June 12, 2011

Kingston's National Historic Sites

Chances are if you've taken a road trip anywhere across Canada you've seen the iconic brown beaver signs on your travels. The symbol represents a place that is designated as being historically important. In order for places to be designated a National Historic Site they must must have "profound importance to Canada. They bear witness to this nation's defining moments and illustrate its human creativity and cultural traditions. Each national historic site tells its own unique story, part of the greater story of Canada, contributing a sense of time, identity, and place to our understanding of Canada as a whole".

Parks Canada is celebrating 100 years of identifying and preserving Canada's cultural and physical heritage. For many of us, these places and sites are links to our national patrimony and sense of identity.

Given its age--settled by Europeans in 1673--it's not surprising that Kingston has dozens of historic sites with civic, provincial, and federal designations. But it also has a fair number of rare places designated as National Historic Sites. As Canada Day approaches in the first capital city, I thought I would highlight Kingston's National Historic Sites:

1. Fort Frontenac (1673)
Built in 1673 by the Comte de Frontenac and rebuilt in 1675 and 1695, it was, for many years, the key to the West, the base of LaSalle’s explorations and a French outpost against the Iroquois and English. Fort Frontenac, located at the confluence of the Cataraqui River and Lake Ontario, was established in 1673 by the Governor of New France, the Comte de Frontenac, in order to control access to the fur laden lands of the Great Lakes Basin and the Canadian Shield. As the fur trade expanded west along the Great Lakes and into the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, the explorer René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle rebuilt the wooden fort into a stronger masonry building by reinforcing it with limestone walls and square bastions. The fort became a strong French outpost against the British and the Iroquois, as several smaller buildings were built around it and a community of settlers established themselves in the region. During one of La Salle’s extended explorations of the interior in 1682, the fort fell into the hands of creditors who neglected its defences and, after an attack by the Iroquois, the French ordered the fort’s destruction in 1689. However, in 1695, the Comte de Frontenac ordered the fort rebuilt, and it was occupied by a small garrison until 1745. In 1758, the British under Colonel John Bradstreet captured the fort and it remained in British possession until the end of the War of 1812, when it was deemed obsolete and was gradually demolished. Archaeological research in 1982 uncovered several sections of antiquated limestone walls constructed by La Salle, including those sections of the north and west curtain walls that remain visible today.

2. Point Frederick Buildings (built 1790-1846)
Located on a peninsula at the mouth of the Cataraqui River in Kingston, Ontario, Point Frederick Buildings National Historic Site of Canada consists of a group of five masonry structures, Fort Frederick and the remnants of the navy yard’s stone wall. Four of the buildings and the fort were erected to support the activities of the Provincial Marine and the Royal Navy. One of the buildings, the Mackenzie Building, was purposely built for the Royal Military College. All of these structures are still in use by the College. Although altered somewhat over the years, these buildings are representative of the handsome but plain design, sturdy construction and fine craftsmanship that characterised the best of British military architecture. The official recognition refers to the five buildings, Fort Frederick, landscape features, and structures, in their existing spatial relationships.

3. Kingston Fortifications & Murney Tower & Shoal Tower (built 1832-1840)
In 1832, the Rideau Canal linking Kingston to Montreal was completed, thereby increasing the town’s role as a transportation hub. In order to protect the southern terminus of the canal, the British began to fortify the harbour with the construction of Fort Henry, situated atop Point Henry. Designed by the British Royal Engineers, the new fort called for a series of inter-connected supporting batteries and redoubts to augment Fort Henry’s defenses. The rehabilitation of Fort Frederick, and the construction of the Shoal, Murney, and Cathcart Martello Towers was conducted in the mid-1840s. These fortifications, along with the former Market Battery, were designed to provide the town, the canal, and the dockyards with a more comprehensive defensive system. Representing the apogee of smooth bore technology, tactics and fortification design, the Kingston fortifications are integrated through common limestone materials, skillful construction, and orientation and placement as a defensible platform.

4. Fort Henry (built 1832-1840)
Construction of Fort Henry by the British military began in 1832, with the addition of ditch towers and commissariat casemates in 1840 to create its present configuration. The fort was garrisoned by units of the British Army until 1870, and then by Canadian forces. Although Fort Henry has never seen military action, it was used as a prison for combatants captured during the 1837-38 Rebellions and again during the first and Second World Wars. During the 20th century it was restored and interpreted for public visitation. Originally designated a national historic site of Canada in 1923, the fort also was designated part of the broader Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site of Canada in 1989. The heritage value of this site is most critically represented by the surviving massing, form and fabric of the fort including the advanced battery, the redoubt and the glacis, as well as by its sense of scale and purpose.

5. Kingston General Hospital (built 1833-1924)
The seven buildings comprising the Kingston General Hospital National Historic Site illustrate the evolution of hospitals in Canada from 19th-century charitable institutions, to 20th-century centres for scientific medicine. The Main Building of Kingston General Hospital was the third, purpose-built, public general hospital in Canada and is the oldest one still operating as part of a modern hospital. KGH is the oldest public hospital in Canada still in operation with most of its buildings intact and thus effectively illustrates the evolution of health care in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Main Building and the Watkins Wing are noteworthy for their lengthy association with the origins of hospitals as institutions of poor relief in the pre-Confederation era; The Nickle Wing, Doran Building, Fenwick Opening Theatre, Ann Baillie Building, and the Empire Wing chronicle the transformation of charitable hospitals into centres of scientific medicine during the 1880-1920 period.

6. Kingston Penitentiary (built 1834-1869)
Opened in 1835, the Kingston Penitentiary is Canada’s oldest reformatory prison. Its layout, with an imposing front gate leading to a cross-shaped cellblock and three rear workshops, became the model for other federal prisons for more than a century. William Powers, the Deputy warden of Auburn Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, furnished designs for the facilities inside the walls, an impressive architectural grouping of 19th-century classically styled structures. These were built in local stone, largely by the inmates, to working plans of local architects and builders John Mills, William Coverdale, and Edward Horsey. Original components of the prison include the south wing (1834-35), the north wing (1836-40), the east wing (1836-57), the west wing (1838-57), the kitchen and dining hall (1839-41), the hospital (1847-49), and the rotunda (1859-61).

7. Bellevue House (1841)
An outstanding Canadian example of Italianate architecture in the Picturesque manner,it is associated with Sir John A. Macdonald, a Father of Confederation and Canada’s first Prime Minister. The heritage value of Bellevue House is reflected in the Picturesque qualities of its design and siting, and the Italianate expression of this aesthetic, particularly during the 1848-1849 period in which it was the residence of Sir John A. Macdonald.

8. Roselawn (1841)
Built by architect William Coverdale for David John Smith in 1841, Roselawn stands as a reminder of the days when affluent Kingstonians erected magnificent country homes just beyond the city. Its proportions, roof pediments and arched openings reflect the then popular Classic Revival style. Between 1851-1868 it was the home of Sir Henry Smith Jr., who served as Solicitor General for Upper Canada, then Speaker of the House of the United Canadas. Later, from 1948 to1969, it became the official residence of the Commandant of the National Defence College. In 1970 it was purchased by Queen’s University, then substantially renovated and expanded to open in 1974 as the University’s Centre for Continuing Education. In 1997 it was again renovated to serve as the University's Donald Gordon Conference Centre.

9. Elizabeth Cottage (1843)
Originally designed and built by Kingston architect Edward Horsey in 1841-1843 to serve as his family residence, Elizabeth Cottage was enlarged in the 1880s with a one-and-a-half-storey addition designed by another Kingston architect, William Newlands. The house with its addition is a charming example of a Gothic Revival villa constructed in keeping with the picturesque aesthetic. Its lively silhouette, irregular plan, Gothic decorative details, and the pleasing interrelationship between the house and grounds, create a picturesque composition that defines the mid-19th-century villa. The differences in detail between the original section and the later addition show the evolution of the style during the 19th century.

10. Kingston City Hall (1844)

Designed by architect George Browne as his first major commission, Kingston City Hall follows the precedent for public buildings of its time in its composition and the emphasis on portico and dome. The Tuscan portico, removed in 1958, was rebuilt in 1966 to replicate the original. The design follows Neoclassical taste in its massive scale, the bold projection of the end pavilions and portico, and the strong emphasis on individual design elements.
Like many mid-19th-century town halls, Kingston City Hall was designed to combine the functions of town hall and market place in one building. Its impressive scale and design were in keeping with the anticipated prosperity and stature of the city as the provincial capital. The city hall provided two large meeting halls, offices and meeting space for city officials, and quarters for the custom house, post office, police station and jail. A rear section contained market space. This rear wing that was rebuilt in 1865 and again in 1973 and the dome was rebuilt in 1910. The Tuscan portico that was reconstructed in 1966.

11. Frontenac County Court House (1858)
Frontenac County Court House is representative of the large-scale, court houses erected in Ontario after 1850. The passage of the Municipal Act gave increased power to county government, justifying the construction of court houses on a monumental scale to accommodate multiple county functions. The Frontenac County Court House is one of several surviving court houses built during the boom in court house construction from 1852 to 1856. Designed by architect Edward Horsey, the building’s elaborate façade, comprised of a central portico, flanking wings and domed cupola, and the elaborate mix of Italianate and classical detailing, are typical of mid-19th century Ontario judicial buildings. The court house was rebuilt by architect John Power and contractor George Newlands in 1874 following a fire. The only significant exterior change was the central dome, which was given added height and emphasis.

12. Old Kingston Post Office (1859)
The Old Kingston Post Office illustrates the eclecticism of early Victorian architecture in Canada, as architects gradually turned away from the rigid and formal aspects of Neoclassicism towards the richness and variety found in other architectural vocabularies. The Old Kingston Post Office is typical of the continued popularity of the Neoclassical style, and the increasing use of Renaissance elements in commercial and public buildings. Its basic proportions and composition, as well as some ornamental features, reflect the Neoclassical style. The influence of the Italian Renaissance is evident in the richness of its masonry and in the use of round-arched openings.

13. Kingston Customs House (1859)
The Kingston Customs House was designed in 1856 in a British neoclassical style for the Province of Canada by the Montréal architectural firm of Hopkins, Lawford and Nelson to complement the adjacent post office constructed at the same time. The Customs House harmoniously blends neoclassical and Renaissance elements in local Kingston limestone to convey the importance of its function and to reflect Kingston’s vital place in pre-Confederation Canada. In its competent and striking use of neoclassical elements and its careful placement in a government precinct, the Kingston Customs House is also illustrative of major administrative buildings of the period that were designed to instil pride in and respect for government in the rapidly growing Province of Canada.

14. Sir John A Macdonald Gravesite (1891)
The Sir John A. Macdonald Gravesite is associated with the man who dominated the political life of Canada during its first quarter of a century. Macdonald was a visionary statesman, a determined Conservative partisan, and a well-respected leader. His policies of westward expansion and of railways to the Atlantic and Pacific laid the basis of a successful transcontinental nation. Macdonald died while still prime minister in Ottawa on June 6th, 1891. Having spent most of his life in Kingston, his body was transported back there to be buried in his family plot in the Cataraqui cemetery. A simple stone cross marks his grave, as he wished.

15. Kingston Dry Dock (completed 1892)
Mississauga Point was for over 150 years the site of major shipyards when Kingston was one of the important ports and ship building centres on the Great Lakes. The significance of the shipping industry led the federal government to construct this dry dock in 1890. Initially operated by the Department of Public Works as a repair facility for lake vessels, it was enlarged and leased in 1910 to the Kingston Shipbuilding Company; the first of a series of private companies, which operated the shipyards until 1968. During the Second World War naval vessels, notably corvettes, were built in this shipyard.

16. Ann Baillie Building (completed 1904)

The heritage value of this site lies in its associations with the professionalization of nursing as pursued by women in the early 20th-century and in the physical qualities of the building that illustrate its use by student nurses. Built in 1903 as the nurses’ residence for the Kingston General Hospital School of Nursing, the Ann Baillie Building was one of the first purpose-built nurses’ residences in Canada.  Its classically-inspired architecture is typical of early nurses’ residences, whose impressive architecture and secure living arrangements were intended to attract respectable, middle-class girls to the profession. Although it no longer serves as a residence, many vestiges of its use as a nurses’ residence remain. It now houses the Museum of Health Care. It is also designated as part of the Kingston General Hospital National Historic Site.

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