By John Morris
A waypoint and a great destination
Let’s be honest. In terms of Canadian small cities Belleville is just another one. However, as a boating destination and as a historically important sailing force, it punches well above its weight.
Cruising in Lake Ontario from Toronto has but one truly significant voyage and that’s to the Thousand Islands. Getting there can be a lot of the fun unless you’re in a rush simply blasting through and going outside Prince Edward County. If you choose to take the scenic route, the journey through the Murray Canal to Belleville and then on to Kingston is as picturesque and historical a cruise as you’ll find anywhere.
Heading east from the populous west end of Lake Ontario, you hang a left into Presqu’Ile Bay and then into the stunning Murray Canal. This unheralded icon of our history was proposed as early as 1800 as a means to avoid going around the County and facing the nasty Lake. It was completed in 1896 and today, has changed little except for a pair of swing bridges. I once had the good fortune to encounter the tall ship Pathfinder approaching from the east, her tall rig approaching in the narrow green waterway recreating a moment long gone. I had to check my watch to confirm we weren’t in the 19th century.
The Murray exits into the Bay of Quinte at Trenton, then nine miles east you approach the landmark Bay Bridge that welcomes you to this somewhat sleepy/somewhat busy city of 50,000. There are two options for visitors to moor: the Bay of Quinte Yacht Club and Meyers Pier Marina, both of which are decidedly fine spots.
For purists, however, the BQYC is the clear choice. It’s a superbly friendly place with an easy to remember burgee that has been around since 1876 with some noteworthy history. This is the club that in 1881 launched a challenge for the America’s Cup with the Atalanta, a 78-footer built right in Belleville. The Atalanta had some considerable trials even getting to New York but did navigate the Erie Canal and the Hudson to take on the big boys, eventually losing to the American defender, Mischief. This is well documented at the BQYC site, www.bqyc.org, as are a number of other sailing accomplishments over the years.
I am particularly fond of the BQYC Long Reach Bar for the usual reasons, but also because it is fashioned from the hull of an Alberg 29, the full keel cruiser built by hometowner Alan Nye Scott. Scott had run JJ Taylor, producer of Alberg 30s and Contessas, in Toronto then returned east build Alberg 22s, the 29 and a few Alberg 34s as well, right in the area. Scott passed but a year ago at the age of 87 and the club honoured him heartily.
The area has a history of sail and boatbuilding. The docklands across the bay west of Victoria Park peninsula once had a bustling marina at the base of the Four Seasons Hotel (that subsequently became a Ramada and is today is a Travelodge – that part of the waterfront is not having a good time.) The area north of the hotel adjacent to Highway 2 was home to C Keeble 4 Sails, a sail and canvas maker for a quarter of century and Morch Marine a long time boat builder, both of which are now extinct. That area is currently under development and, alas, no longer has marine anything. Perhaps re-development will include some usage for the potentially excellent waterfront.
Over at BQYC, however, things are hopping indeed. It is a very active club in many aspects including patio, racing and combination of the two. The summer is fully scheduled with club racing and regattas including area and regional events especially including Sharks and Viking 28s – last year the schedule included a tall ship visit. The members are hospitable and enthusiastic.
In the bay north of the BQYC the slips of Victoria Park Harbour marina are only rented by the season. So for visitors it’s the club or Meyers Pier.
Built a hundred years more recently than BQYC, the marina at Meyers Pier is large and well equipped with showers, pump out, gas, diesel, wireless Internet and laundry. There are even free bicycles for visitors. Meyers Pier can accommodate large boats up to 60’ (7’ draft) in its transient slips. The green park surrounding it is well maintained, as is the marina thanks to the city’s management.
Either the marina or the club is an easy walk into the downtown area, which is all set up to welcome you. The distinctive city hall with a tall spire is an easy landmark. There’s an outdoor market and several streets that have whatever you need. On Bridge Street (the Moira River flows right through town and there are several bridges) you’ll find Dinkel’s, very sophisticated eating spot run by Paul Dinkel who moved here from Toronto’s Yorkville bringing some fine cuisine with him. He also runs an Italian café next door. A couple of doors east on Bridge is the Funk & Gruven A-Z that, despite its lame name, is a particularly inviting treasure trove of Loyalist country antiques, kitsch and curios.
The areas close to shore offer some leafy streets and relaxed neighbourhoods, and recently there seems to be a surprising amount of construction perhaps indicating a boom in town. The Empire Theatre and Centre for Performing Arts is a regional hive of culture with a never ending slate of movies and concerts. There’s a full schedule of summer happenings including the Waterfront Festival in July.
Beyond the centre of the city, Belleville stretches right up to the 401 and you’re a quick cab ride from Quinte Mall, a full blown urban mall and Reid’s Dairy, an ice cream landmark still run by the same family that founded it in 1951. While the inner old part of town crawls, the outskirts have embraced modernity hosting a lot of industry from Black Diamond Cheese to a humongous Sears distribution facility.
After a stroll through the core of Belleville or beyond, a good strategy is to head back down to the water to visit the Boathouse Seafood Restaurant on South Front. This waterfront pub features a very full selection of local brews and some of the best fish and chips this side of St John’s. Its deck patio overlooks BQYC and is a splendid maritime venue to waste a sunny day.
From the top of this piece, we have treated Belleville as a waypoint but that’s only part of the story; it’s quite a charming destination. From the south shore of Lake Ontario, from Kingston as well as from the GTA, Belleville is an interesting if not mind-blowing cruising destination. As a stopover to or from the Thousand Islands, it can’t be beat.
Trenton, where the Trent-Severn starts
Trenton (newly amalgamated as part of the City of Quinte West), nine miles west of Belleville and east of the Murray Canal, is the centre of the Canadian Air Force and more importantly to boaters, the beginning of the Trent-Severn Waterway.
The Waterway is a National Historic Site, part of Parks Canada running 240 miles (386km) to Port Severn on Georgian Bay and is a fabulous, if somewhat crowded, boating experience. It was built during the 19th century although the entire route only was available beginning in 1920. The hydraulic lift locks at Peterborough and Kirkfield as well as the marine railway at Big Chute are unique boating icons.
According to the Belleville Intelligencer there is considerable local concern about the reduced operating hours of the Waterway beginning this summer. According to the report “Hours of operation on the waterway will be reduced by two to 3.5 hours daily. Locks will open later and close sooner, depending at the time of season.”
Important Marine Services Update for Belleville
Crate Marine Sales has just announced that the company is expanding to Belleville, Ontario.
With plans to open for the 2013 boating season, work is already underway at what was previously the Morch Marine location.
Crate’s Belleville will be a full service marina and will offer full sales, service and dockage.
Sales at Crate’s Belleville will include new boats from Carver, Marquis, Regal, Cruisers Yachts and Cruisers Sports Series. Dockage will be expanded to over 200 slips with accommodations for boats up to 60 feet, plus Crates Belleville will have a new 50 ton travel lift.
Crate’s is a family owned business with over 80 years of experience from the primary location in Keswick, Ontario. With three locations on Lake Simcoe, Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay, Port Credit (Toronto area) and St.Paul-de-Lile-aux Noix, Quebec. So, starting this summer, cruising boaters have a new choice in marine sales and service in the Bay of Quinte area.
Photo 1 – Powering down the Murray Canal.
Photo 2 – Swing bridge on the Murray Canal.
Photo 3 – Swing bridge on the Murray Canal.
Photo 4 – Formally the Norris-Whitney Bridge, locals call it the Bay Bridge.
Photo 5 – Boats at BQYC with City Hall not far.
Photo 6 – Long Reach Bar at BQYC.
Photo 7 – Meyers Pier Marina with the Bay Bridge in the background.
Photo 8 – Dinkel’s on Bridge Street.
Photo 9 – Trenton – Lock Master’s House Nestled in Nature’s Beauty at Lock #5.
Photo 10 – Trenton – Lock in Frankford (part of Quinte West) heading north so the actual lock is behind.
Photo 11 – Trenton – Lock 6 in Frankford heading north.