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Belleville is known as the Friendly City, and the human element reaches back to the mid 1800s, when the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway put this south-eastern Ontario destination on the map. The beautiful Bay of Quinte belies the town’s busy industry with companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kellogg’s. There is much to learn about life past and present, as well as surrounding-area cultures.

A top attraction in Belleville is Empire Theatre, which dates to 1930. This Front Street theatre changed hands a number of times, and re-opened its doors in 2003 as a 700-seat venue that exudes a quirky, personal touch. The Empire is noted for great acoustics and live events of comedy and drama, as well as acting lessons and film festivals.

On Bridge Street East, Glanmore House is a celebrated example of Second Empire Architecture and a top attraction in Belleville. Hand-painted ceilings, antiques and treasures have stories to tell about this 1880s’ home of a prominent banker. Exhibits depict pre-confederate homestead life and what it meant to be a domestic servant. Glanmore House offers guided and self-guided tours, as well as a gift shop to augment your visit.

Things to do in Belleville include taking a road trip to Lang Pioneer Village, with a more rustic view of historic life. Follow Highway 401 to Highway 45, then head west. The outdoor museum is built around the 1820s’ log cabin home of David Fife, an innovative farmer who made Red Fife Wheat an important regional staple. Present-day creators moved authentic buildings over 160 kilometres to establish this interactive centre. South Lake log schoolhouse is one of these historic buildings, along with two dozen other restored examples of traditional architecture. Tours reveal rich details such as beeswax candles on the farmhouse hearth and animals grazing in the pasture. Visitors can watch costumed volunteers re-enact the era, grinding wheat into flour or spinning wool. The village carpenter at his lathe and blacksmith at his anvil are happy to engage in a chat and describe their crafts. There is a summer refreshment booth with hot dogs and ice cream, a youth interpretive centre and two exhibit galleries.

Visiting Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory yields more things to do in Belleville. You can view another kind of life, twenty minutes’ drive east on Old Highway 2. The Cairn pays tribute to the 1743 landing of the Mohawk people. The Native Renaissance II serves as an art gallery and gift shop with native carvings. Also, you can tour Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks. This stone Gothic church was built by native hands in 1843 and is a National Historical Site. Outside of the UK there are only six such royal chapels in existence. Treasures include a coat-of-arms and Victorian Bible. A 1711 silver communion set shows the alliance between the Mohawks and the British, a gift from Queen Anne.

Back in Belleville, more treasures await at Boretski Antique Gallery on Front Street, from vintage jewellery to lighting.