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A Unique experience in an original historic jail

About an hour's drive east of Toronto is the lovely old-fashioned town of Cobourg. This thriving community is full of unexpected delights and has one of the nicest waterfronts that I have seen anywhere. As a Torontonian, I'm not used to thinking of Lake Ontario as swimmable, but this stretch of the lakefront is so enticing that my son and I wasted no time in running in for a dunk.

There is a feeling of entering someplace magical created by a series of peaked walkways that lead onto the beach at various entry points from the surrounding Victoria Park. As I walked through the gateway, the lake shore was beautifully framed and a wide expanse of blue water and white sand took my breath away. I'm accustomed to Ontario beachfronts that look more like mud holes where one must negotiate rocks and seaweed just to get in the water. But in Cobourg, the sand is smooth, the beach is wide and the clear water deepens so gradually that we were able to walk out quite far by the time the water reached my waist and my son's chest.

As if this weren't enough, there is a full service Marina and a pristine boardwalk right next to the beach. The adjacent Victoria Park offers a children's wading pool, an outdoor pool, playgrounds, miniature golf, a lawn bowling green and a camp-ground.

The town is filled with historic landmarks such as the grand Victoria Hall, which was opened in 1860 during a time when Cobourg was actually the fifth largest centre in Ontario. At that time there were hopes for the booming town to become the economic and political capital of the province. Originally named Hamilton, the town changed its name to Cobourg in honour of the marriage of Princess Charlotte, daughter of King George IV to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg Germany.

Immigration slowed and the town struggled financially after the failure of its railway and the heavy bill from the construction of its opulent Victorian town hall. But the determined citizens reinvented the town as a fashionable summer colony.

Our visit coincided with the annual street sale and carnival, so the downtown area was blocked off and shop owners had almost emptied their shops in order to display clothes, shoes, sportswear, antiques and country knickknacks. I also perused the Farmer's Market, one of the oldest in Ontario for fresh veggies. It is held behind Victoria Hall on Saturdays from May until December.
One of the main reasons for our trip to Cobourg was the unique lodging that we had booked. We were staying in the Cobourg jail and what a luxurious jail it was! In late 1998, The COBOURG JAIL, www.TheKingGeorgeinn.com a Federal maximum security prison, shipped the inmates to other facilities and closed down. It was sold privately, and has been renovated into a 20 room Inn with a restaurant and historic exhibits in the basement.

Today, you can stay in the Manor House, a turn of the century home once inhabited by the Governor and Chief Warden Turnkey, where themed rooms are majestically decorated; or, in the prison section, where several rooms have incorporated the original jail bunks and bars into the decor.

For instance we stayed in rooms that have names like the Titanic, Lawyer's Leap and the Privileged Prisoner. You can view all of the rooms on their website and the manager told me that half the fun for visitors is viewing the rooms online and then picking out their favourites.

Every area of the former jail has been creatively used. The walled exercise yard has been transformed into an a gorgeous garden area within the Prison Walls in an Annex. Bicycles are there free for your use. Some of the original brick where the prisoners engraved their initials has been left intact. The solitary confinement area has been left intact as a museum so that visitors can peer in, and leave messages of their own.

Cobourg has a number of popular yearly events, including the Cobourg Waterfront Festival which takes place around Canada Day, The Highland Games , a Vintage Film Festival that features silent films, a Sand Castle Festival, Ice Sculpture festival during the winter-fest and vintage talkies and a Christmas Magic celebration, which will transform the town and waterfront with 100,000 coloured lights from every December until early January. For further information check out the Cobourg website at www.town.cobourg.on.ca or call 1-888-COBOURG.

Antique and gallery shopping - Cobourg, Port Hope, Grafton and Northumberland County all have superb antique and art shops, and all have historic neighbourhoods for walking

Art Gallery of Northumberland - changing exhibits of local and national artists

Cobourg waterfront - a Victorian bandshell, a sandy beach, a harbourfront walkway and fishing charters

Marie Dressler Home - exhibits describe Dressler's cinema career, including a video and a mockup from the set of Min and Bill - the house was been remodeled - 2000

Northumberland Players - fall and winter theatre in fabulous Victoria Hall

Victoria Hall - a grand city hall with a sunken courtroom modelled after London's Old Bailey and a Grand Ballroom with trompe-l'oeil decoration

Cobourg Waterfront Festival

Cobourg Highland Games - celebrated their 54th anniversary in June 2017!