Early History and First Nations
Kingston is a Canadian city on the eastern end of Lake Ontario (about mid-way between Toronto and Montreal), where the Cataraqui River and Rideau Canal flow into Lake Ontario,and where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Kingston is known as the “Limestone City” for its grand pre-Confederation heritage buildings, all built after the Fire of 1840, including the lakeside Kingston City Hall.
Other attractions in the city include Bellevue House National Historic Site, with its grand house and gardens which commemorate Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. On the east bank of the Cataraqui River, opposite the city, lies Old Fort Henry, built in the 1800s to defend the Lake Ontario approach to the Rideau Canal, following the British experience s of the War of 1812.
Early European exploration in the 1600s led the French to build a fur-trading fort in 1673, called Fort Cataraqui (pronounced “kah-tah-ROCK-way”) or Fort Frontenac, which attracted settlement. The fort was captured and destroyed by the British in the Battle of Fort Frontenac during the Seven Years’ War in 1758.
British Colonial Rule and Confederation
After the British conquered New France, the village was renamed Kingston. Following the American Revolutoin, many American loyalists relocated to the area in the 1790s. During the War of 1812, Kingston was the base for the Lake Ontario division of the Great Lakes British naval fleet, which was engaged in a vigorous arms race with the American fleet (based at Sackets Harbor, New York) for control of Lake Ontario.
Kingston’s location, where the Rideau Canal (completed in 1832) connected to Lake Ontario, made it the primary military and economic centre of Upper Canada. Kingston was named the first capital city of the Province of Canada in 1841 (when it was the largest center), though this was later moved to Toronto. In the 1840s, the Upper Canadian government built Fort Henry and a series of distinctive Martello towers (emplacements beyond the fort’s defensive walls) to guard the entrance to the Rideau Canal, the shipyard on Point Frederick, and the harbour. The nearby village of Barriefield, overlooking the Cataraqui River is now a well-preserved historical neighbourhood.
Kingston became an important port for transshipment, where cargos from inland (like wheat, flour, meat, lumber, and potash) were put on larger ships that can handle the rougher waters of the St Lawrence. With the completion of the Rideau Canal, some cargoes could be transported mores safely by that route, bypassing the roughest sections of the St. Lawrence .
Recent Post-war History
After World War II, Kingston shifted from an industrial town to an institutional once, with the growth of Queen’s University, the Kingston campus of St. Lawrence College, healthcare at Kingston General Hospital (with a medical school at Queen’s), as well as the now-closed federal Kingston Penitentiary. Following the 1998 amalgamation with surrounding townships, Kingston’s boundaries now encompass large rural areas north of Highway 401 and east of the Cataraqui River.