In 1783, following the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, the British government negotiated with the local native peoples, the Mississauga, for lands on which to settle LOYALISTS, refugees from the American colonies. King's Town, as it was then named (in honour of King George III), was made the administrative centre of the new district (Mecklenberg) encompassing townships along the Upper St Lawrence and eastern end of Lake Ontario. Despite being the largest settlement in Upper Canada, Kingston was not selected as capital. Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe instead selected first Newark (now NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE), and later York (now TORONTO). During the WAR OF 1812, the development of a significant military and naval presence there stimulated the local economy and population growth.
Being at the junction of lake and river transport, Kingston was also the site of much transshipment activity for the export trade in lumber and agricultural produce and for inward-moving merchandise and passengers. However, during the War of 1812, the St Lawrence was found to be vulnerable to attacks from the United States. The completion of the RIDEAU CANAL in 1832, linking Upper and Lower Canada by the Ottawa River-Rideau Lakes-Cataraqui River, overcame and reinforced this commercial function. Kingston rapidly became the largest town in Upper Canada, and was the capital of the Province of Canada from 1841 until December 1843, when the Queen approved the removal of the seat of government to Montreal, although the governor general did not leave until June 1844.
By mid-century, however, the flow of grain down the St Lawrence had diminished; improvements in navigation of the St Lawrence allowed more through traffic to by-pass Kingston; the arrival of the GRAND TRUNK RAILWAY in 1856 presented a competitor to water transport; and larger lake vessels posed problems for Kingston's exposed and shallow harbour. As well as this erosion of the port's commercial activities, another economic blow was dealt by the departure of the imperial garrison in 1871.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Kingston's economic fortunes and demographic growth fell behind other urban centres. Several rail ventures attempted to extend Kingston's hinterland to the north, and by the 1880s the Kingston-Pembroke railway had pushed its tracks over 160 km north to Renfrew. However, unlike other Ontario cities, Kingston failed to industrialize and grow. Despite offers of bonuses and tax relief, Kingston could not attract significant capital investment. Although some textile factories were added in the 1880s, the city's economy continued to be dominated by commerce and such ancillary industries as the locomotive works and shipyards. Not until WWII did several new industries (Alcan Aluminium, DuPont Nylon) enter the city's regional economy.
Kingston's society and economy have a distinctive institutional base instead. FORT HENRY is a reminder of the 19th century garrison, the ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE, and the extensive military establishment at Barriefield are part of a continuing military presence in the city. Similarly the provincial penitentiary, opened in 1835, subsequently led governments to locate a number of other federal and provincial correctional institutions in Kingston and its environs.
The educational sector is another major employer. "Queen's College at Kingston," originally a college of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, was founded in 1841, developed into QUEEN'S UNIVERSITY, and by the early 20th century had a national reputation in arts and science, medicine and theology. Finally, hospitals and other medical establishments, along with branch offices of government agencies, are part of the institutional presence in Kingston. Lacking dominant industries and significant population increase, Kingston retains much of the physical fabric and employment structure of its 19th-century form. Its lakeside amenities and historical heritage have generated much tourist activity in the 1990s.
Known as the "Limestone City," Kingston retains much of the ambience of a 19th-century commercial-institutional town. As in the original town plot of 1783, Kingston's downtown continues to be focused on the few blocks around Princess and Brock streets between Barrie and Ontario, near the waterfront. Kingston's cityscape has over 350 buildings designated as being of historical or architectural significance, another 350 as being of historical or architectural interest, and 2 heritage conservation districts (Market Square, Barriefield Village). KINGSTON CITY HALL, Customs House, the post office and Market Square constitute the dominant elements in a remarkable concentration of 19th-century structures. St George's (Anglican), St Andrew's (Presbyterian), St Mary's (Catholic) and Sydenham (United) churches are excellent examples of the diverse ecclesiastical styles of the last century. The Grand Trunk and Kingston and Pembroke railway stations, the several MARTELLO TOWERS along the waterfront, and several commercial buildings are all evidence of Kingston's former way of life. A few blocks away are Kingston's original residential areas, in which a pleasing mixture of architectural styles reflects the community's different periods of construction and social structure.
Since 1945, both a stable urban core and suburbanization have been the major features of Kingston's urban growth. The principal expansion in the 1960s and 1970s was to the west in Kingston Township and Ernestown Township (in such communities as La Salle Park, Bayridge, Collins Bay and Amherstview), with considerable expansion to the east in Pittsburgh Township in the 1980s and 1990s. After a shift of much retailing to suburban shopping malls in the 1960s and 1970s, the city's downtown has witnessed a major revitalization through the introduction of condominiums, hotels, restaurants, apartment houses and boutiques, especially along the streets adjacent to the waterfront.
Kingston's failure to grow economically in the 19th century at the same rate as other large Ontario communities such as Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa has meant a slow population growth, even some periods of decrease. From a permanent population of about 2000 just after the War of 1812, the city grew to almost 12 000 by mid-century and 14 000 by 1881. With 30 000 in 1941, the city population expanded to close to 50 000 following the annexation of 1952, increasing slowly to 60 000 in the late 1990s. The consolidation of the city and the two townships in 1998 increased the municipal population to over 110 000. By 1996 over 69 000 of the Kingston Urban Area population resided outside the city, in the adjacent townships of Kingston, Ernestown and Pittsburgh.
Kingston was bypassed by the immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 59% in 1851, its foreign-born population decreased to 14% in 1951. Over 75% of this group were British, Irish or American born. Only in the 1960s and 1970s did a more ethnically diverse population develop, with substantial groups of PORTUGUESE, ITALIANS, DUTCH and Asians.
As commercial activities eroded in the late 1800s, institutional employers, such as the university, penitentiaries, the military and hospitals, became more important in the city's economy. In the period prior to WWII, Kingston's economy was dominated by the Canadian Locomotive Company, the shipyards, Kingston Cotton Mills, and various small refineries and machine shops. Following the war, Alcan, DuPont, Celanese Canada and Northern Telecom were added to the Kingston region's industrial base. However, in recent years, these 4 have experienced a considerable overall reduction in their workforce and Kingston's institutional sector has come to dominate the local economy. In 1996 this sector accounted for 41.6% of the workforce, followed by retail trade (12.8%), hospitality (8.4%) and manufacturing (7.4%).
Government and Politics
Following settlement in 1783, Kingston was governed according to the French laws of Québec until the establishment of Upper Canada under the CONSTITUTIONAL ACT, 1791. Town affairs were initially administered by justices of the peace and the Court of Quarter Sessions, and Kingston was a "police town" until 1838, when it was incorporated as a municipality with a mayor and elected aldermen and councillors serving 4 wards. John A. MACDONALD promoted Kingston's incorporation as a city (1846) and a new council of 20 councillors and aldermen was created, one of whom is elected mayor by the councillors.
In 1850 Kingston extended beyond its original western limit, West Street, to incorporate the suburb of Stuartville. The city's limits were again extended in 1952 - west to the Little Cataraqui Creek and north to the present Highway 401. Since that time, Kingston's function as the dominant centre for the Kingston Urban Area has prompted the call for a regional government system. This became a reality in 1998 with the creation of a new municipality by the merger of the city with Kingston and Pittsburgh townships.
Kingston has a diverse cultural life, with a symphony orchestra of some distinction, several local theatre groups, the AGNES ETHERINGTON ART CENTRE and a full calendar of visiting artists, scholars and entertainers. Queen's and the military have long contributed to the musical, theatrical and general cultural scene while Kingston's TheTRAGICALLY HIP have made their mark in the world of popular music.
Prominent Canadian writers with a Kingston connection include Agnes Maule MACHAR, Robertson DAVIES, Janette Turner HOSPITAL, Matt COHEN, David HELWIG, Bronwen WALLACE and Merilyn Simonds. The Whig Standard is one of Canada's oldest daily newspapers.
Among Kingston's tourist attractions are Fort Henry, BELLEVUE HOUSE (the home of Canada's first prime minister), the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes, the THOUSAND ISLANDS, the Rideau Canal and the city's distinctive architectural heritage.
Kingston's chief claim to sporting fame rests on Queen's football team, "Golden Gaels," the Kingston Frontenacs hockey team and the superlative sailing throughout the waters of the Bay of Quinte area. Portsmouth harbour was developed into a marina site for the sailing competition in the 1976 Summer Olympics, and Kingston Yacht Club hosts the annual Canadian Olympic Regatta Kingston (CORK). Kingston is the southern terminus of the Rideau Trail.
Author BRIAN S. OSBORNE
Margaret Angus, The Stones of Kingston (1989); Jennifer McKendry, With Our Past Before Us: Nineteenth Century Architecture in the Kingston Area (1995); Brian S. Osborne and Donald W. Swainson, Kingston: Building on the Past (1988); G. Tulchinsky (ed), To Preserve and Defend: Essays on Kingston in the Nineteenth Century (1976).
Links to Other Sites
The official website for Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
See a photo gallery of some major attractions in the City of Kingston, Ontario.
In Sir John A.'s Footsteps: A Kingston Walking Tour
Listen online to Don Cherry's reading of "In Sir John A.'s Footsteps" — an audio walking tour of the first Prime Minister's Kingston.
Archaeology in Kingston and Eastern Ontario
Dig into the archaeological history of Eastern Ontario at this Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation website.
This nicely illustrated website is dedicated to the history of Fort Frontenac. From the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation.
Bellevue House National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site in Kingston, Ontario is the former home of Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada (1867-73, 1878-91). Check out the detailed overview of the life and political career of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Kingston Symphony Association
The website for the Kingston Symphony Association, the umbrella organization for five performing ensembles including the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, the Kingston Choral Society, the Kingston Youth Orchestra, the Kingston Youth Strings, and the Kingston Community Strings.
Wolfe Island Wind Project
An information site about the Wolfe Island Wind Project, which is operated and was developed by Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. It is located directly on Wolfe Island, which is close to Kingston, Ontario.
St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance
The latest news about upcoming community events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in Eastern Ontario. Features local history and online archival material about the war. From the St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance.
Kingston Architecture: Style
An illustrated overview of 19th century Kingston architecture from the website for architectural historian Jennifer McKendry.
Command Structure and Appointments in Upper Canada, 1812 to 1814
An outline of the British military command structure in Canadian territory during the War of 1812. From the "War of 1812 Magazine."
View a series of video clips that chronicles the attack by US war ships under the command of Captain Isaac Chauncey on the HMS Royal George and Kingston, Ontario, in the War of 1812.
Engine 1095 Restoration Project
See an online gallery of photos of Engine 1095 aka “The Spirit of Sir John A.," a former Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive currently located in downtown Kingston. Shows the locomotive in various stages of restoration. From flickriver.com.
Engine 1095: The Spirit of Sir John A.
See online copies of documents related to the restoration of "Engine 1095: The Spirit of Sir John A." in Kingston, Ontario. From the City of Kingston website.
The website for the Grand Theatre, a prominent Kingston entertainment venue that is home to the Kingston Symphony Orchestra and other cultural groups. See their performance calendar and information about educational programs.
The website for Jane’s Walk, a network of free walking tours that explore the quality and livability of local neighbourhoods based on ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs. Click on "The Community" to access the latest news and photos on their blog and more. Also, check out "Find Your Walk" for maps and descriptions of local walks throughout the country.