Drone image of South Napanee Waterway: river goes through center of the landscape cutting through the small town. Photo courtesy of Justen Soule

Belleville and Bay of Quinte

Its official name isn’t the Beautiful Bay of Quinte but it could be — given the undeniable charms of what locals just call the Bay. As a newer travel destination, it has a very old history — back in the 12th century it was the birthplace of Tekanawita (the Peacemaker) who brought a constitution of peace to the original Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy. Today, the Bay of Quinte is fast becoming known for arts and culture (not to mention plenty of good eats).

Day One

A telescope overlooking a body of water Crédit: Courtney Klumper
Presqu'ile Park
From Shorebirds to Songbirds

Birding is really taking off (pun intended!) as one of the fastest-growing hobbies in North America. Presqu’ile Park, a hot spot for bird migration with some 338 species identified, is a perfect vantage point to admire both shorebirds and songbirds. With its long sandy beach and Lake Ontario views the park is also ideal for walking, biking and camping. (The marsh boardwalk has been called “a gem” by more than one visitor.) To learn about the area’s natural and cultural history, stop in at both The Nature Centre and The Lighthouse Interpretive Centre, which highlights the park’s cultural legacy and its connection to Lake Ontario’s past.

Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf Photo Credit Kristina Wenstrom
Meander Along the Bay to Belleville
From Flying Machines to Festivals

While road tripping from Brighton to Belleville, take the opportunity to make a few stops along the way. In Trenton, visit the National Air Force Museum, which explores the country’s aviation history and features a sixteen-acre air park dedicated to flying machines (past and present). For nature enthusiasts, there is the Potter Creek Conservation Area, conveniently located off HWY 2, just as you approach Belleville

To learn about Deaf history, visit the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, which recently celebrated its 150-year anniversary. Explore their new Archives & Museum by booking an appointment or simply appreciate the heritage plaque on the picturesque grounds.

Another worthwhile stop is West Zwick’s Island Park on the Waterfront near the Belleville Bay Bridge, where you may often find pop-ups and festivals happening.

Three women walk down the Belleville downtown strip on a sunny day Photo Credit Ash Mural
Downtown Belleville
Historic Charm; Contemporary Cool

Sitting pretty on the Bay and the banks of the Moira, downtown Belleville is a rare find: equal parts historic charm and contemporary cool.

Pop in and out of galleries, including Belleville Art Association and Gallery 121 featuring local artists or the John M. Parrott Gallery in the Belleville Public Library. While exploring some of the many boutiques, keep your eyes open for public art too, notably local artist Chris Bennett’s colourful murals adorning a number of establishments.

A short walk (or three-minute drive) east lands you in the Old East Hill Neighbourhood. Belleville’s historic architecture provides an elegant backdrop for wandering from historic buildings like Bellevue Terrace, to GLANMORE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE. The historic homes in the area date back to the 1800’s, and are the perfect setting for Belleville’s annual September Porchfest – a free, family-friendly music festival which sees thousands of attendees enjoying music played from porches, hosted by the local Rotary Club of Belleville.

The empire theatre, seen on a clear sunny day Credit: Jacob Cote Photography
The Empire and More
Dinner, Then a Show

Before enjoying a show later in the evening, make your way back to downtown Belleville to indulge in a delicious meal. If you’re craving Mexican cuisine, Chilangos is a must-visit culinary destination in Belleville. Another fantastic option in the downtown area is The Lark, a charming and modern restaurant known for its intimate ambiance and imaginative cocktails.

For a small place, Belleville sure loves its theatre – so you have a lot to choose from. There’s The Empire, a vintage 1938 theatre presenting indie films and live performances (including some of Canada’s biggest name artists). There’s River & Main Theatre Co. (at the intimate storefront Theatre in the Wings). And there’s the Belleville Theatre Guild (top notch community theatre for over seventy years). Oh, and if for some reason you’re heading back west, note that actors also tread the boards at the City of Quinte’s Old Church Theatre and the Brighton Barn Theatre.

Day Two

The outside of the lil crow cafe, a bike is out front Photo credit KimberLee & David R. Maracle, Native Expressions
Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory
Distinctive Indigenous Arts and Crafts

You’ll know you’ve arrived when you start seeing Mohawk language on street signs and buildings. Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was established in 1784, a forced relocation leading to the loss of ancestral homelands. (Visit the Mohawk Landing on Bayshore Road to learn more.) Among the traditions of Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) people is distinctive original artwork and crafts. Make sure to stop at Native Renaissance, featuring emerging and well-known Indigenous artists, notably Thomas B. Maracle whose stone, wood and corn husk creations are prized internationally. Other must-stops include Rebecca Maracle’s Gallery & Gifts, showcasing exquisite feather art; Soaring Eagle Native Arts & Crafts for meticulously handcrafted work with all-natural materials, and Eagle POD Gallery, with its striking, one-of-a-kind sculptures by David R. Maracle. After this feast for the eyes, you may want a feast for the stomach: you’ll find fresh walleye at many local restaurants.

Christ's Church, seen on a sunny day. The church is built with white bricks and has red doors Photo credit Monika Kraska
Her Majesty's Royal Chapel of the Mohawks
History at the Chapel

Mohawks were military allies of the British Crown during the American Revolution and part of that legacy is embodied by the chapel at Christ Church. It’s one of a small number of royal chapels outside of Great Britain and is of historic significance to both the Indigenous and colonial history of Turtle Island/Canada. The church itself, welcoming both Indigenous and non-Indigenous worshippers, was built by Mohawks and contains a triptych in the Mohawk language. Outside of Sunday services hours are variable, but it’s worth stopping by just to gaze at the 19th century Gothic revival style architecture.

The Tyeninaga Cavern entrance, surrounded by greenery and stone bricks Photo courtesy of Tyendinaga Cavern and Cave
Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves
An Underground Adventure

Fantastic fossils, cool depths, and a resident ghost: all of the above are found below! Meaning in the caves, which date back thousands of years. Geology lovers should get excited – the fossils found here connect sightseers to the extensive history of this natural wonder. Considered an easy and accessible adventure (at a small enough scale that even littles can enjoy), the Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves are also about ethical and sustainable tourism that gives curious visitors a chance to learn something of the local history and geology.

A pallet garden bed. The sign behind the best reads "Eat Local" Photo credit: Andrew Clarke
Greater Napanee 'Pallet'able Art Project
Art on the Skids

As you follow the scenic route along the Bay of Quinte and up the Napanee River, you will reach the charming Town of Greater Napanee. One of the notable attractions in the town is the ‘Pallet’able Art Project, public art literally created on wooden industrial skids and pallets. Twenty-some charming original works dot the city, making splashes of bright, eye-catching colour. Navigate your way from pallet to pallet via Greater Napanee’s handy online map. (You may want to incorporate a little local history too, via the town’s historic walking tour map.)

A floating pub. Photo Credit Norman Paul
Pints, Pubs, Music

Start your evening relaxing at one of Greater Napanee’s favourite spots, for instance by having a brew at the wee patio of multiple-award-winning Napanee Beer Company. Another option, the (similarly award-winning) Waterfront River Pub and Terrace, located right on the Napanee. (Trivia note: the Napanee River is known for having its own “seiche,” a tidal effect due in part to the strong winds on Lake Ontario’s north shore.) The Waterfront often features local musicians, and for national talent check out the Starstop Concert Series, designed to catch top Canadian talent crossing the country on tour. One final music note: for concerts beneath the skies (and by the river), on a summer afternoon watch for the Music by the River series in lovely Conservation Park.

Your trip at a glance

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please CONTACT US.

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Li Robbins.