’s showing a revitalized, bustling community of carefully-restored homes and buildings; on the outskirts, cultural gems like Fulford Place and respites like Mac Johnson Wildlife Area; and all the way the through, surprises like the Brock Trail, which meanders six kilometres towards the waterfront, where you can see just why they call this the “City of the 1000 Islands.” Read on for the details on how else Brockville’s showing us what it’s made of, including 12 of the best experiences you can have here.
Brockville sits at the eastern edge of the Thousand Islands archipelago, and is a fantastic departure point for getting up close to those 1,864 natural wonders. Scuba diving is huge here, and the area is known as the world’s best freshwater scuba diving destination because of how clear the water is and how many shipwrecks there are to explore. Up on the surface, cruisers can hop on day, dinner and entertainment cruises that pass by islands with castles, palatial mansions and quaint waterfront cottages. Inland, there’s the 532-hectare Mac Johnson Wildlife Area, which boasts 11 kilometres of hiking and skiing trails, and a reservoir for canoeing and skating. If you’re in need of a refreshing dip, head to St. Lawrence Park or Brown’s Bay Beach (one of my “6 Best Beaches in The Great Waterway.”).
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
1000 Islands & Seaway Cruises: Take a relaxing daytime or dinner cruise showcasing the eastern group of islands, or get the adrenalin pumping on a high-speed catamaran tour to Boldt and Singer Castles.
Scuba Diving: Dubbed the “Caribbean of the North” for how clear and calm the waters are, perfect for harnessing your inner Jacques Cousteau and discovering century-old shipwrecks.
Visit Brockville Islands: The City owns and manages a group of 17 nearby islands anyone can camp on or visit. Campsites have fire pits and picnic tables, and some islands have boat launches.
Arts and Culture
The pulse of Brockville’s arts scene beats the loudest at the Brockville Arts Centre. There you’ll see everything from comedy shows, to rock concerts, to Broadway plays, and there’s also an art gallery inside. Not far away is the Brockville Museum, partially housed in an 1840s stone house and focussed on telling the city’s 200-year story through artifacts, exhibits and even a criminal past walking tour. Over on Water Street is Canada’s first railway tunnel, and out on King Street East Fulford Place, a 35-room, 20,000-square-foot Edwardian mansion and National Historic Site that once hosted royalty and prime ministers. But perhaps Brockville’s most popular cultural attraction is the 27,000-square-foot Aquatarium, an interactive, learning and discovery centre on the waterfront slated to open in 2015.
3 Best Arts and Culture Experiences
Afternoon Tea at Fulford Place: Imagine what it was like being part of high society in the nineteenth century while sipping tea on Fulford Place’s sweeping verandas and enjoying breath-taking views of the St. Lawrence.
Brockville Arts Centre: No visit here is complete without seeing a performance at the Brockville Arts Centre, which recently underwent a $2-million restoration (including the installation of 700 new seats).
Criminal Past Walking Tour: Here about one of Canada’s largest bank heists, the last man hanged in Brockville and a mass shooting on these summer walking tours that expose Brockville’s darker past.
Food and Drink
For a city its size, Brockville has quite the diverse culinary scene. At The Mill, for example, you have an 1852 grist mill turned elegant two-floor restaurant with a sunroom overlooking Buell’s Creek and a downstairs tapas lounge; at Island Delight, consistently delicious Chinese and Thai fare; and at Don’s Fish & Chips, a classic fishing shack serving up the best deep-fried seafood this side of Nova Scotia. In the summer, head to Bud’s on the Bay or Crow’s Nest Riverside Bistro for the best patios with water views in the city. Prefer serving yourself? Head to the Brockville Farmers’ Market in the summer and then paddle over to one of Brockville’s islands for a peaceful picnic in the sun.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
1000 Islands Wine & Food Festival: A not-to-miss annual culinary festival that typically hosts 50 food, beer and wine vendors from across Ontario. Come hungry.
Brockville Farmers’ Market: Offering completely local produce and products for over 180 years, the Brockville Farmers’ Market is open from 8 am to 1 pm on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays, May to December.
Island Breakfast: An annual weekend event in June that’s becoming more popular every year. Take a shuttle boat ride to Refugee Island and then enjoy a freshly-made breakfast outdoors.
Festivals and Events
Brockvillians take great pride in sharing their history, outdoors, culture and culinary bounty with anyone who wants to experience it, and nowhere is this more evident than at the festivals and events they host here every year. Kicking off with February’s Red and White FlagFest, the event calendar just gets more crowded with the 1000 Islands Jazz and Blues Festival, Art in the City, Pride Week, and Ribfest.
3 Best Festivals and Events
All Ships Festival: A June celebration of life in the 1000 Islands. Boats are the crux of it—tall ships, motorboats, paddle boats, antique boats—but there’s music, vendors and kids activities too.
Red and White FlagFest: Two February days of family fun packed with fireworks, a team scavenger hunt, a comedy show, sledding races and way more.
1000 Islands Jazz & Blues Festival: From free performances at the Farmers’ Market to headline concerts at the Brockville Arts Centre, this festival has been celebrating the best in jazz and blues since 1948.