Following the Loyalist Parkway is a ride through Canadian history.
Long Point Road, deep in southern Ontario’s Loyalist country, was growing more interesting by degrees. What had been lumpy, chunked-out pavement had turned to gravel, then narrowed to broken-rock single-track with a camber tilting into the mixed forest—only an outstretched elbow away. The road continued to thread to a tendril under my Harley-Davidson V-Rod, then unexpectedly broke into a view of a tree-lined beach occupied by a clutch of weather-worn cottages. This was Point Traverse, the very tip of a peninsula poking into Prince Edward Bay on Lake Ontario. Kingston lay several peninsulas away to the northeast. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s where I was, because the day had been a pleasant labyrinth of roads and backroads cutting crazy diagonals across Prince Edward County, which is surrounded by 800 kilometres of shore line. Often throughout the day, Ontario’s foamy blue waters had been in sight, just beyond the flower-strewn fields and tidy farms that drape in aprons to the shore.
As the remains of Long Point Road continued, the trees parted to reveal Ontario lapping against limestone and an abandoned lighthouse that said it had been built a very long time ago.
“I’ve been meaning to try this road,” said Steve Bray as I pulled to a stop beside his loaded FLHT. His smile suggested he was both happy to be in this beautiful place and wondering when I was finally going to be along. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Steve is the owner of MotoSport Plus, a Harley-Davidson/Honda dealership in Kingston. He looks a lot like the former great Saskatchewan Roughrider, Ronnie Lancaster (when he was young). His wife Laurie is a pretty, petite blond who grew up in a big wooden heritage farmhouse in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. (More Loyalist country there.) They came to Kingston from Ottawa, planning to stay for two years, no more. It’s now 24 years later. Together they’d volunteered to serve as guides for the rambling tour I made of Kingston and the Loyalist Parkway in early August. The V-Rod I was riding was Steve’s and the route itinerary that had taken us here was his as well.
“I thought it might be a good place to bring the Chapter sometime,” he said. This meant either the Bay of Quinte or the Kingston Harley Owners Group Chapter; MotoSport Plus is the sponsor dealer for both. Though I doubted the “road” would be suitable for larger groups, there was no denying the charm of the place to which it led—the limestone rocks, the bone white lighthouse and a wide open expanse of water under a brilliant blue sky. There’s a pronounced maritime feel to this corner of Prince Edward County (“The County” as they say here) as it points a long easterly finger at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
The County’s actually an island connected to the mainland by three bridges and the Glenora Ferry, located southwest of Kingston on Hwy 33. And it was Hwy 33 that would be our baseline for this unhurried exploration of Loyalist country. Highway 33 is, in fact, the Loyalist Parkway. It’s the connector between Kingston and Trenton and it meanders along bays, past farmland and through villages and towns like Bath and Picton that are full of heritage homes and old mills. Highway 33 was officially opened as the Loyalist Parkway in 1984 during a ceremony that involved Queen Elizabeth. The majority of the Parkway’s span is located within Prince Edward County and, really, it’s here that you’ll find the root source of this thing called the province of Ontario, says Ann Mackenzie in her paper “What is a Loyalist?” Which can be found posted to the website of the United Empire Loyalists.
Ms Mackenzie says that the years following the American Revolution weren’t particularly healthy for people who had either shown support for the British crown during America’s fight for independence, or who hadn’t demonstrated enough enthusiasm for the project. As we are still able to observe—if Americans suddenly discover they don’t like you anymore, you might consider ducking for cover.
Nobody had to tell them twice—some 70,000 Loyalists got while the getting was good. Most were forced out of their homes at any rate. If they did choose to stay put, their civil rights were yanked, their homes and businesses confiscated and their ruddy necks threatened with a rope if they failed to keep their mouths shut about presidents and queens and such. Most of those who left the “Thirteen Colonies” resettled in the Maritimes, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and here on Lake Ontario’s north shore. Many had left in panic, without much more than the shirts on their backs. They came from all walks of life and their arrival eventually “changed the course of Canadian history by prompting the British government to establish the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario,” according to Ms Mackenzie. Moreover, the British government even created a little bit of ceremonial paperwork to commemorate the families who’d stayed the course. Forthwith, these “Loyalists” could add to the ends of their names the initials U.E.—Unity of the Empire.
None of which really counted for much when you’ve just left behind everything you own to settle in a land that’s still part of a great northern unknown. With winter coming and farms that needed hacking out of a wilderness, you were better advised to spend your free time sharpening adzes and axes than contemplating the beauty of your new suffix.
“Really, they had to make everything themselves. It’s not as though there were stores where they could shop,” says Anna Lillicrap, the interpreter at Fairfield House, which is tucked into a bend of Hwy 33 nearly touching Lake Ontario near Amherstview, 15 kms west of Kingston. The ride that had taken us all the way to Long Point Road in the afternoon had begun that morning with a stop at Fairfield House.
This is the very start of the Loyalist Parkway and Fairfield House, built in 1793, represents a definitive Loyalist experience. Forced from their farm in Vermont, the Fairfields were part of a shipment of 1,700 refugees to the east end of Lake Ontario. They were a handy bunch though. They immediately set to work quarrying a foundation out of limestone for a 44-by-36-foot house constructed with half-dovetail and mortise and tenon joints, and framed by massive white oak timbers that still bear the original axe marks. They spun fibres, poured bricks, forged nails and tools, mixed paints and pigments, planted gardens and raised livestock. “This place reminds me of the house I grew up in,” said Laurie, as Anna took us through the homestead that had raised six successive generations of Fairfields and now serves as a “physical record from Ontario’s first ten years of settlement.”
“It’s funny, but I’ve never been here before today,” confessed Steve as we strolled back to our motorcycles. Missing the subtle assets in your own backyard seems to be a universal thing; I’ve never been to Butchart Gardens, though my home is Victoria.
DAVE “BILLY RAY” KOSTER WAS EXPECTING US WHEN WE ARRIVED at the Tragically Hip’s restored 1840’s farm house near the village of Bath. “He’s one of my customers,” said Steve. Billy Ray is also The Hip’s road manager, guitar technician and general jack-of-all trades at this oak beam and stone structure that is the band’s Bath Studio. Step into the house and you’ve entered Bohemia: eclectic artwork from The Hip’s album covers, groaning bookshelves, posters and items collected from road trips cover the wall. Overstuffed couches, guitars, empty beer cans and volumes of vinyl 78s find their way into every conceivable corner. Dominated by the control panels and sound room of the recording studio, it looks exactly like the kind of place you might imagine a legendary rock band would retreat to when they need to create. If Fairfield House is an evolved artifact, then Bath Studio is a working house with a purpose and a mission. And it hints at the diversity of a Loyalist country that has nurtured artists like The Hip, Sarah Harmer, Dan Aykroyd and even Canada’s crankiest old man, Don Cherry. These are the unwanted children of the American Revolution.
Though The Hip had just returned from their Live 8 gig in Barrie and were preparing to open for the Rolling Stones in Moncton, Billy Ray still took the time to show us around the place. By anybody’s standard, the lanky, drawling Billy Ray is a cool customer who was just a kid out of high school when he applied to The Hip. The job led to a personal revelation—after years of hanging around Harley dealerships and promising himself, “someday, someday,” he could now afford to buy a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail, the bike of his dreams. In the intervening years, he’s added a 1980 FLHT and a pair of Nortons to his stable. They’re his project bikes and, being a handy kind of guy, he does his own wrenching. We try to talk him into coming with us for the day but he’s just too busy.
But we’re grateful for the time we have with him and he yells out a cheery, “Have a great ride,” as we roar out of The Hip’s driveway and swing back onto Hwy 33 west.
FOR THE NEXT TWO DAYS WE CONTINUED TO CIRCUMNAVIGATE the County on the Loyalist Parkway, stopping at places like Sand Banks Provincial Park where giant dunes and three long beaches form one of the hottest recreation destinations in southern Ontario. In Picton we spent the night at heritage house B&Bs and puzzled at the Crystal Palace. Built as an exhibition hall in the 19th century, the Crystal Palace is a marvel of beams, wood plank construction and glass. It’s said to be the last of its kind in Canada. In Trenton we rolled past the site where the BMW owners group staged its international rally a few years ago. On this day, the site is less crowded but still hosting a minor BMW event. We passed through character towns like Napanee that have classic mainstreets and stone buildings. “This is where Avril Lavigne is from,” said Steve as we entered Napanee. The roads are a blend of country lanes along inlets and lakes, curving gently as they round farms and manicured properties where the British Ensign flies crisply on trim white flagposts.
THE ROAD CAPTAINS OF THE QUINTE AND KINGSTON HOG Chapters were massing the troops for a Sunday ride when we returned to Steve’s MotoSport Plus in beautiful, historic Kingston. Though the Chapters had just returned from a Can-Am ride the night before, the members were ready to roll again, eager to show off the splendour of their territory to the visiting writer. The day’s ride, that would include stops on the storied Rideau Canal and the fabulous 1000 Islands Parkway, was for my benefit. But as Road Captain Al Pattison was preparing to lay out the orders of the day, the scene was interrupted by the roar of a pair of Harley Police Specials escorting a big yellow 1930s-era Bentley touring car. The massive relic tore across the pavement, nearly cutting a four-wheel drift into the gravel. Dan Aykroyd had arrived. One of Canada’s all-time great show business personalities, Aykroyd is also a life-long motorcycle enthusiast. In the Kingston area where his family has owned property since 1826, he’s a living legend. Stories about him and his impromptu appearances are literally everywhere. Dan arriving just in time to lead a ride, Dan showing up to support a cause, Dan spotted in the company of Famous People or just plain ol’ Dan jamming hard down a stretch of road on something big, fast and American—usually his 1971 Harley Electra-Glide Police Special. Aykroyd is a consummate gearhead and his taste for machinery is well-documented. “Harley-Davidson will always have its unique appeal to people like me who will never ride or love any other make of machine,” Aykroyd once wrote.
He’s arrived just for the occasion, but he’s not staying long. Basically, he’s just popped in to say hi to Canadian Biker. “Love your magazine,” he says. “I read it all the time.” Then he’s gone again in a clash of gears and the roar of vintage iron. Mr. Elwood Blues, Mr. Ghostbuster himself. Well, I’ll be …
THE GUNS OF THE FORT HENRY GUARD HAVE FILLED THE PARADE ground below us with white, blue and black smoke. The fine high crackle of Snider-Enfield rifles underscores the bellows of the Armstrong six-pounders the Guard is now wheeling from one end of the parade ground to the other in deftly-orchestrated maneuvers. This is all part of Fort Henry’s famed Sunset Ceremony. Beside me, seated in the VIP viewing area, are John Robertson, his wife Sharon, Steve and Laurie, Kingston HOG director Jim Lindsay and his significant other Kathy Morgan, who represents Ladies of Harley. A HOG member and Harley owner himself, John Robertson is Fort Henry’s manager and commanding officer and we are his guests for the evening at this national historic site.
Fort Henry was originally built to discourage an American invasion. In modern terms, the cost of its construction in 1837 is in the $50,000,000 ballpark. The citadel’s counterscarps, advance battery and sheer firepower made it a high-tech installment as it stood watch over the confluence of three major waterways: the Rideau Canal, Lake Superior and the St. Lawrence. Every approach to the fort would have been met by withering salvos. But the invasion never came. “Perhaps demonstrating the fort’s value as a deterrent,” muses Mr. Robertson.
Today, the fort serves as a living history museum that attracts thousands of people. It is without doubt, one of Kingston’s defining elements. And as the sun sets into the west, the Guard sparks wall-mounted cannon in a final salute to the day. Fireworks and Rule Britannia follow the final volley. Quite the finish to a ride in an amazing part of the country encompassing the Loyalist Parkway.
– John Campbell Canadian Biker #216