Visit Kingston (On­tario)

Early Cap­i­tal of Canada

Snowbirds & RV Travelers - - Contents - Story & Pho­tos by James Stoness

THE OLD CITY OF KINGSTON HAS A LOT FOR THOSE IN­TER­ESTED in the his­tory of Canada. Af­ter all, it was one of the first Euro­pean set­tle­ments set up for com­merce.

When the French were ex­pand­ing their colonies in east­ern Canada, their ex­plor­ers, trap­pers and traders were search­ing for riches north and west. Sa­muel de Cham­plain trav­elled to the Kingston re­gion in 1615. His re­port caused the Gover­nor of New France to set up a trad­ing post called Ft. Cataraqui. Later this would be re­named Ft. Fron­tenac, af­ter the gover­nor’s name.

The Bri­tish ar­rived dur­ing the Seven Year’s War in Europe and took over the fort. Mov­ing into the 1800’s there were threat­en­ing moves from the united colonies south of the bor­der, whose fleet dur­ing the War of 1812 chased the Cana­dian war ship, the Royal Ge­orge, into the pro­tec­tion of the Kingston har­bour where can­non fire drove the en­emy away. Canada quickly erected Fort Henry to pro­tect the dock­yard, where in 1814, the HMS St. Lawrence sailed out into Lake On­tario, to be­come, with 112 guns, the most dreaded ship on Lake On­tario.

To en­sure that the for­eign power to the south could not block the St. Lawrence River and pre­vent Cana­di­ans from ac­cess­ing towns along Lake On­tario, en­gi­neers com­pleted build­ing the Rideau Canal from Kingston to the Ot­tawa River in 1832. This would guar­an­tee the pas­sage of goods and troops in the event of a St. Lawrence River block­ade.

In 1840, com­bin­ing Up­per and Lower Canada cre­ated the United Prov­ince of Canada. In 1841, Gover­nor Gen­eral Lord Sy­den­ham de­clared Kingston as the new cap­i­tal. That was one hun­dred and seventy-five years ago. The Cap­i­tal only re­mained in Kingston un­til 1844 and wan­dered through six dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions un­til Queen Vic­to­ria se­lected Ot­tawa as the Cap­i­tal’s fi­nal lo­ca­tion.

In 1846, there be­gan a flurry of mil­i­tary build­ing in Kingston. The com­ple­tion of four Martello tow­ers in Lake On­tario, plus im­prove­ments to Fort Henry, re­in­forced pro­tec­tion of the city. The at­mos­phere be­came edgy again. The Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany had estab­lished a re­gion of Bri­tish ter­ri­tory south of the Columbia River on the west coast, but dur­ing the tense times that fol­lowed gave up the ter­ri­tory to ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests.

As a re­sult Canada for­ever lost a wide band of coun­try ex­tend­ing south­ward all across the con­ti­nent to the Great Lakes. This was par­tially due to the er­ro­neous belief of some Amer­i­can’s

in ‘Man­i­fest Destiny’. A po­lit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal ide­ol­ogy that it was Amer­ica’s di­vinely as­signed right to ex­pand across the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent and to es­tab­lish demo­cratic and Protes­tant ideals.

The threat of Amer­i­can in­va­sion dur­ing those years re­sulted in the con­struc­tion of for­ti­fi­ca­tions of early day Kingston, now en­joyed by so many vis­i­tors.

For those who want to visit the orig­i­nal Kingston, you will want to work your way along the shores of Lake On­tario. This is where the mas­sive pro­tec­tive works will be, and also the beau­ti­ful lime­stone build­ings of early years.

The mas­sive walls of Fort Henry will im­press a vis­i­tor to Kingston ar­riv­ing from the east on Hwy 2. Perched high on a hill, the fort is in a strate­gic po­si­tion to guard the en­trance to the St. Lawrence River, the en­trance to the Rideau Canal, and the har­bour.

The present fort of­fers many tours of the fa­cil­i­ties and sets cer­tain days aside for Sun­set Cer­e­monies where the vis­i­tor will en­joy 1860’s mil­i­tary mu­sic and drills show­ing ar­tillery ma­noeu­vres and a fierce bat­tle.

If you pro­ceed west you will pass the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege (RMC), which is a uni­ver­sity that trains mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and of­fers de­grees. From here you cross the Rideau Canal en­trance. Many vis­i­tors like to book a trip on a boat through the canal’s 45 locks and the many lakes on the way to Ot­tawa. You will see lock gates op­er­ated by per­son­nel hand-crank­ing them open and shut in the orig­i­nal way.

Down­town Old Kingston is next. The Tourist In­for­ma­tion Of­fice near City Hall is a use­ful stop for brochures and in­for­ma­tion on the sites of the old build­ings. Many peo­ple like to book a water tour of the har­bour for great views back into the city, or even down the St. Lawrence River into the Thou­sand Is­land sec­tion of this beau­ti­ful wa­ter­way.

If you don’t want to walk, buy a ticket for Kingston Trol­ley Tours, which cov­ers many his­toric des­ti­na­tions. You can step off, stop a while, and hop on when the next trol­ley ar­rives. It has quite a wide cov­er­age of the old city in­clud­ing a stop at Belle­vue House, home of our first Prime Min­is­ter, Sir John A. Mac­don­ald.

There are writ­ten guides avail­able of walks that take you past old stately homes, as well as the lo­ca­tions of the in­dus­trial part of Kingston at that early time. Nearby is the city’s most beau­ti­ful build­ing, the Fron­tenac County Court House, with a great foun­tain out front. Its roof is adorned with a domed cupola rest­ing on sev­eral arched win­dows. This build­ing faces down across large park­land where you can stroll to see a statue of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald, the man who be­came our first Prime Min­is­ter. Elected first as coun­cil­lor on the Kingston Town Coun­cil in 1843, he was then later elected in 1844 to rep­re­sent Kingston in gov­ern­ment.

This is a busy area of town. It’s close to the Kingston Gen­eral Hospi­tal, and to Queen’s Uni­ver­sity, also mostly lime­stone struc­tures. The older build­ings of Queen’s still re­main a light grey colour, but newer ones use lime­stone from out of town and look dingy brown. If you are in­ter­ested in rocks and min­er­als, Miller Mu­seum at Queen’s has a large se­lec­tion of lo­cal and far away rocks.

Far­ther west are prison fa­cil­i­ties where you can pass the fairy-like cas­tle of Collins Bay In­sti­tu­tion or if tours are avail­able, stop in at the rugged fa­cil­i­ties of a now closed Kingston Pen­i­ten­tiary.

A visit to the Cataraqui Ceme­tery will show you a rest­ing place filled with nat­u­ral beauty among the rolling ter­rain. It is the fi­nal home of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald, which is vis­ited by many peo­ple from across the na­tion.

Clock­wise from top left: Sir John A. Mac­Don­ald, Stately Home and Fron­tenac County Courthouse

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